Leaders Listen: A Process to Assist

Recently several clients have ask for a better way to assist their senior leaders gain a deeper understanding of the ideas, issues, and input from throughout all levels in their organizations. The conversations with them have centered on the need to help them with a process to involve others. Seemingly, there is an understanding that the need exists–so it has been more of a “how to” need.

In working with them, I’ve shared a process I used many times as a manager, mentor, and even now as a coach and advisor to leaders. At its core, it is a structured process to gather input. Yet, it’s more than that. It is a mindset in the leader that there is both a need and structured way to gather input.

In working with them, I have shared the process commonly referred to as “skip level meetings”.

An Overview of Managerial Skip Level Meetings

What is it?

Basically, it is when a higher-level manager meets with employees in-person to discuss organizational issues without the presence of their direct manager.

The purposes include:

  • gain information, perceptions, and ideas on the organization’s effectiveness through honest and unfiltered assessment from front-line employees
  • understand impressions and feelings about the organization, operations, and processes
  • allows employees to speak freely and confidentially

What are the pros and cons?

As with any managerial opportunity, there are potential gains as well as possible pitfalls.  These include:


  • creates stronger bond among employees and managers
  • opens communication channels
  • discover information of future value to the organization
  • gather insight into management operations and behaviors which can be areas for development


  • be aware of hidden agendas, historical information, and previous ‘wounds’
  • caution not to give orders, even inadvertently
  • over-reaction to management feedback and the person delivering the message
  • managers do not understand the purpose and process

How do I do this?

Start off with a plan.  Think about when, how often, and why you will implement skip-level meetings.  Once ready, communicate it first to your managers.  Do so with clarity as to why and how–and listen to their input and concerns. 

Keep in mind the following tips for success:

Consider timing–when during the month, year, quarter will you receive feedback you can use?  This may mean avoiding times that are busier or where emotions are higher.  You want to strive for a ‘regular’ or ‘normal’ time.

Frequency–at a minimum, quarterly is often the optimal schedule.  However, if you are new or the organization is undergoing change you may want to do them monthly. 

Format–consider if you will do it as a group or with each individually.  Besides the obvious timing issues, consider confidentiality and participation.  While there is no correct or best format, you should think about implications.  Should you choose to do it as a group, ensure confidentiality.  When doing it individually, understand not all will be as forthcoming. You may even want to do a hybrid approach such as a group meeting following by individual meetings.  This can be especially helpful during times of change or as a new manager.   And these are always in-person.

Equitable treatment–simply put, include everyone.  Do it with everyone.  For a group setting, include the full team.  If doing individual sessions, be sure not to pick just a few since doing so will have people perceive you are biased.

As to process, consider a typical series of events:

  1. Decide on why, how and when you will implement skip-level meetings
  2. Communicate with your managers and gain their input and ideas
  3. Communicate the plan (why, how, when) to all employees directly from you
  4. Send along any questions or items for them to think about ahead of time, if needed
  5. Conduct the meeting(s)
  6. Communicate with full team (managers and employees) most common themes and any changes

And regardless of format–as a group or individually–build rapport as you begin.  Start with a simple question or even chat about something you have in common.

What could I ask?

Keep in mind the purpose is to solicit honest feedback, gain insight, and gather ideas.  Equally, keep in mind that you should organize the session so they talk more and you listen.  The following are suggested questions:

  • What do you like most about working here? 
  • What’s one thing that is working well for our organization? 
  • How do you hear about if you have done something well?   And from whom?
  • What do you like most about your job? 
  • What things would you change or improve about your job, department or at the organization? 
  • How does your manager recognize you for good performance or a job well done? 
  • What resources, information and support do you need to be more successful in your job? 
  • If you experience a problem or roadblock, where do you go for support and solutions? 
  • If you could change or implement 1 new idea, what would it be?
  • What is something you would like for your manager to know about you yet haven’t told them?
  • What would you like to know about me, our department, our strategy, etc?

In preparing questions and format, ensure the following:

  • Keep questions open–this encourages people to talk
  • Allow for 10 minutes for each question.  This guideline allows for not only time for them to think and respond initially to the question but for you to follow-up with clarification as needed.
  • Prioritize questions.  You’ll likely run out of time so want to ensure most important questions are first.
  • Vary questions as needed to timing of year.  If you’re entering the planning time of the year you may want more questions about new ideas and changes.
  • If you are doing the meeting with the team, consider ways for them to confidentially respond.  This could be using Post-it notes or perhaps having them submit them ahead of time (not via email but through another mechanism). 
  • Always conduct skip-level meetings in a closed, confidential space.  Use a conference room or office.
  • You should take notes.  And in follow-up, include general and common themes.  It’s important to follow-up and follow-through!

Can’t do everything? Well, that is a good opportunity for advocates, ambassadors, and growth

Lately I’ve worked with clients as they struggle to build their organizations.  Usually the conversation contains something like

“I can’t do it all and I need help with people to care and perform as well as I do”

“I need to find advocates for our organization who can get our message out”

“I need people who can present our story to others in a passionate and convincing way”

At the core, what the conversation is about is…inspiring others.

It’s also about creating advocates, partners, ambassadors for you, your organization, etc. which can carry your message within your organization and to others “outside”.

In discussions with them, I’ve mentioned 3 things to keep in mind:

  1. You can’t do everything
  2. No one will do it you way
  3. You have to inspire, train, and appreciate others

Usually, the first one is easy to discuss.  In fact, it’s the impetus.  They already know they can’t do everything.  Yet, what they don’t realize is that it’s not about “can’t” and really about “shouldn’t”.  In other words, they should look to others for help:

  • to develop and implement
  • to communicate with others
  • to improve upon the current situation

The shift to “should” involves helping them understand their role as leaders.  Leaders must focus on their role to lead.  Often, it’s not to focus on implementation.  Rather, they inspire others.  They set the vision.  They set the tone.

The second and third items are related.

Yes, by definition, no on will do it your way.  Early in my career, I was part of a Nortel/BNR program for new employees.  We were trained to do it the ‘right way’–what to say, when, and how.  I didn’t enjoy delivering the program (and nor did the majority of my colleagues).  Why?  Because it was not designed to be flexible to meet local needs.  Variation and customization was frowned up (I was downgraded on an annual evaluation simply for reversing the order of topics). 

But isn’t standardization good?  Shouldn’t people follow guidelines?  I often am asked this.

Well, yes.  But also you need to allow for people to use their brains and not just their hands, as one of my earliest managers taught me.

The implications are this:

Select, train, appreciate, and monitor.  All of these elements are important to success. 

Recently, I worked with a client on a new Ambassador Program for their organization.  This involves asking members to become advocates within their organization as well as within the community.  This exciting program has already inspired more participation and dedication not just with the Ambassadors but also within the organization.  In other words, people have become inspired to use their unique talents.

It’s the unique talent that is at the core of “no one will do it your way”.  As well, because of the training and materials each Ambassador received, they are equipped and inspired.

What has been already seen with this client, is a renewal of participation at all levels in the organization. 

It takes a strong leader to create the environment.  They must become comfortable (and skilled) with letting-go, inspiring others, and focusing on their role as leaders.

Sometimes closing a door means other openings occur

Several weeks ago, I reconnected with an old friend and colleague.  It had been a few years since we’d seen one another.  Both of us have been busy.  Yet, it was fantastic to see each other.

During our conversation we talked about clients and projects over the past few years.  She’s been busy with several young entrepreneurial clients while I have concentrated on nonprofit clients (along with a corporate client that I’ve worked with for many years) particularly concentrating on strategic planning.

What we both discovered that we were at a crossroads, a change, a transition.

We then joked that as consultants who help organizations through change, we should have been able to recognize this!  And know what to do about it!

For her, the change lies in the evolution of her firm and work.  She’s getting less requests for consulting and more for training.  She expressed a mixture of comfort (she knows how to do this and is quite good at it) along with disappointment (it’s less creative and more formulaic than she prefers).

On my end, I expressed sadness in losing two very long-term clients (one of 15 years and the other for the past 7).  As a consultant, you hate to lose a client.

Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t drowning our sorrows or venting on one other.

Rather what happened was a discussion on ‘change’.

You see, change isn’t easy for anyone–even those who help others through it.

So we spent a couple hours walking through the various models and tools that we use with others–on ourselves.

We talked about SARAH–the model based on the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross that I frequently use with clients:  Shock, Anger, Reflection, Acceptance, and Hope.

Then about Lewin’s model of change–quickly realizing there was something to be said about those things that “help” you and those that “hinder”.

It was perhaps during this part of the discussion that I remarked to her “so your long-proven skills as a trainer, an educator, a mentor, an expert are helping you.  This return to training isn’t a return.  It’s a movement towards something at which you have expertise”.

In turn she said “what you forget is that you work to improve people and organizations and that part of that help is to get them a point of being self-sufficient.”

All fine and good but we had to then confront what was making us feel bad about these changes.  Then it dawned on us that it was back to the early stages of change–whether that be the “shock/anger”  of SARAH or “unfreezing”  of Lewin.

There was a bit of silence and then we both remarked that this was good–not the conversation but what we were going through.  It was forcing us to change.  It was presenting us with closed doors.  It was also presenting us with other channels to move forward.  Other openings were happening.

You see, both of us have a lot of options in the coming months.  We just couldn’t see them.  We were looking too much as the back of a closed door and, in doing so, were missing the many other ways to move forward.

As she remarked “one of my favorite things to tell others is that leadership is about how to cope with change while management is coping with the resultant issues and tasks”. 

This really hit home for me particularly with a current strategic plan project I’m doing with a synagogue.  I quickly realized that the reason it was going so well was because they have a very strong leadership team in clergy, staff, and among lay leaders.  Yes, to be a leader means you have to cope for yourself, others, and your organization.

Coping is about emotions and feelings–something we often push aside even in ourselves.

Of course, there is always some degree of sadness at an ending.  But, there is also time to look forward to new challenges.

We then scribbled a few notes for ourselves:

  • Moving forward and change happens to everyone, often without warning
  • Change isn’t always your choice–your reaction to it is
  • Take time to ponder your past–analyze what helped your success–and then make a plan to move forward
  • Find a trusted person to help you, to talk with, and that can be honest with you
  • When doors close, windows and other doors open–look at them instead of the back of a closed door

We chuckled towards the end.  We realized that what we had done together is consult with one another.  That added another one to the list:

  • Everyone experiences change

We ended by taking our own advice and with a commitment.  Don’t go it alone.

So we’re having lunch again in August.


© Copyright 2018, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

Busting Silos: Leading Organizations

Sometimes, things hit you in the face.

Sometimes, patterns are easy.

Sometimes, messages repeat but in new and different ways.

Thus has been the case for me over the summer.

In working with three clients the notion of ‘silos’ has emerged as the reason for poor teamwork, missing deadlines, and general dissatisfaction. Fingers have been pointed, heated words (verbally and in emails) have been tossed about, and goals have stagnated.

A few case studies are in order. The first couple demonstrate problem silos while the third shows what progress can happen when silos never get built.

The first such silo I observed was rather unusual. Often, when we think of silos in an organization it is because there has been a structure imposed by ‘someone above’ which hinders productivity and goal attainment. In this situation, the silos were being erected by individuals! How so?

Their behavior included creating onerous processes for simple tasks, retaining the ability to veto any input or decision from someone outside their function, and ultimately to shut down their function without input from everyone. Functional leaders were free to change dates, skip meetings, and cancel deliverable actions with virtually no input from anyone. Silos were created specifically to block progress.

The second example occurred in working individually with an executive of a start-up. One of his frustrations was the lack of cooperation among teams. His company is small with only 40 employees. Yet given the nature of new product design, the software and hardware teams were consistently working in silos. As we discussed his organization–and in particular, his expectations for the design teams–it became clear that he had set up the organization to be competitive. So over the summer, he worked on his ability to communicate the need for people to work together while keeping the integrity of their design. He recognized collaboration and instances of cross-functional success.

Well, just about a week ago he called and was quite stirred up. He was in the process of establishing a new customer support function to launch their product to the mass market. However, he was frustrated over the reaction of one of his managers. This particular manager was upset because he was being asked to start the new support function–hire, train, and design processes–but the organization would eventually not report to him. He admitted he wanted to avoid the discussion and would instead have the new team report to the manager. I quickly told him “ok, but this is an opportunity to build a cross-functional team without the silos you experienced a few months ago.”

Nothing was said at first. Then he said “you’re right”. He realized this was the best chance to build collaboration and to avoid silos and especially the mentality that comes with them. He went right to the manager and discussed how this was the perfect opportunity to shape the future. So far, no silo in sight.

The third example, the good one, was a request from a client I worked with about three years ago. It was in a start-up mode that eventually transferred to an existing agency for implementation. The start-up and transition had gone well. This time the request was to help with the next level in their strategy.

Their strategy.

You see, the email came jointly from the two organizations. While one of the executives is responsible for the program today, the request came from both leaders. What struck me immediately was that both leaders felt responsible for the next phase. Then, in my first few meetings with both of them it became clear and apparent that they felt a kinship in ensuring the future success. Neither pointed a finger, laid blame, tooted an individual horn, or felt the need to one-up the other. They were, have continued to be, and want to be in the future jointly responsible for the success.

So it occurs to me that silos are created–whether imposed by a senior manager or erected by functional departments–when the organization lacks:

  • clear goals–what is the outcome, how it relates to the overall organization, why it is important, clear (and simple) processes to support the collective goals, communicate clearly and often
  • accountability–who has prime responsibility and who needs to be consulted
  • collaboration–a core belief and behaviors that working together will reap success for the organization, build trust, and sustain growth

While this may sound like “teamwork 101” I think it goes deeper.

Take, for example, the first example where silos were created by functional groups and individuals in order to shield themselves from working with others and towards the goals. Silos had become in this case, bunkers and shields.

So, how can leaders avoid silos? Keep in mind clear goals, accountability, and collaboration. Work towards clear vision with the team, track progress together, and consistently reinforce the message that everyone must work together. As in the case of the second example, even when progress is made, you have to continually look out for silo creation. And as the leader, recognize and praise progress.

Lastly, keep in mind the core lesson of the third example. It’s a joint strategy. Start with this and silos will likely be avoided, as this client has been able to do so largely for the past three years.

As a leader, the challenge is to avoid building silos and that when you see someone erecting one, to bust it down quickly.


© Copyright 2016, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

‘Soft Skills’ Leadership

It’s quite common to hear ‘soft skills’ when people talk about managing people, leadership, conflicts, giving direction, listening, speaking…

But are they really ‘soft’? Let me tell a story I experienced over a dozen years ago while working with a client, Texas Instruments.

I was brought in to design and deliver a 5-month program for first-time managers. As you can imagine, it included things like leadership, performance management, DiSC®, teams, etc. It was interactive driven by case studies and group discussions. It was a half-day program each month for a group of 12-15 managers who went through the 5-months together.

Most significantly, it was introduced by the VP of the division (this was a production group in TI).

He attended the kickoff morning session and posed the following question:

“Let’s say that you return to your desk this afternoon and you’re immediately presented with 2 problems.

You only have time, however, to adequately solve 1 of the problems. You know that based on experience.

The first problem is that you have two employees who are arguing and fighting. Not coming to blows, but it is escalating. Words are being exchanged both aggressively and passive-aggressively.

The second problem is that the line has gone down because of the system failure.”

He then went on to ask:

“Which problem would you solve first?”

Invariably, everyone answered the second problem–the line is down. In all the sessions, this was the unanimous answer.

He then asked:

“Why did you choose that one?”

And they would say something like “it’s easier”, “we know how to solve it”, “it’s simpler”, “it has bigger implications for the company and customer”.

He then would say, especially to the responses about it being easier, knowing how to solve it, simpler:

“So it’s easy, ok. What’s the opposite of ‘easy’ or ‘simpler’?”

At this point, someone would say “hard”.

“Bingo”, he would exclaim. “Solving the technical problems is easy.”

“Solving the people problems are ‘hard'”, he would add. Heads would shake around the room in agreement.

And he would then add:

“So why do we say classes like this are ‘soft skills’ when by your own admission, they are harder? Why do we call issues dealing with people ‘soft’ when in fact they are ‘hard’?”

From that moment on, we never used the term ‘soft skills’ in the program. And working with this group was always rewarding–they really wanted to understand people, teams, and especially how they can successfully lead, manage, and coach.

I often use this story in working with clients. It’s an example I’ve found resonates with every client I have–from production and operations to sales and marketing to administration. I’ve found that it applies to my for-profit and my non-profit clients.

Soft skills are hard skills. Sometimes labeling them ‘soft’ implies fuzzy bunny, rainbows, and candy–, trivial, less important, secondary.

Rather, what makes them hard is that people are not machines. People have good days and bad days. People have emotions. Often as this example was debriefed in the program, that’s exactly what the participants said. They would also add that they had more confidence and ease in dealing with the system–they could count on it to react as expected.

So keep this in mind you use the term ‘soft skills’. For all these years, this has been an example which is both instructive and a useful reminder.


© Copyright 2016, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

The Phone That Stopped Traffic (and taught me an important lesson)

Yes, I’m back from vacating and it’s time to blog again!  From the feedback I got, the notion of “putting vacate back into vacation” resonated with many people. 


Over the past month, I’ve been reminded of a valuable lesson regarding priorities and appropriate behaviors.  What triggered this have been a series of conversations regarding the importance of appropriate attention to a customer or a colleague.

The story goes to 1999 when I was on a business trip to Austin.  On this trip, I was accompanied by Jim Underhill, Sales VP, who had also been assigned as my mentor.  We had a visit with a customer and now it was time for a nice dinner on Sixth Street at Dan McClusky’s.

We settled in and started debriefing the meeting.  We also talked about what was going on in the company, our teams, and our lives.

About 15 minutes into the dinner, I got a call on my cell phone.  Now mind you, this was 1999 and caller ID wasn’t even exist (this was the Motorola flip phone).

I took the call.  Answered it in a few minutes.  Hung up.  Sat the phone down.

Jim grabbed the phone and walked out of the restaurant.  He threw it into the middle of Sixth Street.  Quickly it was run over and smashed by a car.  I even heard wheels squealing.

I was stunned.  I was both embarrassed and mad.  I couldn’t believe what he had just done!

When he came back to the table, he said that it was a lesson.

It was a lesson to keep what is important at the moment.

He went on to say that it is vitally important in building a relationship, whether with a customer or colleague, to focus on the current conversation.  To shut out distractions.  To understand what was most important.

He then went further.  He said that a successful company and anyone in it has to remember that it is about people.  It’s not about the technology per se, it’s about what the technology can do with and for people.  In building a relationship it’s important to get to know the person–their behaviors, what’s important to them, and what’s going on with them.

By now I was a little less stunned and asked him a “what if” question.  I said that if that had been an emergency call (from family or a customer) would he have done the same thing.


I pressed him to then tell me how he knew it wasn’t such a call–one that was more important than our dinner.  He simply said that if it had been such a call, I would have reacted differently.  I would have told him.  He went on to say that since he had spent 4 months getting to know me, he had learned about my behavior.  He had learned to read my behavior.

Obviously, this made me even more curious.  He went on to say that the only negative behavior he had observed was that I sometimes let self-importance trump what was really important.  Not priggish, he said, just sometimes too showy.  Cell phones at the time were a ‘perk’ or award for people in any company.  Not everyone got one–only those at a certain level in our company.

He then went a little deeper.  He said that remember that this company is 100 years old.  It has survived because of a lot of people and a lot of relationships.  You’re simply not that important.

Ok, now I was really feeling low.

He went on to talk about building relationships as a leader.  He mentioned several lessons that I attempt to keep even today:

  1. Know what is important at that time and place.  Pay full attention.
  2. Understand your purpose, which is much more vital to the relationship than your competence.
  3. Build relationships through deep interactions.  This includes building trust, respect, and the ability to appropriate disagree.
  4. You’re not important–the overall goal is what is important.

And then he ended with one last lesson–that of admitting a mistake and learning from it.

He said that tomorrow I was going to have to explain to my boss why my phone was broken.  His challenge was not to talk about what happened but to talk about what I learned.

Luckily, he was right.  My boss smiled when I told him the story and what I learned.  (But I had to pay for the replacement myself.)


© Copyright 2015, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

Revisiting: Putting Vacate Back into Vacation

Some six years ago I blogged about the need for putting vacate back into vacation.  In other words, why you should unplug from the workplace while on vacation.

To read the original blogpost, click here.

Almost immediately this got me into trouble.  I had several clients scoff at it.  I even had a prospect call and say he wanted to cancel our next meeting and would never hire me because of what I wrote.

Wow, I thought.  Either I hit a nerve or maybe I was wrong.

In either case, this particular post has continued to be one of my most popular.  While it wasn’t meant to be controversial, it was meant to make people think.

To think about the linkage between being a leader, trust, and technology.

However since publishing,  I’ve also had a number of clients and people in general say that they resonated with it and, in particular, it’s message.  That’s reassuring.  I always I try to reinforce that I’m not advocating reckless leadership.  Rather, responsible leadership.

Yet, I think it’s time to update the original posting with a few practical tips.  These, in particular, are due to our ever-connectedness world and continual-advancing technology.

Tips for wisely staying connected on vacation:

  1. Remember why you are on vacation–family, friends, experiences.  You’ve taken time off and probably fronted money to enjoy the time off.  So strive to do so.
  2. Make it clear before you leave how you can be contacted.  Do so with only a select few who may need to contact you.  Set parameters on when, how, and frequency.  I know one executive who only lets his assistant know and she then acts a gatekeeper (and I’m thrilled he came up with this idea after reading my blog.)
  3. When possible, delegate your signing authority via passwords or company policy.  That’s why such policies exist!  And train your delegate on what to review.
  4. If you will receive calls, screen judiciously.  You pay for voicemail; use it.
  5. If you will check emails, consider doing so late at night when most likely the kids are asleep and you are winding down from the day.
  6. If there are systems you need to routinely check (and which can’t be monitored by your delegate), likewise do these at night.
  7. Strive to keep any night work to a maximum of 30 minutes.  Consider doing it only every other night.
  8. If appropriate and possible, use out-of-office autoreplies for email and change your phone greeting.
  9. Don’t take paperwork with you.  At best, take a WOTR (Work On The Road) folder with you.  Keep the folder small including only critical documents or summaries.  I know of one CEO who always does this whether on a business or pleasure trip–she’s learned that it forces her to prioritize and summarize information even during non-travel times.
  10. If in doubt or confused, go to #1.

Look, I’m practical.  I realize the advancement and availability of technology.  I see how it integrates into our lives.  I’ll admit that at a family reunion last year it was handy to text people in order to find them.  I get it.

But, I stand beside the main point of my original blog post.  That is:

A leader must train their team so that they become self-sufficient.  Doing so not only allows for greater commitment, creativity, and loyalty from the team but it also frees up the leader to concentrate on further developing the organization (including their own development).

Avoid the temptation to stay in-touch with your office while on vacation.

Put vacate back into vacation.



© Copyright 2015, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

W@ys to get a#ention

Ok, so it’s happened again.  I’ve found myself in the midst of another spirited debate on social media and leadership.

I was at a luncheon a few weeks ago when the speaker presented each table with a question to discuss.  My table received “What are the best methods to advertise and get attention for your leadership”.

The discussion began rather predictably.  We discussed what it meant to be a leader.  We moved on to the philosophical discussion on whether a leader needs to advertise.  Frankly, I found this to be much more interesting since I tend to come from the camp that leaders become leaders because others want to follow, not because they are enticed to follow.

Actually, psychologically it goes a bit deeper.  Followers see in leaders something that rekindles a positive emotional memory which they wish to recapture and, more importantly, they want to use in their present situation.  That situation could be work, personal, developmental, relationship, etc.  The point is there is a connection to the leader because of a memory coupled with a desire.

We then moved on to discuss the importance of influence in the leader-follower relationship.  I mentioned that I resonate with much of what is known about influence from research and then from practice.  This included Cialdini’s six principles of influence where I mentioned that leaders are often likable, have proven experience and authority, provide consistency, and gather groups of followers who not only follow the leader but who can also learn from fellow followers.

The discussion then moved to examples from each of us.  I used the example of a longtime client.  What makes him a leader is his uncanny ability to gather people around him.  While he has had enormous success in business, he often cites his success in making the world a better place and especially in inspiring others to do so.

He has learned how to challenge people while also serving as a role model.  Low-key and likable, he stands firm in his beliefs and convictions.  He wields influence not from his wealth but from his abundance of experience demonstrated in a steady, calm, and respectful manner.

During a discussion several years ago he taught me something about leading by giving-back.  He simply said “If you’re going to take being a leader seriously, you have to give back to the community.”  I mentioned that I had made an anonymous donation. He furrowed his brow a bit and said “Don’t do that.  People who respect you, won’t know how to follow your lead.”  He went on to say that giving provided direction and that a true leader was public about their convictions and gave more than money–gave their time, attention, and support to the community.

Many of the other examples at the table were strikingly similar.  They all centered around being a visible example so others can choose to follow.

We then turned our attention to the “how” or the “best methods”.  We quickly decided we had answered this and that we were done.

And then it happened.  A guy spoke up and said “horse-hockey” (well, he used a different word that I won’t repeat here but will rely instead on this placeholder from MASH’s Col. Potter).

Ok, he had our attention.

He began by saying that we were focusing on the wrong part of the question.  Instead of what leadership meant, we should focus on the best methods to get attention.  We had, in his opinion, wasted our time on stories and folklore.  Rather, he espoused, a leader must focus more on the method to get noticed.

He then asked for show-of-hands on who was on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn.  Most of us said we were on at least 2 of these (I’m on all except Instagram).  He then said that a leader must get their word out.  They must tweet several times a day.  They must post on the other media at least every week, if not every few days.  You have to include hashtags and at-signs in all messages.  It’s the only way to get noticed and to advertise.  He was adamant and passionate that leaders must focus on using media.

To his amazement, none of us fully disagreed with him.  Except on one major, crucial point.  That is, a leader who focuses time and effort on publicizing their message at the expense of living it through actions and relationships runs the risk of having fake-followers.  We harkened back to the earlier discussion regarding the leader-follower dynamic and the power of influence.

To that point, he shouted “aha”.  Yes, leaders are influential. He pointed to the number of followers of famous leaders–Ellen, Kim K, Taylor Swift, Pope Francis, and the president–and the ways they influence others.  (I think at this point most of us were just stunned at the lumping of these 5 people.)

I warned not to confuse followers on Twitter with followership.  In social media, some follow out of curiosity.  Some follow because of likability.  Some follow, and this somehow surprised him, to “know the enemy”–in other words, to keep tabs on what the opposition or competition says and does.

Yet, he did have a point to make, which is what I took away from the discussion.  That is,

  • Leaders influence through actions.  They must also find a way to get attention.
  • The challenge, though, is not to focus solely on one part of this equation.
  • Yes, you have to get attention but once you have it, you better have something people can use and which inspires.


© Copyright 2015, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

Commitment is an Action, not a Word

In the past few months, I’ve seen what a role commitment can play in the success for an organization.

And when I use the term commitment, I mean actions not words.  Time and time again, I’ve met people who will espouse an opinion or provide direction only to find out later that they don’t follow their own lead.

Keep in mind I’m not referring to blindly adherence to your ideas.  Rather, true commitment comes from application of ideas and philosophy.  Leaders have to be in the trenches and be ready to make changes as warranted.  This aligns to Sartre’s original philosophy as well as his own actions on commitment and building authentic relationships.

The first such example unfolded over the past two years as the congregational president for a local Reform Jewish temple changed the culture from complacency to commitment.  He doubled-down, so to speak, this year when he focused on the need for commitment in actions rather than just words during his high holiday speeches.  He directly challenged congregants to act, not just talk about acting.

And it’s working:

  • membership and contributions have increased
  • participation in committees, programs, and events is burgeoning
  • increased pride and connection to the temple is evident in just about every aspect associated with their operation

It’s perhaps that last one on the list which builds a promising, sustainable future for them.

But he’s not the only leader I’ve observed in these past few months who put commitment into action.

I’ve had the opportunity to witness a turnaround of sorts for the Compliance function in an international financial firm.

Simply put, the Chief Compliance Officer changed the culture of the organization by:

  • involving a variety of people in planning, goal-setting, and priorities–she included people throughout the organization at a variety of levels and functions along with key internal partners
  • setting the tone by actively participating in the changes and monitoring success–she attended each meeting, completed tasks, and led by example
  • providing clear feedback including corrective actions and recognizing successes–she did so decisively and quickly

All of these were necessary to turn the organization around.  She underscored her commitment not through emails, presentations, and overviews.  Rather, she rolled up her sleeves and worked alongside her team to meet the challenges head-on.

It’s working for her and the organization:

  • they have launched several new initiatives aligned to international fraud protection guidelines
  • governmental oversight ratings have increased for the company
  • stock price has stabilized after years of decline
  • they successfully opened a new Polish base of operations on-time with less than 3 months planning

So is it all about commitment?  Well, yes but there’s another factor that comes into play.


I’m a firm believer that commitment breeds trust.  Not only have I witnessed it in these two examples, I’ve seen it repeatedly in businesses and nonprofits–large and small, local and national, service-providers and widget-producers.

Commitment and trust both require action, not just words.  Leaders have to not only send messages, they have to live these messages.  They become more than role-models.  They become participants:

  • they do as they say
  • “we” is more important to “I”
  • challenges are met head-on by all
  • they build a solid team

As a leader, look in the mirror.  Check to see if your actions match your commitment.  Check for the above four items.  It’s ok to make adjustments.  Better you than someone else.

© Copyright 2015, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

Social Media and Leadership (or Lack Thereof)

I love a spirited debate!  Last week was one of those times I had the unexpected opportunity.  While attending a local entrepreneur’s breakfast, a debate started at my table on how social media can make someone a leader.  I started as a passive participant but soon found myself embroiled in a fascinating and spirited exchange on leadership and social media.

It started rather simply.  We were introducing ourselves around the table with our usual elevator pitches when one person said that he was a leader (in the field of marketing) because he had 3500 LinkedIn connections, 1600 Twitter followers, 1850 Instagram followers, and 1000 Facebook friends.

A few of us took the bait…we asked about his experience and, in particular, why so many people were interested in him.

Let me summarize both sides of the debate.

Pro–social media is built on the premise that people “follow” and “like” you

Con–it’s true that people like and follow leaders but social media is about connections; sometimes people “follow” and “like” you in order to learn what not to do, sort of a voyeuristic learn-not-what-to-do-or-say

Pro–social media leaders can incite people to do good things–like the ALS Ice Bucket challenge

Con–social media leaders can incite people to do bad things–there are numerous examples of cyber-bullying leading to unfortunate outcomes

Pro–it’s much easier and clearly more efficient to communicate via social media

Con–it’s easier and probably more efficient but you also lose control of your message, can’t gauge understanding of followers, and can send quick messages that you later regret (and rarely are messages gone completely even if you take them down)

Pro–people follow me because they have a relationship with me

Con–relationships, particularly those between a leader/follower, are built on mutual knowledge, deep understanding of each other, and ongoing two-way communication and not all social media are designed to foster all of this (often they are one-way vehicles)

Pro–I have a message to get out

Con–So what is your message?  What experience do you have that can help a follower?  Why do people follow you?

This last question sort of stumped him.  It was at this moment that I think everyone realized that the debate wasn’t just about social media.  It was really about why people follow, not necessarily how they follow.

It reminded me that people follow leaders because of their knowledge, proven abilities, outlook, and charisma.

Upon reflection, it seems to me there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. As a leader, use media appropriately and integrate it into your leadership yet don’t rely on only one way to lead.  No one method works (and for many, it is multiple methods).  Some will follow simply because they are in awe.  Others may want a dialogue.  Some learn from observing.
  2. Be clear on why someone follows you, is connected with you, likes you, friends you, etc.  Upfront make it clear what is your expertise and outlook.  Tell your story succinctly.
  3. Have something meaningful to say.  Share your experience.  Tell stories, give examples, and refer to other sources.
  4. Find a way to foster a mutual relationship–make it a two-way communication.  Engage with others–keep the “social” in social media.

To finish the story, our debate went on for another 10 minutes with no real resolution.  But I’m not sure there was a need for one.  What started as a debate became a discussion.  Both sides made cases for appropriate social media usage.

And it ended on a profound notion that we all agreed to:  that this debate helped us to bond, to learn, and to respect each other deeper.  The respectful exchange of opinions deepened our knowledge and understanding.

Yep, leadership is about the character within and not just about the characters in a message.


© Copyright 2014, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

The Importance of Napkins

A few weeks ago while chatting with a client, they became fixated on the look of a presentation.  They were concerned with the typeface, their logo, the colors, the artwork, etc.  For over 5 minutes, as an example, they scoured every slide and checked titles to ensure the exact color of brown–the one according to their company guidelines–was used.

After 30 minutes of checking the presentation, we then reviewed the content.  Fifteen minutes later I had to leave for another meeting.

The client was not happy that I had to leave.  You see, the presentation they were working on was in two days and it was for their board of directors.

When I told them I had another commitment, we quickly scheduled another time to meet.

But in doing so, I was quickly transported back to 1999 when I was working at Nortel.  I had just moved into marketing operations.

I recalled one of the first meetings I attended–that my boss sent me as her representative.  You see, she had hired me because I had just finished working in sales and understood the need for customers, customer service, and managing the business.

This particular meeting was focused on an event we were planning at the US Open golf tournament.  It was a luncheon that was to update our customers on our company, our priorities, and our plans.

The first 45 minutes of the meeting was spent discussing the table settings with the focus on the shade of blue for the napkins.  You see, they needed to be Nortel-blue.  Not blue.  Nortel-blue.  The vendor extolled for many minutes on why it was vital to the success of the event that the blue be correct.

At about 45 minutes, I exploded.  Almost literally.  I said that this meeting was a complete waste of time.  Sales did not occur because of a napkin.  Sales and customer relationships are built on communicating–telling your story, listening to your customers, and working towards understanding.

After the meeting, I called my boss and told her that I thought she had made a mistake in hiring me.  I volunteered to start looking for another assignment.

On the contrary, she said.

She had already received 2 emails and 1 phone call from people at the meeting.  All were negative.  They said I clearly did not understand the importance of branding, marketing communication, and customers.

So I was baffled, given this feedback, as to why she was happy.

She was succinct in her answer.  Simply put, she said that I did exactly what she hoped I would do.  Namely, that I reminded everyone of:

  • what was the purpose of our meeting with our customers
  • what we were trying to accomplish
  • our focus should be on building customer relationships

As I flashed back to the present, I shared this story with my client.  They sat in silence.  Then they got a little peeved with me.

“Why didn’t you stop me earlier?”

Because napkins don’t make a sale.  Leaders have to keep focused on their purpose, their goals, and the roles.  You see, this client has a marketing department to check presentations for colors, templates, etc.  But on this day and at this time, this CEO choose to focus on these aspects instead of the content of the message.

We ended our meeting with the promise not to let it happen again.


Epilog:  Today I met with the client again.  I started the meeting by handing them a blue napkin as a reminder of their role as a leader.  I know I am reminded of this lesson every time I look at the napkin I stole from our event at the US Open meeting.



© Copyright 2013, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

When You Need Help

In earlier posts, I’ve talked about what to look for, how to utilize, and what to avoid in an advisory board and a mentor.  In addition to the value this collective group and these mentors can bring to any organization, I find that leaders today seek individual advice.  Whether you call this a coach, advisor, confidant, or some synonym, I believe there are important considerations in formalizing this relationship.

Start by asking yourself “what do I want from this relationship?”

Be clear if you are seeking advice, looking for a sounding-board, need someone to confidentially confide in, need an expert to guide your development, or want someone who can challenge you.  While these may sound similar–they are not.  The nuances between these are important to note and can help you begin to determine who can help you.

Consider the following checklist to guide you in determining why you are seeking such a relationship (mark any and all that apply):

I am…

  • trying to improve performance
  • building my confidence and assurance in making decisions
  • seeking personal growth
  • preparing for a greater scope and breadth of responsibility
  • dealing with a new, increased role and responsibility
  • facing a complex challenge
  • building a new future for me/my organization
  • coping with a disappointment
  • planning for a future transition and goal
  • seeking advice from someone who has already experienced what I am now experiencing

Being clear in what you want and, more importantly need, is perhaps the most important step in selecting a coach or advisor.

It should be noted that there are a few pitfalls in making this choice.  These include:

Expecting therapy–coaches and advisors are not qualified for this role.  If you have personal needs, seek a licensed professional counselor or therapist.  Be wary of people who want to be your therapist without professional training.

A substitute–whoever you select should not be expected to act on your behalf or, even worse, to do your own work.  Rather, they should help you determine your needs, provide ideas and solutions, and keep you on-track.  They are not simply another “pair of hands”–that is what an assistant does.

A crutch–they should partner with you on your development and not become a gatekeeper, medic, or best-buddy.  Independence is critical to your success (and they should work towards it with you).

A buddy–seek people who can objectively provide advice, ideas, and information.  Doing so provides you with unfettered and uncluttered attention while ensuring confidentiality, honesty, and perspective.  You’re not looking for a pal or someone to hang around with–you’re looking for someone who’s role is to challenge you.

Beyond this, consider the level and type of expertise you need.  Ask yourself, do I need someone…

  • who has been in a similar situation?
  • with expertise I lack?
  • who is not familiar with my exact situation but who can give me a new, different, and perhaps unbiased perspective?
  • with connections to other people and organizations that can also help me?
  • who will bluntly challenge me, my ideas, and my performance?
  • who is unfettered by alliances, allegiances, and is not beholding to me, my organization, etc.?
  • with a proven track-record of success?
  • who has the willingness to meet with me and help me?
  • with professional credentials?

And once you have found an advisor or coach, follow these steps:

  1. Formalize the relationship–set objectives, schedule meetings, document expectations
  2. Respect the relationship–make it a priority, keep appointments and commitments, monitor progress
  3. Evaluate the relationship–periodically ensure progress is made and objectives are met

Keep in mind that often these relationships are finite.  It’s rare that your coach or advisor can provide you with ongoing advice and expertise.  Plan for a transition to a new person.  Plan for how you will keep in contact with your coach and advisor once the formal relationship ends.

Such relationships provide an opportunity for leaders to enhance their abilities, provide feedback on ideas, provide information on direction, and present an opportunity for candid conversations.  Strong leaders consistently will seek such advisors and coaches throughout their career.


© Copyright 2013, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

Not the brightest crayon in the crayon box

During a coaching session last week with a client, I used a phrase that I often use “I’m not the brightest crayon in the crayon box”.  I went on to say that I don’t believe I need to be the smartest person.  Rather, I  try to continually learn from other people, experiences, and other sources.

My client at first laughed at the funny saying but then they were intrigued by what I said about not being the smartest.

(Ok, I admit some would say that this is both a strange saying and especially strange–if not downright dumb– to say in the presence of your client.  I couldn’t disagree more.)

I went on to explain that the saying comes from my youngest niece.  She once said that I wasn’t the brightest crayon.  (And as an aside, as a proud uncle, I’m happy to say that she’s now thriving in her career and is a member of Leadership Brazos training program.)

For me, I thought what she said was actually quite profound.

Simply put, it’s okay if you don’t know everything.  Be curious.  It resonates with another quote I’ve often used in working with leaders:

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the life-long attempt to acquire it.”  Albert Einstein  –Letter to an admirer, March 22, 1954; quoted in Dukas and Hoffmann, Albert Einstein, the Human Side, p.44.

In sharing this quote with my client, they wanted to know more about how leaders balance intellect and humility, knowledge and curiosity, discipline and creativity, collaboration and working alone.  Leaders encompass these characteristics as well as the ability inspire others.

So what I left them with was a list of other quotes that I believe sum up what a leader strives for personally and with others.  Take a look at the list, let me know what you think, and add others that resonate with you: 

“What makes a company great is not primarily its top leaders, but the quality of its innumerable everyday ones.” –John Holmes (UN Humanitarian Chief)

 “We’re not born into leadership.  We convert” – Good Company magazine 

“Good leaders were first good followers” – Don Ward (UK entrepreneur)

“Strange as it sounds, the best leaders gain authority by giving away.”  –James Stockdale (US Admiral)

“The best leaders will be those who listen to their people to figure out where they should be going.”  — Jack Kahl (author Leading from the Heart

“Excellent organizations do not foster ‘we and they’ attitudes.”  –Tom Peters (author, In Search of Excellence) 

“The ultimate test for a leader is not whether he or she makes smart decision and takes decisive action, but whether he or she teaches others to make smart decisions and take decisive action.”  — Noel  Tichy (professor and author,  University of Michigan)

“A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” – Henry Ford (American inventor) 

“A leader leads by example not by force.” –Sun Tzu (philosopher)

“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.” –Dwight Eisenhower (American president) 

“Effective leaders work throughout the organization; they do not just sit on top.”  — Henry Mintzberg (professor and author)

“Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners and teammates.  The more they understand, the more they’ll care.  Once they care, there’s no stopping them. Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish”  — Sam Walton (retailing innovator) 

“There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few we can solve by ourselves.”  — Lyndon B. Johnson (US President)

“To your customer’s way of thinking, you are the company.”  –Ron Zemke (author) 

“The essential difference in service is not machines or things.  The essential difference is minds, hearts, spirits, and souls.”  –Herb Kelleher (Chairman Emeritus, Southwest Airlines)

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” —Lao Tzu (philospher) 

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”. —John F. Kennedy (American president)

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” — Margaret Thatcher (British prime minister) 

© Copyright 2013, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

It’s not about you

Sometimes life whacks you upside the head.  In doing so, it reminds you of simple, yet meaningful lessons.  Lessons that, in turn, recall fundamental principles. 

It happened to me twice last week.  Once at a funeral.  The other time in working with a client.

The words rang in my ear and rekindled a memory: “It’s not about you”.

This was said to me by the Rev. Georjean Blanton, a Methodist minister now serving in Austin, TX.  I’ve known her as the wife of a friend and colleague for many years, particularly when they lived in Dallas.  But perhaps the best way I always remember her is from advice she gave me during lunch about 8 years ago.

During our discussion, the topics ranged from professional challenges to family to spiritual needs.  While discussing religion, I mentioned to her that I was having a difficult time ‘connecting’ with one of the men that I ministered to as a Eucharistic Minister from my church, St. Monica Catholic Church.

I went into detail about how it didn’t seem that I was making any difference with this man.  I talked about how I wanted to really experience something with him.  I wanted to know if my visits mattered.

Georjean looked me squarely in the eye and said “It’s not about you.”  She went on to say that as a minister you are there to “be” with the person.  Yet, you should not expect anything in return.  In fact, she said that as a minister (leader) it is normal not to get a personal reaction.  And she ended by saying, in a nice and professional way, that I should never have expected any reaction. 

As a leader, your goal is self-less.  You strive to help others.

Now, back to last week and what triggered this memory. 

I was working with a client regarding a promotion decision.  He had two equally qualified people.  Technically, both were superior and similar. 

During our conversation, I asked him which person he would want to work for if he was one of the engineers on the team.  Without hesitation, he gave me a name.  When asked why he so quickly chose this person, he said “because she is always trying to work for the betterment of the team, company, and each individual.  And she does it without self-promotion.  She is genuine.” 

I said “oh, she understands that as a leader you’ve got to have followers.  Followers choose leaders that they believe in and that display qualities they want to emulate.  Such leaders, then, understand that they have to put others first.”  And then, my mind clicked to Georjean.

He smiled broadly and nodded profusely.  He said that was exactly why he would follow her.  He needed a leader, not a manager.  Managers are great at administration–organizing, planning, controlling, directing.  But he was looking for someone who could inspire, coach, and elevate the collective productivity.

The second whack that reminded me was while attending the funeral for a friend on Saturday.  He was someone who I met and worked with while serving on a local nonprofit board. 

At the conclusion of the service, another friend approached and said that he was surprised to see me at the funeral as he didn’t know that I was particularly close to the deceased.  I told him that while it was true that I wasn’t particularly close to him that I came because of a very simple reason–the man who had died was perhaps the only one I worked with on the board who truly and consistently considered what was best for the overall organization.  Never did he focus attention on himself or what he was getting from the organization.  Rather, he served for others. 

As leaders, we are charged with leading in a way that does not intentionally focus on who we are.  Rather, our actions should call attention.  Much of this philosophy is similar to that in the popular Servant Leadership book. 

To help you remember “It’s not about you” keep in mind the following:

  • focus on the difference you are attempting to make in the organization or with individuals

  • expect nothing in return, other than the intrinsic rewards

  • people choose leaders because they want to learn from them

  • empathize with others–listen, provide insight, and work collaboratively


© Copyright 2012, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

The Empowerment Myth

In a recent meeting with a client, we were discussing ways to increase productivity and commitment among their employees and management.  Through the course of our discussion, I learned this problem is manifesting in several ways:

  • employees are often late in meeting deadlines and the quality of their work is, at best, adequate

  • in their call center, customers routinely request to speak to a supervisor rather than deal with a first-line representative (supervisors are frustrated with taking so many calls)

  • overtime is skyrocketing because projects have to be re-worked at the last minute

  • as CEO “he’s tired of having to answer question after question”

In the same discussion, I asked the CEO to characterize the culture he has created.  He started by saying that he trusts his team and that he empowers them.

I then said “empowerment is a myth”.

He looked at me—bewildered and little miffed.

He said, “but I always say things like ‘I empower you to get this done on-time!’  I’ve been taught from others that this is how you get people motivated.”  Alas, I said that he was neither empowering nor motivating someone by his words.  Instead, he was just telling them what to do, when to do it, and probably implying how to do it.

I went on to say that you can’t empower anyone.  Rather, you can only create an environment where people will use the power they already have.  I confessed to him, then, that the usage of “empowerment” was a pet peeve of mine.

Long ago I learned the important nuance behind this definition of the word.  In considering these differences (from the traditional thinking about empowerment), means that as a leader you must create an environment which contains:

  1. trust—consistent behaviors that display respect, sincerity, support, and that also parallel your own words

  2. freedom—an environment that encourage innovation and creativity in solving problems and delivering on promises while also providing acceptable, and well-explained, parameters

  3. communication—realization that everything you do sends a message whether it is spoken, demonstrated, or otherwise conveyed

We then talked about these elements and, in particular, their presence in the four examples mentioned early.  He quickly realized that he had created an environment where no one felt they could make a decision, solve a problem, or even complete an assignment without checking and double-checking with him.  In essence as he put it “I have a powerless team.  And I bet people will start leaving now that the job market is improving.”

I said I would not go that far yet as there were no other signs that people were looking to leave the organization.  Yet, he needed to adjust the culture to prevent this.  And to prevent what I think is even worse—people who mentally leave a job but keep coming into the office.  Such behavior is completely counter-productive and can work to demoralize an organization.

He then asked how to start the change.  I recommended that he begin by first publicly telling people that he has inadvertently created this power-less culture.  Then, and most importantly, he has to grow the new culture with his behavior.

About a week after this, I had the chance to attend his all-employee meeting where he talked about changing the culture.  He did a very good job at being clear about the past as well as the future.  He talked about why things had to change.  And he candidly spoke about his role in creating the situation.  He was forthright and genuine. 

And he never mentioned the word “empowerment”.

In our last meeting he was ecstatic.  Why?  Because he had just hung-up with his biggest customer who said they had noticed that his employees were more attuned to the issues and were providing consistent, helpful information. 

What made him beam was that he was not fully aware that this was happening.  Yet, he admitted that he had noticed that he wasn’t getting the usual complaints from the customer, his management team, and even employees.  And he noticed that he now had time to work on expanding the company rather than worrying about the daily operations.

That’s the beauty of creating an environment where people utilized their innate power to advance the organization.

© Copyright 2012, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

New Challenges for Global Leaders

Today’s global leader differs from past such leaders in many ways:  more of a negotiator, better listener, builds consensus, holistic approach, and develops future leaders in a more integrated and collaborate manner. 

To learn more about this, check out this post from Harvard Business Review (and make sure you read the PDF on Developing the Global Leader of Tomorrow (about 2/3 into the piece). 

Click here to read. 

2011 National Ethics Report: Implications for Leaders

Last week the biennial National Ethics Report was released by the Ethics Resource Center.  To get your own (free) copy, go to www.ethics.org.

This thorough and enlightening report details the current trends and factors forming our ethical work culture.  There are some intriguing findings, particularly for leaders:

Key Findings

  • Misconduct witnessed by U.S. workers is now at historic lows (45% report observing some form of ethical misconduct), while reporting of misconduct is now at near record highs (65%).

  • Retaliation against employee whistleblowers rose sharply to 22% (compared with 15% in ’09 and 12% in ’07).  When you tie this to the above-mentioned increase in reporting, there are clear implications for leaders and their organizations.

  • The percentage of employees who perceived pressure to compromise standards in order to do their jobs climbed five points from 2009 to 13 percent.

  • Two influences stood out in the unusual shift in trends: the economy and the unique experiences of those actively using social networking at work.

    • 34% say management watches more closely

    • 34% also have a negative view of their supervisor’s ethics (highest in 11 years)

    • 42% report there is a raised awareness about ethics in their organization

    • 30% say that offenders are laying-low until the economy improves

    • 50% of active social networkers report keeping a copy of a confidential document for their next job

    • 50% of active social networkers upload personal pictures on company time using company networks/servers

    • 46% of active social networkers copy software for use on a personal computer

    • 32% of active social networkers feel more pressure to compromise ethical standards

The Ethical Leader

In today’s competitive climate, the need for ethical leadership is stronger than it has been since the Enron-Andersen scandal over a decade ago. 

From the boardroom to politics to government to the sports arena, we are bombarded with examples of leaders who choose to make an ‘easy’ decision rather than the ‘right’ decision.  Often they claim that they technically did nothing wrong.  Yet, ethically they are guilty.

In the tough and competitive times we are in, leaders are tempted to explore all opportunities to increase efficiency and higher profitability.  True leaders, however, will keep in mind the following ethical principles.  Doing so, they will ensure they maintain an ethical culture while providing exemplary leadership.

  1. Examine all elements of your organization’s climate and put safeguards in place for strict policy adherence.

  2. When communicating policies, don’t just print, post, and pray that everyone will follow them.

  3. Build ethical conduct into corporate systems and processes.

  4. Be explicit in expectations.  Don’t leave room for assumptions in critical matters.

  5. Build a robust ethics infrastructure that is self-sustaining.

  6. Publicly commit to being an ethical organization.

  7. Publish your Code of Conduct. 

  8. Separate auditing from other functions.  Independent investigation is key.

  9. Talk with employees at all levels– often. Keep the lines of communication open.

  10. Create mechanisms for reporting suspected violations and suspicious activity.  Protect whistleblowers.

  11. Establish an Ethics Officer/Committee to constantly keep the organization focused and aligned with local, industry, and federal guidelines.

  12. Live your corporate values every day.  Lead by example.

The above is adapted from Business Ethics:  Going Away or Awry, a program we’ve delivered for nearly 9 years for companies, nonprofits, and educational institutions.  It’s based on our own experiences as well as the research from the Ethics Resource Center.


© Copyright 2011, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.   

Beer, Safeway, and Midnight

Lead by example.  I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase once or twice. 

For me, the first real instance I can recall that it became meaningful was when I was a junior at The University of Texas at Austin.  Among many student activities I was involved with, I was particularly engrossed with movies.  I joined the Film Committee of the Texas Union (student center).  We got to pick the movies, got discounts, and got to talk about movies a lot (usually over libations in the Cactus Café or Tavern). 

My junior year I was the Chairman of the Film Committee.  It was a great experience and I really had a wonderful committee.  I concurrently served as a board member of the Texas Union Program Council (TUPC)—comprised of all the committee leaders. 

At this same time in UT-Austin history, there was no student government as it had become such a joke that it was abolished. Because of the void this created for the university administration, they quickly turned to other organizations for insight into the student population.  The Texas Union was probably one of the few, campus-wide organizations and they, therefore, closely listened to their leaders.

The TUPC board I was on was led by a wonderful leader, Darren Walker.  I admired his ability to remain cool, forthright, and fair even when things became tough and controversial.  Likewise, he was the kind of guy you could trust implicitly.  Today he continues to use these qualities at the Ford Foundation.

In the spring of 1982, I considered running for the TUPC board chairman as Darren was graduating.  I was encouraged to do so by many of my board colleagues.  So I thought it was wise to chat with Darren before making my decision.

We met for lunch near campus and I quickly asked him about his experience as chairman.  He simply said “You can’t buy beer at midnight in Safeway in your dirty, beat-up shorts and t-shirt”. 

I remember laughing.  He wasn’t laughing.

He went on to say that as board chairman you were a student leader 24 hours a day, particularly while in Austin.  You could not have a lapse in judgment—not even a perceived lapse in judgment. 

He relayed a story where he was “caught” buying beer and munchies at midnight at Safeway and that he looked quite the sight!  He’d been working all day and wasn’t at his best.  He said he knew he looked like a bum—like a college partier on a bender who needed more beer.

Ironically, the beer wasn’t for him.  But that didn’t matter.

It was all about perception. 

He counseled me that if I wanted to take the board chairmanship I had to become comfortable with a public life—in deeds, words, and perceptions.  He continued to underscore that you couldn’t “shut off” your public life just because you were off-campus or at a private place.  No, you were leading all the time.

And he ended by saying that if you don’t understand this “life in the fishbowl” and self-monitor what you do and say, then you automatically erode your credibility and trustworthiness.  You do so with the administration, fellow students, and even the Austin public.

Wow, I didn’t expect to hear this from him that day.  I expected to hear about politics, meetings, juggling invitations, etc. 

As I remember this story often, I am continually reminded that it has powerful lessons for all leaders. 

“You can’t buy beer at midnight in Safeway in your dirty, beat-up shorts and t-shirt”.

As a leader, people watch and listen to you.  They do so because they trust and respect you—your thoughts, behaviors, advice—and especially your judgment. 

And if, through your own poor judgment, you do something to harm or lose their trust and respect, you’re no longer a leader.

© Copyright 2011, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

Mentoring Resources

In response to the calls and emails based on my two-part blog on The Importance of Mentoring, I’m listing some resources to help you further understand mentoring.  Keep in mind as you read through these that mentoring is “a structured and trusting relationship that brings professionals together who offer guidance, support and encouragement aimed at developing the competence and character of the mentee.”

I’ve found these resources helpful through the years as I mentor others, have been mentored, and in implementing mentoring programs for clients.

They are presented in no particular order but are grouped for your convenience.  You can find the books in traditional and online booksellers.  For the articles, you can find them all online.


Coaching and Mentoring by Jane Renton

Mentoring at Work by Kathy E. Kram

The 2020 Workplace:  How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today by Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willverd


“Mentoring Millennials” by Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willverd, Harvard Business Review, May 2010

“Finding a Mentor” Inc., Aug 6, 2002

“The Uber Mentor” by Elaine Appleton Grant, Inc. Sep 1, 2002

“Four Myths About Mentoring” by Amy Gallo, Harvard Business Review, February 1, 2011

“Mentors Make a Business Better” by Emily Keller, Business Week, March 20, 2008

“In Praise of the ‘Anti-Mentor’” by Keith McFarland, Business Week, May 15, 2007

“Why Mentoring Matters in a Hypercompetitive World” by Thomas J. DeLong, John J. Gabarro, and Robert J. Lees, Harvard Business Review, January 2008

Other resources

SCORE—www.score.org—they are a nonprofit organization offering free workshops, advice, and mentors to small businesses.

Menttium—www.menttium.com—offering mentor programs for women in leadership.

Center for Non Profit Management—www.cnmdallas.org—based in Dallas, they offer programs for non profit groups.

Center for Non Profit Success—www.cfnps.org—they offer programs and mentors for non profit groups in many major US cities.

Management Mentors—www.management-mentors.com—an organization dedicated to helping leaders and mentors thrive.

If you’re in a professional organization, they usually have a mentoring program.

And don’t forget the Small Business Administration—they offer a variety of services including individual mentors.

© Copyright 2011, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.