Thursday, August 25, 2016

Teach Millennials how to use their Power

Guest post from Dan Negroni:

When we think of leaders and when we think of millennials, there are usually conflicting descriptions. We describe great leaders as honest, hard working, empowering, transparent, generous and so many other positive traits. Millennials are often described as lazy, entitled, selfish and so many other negative traits. However, after working with thousands of millennials, I can assure that these assertions about millennials are myths.  And I am sure you are thinking this is a relief.

Millennials have the hunger and potential to become great leaders. But they lack fundamental leadership skills and don’t understand how to tap into them. It’s up to us as the old guys, the parents, managers and leaders to teach them how to tap into their inner leadership power. Lead by example, through coaching and teaching, so we can demonstrate how to understand their valuable skills and access their inner leader. The big question is…how? Here are 4 ways to develop your millennial workers into leaders of the future. 

1.)   Lead from Strength
The best leaders are effective because they know what they’re best at and they lead with those skills. In order to create effective millennial leaders, we must help them first understand their strengths. Consider using a strength finder assessment or the Power of Why? to unveil your millennials’ strengths, passions and values. Each of your millennial workers has their own gifts and talents. Your job is to identify what these skills are so you can place them in the optimal position for them to succeed. This is how millennials can tap into their true leadership power—by leading from their strengths

2.)   Teach the WIFThem strategy
Knowing your strengths is critical to being a great leader... but it does no good do if you can’t communicate your strengths to others. Teach your millennials how to communicate their value so it’s relevant to whomever they’re speaking to. At launchbox, we use the WIFThem strategy, which stands for “What’s in it for them?” We must show millennials that when they shift the focus from “me” to “them,” they can deliver the most value. As the most purposeful generation, they get this.
Lets say your millennial is talking to a prospective client. He can either say a.)  “I am a people person,” or b.) “I offer impeccable customer service, anticipate people’s needs and go above and beyond to solve customer problems.” Which sounds better? Show your millennials how to align the WIFThem method with their strengths so they can lead effectively. This is true leadership power.  

3.)   Teach them how to listen—and prove that they listened
Great leaders understand the power of listening and being able to be influenced. They listen to client and employee frustrations, new ideas and opportunities before they act and speak. Millennials grew up with the ability to voice their opinion 24/7 365 days a year. In such a noisy world, they need to understand value of being a good listener. Coach your millennials that they can’t learn while they’re talking, but only when they’re listening. Show them how that works by demonstrating that skill with them.
Teach your millennials not just to listen, but to show that they are listening and retaining what they hear. Have them repeat back to you what they’ve heard. Have them ask powerful questions to show they are curious and engaged. This powerful strategy proves that your Millennials truly care. By conveying that they not only listened, but retained information as well, your Millennials will naturally lead with confidence.

4.)   Be Transparent
Millennials grew up in a world with little to no privacy. Social media is the norm for them and they’re used to people seeing every part of their life via Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. They are also jaded by being bombarded with messaging. They crave authenticity: being real.  As a manger, teach them the power of transparency. In order to lead effectively in this noisy economy, what you say and what you believe in must align with what you do. Show millennials that the best leaders are transparent with their beliefs. Teach them to communicate from the inside out. Share your company vision with your millennials and have them contribute to your mission statement. Show them how to communicate their value so it’s congruent with their “why.”  Once millennials understand this, they can lead with transparency.

Millennials have the ability to become great leaders. We just need to teach them to recognize and lead from their innate strengths, communicate effectively, listen well and be transparent in what they do. Start today and lets awaken the leaders of tomorrow!

About the author:
Dan Negroni, Author, Speaker, Attorney, Kick butt business consultant, coach, and proud Dad of a few Millennials delivers actionable solutions.  He is the author of Chasing Relevance: 6 Steps to Understand, Engage and Maximize Next Generation Leaders in the Workplace. Different from all other millennial experts, Dan's empowering business approach at launchbox, creates quick value and seamless connections with millennials and management each on their own terms.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Three (Not So) Surprising Lessons of Leadership

Guest post from Joel Peterson:

For the past decade, I’ve been privileged to teach a leadership course at Stanford with Professor Charles O’Reilly. The amazing array of leaders who’ve visited our classroom has included Greg Boyle (the Jesuit priest who founded Home Boy Industries) and Steve Ballmer (Microsoft’s former long-time CEO); star athletes like NFL quarterback Steve Young and MBA point guard Kevin Johnson (now mayor of Sacramento); former White House chief of staff Andy Card, Bloomin’ Brands CEO Liz Smith, and retired four-star general Stanley McChrystal.

Such outstanding leaders – and others from the ranks of startups, politics, popular culture, and big business – hail from every ethnicity, family and educational background, and rung on the social ladder. Some emerged early in their careers, while some blossomed late. Some of these leaders are reflective, others instinctive. Some are funny, others humorless. Their leadership styles are similarly variable. Some work their magic from positions of informal influence, others from the top spot on an organizational chart. Some are visionaries, others are tacticians. Some lead by charisma, others by consensus building.

As diverse as they are, I’ve found that leaders do have certain things in common.  And that the following three characteristics of leadership still surprise many:

1. Leaders get results through others. The ability to delegate might seem obvious, but it’s a major challenge for young people who have excelled because of their ability to deliver results. In many cases they stumble as leaders for the very reason they’ve been such good producers; what served them well when they couldn’t trust others to do the job becomes their Achilles heel as a leader. The transition from being a producer to being a leader is one all of our standout guests have learned.

Learning to “scale” through delegation means dealing with the imperfections and occasional failures of others. But more than that, it means becoming really good in the first place at hiring talented people and retaining them – as well as at replacing those who don’t “fit” so well. It also means using one’s leadership position to inspire. The job of a great leader is less about hands-on execution than it is about being confident enough to create a team of competent people who are on the same page. I like to remember General George Patton’s advice: “Don’t tell people how to do things – tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”  

2. Leaders teach inductively.  Great leaders, unlike great scholars, tend to be inductive thinkers, reasoning from the specific to the general, from the story to the principle. They are storytellers, illustrating core values with memorable, colorful anecdotes. These leaders have often achieved a “far-side simplicity” that reflects the statement of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity; but I would give my life for the simplicity the other side of complexity.”

3. Leaders have wisdom. Popular culture seems to cast many leaders as merely ambitious or politically savvy, even greedy or self-referencing. By contrast, great leaders are trusted. They’re trusted because they have wisdom, being able to “see around corners” and lead an organization to “all-things-considered” optimum results.

Great leaders are rare. They invariably leave organizations better off than they found them, empowered to sustain and improve on the foundations they’ve laid. Great leaders are at the center, but they are not the center –precisely because they’ve learned to trust and to delegate, to identify and celebrate a unifying narrative, and to predict and deliver results. When leaders internalize these lessons, the like-minded followers they attract ensure an enduring legacy.

Author Bio:
Joel Peterson (Twitter: @JoelCPeterson), chairman of JetBlue and a longtime consulting professor at the Stanford Business School, is the author of the new book “The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds That Make a Business Great.”

Monday, August 15, 2016

10 Ways to Kill Off Your Star Employees

I wrote this post for another publication in 2014, but it appears they have deleted it. I’m preparing to do a workshop on how to nurture high potentials and found it in my archives. Still looks relevant to me!
Warning: the following article contains a heavy dose of sarcasm. Read at your own risk, and whatever you do, DO NOT follow the advice!

A high potential employee is one of your highest performing employees that also is showing signs of being able to handle greater responsibilities. They are an organization’s top guns, rising starts, and typically represent the upper 10% of any organization, or the cream of the crop.
Unfortunately, organizations don’t always do a good job when it comes to nurturing, developing, rewarding, and retaining their high potential employees. In fact, it often seems like they are going out of their way to sabotage their best employees.

Of course, most organizations don’t intentionally try to kill their high potentials. It’s just that many managers don’t know how to manage a high potential, and end up doing well-intended things that get unintended results. Or – in some cases – they actually do set their high potential employees up for failure, as a result of feeling threatened or jealousy. 
So – if you want to kill your high potentials, just follow these 10 steps:

10 Ways to Kill your Best employees:
1. First of all, recognize that high-potential employees are a threat to your own job and treat them that way. These eager beavers are always exceeding expectations, are ambitious, and want nothing more than to step all over you to climb their career ladder. Watch your back, and keep them on a short leash!

2. Put them in a job rotation program, with a never-ending series of short assignments with no real accountability or opportunity to contribute. These people have short attention spans anyway, and will love the variety. Move them around to remote ends-of-the-earth locations without asking them. Cost-of-living differences? School systems? Trailing spouses and families? Cultural differences and hardships? Hey, it’s all part of the development experience.

3. Because HIPOs are so good, you can ignore them. No need for
feedback, as feedback is only for losers. Great employees are like self-licking ice cream cones, they need little time or support from their managers. This will free you up to spend more time on your under-performers, and other important management responsibilities, like your reading your email micromanaging the rest of your employees.

4. Give them impossible and unrealistic goals. We call these “stretch” assignments, or “development challenges”. And a lot of them too. They’ll need to learn how to prioritize and learn from their failures. Don’t bother offering training or coaching to support these stretch goals – save those limited dollars to spend on your underperforming employees.

5. Although you can call these “developmental”, treat them like assessments, a never-ending gauntlet of impossible challenges. Then step back and watch them stumble and fall. When they quit or fall off the fast track, you can congratulate yourself for being a keen evaluator of talent.

6. Tell everyone around them that they are a HIPO. Give them little “HIPO” name badges and frequent public displays of affection. Their peers will love them, welcome them with open arms, and want to be just like them!

7. Make sure they change bosses frequently. You don’t want them to have time to develop a relationship with any one manager, constant change and variety is much better. The same is true for
mentors – put an end to those relationships before the employee gets too dependent.

8. Take credit for their accomplishments. That’s one of the few benefits of managing HIPOs - they do produce fantastic results. Taking credit will help to keep them humble.

9. Ask them to help out your underperforming employees. This will teach them how to mentor and coach – they’ll love it!

10. Whatever you do, do not provide them with positive feedback. That would just swell their inflated egos even more. They already know how good they are, so it’s more important to point out their faults.

There you go! Follow these steps, and you’ll be sure to end up with nothing but a team of underperforming,
lazy, C player slackers. You can blame it on HR, upper management, or your organization’s compensation and benefits package.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

When You Just Aren’t Feeling It in Your Coaching Relationship

Guest post from Judy Nelson:

What happens when you no longer feel the enthusiasm you once had for your coaching sessions?

You know the signs of problems:

ü  Sighing when you realize it’s time for another call or meeting

ü  Thinking about all the other things you could be doing instead of the session

ü  Wondering whether it was a good use of your time when the call ends

Or worse…

ü  Dreading the call

ü  Saying you need to sign off early when you don’t

ü  Considering rescheduling even though you don’t have a good reason

ü  Cancelling altogether

Most coachees have been there—and so have most coaches! If one of you feels this way about the coaching session, then in all likelihood the other does, too.

Neither of you mentioned it because it’s uncomfortable. However, avoiding the discomfort of bringing up uncomfortable subjects is just further proof that the coaching process is derailing.

It’s time to address the uncomfortable issue directly. Maybe not asking point blank, “Do you dread our sessions, too?”, but rather, “If it’s okay with you, I’d like to spend a few minutes today talking about where we are in the coaching process.” Another option could be, “I’ve noticed a decreased energy between us in our last few sessions. Perhaps we could think about whether we need to make some changes.”

Recognizing your negative feelings is an opportunity to take necessary action. Here are four more tips for addressing what could feel like an awkward issue:

1.    Email ahead. Ask for time to be set aside to discuss progress or next steps. It ensures that both of you will come to the session mentally prepared for the conversation.

2.    Rehearse Your Lines. Having the right words ready makes it easier to say and helps you find the ones that communicate in the best possible way. Some examples could be, “I noticed that I’m not putting as much into the coaching process as I was early in our relationship.” Or you could try, “Sometimes, I’m unprepared for our sessions and I think about canceling.”

3.    Be ready with suggestions. He or she might ask for suggestions on how to make the process work better for you. Be ready to answer. A possible response could be, “Sometimes, it feels like we’re losing focus.” Or perhaps try, “There are times when I’m not feeling engaged with our process.” Solutions could include stepping up the timeline or modifying the sessions tone or style.

4.    Read the room. If the other person reacts defensively or sounds irritated with your discussion, it might be time to take a break.

Coaches: Are You Wasting Your Client’s Money?

Professional coaches have set goals and timelines for the client along with scheduled, periodic reviews. However, these measures do not preclude a decline in energy required for coaching success.

Try this exercise to see if your coaching experience needs work:

Make a list of all of your current clients. Imagine that you have a coaching appointment in one hour. Assess how you would feel in anticipation of the meeting:

Excited, Energized
Resigned, Bored

·         The clients who received checks in the excited/energized or positive columns probably feel the same way. All clear here.

·         Anticipating a client call in a neutral mood could be a warning sign for troubled water. Is it time to right the ship?

·         If your anticipatory reaction as the coach is resigned or negative, it’s a red flag and a call to action: the coaching relationship is headed for rocky shores.

·         And dread? The moment of truth is upon you. How will you respond?

Clients: Are You Ready to Step up Your Professionalism?

Executive coaching develops a client’s self-awareness and self-management skills to become a more competent professional. Like the coach, the client also has a responsibility to monitor progress (or lack thereof) toward his goals. If the client feels bored with the coaching process, then she has every right to suggest a pause for reflection.

It is not easy, especially for people with a natural high need to please, high anxiety, and insecurity (or all of the above). But true professionals embrace and manage discomfort. Moreover, practicing this skill is exactly the type of exercise to try in a coaching session.

The bottom line? Both coach and client have an obligation to address negative feelings as soon as they are aware of them. To continue the sessions without exploring these concerns is, at best, unprofessional. If unaddressed, the feelings will make the remainder of the coaching process even less effective and more dreaded.

In other words, if you don’t fix the problem together, then you two will end up wasting both of your time and the client’s money. And nobody wants that—least of all the client!

@CoachJudyNelson has golfed with presidents, been heckled by famous comedians, and researched insurance policies for riding elephants on behalf of Zsa Zsa Gábor. As a former CEO, Judy has been a Certified Professional Coach since 2006 and assists leaders and career seekers to develop and reach stretch goals. Her new book, Intentional Leadership (Motivational Press, 2016) debuts later this year.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Five Ways that Coaching Can Help During Times of Divisiveness, Hate, and Violence

Guest post from Andrew Neitlich:

Each week it seems that a new, horrible story about violence shocks us and shakes our faith in every having a peaceful, civil, and kind world. As a leadership coach who also trains leadership coaches, I believe that both coaching and being coachable are key skills that can make a difference in this environment.
Coaching is the process of asking powerful questions, listening, and sharing insights so that people gain clarify and move forward to solve problems. I notice that in times like these, more managers and leaders than ever before are questioning what really matters to them. Coaching helps people gain clarity about what really matters to them, how they should live, what type of careers they should have, and how they can have maximum impact on the world both inside and outside of their organizations.

For instance, I have been working with a junior executive in a major investment firm. Initially he hired me to become a better leader so that he could move up and oversee more offices in his organization. However, as the coaching progressed and we built trust, he shared that he also wanted coaching to figure out how to have more impact in the world. We worked together to create a plan that allows him to continue to grow as a leader in his present role while exploring opportunities that might lead to new volunteer leadership roles, career opportunities in industries where he believes he can make a more significant contribution, and potential roles in a billion-dollar foundation that his organization runs. What he shares in common with so many other coaching clients is a desire to make a difference, to use his unique gifts to make a measurable contribution and serve in the best possible way – all while still taking care of his family and being financially responsible. He is trying to find an authentic life and career in an extremely uncertain world with many needs.
A second way that coaching brings value is by letting people process what is going on. Whether you are a leader who uses coaching as a tool or a full-time coach, coaching allows you to ask questions and then let others work things out. Asking questions while listening and empathizing allows others to get more grounded, come to grips with what is happening, and work through potential distractions in order to get refocused.

Third, people who know how to coach also understand what it takes to lead. They know how to adapt their communication style to have more impact, how to engage and mobilize teams, and how to influence others. This gives them the opportunity to get involved in places that make the world more peaceful and civil. Any of us can use our leadership skills to get involved with organizations that are having impact on the world, that bring people together, and that make a difference. For instance, I work with a teacher who recently decided to leave his teaching job in the USA and spend time in Israel teaching English to impoverished children. He has never traveled internationally but decided that now is the time to build more bridges between cultures. We don’t have to give up our jobs and move to a new country like this young man, but we can certainly get more involved in leadership roles in non-profit and civic organizations in our communities.
Fourth, if you know how to coach, you can coach leaders of organizations that are making a difference to be stronger. Among my colleagues are coaches who work with leaders and managers of police departments, non-profit organizations focused on building stronger communities, schools that teach diverse populations, and governments. My own practice started by coaching non-profit boards and executives to become stronger, more aligned, and to have the capacity to achieve their missions in their communities. This kind of work is incredibly rewarding, because it brings people with different viewpoints together and often accomplishes remarkable results. For instance, I worked with a billion-dollar community foundation to help the board decide their annual grant making priorities to build a more diverse and inclusive community. I also worked with a non-profit children’s theater company that developed and executed a plan to bring drama training to children in 20 under-served schools. Coaching and facilitation helped the leaders of these organizations to reach consensus and be accountable for results – more so than if they had tried to move forward without this kind of support.

Finally, perhaps most importantly, leaders and coaches understand what it means to be coachable. One of the problems in times of violence is that politicians and pundits tend to dig in their heals about how best to solve the issue. Dialog stops and one-way speeches and accusations become the norm. For instance, every time there is a senseless shooting in the United States, it seems that one side rushes to their stump speeches about gun control, while another side rushes to their demands for better screening of possible terrorists, the mentally ill, and enhanced law enforcement. Coaching reminds people to listen to others, go into what is not known instead of what everyone thinks they already know, and find common ground. It helps people shift from “no, but…” to “yes, and….” Coaching can help different parties come together, listen to each other, and develop solutions that work based on evidence rather than predetermined positions and biases.
Coaching isn’t a panacea. You can’t coach a terrorist or murderer to change their ways, because you can only coach people who recognize a problem and want to change. However, for leaders and coaches who understand the power of coaching, we can make a difference – even a small one – in these very challenging times.   

Andrew Neitlich is the founder and director of the Center for Executive Coaching, a leading coach training organization based in Central Florida. He has trained over 1,000 coaches around the world—including clients within FedEx, Aflac, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, the United States Air Force, Florida Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota, the United States Department of Defense, Macy’s, the NBA, and Deloitte Consulting. Neitlich is author of five books and received his MBA from Harvard Business School. He lives in Sarasota, Florida with his family and plays lots of tennis. His new book, Coach! The Crucial, Deceptively Simple Leadership Skill for Breakaway Performance, is available for purchase at You can learn more at or connect via LinkedIn.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Make Habits, Not Rules

Guest post from Jurgen Appelo:
I recently ordered a fruit salad in Raleigh, NC. The pecans were generously sugar-coated; the croutons came fresh out of the frying pan; and the accompanying biscuit covered the Holy Trinity of Sugar, Carbs, and Fat. I have no idea what was in the dressing, and I prefer not to know. The salad was not the healthy option that I thought it would be.

I had done my best earlier that day. I had been running around the city the same morning, over sidewalks that looked suspiciously wide. But after eating the salad (which I certainly enjoyed), I felt like I needed another long run. And I thought, "My God, are they even trying to make healthier living easy for people around here?" Where I come from (The Netherlands), the default side option for a fruit salad might be dark sourdough rye bread, best used for weight-lifting, not eating.

So, how can we change this? What can we do to change the behaviors of people in a way that would be good for them and for society?

The primary approach used by governments is threatening people with rules and punishments. If you don't pay your taxes, you are punished. If you drive too fast, you are punished. If you sell or use an illegal substance, you are punished. Besides rules and punishments (augmented with some taxation and propaganda), there seems to be little variety in the ways governments attempt to influence the behaviors of their citizens.
The primary approach followed by businesses is the promise of rewards. If you increase sales by factor X, you get a bonus. If you get better performance ratings than your peers, you get a promotion. If you do what you're asked, you can get in line for a raise. Again, the variety of approaches to improve behaviors among employees in most organizations seems rather poor. It is all about carrots and sticks. Mostly carrots, but also some sticks.

What should we do instead?

How do we get people to exercise and eat healthier foods?
How do we get creative workers to follow safety procedures?
How do we convince anyone to be on time, follow a checklist, or be more supportive and appreciative toward their peers?

Most managers and politicians make the mistake of relying on rules. If it's important that employees wash their hands before work, then let's make a rule. If they should not forget to wear a helmet, turn it into a rule. If it's important that they keep a healthy work-life balance, let's make another rule!

More than once, I've seen rules and laws in social systems (such as businesses and societies) being compared to mathematical rules and natural laws in physical and chemical systems.

Molecules interact with each other by adhering to laws and rules and, thanks to self-organization, this leads to emergence and change in complex adaptive systems. Likewise, people interact with each other in businesses and societies by following laws and procedures. And, with a bit of self-organization, this should also result in creativity and innovation. Right?
Well, almost. But not quite.
Why do you take a shower in the morning after waking up? Is it because of a rule? Is it because you are promised a reward or punishment by someone? Probably not. Even scientists say there is no need take a shower every day. And yet, most of us do, because...
It is a habit.
In social systems, it is the habits of people, not laws and procedures, that can best be compared to the rules and laws in physical and chemical systems. Molecules behave predictably because they have an "urge" to follow natural laws. People behave more-or-less predictably because they have an urge to follow their habits. We act because our neural wiring tells us to do so, not because of something written in a document or something displayed on a sign.

As a driver, I stop at red lights because my brain tells me that not doing so would be dangerous. But as a pedestrian, I often ignore red lights because my brain tells me it's OK to trust my eyes and legs. The fact that there are laws and rules defined somewhere, that are supposed to guide my behaviors, doesn't even register consciously in my brain.

In organizations, it is the same. Workers don't wash their hands because there's a rule that tells them to do so. They wash their hands because they have developed a habit of doing so. This means that, instead of making rules, management (and government) would be wise to learn how habits develop and how they can be influenced. A visible reminder to wash your hands, such as a placard on a wall, may be helpful. But other subtle changes, such as the strategic placement of the faucet and basin, a powerful hand dryer, and a clean-smelling restroom, could be much more effective at the subconscious level.
Managers and governments are always trying to change the behaviors of people: healthier lifestyles, safety procedures, professional practices, etc. They attempt to do most of that with carrots and sticks, by passing laws, adding taxes, documenting rules, and communicating rewards and punishments, so that people know what is expected of them. But most people have difficulties changing their behaviors because their habits send them in other directions. Sure, they want to live healthier lives! But the fruit salad is still soaked in fat, covered with sugar, and decorated with carbs.
As managers (and politicians), try making fewer rules. Start learning how habits get formed and how they can be changed. It's more difficult, for sure. But it's also a lot more rewarding.

Jurgen Appelo, a Top 50 Management & Leadership expert, is pioneering management to help creative organizations survive and thrive in the 21st century. His most recent book Managing for Happiness offers concrete games, tools, and practices, so you can introduce better management, with fewer managers.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Set Expectations To Ensure Success

Guest post from Robbie Hardy: 

Guiding and driving a team to reach their highest potential while simultaneously meeting the revenue projections of the business can often be a serious juggling act. On the one hand, you want everyone on your team to be: challenged but not overwhelmed; curious but not confused; agile but not disorganized. On the other hand, there are deadlines to meet; costs to contain; changes and more changes to manage. What’s a leader to do?

There are many answers to this question, but the best return on value, applicable to all business, is to set expectations on all sides. The team needs to understand the objective, the goals, the constraints and each member’s role. Who is in charge of what aspect or task? What happens when there are surprises or unanticipated issues? Who are the stakeholders? What are the risks of not achieving the objective? … and on and on. Bottom line is, open and honest communication are essential.

There was a software project that had high visibility within the company and serious consequences for the client if the project was not on time and on budget. Everyone on the team worked tirelessly to meet all the deadlines and the project seemed to be tracking to success, when about five days before the project was to be delivered, everything stated to “blow up” in software language, nothing was working. All the testing that had been done was no longer valid and no one could understand what had happened. The software developers claimed they had not made any additional changes, yet something had gone very wrong. Hours became days and suddenly, 24 hours before the final deadline and launch, it became clear that this could not be fixed in time. The situation was compounded by the fact that no one had told the client or senior management, because they were very confident that it would be “fixed” and no one need ever know.

The client had scheduled a press conference to announce the new product and give a brief demo. The project manager knew the consequences of this public failure would be very serious for all involved. They needed a plan B and they needed it ASAP. So desperate times call for desperate measures, and the project manager again decided the solution was not transparency, but to create some type of unrelated problem, like no power to the building. He took his trusted product manager and they searched the building for power breakers that they could pull during the press conference to buy them time.  They were willing to risk being arrested rather than not deliver.

When you successfully set expectations, several things happen. First, and most obviously, everyone knows what to expect. This might be a “duh” to you, but for some people juggling a million different priorities and projects, agreed to expectations automatically gives a project higher visibility on the “to-do” list.
The second thing that happens with set expectations is that it levels the playing field. There is one vision, one mission, one goal. There isn’t pulling rank, there isn’t trying to weasel someone into doing your work for you. It’s a level playing field because everyone knows what they are expected to contribute to get the job done.

The third thing that happens with set expectations is that you get buy-in from all the major stakeholders. They have a chance to voice their opinion and concerns, explain their particular challenges, and state what they need to get the job done.
Setting expectations helps prevent those nasty “surprises” that come too late to be able to influence the outcome, which is where over budget and late delivery are born.

Robbie Hardy spent 20+ successful years in the corporate sector before finding her true calling in the entrepreneurial world.  She is author of the new book UPSETTING THE TABLE:  Women Mentoring Women. For more information visit

Friday, July 15, 2016

When the Leader Needs Help

Guest post from Bobby Martin:

There comes a time for every founder of a rapidly growing entrepreneurial business when you have to decide if you can be the one to both lead and manage into and through this growth stage. This is a tricky juncture, when you transition from scrappy, creation mode into organizational development mode. The development of an organization that’s in the fast-growth stage slams you with many new challenges, some of which are extremely difficult for many founders. 

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

 - Not too long ago you were fielding five customer service requests a day, and now over a hundred are flooding in daily.
- Your sales team was generating twenty or so good leads a week, and now it’s clear that you could generate an order of magnitude more if you just had the people or the right mechanism.

- You’ve been up to your ears in the details of planning and developing new product features yourself or with your partner, but now you have too many growing management responsibilities to do as much of that. You’re afraid of losing control over quality and design.

 - You have a growing list of great ideas, but you don’t have time to flesh them out.

 - You have identified new big fish customers to go after, but just can’t seem to find the time to pursue them.

If you’ve got outside funders, they’re demanding more and better financial reporting from you, and your board is starting to breathe down your neck about preparing for an IPO. But when are you going to find the time?

The late, great Peter Drucker stated that failure to create a solid team at the top-management level is the core reason startups go off the rails. It’s critical that you now bring in more direct reports, including a number of high-competency specialists. You need to become primarily a manager. You have to shift from being an entrepreneur to becoming an executive if you’re going to survive and thrive - both the business and you personally (health and sanity).
I call this contradiction in the demands made of an entrepreneur the Paradox of Scale; in order to achieve fast growth, you had to be disruptively innovative and improvisational, and in order to sustain it, you have to become intensely disciplined and rigorously managerial. Some founders have no problem at all with this transition. But most entrepreneurs struggle with this change. They may not like the change of pace; or they’re afraid of becoming a corporate soul crusher; or they simply have no passion for or the skill set needed for executive management.

Going the wrong direction at this point is one of the main reasons why firms that have hit takeoff  subsequently go into a death spiral. Most founders at this point face three key choices.
1. Learn how to manage the complexities of running a fast-growth firm.

2. Stay in some sort of leadership role, but bring in an experienced CEO from outside.

3. Look for a buyer. (Actually, even if this is your choice you still need to pick from #1 or #2 until the company is in good shape for sale or IPO. Otherwise you will sell at a far lower price than you deserve.) 

So what does it take to transition?

Make your organizational structure only as complex as it must be. Keep it as simple as possible to still delegate responsibilities and decision making while keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s going on. Layer in leadership as it makes sense for your processes, systems and size of organization. Too much structure is just as bad as too little. Seek out what’s just right for you.

Recruit top-players that complement each other’s skill set and focus on making sure they work well together. One of the biggest mistakes founders make is to continue to hire key roles by tapping their circle of friends and bringing in people they feel personally comfortable with rather than undertaking a more professional recruitment search. If you have a partner, he or she may well become one of these department heads or perhaps the COO who complements you as CEO or vice versa. You may also have one or two other employees who are well qualified to assume key leadership roles. But generally, many of your early employees either won’t truly be qualified to perform at the level you need in these roles or won’t want to. Search for not only the right skill set and expertise, but the right fit for the culture and the dynamics of your leadership team. Any HR person worth their salt will tell you that 9 out of 10 times people hire on skill and fire on fit. So keep fit in mind from the beginning.

Hire people who will bring new perspectives and challenge you. If you only hire people who see things as you do and always say “Yes” then you have a blindspot. There is tremendous value in having people surrounding you that are a) smarter than you in a particular subject and b) different from you. Your business is not a social club of cookie cutter membership. If it is, you will fail. It is critical that you hire people - especially for your top management team - with diverse skill set and background.

Keep your hands dirty with some details. Delegating does not mean abdicating leadership responsibilities. It is a myth that you just let people run things and you trust them. You do need to be in the details, enough to be aware of what’s happening. But you do not need to be the one doing the work nor serving as singular decision point bottleneck. As the leader - in whatever form that takes for you (CEO, President, COO) - set the vision, expectations and culture. Sit solidly in your new leadership role and let the super stars you brought into the game do the same.
About the author:

Bobby Martin believes that too many startup founders pivot too early, quit too early, and expect rapid takeoff. Through his experience of starting and selling First Research (a leader in sales intelligence) for $26 Million to Fortune 500 firm, Dun & Bradstreet, he’s learned firsthand the challenges and solutions at each stage of entrepreneurial growth. In his new book, The Hockey Stick Principles: The 4 Key Stages to Entrepreneurial Success, (Flatiron
Books, May 2016)
Martin debunks the myth that “hockey stick” growth is only for the Googles of the world.