Companies Break in the Middle

Companies Break in the Middle

After spending over 1,000 hours per year with CEO’s I have an observation, companies break in the middle.

Hold a stick with both hands at each end. Your right hand is the CEO, your left hand is the front-line employee. Everything in between is the middle. Now bend the stick…until it breaks.

The break will happen somewhere in the middle. No matter the strength of the branch, it will break with the right amount of pressure. This is why it is so important to pay attention to the middle.

Releasing the Brake

Releasing the Brake

When you’re in a position of leadership, it’s easy to think you know exactly where to take people—they just need to listen to you.

That is a flawed approach.

Our job as leaders—whether in business, in family, or in life—is to take people From Here to There.

Before we can take them There we must first know where they’ve come From. Once we understand that, then we can learn how they got Here. Only then can we help them get to their There. This takes self-reflection and answering questions similar to what I asked Anna. While you may understand what it is holding them back, they need to discover it for themselves.

How to Hire Effective Leaders

by Leslie Pratch

Effective leaders must meet challenges and resolve them productively, day after day, for many years. They must constantly adapt to the unforeseen--and must mobilize, coordinate, and direct others. But when hiring executives, how do you know which candidates possess such abilities? When they all look good on paper, how do you make a choice?

Given the frequency of CEO turnover, and the frequent cases of CEO failure after long, successful careers in the same place where they became CEO--think David Pottruck at Schwab or Doug Ivester at Coke--it's clearly not that easy. But it can be done by including an analysis of executives' readiness to acquire new skills and strategies for coping with complexity and change--in other words, their active coping mechanism.


How a person approaches life's challenges develops as a result of their nature and their nurture. Some people run from problems, some lash out at others, and some passionately wait and hope that problems (or even opportunities) will just go away.

Active copers, by contrast, are built to be capable and eager to deal with whatever obstacles and opportunities they face. Active copers continually strive to achieve personal aims and overcome difficulties, rather than passively retreat from or be overwhelmed by frustration. They move towards the problems and opportunities with open arms and open minds.

An active coping style lets a manager go further and faster more surely. Consider an analogy with a car: We can get where we need to go driving an ordinary, inexpensive car, and we can make it through life with a less than optimal coping style. But to drive on curvy, treacherous roads in dark and foul weather, we need a superbly engineered car, and that car will also get us farther, faster, with less likelihood of accident or breakdown in other situations. A strong framework of coping enables a leader to survive the rough spots and to perform better than others would in ordinary times too.

In business, unexpected events occur, for which no playbook has been written. Active copers do not lose their footing in such cases, but rather thrive on the opportunity to seek out information about what is happening, rally the right team, and learn as part of the process of steering towards success. With each new challenge, active copers ask: What really is going on now, and what is the best way for me to deal with it? What can I learn from this event? How can I use this event to strengthen my commitment to the ideals that I pursue?


I’ve found in my 17 years working to evaluate executives that active coping is an attribute of a healthy personality structure. This means that the “activity” is not always overt and observable; sometimes it takes place internally, in decisions made, visions developed, and conflicting drives resolved. An active coping stance, however, often gives rise to certain observable traits and skills. These should be sought out in anyone being courted to run a business. They include:

Awareness. Active copers are able to see reality, including their own needs, capabilities, and limitations.

Courage. Active copers are brave. They seek out new experiences; they are not intimidated by challenges.

Resiliency, toughness, and the ability to learn from experience. Active copers, like all humans, make mistakes. Life is too complicated to anticipate every possible contingency. Active copers regroup and recover.

Energy, fortitude, and the willingness to persevere. Active copers summon the energy to continue to move forward even under the most trying circumstances.

Resourcefulness. Active copers invent solutions to problems by creatively pulling together the resources they have at hand or by developing new ones.

Decisiveness. Active coping gives a person the fortitude to handle conflicts among competing goals. Making a choice means giving up an alternative. Active copers face that loss and move on.

Executing a plan. Active coping involves planning. Active copers anticipate, strategize, and weigh the risks of potential actions. Then they act. Active coping combines introspection and action.

These are the kinds of traits active copers show and business leaders need to have for dealing well with fast-changing and always uncertain situations.

--Leslie S. Pratch is the author of Looks Good On Paper?: Using In-Depth Personality Assessment to Predict Leadership Performance, which was released July 1 byColumbia Business School Press.

Stop Trying to Control People or Make Them Happy

by Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman

Whether you’ve heard of them or not, two gurus from the early 20th century still dominate management thinking and practice — to our detriment.  It has been more than 100 years since Frederick Taylor, an American engineer working in the steel business, published his seminal work on the principles of scientific management.  And it has been more than 80 years ago since Elton Mayo, an Australian-born Harvard academic, produced his pioneering studies on human relations in the workplace.  Yet managers continue to follow Taylor’s “hard” approach — creating new structures, processes, and systems — when they need to address a management challenge.  Hence, the introduction of, say, a risk management team or a compliance unit or an innovation czar. And when managers need to boost morale and get people to work better together, they still follow Mayo’s “soft” approach — launching people initiatives such as off-site retreats, affiliation events or even lunchtime yoga classes.  If these approaches made sense in the first half of the twentieth century (and that’s open to question), they make no sense today. Indeed, if anything, their continued use is making things worse.

We are living in an age of mounting complexity. By our calculation, companies are operating in a competitive environment that is six times more complex than it was in 1955, when the Fortune 500 was launched.  For the best companies, this complex world is an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals. But, for too many companies saddled with approaches to management that are outdated and ineffectual, it presents a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

As they have responded to each new challenge, managers (as Taylor recommended) have introduced new structures, processes and systems. When this happens year after year, there is a damaging accretion of structural fixes — we estimate that the number of these has grown by a factor of thirty-five over the past 55 years. The consequence is what we call “complicatedness,” which spells trouble for a company’s productivity and leads employees to feel frustrated and to disengage. In the most complicated 20% of companies, employees spend large chunks of time on aimless activities that do not add value: For instance, writing reports or participating in internal meetings that have no impact.

There is, however, an alternative, a third way — one we call “Smart Simplicity.” We’ve developed this approach over the past 30 years of working with 500 companies in more than 40 countries around the world, and we introduce it in a new book called Six Simple Rules.  With “Smart Simplicity,” we put the cooperating individual at the heart of the modern organization. Where the Taylor school implicitly distrusts the individual worker and designs structural fixes for controlling their actions in a top-down, rigid, micro-managing way — albeit ameliorated by the softening effects of the people initiatives propounded by the Mayo school — we promote a radically different approach.

Simply put, companies are most productive when they harness — not hobble — the intelligence of their employees.  Six simple rules help managers get beyond the shackles of  the “hard” and “soft” management approaches we’ve inherited from our forefathers:

  1. Understand what your people do:  Start with a true understanding of what your people do and why they do it.
  2. Reinforce integrators: Foster cooperation by giving people the power and interest to do so.
  3. Increase the total quantity of power: Create new power, don’t just shift existing power.
  4. Increase reciprocity: Ensure people use their autonomy.
  5. Extend the shadow of the future: Create direct feedback loops.
  6. Reward those who cooperate:  Make transparency, innovation, and aspiration the best choices for individuals and teams.

No amount of structures, processes, and systems are ever enough to anticipate the kinds of problems employees face everyday on the front line of the business. So, instead, companies need to give their employees more autonomy and, at the same time, encourage them — impel them, even — to cooperate with each other. Only then, when they are liberated in this way, will employees be able to make critical judgments, balance complex trade-offs, and come up with creative solutions to new problems.


The Culture Is Only As Good As The Leader


Has your company culture got a bad case of the Mondays? Is store-bought birthday cake the highlight of your employees’ workday? Do you have company leaders doing the Bill Lumbergh shuffle, strolling amongst the cubicles, coffee cup in hand, looking for missing TPS reports? If so, it might be time to rethink the culture in your office space.

Which Came First: the Leader or the Culture?

A company’s culture is palpable from the moment you step through the front door. Whether it’s a polished establishment, a disruptive startup or an ailing Initech, you get an immediate sense of its energy and style.

There’s a misconception that employees create a company’s culture — how they dress, conduct business and communicate represents the company. If you observed a company’s employees, it would be easy to think they’re both the byproduct of the atmosphere and its creators.

But peel back the layers. You’ll discover that a company’s culture grows, in many ways, from the top down. Leadership is the real root of any organization — the vital source from which all energy, vision, values and style manifest themselves. It’s a direct reflection of a company’s culture. And when leaders forget they’re the ones running the internal machinery, it can lead to a real paper jam.

What You See is What You Get

A company’s culture establishes unwritten rules and norms for how business should be done and how people should interact. So how are you, as a leader, a direct reflection of this culture?

  • You’re the visionary. You set the direction and tone for the company’s personality. Employees want to “fit in” so they take behavioral cues from you. The priorities you set and the way you foster relationships in the office establishes the mindset and guides the behavior of everyone working for you.
  • You’re the gatekeeper. You create internal culture via the people you hire, the information you disseminate and the resources you make available. Externally, you control employee satisfaction, products and services. What you reward and punish sends clear messages about the behaviors you expect from your team.

Leaders who remain aware of their role in shaping the company’s culture to support business objectives will be positioned for success. Costcounderstands this and works hard not to forget it. Founders who don’t acknowledge this often find themselves wondering why they’re stuck in the basement without a paycheck.

Symptoms of a Toxic Culture

As a business owner, certain symptoms in your company’s culture will signal that it’s time to reevaluate your leaders and implement change.

  • Disinterest: Look for declining performance in financials, production or compliance. When you see that once-successful behaviors are no longer working, it’s time to reevaluate what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
  • Resistance to Change: Getting leadership and employees to change the way they work can be tough. You can have a beautiful strategy for growth that goes nowhere because people can’t — or won’t — adapt to a changing environment.
  • Bad Habits: A toxic company culture evolves out of a leadership holding onto the “right” way of doing business, even though that way no longer serves the company strategy. Stuck management is a recipe for unhappy, unmotivated and disengaged employees.

Healthy Leaders, Healthy Culture

Leadership ultimately determines the culture of a company. You develop it, foster it and maintain it — good or bad. But if you’re the creator of an unhealthy culture, you can also be its cure.

If management is the source of toxic culture, work with your leaders both in groups and individually to intervene and get things back on track. Provide both leaders and employees with a safe space to share their thoughts about company culture and strategy. It’s important to remember that you’re dealing with ingrained beliefs, values and assumptions about how business should be conducted. These must be challenged in order to transition to a new cultural mindset.

Be an honest advocate for the change effort. Bring in an objective expert. Engage all members of the company in open dialogue and talk about culture and how it affects performance. Model the behaviors you want to see in your leadership and employees. Reward those behaviors that align with your vision and the company’s success, and remove the ones that don’t.

Be the visionary, and while you’re at it, ditch the TPS reports.

ByChris CancialosiManaging Partner and Founder at gothamCulture



Are You in Over Your Head?

By Doug Dickerson via Leader's Beacon

If you’re going through hell, keep going. – 
Winston Churchill

A story is told of a group of friends who went deer hunting and paired off in twos for the day. That night one of the hunters returned alone, staggering under the weight of an eight-point buck.

“Where’s Harry?” he was asked. “Harry had a stroke of some kind. He’s a couple miles back up the trail,” In disbelief the others replied, “You left Harry laying there and carried back the deer?” “Well,” said the hunter, “I figured no one was going to steal Harry.”

That humorous story sets up a not so funny real life scenario involving the state of mind of many of corporate leaders in today’s workplace. Writing in Forbes (http://onforb.es/122XxYT), Susan Adams opined about a recent Booz &Co. survey that revealed that “many corporate leaders are not able to keep their priorities straight. They are also pursuing strategies they don’t believe in, and many of their strategies fail to build on the things their companies are especially good at, compared with competitors. It’s like everything that can go wrong already has gone wrong for them.”

More than 3,500 managers from around the world took part on the Booz survey. Here is a sampling of the results:

·         A majority, 64%, said their biggest frustration was having too many conflicting priorities.

·         54% said they don’t believe that both employees and customers understand their strategy.

·         Only 33% said they thought the company’s “core capabilities” support their company’s strategy.

·         Just 21% said all their businesses “leverage their core capabilities.’

·         Only 20% said they think their company has a “right to win” in all markets where it competes.

From these findings we get an idea as to why so many corporate leaders feel the way they do and the need for strong leadership to correct it. The issues are complex and the solutions are varied. If you feel like you are in over your head then here are three solutions worth considering.

Organizational values should be shared not sacrificed. At the heart of your business is a set of values that define who you are, the product you deliver, the customers you serve, and how your will conduct your affairs. It’s the creed of your business that transcends ‘what’ you do and answers the question of ‘why’.

Until everyone is on the same page as it relates to your values you will never carry out your priorities. If managers and leaders are feeling the tension of competing priorities then it’s time revisit your values in order to get to the root of the problem. Values are the glue that binds you together and without them you will always have tension.

Organizational priorities should complement not be in conflict. Not even the best corporate leaders will be able to execute their plans successfully if the company’s priorities are not in harmony with its values and embraced by everyone. When competing agenda’s and ego’s interfere with what’s best of the company then there will be problems.

Everyone has priorities as it relates to individual performance. That being said, those priorities should not run contrary to the overall values and priorities of the organization. They should complement it. If you don’t fully embrace your core values then you will never fully execute your priorities. Why? Priorities flow out of values.

Organizational communication should give clarity not lend to confusion. The lifeblood of your organization is clear communication –on all levels. Many of the concerns expressed by the survey respondents can be traced back, and in part attributed to, poor communication. If the lines of communication are not open and clear it makes keeping priorities straight much more difficult.

Tony Robbins said, “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” This is a great point to consider going forward. Wise leaders will make every effort possible to communicate core values clearly so that they are known and embraced internally, and as a result known and appreciated by your customers.

The challenges of corporate leadership are as complex as they’ve ever been. But in the search for solutions we must not be our own worst enemy by engaging in approaches that are self-defeating. Values should be clear. Priorities should be mutual. Communication must be clear.

What do you say?

© 2013 Doug Dickerson

- See more at: http://www.leadersbeacon.com/are-you-in-over-your-head/#sthash.0FSpiIIH.dpuf

7 Reasons You Can't Learn Leadership on Your Own

By Brian Evje via @inc

Very few entrepreneurs, board members, or investors give much thought to leadership development. That's a huge mistake.

Very few founders, startup CEOs, board members, investors, and others supporting the entrepreneurial community actively pursue and advocate disciplined, professional leadership development. This is an enormous missed opportunity.

Entrepreneurs, especially founders and startup CEOs, need not wait to be encouraged to do this work. They should not consider their own development as a nice-to-have, an indulgence, or an unnecessary expense. They certainly should not delay until their jobs are threatened by their poor performance. 


Here are seven reasons (among many) that every founder and entrepreneurial CEO should actively develop their leadership, and a question about each.

1.     Leadership development works

Studies consistently demonstrate that organizations with a developmental mindset and holistic leadership programs out-perform organizations that do not. (See the Center for Creative Leadership for some excellent research.)

In which category would you like your company to be?

2.     Leadership is learned and can be taught

The question is not whether leaders are born or made. Rather, we should ask what leaders have made of their attributes (inborn and otherwise), and which experiences they’ve had or missed. Leadership is learned because leaders are not born with special powers. They are made over time through challenges, personal courage, setbacks, self-reflection, and an ability to grow. 

Many leadership lessons require us to unlearn old habits, default reactions, and assumptions about human nature in order to adopt new and different choices and behaviors.

This is not to say that anyone can lead; it is to say that true leaders learn over time. Entrepreneurs need to start learning about leadership, and never stop. 

What are you doing right now to learn about your leadership?

3.     Observing leadership is not the same as developing leadership

A certain amount of learning takes place through observation, and a number of leadership elements can be demonstrated by good role models.  However, there is a massive gap between seeing and doing. Too few people and organizations address this with deliberate, consistent, and constant leadership development.

One particularly stubborn myth is that leadership is something one naturally gains over time, like graying hair.  One survey of 17,000 global leaders found that the average age for their first leadership training was 42, “about 10 years after they began supervising people,” and almost 20 years after they started experiencing leadership in organizations. That’s a long time to observe leaders who are figuring it out on their own, while picking up their bad habits. A better approach is to take charge of the proper way to learn about leadership. 

What is more formal and serious than developing yourself, and what are you doing about it?

4.    Many board members and investors are not good leaders

In truth, many boards don’t know enough about leadership.  After all, boards are comprised of the same representative 17,000 people cited above.  Some are pure investors. Many have experience as executives, and yet are not adept at helping someone else with leadership. Many see themselves as tremendously effective leaders, but they are actually tremendous egotists.  (When you find Board members who contradict these categories, hold onto them with both hands.)

Board members and investors have specific agendas. Helping you grow as a leader is rarely one of them, especially if it interferes with their primary objectives.  Also, learning requires vulnerability, which is not the relationship you want to have with your board.  So, solicit their opinions, listen to their experiences – and then talk about the personal implications with your coach. 

How do you demonstrate your leadership growth to your board without involving them in the direct process?

5.     Leadership is about power

Many entrepreneurial CEOs are surprised by, and uncomfortable with, the intense power dynamics of leadership. They often focus on the personal responsibilities of leadership (“I am now responsible for the livelihood of all my employees”) without recognizing that they must demonstrate their fitness to lead by exercising, balancing, and containing the power of their role. This means making difficult decisions and tradeoffs that may be unpopular and contrary to the ethos of the earliest days of the organization. In a high-growth company, the shift from a happy band of co-founders to an organization of dozens of people can happen in a flash. 

How are you preparing so that the weight of your power does not break you?

6.     You can’t always see the ice cracking beneath your feet

Boards play power games, too, and take power from those who are weaker. You are not immune to these attacks.  Lori Mazan, a Leadership Advisor at Leading From Center, points out that many boards and investors of early-stage companies seem to think that leadership “just happens.”  When they don’t see the CEO embodying their unrealistic version of leadership, they read it as an absence of leadership and a signal to replace the entrepreneur CEO.  This drama often plays out unbeknownst to the CEO -- until it is too late. 

What are you doing to increase your awareness of how you are perceived, and how will you make adjustments?

7.     The future is not the past

Many entrepreneurs approach the founding and leading of a company with the same mindset they engaged before they were entrepreneurs.  Wanting to hold onto the past is an understandable reaction to change, but not terribly useful for the forward-looking challenges of leadership. 

A very hard element of personal growth is the awareness, discipline, and courage to set down the skills, activities, and identity of the past, in order to pick up new things for the future.  You can’t carry both.  You must listen for what the past is telling you to stop, and learn what the future requires you to start.

Nothing complicated is learned casually, and leadership is nothing if not complicated.  Every leader needs help learning about their leadership. 

From where do you get help?

4 Surprisingly Effective Things to Say

By Marla Tabaka via @inc

As the boss, you have to know it all and always be in the right. Wrong. Try these simple, yet powerful words to build trust and lead with integrity.


We all make mistakes, say the wrong things, and misjudge a situation from time to time. But not everyone will admit their errors, especially in a competitive environment.

Perhaps legendary leadership author and pastor John C. Maxwell said it best: "A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them."

I learned that very important lesson early in my career at NBC-TV.  As the assistant to the vice president of sales I reported to an amazing mentor who relied heavily on my judgment and diligence.  But on one occasion I had a terrible lapse in common sense and fell short of her expectations. I really screwed up.

Naturally, my boss was livid. She immediately called me on the carpet for my error in judgment. My defenses reared up; my fight or flight instinct screamed, "Fight to survive!" Thankfully, in a moment of sanity I took a more sensible approach. Here's what I said.

 I was wrong. I'm sorry. I know that I still have a lot to learn. Please let me fix it.

Apparently, this reply from a young, ambitious employee was far from expected. I will never forget the series of internal responses reflected in my boss's eyes:  surprise, confusion, acceptance, and something that may have been admiration. Whew! In that moment I knew I'd done exactly the right thing.

This experience taught me something I've carried with me through the years: a little honesty and humility go a long way in life.  It enriches relationships, prevents unnecessary confrontation, saves time, and builds trust. What could have destroyed my career instead earned the trust of a powerful and successful woman and opened the door to growth, learning, and many promotions over the years.

The next time your defenses are up you may find instant relief in one or more of these surprisingly effective, yet simple statements. Give it a try, the only thing you have to lose is a little ego!

I'm sorry.

A short and sweet apology lowers the levels of resistance and anger in the room. Diffuse the situation with these simple words. The conversation will become less stressful and a solution to your problem or challenge is more likely to surface.

I was wrong.

Admitting your mistake is cleansing. No need to defend yourself, no need to create a litany of excuses. How freeing! Admit it and correct it. It's that simple!

I need help.

Go ahead. Accept that you don't know it all. A great entrepreneur surrounds herself with people who know more than she does. Reach out to your army of supporters and save yourself a lot of frustration and time.

I don't know.

Do you think you have to have all the answers? Well, you're wrong. Even "experts" don't know it all.  Any true expert will tell you is that no one is expected to have all the answers. Let's face it, if we knew everything life would be boring! This is an opportunity learn and grow; something every entrepreneur loves to do!

Marla Tabaka is a small-business adviser who helps entrepreneurs around the globe grow their businesses well into the millions. She speaks widely on combining strategic and creative thinking for optimum success and happiness. @MarlaTabaka

How leaders spend their time tells staff what they value

By S. Chris Edmonds

When I ask senior leaders how they spend their time in their work environment, they report three things more frequently than any other activities.

  • Meetings with direct reports.
  • Evaluating and analyzing performance data.
  • Addressing performance problems.

Certainly, these are important behaviors for senior leaders. But are these the most beneficial activities senior leaders can engage in? I don’t think so — and will explain in a few paragraphs why.

Why do senior leaders engage in these activities? My experience and research tells me that leader behaviors are driven by three factors: role models from their past, their social style or personality type, and the organization’s culture.

So senior leaders do meetings, analysis of data and address performance problems because they’ve seen those behaviors role modeled by others, the behaviors fit their social style, and the organizational culture reinforces those activities.

Another issue arises as we look at senior leaders’ activities. Their integrity is compromised when their activities — how they spend their time — are inconsistent with what they say is important in their workplace.

For example, senior leaders may say that “people are our most important asset,” yet choose not to delegate authority to team members to act independently in the moment. Senior leaders may say that they have an open-door policy yet spend so much time in meetings and problem-solving discussions that their door is closed or they’re not in their office when a staffer drops by.

In my studies of high performing, values-aligned organizations, a constant is that every senior leader sees his or her role as a “chief culture officer.” They allocate time and energy to proactively manage their most important asset — their corporate culture. Their plans, decisions, and actions are easily seen as being aligned to their stated responsibilities to ensure a safe, inspiring workplace for all.

These leaders take the time to define clear purpose, values, strategy and goals for their organization in today’s world, and they help communicate how staff members contribute to those vital elements.

These leaders invest time in observing by wandering around, connecting one-on-one with frontline team leaders and frontline employees and asking how things are going. “What can we do to make your job easier?” is a common question these leaders ask. As they learn about issues that get in the way, they address those gaps with help from those in-the-know” (frontline team members).

They observe team meetings at all levels of the organization to learn what’s working and what’s not. They praise progress as well as accomplishment — they know that too often effort is ignored.

They spend less time in meetings with direct reports and more time observing their direct reports on the job, helping them praise progress, celebrate traction and value citizenship in their functional groups.

They spend more time helping all leaders and managers learn to effectively address performance issues and misaligned values in their workplace.

On average, these inspiring senior leaders spend 60-70% of their time championing their desired organizational culture, and it pays off beautifully. Our culture clients report gains of 40% in employee engagement, 40% in customer service, and 30% in profits in 18 to 24 months of aligned effort.

What are your activities saying to your team members about what you value? How often do your senior leaders observe by wandering around and connect with you on how things are going? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.