tom cuthbert

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.

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?

Are You Working on Your Business, or FOR Your Business?

by Gina Abudi

Too often, CEOs’ time is spent on everything but what it should be spent on — working on the business. Our tendency — especially for smaller to medium-sized businesses — is to do the workof the business in addition to trying to work on the business.


Certainly, there are good reasons for doing this in those very early years as you are trying to get the business off the ground and you have limited staff; but I’ve seen this occur even when the CEO has other executives on board to manage key areas of the business. Let’s assume for this article that the issue is not that you can’t tear yourself away from overseeing every part of the business, but rather, the issue is that you need to slice out more time in your day to actually work on the business.

Let’s look at some things you can do to be sure you are better able to manage your own time by delegating more effectively to others; and then let’s look at what you should be doing as the CEO.

Hire the right people. The people you hire to join your team — at any level of responsibility — must be “go getters.” While certainly training your employees is necessary, they should be individuals who are motivated to take on responsibilities and get things done without constant handholding or oversight.

Develop your employees — from senior leaders to individual contributors. Provide your employees with training and professional development opportunities. This may be anything from workshops to attending conference to participating in, or leading, strategic projects to help the business meet its goals.

Clear roles and responsibilities. Ensure that all employees have very clear roles and responsibilities. Too often, we do not provide clear roles and responsibilities to our employees. Without this information there is no clarity around expectations. Roles and responsibilities should include decision-making authority levels (for example, the ability to make a decision to refund an unhappy customer up to $x dollars.)

Autonomy to do their jobs. It’s hard to let go of aspects of the business — there is a feeling of wanting to be involved in everything simply because it is your business. But you need to learn how to let go. Provide employees autonomy to do their jobs. Set an end goal — they can get to the end goal as they see fit. Feel free to put parameters around how they get there if that makes you more comfortable; but there is no need (and certainly you can’t spend the time!) to tell an employee every step they need to take to get from point A to point C.

Now let’s discuss how you should be spending your time as the CEO.

Setting strategy for the organization and communicating vision. Your strategy shouldn’t be set once and then tucked away. You’ll need to revise your strategy on a regular basis to keep up with changes in the industry, with your competitors and to meet customer needs. Have key employees take the lead in updating components of your organizational strategy, with you being responsible for setting strategy and communicating your vision to them.

Being the spokesman for the organization. You are the face of the organization! On a regular basis you should be meeting with partners, vendors, customers and others to communicate your vision for the organization, understand the impression they have with your organization, and determine how to better serve their needs. This helps you in developing an appropriate strategy for the business.

Serving on boards. Serve on boards — whether for private companies or non-profits. Share your knowledge, be seen and establish strong relationships with other business owners.

Keeping up to date with the industry. Regardless of your industry, there are always changes to keep up with. Keep up to date with what is happening in your industry and others through conferences and industry events. By understanding what is happening in your industry you are better positioned to be prepared for when changes occur without being in reactionary mode.

Finding partners for the business. You should be looking at ways to grow your business and continue to find ways to serve your customers. On a regular basis, be on the look for partners, vendors and others who can help you in this endeavor. You’ll meet potential partners in a variety of places, including Chamber meetings, networking at Vistage CEO meetings and through conferences and industry events.

Keeping tabs on the global economy and its effect on your business and strategy. In today’s world just knowing what is going on nationally is not sufficient. Every business — no matter how small — is impacted by the global economy. On a regular basis know what is going on in the world around you, and consider how it may impact your strategy and business plans. Certainly through Vistage, Chambers of Commerce and industry groups you’ll be able to share information with others and plan for managing your business in a global environment.

The bottom line: You must be focused on your business — its strategy, vision, growth potential, partnerships, and products and services offered to meet the customers’ needs. You can only do this effectively if you are working on the business and not in the business. You set strategy and provide the vision; tactical operations are the responsibility of your employees.

Gina Abudi is president of Abudi Consulting Group, LLC; providing strategy around projects, process, people and technology to businesses of all sizes. Gina can be reached via her website,

You Shouldn't Be Bored at a Board Meeting


Most entrepreneurs view board meetings as somewhere between a total waste of time and mildly annoying.  Outside board members are often similarly frustrated that they are unable to get the information and analysis they desire from these meetings. This shouldn’t be the case. Board meetings should be valuable for both management and outside board members. How can you make that happen?

Last year, I spent more than 600 hours in board meetings and have developed theories on how to make them more productive. For simplicity, I’ve created a series of “do’s” and “don’ts” for both management and board members.

Management dos

Tell a story with the board deck. A well-designed board deck should communicate how the company is doing and the core issues facing the company. The most common mistake I see are decks that are simply data dumps, a bunch of information without any analysis or coherence. For most companies the deck should be 12 to 15 slides. For complete financial statements or other more granular information, that can be put in an appendix that is distributed to the board members and discussed if requested.

  • Send out the deck well in advance of the board meeting. You want your board members to read it beforehand, but it’s not reasonable to expect that if you provide it the evening before a meeting.
  • Note variations from your plan and reasons why. It’s not uncommon to miss goals. The most important issue to explore is why you missed.  With lower than expected sales, there are a numerous causes: Is your sales team not that good? Are you not investing enough in marketing? Is your product not solving a painful enough problem for customers?  Is your product poorly designed or engineered?
  • Keep the meeting on schedule. This can be difficult and you can’t be too rigid, but most board members have calendared an end time to your meeting. If a section runs over, you will have less time to cover other sections. Don’t be afraid say, “This is a good discussion, but we need to keep the meeting on time. We can follow up on this later.”  This can be particularly useful if the discussion has devolved.
  • Keep a list of follow-up items for yourself (and the board members). Distribute the list afterwards so everyone is clear on next steps, then report on the status of those items at the next meeting.

Management don’ts

  • Hide bad news. A board meeting is not a pep rally. If news is bad it will likely get worse. Far better to start discussing “issues” before they become problems or, worse, crises.
  • Put information on slides you don’t want to discuss. If you put it on a slide, you should expect that board members might have questions about it.
  •  Have every VP present at every meeting. You want to give your team members airtime with the board, but it is better to rotate them because there is typically not enough board level information to justify a report from each VP.
  • Put the key points about the meeting in the first slide.  It starts a conversation on the most important issues without any context. Once that conversation starts, it’s difficult to stop it and creates a disjointed conversation that makes the remaining material seem irrelevant.
  • Argue every point. There’s nothing wrong with healthy debate. It is a sign of a high functioning board. Ultimately, though, the CEO is charged with running the company. S/he will have to decide what course to chart. Better to listen to the feedback than fight over every point.

Outside board member dos

  • Read the deck beforehand. It will permit you formulate questions beforehand to help sharpen the conversation.
  • Challenge assumptions. The best board meeting questions introduce a new point of view. If sales are slower than projected has management considered whether they are investing adequately in marketing? A different perspective can be extremely valuable to entrepreneurs who are busy fighting in the trenches every day.
  • Share industry benchmarks or best practices from other companies. It his very helpful to compare a problem the company is facing to a problem that has been encountered before. Surfacing past successes and failures is particularly useful.
  • Keep your powder dry. Undoubtedly you have a lot of good suggestions to help the company, but management will not execute on all of them. The best board members pick two or three important points and focus their comments on those items.

Outside board member don’ts

  • Rely on your own experience with the company’s product as a focus group of one.  Suggestions about the product based on your own use case are likely not helpful.  There are more statistically significant ways of acquiring user feedback.
  • Repeat yourself. I often hear board members say, “I hate to repeat myself.” There’s no need for self-loathing. If you’ve made your point, everyone around the table has probably heard it. Perhaps a single reiteration is in order if you feel quite strongly, but beyond that, you are being a bore.
  • Ask obvious questions. It just wastes time and tries people’s patience. For example, if the CEO says, “We’re trying to recruit this candidate but he really wants a high salary” a board member shouldn’t chime in with ”Did you try and sell him on the value of our options?” Assume that management has considered the most apparent tactics.
  • Ask questions because you’re curious. There are busy people in the room who may not share your thirst for this particular bit of knowledge. If there’s something you would like to learn more about, write your question down and ask the CEO later.

Remember: Never lose sight that everyone attending a board meeting has the same objective – to help make the company successful.

A good way to structure the meeting is to divide it into three parts: progress reporting, strategic discussion and administrative items.

1. Progress Reporting – The objective of the “reporting” section is for management to tell the board how the company is performing. This is the meat of the meeting and is typically divided into three presentations: (a) key performance metrics, (b) functional areas of the company (e.g. marketing, engineering, and product), and (c) company finances.

It is critical for the company to have a plan of record against which performance can be measured. Many entrepreneurs are hesitant to create a board plan for fear that there will be repercussions if plan is missed. Having no plan means that the board will make their own decisions about how the company is performing and this is far worse. For early stage companies, more it is common to miss plan by wide margins and that’s to be expected, but for later stage companies more rigor on both the planning and execution side is expected.

For the functional areas, it’s a best practice to have one or two VPs report per board meeting so that there can be a deep dive into these areas. The CEO can then lead a brief review of the other areas. In these deeper dives: VPs should avoid a laundry list of accomplishments and focus on key issues:

  • What are the key objectives for the year (and how are they doing against such objectives)?
  • What are they doing differently than their competitors, prior companies or industry norms?

The board meeting is not a super-operating committee review in which tactical decisions are examined. It is a strategic session in which priorities and resource allocation against those priorities is assessed. Presentations should be geared to facilitate such a discussion.

For the financial reporting, as long as the company is burning the cash, the most important financial metric is: When does the company run out of money? It should always be reported. I suggest using awaterfall for cash burn as well as other key metrics. It is also important to establish consistency in both format and data presented. When metrics are changed again and again it makes it very difficult for the outside board members to understand how the company is doing.

Another best practice is a dashboard, which is a single slide that displays trends for a few key metrics. A good dashboard enables the board members to look at progress against these metrics over time and quickly get a sense of the company’s performance.

What is the point of all this reporting? First, it gives the board members a chance to help in a variety of ways:

  • offering suggested approaches for problem solving,
  • recognizing certain recurring patterns from prior experience,
  • challenging key assumptions and
  • making introductions to potential customers, partners or new hires

In order to do any of these things effectively board members need to be presented with a clear picture of what’s going on with the company.

Secondly, management is typically heads down fighting one fire after another in the hectic pace of startup life. Having a routine check up from people looking at the business from a higher level can help management identify issues that might be lost in the daily grind. Third, it allows a common understanding of the business that sets the stage for the next part of the meeting, the strategic discussion.

2. Strategic Discussion – Startup companies are continually facing critical strategic issues:

  • Is now the time to start ramping up the sales force in order to gain market share?
  • Will a partnership with a more established player solidify the company’s market position or will it consume company resources without delivering any real benefit?
  • When is the right time to start the fundraising process?

The strategic discussion section of the board meeting provides an opportunity to discuss these important issues with the board. The goal of these conversations is not to arrive at a vote in which the board approves some key decision, but rather to seek input on the issues facing the business so that management can understand and benefit from the board’s collective experiences. Best practice in this area is to discuss one or two of these issues at each meeting as it is difficult to cover more.

3. Administrative Items – Administrative items are the things that the Board actually needs to vote on. I prefer beginning with the administrative section to get it out of the way quickly before people are tired and cranky. For early stage companies the items are typically limited to the approval of options and minutes.

For stock options, it’s important to have all of the relevant information for the board members to make the grants (e.g. fully diluted capitalization, number of shares left in the pool). I have a template slide for options here. When an unusually large option grant or one with a peculiar vesting schedule is coming up for approval, it shouldn’t be presented to the board for the first time in the meeting. It is far better to surface these items well in advance of the meeting to avoid a long debate during the meeting itself. This is a good model for any issue that is coming up for approval: provide adequate information for the board to make the decision and raise issues ahead of time to avoid surprises.

A properly structured board meeting enables management to get the most value from the board and gives the board members the ability to understand and provide assistance to the business. If you follow this structure and the dos and don’ts, you can ensure that nobody is bored at your board meeting.

10 Reasons to Pick Up the Phone Now

By Kevin Daum via @inc

Today fewer people get on the phone, preferring to text, chat, and e-mail. Here are 10 scenarios where a live voice is still the best option.


I've noticed recently that the Millennial generation's trend of phone avoidance is quickly spreading to people of all ages. It started with smartphones. Texting replaced leaving voicemails and whole conversations now take place with our thumbs. Calling someone has now become low on the communication priority list and even frequently disparaged.

Certainly written communication has its advantages.

  • You can get your message out whether or not the other person is available.
  • You can respond without concern for time zones or sleep patterns.
  • You don't have to waste time with unwanted chatty gossip.

But the phone has benefits that text and e-mail will never overcome. It's still an important tool for business etiquette and should be considered equally in today's communication environment. Here are 10 scenarios where a phone call does the job best.

1. When You Need Immediate Response

The problem with text or e-mail is you never know when someone will get back to you. You like to think the other person is sitting there waiting for your message, but it's not always true. These days when someone sees your name on the ringing phone, they know you are making an extra effort to speak to them. Of course if they are truly busy, in a meeting, sleeping, or hiding from you, the caller ID will tip them off and you go to voicemail, which they rarely check anyway. At least now you can express yourself with heartfelt emotion.

2. When You Have Complexity with Multiple People

My wife Van was recently coordinating an overseas engagement for me and there were six different people in multiple time zones involved in the logistics. After five cryptic e-mail conversations that created more confusion, she was literally screaming at the computer. Finally I suggested a conference call. In 30 minutes, all questions were answered, everyone was aligned, and Van went from frustrated to relieved. She is now a newly recruited phone advocate.

3. When You Don't Want a Written Record Due to Sensitivity

You never know who will see an e-mail or a text. True, phone calls can be recorded...but not legally in most states without prior notification or a judge's order. Unless you are absolutely comfortable with your message getting into anyone's hands, best to use the phone for conversations that require discretion.

4. When the Emotional Tone is Ambiguous, But Shouldn't Be

Sometimes a smiley face is not enough to convey real emotion. Emoticons help broadly frame emotional context, but when people's feelings are at stake it's best to let them hear exactly where you are coming from. Otherwise they will naturally assume the worst.

5. When There is Consistent Confusion

Most people don't like to write long e-mails and most don't like to read them. So when there are lots of details that create confusion, phone calls work efficiently to bring clarity. First of all, you can speak about 150 words per minute, and most people don't type that fast. Second, questions can be answered in context so you don't end up with an endless trail of back and forth question and answers.

6. When There is Bad News

This should be obvious, but sadly many people will take a cowardly approach to sharing difficult news. Don't be one of those callous people. Make it about the other person and not you. Humanize the situation with empathy they can hear.

7. When There is Very Important News

Good or bad, if there is significance to information, the receiver needs to understand the importance beyond a double exclamation point. Most likely they will have immediate questions and you should be ready to provide context to prevent unwanted conclusions.

8. When Scheduling is Difficult

After going back and forth multiple times with a colleague's assistant trying to find an available date and time, I finally just called her. Now I didn't have to worry that the time slot would be filled by the time she read my e-mail. We just spoke with calendars in hand and completed in five minutes what had exasperated us over three days. Later that day I watched one of my foodie friends spend 20 frustrated minutes using Open Table and finally suggested he simply call the restaurant. In three minutes he had a reservation and a slightly embarrassed smile.

9. When There is a Hint of Anger, Offense, or Conflict in the Exchange

Written messages can often be taken the wrong way. If you see a message that suggests any kind of problem, don't let it fester--or worse try and repair it--with more unemotional communication. Pick up the phone and resolve the issue before it spirals out of control.

10.  When a Personal Touch Will Benefit

Anytime you want to connect emotionally with someone and face-to-face is not possible, use the phone. Let them hear the care in your voice and the appreciation in your heart.

Six Simple Questions For Strategic Planning

Whether you are developing a corporate strategic plan or setting your department’s strategy, there is a direct correlation between the simplicity of a plan and the chances of adhering to it.

Why stack the odds against yourself with an overly complex or unclear plan? A sound plan and a simple plan are not mutually exclusive.  If you are going to work on a plan, your plan should work for you.

Cut through the clutter by answering six simple questions about your business or team:

  1. Why do we exist?
  2. Where are we going?
  3. How will we conduct ourselves?
  4. What will we do?
  5. How will we measure our success?
  6. What improvements or changes must we make?

Don’t be deceived by the simplicity of the questions. They require deep thought, good supporting data, and honest discussion in order to articulate concise answers.


Now that you’ve seen the questions, let’s take a look at how a worldwide manufacturer of golf clubs might answer the simple six questions to develop a strategy:

1. Why do we exist?

To bring confidence and winning strokes to golfers across the globe.

2. Where are we going?

We will be a trusted club in the golf bag of 75 percent of the world’s ranked professional golfers.

3. How will we conduct ourselves?

• Innovate in all we do—the big ideas and the little ideas.

• Respect our teammates and the profession we serve.

• Pour our hearts into our work. Every club is a reflection of us.

4. What will we do?

• Penetrate new markets.

• Boost brand exposure.

• Drive organizational efficiency.

5. How will we measure our success?

• Penetrate new markets.

  • Increase sales from $5 million to $10 million in China and Japan.
  • Increase sales by 15 percent in the European market.

• Boost brand exposure.

  • Achieve number 1 or 2 ranking in all professional player surveys of best brand of clubs.
  • Triple the number of brand impressions in Asian markets by year-end.

• Drive organizational efficiency.

  • Reduce manufacturing waste by 10 percent by year-end and by 20 percent over three years.
  • Reduce expenses as a percent of sales by 5 percent by year-end and by 15 percent over three years.
  • Improve average employee engagement score to 4.5 by year-end and to 4.8 (top 1 percent in industry) in three years.

6. What improvements or changes must we make?

• Penetrate new markets.

  • Hire new sales leaders for Asia and Europe.
  • Double pipeline of player endorsements in Asia and Europe by year-end.

• Boost brand exposure.

  • Sign three new sponsorship deals with top 100 ranked players by year-end.
  • Double the number of tournaments for which we are a primary sponsor.
  • Sponsor 10 junior golfers’ clinics in each geography.

• Drive organizational efficiency.

  • Train all employees on innovation techniques.
  • Review lowest-performing products.
  • Implement passionate performance engagement model to drive employee engagement.
by Lee Colan

Answering these questions (and making corresponding budget adjustments) will get you started with a solid plan you can adhere to.

Bio: Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. is a leadership advisor. He co-founded The L Group, Inc. in 1999 to equip leaders to execute their plans and engage their teams. Colan has authored 12 books. This article is an excerpt from his soon-to-be-released book, Stick with It:  Mastering the Art of Adherence (McGraw-Hill, April 2013). It’s an enhanced and expanded 10-year follow-up to his bestseller. Learn more at

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.

Management lessons from ‘30 Rock’s’ Jack Donaghy

I loved the NBC show 30 Rock and was sad to see it end.  I found it funny, entertaining and highly creative.  Over the years, I enjoyed watching Jack Donaghy portry a "real life" Jack Welch.  His character was both clever and manipulating.  It's fun to look back and tryto pull some "words of wisdom" from Jack... careful how you apply this in your real life!

By , via @washingtonpost

Forget the evil machinations of energy magnate C. Montgomery Burns on “The Simpsons” and the scheming of oil baron J.R. Ewing on “Dallas.” They are mere caricatures. The most subtle, vivid portrait of a corporate executive to ever appear on the small screen is nearing the end of his run: John Francis Donaghy — he goes by Jack — on the NBC show “30 Rock.”

For all of Jack Donaghy’s nutty hijinks and pithy one-liners, there is a surprising set of lessons hiding under the surface of the show, which premiered its seventh and final season Thursday night. The simple fact is that Jack, as portrayed by Alec Baldwin, is a superb executive.

When not busy managing a complex love life (Donaghy has dated characters played by Elizabeth Banks and Salma Hayek, and Condoleezza Rice as herself) or the travails of his ever-beleaguered employee Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), Donaghy manages to run the East Coast television and microwave oven division of General Electric with remarkable skill.

He has overcome seemingly thwarted ambition, created new products and mentored younger executives with aplomb. He may lack eloquence. (He once proposed a line for a speech honoring GE’s real-life chief executive: “Jack Welch has such unparalleled management skills they named Welch’s Grape Juice after him, because he squeezes the sweetest juice out of his workers’ mind grapes.”) But he is shrewd, ambitious and has a vision for what the company under his command could be.

Donaghy is a plutocrat, but in a proud American tradition — a self-made plutocrat. He grew up the son of a working-class single mother in Boston, put himself through Princeton on a “handsomeness scholarship” and by working “the day shift at a graveyard and the graveyard shift at a Days Inn,” then made his way to Harvard Business School and GE’s management training program.

He has some mighty impressive mind grapes. Pour a scotch, stand wistfully staring out the window and consider some of Jack Donaghy’s lessons that every manager should take to heart.

Have a career plan, but don’t let it stifle you.

Donaghy had spent his professional career climbing the ranks of General Electric, aspiring to be its chief executive. He was disconsolate when the division he headed was sold to Philadelphia-based Kabletown (a thinly veiled take on Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal), and his longtime mentor, GE chief executive Don Geiss (played by Rip Torn), died.

Suddenly, Donaghy was exiled from a company he had long hoped to lead, his dream seemingly shattered. His ambition to lead GE had been the force driving his ascent up the corporate ladder, and that chance disappeared seemingly overnight.

After some brooding, though, Donaghy redirected his energy to dreaming up new products for Kabletown, learning its corporate culture and climbing a new corporate ladder. As disappointed as he may have been about not becoming CEO of “the General,” and there is nothing wrong with that, the key was channeling that disappointment in productive ways — toward making his mark at a new firm, in this case — rather than just moping.

It’s great to have a career driven by the ambition to reach a particular goal; in Donaghy’s case, that surely served as the motivation for years of hard work. But the point of having a goal is not that one can be absolutely certain of attaining it; rather, it gives you a point on the horizon that ensures a career is heading the right general direction over time.

What Donaghy didn’t do was try to ease his way back into the fold at GE when it was clear his moment had passed. The desire to be its CEO was a force that fueled ambition, not an end in itself.

There is an interesting real-life parallel. When Jack Welch was retiring as the chief of GE, there was a three-way competition to succeed him between Jeffrey Immelt, Bob Nardelli and James McNerney. Immelt got the job, and Nardelli and McNerney quickly moved on: the former to run Home Depot, the latter to Boeing. Neither took their failure to reach a long-standing career goal as an excuse to stop chasing something big.

Innovate whether they like it or not

An old friend who worked at Kabletown explained to Donaghy that the cable business is a piece of cake: With all the money that rolls in from pay-per-view porn, the joke goes, there’s no need to “make” anything.

Donaghy found himself in a corporate culture that had little appreciation for the very work that animated him as an executive: creating innovations, turning them into products and bringing them to the marketplace.

The key to emerging from his professional rut was realizing that innovation can bloom even in places that don’t seem ripe for it. It is a state of mind.

Donaghy becomes something of a guerilla innovator at Kabletown, inventing, among other things, what he called “porn for women,” offering a pay-per-view service with handsome men staring deeply into the screen asking women to talk about their day. A funny joke, yes, but one with a broader lesson. Not every company will be a Google or Apple, turning out never-before-seen products. But in any company, there are opportunities to look at old products in new ways or make customers happier.

The best managers find ways to bring that innovation sensibility to their jobs, regardless of their industry or what the environment around them encourages.

Take mentorship seriously

In the first season of “30 Rock,” Donaghy decided to take Liz Lemon under his wing and mentor her. She resisted, seeing him in those early days as a clueless corporate suit. With time, she would come to understand that having Jack Donaghy as a mentor was no small matter.

He sees a big part of his job as preparing his underlings to go out into the world and achieve success as he has done. It is not entirely selfless; Lemon and his other mentees will surely maintain a loyalty to him that could ease his own corporate ascent. But he goes far beyond the mere obligations of a boss, trying to ensure that his mentees reach their every goal.

When Lemon resists his initial entreaties, Donaghy presents her with his handiwork: Howard Jorgensen, a vice president of locomotives at GE who — before he met Jack — “dressed poorly, had bad posture, walked around with lettuce in my hair,” as he says. When Donaghy was done, Jorgensen was “earning seven figures and married to a swell Filipino gal.”

One fault in Donaghy’s management style is that he seems to view taking someone on as a binary event: Someone is either worthy of extraordinary time and effort or none at all. When his new wife, Avery Jessup (played by Elizabeth Banks), is uncomfortable about his close relationship with Lemon, he “tries out” other potential mentees, only to find them all wanting.

Of course, no manager can insinuate himself deeply into the lives of all his or her employees (and Donaghy’s relationship with Lemon often does veer toward being a little too close, though not in a romantic way). But mentorship doesn’t need to be the all-or-nothing enterprise that it seems to be for Donaghy, in which there are some worthy of his overwhelming efforts and everyone else is not. There is plenty of room for helping junior colleagues advance in small ways as well as large, and doing so can help assure an even larger network of allies.

But still, it is clear that part of Donaghy’s success comes not just from his own achievements, but in Liz Lemon’s and Howard Jorgensen’s.

Tolerate idiosyncracy

As the executive in charge of a television network, Donaghy oversees a lot of colorful people. The stars of the fictional NBC show “TGS,” Tracy Jordan (played by Tracy Morgan) and Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski), are self-absorbed, difficult and often unreliable. Donaghy sees them as nothing like himself, a buttoned-up aficionado of power ties and good scotch.

But they are the talents at the core of a TV show that is part of Donaghy’s empire. And to hold onto those first-rate talents, he tolerates the frustrations of working with people whose aesthetic sensibilities and work habits are very different from his own. He assesses their talent, and then adjusts his management style to get the most out of them.

Sometimes that means simply tolerating late arrivals or people storming into his office with odd demands. At other times, he takes a deeper personal role in resolving problems that are keeping his charges from doing their best work.

He went particularly above and beyond in the second season. The conceit is this: Tracy Jordan was stirring up trouble because of unresolved issues with his absent father. Donaghy helps him get through the frustrations during a role-playing therapy session in which he portrays Jordan’s father, a droopy-lipped Campbell Soup factory employee from funky North Philly. The (quite politically incorrect) result is not just among the funniest sitcom scenes of all time. It is also a manager doing whatever it takes to make one of his most talented employees more productive, even at no small cost in terms of personal dignity (and, if it were real life, some unpleasant consequences from the HR department).

Personal touches matter

Donaghy is highly attuned to the personal lives of his employees and what makes them tick. He is a superb giver of gifts, viewing it as the “purest expression of friendship” and invariably selecting uniquely appropriate presents. He may be a coldhearted corporate tactician at times, but he also cares deeply about his people, and does the little things to let them know it.

This, more than any other character trait, appears to be based on Jack Welch, the GE chief executive from 1981 to 2004.

“Do you know why Jack Welch is the greatest leader since the pharaohs?” Donaghy asked in the first “30 Rock” season. “Because he didn’t only involve himself in our work lives, but our personal lives as well. He introduced us to the finest booze, the most restrictive country clubs. He gave us the names of the most discreet private investigators to spy on our ex-wives. He held our hands during our triumphs and our Senate hearings.”

The real Jack Welch may not favor restrictive country clubs or spying on ex-wives, but he has a reputation for taking intense interest in the lives of his underlings. For example, in an interview with BusinessWeek, Bob Nardelli told of Welch once making him work through a holiday weekend that he had been supposed to spend with his wife — and then sending a case of Dom Perignon and an apology note saying, “I was thinking more of myself than you and Sue. Have a toast on me.”

Donaghy practices the same philosophy. He understands that you can get more out of an employee when they know you will fight for them when the chips are down and help them emerge from personal crises or other challenges in life.

Learn from everyone around you

For all his elitism, Donaghy has often displayed an ability to learn lessons from those around him. He has an especially savvy ability to learn lessons and adapt strategies used by people who might seem to have little to offer to an accomplished businessperson.

Never was that more true than in Season 6, when he found himself being outnegotiated by his baby daughter’s night nurse, Sherry. She refused to accept a pay cut when her hours were reduced, negotiating by sitting quietly and eating an orange while Jack awkwardly acquiesced to her demands. He was, as he put it, “reamed by a woman in Winnie the Pooh hospital pants.”

Donaghy, he told Lemon later, violated every rule of negotiation. “I spoke first. I smiled. I negotiated with myself. If I had done that during a mock negotiation in business school, Professor Woodmer would have spanked me in front of the whole class. Bare bottom.”

But a key negotiation over licensing fees between the hapless NBC and its parent company, Kabletown, was shaking Donaghy’s confidence until he learned the crucial lesson that Sherry had taught. When somebody’s helpless baby is in the mix, the usual negotiating strategies don’t apply. And NBC was Kabletown’s baby. By negotiating like Sherry, he prevailed.

Of course, if he had been blind to her effectiveness and the lessons it offered, he might not have found himself on the cover of that month’s “Meetings” magazine.


Have a career plan, but don’t let it stifle you.

Innovate whether they like it or not.

Take mentorship seriously.

Learn from everyone around you.

Tolerate idiosyncracy.

Personal touches matter.


10 Things Extraordinary People Say Every Day

They're small things, but each has the power to dramatically change someone's day. Including yours.


Want to make a huge difference in someone's life? Here are things you should say every day to your employees, colleagues, family members, friends, and everyone you care about:

"Here's what I'm thinking."

You're in charge, but that doesn't mean you're smarter, savvier, or more insightful than everyone else. Back up your statements and decisions. Give reasons. Justify with logic, not with position or authority.

Though taking the time to explain your decisions opens those decisions up to discussion or criticism, it also opens up your decisions to improvement.

Authority can make you "right," but collaboration makes everyone right--and makes everyone pull together.

"I was wrong."

I once came up with what I thought was an awesome plan to improve overall productivity by moving a crew to a different shift on an open production line. The inconvenience to the crew was considerable, but the payoff seemed worth it. On paper, it was perfect.

In practice, it wasn't.

So, a few weeks later, I met with the crew and said, "I know you didn't think this would work, and you were right. I was wrong. Let's move you back to your original shift."

I felt terrible. I felt stupid. I was sure I'd lost any respect they had for me.

It turns out I was wrong about that, too. Later one employee said, "I didn't really know you, but the fact you were willing to admit you were wrong told me everything I needed to know."

When you're wrong, say you're wrong. You won't lose respect--you'll gain it.

"That was awesome."

No one gets enough praise. No one. Pick someone--pick anyone--who does or did something well and say, "Wow, that was great how you..."

And feel free to go back in time. Saying "Earlier, I was thinking about how you handled that employee issue last month..." can make just as positive an impact today as it would have then. (It could even make a bigger impact, because it shows you still remember what happened last month, and you still think about it.)

Praise is a gift that costs the giver nothing but is priceless to the recipient. Start praising. The people around you will love you for it--and you'll like yourself a little better, too.

"You're welcome."

Think about a time you gave a gift and the recipient seemed uncomfortable or awkward. Their reaction took away a little of the fun for you, right?

The same thing can happen when you are thanked or complimented or praised. Don't spoil the moment or the fun for the other person. The spotlight may make you feel uneasy or insecure, but all you have to do is make eye contact and say, "Thank you." Or make eye contact and say, "You're welcome. I was glad to do it."

Don't let thanks, congratulations, or praise be all about you. Make it about the other person, too.

"Can you help me?"

When you need help, regardless of the type of help you need or the person you need it from, just say, sincerely and humbly, "Can you help me?"

I promise you'll get help. And in the process you'll show vulnerability, respect, and a willingness to listen--which, by the way, are all qualities of a great leader.

And are all qualities of a great friend.

"I'm sorry."

We all make mistakes, so we all have things we need to apologize for: words, actions, omissions, failing to step up, step in, show support...

Say you're sorry.

But never follow an apology with a disclaimer like "But I was really mad, because..." or "But I did think you were..." or any statement that in any way places even the smallest amount of blame back on the other person.

Say you're sorry, say why you're sorry, and take all the blame. No less. No more.

Then you both get to make the freshest of fresh starts.

"Can you show me?"

Advice is temporary; knowledge is forever. Knowing what to do helps, but knowing how or why to do it means everything.

When you ask to be taught or shown, several things happen: You implicitly show you respect the person giving the advice; you show you trust his or her experience, skill, and insight; and you get to better assess the value of the advice.

Don't just ask for input. Ask to be taught or trained or shown.

Then you both win.

"Let me give you a hand."

Many people see asking for help as a sign of weakness. So, many people hesitate to ask for help.

But everyone needs help.

Don't just say, "Is there anything I can help you with?" Most people will give you a version of the reflexive "No, I'm just looking" reply to sales clerks and say, "No, I'm all right."

Be specific. Find something you can help with. Say "I've got a few minutes. Can I help you finish that?" Offer in a way that feels collaborative, not patronizing or gratuitous. Model the behavior you want your employees to display.

Then actually roll up your sleeves and help.

"I love you."

No, not at work, but everywhere you mean it--and every time you feel it.


Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing. If you're upset, frustrated, or angry, stay quiet. You may think venting will make you feel better, but it never does.

That's especially true where your employees are concerned. Results come and go, but feelings are forever. Criticize an employee in a group setting and it will seem like he eventually got over it, but inside, he never will.

Before you speak, spend more time considering how employees will think and feel than you do evaluating whether the decision makes objective sense. You can easily recover from a mistake made because of faulty data or inaccurate projections.

You'll never recover from the damage you inflict on an employee's self-esteem.

Be quiet until you know exactly what to say--and exactly what affect your words will have.


8 Ways Happy People Are Different From Everyone Else

Want to be happier?  Steal a page from the perennial optimist's playbook.

smiley face flag


As a therapist-turned-entrepreneur (kinda), I have helped lots of people fight myriad mental and emotional setbacks.

Over time, I have learned that the skill set that helps you avoid depression or anxiety is not the same skill set that helps you experience a joyful, meaningful, and connected life. If you want to be truly happy, you need a new playbook.

Here's a page from that playbook. It contains eight ways that happy people are different than everyone else.

They are resilient. 

Happy people bounce back, often quickly, from setbacks. Rather than see life's adversities as destructive and rigid roadblocks that they must quash in order to be happy, they see adverse situations as manageable and temporary fixtures in a pretty good life--the price they pay for renting space on the planet.

They are optimistic.  

You know this to be true--most people want to talk about their problems and what's not going right. Happy people have the same problems that everyone else does, they are just solution-focused and get bored and irritated talking about problems all the time. They have an uncanny skill for finding solutions where there seem to be none. There's a time and place for venting, but when you're ready for a solution, ask an optimist.

They experience a wide-range of emotions. 

While happy people have more positive emotions than negative ones--three times as many, in fact--they do experience negative emotions just like everyone else. However, they experience them differently. They don't squelch negative emotions. They face them head on in order to learn from them. They let negative emotions guide them into changing a behavior, self-examining, or getting out of a bad relationship. They see negative emotions as an internal wake-up call to change course or re-evaluate.

They savor things that most people take for granted or overlook.

Happy people are masters at the art of savoring. They joyfully anticipate events, stay present during events, and reminisce after events. They do this because they tend to keep the end in mind. They know that kids grow up, time passes, and we all die. Happy people live by a carpe diem philosophy, never needing a reason to celebrate.

They seek constant challenge and mastery. 

Happy people continually look for ways to challenge themselves and develop or master a skill. Rarely complacent, they have an idea of what personal success looks like and use healthy doses of self-criticism to achieve their goals. They don't self-loathe, but they are realistic with themselves and their deficiencies. They seek out people, hobbies, professions, or ideas that challenge them and their stale self-concepts.

They spend lots of time with people they like. 

Happy people know that relationships are essential to living a good life. Humans aren't meant to live in isolation. When we do, loneliness sets in, depression ensues, and we find ourselves in a downward spiral of negativity and withdrawal. Relationships are critical to happy people. The key is spending time with people you like and want to be with. Not just any warm body will do.

They are quick to forgive.

Forgiving a wrongdoing isn't easy. It almost feels good to harbor a grudge or pass judgment, producing the mild comfort of self-righteousness. But happy people choose forgiveness. They see the larger context of forgiveness--it allows both the offender and the offended a chance to move on. Happy people know that their inability to forgive someone doesn't hurt that person or "show them up," it only hurts them.

They serve a purpose bigger than themselves.

Happy people live out their values in tangible ways. They are eager to connect to something meaningful--a cause, purpose, or belief that is bigger than them. Human existence has two aims: to make a contribution to humanity and to have a purpose for living. Happy people spend a lot of time making sure they get these two right.

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?

How to Prioritize When Everything Is Important

You know that sinking feeling you have when there's too much on your plate? When you try to tackle your tasks by priority, but it feels like 
everything's important? Don't get overwhelmed—it's a problem that everyone faces at some point or another, and while it's difficult to skillfully juggle multiple priorities and competing responsibilities, it's not impossible. Here's how.

It just so happens that there's a career that focuses specifically on juggling competing tasks and priorities: These people are called project managers. And as luck would have it, I was a full time PM for many years, PMP-certified and everything. In that time, I learned a number of helpful tricks that can help you manage your workload at the office as well as your ever-growing list of to-dos at home, with your family, or with your friends. Here's how you can apply some of those techniques to your everyday life.

First, Answer the Question: Is Everything Really Important?

Even if everything on your plate is supposedto be equally important, you still need a way to break down which ones you spend your time on, and how you slice up your time. The first question you have to get past is whether or not everything really is of equal importance. Here are a couple of tips to help you cut through the fog and get a feel for how important your responsibilities and projects really are.

Photo by Lisa Stevens.

  • Grill the boss. At work, you have a manager. At home, you're your own boss. One of the primary responsibilities of any manager is to help you understand what's important, what's not, and what you should be working on. You may have a manager at the office who does this (or needs your help doing it well), but everywhere else, you're in charge of your own work, and no one's going to tell you that backing up your data is more important right now than painting the house. It's easy to give up and think "it's all important," but at work, you can lean in and tell your boss that you really need their help. At home, sometimes you just have to pick something from your to-do list and get started to build some momentum.
  • Ask around. If you're prioritizing tasks that involve other people, like your family, friends, and coworkers, talk to them. Find out from them when they need your help, how much work is backed up behind the things you're working with them on, and if they can lend a hand. If they don't need you for another week and someone else needs you tomorrow, or if they aren't as busy as you are, you know what to do.
  • Work backwards. We'll get into this a little more later, but you probably have an idea of when each of your tasks are due—or at least when you'd like them done by—and how much time is required to work on each item. Start with the due dates, take into account how much effort you need to put into each one and how much input you need from others, and work backwards to find out what you should be working on right now (or what you should have already started, in some cases).
  • Cover Your A**. Finally, once you've taken some time to determine what's really important and arranged them based on what you think you should tackle first, it's time to put it in writing and share it with everyone involved. Set expectations with others for when you'll get your work done for them, and set expectations with yourself for when you'll have time to work on your own projects. This is more important in a work setting, but involving others in your non-work to-dos can also keep you—and others—accountable.

How to Prioritize When Everything Is Important

Get Organized

In order for your priorities to even matter, you need to have some sort of a personal productivity system in place to which you hold yourself accountable—and in which your priorities will actually matter. If you've got a tried and true system, great. If not,check out our guide to building one that's right for you.

The goal of your system, whichever you select, is to take away the need for you to waste time deciding what to work on next, even when you have a lot on your plate. I've found that David Allen's GTD framework is one of the most effective methods for me, mostly because it focuses on what you should do now and what your next actions should be, and it emphasizes getting your to-dos out of your head and into some system that will help you work. I've mentioned before that I manage my to-dos in ReQall, but there are plenty of other options, like previously mentioned Wunderlist, or if you work on a team, Asanaa collaborative tool we adore.

Whichever tool and productivity method you choose, dump your to-dos and projects into it as quickly as possible. Make sure it's something you'll actually return to and use frequently, and something that's easy to fit into your workflow, and you'll be successful. In the end, you want something easy to refer to, easy to enter tasks into, and that gives you a great view of all of the balls you have in the air at any time.

Photo by David Chico Pham.

How to Prioritize When Everything Is Important

Behold, The Trinity: Cost, Scope, and Time

When I was a project manager, one of the first things I learned to help me judge which projects were most important or needed the most attention is the "triple constraint," or a triangle with three equilateral sides. Each side represents the cost of the project, the scope of the project, and the time required to complete the project. None of the sides can be adjusted without making changes to the other two sides. The sides you're weakest in help determine the projects that need special attention. This holds true for all things, not just projects and project managers: If someone heaps more work onto you (scope), but insists that you finish in the same amount of time (time), you'll need more resources (cost) to get the job done.

For example, if you want to paint the spare room in time for out-of-town guests to stay over, you can't change the size of the job (scope), but you can control whether you buckle down and do it yourself overnight (time), or get someone else to do it for you while you do something else (cost). Here's how you can use these three principles to organize your everyday to-dos.

Photo by Mike Truchon/Shutterstock.

  • Time: Work Backwards From Your Deadlines. Time is usually the one variable most of us can't change. Deadlines are deadlines, and often we're not the ones who set them. This is where working backwards from due dates is crucial. Start a spreadsheet, and mark down when each project or task on your plate needs to be finished. Then work backwards to the present day, taking into account everything each specific to-do that needs to be done to get from here to there, and how long it takes to complete. When you're finished, you'll likely see a bunch of tasks that should have started already and others that hopefully won't start for a while if you're going to make the deadline. That list, by itself, is a good indicator of what your priorities are, what you should be working on right now, what you should work on next, and perhaps most importantly, what you should get help with—especially if they're tasks that should have started a week ago.
  • Cost: Get Help from Family, Friends, and Coworkers. Cost means more than just dollars. It also means people who can help you, or services you can call to give you a hand or take the load off. Could you finish faster if someone else worked on it for you? What if a teammate could take part of the job off your hands and you could pick it up later? Perhaps there's a program or application that can automate the process for you, and it's pretty cheap. It may be worth spending money or dragging in friends to help you finish renovating the kitchen before you run out of vacation days, or calling someone to install your new washing machine so you don't have to take time off to do it.
  • Scope: Don't Be Afraid to Make Compromises. If your to-dos have to be done by a certain time and you can't get help, it's time to sit down with the people waiting on you and start making some deals. Let them know what you can deliver by when, and then go on to explain what you can give them later. This is important, because it sends the message that you're not trying to avoid the work you have to do, but you're trying to give them something now that they can use while you keep working in the background to get them everything else on their wish list. The sooner you stop thinking of your to-dos in terms of all-or-nothing, the sooner you'll have the flexibility to say "I'll give you this tomorrow if you give me a week to give you the rest."

How to Prioritize When Everything Is Important

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

It's easy for us to toil away in obscurity, quietly hating our lives and our jobs and growing more frustrated with every passing minute. All the while, there may be a friend who's willing to help if we had only asked, or a boss who would be willing to help you out if you asked the right questions or gave them the right information.

We've talked about how difficult it can be to delegate, and how to delegate effectively in the past, but however you go about it, it's important to remember that you need to be assertive, not aggressive when asking for help, and you need to make your case with all of the data you have available. By now, you should have your priorities laid out and you have a good idea what you need. Use that information to ask for help and prove you need it, and remember, don't be upset if your friends, boss, or coworkers say no.

Photo by Matthieu Plourde.

Buckle Up, It's Going to be a Bumpy Ride

Using this method to set your own priorities and keep track of your own responsibilities isn't just something you should do when you're starting to feel overwhelmed. If the walls are closing in on you, yes, it's definitely time to take a good, hard look at what's on your plate, what can come off, and what has to give, but waiting until you're already busy and stressed out will make it especially difficult to make the changes you need to get your head above water. Even so, it's essential, and once you do it you'll never look back. Hopefully, you can apply these tricks to your work, at home, and in your day-to-day life. Once you really understand what you have to work on and how long it takes, you'll be able to make smart decisions about whether you can take on that big new project at work, or help your best friend plan their bachelor party.

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.