Thursday, January 16, 2020

Are You a Culture Change Skeptic?

Guest post from S. Chris Edmonds:

Are you a culture change skeptic? Do you have a hard time seeing how your organization’s work culture affects employee behavior, performance, or enthusiasm - so you tend to think it just doesn’t even exist?

We consultants – or “culture refinement experts” – deal with skeptics all the time. The way “into skeptical hearts” is to listen and understand their point of view, share your plan, and let the results – over time – speak for themselves. Numerous studies have proven the positive impact of culture on performance and how fulfilling employees see their work.

Who is in Charge of Culture?

Who is responsible to manage an organization’s culture? The assumption is that no one is formally assigned to the role to manage culture. We can cite examples of culture officers but the best answer is that senior leaders have the ultimate responsibility to manage their organization’s culture. Their job is to ensure consistent performance for the benefit of a “triumvirate”: customers, employees, and stakeholders. If they don’t create a work culture that supports efficiency, innovation, high performance, and employee engagement, they won’t satisfy that triumvirate.

How do you know the Positive Impact was due to culture change?

Our clients are the best people to answer this question. Senior leaders who experience our culture process believe that culture is the primary driver of the results they’ve seen. Results of the culture change process include:

     ASDA, a UK grocery chain, was selected as the top employer of choice by a Sunday Times survey. Sales and profits outperformed the entire retail sector over a two-year span.
     Banta Catalog saw profits increase 36%, employee engagement increase 20% in six months, and retention increased 17% over a two year period.
     Foodstuffs Auckland (New Zealand) found ROI on their culture project exceeded $600,000 within the first year. Turnover fell 28% while the out-of-stock reduction of 1% resulted in $100,000 of additional profit.

Culture Change is Dangerous to One’s Career

Someone might come to the conclusion that a person leading organizational change will risk losing their job. Often senior leaders who embrace the positive power of culture find themselves in organizations that don’t support this world view. They may choose to leave, to go find a more values-aligned organization. Or, they may be forced out, often because their department or division culture (despite its successes) is very different from the parent organization’s culture.

These scenarios do occur, yet more often we see culture champions celebrated because of the positive impact of culture refinement on the business.

I am delighted every time I help a “culture skeptic” understand the power of culture, of values alignment, in a workplace to increase revenue, profits, employee work passion, and positive customer experiences.

What are your assumptions about culture change?

S. Chris Edmonds
is a sought-after speaker, author, and executive consultant. After a 15-year career leading successful teams, Chris founded his consulting company, The Purposeful Culture Group, in 1990. Chris has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies since 1995. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Amazon best sellers The Culture Engine and Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Learn from his blog posts, podcasts, assessments, research, and videos at Get free resources plus weekly updates from Chris by subscribing here

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Key Qualities of a Vibrant Culture Leader

Guest post by Colin D Ellis:

People who are true leaders stand out. Others want to be around them because they know
they’re worth following. But what qualities do these leaders have that make them exude such strength of character, while other supposed leaders fall short?

According a leadership survey conducted by McKinsey, U.S. companies spend around $14 billion on leadership development. Yet only 7 percent of respondents in the survey felt that their leaders are effective.

That’s the thing about leadership. We can send people to endless programs and get them to follow particular pathways, but unless they make the decision to be a good human being when everyone around them is doing the opposite, they’ll never reach their potential.

Those that do will go on to become role models for others, make courageous decisions, remove roadblocks to get things done and challenge the status quo. In order to do this and to be the catalyst for vibrant workplace cultures, they need to do one thing that most managers don’t -- they need to relentlessly develop their emotional intelligence.

Vibrant culture leaders are emotionally intelligent. They are role models in every sense of the word and set the example for others to follow. They take the time to listen, grow and work closely with their staff to remove barriers and inspire incredible performance from those around them.

Emotionally intelligent people like this are a positive driving force for culture evolution within their organizations. They’re empathetic when it’s easier to be dismissive. They make time for new ideas and thinking. They have a tractor beam that others are drawn to and people know that they won’t allow themselves to get dragged to the dark side.

These are the people whose conversations, meetings and training sessions are different. Whose communications are tailored to individuals, who can converse with all levels of people, who celebrate success and who make their employees feel that anything is possible.

Vibrant culture leaders stand for something. They have purpose, influence, ethics, and they continually look to safeguard the future of their organization. They do this by getting to know each member of the team, setting expectations well and holding people to their promises.

When people don’t deliver, they lead with empathy, asking how they can help and ensuring that their employees understand what’s required. Where people still don’t deliver, they conduct performance management with strength and courage. Vibrant cultures hit their targets, which requires that all within the team do their part.

Vibrant culture leaders are a force of positive energy and see the good in everyone with whom they interact. In short, they’re good humans who have others’ respect and loyalty.

These kinds of leaders are critical for organizational performance as they make people feel valued for the work they do -- which leads to greater engagement, which leads to enhanced productivity, which leads to greater value for customers, which ultimately improves profitability and reputation. And they recognize that culture is everyone’s responsibility. They make time, find money and undertake activities designed to make a real difference in the way things get done.

When American Express introduced training to make their leaders into more emotionally intelligent people, sales increased by 10 percent. When AT&T introduced a similar training, productivity increased 25 percent. At the heart of every successful business you’ll find vibrant culture leaders.

Here’s how to become a vibrant culture leader
Improving oneself is one of the most life-affirming actions that one can take. It’s a demonstration that lessons can be learned to grow as a person, and that a person is dedicated to making a real difference in other people’s lives. Here are three ways to get started:

1. Become more self-aware. List the things that you (or others) don’t like about your approach, whether it’s the way you communicate, how you run meetings or the time that you try to motivate your team to meet goals. Find one way to change it and then work hard to make the change. It won’t be easy, but it will be worthwhile. Once you’ve improved on that behavior, pick another one and so on.

2. Say thank you often. As a self-aware leader you’ll realize that it’s the team that does all the real work, so use your manners and say thank you more often. Find different ways to do it -- place easily seen post-it notes, send a hand-written card, call out commendable performance in a team meeting or treat them to lunch. Let it be known to the team that you’re someone that appreciates the efforts that people put in.

3. Make the time to build the culture. Do something different. Take the team off-site for two days. Agree on a vision, establish the expected behaviors required from every team member, define the principles of collaboration, get to know each other and commit to challenging your status quo. This will create individual ownership, energy and motivation.

There’s no hidden art when it comes to being a vibrant culture leader. It’s simply a case of being a good person, being the catalyst for great culture and ensuring the team feels valued for its work. Who doesn’t want that?

* * *

Colin D. Ellis is an award-winning international speaker, best-selling author and renowned
culture change and project management expert who works with organizations around the world to help them transform how they get things done. Based in Australia, Colin is the author of four books, including his most recent, Culture Fix: How to Create a Great Place to Work (Wiley, Nov. 4, 2019). Learn more at

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Why Every 21st Century Sales Leader Needs to Be a Creative Problem Solver

Guest post from Mark Donnolo:

In my new book Quotas! Design Thinking to Solve Your Biggest Sales Challenge, I recount an auspicious meeting I had many years ago with Steff Geissbuhler, a partner at a prestigious New York City design firm. I was in art school at the time, studying graphic design and branding. Thanks to a couple recommendations from professors, I landed an interview with Steff for an internship with the firm. As he reviewed my portfolio, I expected him to ask how I got the ideas for my logo and design assignments. Instead, as he flipped through the pages, he asked me one question, over and over: “What was the problem you were trying to solve?”

It took me a while to fully appreciate Steff’s question. Design isn’t about creating something that looks great; it’s about solving problems. The same thinking applies to solving sales problems. Practitioners use a time-honored methodology called design thinking, a five-step, iterative process that starts with empathizing with those who are facing the problem, then defining the problem, brainstorming, and building and testing a prototype—all the while going back and forth with stakeholders, fine-tuning to get the solution right.

In my work with SalesGlobe I’ve developed Sales Design ThinkingSM   to help sales leaders solve problems around any sales or business challenge, like sales strategy, organization design, sales capacity, sales compensation, change management, and of course quota setting. It’s less ethereal than design thinking and more practical for the business environment.  

Beyond solving strategic business or sales problems, how can we build our creative problem-solving capabilities to become more competitive in our careers and industries?  Recently, in a nationwide survey of educators and policymakers, Adobe found that three quarters of the respondents believe that students need to develop creative problem-solving skills for their future careers. Almost 90 percent said that students who excel at creative problem solving will have higher-earning job opportunities, and 85 percent agreed that these skills are in high demand for today’s higher-paying careers. As I’m fond of saying, “You can’t offshore, automate, or AI creativity.”

Yet the respondents overwhelmingly agreed that this critical skill is either ignored or under-taught in schools.

That’s why I’m on a mission to share this skillset with sales executives.

Sales Design Thinking has five phases: Articulating the Problem Statement; Redefining the Challenge Question; Thinking Horizontally and Combining Parallels; Developing Vertically; and Managing Change.

Let’s take a hypothetical situation – communicating about organization changes after an event such as a merger or acquisition – and put that through the Sales Design Thinking process.

1. Articulate the Problem Statement. Typically, it goes something like, “We need to communicate the new organization structure following the merger because the team is confused – and we’re afraid they’ll miss their number.” But if you try to solve for that problem statement, you may miss the underlying issues. So, step one is to check yourself. Are you asking right question?

2. Redefine the Challenge Question. After thinking it through and discussing it, you’re likely to turn your problem statement into a Challenge Question. A Challenge Question is more powerful because it comes from expanded thinking, but also because it is a question. And questions provoke thinking and ideas more than statements, which tend to be static. For something as important as organization changes following a merger, a communications strategy has to be designed thoughtfully. Ultimately, your Challenge Question could end up closer to: “How can we best use all available communication channels to deliver a campaign to each audience about the changes that will affect them across the organization?” The Challenge Question focuses on more components than a problem statement and gives us a better starting point based on the real problems or root causes. In redefining the Challenge Question, a lot goes into discovery, including understanding the story of how we got where we are and creating a solution vision about what great looks like. If you think you understand the whole story, the news is that you probably do… but only from your perspective. This is where gathering insight from the team, the organization, and from analytics comes in.

3. Think Horizontally and Combine Parallels. In other words, brainstorm each part of the Challenge Question and start expanding your thinking. The best brainstorming comes in the form of questions that evoke further thinking. Who are the audiences? What are the key messages? How do people understand and process messages? What are the options for communications vehicles? How do they align to each audience? What’s required for someone to understand a message in terms of vehicle and repetition? What is necessary for someone to believe a message? For each question and each answer, look at how you might combine them into possible solutions.

4. Develop Vertically. Now you can begin to narrow down the universe of possibilities, solving for the challenge question and factoring in degree of change, and ease and cost of implementation. If the organization has sales teams on three continents, for example, it’s unfeasible to discuss the changes with everyone in the same room. But asking each sales executive to reach out to sales managers over the company’s instant messaging platform could be a highly effective way to make the message stick. Perhaps having them conduct follow-up workshops in person may reinforce those messages. Your challenge in developing vertically is to narrow down and simplify the abundance of ideas you created in horizontal thinking.

5. Manage Change. Change management requires a structured approach with frequent reinforcement. Messaging isn’t a one-off; it’s an ongoing process that requires management – and may also require tweaks and shifts as you roll it out.

Sales leaders face weighty challenges from strategy to execution to change management that have a direct impact on business results. You’ll find that if you pause, think, and practice the five steps of Sales Design Thinking, you’ll start seeing new ways to solve the real problem.

Mark Donnolo is founder and Managing Partner of SalesGlobe, a leading sales effectiveness, consulting, and innovation firm. For over 25 years, Mark has worked with Global 1000 organizations on strategies to grow profitably by developing and implementing strategies that improve the effectiveness of sales, marketing, and service organizations. Areas of focus include sales strategy, customer segmentation, channel strategy, sales organization design and deployment, performance management, and incentive compensation. Mark is the author of numerous books and articles. His newest book is Quotas! Using Design Thinking to Solve Your Biggest Challenge (ATD Press). Mark’s earlier books on sales effectiveness include: Essential Account Planning; What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation; and The Innovative Sale. Access complimentary resources and subscribe to Insights at  

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Three Ways to Improve Retention on Your Team

Guest post from Hilary Grosskopf:

Managing a team can sometimes feels more like managing a revolving door. When retention is poor, leaders spend valuable time interviewing and training rather than making progress. For organizations, attrition is an expensive issue that takes money away from impactful progress, innovation, employee benefits, and enjoyable team activities. Intelligent hiring decisions and satisfying paychecks are not enough to retain your best team members.

As a leader, it’s essential to be proactive about your approach to engagement in order to build your team and retain your best team members. Once your team is in place, team members must feel a sense of clarity, healthy challenge, and connection every day. When team members lose interest and motivation, they soon start to look for a new opportunity that fills this void.

Three practices that will help you retain your best team members and make more impactful progress:

1. Give Clear Direction

Leaders often give direction about responsibilities to individual team members when they join the team. Over time, meetings to review objectives, responsibilities, and progress move down on the priority list for busy leaders. However, it’s essential to give frequent, clear direction in team meetings as well as in one-on-one meetings with team members. Without clarity about objectives and priorities from the central perspective of the leader, team members work in different directions and people do redundant work. Misalignment around priorities and delegation breeds animosity amongst the team. When team members are not clear about their responsibilities and objectives, they become frustrated and lose motivation. Team members need clarity and connection to the purpose of their individual and the collective efforts. Spend time in team meetings reviewing team objectives and facilitating two-way dialogue about priorities and progress. Use a white board to write down objectives, talk through timelines, and delegate tasks together. Spend time in weekly one-on-one meetings reviewing individual objectives, responsibilities, and progress. 

2. Give Positive Acknowledgement

So many leaders overlook the simple yet powerful practice of acknowledgement. When days feel busy and getting the work done becomes a challenge in itself, leaders forget that acknowledgement is what keeps team members motivated and connected. Positive acknowledgement is a form of energy for team members. To fuel productivity and provide motivation, give acknowledgement for small and large accomplishments. A “thank you” in person or via e-mail goes a long way in making a team member feel valued and appreciated for his or her work. During team meetings or one-on-one meetings with team members, spend time acknowledging wins and milestones. Lead by example in giving positive acknowledgement and team members will start to give positive acknowledgement to each other as well. 

3. Give Opportunities for Development

Leaders often assume that opportunities for development and career growth only come with a promotion. However, the best team members are always looking for opportunities to learn, develop skills, and gain new experience. It’s up to the leader to support team members in continuously growing, even between promotions. The most engaging form of learning and development happens through special projects. A special project is a project that adds new value to the team while also allowing the team member to develop new skills. Is there a project you have been putting on the back burner for a while? Is there a task or project you could hand off to a team member? Spend time mentoring by transferring skills, giving knowledge, and providing feedback during and after the project. Ideally, a special project will help a team member prepare for the next level in his or her career by building new skills and knowledge in alignment with his or her interests. Other opportunities for development include team shadowing sessions where team members can share skills and ideas, educational field trips where team members can immerse in company context, and courses where team members can build relevant skills and knowledge.

Though retention is challenging in a fast-paced and competitive business environment, leaders have the power to retain team members with authentic offerings that money can’t buy. The best leaders provide clear direction, positive acknowledgement, and opportunities for development. These practices give team members peace of mind, healthy challenge, and genuine connection.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Magic Potion in Leadership

Guest post by Raghu Kalé:

IS leadership overrated? I have often grappled with this question. The fact that one holds a position barely qualifies one to be a leader. Some folks manage to deceive themselves into believing that they are leaders. Why? Because they hold a position?

In my life, I have worked with leaders who served for a cause. Some served as heads of businesses that operated across geographies in multiple countries and many continents.

Some leaders I thought I knew withered away after we moved on – out of sight, out of mind. We barely kept in touch. Then there were those who I truly respected, who turned out to be friends for life. I heard someone say, “… you may join a company – but when you move on – you leave a boss …”

Many consultants preach about how to become a great leader. Once we tear down the facade and peel away the layers, it comes down to what is left in the bare and naked form of humanity: the human personality. After all, you can’t teach people to be nice. Leadership traits are the same; either you have them, or you don’t. You can’t fake it for long. In some instances, I have seen how the dynamics of power-play work. Actions speak louder than words. Most often, people see games people play. I have witnessed how power-hungry managers wield power by inspiring a few for some time before the disillusion sets in.

In my experience, I witnessed my former boss and his uncanny skill at radiating a sense of anxiety—an illusion that transmitted unpredictability. On his retirement, my farewell words to him in my in-person chat said it all: “While our corporate signature line is Leadership with Trust— you symbolized Leadership with Thrust. Your pyrotechnics hidden in your false temper – simulation of stress you orchestrated was perhaps only to extract results from people you lead.” My words brought a smile to him. Despite his uncanny unpredictable ways, his ability to pay heed to genuine hearts was uncanny. His responsibility spanned vast geography that included regions under unrest. As the CEO, he was faced with a dilemma. One of his managers was kidnapped while on his way to the office, and the militants demanded a ransom. The demands were refused, and negotiations went on for over a year. Running the business and achieving profitability despite all odds was a business as usual challenge. The unusual part was in managing this crisis that attracted national headlines. It tested leadership mettle. His modulation of genuine concern on one extreme and pyrotechnic to manage anxiety and unpredictability on the other – for some, it continues to baffle. Perhaps it qualifies for an in-depth research study.

I know that fear, on the one hand, is a mediocre drug that treats a symptom that is best suited for lesser mortals. Inspiration, on the other hand, is the magic potion that develops leaders, thereby boundlessly uplifting the spirits that heal the soul – thus transcending its impact across generations with a lasting legacy.

I was fortunate to have worked with several leaders who lead with compassion and grace. A promise is a promise was their unspoken shackle bonded with truth and trust. I once asked my senior about leading with trust, since he served on several boards. He was conferred the Honorary Knighthood by Elizabeth II, along with several civilian awards that he was bestowed over time. His accolades are countless. His demeanor is humble. It was in the early years of my career when we had developed the corporate branding signature line: 'Leadership with Trust.' It was about reaffirming leadership in sectors in which the conglomerate operated. My simple question to him was: "You as a leader – what can you do to ensure we live by the corporate signature line of ‘Leadership with Trust?’" His response was simple. He said that he personally could not do much about trust directly, but what he strives to do is keep his word. Over time, he hopes that it will build personal credibility. He explained, “Trust, as I see, is an outcome,” over which he had no direct control. He explained that he has a much better influence over credibility. And so, I see it now that one must do what one has to do. Never give a diplomatic, soft-pedaling answer. Folks can see through it. After all, you can only be a leader if you have followers. You will have followers only if you can inspire, and you can inspire if you don’t try to fake it with a pep talk and rehearsed talk lines. You can’t preach people to be ethical and have moral standards and then show off a falsehood of high morality and ethics.

To be a great leader, you have to work hard to alter your personality to be worthy of being called a leader. Only on your tombstone and at your funeral will you know from the conversations others have about you, besides the eulogy, if you were liked for what you were or was only a fatal attraction about your position and the goodies you had as the paraphernalia of the leadership position you held.

About the Author:
Raghu Kalé is an accomplished communications professional who has positively impacted
business outcomes by supporting corporate and operational strategy. Formerly the Vice President in the Office of the Brand Custodian of Tata Sons, Mr. Kalé has supported brand and marketing thought leadership initiatives for over 25 years. He lives in New Jersey with his wife Ywin Shin, their two daughters, and a wise-eyed beagle named Skye. Loyalty & Sacrifice: Ushering New Horizons for Business Leaders in the Digital Age is his first book.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Great Leadership Development Disrupter: Leadership Rotation

Guest post from Dee Ann Turner:

During my tenured career at one organization, I had the “best of the best” leadership development opportunities. I attended multiple executive education courses at the top business schools in the United States. In that organization, no expense was spared for leadership development. Their program includes on-one coaching from some of the best leadership minds and constant exposure to top leadership conferences and speakers. The organization ensures participation in multiple mentoring programs, assignment to non-profit boards and engaging in a multitude of on-the-job experiences with most senior leaders in the company. While all of these leadership development tactics has the potential to contribute to leadership growth, none of them compared to the one that transformed me as a leader.

For 30 years, I worked in the same function within the organization – Human Resources, later renamed Talent. On my 30th anniversary with the company, I left the familiar and launched a new function and team, Enterprise Social Responsibility, something I knew very little about at the time. With the new assignment came a blank sheet of paper to develop a strategy, a new team to lead whom I did not select, a new leader in an unfamiliar area of the company and a charge to “figure it out.” It was single most effective leadership development activity of my entire career. Since then, I have become and advocate for organizations to formally adopt leadership rotation programs as part of the leadership development plans.

Often, businesses and even non-profits, anticipate the pain of change to be greater than the value of the learning, so they avoid leadership rotation, especially if things are going well. However, an organization cannot afford for their leaders to become complacent and their learning to atrophy. While the stability that tenured leadership at the highest levels creates some comfort for collaboration, it can adversely impact innovation. Furthermore, leaders who stay in a position too long can shift into an “automatic” mode in both strategic thinking and in their people management.

Consider these benefits of a leadership rotation program:

1. The leader learns the valuable skill of building trust with a team. True leadership does not require a leader to have expertise in a specific subject matter. Instead, it requires them to lead people who do. Leaders who lack subject matter competency have to rely on the subject matter experts on their team to provide information and help make the best decisions. Trust breeds trust. When the leader trusts the team members, the team members often reciprocate. Trust is foundational to the success of any leader.

2. The leader learns critical persuasion and negotiation skills. It is far easier to advocate and negotiate about a very familiar function. It’s much more challenging to so in unfamiliar territory. Yet, it is in the discomfort of the unfamiliar that promotes growth for the leader.  Significant challenge to thinking and planning skills helps the leader’s competencies evolve.

3. The leader is more likely to develop an innovation mindset. If a leader stays in one function too long, it is more difficult to think about doing things differently. A leadership rotation can reignite some of the ideation that is natural to the leader. New ideation can move the organization forward to meet future challenges.

4. The leader strengthens people management skills. In most cases, an established leader is selecting the talent for the team. That same talent is choosing to work for the leader. However, when a leader is reassigned to a team, it requires new skills in leading people. The leader did not select the team members and they did not select the leader. This situation requires the leader to focus on communication skills, role definition, goal setting, holding others accountable and performance management. All leaders on any team should be applying these skills, but doing so in a new environment with new team members accelerates leadership development.

5. The leader develops collaboration skills. When assigned to a new role, especially if the functional competencies are unfamiliar, the leader will not only grow trust with the team members, but will also grow collaboration skills with peers. The new subject matter will require the leader to seek input, counsel and feedback from other leaders in the organization. It’s not business as usual. Interdependency develops within the leadership team when the leaders are challenged by a new role.

Within tenured organizations, leadership development can be especially challenging. There are too few new activities or programs that disrupt the leader’s thinking and perspective. Consider the significant role leadership rotation can play in developing the leaders in your organization.

Dee Ann Turner is leading the modern conversation about talent in business. The in-demand speaker, author, executive coach, and consultant was the first female officer at Chick-fil-A, for whom she served as Vice President of Talent and later, Vice President of Sustainability. There, Dee Ann helped shape Chick-fil-A’s historically remarkable culture for more than 30 years. In her bestselling first book, It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and a Compelling Culture, Dee Ann took readers behind the scenes of Chick-fil-A for explanations and action steps any business could adopt. Released on September 3, 2019, her follow-up BET ON TALENT: HOW TO CREATE A REMARKABLE CULTURE THAT WINS THE HEARTS OF CUSTOMERS dissects the strategies of numerous industry-leading organizations alongside explanations of Dee Ann’s original approaches to the most crucial decisions in business. Today, she leads her own organization, Dee Ann Turner, LLC, writing books, speaking to over 50 audiences per year and consulting and coaching leaders globally. Dee Ann lives with her husband just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

#GreatLeadersCoach – 5 Coaching Skills Every Leader Should Have

Guest post from Phil Renshaw and Jenny Robinson:

For many years now there has been increasing recognition of the value professional coaches bring to managers and leaders in business. Given the power of coaching, it can benefit everyone. Both the supply and the demand for such coaches continues to increase. However, it is our belief that we are all missing a vital fact.

It is simply untenable to think that we can give a professional coach to everyone who would benefit from it - organisations cannot afford to give everyone a professional coach. And yet they can, and in our view should, give everyone a leader-coach.

Theories and leadership advocates have been arguing for decades (if not millennia) that the most effective leaders are great coaches because they use these skills to harness the potential of the whole team, not just the super stars.  These leaders recognise that they cannot lead alone.  

The first five fundamental skills of coaching can be learnt by anyone.  As you read the list take note if you are mentally yawning because you think “they’re not rocket science” or “these are obvious”.  It’s important to spot if you do this. Many do, and it means they fail to develop the nuances of these fundamentals. All skills require practice – we are not born with these skills!

1. Generative Listening
We need to hear the concerns of our colleagues, understand their issues and give them time to think if we are to be most useful. This is not simply listening. Rather it is giving your full attention, listening out for what is not said, the tone and language used, such that it prompts great questions and hence great thinking in your people. It is generative because it helps the speaker to generate their own solutions. This empowerment is the core to great coaches. Having the belief that your people will be able to find their own way forward is what generative listening demonstrates.

2. Questioning
Banish boring questions.  This is how you will bring alive your curiosity and help someone to see a new perspective.  It also makes it FUN!  We advocate left-field questions like: if you had a magic wand, what would you wish for? What would your kids say? How will you see this issue in twenty-five years-time?  Imaginative questions help to break old assumptions and are a powerful gateway to change.

3. Giving Feedback
Leaders who coach do not turn into “softies”. Coaching skills allow for more direct and straightforward conversations about performance and behaviour.  Key to this is establishing a relationship of trust, so that both people feel they are respected.  In this context, giving feedback becomes a gift because it now comes from a place of helpfulness.  When you are a leader who coaches, you hold the belief that people absolutely want to know if they are failing or acting in a way that is not helpful to others.  Notice now what happens for you, when you make this assumption. And now think about giving someone feedback. 

4. Changing Perspective
Have you ever had the experience of listening to a friend as they tell you a problem and from your point of view it is obvious what they should do?  Welcome to a new perspective.  Of course, your “obvious” might not be theirs, nor may it be right for them.  But the point is, there is always a fresh way to see things.  Leaders who coach help people to find that new perspective.  Ellen Langer, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard, says that new perspectives help us to break categorical thinking.  Categorical thinking is all about “right” “wrong” “should” “must” “ought”.  This is not helpful and not true. There is always more than one way.  Your job is to help your coachee find new ways.

5. Using Pause-Points™
We use the term Pause-Points to represent several related and yet crucial skills. For yourself, as a leader, Pause-Points are the brief moments that you take to notice what is happening around you. When you metaphorically step back, and reflect – what important things have happened today? What did I miss in the whirlwind of meetings and conversations today? For others around you, Pause-Points represent when you pause in conversation, when you use silence to encourage them to think more deeply and to draw out what is happening at a deeper level. Do it now – what has surprised you so far in this article?

Being an effective leader-coach requires awareness and practice – it’s a skill so this should be no surprise. The components of coaching often appear easy – and like the great sportsperson whose ability seems effortless, they are easy (or at least straight-forward) … provided you practice. If you’ve never been trained at these things, or never given them attention, why should you be any good at it? Being senior does not mean you can do these things, after all, as someone significant said: What got you here won’t get you there! (thanks Marshall Goldsmith).

And as Marshall also said, ‘Successful leaders achieve lasting change through effective coaching.’

PhilRenshaw and Jenny Robinson are leadership development experts and co-authors of new book, Coaching on the Go.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Best Run Companies are the Sustainable Companies

Guest post from Sam Hua and Nan Hua:

Business people talk all the time about wanting to build ‘hundred-year companies’. But a   hundred years of what? A hundred years of growth? A hundred years of development? Or a hundred years of survival?

The key should be survival, so the company will be alive and kicking in a hundred years, passed on across generations. This is the ultimate achievement in business. As for a hundred years of growth – well, no company has yet managed to do that.

Most public companies see their strategy as being entirely dictated by growth. Balance sheets, income statements and cash flow statements are
cranked out every year. And so, we’ve gotten to the point where public companies can’t even look beyond the current year in their ‘strategic vision’.

Now let’s talk about development.

What is development? Growth means more money; development means more capabilities. Development is the process of gaining the capability to survive in the future.

When a company’s revenues reach a peak, it could very well be the eve of its destruction. Why? Because this year’s success is the result of inertia from the past. If you don’t develop the ability to continue to survive next year, you might be gone by then. If you have piles of cash on hand but your company faces the risk of failure, that shows you don’t have a scientific outlook on development – all you’re focusing on is growth. This was Nokia’s problem.

Many business people, the most successful ones, often say that their companies are 6-18 months away from failure. These people are said to be ‘always focusing on the next crisis’. Sometimes they’re accused of faking it to keep their employees in line. But it’s really none of these things. They are not guarding against sudden crises, they just have a clear understanding of how companies survive and develop – everything a company has today is the result of good decisions yesterday. But if good decisions aren’t being made today, then the company won’t survive tomorrow. It’s a cause and effect dynamic.

What’s an even higher achievement than development? Survival. When we talk about building a 100-year company, we don’t mean the company is going to grow for 100 years, we mean the company will still be around in 100 years. The ultimate achievement in business is sustainable operation – the company always survives and never disappears. How do you do this? By always having new cards in hand. If you never want to be left behind by society, you need to be always useful to it so that it keeps you around. You have to always think about your killer products, authoritative expertise and dreams come true for the next year, next five years, next decade. This is the foundation of our strategy.

Sam Hua and Nan Hua are  founding partners of Shanghai H&H Marketing Consulting
Company and the authors of SUPER SIGNS: Taking Your Brand To The Ultimate Level.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Strategy Story That Works

Guest post from Paul Smith:

Every great leader tells stories. But which stories are the most important ones to tell?

That’s a question I’ve thought a lot about. And after interviewing over 300 CEOs, leaders, and executives in 25 countries around the world about their use of storytelling in business, I finally have an answer. I discuss all of my conclusions in the new book The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell. But in this article, let me lay out the first four and give you an example of one of them.

Four of the stories I think every leader needs to be able to tell are about setting the direction for the organization. Here they are:

1.    Where we came from (our founding story)
2.    Why we can’t stay here (a case-for-change story)
3.    Where we’re going (a vision story)
4.    How we’re going to get there (a strategy story)

Every leader, regardless of what functional discipline they represent, needs to be able to tell those four stories. If you can, you have a much better chance of being able to get the organization to go where you want them to go.

But telling these stories doesn’t just mean having a clearly articulated set of talking points on those four topics. Of course, you should have a clear set of talking point on those four topics. But telling a compelling story about those four ideas is not the same as just having good talking points.

A story is something special. A story is a narrative about something that happened to someone. Human beings are far more interested in – and compelled to act because of – stories than they are from slides or bullet points or talking points or memos.

Here’s an example of #4 – a strategy story.

The cough/cold industry is obviously a seasonal business. The overwhelming majority of cold medicines, cough syrups, decongestants, and facial tissues are sold in either the winter cold season or spring allergy season. And like many other businesses, there’s usually one dominant brand in each of those categories, and then distant second and third place brands.

One year, all the employees at one of those second-place brands arrived at work to find something unexpected on their desks—a copy of what looked like an article from The Wall Street Journal. Except it wasn’t really a Journal article. It was just a memo designed to look like one. Oddly, the date at the top was six years into the future. And the byline identified the author as one of the executives who worked in their business unit. So, while nobody was fooled, it was all strange enough to convince everyone to read it. The title was “How David Beat Goliath.”

Here’s a synopsis of what it said:

What’s the best strategy to win a basketball game if you know your opponent is better than you?

Answer: don’t let them play the game the way their way. Change the game. One strategy that’s worked for a lot of out-classed teams is this – play a full-court press the entire game. Your opponents have probably had very little practice against a full-court press. And when they do finally get the ball on their side of the court to make a play, they’ll be too exhausted to execute it.

And that’s exactly what this second-tier brand in the cough/cold category did that year. Instead of only running advertisements during cold and allergy season, they started advertising twelve months a year. The ground they gained in off-peak time gave them a head start the next peak season.

Their next unconventional move was to stop marketing their brand as only good for colds and allergies. For example, you can use facial tissues to remove makeup or wipe away tears, not just blow your nose. And while most brands market their products exclusively to women (who still make about 80 percent of the purchase decisions), they started advertising to men also. Those new uses and new buyers grew their market share even more.

But they didn’t stop with just marketing changes. They started innovating with their product as well: Self-dosing lids, designer boxes, and packaging so soft you could curl up with it in bed when you’re sick. Each new idea brought new sales.

The article went on to describe equally radical changes the brand had made to retail shelf strategies, promotional strategies, and new places to use the product nobody had ever thought of before. The final line of the article said that after five years of executing these strategies, this distant little second-place brand had just overtaken the dominant brand in market share for the first time in its fifty-year history. “David 37%. Goliath 36%.”

At the bottom of the article was a handwritten note that said, “Thanks for everything you did to achieve these amazing results! —the boss.”

Notice this was a story, but it clearly explained each piece of the brand’s strategy and why each one would work, using layman’s terms, a brilliant analogy, and an inspiring story. By the afternoon, people all over the office had pinned that article to their cubicle walls. And for weeks, the author was stopped in the hallway by people he’d never met before thanking him for writing such an inspiring article, and for explaining the strategy in a way they could understand, appreciate, and most importantly, execute.

A well-crafted strategy story like that can do the same for you.

Paul Smith is one of the world's leading experts on business storytelling. He's a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell, Lead with a Story, Sell with a Story, and Parenting with a Story. You can find Paul at

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Leaders: Where Are Your Best Ideas Born? The Power Of Incubation

Guest post by Roger L. Firestien, PhD:

I’d bet you a hundred dollars that you don’t get your best ideas at work. Most people in my seminars and classes tell me that they get their best ideas while driving a car, exercising, taking a bath or shower, or as they fall asleep at night.

At work, most of us are in implementation mode. Action mode. Make-it-happen mode. When we get away from work and are able to pay attention to something in a relaxed way, new ideas begin to surface. Activities like driving, bathing or falling asleep are so automatic that we relax the judgmental part of our thinking, thus allowing new ideas to surface.

A classic tenet of creative problem solving is that often breakthrough ideas come to us when we step away from the problem and incubate. You’ve likely experienced it yourself. You’ve been working on a problem for a long time, haven’t made progress, and you back off to do something else. After your period of incubation — eureka! The idea hits you.

Several times in my life I’ve woken up in the middle of the night with a breakthrough idea for a project I am working on. As a matter of fact, my first book came to me at 3 a.m. in Washington D.C. in 1986. I was finishing up my doctoral dissertation and took the weekend off to visit some friends. I still remember the meal we had that evening, Thai food with white wine. In the middle of the night, I woke up with the characters and the plot line for the book. I grabbed my pocket tape recorder and dictated almost the entire book. The next morning, I needed a new tape because I had filled one with my early morning epiphany. Now, here is the kicker. I went to D.C. to get away from my work. I almost did not take the recorder with me because I thought I was mentally exhausted. However, if I had left the recorder behind, I am sure that book would not exist today.

Recently, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of entrepreneurs for one of my clients. Each member of the panel agreed that their best ideas don’t come at work. All of them had their best ideas “off the grid.” One entrepreneur goes to his cottage on the lake, another goes to his property in the desert, another works on a friend’s cattle ranch outside of the city. (Confession: I'm the guy at the ranch.) Several of them keep their phones near their beds so they can dictate a voice memo if they wake with an idea during the night.

My friend Michelle Miller-Levitt was on the panel. She owned Buffalo, NY’s first podcast studio, Too Much Neon. Michelle told me where she goes to find great ideas, and it's one of the most unusual "places" I've ever heard. When Michelle is stuck on a problem, she hangs upside down on a medicine ball. She says that by doing this, she sees the world a little differently. After a few minutes, she has cleared her mind and a new idea usually surfaces.

The key? Being ready to catch those ideas when they appear. Keep a notepad or your smart phone with you to record new insights when you’re in the mode.

Dr. Roger Firestien has taught more people to lead the creative process than anyone else
in the world. He is senior faculty and an associate professor at the Center for Creativity and Change Leadership at SUNY Buffalo, author of Create in A Flash:  A Leader’s Recipe For Breakthrough Innovation and President of Innovation Resources, Inc. For more information please visit: