learning and growth is not an option

I have always believed the idea that you must grow and learn to continue to add value and, simply to keep up with the changes going on around us.  Change is constant in organizations.  Unfortunately there are many organizational examples where change is not embraced.  Who ever thought that Kodak and film would become obsolete?  Did you predict Blockbuster would lose customers to a new and no-name business called Netflix?  Is Netflix in danger of losing customers to the access people have to view and rent movies online?  Ken Blanchard, along with Mark Miller, in their new book, Great Leaders Grow,Image describes the importance of “gaining knowledge” as one of the most important game changers for leaders.  I agree.  What are you doing to set yourself up to meet the new challenges happening in business?  Where do you need to stretch your thinking?  How do you keep up with a growing and changing market?  It can be overwhelming to consider that growth and learning is a key to success and if you embrace and lean into it, it will become a new way of living.

i’m ready for overindulgence to end

Tis the season to overindulge…. more sweets, more lattes, more late nights, more of everything.  The kids are out of school for a couple of weeks so the pressure to do homework and study is off.  It’s the time of year people let go of their self-discipline and act as if every day is a holiday.  This time of year many people take vacation, often extended ones.  With so many people missing at work, the focus for the few working is to just keep the boat floating.  Isn’t that what we do too when we overindulge?  We just do what it takes to keep ourselves floating?

I’m one of the active participants in over indulging and ready to get back to self-discipline.  We have a few more days though of holiday cheer and I’m thinking about how to leverage the time and make my last few days of 2011 count.   I’ll start by getting back on my “healthy eating plan” and I’ll get moving (maybe not a run, but at least a walk) and I’ll take advantage of the quiet time at work to clean out my office.  I know next week and the start of the New Year will bring back the pressures I’ve been missing and my plan is to get ahead of it.  Do you succumb to over indulgence?  If so, how do you get back on track?

Senior Leadership Can be a Lonely Role

I once had a leader tell me that the higher you climb in the organization, the more disconnected and lonely you feel in your role.  Do you believe that is true?  Do people speak openly to their bosses about the problems/opportunities that exist?  “Did anyone want to sit next to you at dinner?” my boss recently joked to me at our 3 day off site attended by the majority of my direct reports.   Yikes.  I had not thought about it and actually, I am not sure.  I certainly didn’t get an invitation.

Is the dynamic different when you are in senior leadership?   Do you think people tend to back away from Sr. Leaders or embrace them?  Whatever your belief, the best way to keep from being lonely is to have 1-on-1 meetings on a regular basis.  These are a time to connect, provide a forum for team members to feel heard and solicit feedback on what is working/not working.  Team meetings help to ensure that connections are being made, work is moving forward and dinners are filled with invitations!

How do YOU receive feedback?

Much of coaching and training around the topic of “feedback” focuses on how to give feedback.  What about receiving feedback?  Recently, I was facilitating a conversation between Max and Morgan.   Max was giving feedback to Morgan.  Morgan quietly listened and then asked questions for clarity and understanding.  All was going well.  As the coach, I was proud of Morgan, and I was confident the conversation would end with both parties feeling good about the “clearing of the air.”

Then something happened. Morgan started questioning the credibility of the feedback.  What concerned me was not whether the feedback was true.  I was concerned that Max would walk away thinking the conversation was a waste of time and energy. 

Following the feedback session, I had a meeting with Morgan. During the conversation, I shared something I believe about receiving feedback – “Perception is more important than the truth!”  Perception is reality.  I also shared three simple guidelines to receiving feedback:

  1. Listen – be completely present to hear what is being said
  2. Reflect back – repeat back the feedback that was shared (letting the person know you heard what was said)
  3. Say “Thank you.”

Morgan was cordial and appreciative (I think), then said, “I wish you would have shared the guidelines before the meeting!”  Hmm, feedback for me?!  I replied, “You are right!  I should have set you up better before the feedback was shared.” She replied, “Yes!”  I responded, “Thank you!”

creating a motivational environment

What do you believe motivates people to take action?  As a leader, how do you create an environment where your direct reports are more likely to find the motivation they need to succeed in their roles?  What options or choices do you give them in how they deliver the goal you have outlined?  How is the work goal linked to a larger purpose, something greater than the individual?  How do you demonstrate empathy and care as you offer assistance to your employees in reaching their goals?  How do you emphasize learning and stretching goals rather than performance goals?  What leader behaviors create the environment for employees to perform at their optimum?

Susan Fowler, David Facer & Drea Zigarmi, authors of Optimal Motivation, share what leaders can do to initiate, activate and cultivate an optimal motivation environment.  One of the ways of doing this is by understanding the basic psychological needs and using behaviors that reinforce those needs being met.  Based on the latest motivation science, when the three basic psychological needs are satisfied – autonomy, relatedness, and competence — people will persist and thrive.  To break it down:

  • Autonomy – our need to see ourselves as the origin and ongoing source of our own behavior; to have the freedom to act independently
  • Relatedness – our need to care about, to be cared about, and to feel genuinely connected to people
  • Competence – our need to feel effective at meeting the challenges and opportunities in our environment and to bring about our desired outcomes.

Think about when you have “performed at your best.”  How are these needs being met?  Do you see the connection between meeting the basic psychological needs and individuals commitment to the outcome?  Research argues that performance without a sense of well-being cannot, or will most likely not, be sustained over time.  Motivation is not just about performance, but the vitality, energy, and deep feeling of well-being generated when the basic psychological needs are being satisfied in the process of pursuing a goal or doing a task. 

This is just a small piece in the grand spectrum of how leaders can create and cultivate optimal performance from their employees.  So next time you are questioning your own motivation or that of others, evaluate the psychological needs and see if there is a gap in meeting them.

What is your value proposition?


As I completed my second weekend of a graduate marketing class discussing value propositions, what came up for me was considering the value proposition as an individual.  I recently took a new role managing more people (multiple individuals who have the same goal). The questions that I want each person to consider are “What is your value proposition?  What is your value contribution?” 

What do you contribute to the organization that is unique to you?  In Marketing, the big questions are always “What is our value contribution?” and “What differentiates our company from others?” These give us our value contribution. 

So I ask you as leader, what is your value contribution?  What differentiates you from others?   What do you as a leader want (or need?) others to see and experience as your value contribution? 

Value contribution is not only for the company to review and articulate, it’s also for the leader.  The current reality is that the value you contribute is experienced and remembered, and it will be shared with the market place.

Leadership & Culture are two sides of the same coin

Organizational culture, simply put, is “the way things get done around here.” The organization’s culture can help or hinder the success of the company. When you walk into a company, you can quickly identify some of the cultural elements based on what you see, how you are greeted, what you experience, traditions discussed, etc. The cultural elements of an organization are everywhere.

Who do you think is responsible for the culture of the company? Who sets the tone? Edgar Schein, author of Organizational Culture and Leadership, says leadership and culture are two sides of the same coin.  The two are inter-related and co-exist. Culture creation and management are the essence of leadership. To be successful, Schein surmises, you must be a “learning leader.”

I love the characteristics Schein discusses on how leaders can influence culture. These characteristics are:

  1. Perception and Insight – a learning leader must have insight into the culture and the dysfunctional elements. These leaders must vulnerable to “not hold the answers” and develop the skill of “humble inquiry.”
  2. Motivation – the learning leader must be able to speak the truth when the culture is not right, put the organization far above their self-interest and hold steady to the change needed to get the culture back on track.
  3. Emotional Strength – a learning leader must create pyschologial safety, do what is needed to absorb anxiety and deal with the anger or criticism that often comes from employees challenging the new culture.
  4. Ability to Change the Cultural Assumptions – a learning leader needs to “sell” the new values and concepts AND create opportunities for these concepts to be visible by the organization’s employees.
  5. Ability to Create Involvement and Participation – my favorite of the characteristics is that a learning leader must be able to listen and involve employees in the process of discovery and change. Culture does not exist without people,so how could a leader be successful without involving people in the process?

When you look at an organization, toss a coin and see how it lands. Either side, culture or leadership, will tell you enough about the organization and whether you want to affiliate with it.

Four Key Factors for Successful Change

As part of my graduate studies (aiming for a Master’s of Science in Executive Leadership from University of San Diego’s School of Business), I have been a student in a class called “Leading People Through Change.” As a coach, I am an advocate for change. A large part of what we do in coaching is support people as they lead and move through change.

As a leader, I am humbled by the mistakes I have made in getting others to follow my change initiatives. Even though as a coach I support people through individual change, as a leader I support change at the organizational level.

Individual change is difficult. Organizational change is almost impossible and more often than not, fails.

Do you have any changes you are currently working on in your organization? Do you have one you are about to launch? Are you having success? If not, I challenge you to sit back and reflect on why you are not getting the results you want or expect from changes you are trying to implement. Throughout the class I was exposed to some great thought leaders on change, including John Kotter, Chip & Dan Heath, Daryl Conner, Jeffrey Hiatt and our facilitators, Dr. Patricia Zigarmi and Robert Glaser.

After all the reading and discussions, at the end of my class, I sat down and synthesized what I need to remember when facilitating the changes needed in my organization:

Create the Business Case – Some vital questions include:

  1. What is the gap between where we are today and the result we need tomorrow?
  2. Why do we have to change?
  3. What is in it for me?
  4. What is in it for the business?
  5. What will happen if we don’t change?

 There needs to be a sense of urgency that drives people to take action.

Involve People in the Change – Easily the biggest take away from this class, is to involve others. Regarding change, the old saying, “none of us is as smart as all of us” is true. When managing change, don’t expect to hold all the answers. Involve people, including the resisters, advocates and key stakeholders, who will help you create the questions, the answers and pave the path for change.

Pay Attention to the Advocates for Change – The advocates are your best sales people for change. Advocates are often ignored and under-utilized because we take them for granted. They can best address those people who are not on board. Remember to leverage your advocates, and be sure to reward them when they speak and walk the change.

Create the Environment for Change. This has always been a strong belief of mine, and, I often forget it. Creating the environment includes:

  1. Building a strong infrastructure for change
  2. Walking the talk by being a role model for change
  3. Creating a visible and attractive rewards system.

The change will have a higher likelihood of success if the environment supports people doing things differently. If the environment does not constantly encourage and nurture the change, people are going to have trouble doing things differently.

I am working on a few changes at work and this class has me stepping back to assess how I can do a better job at creating the business case, involving people, working with my advocates and creating the environment to support the changes I am leading. If you are expected to be a leader of change, try them too.

Key Factors in Coach-Client Relationship

When I tell people about the business I am in, the next question is, “What is coaching?” My response: “Coaching is a deliberate process using focused conversations to create an environment that results in individual growth, purposeful action, and sustained improvement.” The key words we focus on are growth, action and improvement. All of these require a change in the person being coached.

Since we are in the business of providing coaching services to organizations that pay for coaching of multiple clients, we need to take it a step further. We need to clarify the key factors in order for clients to have a successful coaching experience.

Factors that ‘must’ be present in a coaching relationship include: confidentiality, client-driven growth, facilitated improvement and action-focused. Let me explain from the client perspective.

Confidentiality – a client must be assured that what is discussed with his/her coach will be held in confidence. In coaching, we want leaders to stretch outside of their comfort zone. This is not easy and requires a leader to discuss concerns and assumed constraints. To do this, confidentiality must be present in the coach-client relationship.

Client-Driven Growth – The client must decide and initiate the focus topics for coaching. In order to get clients to engage in change and growth, they must be the driver of it. When a boss comes to us and says, “I want my leader to work on these particular areas,” the first thing we ask is, “What is the leader’s commitment to working on these things?” Motivating a leader to take action on something she doesn’t fundamentally want or believe, doesn’t work. The client must be in the driver seat of the change and growth.

Facilitated Improvement – This is a process of helping clients to discover for themselves the actions/behaviors needed in order to move towards the changes they want to make. Facilitated improvement is the true value of what coaching can provide. I believe this is why coaching has become such a success. Instead of giving a leader consulting/advice, the coach draws out from the leader the appropriate thinking or action needed in the given situation. We tell leaders, “I don’t live in your environment, and you know best what is needed.” It is the job of the coach to ask the high yield questions to move the client toward discovering new answers. By having the client discover the answers, it also increases the chance for new behaviors to happen, because the ideas have come from the leader.

Action-Focused – Focusing on action means the leader is constantly taking action between the coaching sessions. If coaching is going to be successful, it must to move beyond good conversation into improved action. The leader must commit to taking action and then follow through.

How do we make coaching successful? These are some of the key success factors.

What is YOUR legacy?

In a recent conversation, my client was strained to come up with a coaching focus. She has had a successful career thus far (managing a high volume of employees, exceeding company goals, etc.) and in times of need used her boss as her coach. When I mentioned “what do you want as your leadership legacy?” A long silence followed by “interesting you ask because I recently heard a speech from a board member who challenged our leaders to consider the process of achieving results and not just the end result.” How many executives focus on getting the job done and at the same time reflect on the process they use to get there? If you quit your career today, what is the legacy you would leave behind? What will you be remembered for? What will the people you worked with and for say about you when you are gone? What do you want as your legacy? My wish is for executives to take time to think about the impression and impact they have on others. Those who do will likely have a legacy they will be proud of.