Love the One You’re With

I am borrowing the song title from the Stephen Stills famous hit from 1970—here is the link in case you want to sing along with me.

I got the idea for the blog listening to an interview on NPR’s Marketplace recently. Host, Kai Ryssdal, asked Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, to discuss a recent mistake that he had made. Nadella paused and then said he sometimes gets distracted by shiny bright objects and forgets about the needs of his current customers. He gets excited about potential new products and forgets that these new features might impact the current customers who have been loyal to Microsoft. He went on to say that he has stopped short of making the mistake, but not before nearly forgetting about the current customers.

What about you? Do you get distracted by the potential new customer and forget about the needs of your current customers? I know I have made this mistake. A couple of years ago, I landed some new customers that took me out of town a good bit, and made it hard for others to reach me for live meetings. The work with the new customers was lucrative, but were short term projects.  My current customers missed the extra touch that I normally gave them, and it was harder to renew work the next time around. If I had spent more time with my current customers, I might have gotten new work and I know I would have had greater loyalty if I had stayed connected. Thus, love the one you’re with! What are you doing to retain your top customers? Do they know how much you value them? What can you proactively do to amaze them?


I think this same concept can apply to our employees. It can be easy to look at our current team as good but not always great. We go to a conference and we meet someone and think they can be amazing for our team. This might be true, and I am not saying to not look for new talent. However, are you taking the time to truly develop your current team that is loyal to you? It is a lot easier to keep a team member that believes in your mission, understands your leadership, and is a cultural match. Instead of loving our current team members, we often covet other people. We tend to see the weaknesses of our team members and forget about their current strengths. I have one client that was loyal to his organization for years. He would receive feedback that he needed to be more direct. He would do this and then he would get feedback that he was too direct. He then would be told he was almost ready for a promotion and then they would bring someone in from the outside. He recently left and is a superstar in the new company. His old company called me and asked if I knew anyone like my coaching client because they said he was a superstar. If they had told him that while he was there and given him more positive feedback, he would never have looked for another role.

Take time this week to re-recruit one of the superstars on your team. Tell them why you love what they do for your organization. Call one of your customers and tell them why you enjoy working with them so much. Let me know how the conversation goes and in the meantime, “Love the One You’re With!”

Culture Shapers: How Leaders Define the Way Organizations Think, Speak and Act

Leaders both shape and define culture.

Leaders define culture by what they do, and shape culture by what they allow.

Therefore, every leader need to pay attention to in two distinct directions when setting and shaping culture:

1.      What are you saying and doing personally? What words do you use? What actions do you take? All of these are defining your culture.  

2.      What do you allow those in your organization to say and do? What behaviors do you tolerate? Which behaviors do you reward? The answers to these questions are shaping your culture.

The intersection of leading by example and maintaining strong accountability is what gives rise to and maintains strong culture.

Have you been a part of an organization with a great culture?

If not, I am sure you know someone who has, because when we are a part of a great culture, we tend to talk about it. The positive energy, creativity, and commitment generated within strong, successful cultures is contagious. There is a North Star inside the organization: a collective focus, a common pace, and a set of shared values that drive how people perform their work.

Have you been in an organization where the leader is striving to set a new culture, but some (or all!) of the people inside the organization are resisting that new culture?

This can be a terrible tale or a success story. A good leader can become frustrated and fail in the face of a powerful culture that wants to retain its norms. Leaders can mis-calculate when attempting to set or re-set culture, and lose the support of key stakeholders. And leaders can listen well, persevere through the tumult of change to navigate a team successfully through to a new, vibrant shared culture.

Sometimes cultures have trouble arising at all. I find that frequently this is because of either an absence of passion or the presence of fear, which leads to my final question:

Have you been in organizations where the leader is shaping a culture of fear?

What happens, typically, is this:  the leader’s positional power trumps the efforts of the rest of the organizational leaders to build a collaborative culture. Until sufficient collective courage is mustered to address the fear tactics with the leader, the leader’s culture of fear will prevail. Only when there is collective courage to name and attempt to co-create a new culture with the leader will the culture of fear dissipate. Most organizations tend not to be able to gather the collective energy to bring this type of request to the leader, so fear, and its limits on creativity and innovation, prevail during their tenure.

I find leaders who excel in shaping culture share some common skills:

1.      They listen. They are aware of the current reality of the organization, and then think about how to respond effectively to that reality.

2.      They know and show who they are. Their value system shows up in how they speak, act and organize their work and the organization’s work.  They infuse their work with that value system. It is who they are.

3.      They shape and communicate the values and culture of the organization. The demonstrate and co-create the culture by striving to equip every level of the organization to live the culture.

4.      These leaders help people learn how to be culture shapers, and hold others (and themselves) accountable for what they say and how they act.

5.      They course correct daily and publicly. They expect themselves and others to miss the mark, and have a process by which they renew their commitment to the shared organizational culture. They are willing to share their own learning and growth as they wrestle to bring their best selves to the table.

Culture hums when the leader and the organizations culture match.

·        Are you aware of the culture you are setting with your words and actions?

·        If you asked your direct reports what your organization’s culture is, could they tell you,               and show you evidence of that culture in both your behavior and theirs?

Leaders, we define culture by what we do, and we shape culture by what we allow.

Be curious about the impact of your words and actions today. Notice what kind of affect you are having on the organization and team you lead. And at the end of the day, do you like what you find?

Generational Mythology / Boomers & Millennials

“I'm not trying to 'cause a b-big s-s-sensation just talkin' 'bout my g-g-generation”

It had been on my mind for some time to do our radio show on the topic of on some of the stereotypes that may exist between the Baby Boomers (My Generation) and Generation Y - Millennials. Our Office Manager and a Millennial at Voltage Leadership, Diane Nguyen, was our gracious guest on the radio program to drill down on some of the “mythology” between these two groups.

Although there is some slight variance of thought on this, we will define Boomers as those born between 1946 – 1964 and Millennials being defined here as born between 1981 – 2000.

What do both groups have in common?

1.      Both want to be heard and respected

2.      Both want to make a difference in the world around them

3.      Both see themselves as “rebels” and dislike stereotypes about them

What are some tips for Boomer employees of Millennial managers?

1.      Don’t expect face to face meetings to last as long as you think “customary”

2.      Don’t assume ALL emails or text messages are urgent

3.      Don’t think you need to be “seen in the office” all the time

4.      Don’t expect Millennial managers to accept, “This is the way we’ve always done it

5.      Don’t expect the Millennial boss to treat you any differently than “younger” employees

How can we work together towards maximizing mutual respect and understanding?

1.      Make the effort to learn each other’s language, (and they are at times very different)

2.      Form your own conclusion based on experience vs assumptions or “noise”

3.      Respect each other’s competencies vs titles or positions

So, for all of you Boomers out there with FOMO, understand YOLO, emoji.
For a deeper dive into this topic, click this link to listen to our VoltCast Radio Show “Millennial Mythology

How to Think and Act Like a Day One Executive

We recently had April Armstrong on our Voltcast: Illuminating Leadership Radio Show. April is the CEO of Aha Insight and author of the upcoming book called The Day One Executive.  We had a fast-paced conversation about how you could start thinking like an executive. If you already an executive, we also talked about some good practices to sharpen our leadership saw. Below are a few highlights from our conversation.

Jeff-Why did you write the book?

April-If you’re lucky you’ll have a mentor in your career. But I recently spoke to a group and 2 people in the room raised their hands that they had never had a mentor in their life. This book is for them. And quite frankly, even if you’ve had a mentor – this book reflects my experience with hundreds of executives from all walks of life, my journey as a very young executive in a very big company, and a lot of research into top executive traits.

J-What does it mean to be a Day One Executive?

A-You show up differently. You are like the lion looking for “the standard” to eat for lunch. You are that aware. And you show up as an executive starting on Day One of your career. It is a choice to show up as an executive. Anyone can be an executive. This is not something you have to wait for someone to promote you to.

J-How is this different from a lot of the other “leadership” books out there?

A-This takes a close look at a very specific attribute of leadership. Not all leaders are executives, and by no means are all executives leaders. This book is for the born leader who wants to bring out and cultivate their inner executive – starting right now.

J-What’s an example of something from the book that folks may not have heard someplace else?

A-Know the real driving force of the business you are in.

J-Won’t millennials do it all different? Will this book be out of date by the time it is printed?

A-There’s a lot of chatter about millennials versus Gen X and older. And they will do it different. They will reshape the world. But what is not likely to change dramatically is the fundamental underpinnings of what it takes to change the world.

This book isn’t written for climbers or coasters. It’s written for people who want to change the world and it takes a certain leadership to do this. 

I encourage you to buy April’s book. It is filled with ideas, suggestions and tips to help you become a better executive. Here are a couple of thoughts that I have to get you started:

1.     Create an advisory board—identify 3-5 people that can give you feedback on your leadership skills. Have lunch or coffee with them 2-3 times a year and ask them for feedback on how you can grow as a leader.

2.     Be curious about your organization. What are the driving forces of your business? What can you do to take the initiative to help the organization be successful in the key aspects of the business.

3.     Be clear on your development and then go get better at what you are working on. Read a book, watch a YouTube video, find a good podcast to listen to or identify a coach or thinking partner that can help stay accountable to your growth.

4.     Grow others—might be in your organization or could be in a volunteer setting. The best way to hone your executive skills is to teach others and notice where you still have growth for yourself.

Good luck and let me know what you are working on. Thanks to April for a great show!

The Right Stuff: Top 4 Qualities of Change Leaders

The leader comes to the front of the room to speak.

They look around the room and then begin with: “We are implementing a new…..” and with those few words, a chain reaction begins to take place in the hearts and minds of the people around the table.

I mean that literally. When people are confronted with news about change their breath tends to get shallow, and their heartrate tends to increase. Our bodies begin reacting to news about change even before our minds have evaluated what the news means.

The best outcomes for change happen, therefore, when the people around the table have been prepared for the news, and have some agency over the outcomes.

But when was the last time you experienced seamlessly executed change in your business?

·        A new product rolled out well, on both the customer and our workforce!

·        Teams were realigned in ways that everyone celebrated and embraced!

·        Process changes were enthusiastically implemented!

(You might be asking “Do these things really happen like this anywhere in business, or only in articles like this?” Fair question. Read on.)

Change is hard on organizations and individuals, but steps can be taken to increase the change resilience in organizations, teams and individuals. In fact, every week I am with at least one client who is executing change with excellence.

When I compare the qualities present in our clients who execute change easily and well, I find these qualities present:  

Openness, Humility, Creativity and Tenacity.

Here is what these qualities bring to the table, and a habit you can try that will grow this capacity in your leadership and on your team:

Openness: These leaders want to hear a lot of ideas about how to solve and improve processes and products. The leader’s openness creates openness on their teams. Change is easier when we are open.

               Habit to develop: Listening with a “yes” mindset.

Listen fully to what others are saying. Set aside the desire to evaluate and judge ideas. Stay curious all the way through when someone is sharing an idea, asking open-ended questions that challenge the thinking of the person bringing the idea forward. What part of the idea is brilliant?

Humility: These individuals and teams are willing to have their ideas and beliefs challenged. They work hard to hear each other out and fully understand other points of view.

               Habit to develop: See situations through someone else’s eyes.

Imagine the idea or outcome from the point of view of the person or team bringing the idea forward. When we do, our own thinking becomes more nimble. Richard David Carson, author of Taming Your Gremlin wisely points out that beliefs are simply opinions we have developed loyalty to over time. Seeing the world through the eyes of others gives us broader perspective and protects us from blind spots.

Creativity: New ideas and interpretations are valued and heard. Changes of perspective are regularly undertaken by every member of the team and their leader.

               Habit to develop: Use your imagination.

Be creative! When we dabble with our artistic side, or try something new in a discipline outside our professional expertise, we unleash our imagination. Play with a new idea, concept or experience. It keeps our thinking and perspective fresh.

Tenacity: Determination and grit create the momentum to move forward and the mindset for success.

               Habit to develop: Have a thinking partner.

A thinking partner is someone who can help you reframe situations and circumstances. Many leaders engage a trusted person outside the organization who can help them turn problems into possibilities. These people often act as accountability partners as well, asking questions and providing insight and encouragement when leaders feel stuck. This is some of the most rewarding time I spend with clients.

Here are some questions to help you get started in your own change process:

  1. Imagine the last time you went to the front of the room to speak about implementing a new change. What did the people in the room think about your openness, your humility, your creativity, your tenacity?
  2. Which of those imagined “scores” would you like to change?
  3. What new habit would help you improve in this area?
  4. Who can help hold you accountable to being the kind of leader you want to become?

I encourage you to take a half an hour and think through these questions. When we stop and assess ourselves, choose something to change, and then implement those new behaviors, we are building our own change resilience.