Assessing Promotability


For those who believe that they are getting ready to be promoted, it is wise to understand what are called “limiting behaviors.” These are the blind spots that all people have to one degree or another and the
ability to acknowledge that they exist is often the biggest limiting behavior of them all.

Organizations often employ leadership assessment tools to help managers identify and prioritize their own developmental opportunities. While not 100% infallible, they do contain insight. When combined with 360-degree multi-rater feedback, they can feel downright oppressive!

What do organizations look for in a “promotable” person? Below are “Eight Universal Competencies”
and their associated skills from one of my favorites multi-rater tools, CheckPoint 360°™ from Profiles International. The feedback is usually from a group of 15 - 20 people who have had direct interaction with the person under consideration for promotion.

An honest, objective self-assessment might be very useful. Begin by asking yourself how well you might be doing in these areas:

1.     Communication – Skills associated with communication include: How well the person
“Listening to Others”, “Processing Information” and “Communicating Effectively.”

2.     Leadership - Skills associated Leadership are: How well they “Instill Trust, “
Provide Direction” and “Delegate Responsibility”

3.     Adaptability - Skills associated Adaptability are: How well they “Adjust to Circumstances”
and the ability to “Think Creatively.”

4.     Relationships Skills associated Relationships include: “Building Personal Relationships”
and “Facilitating Team Success.”

5.     Task Management – Skills associated Task Management include: How well they Work Efficiently and “Work Competently”

6.     Production – Skills associated Production include: How well they “Take Action” and
“Achieve Results”

7.     Development of Others - Skills associated the Development of Others include: How well
they “Cultivate Individual Talents” of others and “Motivates Others Successfully.”

8.     Personal Development - Skills associated Personal Development include: How well they
“Seek Self-Improvement and “Display Commitment” to personal growth.


How did you do?

Over / Under - 94 World Series


In a recent onboarding/coaching session, the topic of group-think came up. It was in the context of a legacy culture “informing” a new leader, because “that’s the way we do things around here” Yep, the legacy culture assigned meanings and standards for people to go on as they provided predictability and it’s what “we all know.”

Question: Who won the 1994 World Series? Answer: Nobody. The 1994 World Series was canceled on September 14 of that year due to an ongoing strike by the Major League Baseball Players Association

How many answered - The Atlanta Braves? (I did too)

It is not that difficult for individual or groups of people to fall into thought patterns. This may even include tacit approval for behaviors or attitudes that hurt the esprit ‘d corp of an organization or Team.

Here are five thought patterns to be on the look-out for and dealt with:

1.     Jumping to Conclusions – The tendency to jump to unjustified conclusions, make quick assumptions about how things are and what they’re going to be like in the future (predictive thinking), or you will assume that you know what someone else is thinking (mind reading). These conclusions and assumptions are not based on fact or evidence but rather based on
feelings and personal opinions.

2.     Personalization - Tendency to blame yourself for persona, problems and for everything that goes wrong in life. You might, for instance, continuously blame yourself for your misfortunes and bad luck. Taking responsibility for things is admirable, however, it can end up being a very burdensome habit-of-mind that leads to very strong feelings of regret.

3.     Musting / Shoulding - Tendency to put unreasonable demands and pressure on oneself and on other people to do certain things. You might say, “I must… I should… You must… You should…”. These statements may provide insight into personal standards about the things you expect of yourself and others. These standards can at times be helpful, however at other times “musting” / “shoulding” can create unrealistic expectations.

4.     Overgeneralization – Tendency to reference the past in order to make assumptions about the present. For example, a person may take one instance from the past and use that as a “predictor” for a current or future situation. Whenever we hear the words “He always… She always… Everyone… You never… People never… I never…” overgeneralizing is likely taking place.

5.     Catastrophising - Tendency to blow things out of proportion and make them out to be worse than they are. The impact of a situation might actually be quite insignificant, but those in the mode of catastrophizing, they tend to make problems larger than life — thereby making the problems even more difficult to overcome.

How is your Summer Time Going?


Wow, our summer is going by fast. Mission trips, basketball camps, daughter working as a camp counselor, beach on the horizon and birthday parties with family. How about you? Have you scheduled any time off? Are you working any different hours? What fun event is on the calendar? If you are stammering a bit, then let this article guide you to some fun planning.

Many of my clients are just waking up to the idea of being intentional with their time. Why is this important? Well, we live in a time where it is way too easy to be connected all the time. Our phones can be an awesome tool to stay connected when we need something quick. They can also allow us to be flexible and work in coffee shops, libraries, etc. However, they have also made it too easy to check our email while on vacation, at the swimming pool, at Disney World or during a kid’s ball game. Scott Eblin wrote a great book called “Overworked and Overwhelmed” and I love a concept that he introduced in the book called guardrails and boundaries.

The concept is basically about being intentional with your time and protecting your time from other people’s interruptions. Here are some examples from my clients—no phones at the dinner table; no email or work texts during the weekend; dinner with my family 3 times per week; workout at noon, 3 days a week; no interruptions during 1:1’s; no meetings on Fridays. The reason we need to be intentional and establish some guardrails and boundaries is because it is too tempting to just check our phones, allow someone to interrupt our 1:1 or just get lost doing work.

Do you know that many US leaders do not use all of their vacation days each year? I understand how it happens, but they all say they wished they had done more fun things throughout the year. Okay, now back to summer. What are your guardrails and boundaries? What memories will you create with your family or good friends? Here are some ideas to get you started—

1.     We ask our kids for 2-3 things that they want to do this summer and put it on the refrigerator. We start checking things off during the summer (kayaking, hiking Mill Mountain, playing golf, camping out 1 night, seeing The Incredibles, etc. are some of the items on our list this summer.)

2.     I do not schedule appointment past 4pm in the summer. This means that I get home earlier and we can go do some of the things on the list (ex. We went to Mill Mountain and got ice cream last Tuesday!)

3.     I have marked 2 Fridays off to just be with the family. A family kayaking trip will happen on one of these Fridays.

4.     What will be your plan on vacation days? Be intentional—if you are going to check email, I would recommend doing it early and setting a timer for 15 minutes so you do not get sucked into the computer for a few hours. Who can cover for you while you are out? Be a friend and cover for them when they are out.

My final thought is, who can hold you accountable? I let my kids know my plan and they are great about doing the planning. I hope you can establish some boundaries and guardrails for yourself. Summer is a great time to start this new behavior. Go create some awesome memories and share your ideas with me. Have fun!

Why Networking Still Matters


How many of you see networking in the title and cringe just a little bit? Does going to a conference and walking up to folks at the cocktail reception make you want to flee the scene?  Does arranging a coffee and conversation make you sweat a bit? I understand—I really do!

Most of you that know me might find this hard to imagine. I can hear you saying, “Jeff, you just won the RBTC Regional Connector Award, how could networking ever be hard for you?!” There are plenty of times that I go to a conference or social event and wonder why am I doing this? I will admit that I love people and I have a general curiosity about what people find interesting. However, there are also times that I find it boring and just want to go back home or my hotel room.

Wow, great start Jeff! Really inspiring me so far! Okay, so why does networking matter? I have had several friends and clients that have recently been laid off from their jobs. They worked so hard and were so committed to their organizations that they never took time to network. All of sudden they need to look for new jobs and they are lost. I also have some clients that are in need of new customers but they spend so much time inwardly focused on their own operations that they do not know how to connect outside of their organization to gain new insights, innovations and potentially new customers. Thus, reasons to network include:

1.     Finding mentors and thinking partners to help you grow in your career

2.     Benchmarking with peers to learn about best practices

3.     Connecting with others to hear about possible new job opportunities

4.     Bouncing product ideas off others to see if you have a good idea

5.     Challenging your thinking

6.     Sanity check on what you are seeing in your organization

7.     Potentially finding new talent for your organization

8.     Developing acquaintances for a future need (like new jobs or clients)


If the benefits are so great, then why do we spend so little time networking? Here are a few reasons I hear:

1.     I am so busy, I do not have time

2.     It makes me nervous

3.     I am not very good at small talk

4.     I do not have anything to offer the other person (or the other person is so important, they would never meet with me)

5.     I am too shy, quiet, boring, scared, etc.

6.     I do not know how to lead a good conversation

Okay, the time one is a choice. We are all busy and we all like to tell everyone that we are busy. Some the of busiest people I know, go out of their way to invest in networking at least weekly if not daily. They see the benefits and make it a priority. The rest of the reasons, I think can be overcome by learning how to be a good networker.

Here are some of my ideas and shared some resources at the end of the blog.

1.     Find someone who is good at networking and ask them to mentor you

2.     Identify 3-5 people that you find interesting—ask one of them to have coffee with you

3.     Bring interesting questions to the conversation; ask the other person about the reasons for their success; leave them with an interesting article to help them grow; ask them about 1-2 other people they admire or appreciate

4.     At a conference, go to the networking event early. Set a goal of x # of people that you want to talk to. Be curious about the other person’s interest, passions and why they do what they do. If you enjoyed the conversation, ask for a business card and follow-up with an email suggesting a phone call or coffee another time.

5.     Introduce someone you respect to another person you respect so they can both learn.

6.     Celebrate when you have tried one of these things. Ex. I go for a run or get a Slurpee.

Here is the link with ideas on how to get better at networking. In the meantime, good luck building your list of influencers, potential clients or future hires. Put some time on the calendar and go do it. Let me know how it goes!

- Jeff Smith


Writing the Second Act: A Retention Parable


The Scene Is Set

“I need something different,” the leader tells me, an edge of frustration in their tone.

On another day, in another conversation I hear:

“This team isn’t bringing what I need to be successful right now” or

“ ______ does not have what we need to stay relevant in our market.”

Most of the time, the person or team in question has previously been a critical contributor.

Now what is surfacing is evidence of the dissonance between a once-successful key player and an organizational leader.

What is called for is a candid conversation about the organization's changing needs, and an exploration of the willingness of the employee in question to learn a new approach, grow new skills, and refocus their attention to successfully meet the next phase of the business’s needs. 

Most of the time this conversation does not occur.

Instead there is silence.


Frustration mounts, as the leader continues to see evidence that their assessment is correct: this person is not going to move the group forward.

Eventually, if the conversation takes place, it has been put off for so long that when it takes place it occurs at the outset of a separation process between the company and a formerly key contributor.

So much is lost because of the silence.


Lack of Communication: the Tension Rises

Here is what is happening internally with the employee, on the other side of that leader’s frustration:

“What is happening here?”

“I used to be successful. I am doing the same thing, and no one sees or appreciates my work anymore.”

Fear rises. Frustration and confusion reign.

These feelings begin to inhibit the performance of the employee.


The Untold Story: What is Happening

Why? Because fear and anxiety cause our bodies to dump a chemical cocktail into our bloodstream, inhibiting our strategic thinking. The cortisol our bodies produce when we are anxious and afraid keeps our brain from accessing its pre-frontal cortex, our executive brain. Strategy withers. Fear reigns. And so performance begins to fall.

Little by little, the leader’s assumptions about the employee’s capacity are “proven.” Performance coaching begins and an exit strategy is created by one or both parties.


Writing a Retention Story

There is another way to write this story.

It begins with a conversation.

Not one about you and your performance and me and my needs. This conversation begins with a mutual exploration of a changing organizational and competitive landscape.


The Importance of an Intermission

Intermission. It is the time between Act 1 and Act 2. During this time the audience gets up, stretches their legs, and finds the bathroom, while the stagehands and actors madly prepare for the Second Act.

Great performers need an intermission with their leaders. A time set aside for a conversation that explores and celebrates was has happened up until now and looks ahead at what is needed next to prepare for what is yet to come.


The Intermission Conversation

The Intermission Conversation is a conversation in 3 parts:

Part 1    What just happened?

·        Review the accomplishments and successes. Celebrate!

·        Share what you both had hoped would go differently, and which experiences you treasure.

Part 2    What’s happening out there effects what is happening here.

·  Explore the current and approaching competitive landscape is explored.

·  Acknowledge the reality that the company is different and the marketplace is moving rapidly.

·  Ask: What will it take for us to continue to be successful, keep up and remain relevant?

Part 3    What’s next?

·  Recognize that was then, this is now. Changes must be made for success to be sustained.

·  Compare the current and approaching landscape vs. what the landscape was like when we had past successes.  In this conversation past successes are reviewed and compared and contrasted with the current competitive landscape and current cultural context in mind.

· Plan for the future: What does the continued success of the business require next?

The Second Act

This Intermission Conversation allows leaders and team members to reflect on what has been, to look ahead strategically, and to realign expectations going forward. It celebrates what has been, yes. More importantly, it honestly acknowledges that the success in the future will be brought by different strategies, actions, projects and priorities that this season. Naming that allows people to see clearly that ongoing success requires ongoing re-orientation for everyone.

When we take time to have an intermission conversation, people can come back to their seats, ready for the second act. Yes, sometimes, people will realize this show is not for them. But most people simply need a moment to get up, walk around, and think about what might come next. Then they can settle down, and get ready to enjoy the Second Act of the show.

Retaining seasoned, successful team members takes time and attention… but not loads of time. Usually short intermission conversations will do.

Let me assure you, the investment of that short, meaningful conversation is worth the reward it reaps: long term, engaged, seasoned and successful employees who feel valued and who understand where the business needs to go next, how they can contribute, and why what they have accomplished so far matters.

Who on your team do you need to have an Intermission Conversation with?

What will it means for your future success if that conversation goes well?

I hope you take the time to get that conversation on your calendar today.

The Secret Ingredient of High Performing Teams


Communication breakdowns are hard on an organization, let alone the affected parties. But high performing teams have two things that work in their favor: their communication breakdowns are infrequent, and there is something else. Something more going on. Synergy.

What makes high performing teams special? What creates the synergy?

It is the Secret Ingredient in their Communication Rhythm.  Can you find it tucked into this outline?

The Communication Rhythm

Most successful organizations follow a similar Communication Rhythm:

A Daily Stand Up to coordinate work, get updates, and transfer information. 15 minutes tops.

Tip:  The Convener must know and moderate what information needs to be shared so that the work can continue to move forward successfully.  Be brief, focused, and keep it moving.

·        Recognize the wins your people had the day before. Celebrating provides momentum!

A Weekly Planning / Problem Solving Meeting to address current and potential issues. 30-60 minutes.

Tip: Ask these 4 questions every week.

Ø  What problems are emerging that you need the thinking of the group to resolve quickly?

Ø  What updates need to be shared so the team moves forward with alignment?

Ø  Do you have enough resources (time, talent, material) to get the work done?

Ø  How are we doing as a team? Do we need to clean up any communication?

A Monthly Team Meeting is a deeper dive into Relationships and Strategy. 60-90 minutes.

Ø  Again, how are we doing as a team? Do we need to clean up any communication?

Ø  Are we on track with our Desired Outcomes?

Ø  Are we spending time on things that matter most?

Ø  What are the obstacles on the horizon, and how do we plan for them?

Ø  Have we had 1:1 time with our Direct Reports this month? Are they aligned and engaged?

Did you spot the hidden Secret Ingredient?

Its People. Recognizing the wins. Checking in weekly and monthly on team dynamics. Accountability about 1:1’s. All of these elements ensure that people are the priority. Success happens when people are engaged, working well together, and accountable and appreciated for their work.

People-Focus is the Secret Ingredient of high performing teams.

Ø  Catching people winning every day.

Ø  Checking in to see how the team is doing. Is there any communication that needs cleaning up?

Ø  Taking the time every month to have a quality one on one with your team members.

Here are some questions to ask in your monthly 1:1:

Ø  Simply asking, “How are you doing?” and really listening to the answer is important.

Ø  What has been the biggest success and the biggest struggle this month?

Ø  What support do you need?

Ø  Are you satisfied with your current scope?

Ø  Is there something new or different you are curious about?

Ø  What can I do differently to better communicate with you?

Ø  What can I do to support your success?

Ø  Do you need a new skill or a new experience to be more engaged and satisfied at work?

Just this week I had a conversation with my colleague. I had assigned a project I thought matched with their professional goals. As I walked out the door, she leaned back and said, “Hey Jennifer, you really should assign this to Diane. She would love it. It is the right thing for her. I know you think I want to do this, but I don’t.”

Sure enough, Diane did want the project. She lit up when I asked her about it. And Erin was relieved to have something that was not a good fit for her reassigned.

It was a good reminder that, even when I think I am paying attention and asking the right questions, I miss the mark. I am glad for that quick, off-the-cuff conversation that allowed me to make a simple change in scope that made everyone happy. When your people know you are interested in their professional dreams and desires, they look for ways to help you get it right.

Put people on your meeting agenda every time. It pays off in spades. Appreciate the work. Check in on conflict, communication, and issues as they arise every week so pressure does not build, and be curious about them. Know their long and short term goals.

Everything gets done through people. They are your biggest asset. Its worth the time you give. I promise.

The Leadership Challenge

The Leadership Challenge.png

I was working recently with a group of leaders in the healthcare industry and it got me thinking
about the common challenges that all leaders face. It seems that wherever we travel as leadership development consultants, these variables keep surfacing.

How well these five principles are addressed may be the difference between change efforts that succeed and those that fail. They also impact trust. The trust factor is paramount for collaboration and organizational success.  Unfortunately, a lot of time and energy may be wasted in dealing with the absence of one of these five principles.

The Leadership challenge:

1.      We chose how we respond - This seems simple enough to understand however there are
times when even the most experienced leaders may violate this principle. A lot of time and energy has been devoted to the subject of managerial self-control.  I.e. keeping your saw nice and sharp, finding balance and symmetry with Body Mind and Spirit. Regardless of how well
we achieve this ideal, we still choose how we respond.

2.      We own our team's work product – As with many teams, the leader experience people challenges. The leader is ultimately responsible for their teams work product.  this may mean that underperformers get managed up or out allowing the leader to devote more time with performers and high potentials.

3.      We lead with balance, wisdom, and sufficient EQ - Leaders who understand balance wisdom and EQ are likely to have high-performing teams.  Balance means that the leaders own limitations are not imputed as team limitations. It is the wise manager who knows but they don't know and have sufficient emotional maturity to navigate in that space.

4.      We forfeit schadenfreude when we sit in the Leader's chair - Schadenfreude means pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune, aka “dishing the dirt.” It is the opposite of Leadership. Grip it and zip it.

We win together as a Team and Organization - Very often we see organizations that have
fallen into the trap of believing that component pieces can function in isolation or independently.  Not so. Successful techniques for bunker busting include: revising internal communication plans; leadership advocacy; cross functional / non-routine ROI or efficiency summits; and humility in the form of good old fashioned team-work.

What Are You Doing To Grow?


I was thinking about college graduation recently. The grads are closing a chapter of immense growth and entering another period of tremendous learning whether that is a job, grad school, the military, etc. However, after a couple of years, many of them settle into a routine. For some, it may even grow into a rut. They are the ones that dread Monday, celebrate Hump Day, and dance to work on Friday. They live for the weekends, when they come alive.

What about you? When was the last time you were in a period of intense learning? Some of my times were

               Leading a large call center outside of headquarters

               1st baby

               Grad school

               Coaching program

               Traveling to the UAE to teach serving leaders

               Starting my own company

               Sending first kid off to college

What I notice about all of these periods, is that there was some apprehension before entering each phase. For some, it was tempting to maintain the status quo. It was not always fun to be in the 1st year of marriage, working full-time and going to grad school full- time (Thanks for putting up with me Beth). However, the learning reshaped my world view. It also gave me opportunities to grow that I still benefit from to this day.

What is keeping you from learning? Time? Yep, that can be a factor. However, what are you giving up in the future by not investing in yourself now. Do not know the path? Great call us, another coach, a pastor, a great friend and go have a coffee and dream together. This person will help you share a path. Nervous about trying something new? We all suffer from this. Take comfort in knowing growth comes when we move out of our comfort zone. Your coach, friends, etc. can help you with your confidence. I am sure there are more things but I think you get my point. Go out and try something new and maybe find a recent college grad to mentor and see what they can teach you about learning!

Help! I Don't Know What I'm Doing!


Sometimes you have to unexpectedly lead in an area in which you are not an expert.  Maybe you are not even close to an expert.  Maybe you have no experience at all.  Situations will arise that you are not prepared for and when they do, you are still the leader and it is up to you to steward that role.  Take parenting for example, no one really knows how to do it.  But, guess what, you have to lead this tiny person into adulthood through unforeseen circumstances.  You figure it out, right?

However, most of the time it is other professional adults (some who may be gunning for your job), not children.   How will you accomplish this without those people figuring out that you don't know what you're actually doing?  There are a few ways to handle this, but what I've seen to be the most effective leadership style is not being afraid of the vulnerability.  OWN IT! 

You will need a bit of time to get yourself together and make a plan, but mostly you need to leverage the talent you already have in the people around you.  Don't be afraid to say, “I'm not quite sure what we should do with this part of it but I know that [Diane] has the skill set to take that on and be successful.”  That's leading!  Appreciating who is around you, being vulnerable enough to say, “I'm not quite sure about … but what I do know is this...”, and leading your team through the unknown.

Focusing on what you don't know and striving to find the “right” answer or way to do something will create an atmosphere of distrust.  When things get stressful, a person will tend to close themselves off from others or work themselves to the point of exhaustion in an effort to appear to have it all together.  The whole team notices that and, unless someone is bold enough to face and discuss it, distrust and rumors brew.  We must remember that we are often called to lead through something we have no experience with yet.  And that is OK!  Gather your team, share the situation before you, own that you are not sure about how to walk through it but that you will lead them through it.  I have not mastered parenting, but I am learning along the way and becoming better at it all the time.  Sometimes I have to talk to my older children in this way to let them know that I do have vulnerabilities but that I own my role as their leader and we will walk through this together.  That helps them to believe that they do not always have to have all of the answers to walk through something well.  In that way you will grow and your team will grow along with you. 


Try these steps when you don't know how to walk your team through a situation:

Get Clarity:  Are there questions you can ask, experienced people you can talk to, or resources you could scour to understand the situation more clearly?  

Focus on what you DO know:  You know you are the leader.  You know your team. You know that there will be an outcome on the other end of this. 

Decide what the desired outcome is and work towards it:  Is it success at all costs, or is it a team that will grow and learn together?  When mistakes happen or the result isn't good, will you cast blame, or will you be able to humbly take responsibility because you made the best choices you knew how to at the time?  Will you back your team or will you scramble toward self-preservation?  None of these are actually wrong, just different, choices one could make … just be sure you think about who you want to be as a leader as you make the choice.

Being secretive and not sharing a major project, change, or situation for too long could create distrust and paralyzing shock at just the time you need your people to step up and offer their loyalty, trust, and most thoughtful, creative work.  How will you approach your next difficult situation when you don't have experience in that particular area yet?  Here's to walking headlong into the unknown … but hopefully, not alone!



Why Employees Don't Trust Their Leaders

How to embrace change.jpg

According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer survey, almost 1 in 3 employees don’t trust their employers. The Edelman survey also shows that the survey results show that the lower you go in the organization; the less trusting people are. 64 percent of executives said they trust the company they work for while only 51 percent of managers and 48 percent of rank-and-file employees said they did.

In addition to this, employers now have to reach the millennial generation. After graduating from college, on average, a millennial will change jobs four times before they are 32 years old. Many millennials do not feel empowered in their current jobs.

Front-line managers are organizational connecting rods. They have the most influence and can make their teams excellent if they choose to do so. They accomplish this by consistently demonstrating leadership qualities can inspire their teams to do great things.  According to Daniel Wang, founder of the Loopring Foundation here are the top eight qualities that make a great leader:

1. Show real enthusiasm

Real enthusiasm for a business, its products, and its mission cannot be faked. Employees can
recognize insincere cheerleading from a mile away. However, when leaders are sincerely enthusiastic and passionate, that’s contagious.

2. Integrity

Whether it’s giving proper credit for accomplishments, acknowledging mistakes, or putting quality first, great leaders exhibit integrity at all times. They do what’s right, even if that isn’t the best thing for the current work product.

3. Great communication skills

Leaders must motivate, instruct and inspire the people they are in charge of. They can accomplish none of these things if they aren’t very skilled communicators. Poor communication leads to poor outcomes. It’s also important to remember that listening is an integral part of communication.

4. Loyalty

The best leaders understand that true loyalty is reciprocal. Because of this, they express that loyalty in tangible ways that benefit the member of their teams. True loyalty is ensuring that all team members have the training and resources to do their jobs. It’s standing up for team members in crisis and conflict.

5. Decisiveness

A good leader isn’t simply empowered to make decisions due to their position. They are willing to take on the risk of decision making. Bosses who aren’t decisive are often ineffective. Too much effort working on consensus building can have a negative effect. Rather than simply making a decision, many leaders allow debate to continue, and then create a piecemeal decision that satisfies no one.

6. Managerial competence

Too many organizations try to create leaders from people who are technically good at their jobs. They understand company goals, processes, and procedures. Being good at one’s job doesn’t prove that they can inspire, motivate, mentor or direct.

7. Empowerment

A good leader has trust in their abilities of the employees under them. When employees are empowered, they are more likely to make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization. This is true, even if it means allowing workers flexibility top go “off script.”

8. Charisma

The best leaders are well-spoken, approachable and friendly. They show a sincere interest in others. They make it easy to follow their lead. They have a certain je ne sais quoi that sets them apart and everybody around them senses it.

Remember, the lower in the organization we go, the less trusting people became. Looks like a call to action for upper leadership to become more visible in a meaningful way. This might be via a town hall meeting or skype for remote workers. We can certainly do better than roughly half of all managers and workers not trusting their leaders.

How Change Efforts Succeed


                  “I'll be here when you are ready, To roll with the changes” REO Speedwagon

Everything changes: technology, demographics, politics, economics, attitudes, language, customs, norms and expectations. What was thought of as impossible, landing a man on the moon, became passé fifty years ago. What the norm was five to ten years ago, isn’t any more.

What does the future hold? What guidance is there for navigating the inevitable? Below are some best practices for organizations to roll with the changes and set their workplace cultures up for success.


1. Establish and Maintain Sense of Urgency – Get on with it with one person driving. Management paralysis often comes from having too many managers and not enough leaders. Many times executives become paralyzed by the downside possibilities. They worry that they will be blamed for creating a crisis vs taking action. Pick a leader who will refuse to allow bureaucracy to derail needed changes and support them.

2. Create a Powerful Guiding Coalition – Support the lead driver. Ask that they share the rationale
for their decisions and how best to communicate that message to all who can hear it. Lead, follow or get out of the way. If there isn’t sufficient cultural mass to create a chain reaction, not much change will be taking place.

3. Get the Right Vision Not Just A Vison – The right vision says something that clarifies the direction in which an organization needs to move, ie get the organization out of non-value-added activities. In failed transformation efforts, we often find lots of plans, directives and programs, but no vision. If we can’t communicate the vision to someone in five minutes or less with understanding and interest, we do not have the right vison.

4. Walk the Vision – Leaders must “walk the talk” to drive major change. They intentionally
become a living symbol of the new corporate culture. During a visit to the NASA space center in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, "Hi, I'm Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?" "Well, Mr. President," the janitor responded, "I'm helping put a man on the moon." No matter our roles, we are contributing to the larger shared vision within our organizations.

5. Remove Obstacles to the New Vision - Sometimes the obstacle to successful change initiative is the organizational structure itself. Sometimes it makes people choose between the new vision and their own self-interest. Perhaps worst of all are bosses who refuse to change and who make demands that are inconsistent with the overall effort. it is important all be treated fairly but action is essential, both to empower others and to maintain the credibility of the change effort.

6. Plan to Create Short-Term Wins – Successful change comes in “baby steps.” When it becomes clear that major change will take a long time, urgency levels can drop. Commitments to produce short-term wins help keep urgency levels up and force analytical thinking that can clarify or revise visions.

7. Declare Victory at the Right Time - Until changes sink deeply into a company’s culture, a process that can take five to ten years, new approaches are fragile and subject to regression. Instead of declaring victory too soon, leaders of successful change efforts use the credibility gained by short-term wins to incrementally tackle even bigger problems. It’s in the striving, not the arriving.

8. Anchor Changes in the Culture - In the final analysis, change sticks when it becomes “the way we do things around here,” when it seeps into the bloodstream of the culture. Until new behaviors are rooted in social norms and shared values, they are subject to degradation as soon as the pressure for change is removed.


Remember, successful change is a series of Unfreezing- Changing and Re-freezing. It may take quite a while to unthaw all the parts needed to pursue change, but it sure beats the heck out of freezer burn.

So, if you're tired of the same old story…. let's turn some pages!

360 Degree Thinking


How do we effectively communicate with and develop promising leaders? This was on my mind in preparation mode for co-presenting at a major executive event in New Orleans. In all types of economic conditions, the answer to this question has big implications for business.

When times are challenging, development and succession are often the first things to get ignored under the false notion that nobody will dare look elsewhere during trying times. All this type of thinking does is guarantee bad turnover as talented people will be the first to bail out at the first signs of economic rebound. When business is good, competition for obtaining and retaining top talent compels leaders to engage in “360 Degree Thinking.”

360 Degree Thinking means leaders take the time to apply strategic hindsight, foresight and insight to their business and employee needs.

§  Hindsight – Experienced leaders apply lessons learned from their path forward. Very often we hear middle and upper management describe how they would have handled something in the old days, but now apply a very different method. To communicate with and grow promising leaders, share hindsight.

§  Foresight – Lessons learned, applied to help shape the future state. A forward-looking statement or safe harbor statement is a statement that cannot sustain itself as merely a historical fact, (hindsight). Forward-looking statements use future events as expectations or possibilities, (as in the case of growing leaders.)

§  Insight – The ability to synthesize hindsight and foresight into experiential critical thinking.
Yes, this is subjective, but how many of us have benefited from another leader who shared their insights with us? To grow promising leaders, it is wise to share insight. While they may or may not be able to grasp what is being shared at the time, chances are that it will happen sooner or later.

So, what is landing on the promising leaders in your sphere of influence? Are they aware that they are “well thought of” and possible candidates for advancement? Are they being communicated with in a validating / nurturing way?

Avoid too little – too late syndrome. This happens when the promising leader’s phone rings and they take the call. They turn over in their minds a new opportunity and then go back to their native culture to see if they are being paid attention to. Remember we said take the time to apply strategic hindsight, foresight and insight to your people needs. Wouldn't it be a shame to have top talent leave simply because this wasn't done?

Polarities, Polarities, Polarities-are everywhere?


I know you are saying…I know this word, but what the heck is Jeff talking about! Let’s start with a definition and then we will dive into our regularly scheduled blog. define polarity in the following way—



a. the property or characteristic that produces unequal physical effects at different points in a body or system, as a magnet or storage battery. 

b. the positive or negative state in which a body reacts to a magnetic, electric, or other field. 

2. the presence or manifestation of two opposite or contrasting principles or tendencies. 


a.(of words, phrases, or sentences) positive or negative character. 

b. polar opposition.


We will be discussing Polarities which are interdependent pairs that need each other over time to maintain and gain performance. Since polarities are unavoidable, they are present in every individual, team, and organization.

Here are some examples—

Inhale and Exhale

Rest and Activity


Notice, I say and not or. We need to rest or else we would end up stressed out and in the hospital due to exhaustion. However, if we only rested then we would stop learning and grow rather large! We need to be able to do both things. Let’s look at some polarities for you that might show up in the workplace.


Task and Relationship

Candor and Diplomacy

Encouragement and Analysis

Analysis and Intuition

Planning and Implementing

Coaching and Directing


Notice that each word is either positive or neutral. You do not want to frame one word as a negative because then you would not want to choose this word. Ex. Negative Feedback and Encouragement-who would want to pick negative feedback.

What words resonated with you? Did you find that you are attracted to one more than the other? This is natural. I will give you an example for me. I am more to encouragement than analysis. Thus, I can see the upside of encouragement (better morale, good ideas are developed, etc.) When I look at analysis, I tend to see the negatives (might take too long, might discourage brainstorming, etc.) However, when I am coaching people I ask them to look at the upside of both sides of the pole. Thus, I would ask me, what is the upside of using analysis for you? We might make fewer mistakes, we might choose better ideas, we could mitigate risks, spend our dollars appropriately, etc.


This also applies to teams and organizations. We often see teams that might desire to be:

Agile and Quality

Innovative and Stable

Encouraging and Challenging


Organizations might desire to be:

Centralized and Decentralized

Innovative and High Quality

Structured and Flexible

Okay, there is a lot to learn and understand about polarities. If you want to learn more, please listen to "Mastering Polarities to Achieve Greater Performance". Cara Wilson and I discussed polarities and how they impact the people and organizations we work with. I encourage you to start seeing the polarities in you life. Take time to notice which pole you are more attracted to. Who can help you see the upside of the other pole? What would happen if you challenged yourself to look at the downside of your preferred pole (too much encouragement might keep us from critically assessing ideas; might avoid conflict, etc.) Good luck and remember to look out for the polarities in the world.

Team Time Alignment


The synergy that occurs when a whole team focuses collectively on (1) efficient use of time and (2) attention management empowers the whole group. When everyone is moving in the same direction, trying to be effective and efficient with time, real progress is made in 30 days. And in 90 days teams are transformed!

Work is being executed, and meetings are meaningful. Everyone’s time is well spent. Meetings get shorter and more focused. People come prepared to meetings, because they have more time to plan, prepare and execute work. The Team Time Transformation is underway!

When I begin working with a Team to enhance and expand productivity, we begin with shared purpose and clear, shared Desired Outcomes. Then, the whole team works on calendar alignment.

Calendar Alignment focuses on:
               • efficient use of time and
               • attention management tactics that empower the whole group.

There are 2 Principles of Team Calendar Alignment
               1. Use other’s time wisely
               2. Ensure you have adequate time to act on tasks assigned.

Simple principles, but hard to achieve. We begin with the Team Calendar Gut Check.

Gut Check: Use Other’s Time Wisely

If you convene a meeting you must ask yourself: is this a good use of these people’s time?

Longer meetings (30 – 90 minutes) are meetings that ask people to think.
Thinking Meetings engage people. These meetings leverage the brain power around the table.
Decisions get made. Processes get developed. Feedback is taken. Adjustments are offered.
The organization and leaders move forward after meetings like these. It is time well spent, as long as the right people are around the table. People feel valued and engaged when they are in these meetings.

How do you figure out if you are leading a Thinking Meeting? Ask yourself. Ask your attendees.

• Am I leveraging their collective thinking?
               This means they do most of the thinking and talking. You ask a couple of questions.                   You listen and sift and sort through their insights.
                          If this is what the meeting is, then you have a Thinking Meeting.
                          Plan for 30 -90 minutes, depending on the content you need to cover.

Stand Up Meetings (5-12 minutes) are for Information Transfer.
You have information. You have updates. You need to communicate new expectations.
You need information and updates shared. Then you need 10 minutes tops. It’s a Stand Up.
Stand Ups share:
               • critical information,
               • update status, and
               • get teams aligned.
These are Alignment and Update Stand Ups.

Before you schedule a meeting, and bring everyone together, ask yourself:
What do you need from your meeting? If you want to leverage their thinking, then you need more time. If you need to share your thinking and get updates, then you need less time.
Respect people’s time. It is the most valuable asset you and they have. Use it with care.
I have a colleague who walked out of a meeting with his co-worker.
The co-worker turned to him as they walked to the parking lot: “Well, we can’t get that hour back.”
“Yeah. I know. What was the worst part for you?”
“I think it was the Soul Sucking part.”
“Which Soul Sucking part?”

Yikes! This is a true story, and that must have been a terrible meeting.
The simple act of thinking about how you are spending the collective time of your team will help you learn to respect their time and talent. This, in turn, will ensure that the conversation between those two co-workers is not one that takes place after a meeting you convene.

You Can’t Buy Time, But You Can Borrow It!


I have followed a 2 part Calendar Review process for many years now. In a recent blog I shared the first part of this process: my Calendar Gut-Checklist. The Calendar Gut-Checklist is a great way to review and reflect on how I spend my time.

Part 2 of the process is Calendar Re-Visioning. Here is the process I follow when I re-vision my calendar:

Calendar Revisioning

1.      I take the insights gained when I Gut-Checked my calendar, and brainstorm changes I could make to better align my calendar with my Desired Outcomes.

2.      The changes I can implement easily I make immediately.

3.      I look ahead for 6 weeks and determine the other changes I could implement with some planning. I outline the steps I need to take to implement these changes and begin the process of making these larger changes.

4.      I commit to reviewing my progress in 30 days.


Why do I look ahead? Because when my calendar is overloaded it takes a while to bring it back into alignment. When I work with executives who are bringing alignment back into their calendars I set the expectation that, with 6 months of intentional effort, they can be delivered to a life and workflow they love. It takes time and consistent effort, but it can be done. Progress is even faster when I work with the entire team to bring the team into Time Alignment. (Check out my upcoming article for more on the Team Time Alignment Process.)


To help you get started with your Calendar Revisioning process, here are some key questions you can ask as you brainstorm how to revise your own calendar. With these questions you will have better alignment between your Desired Outcomes and your calendar.


 Get Analytical: Calendar Brainstorming Questions

·        Calendar:

o   Do you have adequate time to effectively execute your scope of work?

o   What changes can you make to spend your time more effectively?

o   Do you have time protected in your calendar for focused work each week?


·        Priorities:

o   What are your top 3 priorities right now? Does your calendar reflect this?

o   Based on your priorities, what do you need to start doing and stop doing?


·        Commitments:

o   Do you have more commitments than your calendar will allow?

o   Which commitments do you need to end in order to effectively execute your top priorities?

**Note: If you are double scheduled you have more commitments than you can handle.

You can never be in two places at once.**

The goal is to do more of the “right” things.

With this goal in mind, here are some Calendar Hacks to get you going.

Get Going: Calendar Hacks

·        When are you most focused? Look ahead in your calendar for a 2-3 hour block of focused time each week. This will be the time slot you assign your complex tasks and projects to in the future.

·        Make a recurring appointment twice daily for processing email and checking phone messages.

·        Make a decision about when you will check and return your text messages.

·        At the end of the week look ahead to the coming week and assign your upcoming tasks a time. 

Everything gets done at a particular moment in time. I hope these tips and tricks help you develop the habit of regularly refining and redesigning your calendar so that your time is well spent, and your life and work are satisfying.

What step will you take today to ensure your time is well spent?

Got Time?


“If I only had an 8th day or a 25th hour I could get it all done.”

Has that thought ever crossed your mind? It has crossed mine. When it does, I know it is time to revisit my calendar, my commitments and my priorities.

We all get the same number of hours in a day. It is the one equitable resource we share.

24 hours each day. 7 days in a week.

We have 168 hours of life to live every week and if we are getting enough sleep, we have 112 hours to actually accomplish things. No one can manufacture time, so how we spend it really matters.

That is why when the thought, “If I only had an 8th day this week” crosses my mind, I know it’s time to gut-check my calendar. Gut checking my calendar means looking through how I spent all the hours in a day or week and asking myself, was this time well spent?

The exercise doesn’t take long, but it has been invaluable to me over the years. Whether I am looking over the day I just had, or the previous week, I discover ways in which I was wise with my time, and ways in which I was wasteful, and I make adjustments.

When I work with people who are trying to re-calibrate their pace and productivity, I start by asking people to print out their calendar for the previous week, and we go back over it with a fine tooth comb. I call it the Calendar Gut-Checklist. Here it is:

The Calendar Gut-Checklist

Step 1: Gut-Check Accuracy

·        Does the calendar capture what you actually did?

·        If not, try to fill in the blanks and make adjustments to the calendar so that it                          represents what actually happened, not what was planned.


Step 2: Gut-Check Decisions to Not Honor the Calendar

·        Notice the differences between what was planned and what actually happened.

·        Why did those adjustments happen? Were they smart, necessary decisions?


Step 3: Gut Check the Time Spent

·        What did you actually do in each hour?

·        Was it worth it?

·        What impact did your presence have in that meeting? Were you an important                           contributor?   

·        Did you give yourself adequate transition time and travel time?

·        Which hours were most effective, and which were least effective? Why?


Now that you know where the time went, and how effective you were with your time, it’s time to get analytical. What do you need to do differently so that you can be more effective with your time?

Make a list of 5-10 changes you can make to your calendar that will make you more effective. Pick your top 3 and makes those changes to your future calendar. You can save the list so that the next time you find yourself wishing for another hour in the day or another day in the week, you can take it out and make another couple of changes to your calendar.

I wish you many hours of time well-spent!

What are Your Intentions?


The first time I can remember being asked this question was after a sweaty, 4 mile run in July of 1995 at about 7:15 in the morning. I had just come back in from my early morning run and my girlfriend’s mother was sitting on the edge of the couch and asked, “What are your intentions with Beth”?

I was just trying to get some water and now my mouth got really dry. My face, already flushed from the run, turned even redder and my hands really started sweating. I mumbled that we were really serious. She said great and the reason that she was asking was that there might be some jewelry from Beth’s grandmother that she might like if I decided to propose. Wow, that was a memorable way to be asked the question—What are your intentions? Fast forward to 2018 and we have been married for almost 22 years and have 4 wonderful children. I am still close to my in-laws as well. I have learned to leave water outside when I run so that I do not have to answer any important questions right after a run!!!

Here is how defines intention—


1. an act or instance of determining mentally uponsome action or result.

2. the end or object intended; purpose.

3. intentions

a. purpose or attitude toward the effect of one's actions or conduct: a bungler with good intentions.

b. purpose or attitude with respect to marriage: Our friends are beginning to ask what our intentions are


We all have some great intentions—

            I will eat a salad for lunch.

            I will go back to grad school in the fall.

            I will run 3-4 miles, 4 times a week.

How will we commit to our intentions? Many of us struggle to uphold our intentions. Here is the interesting thing—we give ourselves credit when we declare an intention while others judge us on our impact. Here is a recent example—One of my clients stayed home intending to work on her book. However, at the end of the day she had barely done any work on the book. Thus, when her husband got home he was surprised to see only a few lines written.  What happened?

Probably the same thing that happens to most of us. She got sidetracked by emails, a couple of “urgent” calls from work, doing research on YouTube which ended in watching funny cat videos, etc. We are often waylaid by shiny bright objects that might appear urgent but are often not as important as the work we set out to do.

What intentions do you have for 2018?

How can you ensure that your intentions match the impact that others will see?

I encourage you to block off time on your calendar to work on your intentions—Ex. Writing time for your blog; Block off time for your 1:1’s with employees; block off time for your run or walk. I know this sounds like a lot of structure but if you do not do this, I fear at the end of 2018 you will have had a lot of good intentions but not many results to show for your efforts.

Also, think about who can help hold you accountable for intentions. In my case, there was not any jewelry that was a good match for Beth. However, my mother-in-law did know a good jeweler. This spurred me to action and with the blessing of Beth’s parents, I proposed on September 16th, 1995 at the kissing rock on the JMU quad. Maybe we all need a good coach to hold us to our intentions. Good luck on your intentions and let us know how we can help you hit your intentions.

"What we’ve got here is…"


    Looking for a new Ice Breaker? Try this!

It is intended for break out groups, team meeting or shift huddles. This usually means groups
of 15 or less, but larger groups can be sub divided as needed. Pass out the list below and give
them these instructions.

“For the next 5 minutes, everybody here can only communicate in lines from tv commercials,
 tv shows or movies. Please use choices from the list below or use your own. It’s a family show,
so nothing too risqué. Each selection can only be used once per group”.

The leader starts if off by saying, “On my way into work today somebody told me ______”


From past experiences with this exercise we can say that most people had fun.
Some erupted in laughter as the connections were made, ie “Got Milk – You Talkin’ to Me?” or "You can pay me now, or pay me later - Show me the money” or "Raise your hand if you're sure - There’s no crying in baseball!” or Mama says, 'Stupid is as stupid does.”

Typically, some go off the script and use their own favorite quotes which gets them even more engaged. To the few who were annoyed - “Go ahead, Make my Day”

Have fun with this ice breaker and notice the energy in the room shift. Let us know what you learn by doing this with your group!

Characteristics of Good CEO’s


I am asked often what defines a good CEO. This is quickly followed up by stories of “let me tell you about our CEO!” Normally, it is not to tell me a good story! I have the pleasure of coaching many CEO’s of large and small companies, public and private, family owned and employee owned. I can say that there is no perfect CEO but I have found some characteristics that I will share here. I would also encourage you to listen to the Freakonomics broadcast. They have been doing a great series on How to Become a C.E.O.

HBR wrote an interesting article in the May-June 2017 issue called “What Sets Successful CEO’s Apart” by Botelho, Powell, Kincaid and Wang. Here is the link: 

The 4 keys from their study were:

1.     Deciding with speed and conviction

2.     Engaging for impact

3.     Adopting Proactively

4.     Delivering Reliably

Here are some of the ones that I see in the successful CEO’s I coach—

-Set clear expectations

-Spend 50% or more of your time on long term planning

-Set clear expectations and give people room to be creative

-Learning continuously

-Spend time networking with people outside the organization

-Invite conflict but find consensus before moving on

-Mentor key talent

-Understand the needs of the Board/Key Stakeholders and Lead them

-Recognize accomplishments and celebrate the behaviors you want to foster

-Understand you are on a stage and everyone hangs on your words

-You have a serious job but do not take yourself too seriously—show you are human

-Find a coach, mentor or good executive round table to be able to have a thinking partner

The CEO role is a demanding, challenging and can be all consuming. Many of the CEO’s I know are lonely. This is the reason that many seek executive coaching or join an executive round table. I highly encourage this so that the CEO has a thinking partner which can help hold them accountable. The most successful CEO’s are really great at prioritizing and know how to say no. They also know how to delegate effectively without directing the work. The CEO’s that I see that get burned out tend to direct work, feel it must be done a certain way or do not hire/grow strong enough talent around them.

A final characteristic that I see in successful CEO’s are their ability to not take things so personally. They do from time to time but most of the time they can hear the feedback and can attach the problems they are choosing. My favorite line from this week was from a female CEO who said this about a star performer-“I personally think she is a b*t$h, but I think I will let it go.” I asked why she felt this way and she said, “I do not have to be her friend, she does great work and her people like working with her.” This is a hard thing to learn but sums up life as a CEO. You have to pick your battles, be confident in your decisions, lead with vision, expectations and recognition and try to understand that everyone is watching while still being authentic.

If you are a CEO or hope to be one, what is the characteristic that you want to develop? For me, it has been not getting distracted by the day to day and spending time thinking long term. It also took me a while to not let things affect me personally. Let me know what you are working on or if you need help. Good luck!


Take Me To Your Leader

take me to your leader.jpg

"Take me to your leader" is a science-fiction cartoon catchphrase, said by an extraterrestrial alien
who has just landed on Earth in a spacecraft to the first object it happens to meet and it assumes is an earthling. It is believed to have originated in a 1953 cartoon by Alex Graham in The New Yorker magazine. And thus, a new American cliché was born.                        

If an extraterrestrial landed at work and said “Take me to you leader”, how would you respond?

What factors would we roll over in our mind in order to answer? Does the alien mean the leader by title, or office? Do they mean visible actions and behaviors regardless of position? All valid questions.

At Voltage Leadership, we often speak about the Leadership Attitude. This means intentionally choosing to focus on the greater purpose of our endeavors with no expectation of return. Regardless of aptitude or position, those who demonstrate this attitude seem to have the ability to rally people around them. The opposite is also true. Those that are habitually self-centered have built a leadership moat around themselves. It is typically filled with water and intended as a defense against attack and guaranteed to limit upward mobility

It is also referred to as “CYA” or Choosing Your Attitude or as Charles Swindoll puts it:

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do.

It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.

We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you ... we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

So the next time we face challenging circumstances, remember our attitude is always a choice.