Thursday, April 2, 2020

Hire People with Common Sense and Good Critical Judgement

Guest post by Stan Silverman:

During a recent event to launch my book, Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success, I spoke about the importance of hiring people with common sense and good critical judgment because at some point, you want them to violate policy when it is in the company’s best interest to do so.

I described an experience early in my career while serving as national sales manager for one of my company’s operating divisions. I was informed that production of a batch of product was found to have trace contaminants and needed to be recalled. Every day that passed, the cost of the recall would rise as the contaminated product flowed deeper into the distribution network. If the product was used in the production of a customer’s product, the cost of the recall would rise exponentially and damage the company’s reputation.

My boss, who had the authority to order the recall and the CEO of the company were traveling and were unreachable. This was before the days of smart phones, email and text messages. I didn’t have the authority to order the recall, and was told by my direct reports that I would either be celebrated or terminated for the recall decision. I ordered the recall.

When my boss and the CEO returned from their trip, I told them what I had done. They both celebrated my decision. That’s when I learned that you must hire people with common sense and good critical judgment, because someday they will need to make a decision in the best interests of the company that violates policy or is beyond their authority level.

A few days after I shared this experience, I received an email from one of the attendees, a senior leader at a bank, who wrote:

Your presentation last Thursday evening was very impactful. You said some powerful things that any company or leader would be smart to adopt. I think the one that was most surprising to hear was that companies should hire people who are willing to break the rules for the good of the company. It is so true, but no one ever states that openly for fear people will totally ignore the controls that have been put in place for all the right reasons. 

I remember the week when I was filling in for my boss who was out of the country and I made a decision to close all the bank branches in Eastern Pennsylvania on 9/11, about 15 minutes after the second attack. I had no authority to do it, was told by many I better not do it because I did not have the authority, but I knew I’d be wrong in my heart to not close … [risking a possible] run on the bank if I did not do it.  I also believed I would not have a job the next day for doing it.
The bank made a decision about an hour later to close everywhere in the footprint.  I still had my job … and we were the first to open the next day while most [banks] continued to be closed for another day.  It was real important that America knew the banks were open for business.

A company’s reputation can also be damaged when an employee makes a decision that is not consistent with common sense and good critical judgment. In April 2018, a barista at a Starbucks in the Rittenhouse Square section of Philadelphia exercised poor critical judgment and called the police on two African American men who had not yet ordered anything, but were just waiting for a friend to arrive. The two men were arrested.

Starbucks promotes its cafés as a comfortable and inviting place to meet friends, hang out, enjoy coffee, food, conversation and use its Wi-Fi network. This is the business model that has made Starbucks successful. It is not unusual for people to arrive and not make a purchase as they wait for their friends. This Starbucks barista violated a core value of the Starbucks business model.

To say that the arrest of these two individuals caused an uproar, accusations of bias and discrimination against black customers and loss of brand reputation is an understatement. There was a call to boycott Starbucks. The company apologized for the incident. A month later, Starbucks closed all of its 8,000 U.S.- based cafés for racial bias training.

What is the lesson? Hire people with common sense and good critical judgment, especially if they interface with your customers. Their decisions will help protect your reputation.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. For more information please visit

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Leaders Lessons from an Outward Bound Wilderness Instructor

Guest post from Mark Brown:

Leaders in the outdoor leadership space are quite familiar with a wilderness ethic and organization called Leave No Trace. Originally a program created by the United States Forest Service in the late 1980s, the organization offers guidelines to people who venture into the wilderness to help reduce their negative impact and preserve it for future generations. LNT has become the gold standard for organizations who operate in America’s backcountry environments.

LNT is not a well-known philosophy beyond the outdoor industry. But perhaps it should be. This argument was introduced by New York Life CEO Ted Mathas, while speaking at an event hosted by Outward Bound USA that honored New York Life Foundation's work with grieving teens. Mathas, himself an alumnus of Outward Bound’s wilderness programs, made the connection as he discussed his journey to becoming an effective CEO. He highlighted the importance of leaders putting their egos aside and “leaving no trace” by respecting the culture that exists and supporting people rather than focusing on their own agendas.

Mathas’ insights could be expanded to include many of the seven principles listed by Leave No Trace:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Business leaders who know the environment in which they are leading can greatly minimize any negative impact, whether on the people they lead or the communities/environments in which they operate. Deliberate planning to minimize impact will ensure more positive outcomes. Too many leaders make either/or decisions regarding both human and environmental impacts, but this is a false choice that can be negated with proper planning and preparation.
  2. Dispose of Waste Properly: Waste disposal builds upon planning and preparation. LNT philosophy requires nothing be left behind that would negatively impact the environment. Business, particularly manufacturing has embraced the Japanese concepts of Muda and Kaizen, which have been widely adapted across industries as Lean. Muda is waste and Kaizen is the process of reducing that waste made most famous by Toyota’s Production System. Mathas actually takes this even further in his presentation, connecting this concept well with what is known as the “8th waste”—that of unused human creativity. An effective leader is one who taps that potential.
  3. Leave What You Find: Mathas honed in on this as an important aspect he paid attention to when he became a new CEO. New York Life has existed for 175 years. It has a rich history and culture, and as a new leader he recognized that his most important leadership was to preserve the good that was there as he guided the organization forward. Even struggling organizations have good things about them, and good people within who may be hunkered down waiting for better leadership. LNT advises us to see what is there and to preserve it for future generations.
  4. Be Considerate of Others: The wilderness holds a special place for those who travel into it. LNT asks that travelers respect not only the place, but the experience as well. Trail etiquette and minimizing noise to respect others are large parts of this principle. In a business setting, this principle has huge implications for the role an organization plays in its community and the world. The Conscious Capitalism movement has a tenet it calls a “stakeholder orientation.” This tenet reflects the importance of consideration to everyone who has engagement with the organization, from customers to vendors and the community in which it operates. Following this principle elevates the place of corporations in the lives of people.
All of our institutions are currently under tremendous strain. Rapid change and technological advances are only going to accelerate. Corporate leaders would do well to follow the words of Mathas and look to organizations that have been advising leaders about how to navigate the wilderness, where leaders have been successfully and safely guiding into the unknown.

About Mark Brown:
Mark Brown is the author of Outward Bound Lessons to Live a Life of Leadership: To Serve, to Strive, and Not To Yield. Originally a native of Northeastern Ohio, Mark moved to Naples, Florida where he worked as a writer and magazine editor. At the age of 25, he decided to attend a 23-day trip to an Outward Bound course in Utah. After taking a temporary job as a van driver for Outward Bound in Minnesota, he helped successfully search for and rescue a teenage boy that had become separated from the group. After this, Outward Bound asked him to become an instructor which began a 22-year working relationship with the organization. He accrued over 1,000 days in the wilderness as an instructor. He earned a master’s degree in business/entrepreneurship from Western Carolina University and has since served as a transformational leadership consultant in a variety of industries.

Monday, March 23, 2020

20 Articles to Help Leaders Navigate the COVID 19 Crisis

I’ve dug deep into Google search to curate 20 articles from what I believe to be trusted sources for leaders. Some are new and some are older; all seem to be practical and relevant advice for leaders trying to step up during these challenging times. After reading as many as you can, ask yourself the following question:

“In five years, how do I want to be remembered for how I handled this crisis?”

Then start doing those things today!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Fresh Leadership Model for a New Decade

Guest post from Dr. Ranya Nehmeh:

Why do the rest of us act like millennials are from another planet? We have a need to comment on the constant screen gazing, the matcha latte obsession, the job-hopping, the mood swings from apathy to omg…don’t even try to say you don’t know what I’m talking about. Millennials are such a distinct demographic, possessing generation wide characteristics that seem far from the norm, but let’s face it, this is the group that will start dictating the norm, especially in the work place.

Organizations have undergone massive shifts over the last decade in terms of how they operate. The workplace of today is unrecognizable compared to when baby boomers (born between 1946 – 64) started their careers. Work spaces, technology, demographics, cultural sensitivities, and remote working are but a few of the areas that have changed. Boomers instigated many of these changes to adapt the workplace to fit their needs. But now that they are starting to retire, what will happen to their stable work approach and traditional top-down leadership practices?

Thanks, but no thanks Boomer, is what the tech-savvy, confident millennials (born between 1980 - 2000) are saying. They prefer a bottoms-up approach, and want to feel involved and valued in the workplace. They have no interest in being told how things are done, or how things work.  They also have different ideas about what constitutes a good leader. This has contributed to a leadership gap: what millennials expect vs. what they are getting from their leaders.  

With the onset of a new decade, it is predicted that millennials will make up almost half of the American workforce, so it is time for organizations to pay attention and minimize this leadership gap in order to embrace, as opposed to alienate, this valuable group of workers. The key is to stop trying to lead millennials by using generic leadership approaches, and start looking for innovative ideas that speak to this specific target group, or better yet, just start by listening.

So where do we start? Well, we need to ask them what they want and not scoff at their responses.   That’s what I did. I went straight to the source and conducted an extensive survey of over 700 millennials from around the globe. And so, after dozens of conversations, and a few too many matcha lattes, I had a much better understanding of what they wanted. There was consistency in what they were asking for, which was a leadership style that was in sync with the times (technology, social media, ethics, respect) and catered to their needs, perspectives and strengths. Nine clear leadership traits emerged. I took the first letter of each trait and came up with the word … CHAMELEON.

Emotional Intelligence
Overcome Obstacles

The ideal leader of millennials would possess these nine traits…The CHAMELEON Leader.
During the survey, one of the questions asked participants if their leadership expectations were met when they joined the workplace; 62% said no. This statistic is alarming and highlights that millennials’ leadership expectations are, for the most part, not being met. Of course we like to say their expectations are unrealistic, but if you take a look at them you will realize that they are very in tune with the world we live in, and the world we hope to live in.

The CHAMELEON Leader is meant to provide the bridge between expectation and reality. Why a chameleon? Because chameleons change color according to the situation. They are adaptable!

This new decade, which will be ripe with environmental concerns, instability, and technology booms, requires a new leadership model. Leaders who are ready to embrace this young and ambitious generation and lead them energetically into the future will require a shift in mind-set, a visionary approach, a willingness to collaborate not dictate, inspire not conspire, but most importantly to get excited about the potential benefits of having this generation on board. Being a chameleon leader for millennials means finding out what is important to them and creating an authentic way to communicate that understanding. 

Dr. Ranya Nehmeh, author of the book The CHAMELEON Leader. Connecting with Millennials holds a Doctorate in Business Administration from the Swiss Management
University and a Masters in Human Resources from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). She has over fifteen years of work experience in the area of human resource management. Based in Vienna, Austria. Ranya considers herself a third-culture kid. The CHAMELEON Leader is her debut book.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Learning from History: How to Make Decisions

Guest post from Robert L. Dilenschneider:

We all have to make decisions, and of course we want them to come out right. But how do we go about reaching those decisions, and what can we do to help ensure they turn out well?  Simple questions to ask. Incredibly hard questions to answer. Among the many lessons I’ve learned in my more than 50 years of working with leaders of major corporations, financial firms, governments and academic institutions is that the quality of decision-making varies widely – I might even say wildly – from person to person and situation to situation.

In observing this process, I’ve noticed that the leaders who most often got things right seemed to be equipped with a kind of toolbox for decision-making.  They were flexible and thoughtful, but beyond that they possessed certain fundamental principles and values that gave them a framework for sorting out the facts, evaluating the options and reaching smart, timely decisions.

As I thought about this fascinating process, it struck me that by looking at some major figures over the ages I could learn important lessons about how they employed their decision-making toolboxes to make world-shaping choices.
Someone who had to make one of the most difficult and fateful decisions in history is President Harry S. Truman. He became Commander in Chief late in World War II after the death of President Franklin Roosevelt, and so it fell to him to decide whether to deploy the first atom bomb against Japan. It was such a tough decision that the arguments for and against it are still being debated. On the one hand, using the bomb would mean unleashing a terrible new weapon on the world, one that could kill or poison tens of thousands at a time. On the other hand, holding back the bomb would mean invading Japan to end the war, with the casualties estimated at one million. 

Truman had given a lot of thought to making decisions, and what he wrote on the subject is instructive. First, he said, get all the information available. Listen to other people about what they believe the impact of the decision will be.  Decide what’s right according to the principles by which you’ve been raised and educated. Once you’ve decided what’s right, don’t let yourself “be moved from that decision under any considerations.” But if the decision proves to be wrong, get more information and make another decision. In other words, be firm but also be willing to acknowledge error and start over.

One of the most impressive leaders I’ve studied is Marie Curie, who won Nobel Prizes in physics and chemistry in an era when women were thought to have no place in the world of science. She made many decisions during her career as a researcher in the then-new field of radiation. Some were made in times of extreme grief, like her choice to continue her work after the death of her beloved husband and research partner, Pierre Curie. Other decisions proved to be seriously wrong, like working with X-ray equipment without proper protections.

From Marie Curie’s astonishing career, we can learn several important lessons. One is that few decisions are made in isolation, so be willing to let other people help you, and be willing to help them. Many decisions are made under traumatic circumstances. In those cases, keep your focus, accept help from others and be patient (except in emergencies). Finally, Marie Curie was singled-minded, a quality that can lead to great achievements, but must be constantly examined for its impact on others, like one’s children and other loved ones.

We can learn not only from history, but also from figures from our own times. The story of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who has fought so bravely for the right of girls in her homeland to be educated, is such a powerful story, in part because it teaches lessons about dealing with events that shape our age, in particular the constant threat of terrorism. Because of her outspoken advocacy, she was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen when she was just 15. She survived and was later awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. What makes her story especially inspiring is that the Taliban had announced it would try to kill her if she didn’t back down. Her reply was, “I decided I wasn’t going to cower in fear of their wrath.” 

There are many lessons to learn from Malala’s example. One is that you may be attacked for your decisions – perhaps verbally, perhaps even physically – so be aware and be prepared. Follow your decision, do not give up. Seek education and take every opportunity to broaden your knowledge. And finally, whether it is a large decision or a small one, have the courage to do the right thing.

Robert L. Dilenschneider has hired more than 3,000 successful professionals, and advised thousands more. He is founder of The Dilenschneider Group, a corporate strategic counseling and public relations firm based in New York City. Formerly president and CEO of Hill & Knowlton, he is the author of the bestselling books Power and Influence, A Briefing for Leaders, On Power and newly released Decisions: Practical Advice from 23 Men and Women Who Shaped the World. For more information, please visit

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Perseverance, Patience and Passion

Guest post by Riccardo Pozzoli:

Visionary enthusiasm must be balanced by a good dose of reality, because at the beginning it is important to proceed carefully. Setting a target that is not too easily achievable can provide the impetus to secure a great result. When you start from scratch with a new idea, you have to be very patient and not let the first difficulties defeat you, because there is no certainty that things will happen within the timeframe you first planned. It is possible that for the first six months nothing will happen, and then it will suddenly explode. To patience I add another very important skill: perseverance, the ability to hold on and not give up. If you have an idea, a project, a dream, but you are not determined enough to pursue it, then there is no point in having it.

The beautiful thing about our era is that, unlike what has happened in the past, the place where you were born or the family environment you came from are no longer so important in forming you as a person. Reading, learning, travelling, coming into contact with different realities are no longer the exclusive prerogative of only certain social groups.

I am reminded of the case of Jeremy Scott, the creative director of Moschino, who is one of the most famous and acclaimed designers of the moment and is also one of the pop icons of our time, regardless of how you judge his creations, which are eclectic and unexpected to say the least. Scott was born and raised in a context that had nothing to do with fashion, in a small town in Missouri, to a middle-class family. He is proof that if you have a dream, if you believe in something, if you have passion and you work hard, then you can get there.

Of course, you need to have the desire and curiosity to grasp these stimuli and the open-mindedness to be influenced by them, knowing that they are essential in all phases of the conception and implementation of a project and not just the initial one.

At the end of 2015 I was in Bologna visiting the Musixmatch offices. I was walking around the city with my phone attached to my ear. On the other side of the screen were Marco and Stefano, and together we were trying to find a name for the lunch delivery service that we had been working on for some time now. It was a real brainstorming session, where everyone put some ideas on the table, hoping that at some point the right one would jump out. Initially the name we had thought of was Food-bowl, referring to the fashion of using bowls – salad bowls and bowls full of vegetables, grains and proteins, seasoned with sauces and various seeds – that was spreading in the United States and, from there, all over the world. However, we realized that the name sounded too much like ‘football’ and that it would therefore be misleading.

So we put everything back on the table and thought again about the fundamental concepts of the business we were developing: on the one hand, food, of course, and on the other, the city, the extremely dynamic urban context we wanted to turn to. So, from the fusion of ‘food’ and ‘urban’, the name of our startup popped up: Foorban. What does this have to do with the fact that I was in Bologna visiting Musixmatch? Well, I am sure it inspired me. Not directly, of course, but stimuli are almost never direct… and that is something I learned in high school, studying Latin, which greatly shaped my way of thinking, giving me an analytical approach.

Of course, it does not always happen that way and not all ideas that come to mind are necessarily going to be the right ones or achievable. My partners and I did many of these brainstorming sessions during the ideation phase for Foorban. Most of them were held at Tom, Marco’s restaurant in Milan. At that time we spent whole days there working on our project and, when the restaurant was closed, the chefs also used us as guinea pigs, making us try out new dishes they intended to include on the menu. Their experiments were not always successful, just as not all our ideas were usable… but the important thing was to try and not give up. This is true both when you cook and when
you have a business project!
This guest post is adapted from CREATE UNIQUENESS: How To Turn A Passion Into A Business by Riccardo Pozzoli. Pozzoli is a global entrepreneur; he has co-founded eight companies in the past ten years and is Creative Director for Condé Nast Italia’s Social Academy. For more information please visit

Friday, February 28, 2020

From Inside-out to Outside-in: the Leadership Mindset in the Age of Climate Emergency

Guest post from Katrin Muff:
Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations does not mince his words at the #COP25: leaders should not fear the green economy, they should see the great business opportunity it represents. And indeed, the climate debate has hit a nerve: the Oxford Dictionary has elected #ClimateEmergency as the word of the year 2019.
While there are a few climate doubters, most leaders I encountera don’t purposefully seek to harm the environment. To many, the business case of reducing their negative footprint is clear and progress is showing. Yet what is unclear to most is how to actually create new business opportunities out of these societal and environmental challenges. Such opportunities would result in what we call a positive handprint, rather than a negative footprint. But how?
Having worked with leaders and their organizations in the past decade, it has become obvious what differentiates those who succeed from those who don’t. It is all about embracing a new mindset, one that starts by looking at the external environmental and societal challenges and then looks for a match internally with existing organizational competencies. We call this outside-in thinking. It is fundamentally different from the traditional inside-out thinking, which looks at the world from the company perspective and assesses what occurs beyond the traditional business boundaries and markets with a risk perspective.
Connecting such external challenges with internal core competencies may not be obvious or evident. Otherwise, it would have long been done. This is were cutting-edge innovation comes into play. A smart combination of knowhow and process tools together with relevant, friendly external stakeholders can do the trick! Our experience with the business strategy approach of #SDGXCHANGE shows how organizations in any sectors can reinvent themselves. While the magic happens in one carefully designed co-creation day where internal and external stakeholder ideate together, it is the mindset of the leaders that determines the success of the session.
There are two ways of creating that mindset shift that work well with leadership teams. Both tools seek to trigger conversations among the teams to assess where they are currently in a context that has previously not been clarified.
     One way is to assess the cultural readiness of the organizations by considering the polarity of stability versus flexibility on one side and the polarity of inner versus outer focus. A short survey enables a conversation about where the organization currently is versus where the participating leadership team would like to see the organization. The disparity of views both on the current and the ideal future state are often eye-opening and allow an awareness shift of those present in the discussion, irrespective of the outcome.
     The other way is to assess where the organization is in terms of having embraced “sustainability”. An entertaining short video frames a Business Sustainability Typology developed by Thomas Dyllick and myself and a short survey collects the assessment of the leadership team. While it matters less where the leaders place their organization, the result frames a discussion among the team that allows for new questions and perspectives that may not have been addressed before. The ensuing discussion contributes measurably to the mindset shift of the team by providing a new frame of reference that generates new thinking and ideas.
The surveys and related discussions are conducted prior to the ideation day where the leadership team is joined by internal and external stakeholders, setting the stage for entirely new service solutions and revenue models that emerge now. As Albert Einstein famously said: solutions to problems cannot be created with the same mindset that created them. And this is exactly what happens when the SDGs, environmental and societal issues, are seen as opportunities rather than threats. These opportunities will likely not only make this world a better place, but as importantly pave the way for an organization to ensure its own economic sustainability in a fast-changing world.

Dr. Katrin Muff is a thought leader in the transformative space of sustainability and responsibility. She is Director at the Institute for Business Sustainability and holds a position as Professor of Practice at the LUISS Business School. She works with leaders, their teams and their boards in the area business transformation towards sustainability. She co-developed the Competency Assessment for Responsible Leadership ( Most recently, Katrin published Five Superpowers for Co-creators (, which features the nine building blocks of co-creation including a pragmatic solution for business organization with the applied strategy tool SDGXCHANGE (

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Helicopter Leadership

Guest post from Stephen Klemich:

It is often asked, what is the difference between Leadership and Management? For over 30 years we have always referred to Leadership as being able to rise above the situation, be objective, strategic and find time to contemplate the culture, people and one’s leadership impact. Management is on-the-ground, day-to-day task orientated, checking quality and delivery of the product and service, and looking after the people. Character-led leaders; heart-led leaders do both. It’s what we refer to as helicopter leadership. 

One of our clients in Australia has used a helicopter to get from site-to-site and I have been fortunate to fly with him many times all over Sydney – a stunning way to work! Helicopters are so maneuverable, being able to land almost anywhere, and rise above the exact position to hover over the site. When flying, we talk about the entire business, then each site, what it might need, how the people are managing it, and who we can encourage or recognize for great work. When we land at the site, as we shut down the engine while the headsets are still on, I remind the leader his role is not to look for all the things that could be better (even though there will always be something). His role is to be a culture builder, not a culture buster. He’s to look for the good, recognize excellence and ask questions. If there are a few things that need attention, wait until he is with the management team in private to ask his questions. This is how we came up with the idea of helicopter leadership. 

The great leaders we have watched build great cultures and organizations have been aware that the language of business is money: no money, no business. They understand that strategy, structure, systems, and results are extremely important, but they are also aware that their role is beyond the task, beyond the money. They are deeply aware of what underpins the sustainable results. They understand it’s culture.

These leaders know their leadership shadow is communicating a certain energy and has the ability to change the atmosphere of the workplace. They focus on ensuring their intentions come across with a positive impression to others, making their impact a positive one on the world around them. They know if they can create a safe place of we’re all in it together, then people want to belong, then they can believe and thus behave in a way that adds value to the culture. These leaders ask themselves, “why and so what”—why are we doing this and so what if we stay the same or change?

They practice helicopter leadership, where they continually rise above the day-to-day and hover, looking over the business and seeing where they can land and assist. In their “helicopter time,” they can carry big loads of problems that need to be addressed, but they also know if the load is too large and too heavy there will be a crash. They lighten the load through effective delegation with an effective management team who are all prepared to model effective behaviors such as authentic, achieving and reliable task-driven behavior and encouraging and developing people-driven behaviors.

These leaders understand the “beyonds.” In business we are often tempted to trade purpose for profit, but courageous leaders go beyond to create heart engagement . . . purpose beyond profit, meaning beyond money, commitment beyond convenience, destiny beyond the daily, to unlock in their peoples’ passion beyond pay, service beyond self, identity beyond individualism.

The heroes of great culture are great leaders, and we have been privileged to work with many that we honor. They have made our job easy!

Stephen Klemich is a longtime leadership consultant, speaker, and CEO and founder of Heartstyles and the author of Above the Line. Stephen has worked with teams across the globe, from small companies to multinational corporations such as KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Unilever, AMEX, and PwC. Stephen is an avid mountain climber and guide who has summitted the Matterhorn, Mount Blanc, Mt Rosa, Eiger, Monch and Jungrfau, in addition to other peaks in the Himalayas and New Zealand. In 2019 he climbed 6 peaks in the Italian Alps. He has always viewed mountaineering as an important part of his own character development journey, and he has incorporated lessons he has learned in the mountains into many of the Heartstyles programs.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Does Your Team Have a #1 Priority?

Guest post from Mike McHargue:

Does your team have one clearly stated priority? The one thing that is the focus above everything else? And, is everyone on your team crystal clear about what that priority is?

Notice I didn’t ask about your priorit-ies.

Greg McKeown most famously wrote about priority in his book Essentialism.

“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.” Someone must have thought “one is good, more would be better!”

They were wrong.

When teams have more than one top priority there often isn’t unity and clarity about what actually is important. Each member of the team is left to decide on his own what the priority is. Often, their priority is determined by their part of the business. The finance person’s priority is budgets and profit/loss statements. The HR team is focused on HR issues. Chief technologist, technology. And so on. But a leadership team’s members need to own responsibility for the whole business, not just their individual pieces of it.  And nothing brings a team together more than one shared, most important goal.

Patrick Lencioni refers to this top priority as a “Thematic Goal” in his books Silos, Politics and Turf Wars and The Advantage, and in practice, often refers to it as a “rallying cry” for a team or organization. He frames the discussion to leaders and teams as follows: “If we were to achieve just one thing in this next period of time, what would that be?”

When leaders don’t clearly define the top priority, often, by default, the market, the crisis, the loudest voice, the squeakiest wheel or the most urgent request defines the priority. The good leader is one who makes sure that never happens, that the No. 1 priority is the No. 1 priority.

A good friend of mine, , Scott Ault, who is the EVP of Workplace Solutions at Mutual of Omaha, understands the power of priority. A few years ago, his team was facing an issue with customer service in his division. His leadership team identified customer service as the senior leadership team’s—and therefore the division’s—top priority. While some members of his leadership team didn’t have direct responsibility for customer service, everyone realized that if that one part of the business wasn’t doing well, it would have a big effect on the whole business. When the entire leadership team committed to customer service as its top priority, they communicated it across the division, divided up tasks, and initiated a thorough project plan to address the issue. The results were dramatic.

Realizing the power of this approach to a singular priority, Scott’s team has since repeated its focus on a top priority across the division multiple times, one time focusing on a new peroduct/service line, later managing the significant growth of their business by hiring the right team players as another. Each time, the focus brought great focus to the organization and great results.

When teams clearly identify the priority, work together to achieve it, and see dramatic results as an outcome, it becomes addictive. One priority solved as a team leads to another priority identified and pursued with focus and vigor.

What is your team’s priority?

Mike McHargue is a champion for organizational health. As a Principal Consultant with Patrick Lencioni’s Table Group, he and his consulting cohort are part of the global movement to bring organizational health into companies. Over the last several years, his clients have included Micron Technologies, Carnival Corporation, Intel, Rio Tinto, World Vision, Applied Materials, Mutual of Omaha, Griffin Communications, St. Luke’s Health System, and Apex Leaders, to name only a few. Mike is a published author and released his first book, Rookie Mistakes: Advice From Top Executives on 5 Critical Leadership Errors, in October of 2018. This book features 25 real-life accounts of errors made and lessons learned from leaders of top U.S. companies. Mike lives in Boise, Idaho, with his wife, Anna, and their three children, Elena, Jack, and Gabriella. For more information regarding his work and The Table Group, contact Mike at or visit his website at

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Good Leaders Have Visions Their Team Can Actually SEE

Guest post from Lee Hartley Carter:

Vision in leadership is essential.  We all know it.  And yet, while we often can answer the question generally with business plan answers, we can’t often paint a picture of what that vision looks like in practice.  Often vision is couched in goals such as growing revenue 20% in 2020 or to be #1 in one’s category by 2025.  While goals are undoubtedly important, that’s not what I’m talking about here.  What I am talking about is a vision that is so crystal clear you can literally visualize it—and so can everyone else around you.  That’s what vision is all about.  It’s no coincidence that vision and visualize have the same linguistic origin—because that’s what vision is meant to do.

Creating a vision that aligns your team takes a lot of thought.  It takes reflection.  It takes getting specific.  Because if you can't be specific, you can become scattered, your team won't know where you’re going, and you won't know success when you see it.  Without specifics, you are likely to fail as a leader.  

When I was just out of college, my friend Glenn and I were having drinks when he asked me my dream for the future.  I mumbled through an answer along the lines of – a good job, married, kids, etc.  You know the drill.  No specifics.  Vague and somewhat meaningless.  He looked at me with a cocked eyebrow and took another gulp of his drink.  Then he said to me, "Lee, that's not a dream.  A dream is specific.  A dream is visual.  When I say what's your dream, I want you to be able to paint a picture of exactly what it is that you want."  I sighed, looked down at my drink and thought, “Man, that is scary.  What if I’m specific and then I don't pull it off?  What if I say this out loud and sound like an idiot?”  I rolled my eyes and tried to change the subject. 

Glenn put down his drink and looked me square in the eye and said, "Let me tell you about my dream.  15 years from now I will be on a boat fishing with my friends, pulling up to my dock, listening to Bob Seger. The wind will be in my hair.  I will have caught three big fish.  And my wife and daughter will be standing on the dock waiting for me.  It will be an epic Saturday.  And I will know, just know, that I made it."  He said this with full confidence, and no sense of irony.  Guess who now has a boat he pulls to the slip, listening to Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights”?  Glenn does. 

I have thought of that evening so many times over the years, and it guides me when I am teaching clients how to create compelling visions.  Your vision should be so clear that it reads just like that.  You should be able to feel it when you talk about it.  Everyone on your team should be able to visualize achieving the vision.  And, maybe, just maybe, it should have its own soundtrack!

Creating a visual vision has three key benefits:

1:  Focus
A visual vision will help you to prioritize.  You only have so much time in a day or mental energy and only so many resources.  If you aren't crystal clear on what you are trying to accomplish, you will waste time on activities that aren’t moving you forward.  You can ask yourself, is this choice moving me closer to my vision?  If not, it might be counter-productive. 

2: Getting Others on Board
The second benefit of having a visual vision is it motivates other people to help make it happen. 

3: Motivation
From time to time we all face burnout, discouragement, and frustration.  Your vision will give you at least 5 WHYs that will keep you going when things go wrong.

We all know vision is essential to leadership.  But it’s not just having a vision that’s enough.  You need to be so specific that you have an exact picture of what that vision looks like.  And once you’ve created that vision you need to share it and repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  So much so that everyone on your team sees exactly what you see. 

Lee Hartley Carter is the author of Persuasion: Convincing Others When Facts Don’t Seem to Matter, and president of maslansky + partners, a language strategy firm based on the single idea that "It's not what you say, it's what they hear,” the author of the new book, Persuasion, a sought-after public speaker and a frequent contributor on Fox News.  With 20+ years of experience in marketing and strategic communications, Carter manages a diverse range of language strategy work for Fortune 100 and 500 companies, trade associations, and nonprofits in the United States and globally, helping  them to better tell their stories.