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.

The 9 Traits That Define Great Leadership


To motivate your team to achieve the highest levels of performance (and create an extraordinary organization in the process) here are the qualities you should model every day.


Many leaders are competent but few qualify as remarkable. If you want to join the ranks of the best of the best, make sure you embody all these qualities all the time. It isn't easy, but the rewards can be truly phenomenal.

1. Awareness  There is a difference between management and employees, bosses and workers. Leaders understand the nature of this difference and accept it; it informs their image, their actions, and their communication. They conduct themselves in a way that sets them apart from their employees--not in a manner that suggests they are better than others, but in a way that permits them to retain an objective perspective on everything that's going on in their organization.

2. Decisiveness All leaders must make tough decisions It goes with the job. They understand that in certain situations, difficult and timely decisions must be made in the best interests of the entire organization, decisions that require a firmness, authority, and finality that will not please everyone. Extraordinary leaders don't hesitate in such situations. They also know when not to act unilaterally but instead foster collaborative decision-making.

3. Empathy Extraordinary leaders praise in public and address problems in private. a genuine concern The best leaders guide employees through challenges, always on the lookout for solutions to foster the long-term success of the organization. Rather than making things personal when they encounter problems, or assigning blame to individuals, leaders look for constructive solutions and focus on moving forward.

4. Accountability Extraordinary leaders take responsibility for everyone's performance, including their own. They follow up on all outstanding issues, check in on employees, and monitor the effectiveness of company policies and procedures. When things are going well, they praise. When problems arise, they identify them quickly, seek solutions, and get things back on track.

5. Confidence Not only are the best leaders confident, but their confidence is contagious. Employees are naturally drawn to them, seek their advice, and feel more confident as a result. When challenged, they don’t give in too easily, because they know their ideas, opinions and strategies are well-informed and the result of much hard work. But when proven wrong they take responsibility and quickly act to improve the situations within their authority.

6. Optimism The very best leaders are source of positive energy. They communicate easily. They are intrinsically helpful and genuinely concerned for other people’s welfare. They always seem to have a solution and always know what to say to inspire and reassure. They avoid personal criticism and pessimistic thinking, and look for ways to gain consensus and get people to work together efficiently and effectively as a team.

7. Honesty Strong leaders treat people how they want to be treated. They are extremely ethical and believe that honesty, effort, and reliability form the foundation of success. They embody these values so overtly that no employee doubts their integrity for a minute. They share information openly and avoid spin control.

8. Focus Extraordinary leaders plan ahead and they are supremely organized. They think through multiple scenarios and the possible impacts of their decisions, while considering viable alternatives and making plans and strategies--all targeted toward success. Once prepared, they establish strategies, processes, and routines so that high performance is tangible, easily defined, and monitored. They communicate their plans to key players and have contingency plans in the event last-minute changes require a new direction (which they often do).

9. Inspiration Put it all together and what emerges is a picture of the truly inspiring leader: someone who communicates clearly, concisely, and often, and by doing so motivates everyone to give their best all the time. They challenge their people by setting high but attainable standards and expectations, and then giving them the support, tools, training, and latitude to pursue those goals and become the best employees they can possibly be. 

Why Great CEOs Roll With The Punches


By Tom Bell 

Every day we see or read about superb acts of leadership. The ones that occupy an indelible place in our minds are often characterized by unexpected high-pressure, traumatic conditions and courageous acts taken within a very limited amount of time—a cabbie delivering a baby, a mayor calming a city after one of the worst terrorist attacks in the history of mankind, a pilot making the call to land a powerless 65 ton piece of steel on a river in the middle of a major metropolis or a primary school teacher protecting her class from a gun-wielding madman.

With the exception of tampered product recalls, oil spills or factory explosions, these types of trials never face the captains of industry. Am I implying that leading a business enterprise is easy? Not in the least. But in the context of taking charge and leading human beings during major or minor crises, every chief executive is blessed with the luxuries of time, subordinate counsel, years of related experience and knowhow imparted by pundits in thousands of books, journals and case studies.

So, why do 21st century CEOs continue to struggle in their roles as leaders of a business enterprise? Consider this: Only two years ago the average tenure of a CEO in America was 8.4 years, down from 10.0 years in 2000. According to The Conference Board reportdismissals were on the rise because of increased accountability of directors and a greater scrutiny from shareholders and activists.

The Conference Board suggests that the pressure of serving as the CEO of a large company in an increasingly competitive global marketplace has resulted in voluntarily shorter tenures, implying that CEOs are leaving on their own terms after fewer years on the job. This is a case of “jump” before you are “pushed.”

Is the tenure problem leadership itself, impatient shareholders, uncontrollable external factors or a combination of all three? Blaming shareholders is a cop-out. The moment shareholders lose confidence in their chief executive, he or she is toast.

A critical role of an organization’s leader is to generate and communicate business progress to all stakeholders. Sometimes that headway doesn’t show up on the profit line of the income statement. Progress may be represented by top-line sales, market share, productivity, innovation, new product launches or expanding distribution. These factors can be the determinants of the organization’s strategic well-being.

Strategic health ultimately results in profit. But profit can also be the worse indicator of a company’s strategic health. Look at any business with increasing profits and declining or stagnating sales; below the shining profit façade is a deep-rooted problem.

In judging CEO performance, there is no place for the uncontrollable factor. Chief executives are paid handsomely to deal with sick economies and currency fluctuations. CEOs aren’t expected to change the world, but they sure as hell can affect how their companies deal with negatives that ostensibly are beyond their control.

Over my 17-year career in the North American coffee business, I must have dealt with three or four Brazilian frosts that pushed the price of coffee futures through the roof. Most of the lessons learned were from the errors the executive team made in the first frost that almost put us out of business. After that calamity, we altered our course to make the best of a difficult situation and always came out of the frost in much better shape than our competition. You do not throw your hands in the air and tell the shareholders to wait for prices to stabilize.

Back to my question—who is to blame for lackluster CEO performance? Though I have no statistical evidence to support my theory, I place most of the blame on leadership itself. Great leadership begins in the interview process. Those keen to secure the job and the big paycheck over-sell and over-promise.

Astute leaders establish the right expectations and continue to manage those expectations in the battlefield. These CEOs deal with uncontrollable issues as the norm, and they have a better shot at a longer tenure—if they want it.

In the late 19th century, someone said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Today’s successful CEOs have little choice but to walk that talk.

Employee Conflict: A Manager’s Challenge

It seems as though the world has never been without conflict – it appears to be one of life’s givens. In fact, almost on a daily basis we read about a conflict going on in some part of the world, one of the most current being the continuing unrest in the Arab World.

As with countries, conflicts often occur in the workplace. Although employees do not necessarily take up arms against one another, their conflict, nevertheless, can create havoc and adversely impact on productivity. However, managers do have the power to prevent the acceleration of employees’ conflict and bring about a positive outcome.

Before we can look at ways to help employees resolve their conflicts, we must first define what we mean by the word conflict. According to Webster’s dictionary, conflict is: a sharp disagreement or collision in interests, ideas, etc.• Thus, from this definition, we can conclude that it is not necessarily the occurrence of conflict that results in a negative aftermath; rather, it is the method used to resolve the conflict. Therefore, helping employees constructively resolve their conflict provides an important challenge for managers.

How do you meet this challenge? Well, here are some pointers for helping your employees resolve their conflict:

  • Give them an opportunity to resolve the conflict on their own. Employees need to be given a chance to be successful in solving their own problems and resolving their conflicts. This provides them with learning experiences they can build upon and at the same time enhances their self-esteem.
  • Act immediately if they are unable to independently resolve the conflict. You must step in right away if your employees are unable to work out a constructive resolution within a reasonable amount of time. Don’t wait until the conflict accelerates and ends up out of control.
  • Listen to both sides of the issue. To understand the nature of the conflict it is important that you listen with an open mind as each employee tells you his or her own story. Your task is to get the facts. However, it is important to recognize that each person will be relating his or her perception of the facts; it is up to you, as manager, to take the information and determine what the real issues are and what actually has occurred.
  • Separate the issues from the people conflict. Conflicts come about as a result of differences in opinions, ideas, etc. Therefore, make sure that you are evaluating the issues, not the people. Regard the conflict as the “it” factor operating rather than the “he” or “she” factor operating.
  • Stay neutral. It is crucial that you are neutral and take no one’s side; otherwise, you will be viewed as contributing to the problem rather than helping to resolve it.
  • Ask each employee to come up with several optional solutions. The goal is to resolve the conflict in a way that will be acceptable to both parties. Therefore, it is important that each one of them work out his or her own options. By doing this, you will be sending a clear message to your employees that you have confidence in their ability to work things out-that you respect and trust them.
  • Help them to work out a viable solution. Review the various options that the employees have separately come up with, then assist them in jointly finding a workable solution-one they both can live with.
  • Give them feedback. Be sure to give them feedback as to the appropriateness and viability of their solution. Make recommendations and offer guidance where necessary.
  • Have them implement their solution. Communicate your confidence in their solution, have them implemented and give you feedback about the results.

What if your employees cannot come to a resolution of the conflict despite all their efforts? Then it becomes necessary for you to devise a solution that each employee can live with and that will not be counter to organizational goals.

The final word: as a manager, you must not tolerate any decrease in productivity, which may, indeed, occur if employees are unable to resolve their conflicts in timely and constructive ways. Therefore it is vital to recognize where you must step in to help your employees help themselves in resolving their conflict.

Trust: The Key Ingredient for a Group to Become a Team


In a USA Today article entitled, “On The Job: Teams better in concept than practice,” author Anita Bruzzese cited a University of Phoenix study that found that 95% of interviewees say teams serve an important purpose but only 24% prefer to work that way. Also, the study found that 7 of 10 say they have been part of a dysfunctional team.

Mutual trust, respect and safety are fundamental to beginning to build productive interactionson teams. Without trust, there is no real sense of safety and without safety, group members will not take risks or share openly – both essential for a group to function as a high performance team.

In a recent presentation at Vistage’s International Member and Chair Conference: “Think Big,” Stephen Covey Jr. offered what he called “Three Big Ideas:”

1) Trust is an economic driver, not merely a social virtue

2) Trust is the #1 competency of leadership needed today

3) Trust is a learnable competency

He further pointed out that trust is a function of credibility and competence, (meaning behavior), and that both make up the basis for sustainability. According to Covey, the highest leveraged behaviors for creating trust are:

1) Talk straight – otherwise you are “counterfeit” which = spin, posture, and lying

2) Listen first – with intent to understand – don’t just listen in order to reply

3) Give trust – otherwise you are counterfeit by withholding trust while expecting it

So if only 24% prefer to work in teams and only 25% have not been on dysfunctional teams, then most of the people working together in organizations are at best groups and certainly not teams.How can leaders improve these dismal statistics?

First, take a hard look at yourself.

1)    Do you believe that trust has to be earned? Think about it. That is a game others can’t win because you hold all the cards. How has it been working for you? Are you willing to shift your paradigm by taking a risk and granting trust to others? This is what Covey says is one of the most important things to do.

2)   Get an outside assessment and establish a baseline for where your groups stand as of now. Is trust available in parts of your organization or only at some levels? Where is it missing? What is preventing it from being present? How do you know? If trust is not present it is likely not safe to express that openly. An outside consultant, coach or other organizational development professional is more likely to get at the real answers.

3)    Meet with your people, make yourself vulnerable and promise safety. Take the first risk and then invite your team members to share honestly about their experience working in your group or firm. Show them that you can be trusted with their honesty. Approach the conversation with a, “listen newly and be slow to understand,” approach.

The greater the trust in your organization the more likelihood you will have a high functioning team and not just a group.

Real Leaders Have Real Lives

by STEW FRIEDMAN  Harvard Business Review

For years I've been working on helping companies to see how work, home, community, and self (mind, body, and spirit) can be mutually reinforcing; this is the "four-way wins" approach I describe in Total Leadership. I often encounter skepticism, but some companies get it. My experience with Target should bolster anyone's case that you can be a committed A-player executive, a good parent, an attentive spouse, a healthy person with time for hobbies — yes, hobbies! — and a community life.

In this post I describe a couple of case studies from Target executives who have been experimenting with creative ways to integrate the different parts of their lives — and how they're teaching others to do the same.

David is a VP who is accountable for a multi-billion dollar P & L business. (All names have been changed and specific titles disguised.) He has structured several experiments to simultaneously improve his performance at work and his life at home. Now that he's done a number of them, he says he's learned that by framing these changes as experiments he can overcome what at first seems daunting. The first, he told me, "had a huge impact for me and probably an even more significant impact for my wife and family."

"My initial challenge was this: I spend most of my waking hours at work and I've always shut down from work at home. But this was hurting my relationship with my wife because we didn't talk about what was happening with me at work. We talked about the kids and that was what we had in common. The work problem was that I never had enough time to prepare for all my meetings. So the experiment was to look at tomorrow's calendar and pick the biggest meeting for which I needed to prep. On the drive home I'd think about what I should do at that meeting and when I got home I'd talk to my wife about it."

"This gave us something new to talk about, it gave her a much better understanding of what I do, it engaged her, and it enhanced our relationship because we were having richer conversations. Simultaneously, I was able to prepare and do a dry-run for my meeting. What was cool about it was getting an outside person's perspective. My wife made some good suggestions! And I've had better meetings as a result. But the big takeaway was to question the way I was doing things."

David said that the results of his experiments "have been astounding. I'm more productive and my wife is thrilled. Our company is also benefiting because of the effects on my team. I told my team that I was trying a change in my schedule and have been transparent about when they could expect to find me in the office. I was showing my team that there was a way that you could prioritize well-being holistically. This is leading them to think about some of the same things for themselves. I'm helping my team to be more engaged and to think more about their well-being, too. I'm developing better team leaders around me."

"For example, because of the change I made, I found out that one of my direct reports was having a medical problem that was worsened by his work schedule, and we have now changed his schedule. One of my other team members told me that he feels more empowered to make choices to spend time with his family during the day. He feels more empowered — that it's OK — and he doesn't feel guilty about it. The example I was setting before was work first, work first, work first."

"I might be here for slightly fewer hours now, but I'm making faster and better decisions. And, at home, my wife is now more understanding of those choices I sometimes have to make when work does have to come first. In the long-term, for Target this means that I'm a more engaged leader without an unmanageable tension between my wife and my work."

Alan is a VP located on the West coast. He's been in that region for 15 years and has three children, ages three, five, and seven. His wife is a finance director at another company.

"The first thing about Total Leadership that really had an impact for me was the stakeholder mapping," he told me. In this exercise, you identify the people who are most important to you in your work, home, self, and community spheres. This is part of seeing your life not as just a random unfolding of events, but as a system you can change. "This was something that I had done intuitively on my own but I wasn't maximizing it.... It was important to... connect with those people, find common ground, and learn what their expectations are."

"With work I'm very intentional and so things happen, because it's work. But if I'm truly accountable I would be taking the same approach in the other domains of life that I am taking at work to accomplish the things that matter. That was an 'Aha!' moment."

"That's why my experiment centered on time with my family; with my sister and her kids and arranging time together for all of us. I used some of the things that I do at work and applied them in this other realm. My sister owns a business and my brother-in-law has a property development job, so they have demanding schedules. Our kids are on different Spring breaks. We have a vision now (we didn't until my experiment) of two week-long vacations per year together with the kids doing something — skiing or going to the beach — and then a couple of long weekends. Coordinating all that is difficult and so it just really wasn't happening."

"I was lamenting this, wondering how I might effect a change. It dawned on me that if this was work I would have all kinds of tactics. So I drafted an email to the key players (my brother-in-law, sister, wife, mom, and a couple of others) and I laid out a plan for a dinner, just the adults, to talk about what we wanted to achieve each year. We were able to come up with two week-long vacations, but planned well in advance, and then two long weekends. We set up some checkpoints and conference calls — the last thing you'd think of with family. We went away together the last two weeks of the year, and we bought those tickets in June. This was a success and an example that I've learned I could use in general: If a process works in one part of my life, then maybe I can apply it in other parts of my life."

"If we've got leaders in the company who are able to apply skills from work to other parts of their lives and share these stories with their teams, then this can help us make our people happier and strengthen our retention of talent. We invest time and money every year training people. So when you strengthen retention and reduce that expense, then you have savings but you also have more experienced people who are more productive.

"I've come to realize that one of my challenges is taking time off, and ensuring that I am effective enough to do that and not miss a beat. This year I'm looking at six weeks of vacation. When I think back a few years I just wouldn't have even considered that; this year I intend to take it all. If I only took three weeks, I would have people on my team see that as a signal. So I'm teaching others by example. Again, the stakeholder mapping and integrating the four domains in a way that works for me is important, and I also teach my team how to do that for themselves, in part so they can be effective when I'm not here. My goal is for them to be effective all the time. The more that I can lead that way, the more it means that if I'm gone for a week or two then the impact is minimal."

Target is working on "starting a movement — not just a program" says one of the members of the organizational effectiveness team. But changing those norms isn't easy. Max, the VP who now runs the largest P & L business at Target, admitted that he "saw a couple of eyebrows raised" when he told his team, on his first day in his new position, that he comes in late two mornings a week so that he can "go to the gym and have breakfast with my kids."

But when senior executives are modeling healthier behavior, it lets a grassroots movement take hold. For instance, David's boss checks in on his experiments regularly. "She's given me tips and shared her experience on what she's learned," he says. "I talk to her about it to hold myself accountable. She's reminded me that each new job is bigger and more demanding so it will be critical to continue to get better and better about managing my time and calendar as I develop throughout my career."

When steps like these are taken to improve performance and reduce stress, and employees see that this is a legitimate and fully authorized activity, then an increasing number of them are going to generate experiments of their own. Slowly, the culture changes as new models for what's expected emerge, and as people at all levels demonstrate that it makes good business sense to take care of all the things that matter in your life.

Great Employees Are Not Replaceable

One of the most important lessons I learned during my years as a CEO was that great employees are not replaceable. It isn’t the technology or the product that make a company great, it’s the people. And companies who see their good employees as “replaceable” are wrong. Good employees are not replaceable. Let me clarify what I mean by “replaceable.” Can a company hire someone to fill a position to replace someone else? Of course they can. In today’s market, the world is ripe with candidates who are eager and willing to take the job. But putting a behind in a seat doesn’t replace a great employee. It simply puts a new behind in a seat.

4 Signs You Will Fail as a Leader

by  via @inc

Outwardly, you appear effective, dependable, on top of things. But look closer. Are you in danger of destructive behaviors?

Falling - Man falling down 

shutterstock images


Here's a statement of the blindingly obvious: strong, effective leadership is better than weak, ineffective leadership.

Thankfully, it's usually obvious which is which--most of us can spot a strong leader from a weak one with relative ease. 

The problem comes when a weak leader masquerades as a strong leader. Outwardly, they appear effective, dependable, on top of things. But look closely at what they believe to be strong leadership and what you see is in fact a set of dangerous, destructive behaviors. Behaviors which will eventually strangle the organization.

It's one thing having to work alongside a weak leader who thinks otherwise. Much worse is to find out, painfully and over a long time, that the culprit is you. That the leadership traits and behaviors you'd thought were strengths are in fact the exact opposite, and that instead of leading your enterprise, like an unpinned grenade, you're about to blow it up.

Time for some tough love. Here are the four most common behaviors of an ineffective leader who thinks otherwise. Recognize any? 

1. You know everything. My work involves talking with founder/owners and CEO's about their business, usually for hours, sometimes days at a time. And in doing so, I've noticed an interesting pattern: The weaker the leader, the more they know.

When I meet with weak or ineffective leaders, they can (and do) talk about their business for hours, uninterrupted and without assistance from others. There's nothing they don't know, no-one they need to consult and no information that's not to hand. The whole experience is like sitting with them in a goldfish bowl while the real world carries on outside.

Talking with truly effective leaders is just the opposite. They involve others when discussing their business. Whether it's putting the VP Sales on speakerphone or wandering down the corridor to talk with the warehouse manager, strong leaders know they can't--and shouldn't--know everything about their business. They build strong teams and are proud to depend upon them.

2. You're always busy. Yes, running a business (or a division, department, project, group or team) is time consuming--sometimes to the point of exhaustion. 

No, it's not a sign of leadership strength to be permanently over-scheduled and over-worked.

If you have no time to think; if you can't recall the last time you took a walk around the block to clear your head, then you're not truly leading. If you're not taking time to set the strategic compass of your organization, who do you think is? 

3. Your default perception of others is negative. When truly effective leaders talk, one thing becomes noticeable. When discussing others, whether their employees, vendors or customers, the conversation typically trends toward the positive.

Strong leaders look for success in others. They focus on what has been done well, and seek to  build on that success. Conversely, ineffective leaders' opinions of others typically trend to the negative. They focus mostly on what has gone wrong, and spend most of their time ranging from mildly dissatisfied to irritated.
Strong leaders aren't Pollyannas. They recognize and firmly correct failure or incompetence, but by default they expect competence and success, they enjoy pointing it out in others, and they celebrate it often.

4. You have only two modes of interaction. Weak leaders (who think they're strong) interact with direct reports in one of two ways: either they're in charge, or they're not there. If they're in the room, they're in charge. 

Truly effective leaders have another string to their bow, a third way of interacting with their team--to be a resource for them. Genuinely strong leaders are confident enough in their position that they don't need to always be at the head of the table. They can, when needed or useful, sit down as a peer and be just another voice around the table, even with those who report to them.

When was the last time you sat in on an operations or planning meeting, simply as a resource, and not as the boss? How did your team react? Were they comfortable and relaxed with you around, or did it all seem forced, a little like playacting?

In reviewing the four behaviors above, did you experience a sinking feeling of recognition in more than one? If so, it might be time to reverse course.

Hiring Outside Advisers Is as Important as Hiring Employees


By JOSH PATRICK via @nyt

Jim Collins writes that one of the keys of successful companies is to have the right person in the right seat. I don’t think anyone would argue. But I do wonder why we don’t take the same care hiring outside advisers that we do with hiring employees.

As we saw in my recent series of posts on Holly Hunter’s attempts to sell her business, much of her pain came from hiring the wrong advisers. To review, Ms. Hunter hired a friend to represent her, hired a broker who claimed to represent both the buyer and the seller, and hired an attorney who didn’t have much experience in transactional work.

These sorts mistakes look glaring in retrospect, but they are not unusual. Many business owners make them — and not just when they are trying to sell their businesses. They can happen any time an owner hires someone from outside the company to provide advice and guidance. 

If you own a business, you hire outside advisers. If  you own a small business, you may even outsource crucial functions. It’s one of the ways micro-businesses keep their employee headcount low. I spend a lot of time these days helping owners figure out how to make sure the right person is doing the right job.

First, it’s important to understand that the people who advise you bring their own worldviews. They have an expertise, and that expertise tends to color how they see things. Lawyers tend to look for legal solutions. Accountants look for tax-based solutions. It’s important to understand that and to think about what you are trying to accomplish. If you start with clarity about what you want to do and why, you give yourself an advantage.

Next, move on to how you’re going to get there and who needs to help. Having a system for hiring the right help is often the difference between success and failure. The first question to ask when hiring an outside adviser is, do you need a specialist or a generalist.

If the outcome you’re trying to accomplish is relatively straightforward, you probably need a specialist. But when things get complicated, such as if you are selling your business, you may benefit if you have either a specialist who can think globally or you a generalist who gets the big picture.

Next, I suggest you ask yourself a question: “What type of adviser do I work with most successfully?” You may have to do a little soul searching. I find that I’m most successful with advisers who share my view of how the world works. Do they need to be in control? Do they work well collaboratively? Do they listen well? I need to know the answers to these questions before I’m willing to sign on. The questions you need to answer will likely be different from mine.

Then, make sure the advisers you are considering have the technical skills you need. Make sure they are accustomed to facing the issues you’re facing. You might have to pay a little more, but in the end you will probably end up saving money, time and aggravation.

Along with technical ability, you want your advisers to demonstrate that they have been successful in achieving the type of outcomes you’re interested in. This means you must check references. Don’t just ask where they have been successful, ask them to describe a time things didn’t go well and what they learned.

Throughout the process of hiring and managing outside advisers, it is important to maintain control. This was part of the problem when Ms. Hunter hired a business broker. That broker represented both the buyer and the seller, and Ms. Hunter lost control of her adviser and her sale. (It didn’t work out very well for the buyer either.)

Make sure the adviser you hire understands why you hired him or her. Let this person know why the outcome is important to you. If you feel your adviser is taking you off course, it’s your responsibility to rein him or her back in.

Have you thought about how you hire advisers? What kind of success have you had? Do you think it makes sense to have a system? What advice would you add?

5 Productivity Tips From Mark Twain

mark twainPopular pictures of Mark Twain show the American man of letters in a relaxed slump, enjoying a cigar, and sheepishly scanning a warm summer afternoon in a comfortable, white linen suit. A calm, restful smile resides on Twain’s lips and his wild, white hair appears to have recently departed from a goose feather pillow.

On first glance, Twain doesn’t seem like a very productive soul, but you can’t judge a book by its cover.

The fact is Twain was a steady, consistent, and productive writer who tirelessly worked on his craft. There’s a reason why Hemingway called Twain’s most popular book, Huckleberry Finn, the root of all modern American literature.

Twain’s impressive work rate is the result of his happy outlook on life and his unique principles. Even if you aren’t a writer, the following list of Twain’s productivity tips will help you work harder and smarter:

1. Don’t be a perfectionist:

Twain observed, “I don’t give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.” Twain didn’t let misspellings and rules of grammar get in the way of his storytelling. He believed in telling simple, humorous tales. Twain left the editing to the editors. This carefree attitude spurred his creativity and let him develop his own style that wasn’t beholden to established rules of fiction

Don’t waste all of your time editing and making things perfect. Give yourself time to be sloppy, creative, and messy. It gives you the opportunity to express yourself without barriers. You can edit, retool, and tweak later.

2. Mind your company:

Productivity isn’t always about waking up early, setting a schedule and trying your best to ignore your email and phone. Sometimes it boils down to confidence and Twain believed only certain people inspire self-assurance.  Twain writes, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

Ignore the naysayers, the cynics, and the folks who are always sucking their teeth whenever a new idea is brought up. They are the “small people” and all they want from you is to join them in their misery. You must associate with people who allow, encourage, and demand big dreams.

3. Laugh at work:

Everyone has their favorite Twain joke. Mine is, “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”

Twain knew that humor, jokes, and laughter soothed many headaches and ills. “Humor is the great thing,” Twain writes, “the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.”

If you have a mountain of work and stress dogs your daily life than take time to seek out humor. Laughter will help you relax. Once you’re relaxed you can get back to work with more clarity and focus.

4. Develop good habits with incremental steps:

Twain knew that good habits are hard to acquire. While it’s easy to say you’ll get up early and visit the gym, it’s another thing completely to obey your screeching alarm clock before the sun begins its day.

Twain had a hack to instill good habits and it goes as follows, “Do something every day that you don’t want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.”

He went on to observe, “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out the window by man, but coaxed downstairs, a step at a time.”

Twain knew that one can’t simply pull a positive habit out of the blue. Good habits have to be worked at incrementally.

Twain also writes, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex and overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Don’t jolt your system into new, better habits. Gradually work your way into them so they stick.

5. Don’t follow conventional wisdom:

Twain didn’t believe in dieting or maintaining a healthy lifestyle. He smoked cigars, he drank, and he didn’t believe in abstaining from fattening foods.

When it came to cigars he had an especially large appetite. He writes, “I ordinarily smoke fifteen cigars during my five hours’ labors.” It is not exactly a habit one should replicate, but it illustrates that Twain allowed himself small pleasures while he went about his work.

There’s no rule forbidding yourself from small pleasures while you toil over your projects. Faced with a monumental task one should bear down and get to work while allowing for the odd indulgence.

After all, Twain writes, “There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry.”

CEO's Struggle With Time Management, Too

Getty Images
‘Firefighters’ are managers who are prone to dealing with emergencies, instead of driving long-term planning.

If there’s one thing executives lack, it’s time. And many of them, it turns out, aren’t happy with how they’re managing this limited resource.

In an online survey of nearly 1,400 senior executives  — including 668 CEOs and 557 other C-level execs  — just 52% said they were spending their time in a way that matched their companies’ strategic priorities.

Respondents were further divided in their satisfaction of how they utilized their time at work: 32%  said they were somewhat or very dissatisfied, 48% were somewhat satisfied, and only 9% were highly satisfied. The rest said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, or did not know.  The study will be released Monday by consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

When compared with the highly satisfied group, executives who were dissatisfied exhibited remarkably similar time-use habits, which McKinsey grouped into four categories:

“Online junkies” spent on average 38% of their time using email or voicemail, leaving little time for personal interaction.

“Schmoozers,” represented well by CEOs and sales directors, interacted heavily with external stakeholders like clients and customers, at the risk of neglecting their own employees.

Meanwhile, “cheerleaders,” often C-suite executives, spent a big chunk of their schedules meeting and managing employees, but considerably less time with outsiders.

“Firefighters,” usually general managers, were often preoccupied with resolving short-term and unexpected issues.

The findings indicate that methods of time management are a crucial yet overlooked issue at many companies, says Aaron De Smet, a principal at McKinsey’s Houston office and co-author of the report. Executives generally don’t track how they spend their time, he says, and many companies don’t offer guidance in this area.

“Time is one of the most precious and undermanaged resources at a company, and it seems to be getting more so,” De Smet says. “We’re just piling on more and more and more.”

Executives who were fully satisfied with their time management were generally more consistent and balanced in the way they budgeted their time. They spent on average 38% of their time in face-to-face interactions, 28% using email or voice mail, and 21% on the phone. They were more likely to be found working alone (24% of time), than with clients and customers (17%) or direct reports (15%).

CEOs, perhaps unsurprisingly, comprised more than one-third of the 124 executives in the “fully-satisfied” group. De Smet theorizes that they are more efficient with their time because they have executive assistants who manage their calendars. These top bosses also have more discretion when it comes to how they choose to budget their time, he adds.

Overall De Smet argues that companies need to address time management as an organizational initiative, not an individual one. He says firms should  set “time budgets” for certain projects and tasks, and limit the introduction of new initiatives that might overwhelm executives.

The survey, conducted in late 2011, polled executives from a mix of public and private companies around the world.

Forecasting Economic Trends for 2013

Upcoming event:  Forecasting Economic Trends for 2013

For more than 27 years, Alan Beaulieu and Brian Beaulieu have specialized in forecasting future economic changes for businesses. Alan is the President and Brian is the CEO of ITR Economics™ (aka the Institute for Trend Research). Their forecasting accuracy rate is a reliable 94.7%. In their upcoming webinar, “Forecasting Economic Trends for 2013,” they offer practical strategies and solutions for spotting unfolding business cycle trends.

The brothers began by asserting that business leaders need to decide now how they are going to make their move for the economic future. “Economics without actionable items is worthless economics,” said Alan. Their most recent book, Make Your Move: Change the Way You Look at Your Business and Increase Your Bottom Line, elaborates on this concept further. The time to prepare for the economic ups and downs of 2013 and the years beyond is now.

According to Beaulieu, when you survey the world, you have to keep three megatrends in mind that are going to define economic opportunities in the future. These megatrends are:

  1. Demographics. There is a correlation between GDP growth and population growth.
  2. Inflation. Countries that are rich in natural resources fare much better during times of inflation, while others struggle.
  3. Taxes. The unfortunate political truth is that you can’t solve the budget deficit by raising taxes, but you can’t cut spending without raising taxes. To be realistic, you have to expect tax increases to be  part of our economic landscape in 2013 and beyond.

With those megatrends in mind, Alan and Brian make some general predictions about the next five years.

At first, the outlook can seem dim, as inflation reduces purchasing power and increased taxes reduce cash for businesses. But if you figure out now how you’re going to fight this, if you look at your inventories differently, restructure employee compensation now and find ways to drive efficiency to stay ahead of your competitors, you can react in advance to prosper and profit.

It’s a two-year process, and to do it, you start with your competitive advantage. What do your customers really value? Aim your competitive advantages to that. Aim your website, study, adjustment, sales approach, and marketing plan to protect your profit margins. If you aggressively pursue new customers, markets and opportunities now, then market share gains in 2014 can be used to offset a lot of the decline.

During the hour-long webinar, the Beaulieu brothers address further questions on the impact of healthcare reform, world countries’ industrial production, housing, the U.S. public debt, and more. 

Join Tom Cuthbert and Vistage San Antonio is viewing the webinar together on Friday January 25th at noon.  Email tom dot cuthbert at vistage dot com to request an invitation.


An Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions


What’s wrong with New Year’s resolutions? Is it because the word “resolution” has become associated with superficial, lofty goals that fade almost as quickly as our hangover from the New Year’s Eve celebration? Or could it be that there is simply no time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s to do any serious goal-setting—given all the holiday parties, family obligations, and end-of-the-year work deadlines that must be met?

The answer is “yes” to both. The fact is New Year’s resolutions are a joke because we don’t take the time to do a thorough process of reflecting, assessing, transitioning, and goal setting. Instead, we latch on to any central theme that has been bothering us as of late and turn that into some sort of half-hearted resolution. Is it no wonder that 80 percent of people who make resolutions on the 1st of January fall off the wagon by Valentine’s Day, according to Marti Hope Gonzales, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota.

So what’s the alternative, you ask?

Let me answer that in two ways.

Your first alternative would be to turn the resolution process into a commitment process. This would require carving out some quality solo time to complete my complimentary workbook, New Years Resolutions That Stick!The workbook comes with 30 thought-provoking questions about this past year and 30 thought-provoking questions about this upcoming year. This tested New Year’s process will help you come up with meaningful goals for 2013 as result of a thorough analysis of 2012. For your free workbook, go or click on the link above.

The second alternative is to follow the 4-Step process below; no downloads or workbook required.

Step 1:  Take some “me” time and reflect upon these questions about this past year.  Be sure to write down your responses.

  1. What were your four biggest personal highlights and why?
  2. What were your four biggest professional highlights and why?
  3. What did you learn most about yourself this past year?
  4. What were some of your biggest challenges and how did you handle them?
  5. What, if any, regrets do you have?

Step 2:  Take some “me” time and reflect upon these questions about this upcoming year.  Be sure to write down your responses.

  1. Based on this past year, what’s the best advice you could give yourself for 2013 and why?
  2. What’s one thing you’d like to change most about yourself?
  3. What unfinished business, if any, do you need to complete in 2013? What would that look like?
  4. What could possibly prevent you from creating the year ahead that you truly desire? Is there anything you could be doing now to set yourself up to succeed? If so, what would that be?
  5. In a year from now, what do you want to be able to say about this upcoming year in retrospect? What do you need to do to make that happen?

Step 3:  Based on your insights from steps 1 & 2, identify all the things you are willing to commit to doing in the three areas below:

What I will continue to do in 2013:

What I will stop doing in 2013:

What I will start doing in 2013:

Step 4:  For any goal or commitment to be successful, it is critical that you enroll others in your process; be it by sharing your insights and results from Step 3 or by doing this 4-step process together. Either way, select an accountability partner and share with them what you learned from Steps 1 & 2 and what you are willing to commit to in Step 3.

Lastly, I recommend creating a quarterly process for reviewing your commitments instead of the annual process. Our lives change so much on a day-to-day basis that goals and commitments can lose their meaning if not regularly checked and updated. This means getting together with your accountability partner four times. Are you up for that?

In conclusion, every year of your life is essentially a chapter in your own autobiography. Make your life a best seller by capturing as much as you can from each and every year. It will not only give you a greater sense of self, but it will undoubtedly make each successive year that much better.

Aren’t you worth it?


How to Have Successful One-to-One Meetings

There is no more important conversation for a leader than a one to one

I am a big believer in the power of one-to-one meetings with those we work with.  In Vistage, my favorite times of the month are the opportunities to sit down with my members, uninterrupted  and process through issues, brainstorm and even allow them to vent!  This article by Clay Parcells is well written and provides a great roadmap to effective one-to-ones in your business life.  I've added some resources, books and articles at the end of the post.

"How to have Successful One-to-Ones"

As a leader, are you having regular one-on-one meetings with your staff and direct reports?  These are regularly scheduled meetings with each and every one of your direct reports where you sit down and talk.  One-on-one meetings are an opportunity for the leader to LEAD.

It is your opportunity to inspire, influence, motivate, coach, listen, solve problems, make decisions, and create an environment where employees feel energized. You can’t do this with email.  If you lead and manage a team remotely, try to have a face-to-face monthly or quarterly as you conduct the majority of your conversations over the phone. As a leader, it is critical for you to be able to have open and honest conversations with your staff about their jobs, their performance, conflicts and development opportunities.

I’m amazed at the number of leaders who don’t schedule these one-on-one meetings as well as those who do and frequently cancel them due to other pressing issues.  As a leader what are you demonstrating to your employees? Frankly, that they are not important.  I understand that one-on-one meetings take time and sometimes, very pressing company or client issues come up that may require you to cancel your meeting.   However, those situations should be few and far between. 

Why do some leaders fail to schedule regular one-on-one meetings or don’t commit to those that are scheduled?  For some, it may be that they don’t know any better.  This is often the case for newly appointed managers or leaders.  Perhaps they had poor role model or no role model at all.  Or they don’t understand the value of them.  I hate to say it but some don’t enjoy talking face to face with their employees.  It is uncomfortable for them to address conflict, performance issues, to listen without judgment, and to discuss developmental opportunities. If that is the case for you, I recommend you go back to being an individual contributor because leadership is about inspiring, influencing and developing your staff.

Here are some practical tips in having effective one-on-one meetings with your team.

1.         Have scheduled one-on-one meetings and never miss them.

Consistently schedule one-on-one meetings for the same time each week. This develops the habit for you and your direct reports.  Set an agenda and be flexible about what each of your direct reports wants and needs from you during this meeting.  Remember this meeting is to help them.  In today’s high-pressure environment the success of your team depends on the individuals in your team being successful. The purpose of a one-on-one meeting is to provide your direct report with the information to do his/her job and about providing you with the information you need to help him/her do his job.

I would argue that one-on-one meetings should be the single most important meeting in your calendar and should never be cancelled.  However, that is not always possible. If you need to cancel a one-on-one meeting, reschedule it as soon as possible after the original booking, or even better, before. This shows your commitment to your staff and demonstrates that they are important.  Habitually cancelling one-on-one meetings undermines their usefulness and can disenfranchise your direct reports.

2.         Create a safe environment.

One-on-one meetings should be primarily about accurate status for the leader/manager, and continuous improvement for the employee. In order to get the maximum benefit from the one-on-one meeting you must create a non-threatening meeting environment.

Provide constructive feedback/coaching on how to prevent issues from recurring as well as what they are doing well. Try not to play the blame game. Accountability and responsibility are key; but if you start with the blame game, your direct reports may close down, and then you won’t get the information you need until it is too late to fix it.

If you need to have a performance discussion or discipline a direct report, set up a time separate from the one-on-one meeting time to discuss disciplinary or performance issues.

3.         Eliminate all interruptions.

This is your time with your direct report. Turn off your Blackberry or put it on vibrate and place it in your pocket and ignore it.  Move the computer screen away and forward your phone if you can.  As the leader you want to get maximum productivity out of your one-on-one meetings, you need to make your direct report feel like for a specified period of time they have your undivided attention. This means absolutely no interruptions. Close your door or find a private conference room if your office is a cubicle.

4.         How to schedule your one-on-one meetings.

When should you schedule your one-on-one meetings?  A good suggestion is that one-on-one meetings should be one half hour, once a week.  The best answer is whenever fits best in your schedule and the schedule of your direct reports. Personally, I have always preferred to have my one-on-one meetings on Monday or early in the week. The reason I liked Monday’s is because it gave me lots of time to work on and resolve any action items they came up that were my responsibility and it’s the start of the week. 

I would schedule these not on Monday morning since everyone just got back from a long and hopefully restful weekend.  Look at your schedule and see when primarily most of your meetings are set up.  Usually most meetings that you attend are between 10 AM and 4:00 PM, leaving the times early in the day free  to use for one-on-one meetings. 

5.         How best to prepare.

Your preparation for a one-on-one meeting should begin the second that the previous meeting for your direct report ends. You may want to keep a computer file or personal folder for each direct report and whenever you think of something you need to talk to them about in the next meeting, make a note in the folder.

Create an agenda for your one-on-one meetings and make sure your directs have some input on the format and items to discuss.  Remember both you and your employees should clearly articulate your expectations for these meetings.

A suggested format may include the following categories:

·      Accomplishments & status – a list of current projects, or sales with one or two sentences describing progress and status on each. Identify what roadblocks are preventing the projects and sales from moving forward.

·      To do – a high-level to-do list of what you would like to accomplish in the next week.

·      Areas to develop – areas of development and what activities you have undertaken to develop in those areas.

·      Quarterly goal tracking – Whether you establish goals monthly, quarterly or yearly, you and your direct reports should be making steady progress toward fulfilling those goals.

6.         What should the format look like?

Time is precious so use it effectively.  All you need is 30 minutes for these update meetings.  Therefore you can divide the meetings into thirds. One-third for your direct report to discuss their stuff on the agenda; one-third for you to pass on information that you think may be of value to your direct report, discuss items of special interest to you and delegate new work; and one-third for assisting the employee with development opportunities.

Remember these are guidelines only. I recall some of my direct report meetings were focused on one or two areas with little spent on the others. The important thing is not to neglect any one of the areas since each are important to the success of your direct report and to the overall success of your one-on-one meetings.

7.         What questions do you have for them and what questions do you want them to ask you?

What questions should you ask?  It depends on the issues you talk about.  But try to use open-ended questions that start with (What, Where, How) and then focus in the areas that are important to you and your direct report. Some additional effective questions include: What obstacles are getting in the way and what can I do as the leader to remove the obstacles; what can you/we do differently next time; what do you need from me; how are you going to approach this; what areas are ahead of schedule; are you on track to meet your deadlines or quota; what will you do differently and what do you think?

Questions you may want your employees to ask you include: What do I need to do to continue to demonstrate my commitment to you as your leader/manager; what should I stop doing that may be getting in the way; what more can I do to support you?

Remember asking questions is extremely important.  So is listening to the answers.  Don’t interrupt and use your active listening skills to really understand where your employees are coming from. 

8.         Your meeting wrap up.

At the end of the meeting be sure that the actions from the meeting are recorded, and review the actions with the direct report so the actions are clearly understood.  Ask the direct report if there is anything else they would like to discuss.

9.         Post-meeting action.

For the one-on-one meetings to be successful what you do after the meeting is at least as important as the meeting itself. Using whatever method you do to track your work; the actions you are responsible for need to be worked on. One of the quickest ways to erode the effectiveness of your one-on-one meetings, and most likely your relationship with your direct reports, is to agree to actions on behalf of your direct reports and not follow up on them.

It is imperative for leaders to have regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with your direct reports.  It is important for their development, and will help to increase their engagement, and their commitment to your vision, to the company’s strategies and goals.  Higher engagement and commitment will lead to greater retention of staff that you want to keep, greater customer satisfaction that will lead to greater revenue growth and profits for the business.




Fierce Conversations, Scott

Leadership is an Art, DePree

That’s a Great Question, Bustin

Power Questions, Solbel/Panas

Conversational Capacity, Weber





13 Ways to Fix Your Worst Meetings

via @inc

Meetings get a bum rap, especially from Gen-Y founders. What are the youngest entrepreneurs actually doing behind closed conference doors?

Meeting at Work w/boss 

Reza Estakhrian/Getty



The Young Entrepreneur Council asked 13 successful young entrepreneurs how they keep their start-up staff meetings lively and productive, week in and week out. Here are their best answers. 

1. Simply Stand Up

We have a daily standing meeting, during which each person is actually standing. The meeting typically lasts five or 10 minutes with everyone sharing their progress during the last 24 hours, goals for the next 24 hours, and any obstacles they have. We've found that we all get to the point faster when forced to stand rather than sit.
-- Bhavin ParikhMagoosh Test Prep

2. Share Your Growth

Pitch a brighter future. Show your colleagues your company's current growth or share some current and future revenue projections. They will get excited and therefore be more productive and proud that they are part of something big.
-- Ak KurjiGennex Group


3. Prepare the Agenda in Advance

The worst meetings have two characteristics: no agenda and no objectives. Send a meeting agenda to attendees in advance of any meeting. Figure out what topics can be handled outside of the meeting, and also which ones merit more attention based on your team's replies. The benefit? Shorter meetings that provide everyone a sense of accomplishment.
-- Aaron SchwartzModify Watches

4. Focus on Focus

Figure out your key points for the meeting and discuss only those. It's amazing how quickly a group can get off topic. Don't silence off-the-wall, fun comments related to the topic at hand, but if someone has something important to say about an unrelated topic, let him or her know there is a time and place for that comment, and this isn't it.
-- Nick FriedmanCollege Hunks Hauling Junk

5. Stick to Short, Departmental Meetings

I believe in segmenting meetings into departments, and then limiting the meetings to only 30 minutes. Once a week, I spend the last part of the day in half-hour departmental meetings where I meet with each department. We discuss productivity and we define specific goals and agenda.
-- Chad FrenchPeerFly

6. Host Hangouts, Not Conference Calls

My company is all virtual--everyone works from their own home office al l around the country. To stay connected, we've started using Google+ Hangouts for our weekly team meetings. It's so much more engaging to be able to see everyone on video than just hear voices, and it ensures that everyone stays focused and isn't doing something else while they're pretending to listen!
-- Laura RoederLKR

7. Schedule Friday "Beer and Learns"

On Friday afternoons, we hold "Beer & Learns." The subjects include everything: company-wide feedback, focus groups for a new product build, client QA testing, or brainstorm sessions. It's a great way to stay lively and have fun, but still talk strategy.
-- Abby RossBlueye Creative

8. Be More Spontaneous

In a flat company structure, opting for more impromptu, rather than planned, meetings keeps things fun and interesting. Everyone gets a break from their current tasks to come together for a session, which can leave them feeling energized and empowered when they return to their work. In turn, this boosts team morale and increases productivity.
-- Nick ReeseElite Health Blends

9. Blend in the Bonding

I always make it a point to incorporate a team activity into staff meetings. First, it motivates them to want to attend, and the meetings are more productive because of this. Second, it builds a stronger team. Another added benefit is that the meetings usually aren't filled with a bunch of useless discussions. My team wants to provide quality feedback and get the information they need in a short-period of time so they can move on to the fun stuff--we've incorporated picnics, bowling, and even sailing into meetings.
-- Andrew SchrageMoney Crashers Personal Finance

10. Experiment With Schedules

One of the best things we've done with our weekly staff meeting was to change it from Friday afternoon to Monday morning. It completely changed the feel of the meeting because on Fridays, we were always talking about what had already happened that week. On Mondays, people were more forward focused and we talked about proactive plans for the week ahead, and we ended up being so much more prepared. This has led me to rethink the timing of several other weekly meetings we have, and increased productivity by a ton.
-- Caitlin McCabeReal Bullets Branding

11. Determine Action Items

After discussing each item on your meeting agenda, identify action items, point people for those action items, and deadlines for completing those action items. Do this for every item on the agenda when you discuss it. That way, you leave the meeting with a whole new set of productive to-dos and clear direction for who is doing them and when they are getting them done by.
-- Stephanie KaplanHer Campus Media

12. Brainstorm With Structure--and Sweets

Set and agenda and stick to your stop time. Brainstorms always spark creativity and enthusiasm in our office. Establishing a framework for the brainstorm keeps them structured and productive. When in doubt, involving candy and good humor never hurts!
-- Melissa Kushnergoods for good

13. Why Meet at All?

We rarely have meetings at TalentEgg. I find that they generally create an unnecessary and unproductive structure around what should just be a quick chat (either virtually or in person). That being said, it's important to spend time together as a team, so every Friday, we have a "numbers and highlights" meeting at the end of the day. Each team member presents their key metric, and something exciting that happened in the week. After everyone is done, we easily roll into random chat about the weekend. It's a great way to get some face time, share important information, and wind down.
-- Lauren FrieseTalentEgg