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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

This the fourth of several postings this week regarding my new, just-released book: The Transparent Leader: Clear and Effective Leadership Communication.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

One of the most compelling statistics I know to support this tip was offered by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, now professor emeritus at UCLA and leading researcher in nonverbal communications. Merhrabian discovered through experimentation something we all know innately, if subconsciously: Actions do tell the story. In fact, one of his principal discoveries is the following:

--Only 7% of communication comes from the actual words themselves, 38% is from the tone of the voice, and 55% comes from body language.

--If you consider tone as a form of nonverbal embellishment, Mehrabaian’s work is really saying that when we talk, only 7% comes from the words we speak BUT a whopping 93% comes from the way we say it—our nonverbals!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Transparency: Ask The 4 Magical Questions

This the third of several postings this week regarding my new, just-released book: The Transparent Leader: Clear and Effective Leadership Communication.

Ask The 4 Magical Questions

I’m not sure of the origins of these four questions, which consultants have used perhaps since the beginning of self-reflection. I call them magical questions because they elicit such amazing answers, no matter what the issue. So here are the four magical questions:

1. What are we currently doing well (regarding a particular issue or function) that we should CONTINUE to do to be successful?

2. What are we currently doing that we should STOP doing to be even more successful?

3. What are we currently not doing that we should START doing to be even more successful?

4. Is there ANYTHING ELSE relating to this topic you’d like to tell me about this issue that I didn’t ask you?

In my experience, these four questions are great to ask if you want 360 feedback about any person, function, or issue that you want to assess and improve. The topic does not matter — these magical questions not only get to the core issues quickly, but they also do so while first honoring what people are doing right. This is why the first question is always: What are we currently doing well that we should CONTINUE to do to be successful?

Give it a try.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Transparency : Listen First, Then Speak

This the second of several postings this week regarding my new, just-released book: The Transparent Leader: Clear and Effective Leadership Communication.

Listen First, Then Speak

When people at work or at home come to us with problems, what’s the natural tendency for just about anyone? If you said, “Give advice,” you’d be right. Especially when you’re more experienced and worse yet, think you absolutely know the correct answer. Unfortunately, unless the other person asks specifically for our advice, we make an error trying to offer it. The minute we start lecturing, we hijack the conversation. In a sense we steal the other person’s cathartic moment. She doesn’t get a chance to vent her story, which for many is all they really want—a listening, empathetic ear, not a talking head.

Stephen Covey and indeed St. Francis of Assisi talk about first seeking to understand and then seeking to be understood. Thus, in even a more direct confrontation—or face-to-face difference of opinion—you still are far better off asking questions and seeking to understand the other person’s perspective first before offering your solution. By listening with a keen, here-and-now ear, you not only let the other person vent his/her feelings and emotions, but such listening also allows you to clearly understand the issue(s) and the intensity of emotion behind them. Thus, you can evaluate the facts and intensity of the issue before uttering a word.

The Transparent Leader: A Leadership Fable, Especially for Women

This the first of several postings this week regarding my new, just-released book: The Transparent Leader: Clear and Effective Leadership Communication.

Written as a business leadership fable, The Transparent Leader is the story of a smart emerging leader, Stephanie Marcus, as she navigates the challenging world of business. Fortunately, she meets Lou Donaldson, who acts as a friend, informal coach, and mentor as he guides Steph through the complicated business ecosystem in which she finds herself. Throughout the story, Steph learns about clear leadership communication as she also adapts and changes and becomes a more transparent—clear and open—leader. At the same time, she learns Lou’s personal story, which helps her fully appreciate his wisdom. An especially good read for women in leadership positions.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Difficult Conversations: Rules of the Road


This is the eight and LAST of a series of posts based on my review of the book, Difficult Conversations (By Stone, Patton and Heen, Penguin Books, 2000). I highly recommend this book.

Rules of the road: Finally, here are a few rules that can help in difficult conversations.

1. Don’t start by blaming, telling, or accusing: Saying, “You’re just being overbearing….” can only lead to counterpunching and pain.

2. Focus on them first…first seek to understand, then to be understood (Covey).

3. Uncover feelings and assumptions: Most feelings are rooted in assumptions, many of which are often wrong…but if not handled well can become a reality.

3. Reframe Counter Attacks: Sometimes, even your best intentions are thwarted and people go on the attack when you bring up differences, even with the third story in mind.

--When the other person says: “It’s your fault, plain and simple.”

--You say: “I see that you’re upset about the house. I wonder if can ask you a few questions about it?”

Final words: Get this book (Difficult Conversations) and the CD (that has great mock difficult conversations played out). Like they say: Practice, practice, practice.

Good luck on with your own difficult conversations

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Structure of a Difficult Conversation

This is the seventh of a series of posts based on my review of the book, Difficult Conversations (By Stone, Patton and Heen, Penguin Books, 2000). I highly recommend this book.

The Structure of a Difficult Conversation

1. What Happened--Contribution: First talk about how “I” may have contributed to the problem.

“I know I’ve been over the top about buying a colonial…. And I know you have some strong feelings about the ranch-style house.”

2. Feelings--Impact: Discuss the impact of this decision on you.

“I feel marginalized and discounted, when you say—“grow up and do the math.”

3. Identity—Self Image: Talk about (when it makes sense) how the conversation affects your self image.

“I don’t like seeing myself as a stubborn person….”

Monday, July 20, 2009

Focus on Learning, not Accusing

This is the sixth of a series of posts based on my review of the book, Difficult Conversations (By Stone, Patton and Heen, Penguin Books, 2000). I highly recommend this book.

The Solution: Focus on Learning, not Accusing

The authors go through a lengthy and explicable approach about how to get through a difficult conversation, which I won’t attempt to cover in depth…only to offer brief insight (and a strong suggestion that you read the book itself).

1. Start with the third story: All mediation starts from the “third story” how an interested but non-biased party would view the two opposing stories told to the mediator. Understand that each party “contributes” to the third story and that neither opposing story is correct.

2. Impact (on us) is NOT Intention: We often believe we know the intentions of another and worse yet, we usually assume the worst. WRONG….oops…even this sounds a bit too judgmental but I hope you get the idea.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The “Identity Conversation”

This is the fifth of a series of posts based on my review of the book, Difficult Conversations (By Stone, Patton and Heen, Penguin Books, 2000). I highly recommend this book.

The “Identity Conversation”

1. Difficult conversations often involve facing our own identity: Am I a decent person? Am I competent? Am I loveable?

2. This conversation is sometimes expressed but always considered because it can get in the way of making good contribution to the difficult conversation.

3. For example, in the "house conversation" (in an earlier post), if the husban began to argue vehemently, even stubbornly, where he have always pictured himself as flexible—he has to acknowledge why this is so important to him, or he might not like the outcome, no matter what happens.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The “Feelings Conversation”

This is the fourth of a series of posts based on my review of the book, Difficult Conversations (By Stone, Patton and Heen, Penguin Books, 2000). I highly recommend this book.

The “Feelings Conversation”

1. All difficult conversations, at their heart, are about underlying feelings. In the colonial house vs the ranch house argument (listed in the first post of this series), the wife might feel that the family needs a fourth bedroom for the future, but the husband might feel like it’s too much a strain on their budget. Unless the two talk about their feelings (even where they might come from…she always lived in an overcrowded home and he in a family with never enough money), they’ll never settle on a compromise, where both are happy.

2. Feelings are as much a part of life as anything else…even more so. Thus, in difficult conversations, the authors suggest: “Have your feelings, or they will have you.” So, when someone does something (whether intended or not) that hurts your feeling, you need to let them know how you feel. For example: "When you say I'm not practical, I feel hurt, insulted, and discounted."

Eventually, it’s ALL about the feelings and almost never just about the facts.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The “What Happened Conversation”

This is the third of a series of posts based on my review of the book, Difficult Conversations (By Stone, Patton and Heen, Penguin Books, 2000)...highly recommend this book.

Several elements to consider before wading into the "what happend" phase of a difficult conversation:

1. Truth: Each person in an argument thinks they’re right, and the other person is, well, wrong. Simple enough but equally unproductive. Fact is, both are equally right and wrong!

3. Intention: I think your impact on me relates to your intention. You hurt me, so you must be mean. Wrong. Most of the time, we have NO idea what the other person’s intentions are. Fact is, we hardly even know our own intentions.

4. Blame: Pointing fingers anywhere but at yourself is a useless waste of time and only causes frustration and anger for all concerned. There is no blame in good difficult conversations…only contribution. Both parties contribute to the overall third story (the mediator’s story—what a neutral listener might hear).

--More later this week on how to have the "What Happened Conversation." Next...the "Feelings Conversation."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Move from a Persuasion to Learning Conversation

This is the second of a series of posts based on my review of the book, Difficult Conversations (By Stone, Patton and Heen, Penguin Books, 2000)

Move from a Persuasion to Learning Conversation

a. If we ever want to get to a level of understanding in an argument, we have to recognize that we have a valid story and the other person also has a valid story.

b. Neither story is right or wrong…they’re merely stories with a particular point of view. Here’s an example: A husband and wife want to buy a house She wants to buy a 4-bedroom colonial, and he wants to buy a three bedroom ranch-style. They clash over the purchase and start calling each other names…shortsighted, stubborn, etc. It devolves into a stalemate and creates ill will. There’s a better way.

c. When we share our stories…facts and feelings, the other person begins to understand our position better. S/he allows information in and does not reject it at the door.

d. This book explores the "Three Conversations" to help us through such dilemmas.We'll explore these three conversations over the next few days.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Difficult Conversations



This is the first of a series of posts based on my review of the book, Difficult Conversations (By Stone, Patton and Heen, Penguin Books, 2000)

I only strongly recommend a handful of books to all my executive coaching clients, students at George Mason University, and colleagues. Difficult Conversations is one I recommend without reservation.

The authors, members of the Harvard Negotiation Project, have written a compellingly simple and effective guidebook for anyone who has had or will ever have a difficult conversation with a spouse, client, or any other human. In short, it’s a book for all reasons, seasons, and persons. At its core, the book realizes that conflict is part of life and that it’s how we deal with those conversations that makes that conflict constructive, not destructive.

Over the next week, I will review this book in some depth, hoping I can show you why you might want to add both the text and the audio CD’s to your leadership collection.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why hire an executive coach to help on-boarding a new executive

This is the FINAL post in the on-boarding executives series. NEXT WEEK, I review the book, Difficult Conversations.

An executive coach has the new incoming executive’s best interest at heart, above all else. Of course, the organization is a concern as well but ultimately my focus (as a coach) is on making the executive, and ultimately the sponsoring company, successful. In a sense, I act as a bridge between the organization and my client, the new executive. My duties/functions include the following:

1. Address early questions: Coaches can find out from the organization what it wants from the new executive. What questions do subordinates, peers and their boss have for them (him or her), as they walk in the front door? Interviews, questionnaires and coordination with HR can help this process go smoothly.

2. Act as a sounding board. As a third party outsider, an executive coach can serve as a thoughtful sounding board for the new executive to discuss ideas, feelings, and issues. By being an objective, experienced outsider, an executive coach offers perspective, feedback, and a place to vent—to ensure the client doesn’t move in a precipitous and unthoughtful ways that might ultimately hurt personal credibility.

3. Take the temperature of the organization: Using periodic, regular inquiry, coaches can literally take the organization’s cultural temperature to find out whether the new executive is being perceived as a threat or an asset. I often do an early 360 evaluation and follow up with all-day meetings and interviews. Then the client gets this feedback, notes threats and works on them so that they can minimize negative impact early on in the tenure.

4. Become a safe harbor. Perhaps one of the least quantifiable but most important roles of an executive coach is to be a safe place for new executives to express their deepest thoughts and emotions. Leadership isn’t an easy place to be, and entering into a new organization’s culture only compounds the issue. Having someone in whom you can confide truthfully with complete confidence in their loyalty provides great relief.

5. The ROI is well worth it. The investment in executive coaching is 1-2% cost-to-risk outlay for the company. I just wish I could get that from any of my investments these days!

Monday, July 6, 2009

CEOs and On-Boarding of New Executives

This is the fifth of a number of posts about on-boarding for executives..what CEOs can do:

d. Sit down with the executive before the first day. Talk to them about your expectations, your management style, the history of the situation, the development of the company, and your leadership philosophy. Mostly, tell them to make haste slowly. Give them permission to listen, learn, and not to feel like they MUST do something immediately.

e. Appoint a mentor: As CEO, one of your primary duties is succession planning. As the tribal chief, you need to ensure that someone in the organization guides the new on-boarding executive. Such mentoring will help them steer the new hire away from the early rocks and shoals that could sink the ship before success can be measured.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Buying Success Insurance

4. So, what can a CEO do to ensure that this misguided thinking and resulting failure don’t take place?

a. Be aware of the problem and its enormous cost to the organization. Treat it like any other $2.7 risk to the company.

b. Buy insurance…some form of on-boarding process.Hire a coach who's worked with executive on-boarding before. It's the best investment (and cheapest) to insure the risk

c. Engage Human Resources. HR should not just in hiring executives, but also make sure there’s an orientation/on-boarding process in place before executives arrive. Oftentimes, it’s up to the individual business sector, executive assistant, or worse yet no one to set up a comprehensive organizational introduction. In fact, many executives are merely introduced at a working meeting or executive conference. That’s the extent of on-boarding before such new executives are asked to dive into often heated and contentious negotiations without any background or cultural lay of the land.

Next Post...watch for more that the CEO do ensure the success of a new executive.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

You're Both Wrong!

This is the third of a number of posts about on-boarding for executives:

3. Who is at fault for this failure rate?

a. The company or organization thinks: We invested a lot in this executive. He or she will figure out what has to be done.

b. Incoming new executives think: I’ve done this before; I’m smart enough to figure it out. What got me here will get me to the next level. Everyone wants to see some immediate results.

c. WRONG! A pox on both houses.

(This Q&A appeared in CEO Magazine in June, 2009)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Cost of On-Boarding if NOT Done Right

This is the second of a number of posts about on-boarding for executives:

2. What are the stats regarding such on-boarding when it goes bad?

a. In his book, The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins of the Harvard Business School states the blunt, disturbing truth: “Studies have found that more than 40-50% of senior outside hires fail to achieve desired results. Estimates of the direct and indirect costs to a company of a failed executive-level hire range as high as $2.7 million.”

b. In my experience as an executive coach, I’ve watched new executives come in like a freight train, turn the place upside down and take down walls before they know which ones are load bearing and which are merely cosmetic. Typically, their “death spiral” begins very early on and can take as little as a year and sometimes two for them to finally be ejected as a threatening organism to the tribe. Peers, subordinates, and even the very bosses who hired them will foment or back such a rejection—directly or indirectly.

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