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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Your Next Career Adventure

Just posted the comments below to Marshall Goldsmith's Harvard Site:

I agree with Marshall, with a twist. Sure, I think it's great to do what you love until you can't do it anymore. And, I'm not sure we need to set any deadline on that. In my coaching practice I've used the hedgehog concept from Jim Collin's work (Good to Great)to help executives, especially Boomers find their next playing field.

In fact, the other day when talking to a bunch of senior police executives I asked them to draw three intersecting circles. I suggested that in the first circle they place anything that good at now and could become world class with practice and development.

In the next circle, I ask them to look at that list (good-to-great list in the first circle) and put in the second circle only the ones that they're passionate about. Note: many of us are good and could be great at things we just don't like all that driving a car or conducting audits (UGH).

Then in the final circle, I asked them to look at the first two circles and figure out a financial model (a fee process/schedule) that will make them a decent salary if they were to perform the other two circles well. In other words, answer the question: How can I make a living at the other two circles?

If you spend time on this process, the chances of finding something you can love for the rest of your life are pretty good. If you can only fill in the-good-to great circle and the passionate circle (but not the money one), then you have a HOBBY...not a bad thing either.

Trophies and Leaders

A friend of ours, Tom Ryan, was talking about all the trophies his two boys (now grown) and he had accumulated over years. Trophies for swimming, running, soccer and the like that line the shelves of his family room. But after thinking about the scores of trophies, Tom had this keen insight: Despite all the trophies, who did everyone in the family go to when they needed advice or consolation—not to the trophy holders—but Judy, Tom’s wife. Like my wife, Donna, Judy has no trophies with her name on them, but possesses the greatest prize: Wisdom. Maybe we should have a Wisdom Trophy—but that would be a man thing wouldn’t it!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Persuasion and Influence

Bob Cialdini is a social scientist at Arizona State University and has studied persuasion for many years. His book Influence is a classic that I've used in my university classes. A very readable author, he's written extensively on the topic and has a new book out 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. Here's an interview on NPR worth listening to, especially during this election season. I'm getting my copy next week.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Sense of Urgency by John Kotter (a review)

John Kotter, professor emeritus of the Harvard Business School, has just written his newest book, A Sense of Urgency. I was contacted by the Harvard Business Press to review an advance copy, and I did so to my advantage. It’s an excellent explication of the first tenet of Kotter’s now well known 8-step change theory (From his book Leading Change):

  1. Establish a sense of urgency.
  2. Create a guiding coalition.
  3. Develop a vision and a strategy.
  4. Communicate the change vision.
  5. Empower employees for broad-based action.
  6. Generate short-term wins.
  7. Consolidate gains and produce more change.
  8. Anchor new approaches in the culture.

Kotter believes that urgency is critical to this whole process; simply put, no urgency—no change.

Kotter drills down into the weeds on establishing a sense of urgency and gives the reader some clear reasons for improving companies:

Successful companies tend to be complacent and do little; companies that raise a false sense of urgency run around like chickens with their heads cut off—frazzled; only those companies working off a true sense of urgency tend to produce change that matters. Kotter further explains that complacent and under-fire companies are too focused on the internal (strengths and weaknesses) and very little on the external threats and opportunities. If you’ll recall the well-known strategic planning mantra S.W.O.T (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunity and Threats), Kotter’s urgency theory makes a lot of sense. Again, the progressive and productive companies look not just inward but especially outward—at how opportunity and threats must be faced squarely.

To increase this sense of urgency, the author provides a simple but effective strategy: "Create action that is exceptionally alert, externally oriented, relentlessly aimed at winning, making some progress each and every day and constantly purging low value-added activities--all by always focusing on the heart and not just the mind."

You’ll need to read the book for the valuable detail that Kotter provides. The following is a cursory overview:

  1. Bring the outside in (connect to the customer and the world outside the corporate walls).
  2. Behave urgently every day (make urgency—not anxiety or anger—part of the culture focused on external opportunities and threats).
  3. Find opportunity in crisis (be careful but look for opportunity in the midst of any crisis).
  4. Deal with the NoNos who block change (neutralize and remove those urgency-killers, who will keep the group in a deadly complacent static state in an ever-changing world. Healthy skeptics are not a threat, but the NoNos are).

Kotter has hit the nail squarely in this easy-to-read book. Having seen all sorts of companies up close, I think Kotter has described a practical method for getting people to be productive—by creating a real sense of urgency.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Leadership and Executive Coaching Quotes

Today, I read a great report from The Federal Consulting Group--part of the US Treasury Department that offers executive coaching to the federal government. To be upfront, I've been an outside coach repenting this group with federal clients. After reading this report, The FCG Executive Coaching Guide: Steps for a Successful Coaching Partnership, I was struck by the quality of quotes in the text. So, here are some of the quotes:

  • "Our chief want in life is somebody who makes us do what we can." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • "When two men in a business always agree, one of them is unnecessary." Unknown
  • "Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." ~Elmer Letterman (who?)
  • "Chance favors the prepared mind."~ Louis Pasteur
  • "Personally, I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught." ~Winston Churchill
  • "When you hire people who are smarter than you are, you prove you are smarter than they are." ~ R.H. Grant
  • "Learning is a willingness to let one's ability and attitude to change in response to new ideas, information and experiences." ~ Peter Vaill
  • "The significant problems we face cannot be resolved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." ~ Albert Einstein
  • "Over the long run, superior performance depends on superior learning." ~Peter Senge.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Wooden on Leadership

I love basketball—that’s my bias. So, getting to look over the shoulder of the greatest college coach in history—in my estimation—was a thrill. Wooden’s original notes in his own handwriting give this book a kind of authenticity few such books offer. It’s as much a scrapbook on his leadership as it is a primer for leaders. His famous Pyramid for Success, comprised of 15 elements, gets a bit tedious, but the stories and the bon mot’s (“It takes 10 hands to score a basket.”), the sidebars and clips from his game and practice plans are delightful and worth the read.

If Wooden decided to be a CEO, he would have been one of Jim Collins good-to-great leaders. Instead, he chose to teach others to become leaders.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hit the Ground Listening--The First Few Months

For many new leaders, there's a real urgency to hit the ground running. We all want to impress our new bosses that we have what it takes to make change, turn a profit, and succeed. After all, isn't that why we were hired? Well, yes and no.

CEOs and senior executives, the good ones, want us to succeed but not at the expense of the culture—especially if the company is doing well. Successful corporate leaders expect (but don't always tell us) a leader who will respect the corporate culture, figure out what it is, and make changes accordingly and appropriately.

In his book, The First 90 Days Michael Watkins warns against this run in and start changing everything, action imperative. A friend of mine and CEO of a large association conducted an informal survey with key executives on his mailing list. This fellow is a former headhunter and political insider in Washington, DC with an enviable database of high-placed folks. He asked these executives, what was the single piece of advice they would give incoming leaders. The overwhelming piece of advice: Listen.

I just had lunch with a senior FBI executive, who told me exactly the same thing. He said that baring emergencies or things that are just plain broken, he wants one of his new CEOs—called Special Agents in Charge for the field offices of the FBI in every major city in the county—to be people who listen and “respect” the culture of the office.

So, there you have it…three smart people telling us the same thing. Stop, look, and listen.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A fascinating book that looks into the most common derailers for CEOs and executives. David Dotlich and Peter Cairo explain a litany of Arrogance, Melodrama, Volatility, Habitual Distrust, Aloofness and a host of others you'll want to read about.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Emotional and Social Intelligence for Leaders


Daniel Goleman, nationally known psychologist and author of books on emotional and social intelligence, spoke at Google’s headquarters on the topic. He explained that our primitive brain, the amygdala (walnut sized and positioned about mid-brain) acts as the brain’s sentinel as it scans incoming sensory data to see if what’s perceived is a threat. In more primitive days, it sent the signal to the brain: “Do I eat it or does it eat me!” It’s a hair trigger, and excites the HPA Axis (Hypothalamus, Pituitary Gland and Adrenal Cortex System), which activates fight, flight, or freeze activity. The autonomic nervous system gets activated and stimulates the heart rate, blood pressure and hormones. An “amygdala hijack” sometimes occurs and is characterized by a sudden urge to strike out (verbally, physically or by e-mail!) without thinking—that we regret later. It happens to even the smartest of people because when the amygdala takes over the brain, we get dumb and react without thinking, which can cause many interpersonal upsets in relationships.

When activated by an outside stimulus, the amygdala sends a message to the Pre-Frontal Cortex, which is the both the integrator and regulator for emotions. Acting as a regulator, this higher road of the brain assesses the stimulus sent gushing into it from the amygdala and determines whether it should shut down the amygdala or agree with it and allow the body to prepare for the onslaught. Essentially, it regulates our appropriately personal and social responses to any situation.


Good leaders, it seems, have at least four characteristics to help them cope with the world. Two (self awareness and managing emotions) deal with the emotional intelligence of the individual leader and his or her ability to deal with the world. Two others (humor and rapport) deal with social intelligence or being in sync with others.

Emotional Intelligence:

Self awareness—good for personal and business decision making. Self unaware people and leaders tend to chronically handicapped by not being able to control the amygdala make poorer choices. Such people have diminished cognitive capacity because, especially in amygdala hijacks, the brain only focuses on the threat and can do little else.

Managing emotions—disturbing bad emotions that get in the way of both rational thought and decision making—and ultimately human motivation to do this or that. If you can’t inhibit the amygdala, you’ll have problems making good decisions.

NOTE: When the HPA axis (hormones) are low—you are bored. However, a certain amount of stimulation and motivation (like a deadline, etc.) the more cordisol secreted (HPA) and performance goes up and at an optimal level—and we end up in a state called FLOW—brain state attention fully focused, your skills challenged, and it feels really good. Feeling good is key indicator for optimal cognitive function. But, too much HPA activity—too much stimulus—you feel FRAZZLED. Adrenalin rushes in and takes over—you’re preoccupied and cannot function rationally or at your highest levels.

Social Intelligence

Social brain theory—what happens when two or more people connect mentally and get attune to the internal state of others. Mirror neurons…discovered by Italian scientists mapping neurons when monkey raised its arm. One day they noticed that the arm raising cell fired when monkey not doing anything…except when the researcher ate ice cream…monkey’s brain fired. Social brain operates unconsciously. Social brain knows when a conversation is over, or another is angry…mirror neurons sense the state. There’s emotional subtext.

Humor: Top leaders laughed three times more than other leaders. Mirror neurons seem to be at work here in a brain-to-brain humor dance. And top leaders seem to get how this works and use it effectively.

Rapport: Physiology of two people in rapport…if rapport is off physiology, is independent and unaligned. But when in sync, rapport results and both are in full attention, non-verbals choreographed, and if feels good.

Meditation (based on studies) has been found to be a way to develop the Pre-Frontal Cortex. Meditation strengthens this regulation part of the brain so you can build capacity to control amygdala hijacks, and when we meet with stress. The story of the experiment with a meditative monk and the confrontational professor is worth listening to. The monk was so calm in the debate that he actually calmed down the professor (both were wired for physiological measurement). So, if we can develop and strengthen the controlling section (left side) of the Pre-Frontal Cortex through meditation—we can spread calm and rationality.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Executive Transition: The First 90 Days

According to Harvard Business School professor Michael Watkins, an executive gets 90 days (three months) to move from a value consumer (costing the organization) to a value creator (value added)—and thus hit the breakeven point. The faster this transition takes place the better off the organization is and the more likely the transitioning executive is to be successful. In fact, the failure rate for senior executive outside hires into a company is a whopping 40-50%, at a cost of $2.7 million per executive in both direct and indirect costs. Watkins does an excellent job setting up a new executive to succeed. He uses ten steps (PAMS-NAB-CRE)—I need mnemonics to help me remember things. Here’s the top line view of the book—but it’s the details of the how-to’s that will make a difference, so read the book—at least skim it.
1. Promote yourself: Don't get stuck trying to do your old job. Let go and move on and don't assume what got you here will get you there (what Marshall Goldsmith's latest best seller is all about).
2. Accelerate your learning: Get systematic and focused about learning first things first (akin to what Stephen Covey also suggests)
3. Match strategy to the situation: Diagnose whether the new challenge for the transitioning executive involves a Start up, Turnaround, a Reorganization, or Sustaining Success (STRS). This is a critical distinction make by the author.
4. Secure early wins: Grab the low hanging fruit of success to set the tone of a successful tenure with virtuous relationships and not vicious ones (John Kotter—a Harvard Professor and change icon talks about this a lot in hit books on change, including Leading Change).
5. Negotiate success: Your new boss is your critical connection to the organization. Understanding and meeting his or her needs and expectations, style and energy is important if only for survival purposes! Get consensus on your 90 day plan and life will be a better place.
6. Achieve alignment: As a high flyer in an organization, you need to assure alignment with your approach and the corporate strategy (Covey chats about this a lot in his later books).
7. Build your team: Most new executives inherit teams. The key is to keep the right ones and jettison the wrong ones (remember Good to Great—Jim Collins research taught us to get the right people on the bus and the wrong ones off it).
8. Create coalitions: Whether it's Survivor, prison or the corporate boardroom, you need to figure out your critical supporters early on to survive and thrive. Don’t ever forget both peers and subordinates as critical to your success.
9. Keep your balance: Change causes stress, which causes imbalance. Trying to stay true to core relationships is important—family, work and yourself. To me the old serenity prayer holds true here—God grant me the courage to accept the things I cannot change; to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.
10. Expedite everyone: Again—you live in a 360 world surrounded by a living organism called the company. It’s your primary job to adapt to the corporate culture. On the other hand, people around you will also be adjusting—help make it easy for them, especially make it easy for them to like you and see you as part of the organism and not a threat to it. Remember what organisms do when they feel threatened--they form antibodies and reject the new cell!
This book is worth a read when you’re an executive in this situation. It’s definitely worth showing to the head of HR, to a senior partner, and to the CEO. Like Woody Allen says, “Money is important if only for financial reasons!”

PS To remember the process—PAMS -NAB-CRE—think of a bunch of PAMS about to NAB a CREature. Hey, it was the best I could do on short notice!

Leadership: Building Successful Relationships

From the Harvard Business Review

The editor of the Harvard Business Review interviewed the leading scientist in human relations, John M. Gottman. At Gottman's laboratory in Seattle, the editor learned some insights that are not only good for saving a marriage but also may have some direct impact on the workplace. Made famous in Malcolm Gladwell's popular book Blink, Gottman can predict a divorce with 90% accuracy if he watches people argue together in his laboratory. In a nutshell, here's what Gottman relayed about relationships:

"Successful couples look for ways to accentuate the positive. They try to say "yes" as often as possible. That doesn't mean good relationships have no room for conflict. On the contrary, individuals in thriving relationships embrace conflict over personality differences as a way to work through them." Gottman adds that "Good relationships aren't about clear communications, they're about small moments of attachment and intimacy. It takes time and work to make such moments part of the fabric of everyday life."

So, if you're married or not, at work or at home, you might want to think about saying "yes" more often than "no" and taking the time every day to pat people on the back, ask about their families, or give them a high five.

Check out the entire article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review, p.45, "Making Relationships Work." It's worth reading and passing along.

The Executive Coach in the Corporate Forest

ere's what
Marshall Goldsmith
, the country's leadin
g executive coach, writes in the foreword of Steve Gladis' new book,
The Executive Coach in the Corporate Forest:*

"Many executives have heard about executive coaching but don't know what it actually looks like. Through this business fable, The Executive Coach in the Corporate Forest, Steve Gladis has given such inquiring executives a clear picture of the entire executive coaching process from start to finish. I enjoyed all the fictional characters with their own quirks and issues, many of which I've seen in my own Fortune 500 clients. Steve has done an outstanding job, and the next time someone asks me what executive coaching is all about, I'll say, 'Just read The Executive Coach in the Corporate Forest.' "
~Marshall Goldsmith

* Author proceeds go to the Northern Virginia Community Foundation.

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