Thursday, February 28, 2019

Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch & Dinner!

Guest post from Fardad Fateri:

There are thousands of business books and many of them are excellent so we knew from the outset writing yet another business book would get little to no attention. But we were passionate about our topic and we believed we had a great story to tell, a story that was grounded in academic research, a story that was lived by thousands of people over a ten year period and not formulated in an office at a university. We had a story that was anchored in research and tested in real life in an organization we led…that made our story unique. 

Igor Ansoff  is known as the father of strategic management. He is most known for the concept of environmental turbulence; the contingent strategic success paradigm, a concept that has been validated by numerous research studies; and real-time strategic management. Peter Drucker invented the concept known as management by objectives and self-control. He has been described by peers as "the founder of modern management".  Drucker believed organizational culture is the most powerful force in ensuring organization success and his phrase, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is now used globally to demonstrate the power of organizational culture. 

Our curiosity about culture and strategy led to a few questions. What is the relationship between corporate culture and strategy? What is the importance of strategy versus the importance of culture in driving success in an organization? Do culture and strategy play different roles in the development of an organization at different times of an organization’s lifecycle? 

Strategy, at its most fundamental level, is rational, intuitive, logical, clear and simple. Every member of an organization should understand it and talk about. Without a simple, well-delineated strategy, a company will get lost. Organizational culture, on the other hand, is complex, dynamic, emotional, ever-changing, and fluid. Culture by its very nature is alive, diverse, people-focused, not easily quantifiable, and changes with the addition of any new member. Culture is an incredibly powerful influence in a company’s long-term success. No matter how fantastic a strategy really is, when compared against values and human beings, people always make the difference. No one will ever contest the notion that ultimately people are the true separators in any organization. Hence, we also believed the only way to win consistently, we had to focus mostly on values and organizational culture.

To test our belief that culture does indeed trump strategy, approximately ten years ago, we deliberately created a culture in our organization that actively promotes and encourages accountability, humility, vulnerability, fun, grit, ownership, empowerment, vigor, excellence, hard work, family, competitiveness, integrity, quality, honesty, superior customer experience and other values that together create the making of a great organizational culture. Our strategy was similar to many other organizations within the same space.  Our belief, however, was that our separator would be our culture as we knew with our culture we could execute relentlessly and produce peak performance.

Organizational culture had made all the difference. Our culture has allowed us to grow dramatically with quality and integrity—more than many similar organizations in the same economic sector—and to survive periods of turbulence and extreme difficulty. Because of our culture, we’re able to continuously learn, reinvent ourselves and to improve. While many of our competitors were shutting down, declaring bankruptcy, and dismantling, we continued to persist.

We knew we were perfectly imperfect. Though we face challenges, mistakes, and problems, we continue to learn, evolve, and improve every single day. Because of our culture, we share the same values and we operate as one organization committed to core values, to our thesis, and most importantly, to our customers.

Our conclusion was and still remains that culture does indeed eat strategy for lunch and dinner!

Fardad Fateri is CEO of International Education Corporation, one of the largest private postsecondary career education systems in North America. Dr. Fateri writes & speaks frequently on organizational culture & career education. He completed his education at University of California, and Harvard University. He is the author of  “ACulture Of Discipline: The Art, Discipline, and Practice of BreakthroughLeadership”.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Social Design for Modern Leaders

Guest post from Cheryl Heller:

Successful leaders are different today than in times past. They do not dictate change, they see and guide it. They don’t try to control, instead they successfully navigate in chaos. They don’t try to be the smartest person in the room, they create conditions in which everyone in their organization can be smart, creative and relevant.

These are the fundamental principles of social design, a new discipline with lessons for leaders in business, government, education and science.

Social design is the design of relationships; the creation of new social conditions intended to increase agency, creativity, equity, social justice, resilience, and connection to nature. The principles of social design are universal and inviolate. They are the beliefs that guide behavior, the reasoning that informs decisions, an internalized map for navigating uncertainty and determining direction through the unknown. Most of them create a tension with the traditional ways in which we’re used to working. Below are just two of the principles of social design with relevance to every modern leader.

Ideas Come from the Inside, Not the Top.
This first principle is foundational to all others, and it requires vigilance. As obvious as it sounds, it’s easy to forget, and often inconvenient. It’s comfortable and comforting to talk to people who already agree with us, and come from the same world we do. It’s easy to think we know best when we come with an outsider’s “objective” perspective, that allows us to see issues more clearly than those caught up in them. Or when we have spent a lifetime becoming expert in our field. We may have seen a hundred similar challenges before, and think we already know the audience well. Perhaps we simply consider ourselves particularly observant or creative. In the short term, it can seem more efficient to make decisions about what people need rather than taking the time to talk to them about it, particularly if they’re not fluent in the same language of culture, country or industry. Social design requires remembering that it’s simply not possible to understand what it’s like to be another person; to have their challenges, or know how to solve them, unless we ask.

This principle keeps us, and our work, alive and generative, even after years of practice. Staying curious about cultural dynamics and realities that are new to us, learning other ways to see, feel and know avoids the calcification of echo chambers where people who look and sound a lot like we do reinforce habitual ways of thinking. It’s an antidote to narrow expert status, an invitation to wisdom different from our own. And it’s exciting, because people who are not like us have ideas we’ve never imagined.

Questions are more important than answers.
There’s an art to framing the kinds of questions that lead to creative breakthroughs. The best are vague enough to leave spacious opportunity for ways to approach them, yet specific enough to provide traction for deep thinking. A common trap is framing a question with a predetermined answer hidden in it. For example, in “How can we create a platform that will tell our story?” the highest order need isn’t known. Why create a platform? To do what, to what end? What’s the point of the story? Questions with built-in answers limit options and shut down creative thinking instead of fostering it. If the highest order need is to connect people to each other or to information that will benefit them in a specific way, knowing that opens the door to think about a hundred ways people might be inspired to seek information, one of which may or may not be building a platform and telling a particular story.

Powerful questions demand thinking beyond the obvious and habitual. They prevent the repetition of what everyone trying to answer them already knows. They are irresistible and intriguing when they’re relevant, focusing a group’s attention on the unknown. They unite people in the process of looking for answers instead of competing to be heard, arguing for their own solution as the only right one. Great questions uncover untapped possibilities and discourage prescription. They are the unassailable evidence of our agency; literally, of the ability and freedom each of us has to question the status quo.

It’s uncomfortable to live with questions. and especially difficult to guide a diverse group of people to the quiet trust required to tolerate not having an answer long enough to find the right one. It causes anxiety. Individuals conditioned to either like or take control often can’t bear not knowing the next ten steps in advance. Western culture values fast solutions, quick fixes, instant expert opinions: the silver bullet.

The best negotiators are those who can endure the discomfort of not knowing which way a deal will go the longest. They have the “stomach” to walk away from opportunities that aren’t good enough, outlasting more delicate participants who “cave” in order to end the uncertainty. Living with questions works the same way: those who can attain a comfort level with, and even relish, the state of not knowing the answer instead of rushing to find one, come up with more creative and unexpected ideas.

Cheryl Heller is the founding chair of the first MFA program in Design for Social Innovation at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and is president of the design lab CommonWise. She is the recipient of the AIGA Medal for her contributions to the field of design and is a Rockefeller Bellagio Fellow. She is the author of The Intergalactic Design Guide: Harnessing the Creative Potential of Social Design.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Find Your Sweet Spot

Guest post from S. Chris Edmonds:

An architect had earned her degree, gained her license, and joined the AIA. She found a well-paying job and even became successful. But she didn’t love it; she didn’t feel she was serving others as well as she could.

A successful salesperson and sales team leader had a twenty-year, well-paid career, but she didn’t love her work. She couldn’t tolerate going through the motions anymore.

With so many years and so much invested in their careers, what could they do? The stories don’t end there.

For the architect, after fifteen years in the field, she quit. She went back to school to study to be a registered nurse. She earned her nursing degree and has found a great job. She loves what she’s doing. She feels she’s serving people beautifully. She’s found her sweet spot.

The salesperson applied at veterinary school. She was accepted and quit her sales job. She headed off to school this month. She’s so excited she can hardly stand it. She can’t wait to finish her doctoral program and serve animals (and their owners) in a veterinary hospital.

You may not be in a position to quit your job and go back to school for your “perfect,” inspiring job. But you may have a good idea of activities that could be a source of inspiration for you.

Are you doing what you’re great at? And what you love to do? Are you paid a living wage to do it?

Perhaps even more important to your sense of personal satisfaction and purpose– are you serving others well while you’re doing it?

I believe that’s the ultimate sweet spot for each of us. Yet sometimes we settle for less than all four of those important elements.

When we settle, we may limit our own joy – and limit our ability to contribute to our company, family, and community.

If we find a career doing something we’re good at and are paid fairly for, but aren’t doing what we love and aren’t serving others well, we’re not going to be happy in the long run. Nor are we likely able to be our best self in every moment.

If we find outlets – volunteering in your community, for example – that let us engage in activities we’re good at, love to do, and serve others well but get little compensation for, that’s a good thing! Activities like these may be a small portion of our week or month (several hours, maybe), but they feed our soul. We’re grateful for these inspiring hours.
What, though, if these inspiring, engaging activities don’t offset the many more hours you spend in an unfulfilling career? What then?

We can choose a different play, a different stage, and a different role – one that does fulfill us daily.

The path won’t be easy. But it may be worth the time, energy, and risks to find that inspiring sweet spot.

If your job isn’t in your sweet spot, engage in activities that nourish your soul and serve others well. Pay it forward – those you serve will be inspired by your actions.

What job or activities fall into your unique sweet spot? In what ways do you nourish your soul and serve others?

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Fond Memories: 3 Ways to Be Remembered as a Leader

Guest post from Chris Dyer:

Setting the tone for those with whom you work is a must for executives in the here and now. You establish yourself as the organizational authority. You suggest what type of behavior is acceptable. And you demonstrate the work ethic that will push your company to reach its goals. But on a personal level, the tone you set as leader will, in the end, determine your legacy. What will that be, and how can you influence it?

You could build your legacy on the fly, showing through day-to-day decisions and actions how you guided your working team. Or you can give the matter some thought and attempt to live up to your own vision for your tenure at the helm. This approach will let you address all the nuances involved in the employee-boss relationship—the things that add color to the technical side of your job description.

Your impact as leader spills over into the daily lives of your team. Do you handle the interpersonal details as well as you do policy nuts and bolts? Do you balance an insistence on accountability and productivity with your response to the human condition?

We all have personal styles that drive our leadership images. Some take the tough-guy or tough-gal road, laying down the law with firm boundaries and serious consequences for crossing them. Other people just want to be liked and choose to lose some control in accommodating individual tastes. Both extremes will likely create as many critics as fans of your overall job as leader.

To build a legacy that leaves you well respected by the majority of those with whom you work, take some time to compose your working obituary. How do you want to be remembered? Most of us want to be seen as approachable, objective decision makers who aren’t afraid to pitch in when the going gets rough. Even people who don’t agree with everything a boss does can respect one who is open, fair, and engaged.

To your team, your work in these areas is every bit as important as how you manage your company’s brand and market share. Take a few minutes to evaluate where you are now and how you can improve. Here are three ways to help cement your legacy as a great leader.

Listen Well

Effective communication is vital at every level of company function. So, your role is to both model and promote good listening, the most important half of the equation. First, set yourself and others up for success by removing barriers to meaningful listening, such as

           background noise
           distracting activity
           mental blocks
If you’re running a meeting, for instance, control the environment to reduce or eliminate outside noise. Ban multitasking on phones and laptops. Encourage mental engagement by feeding the brain and body with snacks, humor, or a group activity.

When you moderate discussions, help people suspend preconceived notions about what they are about to hear. An open mind is essential to accepting or forming a rational response to new information. Show that you are trying to understand what you heard by repeating a speaker’s words back and asking for confirmation or clarification.

Model this openness yourself in one-on-one situations in which you may be predisposed to an outcome, such as an employee asking for a raise. Don’t jump to conclusions. Instead of an immediate response, a partial compromise or a wait-and-see attitude leaves the door open to mutual satisfaction.

To be remembered as a good listener, practice in casual encounters in the hallway or elevator. Remarking on something that a person has said before shows that you were listening then and that you remembered a small detail. Don’t hesitate to take notes on your chance exchanges with team members, for future reference.

Make Data-Driven Decisions

When it comes to employee compensation, promotion, and acknowledgement, no leader wants to be seen as playing favorites, or condoning other decision makers in doing so. Set hard and fast rules on pay, job status, and recognition of good work—and let numbers do the objective work.

Form a numerical scale for evaluating performance and job fit. This can be based on key performance indicators that you’ve identified to define success in various company roles. It can take into account the opinions of co-workers in surveys or ratings. You can even tie personality traits to numbers that show how they affect job performance.

Putting the entire company on the same scale shows that upper management is fair-minded. Maybe incoming employees all take the same personality test. Maybe you average the number ratings by multiple managers or peers to determine an individual’s progress. However you do it, make your method and scale known to all, so that you can be trusted to use the same criteria for everyone on the team.

Level the Playing Field

Using objective or averaged data is a great way to afford each company employee the same opportunities to do their best and be remunerated for it. Make sure that the word gets out! There’s no reason to keep objective, fair treatment a secret. And demonstrate your commitment to it in every way that you can.

Consider letting the rest of the company rank your annual performance, the way college professors ask students to do—and then post the results. Regularly convene virtual or in-person meetings that are open to employees at any level in every department. The more everyone knows, the better they can do their jobs. These are examples of how transparency builds trust and benefits productivity.

Finally, take part in activities both in and out of your typical role. Most folks won’t notice your brilliant handling of closed-door meetings, but they will remember the time you showed up at the janitor’s birthday party. While some might rail at learning a new software program, they’ll respect you for sitting down to train with the tech crew alongside everyone else. Want to be remembered as a great leader? Don’t forget you’re part of the team.

Chris Dyer is the author of The Power of Company Culture: How any business can build a culture that improves productivity, performance and profits, out now published by Kogan Page, priced $18.00. The Power of Company Culture draws on real-life examples to reveal how organisations including Google, 3M, Zappos, Apple, General Motors and Southwest Airlines have successfully built their outstanding cultures. Based on exclusive in-depth research, The Power of Company Culture outlines the practical steps that world-leading organisations are taking to build and maintain their culture, revealing the ‘seven pillars’ of success. Chris Dyer is the Founder and CEO of PeopleG2, a background check and intelligence firm based in California, USA. He is also the host of TalentTalk on OC Talk Radio and iHeartRadio and speaks at events around the world on company culture, remote workforces and employee engagement.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Simplicity—and Power—of Stop, Start, Continue

Guest post from Rodger Dean Duncan:

Whether you’re a leader, follower, partner, or service provider, clarity is always important.

Let’s say you’ve delegated a task to someone else. If a deadline will be missed or a key deliverable won’t be ready as expected, you want an honest and timely report. Honest in that it contains all the pertinent information, and timely in that it provides opportunity to shift gears if necessary.

If you’re a follower, you need the same kind of clarity. Even if the “how” of the assignment is left to your discretion, you need a specific and mutual understanding of the “what.”

In a partnership (and that includes a marriage), it’s always imperative that mutual expectations are honored.

And if you’re a service provider—let’s face it, you provide service if you’re a leader, follower, or partner—you’re headed for trouble if you fail to meet agreed-upon expectations.

Call it transparency, exactitude, explicitness or any other fancy name you wish. But by whatever label you choose, clarity in expectations will serve you well in any relationship.

The key is to communicate early and often.

I’ve found that a simple formula can help keep dialogue on a productive path. It’s called “Stop, Start, Continue.”

If you report to someone else, don’t wait for your periodic performance review. Initiate a conversation with your leader by briefly confirming that you value feedback and you want to ensure that you’re meeting (and even exceeding) expectations. Explain that you’d like to use the “Stop, Start, Continue” framework to ensure that the conversation is helpful to both of you.

Ask your leader if there’s anything you should Stop doing. Make it clear that you’re sincerely open to feedback and you want to catch any missteps early. Listen carefully. Resist the temptation to argue against or rebut any feedback you receive. Demonstrate by your demeanor that you really want to understand and make any necessary course corrections.

Next, ask your leader if there’s anything you’re not currently doing that would be helpful to the project or cause you’re serving. Again, listen carefully. Ask follow-up questions if necessary. Focus on understanding, not any kind of rebuttal.

Finally, ask your leader what you’re currently doing that you should definitely continue. Seek for specificity. For example, don’t be satisfied if your leader says something like “You’re doing a great job, just keep it up.” Express appreciation for the compliment, then ask for specifics. Is it the presentation you gave at last week’s all-hands meeting? What seemed to be most helpful? Is it the way you handled logistics on last month’s big project? What, specifically, should be repeated? Is it the way you’re collaborating with other departments? The work you’re doing to engage your team members? Get as many specifics as you can so you’ll know for sure exactly what your leader appreciates.

If people report to you, teach them to use the “Stop, Start, Continue” framework in their dialogue with you about their work. And remember that it’s a two-way street. If you care about how they view your leadership efforts—and you absolutely should—it’s helpful to have open and honest conversation about what you’re doing that helps or hampers. And remember that the spirit in which you accept feedback provides a model for how you expect others to accept feedback from you.

All kinds of relationships can benefit from the “Stop, Start, Continue” framework. In an organizational setting, peers can use the framework to learn how they can better serve each others’ needs. For example, department heads can use the framework in talking about how to avoid the common silo mentality that can be deadly to performance. You can even add one more element: Change. A process may be working to some extent but could benefit from minor changes. Open dialogue can help identify the needed tweaks.

When it’s done in the right spirit, “Stop, Start, Continue” underscores mutual respect and collaboration. My wife and I periodically use this conversational framework to discuss our marriage relationship. Does it work? I’m happy to report that I have more than 50 years of positive evidence to justify a resounding “yes.”

Rodger Dean Duncan is a sought-after speaker and leadership coach. His clients have included cabinet officers in two White House administrations and senior leaders in dozens of top companies in multiple industries. He’s the award-winning, bestselling author of LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice From Today’s Top Thought Leaders.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Three Keys to Being a Great Leader

Guest post by Raymond Houser:

Being a great leader means getting people to do things that they didn't think possible. It's as simple as that.

Many people confuse leadership style with true leadership. You don't have to be an extroverted, rah-rah motivator to be a great leader. If that’s your style, fine. But some of the greatest leaders have been quiet, introspective persons.

Great leaders share several characteristics. First and foremost, they motivate people to do their best. They are also humble: they’re the first to accept the blame when things go wrong, and the first to give credit when things go right.  Great leaders don't talk so much about winning, but about getting the best from the individuals themselves. 

John Wooden, one of the greatest college basketball coaches in history, never talked about beating the other team. Instead, he inspired his players to exceed their own capabilities. Vince Lombardi was known as a strict disciplinarian, but the reason behind the success of the great Green Bay Packers teams was Lombardi’s ability to get each player to believe in his own abilities and to exceed them.

Think about what got you into a leadership position: drive, persistence, vision, goals. If you want to become a better leader, you need to show each of your team members that you care about them as individuals, not just as employees, and the best way to do that is by getting them to articulate their own goals and aspirations. Remember, they’re not there to help you achieve your goals, they’re there to achieve their own goals.

This leadership philosophy was summed up by Zig Ziglar, a great motivational leader who I was fortunate enough to have as my Sunday School teacher when I was growing up in Dallas: “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

Fred Smith, another leader who was Ziglar’s mentor, talked about the leader as servant: “Leadership is not a title that grants you license to force others to knuckle under; it’s a skill you perform, a service you render for the whole group.”

This gets to the question of rewards. Many companies make the mistake of rewarding their top performers with things like a week’s vacation in Hawaii or a new car. But this assumes that everyone is capable of performing at the same level as the top 2%, which clearly is not the case.

Performance is a combination of aptitude and attitude. Not everyone has the aptitude to be a star performer, but everyone is capable of motivating themselves to get to the next level. Shouldn't your reward system recognize efforts by the 98% who are trying to better themselves, and not just the 2% who are already at the top?

My early career was as a sales manager for Southwestern Company, which involved recruiting college students to sell educational books door-to-door. (The door-to-door sales model is still in use today, even in the age of Amazon, by the way.) In the door-to-door book selling business, the biggest obstacle to success is the fear of rejection, of literally having doors slammed in your face.

I told my team members that nobody enjoys having doors slammed in their face. But the thing to remember is they’re not rejecting you as a person, they’re rejecting you as a salesperson.  Maybe they’re too busy, aren’t interested in what you’re selling, a lot of reasons. They’re not denigrating you as a human being. In other words, it’s your role, not your identity, that’s being rejected.

This confusion between role and identity is often carried over from childhood experiences. When a parent criticizes a child with phrases like: ‘How could you be so stupid?’ or “Why can’t you be more like your brother?’ the child will naturally carry these feelings into adulthood, with the result that criticisms will be taken personally even when they’re meant to be constructive.

I developed something called the ‘ninety no’ contest. Any student who got ninety noes during their first two weeks received a prize. This turned a negative into a positive: the more doors that were slammed in your face, the closer you were to making a sale. It was simply a question of substituting the emotional fear of rejection with the rational law of averages. I used this approach successfully at Southwestern and subsequently with my own book business, which I eventually sold to Thomas Nelson, the largest producer of Bibles in the United States.

To summarize, here are the three keys to becoming a great leader:

·         Put the needs of your employees ahead of those of your own.

·         Help people to achieve their own goals, not yours or the company’s.

·         Reward attitude, while recognizing aptitude.

Raymond Houser is the author of THE WINNING ADVANTAGE:  Tap Into Your Richest Resources. He started earning money by selling pecans when he was six years-old.  By the time he was 12, he had a paper route in addition to working in grocery stores and a bowling alley. When his dream of becoming a major league baseball catcher ended, he knew he had to focus on other goals. And that is what he did, challenging himself to overcome shyness and knock on doors until he became the highest-grossing divisional book salesman of his time for the Southwestern Company. After that he started, developed, and eventually sold, his own book company.
His career had its ups and downs, including a bankruptcy. Yet, despite setbacks, he never gave up. Starting a new career in his 40s, he was hired at Merrill Lynch where he became a successful money manager who earned accolades—and substantial income for himself and his clients—through trust in himself and innovation. In time, he started, developed, and eventually sold, another company. Today he is a sought-after speaker who offers his experience and perspective on managing a career and, most of all, a life.
He divides his time between Dallas and San Diego.
For more information please visit,

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Learn Leadership

Guest post from Leo Bottary:

Leadership lessons exist all around us, all the time.  All we have to do is pay attention.  Let me offer two examples – one is about growth and the other involves the power of declaring victory.

One of my favorite fictional characters provides a profound lesson in leadership in a wonderful book called The Offsite by Robert H. Thompson.  His name is Sam Arthur, and he is the groundskeeper at Tucson, Arizona’s La Mariposa Resort & Spa – the location of an offsite meeting for two high-powered teams from competing pharmaceutical companies.

Consider for a moment that Thompson could have given Sam any job at the hotel – general manager, bellman, concierge, etc.  (Or, the author could have chosen one of the other high-powered executives portrayed in the book to be our teacher, so to speak).  The groundskeeper, however, serves as the perfect metaphor for servant leadership. Sam sees to it that the soil is healthy. He makes sure the plants get enough water and sun, and that their environment is free from weeds and pests.  The plants are given everything they need to succeed on their own. Sam knows that if he creates the right conditions for growth, his gardens will flourish.

One would hardly imagine Sam screaming at the flowers to grow faster or fuller.  Sam’s approach to nurturing his garden is what great leaders do to build successful enterprises.  They create conditions for people to flourish!  Maybe more importantly, Sam reminds the executives attending the offsite, and us as readers, that we can learn something from everyone we meet, no matter what their job or station in life.  This is how we grow.

When it comes to declaring victory, I experienced how leaders (coaches) can help people reframe tough challenges to ensure success.  About 15-20 years ago, I frequently trained for and ran a number of marathons.  Sometimes, on long run days or even during a few races, if I was not feeling 100% physically or just mentally beaten down by the distance, I would stop and walk for a while, run until I couldn’t run anymore, and walk again. I’d repeat the process until I reached the end of my training run or, in the case of a race, the finish line.

An experienced runner once told me that this can happen to anyone, but that I was thinking about it all wrong. He said that if you have to stop and walk, that’s fine, but when you start running again, don’t run until you can’t go another step. When you do that, you’re engaging in a mental exercise of repeated failure. Instead, when you feel good enough to start running again, look ahead of you and spot a tree or a stop sign. Set that as your goal. Run to it and declare victory. Start walking again, and when you’re ready, identify another marker. Run to that and call it a win. He advised that declaring victory, rather than succumbing to repeated defeats, would help me finish more quickly and with a healthier attitude.  The recurring wins would actually bolster my confidence for the future. Of course, he was absolutely right. It works brilliantly.

I once offered the same advice to my daughter Kristin during her first attempt at running a half marathon.  I explained the “declare victory versus succumb to defeat approach” to getting across the finish line. She tried it and was extremely grateful for the way this small change in mindset helped her complete the race that day.

Now imagine Kristin, not as a runner, but as an employee.  She is charged with achieving a lofty goal, has a solid plan to achieve that goal, and then begins to implement the plan with all the energy in the world.  As she runs into difficulties along the way, her enthusiasm yields to the current circumstances and the reality of the long slog ahead.  She starts to believe that the situation is controlling her, instead of the other way around. When this happens, this is where the leader can remind her that it’s okay to walk for a bit, set a short-term goal, achieve that goal, secure a win, and set a new short-term goal. It’s as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and declaring victory as often as possible.

Some of the greatest leadership lessons I’ve ever received came when I wasn’t looking for them.  I can only imagine the stories and lessons the readers of this blog could share – especially those that were gleaned from unexpected sources and/or seemingly unrelated experiences.  If you have one, share one in the comments section.  It’s among the best ways to truly learn leadership. 

Leo Bottary is a sought-after thought leader on peer advantage, an emerging discipline dedicated to strategically engaging peers to realize your business and life goals. A popular author, educator, keynote speaker and workshop facilitator. His new book is What Anyone Can Do: How Surrounding Yourself with the Right People Will Drive Change, Opportunity, and Personal Growth.
For more information, please visit

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

10 Essential Facilitation Skills for Meeting Leaders

A lot of meeting leaders think they know how to “run” a meeting. They may set an agenda, do most of the talking and make the decisions. While this may feel easy and efficient, it’s often a waste of people’s time and does not tap into the creative potential of the team.

There are a lot of reasons meeting leaders don’t involve others more in meetings, including a fear of letting go, a lack of belief that others can make a meaningful contribution, or a lack of meeting facilitation skills.

“Facilitation” skills can be learned. To facilitate means “to make easier or less difficult; help forward”.

For a leader to facilitate a meeting (instead of running it), they need to be first be willing to let go of their power and be open to outcomes. Meeting facilitation involves getting everyone involved in identifying and solving problems. Teams will almost always develop better, more creative solutions than any one person could and will be more likely to support the implementation of the solutions.

Then, they need to learn and practice some new skills: meeting facilitation skills. Here are 10 essential skills required to facilitate a meeting, all of which can be learned and improved with practice:

1. Agenda planning. A collaborative meeting starts with agenda planning. Selecting topics that invite participation, i.e., a problem to be solved, is far more engaging that “informational” topics. However, ample times needs to be allocated to allow for group involvement. Good agenda planning (with desired outcomes) should also help determine who should be invited to the meeting.

2. Choosing the right environment and climate. Logistics matter! When people are uncomfortable, can’t see each other, can’t hear, or are hungry, meeting results will suffer. Learn how to use logistics to encourage great participation and remove barriers.

3. Asking questions. Great questions stimulate great discussion. See Leading with Questions by Michael J. Marquardt.

4. Active listening. When a meeting leader paraphrases, checks for understanding, and asks follow-up questions, it encourages more participation and keeps the discussion flowing.

5. Brainstorming. Most people think they already know how to brainstorm. However, they usually don’t, and never really leverage the power of a well-run brainstorming session.

6. Consensus building skills. Consensus does not mean that everybody must agree with a decision. It means that everyone has had a say, heard each other, and has arrived at a decision that they are willing to support. Reaching consensus takes more time, but will usually produce better ideas and more buy-in.

7. Conflict resolution. Whenever there is a roomful of people involved in solving a problem, conflict is inevitable. In fact, conflict is good, way better than avoiding problems. However, a meeting leader needs to learn how to harness the power of conflict in a positive way.

8. Non-verbal communication skills. While researchers argue over the exact percentages, most would agree that greater than 50% of communication is non-verbal, not words. A meeting leader needs to be able to read the group’s tone and body language in order to assess their level of engagement, candor, and commitment.

9. Recording. Skillful group facilitation involves knowing when to turn to a flipchart or whiteboard to capture what people are saying. Doing so makes people feel like their ideas are being heard and are valued and serves as a valuable record to be used for action planning and follow-up.

10. Follow-up. Meeting facilitation doesn’t end when the meeting ends. A well-written meeting summary and action items can help assure decisions that you worked so hard to reach actually get implemented.

Sometimes it makes sense for a meeting leader – especially if the leader is also the person in charge – to “outsource” the meeting facilitation to an outside meeting facilitator that already has all these skills. That way, the leader can just focus on participating and not have to wear two hats (participant and facilitator) or worry about dominating the meeting. Contact me if this sounds like something you’d like to discuss.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Leaders: Choose Your Own Reality

Guest post from Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair and Dr. Jeanie Cockell

Just about every leader has had an employee who was, to say it diplomatically, a “handful” to manage. We have. One example was a person Joan worked with – let’s call her Jane Doe. Jane saw policies and procedures as mere suggestions. She irritated her team with her habit of pushing limits to get an idea through. When stressed she let it show though in her interactions with others. Yet, she always received amazing reviews from her direct reports and colleagues because they saw something important and worthy in her.

Along with her leadership faults, Jane  was innovative, creative, personable, dedicated, and very hard working. In Joan’s time working with her, Joan chose to focus on her abilities and how she used those abilities to champion what needed to get done. Notice the word choice here—Joan chose. She could have focused entirely on Jane’s weaknesses and frustrated all of  her attempts to undertake positive work. Yet, she consciously chose not to do this. She consciously chose to “reframe” the situation and foster Jane’s leadership strengths.

The power of reframing

Reframing is about intentionally offering up a different frame to a leadership situation. The ability to reframe or reinterpret a given situation enables leaders to see that positive consequences can be built from even the direst circumstances. What leaders focus on and foster influences the outcomes both for themselves and for those who work with them.

Reframing is a powerful practice that leaders committed to positive change embrace. It is one of the many practices of “appreciative resilience” which we outline in our book, Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry: A Leadership Journey through Hope, Despair, and Forgiveness.

Resilience, or the ability to sustain or persevere in the most complex of leadership and life experiences, is a necessary skill for leaders to have in today’s fast-paced, volatile world. Appreciative resilience approaches resilience from the place of assisting leaders in developing their own understanding and personal call to resilience by using appreciative inquiry. (AI is an approach that focuses on what’s working well by engaging people in asking generative questions.)

Using reframing to build resilience

Leaders often think of resilience as a response to weathering despair, but in appreciative resilience work, resilience is fostered from a place of maximizing the use of appreciative exploration as leaders move through three constant leadership states: hope, despair, and forgiveness.

Through our decades of consulting work, we’ve identified these three constant states of leadership and have seen the power of reframing in hope, despair, and forgiveness as part of  building resilience. For example, in hope, reframing can allow leaders to see possibilities in place of challenges. In despair, reframing can shed light on the strengths that can sustain a leader.  And, in forgiveness, reframing can empower someone to move past resentment, anger, and fear and step towards evolving and growing as a leader.

Living in today’s world full of multiple realities

Reframing as one of the practices of appreciative resilience allows leaders to begin to see the other possible worldviews and to be open to the idea that other views, ideas and directions could have merit. This is especially important in today’s leadership world where there are many different worldviews born out of culture, diversity, events, and lived experience.

When leaders see that their perspectives are not always shared truths, they change how they react. They alter the kinds of questions they ask, the types of actions they might take, and the openheartedness with which they might approach what is before them.

There are many people like Joan’s former colleague inside organizations. The ability to reframe to see these individuals’ strengths, or other people’s perspectives, or possibilities hidden within challenges opens the door for leaders to enable positive outcomes. P.S. Jane flourished.

About the authors:
Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair and Dr. Jeanie Cockell are co-presidents of Cockell McArthur-Blair Consulting and co-authors of Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry, published by Berrett-Koehler. Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair is an inspirational writer, speaker, and facilitator. Joan specializes in the use of Appreciative Inquiry to foster leadership, strategic planning, and innovative strategies for organizational development. Dr. Jeanie Cockell is a dynamic facilitator known for her ability to get diverse groups to work collaboratively together. For twenty years, Jeanie has served as an educational and organizational consultant helping people, organizations, and communities build positive futures and respond effectively to change.