Thursday, January 29, 2015

How to Plan a Great Off-site Meeting

This post recently appeared on Smartblog on Leadership:

To start off the New Year, a lot of leaders will take their teams “off-site” for a day or more. An off-site meeting can be a great way to develop strategy, get creative, develop a team, learn, and re-invigorate a team. Of course, they can also be like a sentence in purgatory if not planned and run well.

There is plenty of advice on how to run effective meetings, but not enough on planning. A well planned meeting can prevent a lot of the problems associated with bad meetings. Given that off-sites typically involve more time and people than regular team meetings, more thought needs to be put into preparation.

Here’s a few planning tips that will ensure your upcoming offsite is a fun, productive and rewarding experience, and doesn’t turn into and all day meeting from Hell.

1. Ask: “What is the overall purpose of the meeting?” Is it to develop a 3 year strategy? Improve teamwork? Solve a big hairy problem? Sometimes it’s a combination of a few things, but try to keep it to just a few. A great off-site agenda should not look like an extended staff meeting. This is an opportunity to take the time needed to strategize, brainstorm, debate, reflect, and learn.

2. Ask: “What are the desired outcomes?” Desired outcomes are a tangible set of deliverables that describe what a successful meeting would look like at the conclusion. Examples: “A list of 3-5 three year goals”, “A shared vision”, “a shared understanding of each other’s concerns”. Desired outcomes give you a target to shoot for and a way to evaluate the success of the meeting. It also helps drive the creation of the agenda – a way to screen out the clutter that everyone always seems to want to bolt on.

3. Do a “stakeholder assessment”. Who are all the key stakeholders for this meeting and what would a “win” look like for them. Stakeholders may be attending the meeting or they may not. For example, the manager of the meeting leader is a key stakeholder. You won’t be able to please all stakeholders but it helps to least be aware of their needs.

4. Consider the context. What’s going on in the environment that may influence the participant’s behavior, mindset, or participation? For example, is there a pending downsizing? A new team member? A restructuring?

5. Establish the dates. In today’s busy, fast paced environment, the days of multi-day off-sites are over. 1 Day is ideal, two is OK, and anything more than 2 can turn into a death march.

6. Select an overall “theme” for the meeting. The theme will emerge based on the purpose, desired outcomes, and context. Examples of themes are innovation, change, diversity, or playing to win. Having a central theme allows you to creatively tie all of the meeting elements together: agenda, venue, activities, gift, etc…

7. Find the right venue. Work with your corporate meeting planners or do your own search. Most resorts and hotels cater to corporate meetings and can help you select the best room, meals, and activities. You’ll probably work with a conference planner. Make sure you specify AV needs, room set-up, meals and breaks, and any other details. It’s the little details that can make or break an off-site that are often delegated and ignored.

8. Design the high level agenda. This is a creative process, where you begin to come up with ways to accomplish the desired outcomes. There could be teambuilding activities, strategy or problem solving sessions, training, and/or presentations.

The pieces should begin to fit together like a puzzle. I often write the key agenda pieces on post-its, and move them around until they begin to form a nice flow.

9. Develop the detailed agenda. For each major agenda segment, determine the what, who, how, when, and how long. Be realistic! Better to allow for a little slack time vs. trying to cram too much in.

10. Select “extracurricular” activities. Two day off sites often include a dinner and/or fun activity. This down time is a great way to informally build the team and keep the energy high. Pick activities that support your meeting purpose and theme.

11. Select a parting gift – some kind of special memento that supports the theme and creates a lasting anchor for the experience.

12. Fine-tune the agenda. Work with a partner to trouble-shoot potential snafus and make any inevitable last minute adjustments.

Once the meeting starts, be prepared to make more adjustments. Things never go as planned, but if you follow these steps, you’ll improve your chances of having a great leadership team off-site. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Five Ways to Lead Product Teams More Effectively

In order to bring quality products to market that delight your customers and meet their needs, a company must have leaders that run the product teams effectively.

Read Brian Lawley’s guest post over at Management and Leadership for
5 Ways a Product team leader or Product Manager can be more effective in accomplishing this and leading the team and the product to success.

Monday, January 26, 2015

How to Hang on to your Superstars

The cost of turnover is often way underestimated. The obvious costs are hiring and training costs, but there is also lost opportunity, morale, reputation, customer relationships, and other intangibles that are harder to measure.
The cost of turnover is even higher when you lose a great employee, one of those “A player” superstars. The results of the first one focus on the output differential produced by top performers.

While top employees are hard to keep – they tend to promoted, “pulled” into better opportunities, and may have higher expectations, here are 10 things that a smart manager can do to minimize the chances of losing their best employees for the wrong reasons.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How to Become a Conscious Leader

Guest post from Jim Dethmer:

Many people are interested in becoming a more conscious (awake, present, engaged) leader.  At the Conscious Leadership Group we believe there are three foundational moves that are the basis of all conscious leadership.  If you want to be a conscious leader you must master these. 

Move from drifting to committing 

No one has ever become a conscious leader without committing to being a conscious leader.  Every October, 40,000 people run the Chicago Marathon.  No one will finish that great test of discipline and fortitude without committing.  For many, the commitment began months or years ago when one day (and then on many, many consecutive days) they committed to run a marathon.  

Conscious leadership is not accidental.  It is intentional.  In our experience, this intention and commitment is not a one-time decision.  In life we all commit.  We commit to lose 10 lbs, to be a more present parent or to achieve our sales goals.  We commit and then we drift away from our commitment.  We find ourselves eating a cookie, zoning out while talking to our kids or doing something other than the next action step to reach our sales goal. 

The issue is not the original commitment; it’s the infinite number of re-commitments.  The pattern of life and conscious leadership is commit and drift-shift.  Shifting is the act of recommitting. 

So here are the key questions: “Are you committed to being a conscious leader?  What is one concrete evidence that proves your commitment?” 

Move from blaming to claiming

What most distinguishes a conscious leader from an unconscious leader is that conscious leaders claim responsibility by taking it.  Unconscious leaders spend their time blaming people, circumstances and conditions for what is happening in their lives by blaming others and themselves.   Conscious leaders understand that responsibility is not something that can be assigned.  It can only be taken. 

In every situation, conscious leaders notice their impulse to blame, to point a finger and to find fault.  They catch this tendency and then they choosethey choose responsibility.  Choosing responsibility means asking, “How have I created or contributed to this?” and not “Who did it?”  Conscious leaders understand that there is tremendous power in claiming responsibility and no power in looking to the past to find fault.

The question, “How have I created this?” is not just code for blaming yourself.  That would be unconscious leadership.  When conscious leaders ask, “How have I created this?” they are asking from curiosity and wonder.  They assume that whatever is happening is for their and the organization’s learning.  They don’t want to waste a second missing a learning opportunity.  Unconscious leaders can come up with infinite evidence that they didn’t create or contribute to the situation while conscious leaders want to determine exactly how they did.  They see that they contributed by what they did or didn’t do, by what they said or didn’t say and by how they were being or not being as a leader.  They lead their organizations by being the first to step into any situation with the words, “I’M RESPONSIBLE” and, “Here is what I’m learning.” 

Move from being right to being curious

Everyone’s ego desperately wants to be right and, more importantly, to prove that it’s right.  The ego actually believes that if it’s wrong, it’s dead.  Unconscious leaders will fight to the finish to prove they’re right.  Conscious leaders have the same knee jerk ego-based reaction to being right.  They see the reaction, they breathe, and they choose to move from being right to being curious.  In order to be curious one has to be secure.  Conscious leaders don’t need constant outside validation to prove that they are valuable, in control or safe.  Because of this deep security (which can be developed over time and is another skill of conscious leadership), they lead with childlike wonder and curiosity.  Like a child they look at all situations with fresh eyes, and in doing so, they see things about people and situations that leaders who are attached to proving their rightness never see. 

To apply this right now, think about a conflict you’re currently in.  Like all conflicts, it’s rooted in two sides wanting to be right.  In this conflict, what are you right about?  Write it down.  Make a list.  Feel your rightness, maybe even your self-righteousness.  If you stay on this path, what you get to be in the end is right.  For many leaders this is the goal, but not for conscious leaders.  Proving your right is the booby prize.   We tell leaders all the time what they already know from experience.  If you fight to be right you get to be right, but you don’t get to be happy or connected to people or creative or experiencing life in a new and expansive way.  Conscious leaders move over and over again from wanting to be right to being deeply curious.

Jim Dethmer has spoken to tens of thousands of people about how to lead and live from consciousness. He has coached Fortune 500 CEOs and their teams supporting them in transforming their lives and their cultures. Jim has recently co-authored a book, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership (January, 2015) along with Diana Chapman and Kaley Warner-Klemp —founders of the Conscious Leadership Group. When Jim is not working with clients, you’ll often find him at his soul’s home in Northern Michigan playing golf with his wife Debbie and delighting in their six children and three grandchildren.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Succession Planning Best Practices for all Levels of Management

Executive Coach Beth Armknecht Miller says  it is essential for companies to make succession planning a priority at all levels of management. From team leaders to the C-Suite, long-term sustainability is everyone’s responsibility. Read Beth’s guest post over at Management and Leadership:
Succession Planning Best Practices for all Levels of Management to find out why and how.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

10 Ways to Sway your Boss

Most managers are always looking for good ideas. They also often have experience, know more, and are in a good position to evaluate the merits of an idea. When they reject your idea, chances are, your idea may not have been as good as you thought, or maybe you didn’t do a good job pitching it.

To increase the odds of getting your idea heard, read my latest post over at Management and Leadership: 10 Ways to Get Support from your Boss for your Ideas.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

20 Annoying Things that Successful Managers do

How can an already successful manager get even better? STOP doing these 20 annoying things! Read my latest post over at for a list of Marshall Goldsmith's 20 Annoying Things that Successful Managers do to find out more.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Manager’s Guide to Executive Coaching: 10 Questions and Answers

At some point in a manager’s career there may be an opportunity to consider hiring an executive coach.  For a primer, read my latest post over at Management and Leadership for:


Monday, January 5, 2015

The January 2015 Leadership Development Carnival

I've recently turned over coordination of the Leadership Development Carnival to Becky Robinson, from Weaving Influence and the Lead Change Group.

Becky is a thought leader, an awesome networker, and very well respected in the leadership development space. I'm sure Becky and her team will take the Carnival to the next level in 2015 and beyond.

You can find the inaugural 2015 edition right here. This month's edition is all about preparing leaders to lead in the new year - 24 posts in all!