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. 

World’s Most Ethical Companies 2012 List

Congratulations to those companies recently recognized by Ethisphere as among the most ethical companies in the world.  To read the full list, click here.  (And congratulations to two companies we have worked with for making the list–Microsoft and Texas Instruments.)

You may also want to browse through their website as there is some useful information and resources.

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

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.   

The Value of an Advisory Board

Recently I’ve worked with several organizations to build an Advisory Board.  On a basic level, the purpose of an Advisory Board is to provide advice and candid feedback to your organization–regardless if you are for-profit or are a nonprofit.  Such boards provide keen insight for leaders and can serve to propel an organization into new areas.  The following is a brief introduction as to the purpose and composition of an Advisory Board.


Enhance your business and organizational knowledge and capabilities through planned conversations with experienced and engaged advisors

  • Increase financial health, services scope, and product portfolio

  • Build overall leadership acumen through exposure to divergent, experienced opinions

  • Increase personal and business network resulting in potential customers/donors, suppliers, and allies

  • Create a mechanism for honest feedback regarding ideas, plans, and products

Composition of Board

An ideal Board will include: (and note that while these characteristics are generally written for a business, they can easily be adapted to a nonprofit organization)

  • Key customers, particularly those with long-term experience with you and in the industry

  • Key suppliers, recognized for their operational expertise

  • Financial professionals–bankers, financial advisors, capital managers, or those with similar experience

  • Coach or advisor–professional consultant to similar businesses, industries, and situations

  • Sages–experienced professionals in your field, those with many years of experience, and those with a proven record of success

  • Additional members who have a genuine interest in your organization and industry

  • Recognized community and industry leaders

And for nonprofits, consider key donors, patrons, and those who are connected extensively in your service-providing area.  These leaders should be aware of historical, cultural, and future variables that can guide you and your organization.

Optimal size for a Board is 6-12, depending on your size, strategic plan, budget, experience, and growth plans.  In some situations a larger Board may be warranted, particularly for nonprofit and educational institutions.  And as can be the case with nonprofits, an Advisory Board may be a subset of the Board of Directors.

You should consider the potential for Board members to collaborate not only with you but with each other when choosing members.  To aid you, employ your professional contacts to determine if Board members will not only help you but will be able to work with other members.  Use caution and prudence when determining final Board membership.  Nothing is gained if you have Board members who will not participate fully, professionally, or honestly.

Spend time with each Board member so there is mutual understanding as well as the foundation for trust and respect.  This begins in the selection process and continues during the course of their term.

It is a good idea to have staggered Board terms so that there is some continuity.  You may have to balance this need with the potential commitment from the Board member. 

Lastly, spend some time with annually with your collective Board on development.  It’s not necessary for an “annual retreat” yet there is wisdom in planning discussions, setting annual objectives, and creating avenues for forthright feedback.  And certainly spend some time fostering collaboration and professionalism among the Board members through planned activities.  Think creatively and strategically in developing your collective Board.

At the core, Advisory Boards can build stronger leaders who can lead stronger organizations.  These trusted advisors can be your best source for development and growth.

© 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——they are a nonprofit organization offering free workshops, advice, and mentors to small businesses.

Menttium——offering mentor programs for women in leadership.

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

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

Management Mentors——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. 

The Importance of Mentoring (Part 2)

So you think you want to be a mentor? 

Ok, fine.  Ask yourself the following questions…

  1. Why do you want to do this?

  2. What do you know that can be helpful to others? 

  3. What do people say about you?

As you ponder these questions, keep in mind the following.

Why do you want to do this? 

Simply put, it’s not about you!  Okay, maybe a little but the focus isn’t on you.  Rather it is on the person you are mentoring.  Your motivation must be on how you can help the mentee.  It’s easy (and a trap) to talk about yourself during conversations.  To keep the focus in-balance, remember:

Listen, listen, listen.  Try to keep them talking 70% of the time. 

Keep an open mind.  This means “listen to your listening”—that little voice we all have in our head.  Sometimes it can get in the way of actively listening.

Ask questions to get them talking and to clarify their answers.  Prepare questions before each conversation, when possible, that provoke their thinking and analysis. Prepare follow-up questions.

Avoid telling personal story after story, endless examples, and meaningless anecdotes.  Instead, utilize your experience and expertise.  Choose the most meaningful and appropriate examples.  Never make up examples.  If you don’t have something to share, refer them to another person or resource.

What do you know that can be helpful to others?

Take the time to analyze your:

  • experience—what you’ve done

  • expertise—what you know

  • resources—who you know (people and places)

A careful and thoughtful examination of these will help you determine, first off, if you are a good match for a mentee.  If so, it will help your conversations and, in particular, in choosing the best examples and advice.

Be candid and forthright in your discussions.  Give them a balanced view of what you know, how you learned it, and what you’re still learning.  Particularly that last one—by talking about what you are learning it will encourage their development.  You will be setting a good example!

Network in your organization, profession, and community—not only for you but you may need other people and places to refer mentees for information.  And we all know that networking is a key to success for so many reasons.  In doing so, you not only benefit yourself but you teach them the benefits from networking.

What do people say about you?

This may seem odd or uncomfortable when thinking about mentoring but you should spend some time honestly understanding what others say about you—your leadership, empathy, ability to communicate, knowledge, etc.  These are qualities that will be needed. 

Review and analyze performance reviews, feedback reports, and informal conversations.  Ask your closest confidants, colleagues, and those who know you best.  Look for common patterns and themes.  If you…

  • are a good listener

  • display a genuine interest in helping others

  • have useful knowledge

  • can make time for others

…then you should be a successful mentor.

If you don’t, simply refer the mentee to someone who you believe has these characteristics.  (And remember, it’s not about you…as said earlier.)

Becoming a mentor can be rewarding.  Helping someone else grow and develop by sharing your wisdom, experience, and knowledge is very satisfying.  Taking the time to determine if you have what it takes to be a mentor will help you and your mentee. 

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

Leadership and the Best Places to Work

In Sunday’s The Dallas Morning News they announced the top 100 places to work. In both the announcement as well as in a column by Cheryl Hall, it was clear that the key factor (not just a key…but the key) in these companies was their solid leadership.  They cited examples of communication, motivation, setting clear objectives, giving feedback, and being clear on business progress as being the clear determinants for success in these top companies.  Since these topics have been discussed in this blog, I thought you might like to read what was said about these real examples of leadership in action.

For the article on the top 100 click here.

For Cheryl Hall’s column click here.   

© Copyright 2010, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

The Importance of Mentoring (Part 1)

Recently while working as a performance coach to a client, I was reminded of just how important mentoring has been for me throughout my career.  I have been very lucky to have many mentors including:

Sharon Justice–who inspired taught me in my first job and then had the foresight to encourage me to leave it for bigger and better days.  She seemed to always have a ‘sixth sense’ to see inside me (and others).

Tim Dempsey–who nurtured my early career with sound advice even when it didn’t match what I wanted to hear.  He continually encouraged my development even when it meant I had to make uncomfortable changes.

Chuck Canfield–who ironically mentored me first as a supplier and then gave me the best advice as  I started my business.  He’s always had the gift to ask the right questions and propel my thinking with his wisdom and experience.

These people have been unique and special throughout my career.  But guess what…none of them managed me.  They played key, informal roles in my career and professional development.  And the biggest role was that of a mentor.

What is Mentoring?

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. A mentor is a respected and experienced professional who provides support, counsel, friendship, reinforcement and constructive examples. Mentors are good listeners, they care, and they want to help others realize strengths that are already there. A mentor is not a substitute manager, therapist, performance coach, or buddy.  Mentoring can help by:

  • Improving attitudes about work, management, customers, etc.

  • Encouraging people to stay motivated and focused on their development

  • Helping people face challenges

  • Offering people opportunities to consider new career paths and get much-needed skills and knowledge.

  • Encourage people to accept challenging assignments and opportunities

How Mentoring Helps

At its most basic level, mentoring helps mentees because it guarantees that there is someone who cares about them, their development, and interests. It guarantees that they will have someone who will listen and offer unbiased advice, ideas, and feedback.

Mentors provide mentees with an experienced colleague who is ready to help in any number of different situations.  Mentors…

  • improve self-esteem.

  • provide support to try new behaviors.

  • teach people how to relate well to others and strengthen their communication skills.

  • help determine career goals and start taking steps to realize them.

  • can use their personal contacts to help meet industry professionals.

  • introduce people to professional resources and organizations they may not know about.

The number of ways mentoring can help are as varied as the participants involved in each relationship.

The most successful mentoring relationships are formal and agreed-upon.  That means that the mentee and mentor agree to the time, commitment, and outcomes.

Mentor’s Role

A mentor is a caring colleague who devotes time and attention to their mentee. Although mentors can fill any number of different roles, all mentors have the same goal in common: to help people achieve their potential and discover their strengths.

Mentors should understand they are not meant to replace formal levels of management or structure. A mentor is not a disciplinarian or decision maker.  Rather, they provide resources and ideas.  They also ask the ‘tough questions’ that we often wish to avoid.

A mentor’s main purpose is to help a person define individual goals and find ways to achieve them. Since expectations will vary, the mentor’s job is to encourage the development of a flexible relationship that responds to both the mentor’s and the mentee’s needs.

A successful mentor possesses the following qualities:

  1. Willingness to share skills, knowledge, and expertise.

  2. Demonstrates a positive attitude and acts as a role model.

  3. Takes a personal interest in the mentoring relationship.

  4. Exhibits enthusiasm in the field.

  5. Values ongoing learning and growth in the field.

  6. Provides guidance and constructive feedback.

  7. Respected by colleagues and employees in all levels of the organization.

  8. Sets and meets ongoing personal and professional goals.

  9. Values the opinions and initiatives of others.

  10. Motivates others by setting a good example.

How do you get started?

There are several ways but the easiest is to think of someone you admire and respect professionally.  They will possess the above 10 qualities plus should have some familiarity with your abilities and knowledge.

Then set a date to meet with them and ask them to mentor you. 

Of course, sometimes it is helpful to have a mentor outside of your normal circle of colleagues.  I’ve known of several successful programs such as Menttium and Management Mentors.  I’ve also found that many of the “leadership” programs offered through local chambers of commerce are quite good.

It doesn’t matter, in the end, how you start.  Just go out today and find a mentor who will help you in your career!

(Part 2 will look at leaders becoming a mentor.)

© Copyright 2010, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

Texas 21-Alabama 37: Mack Brown’s Failed Leadership

As a devoted UT Longhorn graduate and fan, it pains me to write this.  But as the inscription on the Main Building says “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” I am compelled to reflect on the absolute failure of Mack Brown as the UT coach at the BCS Championship.

I realize that my fellow Longhorn fans and Texas-Exes will want to revoke my degrees but hear me out.

He failed as a leader to prepare the team for when (not if) a key player goes down.  Such was the case early in the game by the great Colt McCoy.  Brown failed to have a succession plan, rally the team emotionally, and fully understand that it is a team sport.

Soon after McCoy’s injury two things became painfully apparent:

  • Garrett Gilbert was not prepared to take over as quarterback

  • The team was not prepared to function without McCoy

As to Gilbert, no disrespect whatsoever to him.  Frankly, after the first half he shined.  The future of the great UT Longhorns is secure!  However, Brown failed to adequately prepare Gilbert to enter the game. 

Brown had no succession plan.

Remember what I’ve discussed in earlier posts about succession.  It applies to this situation as well.  Simply put, while Brown had a successor to McCoy he had not adequately prepared him for action.  He did not give Gilbert enough time in real games for him to develop playing-time experience, develop leadership with the team, and for him to understand the emotional elements of being on the field.

Imagine yourself in a similar situation.  Your boss is gone.  You have to lead.  You’ve never really ‘done it’ other than a simulation (“practice”). 

No wonder Gilbert and the team were befuddled in the first half.

The other fatal error Brown made is related to succession.  He failed to prepare the team for the transition.  It was obvious that the team was shocked when McCoy went down.  Not only could you see it in their play but you could see it on the sidelines.  The entire organization was in shock.  Brown should have called everyone together to rally them.  That would have been an excellent use of a “time-out”.

Even more, Brown should have prepared the team for the inevitability by giving Gilbert more game playing time.  Doing so would have allowed a stronger bond for all as well as enabled the team to make the transition quicker.

And there was a third failure of Brown.  From the beginning of the season he had a dual focus on the national championship (team) and on the Heisman trophy (McCoy).  You simply can’t have these competing goals.  In doing so you ensure neither will be met.  A dual focus ensures a blurred outcome.  Brown sent a mixed message to the team.  And remember, football is a team sport.  Yes, it takes talented individuals—at least 11, not just 1.

Brown and other coaches (and all leaders) can learn from this debacle:

  1. Prepare your team for change—it will happen and you don’t always control when it will

  2. Rely on the collection of the team rather than just one person

  3. Prepare each person’s replacement (successor) by giving them real-time experience

  4. Always remember to manage the totality of a situation particularly during a crisis—your team needs you more than ever

I would be remiss in not ending this by saying that I’ll always be a Longhorn fan.  And as I was taught on the Forty Acres, that means rigorous debate is welcome and encouraged.

Hook’em Horns!

© Copyright 2010, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

Feedback Diaries: Barbara Blog

It occurs to me that we’re entering the season of performance appraisals, year-end reports, budget planning, and other such evaluative activities.  I’d like to spend the next few months with some first-hand stories of feedback I’ve received—the good, bad, and the ugly stories.

I hope these will enlighten you, encourage you, and help you ponder the types of feedback you’ve given and received.

I’m going to begin with a recent episode from a colleague we’ll call “Barbara”.

We were having a working lunch preparing a joint proposal for a client.  After our work was done, we chatted about how things were going for both of us.  Soon the conversation veered into marketing and customer relationships.  During the conversation she made reference to using the web, particularly blogs, to gain attention.

I proudly mentioned my blog.

She smiled and said she’d read it.  And found it a bit, well, boring.  Okay, she didn’t use the exact word “boring” but I knew what she meant.  (I think she used the word “flat”.)  She went on to say that a blog needs to catch someone’s attention and engage them.  She summarized that mine was full of information but read more like a lecture.  She said make the blog personal and include just a bit of information; don’t overload.

Okay, I was a bit hurt.  But, she was right.

The lesson I learned from this was that it took courage for her to be honest with me.  Her feedback was pointed and not personal.  Rather, she conveyed her message in a professional manner and took the time to explain what she meant.  She didn’t attack me, my ideas, or what I’ve done.  Instead she offered a candid assessment and suggestions for improvement.

Isn’t that what feedback is supposed to do?

Thanks, Barbara.  Now I expect some feedback on this new blog posting! © Copyright 2009 Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

Putting ‘vacate’ back into ‘vacation’

Today marks the end of summer.  As I reflect back on this past season, one thing sticks out as a problem for me.

Have we all forgotten that the word ‘vacation’ comes from the word ‘vacate’?!

This summer I don’t know of anyone who really vacationed.  Sure, they went somewhere but they didn’t really vacate their jobs.  During their time of relaxation they were attached to their phone, computer, etc.  They really didn’t leave work.

Ok, you’re probably saying that I’m some sort of lunatic.  Come on, given the economy it was only prudent to stay connected to the office.  If that is the case, then you’re failing as a leader.

Yes, you are.

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).

So why do so many of us believe we have to stay connected when on vacation?  I think it’s actually due to several reasons:

  • Deep-down we don’t believe they can function without us

  • We are the reason—the main reason—for the success of the organization

  • We like to be in control

  • We like to be ‘missed’ so to prove our importance we check-in

  • It’s much easier to keep up on vacation rather than have a pile of messages waiting for you when you return

  • Technology is cool, allowing you to stay connected

Imagine the messages this sends to your team.  The lessons regarding trust, communication, and daily operations remind them, sometimes nonverbally, that they are subservient to you and your knowledge.

Ask yourself, do you shop at Wal-Mart because of Sam Walton?  Do you drive a Ford because of Henry Ford? 

What we can learn from these leaders is that they knew that their legacy was in their leadership.  They created organizations that have sustained the test of time.  They built companies based on collective success rather than personal power.  If they had not, these companies wouldn’t exist today. 

I once had a manager who required me to call in every few days while on vacation.  I was puzzled why she required me to do so since we had worked together for several years, nothing major was happening while I was out, etc. but nonetheless, I called in every other day.  When I got back, I expensed the calls.  She was irate.  I said that I felt it was justified since she required me to do so.  She took the case to HR and Finance.  Interestingly, they both backed me saying that since she required it, the company had to reimburse me.  While I’d like to say I taught her a lesson, she actually taught me a lesson.  From that day on, I learned the value of leadership and trust.

This same lesson was reinforced last year when I advised the leader of one of my nonprofit clients to take the full-month off and not call or log in.  In discussions, I knew that he was beyond a reasonable limit of stress and was no longer effective.  He did so and came back renewed.  Unfortunately, his organization was incensed.  His board called for his resignation and cited his lack of leadership—he abandoned them.  In talking with several members of the board, it became clear that they had unrealistic expectations for him.  Eventually, he left the organization.  All had lost trust.  Sadly, no one came out a winner in this situation.

And don’t forget the ‘other side’ of these lessons.  Just think about the messages you are sending to your family and friends when you spend valuable vacation time with them logging and calling in.  Who is more important?

So let’s all work hard to put the ‘vacate’ back into ‘vacation’.  Show leadership by trusting others.  Model effectiveness by organizing others before you leave.  Use technology rather than be abused by it. © Copyright 2009 Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

Fire Ready Aim Syndrome

Last week I attended a webinar on Mastering Change conducted by Linkage, Inc.  Normally when I attend such things I find they are rather mundane and rarely apply to what I’m doing.  However, this one hit a nerve for me and I thought it was worth sharing some of the lessons and tips.  The following comes from their research as well as the work of such noted authors and researchers as John Kotter, Peter Block, and Albert Humphrey (the grandfather of SWOT Analysis).

Given the situation facing so many companies and organizations right now, the temptation is high to jump on any change (new product, process, person, etc.).  With the tough times we’re experiencing, everyone is searching for solutions and answers. 

I’m working with two excellent companies right now and this struggle is real and a sense of urgency is prevalent.  So I think it’s worth pondering what to consider before making a hasty decision.  (And to avoid what I like to call the “Fire-Ready-Aim Syndrome”.)

Before embarking on a wide-scale change effort, consider the following questions:

  1. Is the leadership team aligned?

  2. Have you objectively and thoroughly identified the problem?

  3. Have you outlined potential questions with appropriate answers?

Avoid the following traps when undergoing such a change:

  • Not building a strong business case.  Ensure you have researched all aspects of the change including effects on business operations, organization, people, customers, and your community.  Conduct a thorough SWOT analysis.

  • Jumping to action.  It’s easy to look for “the” solution rather than conducting a thorough analysis of your needs and wants as well as what you need to protect.  Beware of jumping on the bandwagon (doing what everyone is doing). Beware of the shiny penny.

  • Failure to get commitment from key stakeholders.  Spend the time up-front enlisting the support of the leadership team, owners, and other key individuals who will be critical to your success.  Listen openly to what they say and resist the desires of one for the mandate of most.

    Ironically, I found myself guilty of all three traps last week!  Truth be told, I am prone to Fire-Ready-Aim Syndrome.

    A client questioned the progress of a project—they wanted to slow it down.  At first, this frustrated me but over the course of the week I’ve come to see the wisdom of their actions, particularly as I was reviewing my notes from the webinar.  So for all of us, remember that such change takes time and patience—and an attention to the process.


    © Copyright 2009 Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

Am I ready for a 360° Feedback program?

Lately I’ve received a lot of calls and emails about doing a 360° Managerial Feedback program for clients.  It’s been my experience that this is actually quite common during tough times, such as many organizations are currently enduring.  I thought it might be worthwhile to outline why and how to use such a program.

I’ve used such programs since 1990 and have found them quite useful, when deployed appropriated.  I’ve done such programs for companies, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions.

The core purpose of any such program should be to provide feedback to managers from their peers, direct reports, and superior manager regarding performance.  (Note:  when you read manager you can substitute ‘leader’ if it fits your organization.)

Such a program is appropriately used for performance development, coaching, and teambuilding.

A 360º feedback program should not be used as a substitute for giving performance feedback, especially difficult issues.  Caution is also advised not to use this process in place of ongoing, forthright performance feedback, succession planning, or basic career discussions and decisions.  This includes using it as a mechanism to ‘weed-out’ poor performers.  Just don’t do it!

A few of the critical issues that have to be considered before embarking on such a program include:

  • Willingness—all parties must be willing to participate and understand the reasons for the feedback

  • Confidentiality—ensure feedback is confidential and anonymous

  • Implementation—can be done via web or paper copy

  • Follow-up Coaching—report will be reviewed with consultant and manager initially with an opportunity for the manager to develop action plans; second meeting with raters held a few weeks after initial coaching; further coaching recommended depending on results and usage

Before I begin a program, I discuss the following questions:

Are your managers experienced in their roles and their current team?

Yes—  If they have managed their current team for more than nine months, then they and their teams have enough behavioral information to use in completing a feedback program.

No—  If they are new to this team or if there is a constant state of flux in organization, the ability to complete a beneficial feedback program will be difficult.

I also ask if they have ever been through a similar such feedback program.  If they have, I ask about their experiences.  I find this is quite helpful in preparing the overall program—selection of feedback tool, coaching, and action planning.  Likewise, I strive to learn if such a program has been used by the organization and, if so, how successful it was.  In particular, I like to find out how it was perceived by raters (employees) as well as management.

Is the 360º Feedback Program integrated with other managerial and organizational development activities?

Yes—  If the feedback program is one of the activities used to develop the company and its managers, then it will be readily accepted as another component of building the business and its leaders.  Other components could include training, mentor programs, and job rotation.

No—  If this is the only activity to develop your managers, it will not be effective.  Managers and employees will not understand why and how feedback will develop them or their teams.  They will assume it is being implemented because of problems, to ‘weed-out’ ineffective managers, or to target employees who make negative comments.

What is your primary reason for implementing a 360º Feedback Program?

Management performance feedback.  While a program can be effective in giving managers effective direction, it should not be used in place of good, continual feedback regarding their performance.  They should receive regular such input from their management, peers, and direct reports and this program can augment that process.  It should be used in tandem with such feedback.

Other companies are doing it.  It seems to be popular.  Use caution in relying on other companies and their programs to adopt processes that are integral to your business.  Just as you would not singularly adopt another company’s accounting system, you should use discretion in choosing a feedback program for your company that is specific to your needs.  I often get calls from people saying that they’ve heard how wonderful such a program has been at another company.  Or they have read a book about such program.  Again, I work with them to ensure they understand the usages and implications of a program.  I once had a CEO insist that his CFO undergo a 360 process that was specifically tailored for salespeople.  I told him that it just didn’t make sense to do so.  He said the reason was to help the CFO understand the importance of sales.  I actually refused to do the program since I believe there are other ways to accomplish this.  (That, plus can you imagine the confusion of the raters having to give feedback to the CFO on their ability to sell—the assumptions and rumors would be rampant.)

Management and team development.  This can be the most powerful reason to adopt a 360º Feedback Program because it is most beneficial when it is geared towards building your leaders and teams into crucial contributors to your company’s success.  Such a program should be integrated into other business and people practices to gain maximum application and outcomes. 

My executive team wants it.  It is great that your executives see the need to develop their managers and teams.  While this is a welcome opportunity, ensure that you are clear on how they plan to use the program and why they are interested in it.  Take the time to discuss the program’s implications, implementation, and intent before launching it.  Challenge them to champion the program by beginning the process with them and then having them share it with their managers.  This will model effective leadership and encourage the entire organization to accept the program.

Goodness, Discipline, Knowledge

30 years.  That’s the number of years since I graduated from St. Thomas High School in Houston.  Such milestones often make us stop, take stock of ourselves, and ponder our past.  That’s not something I naturally nor normally do but for this anniversary, I thought it worthwhile.

I realized it centered on one lesson.  “Teach me goodness, discipline, and knowledge.” (Psalm 119:66)  That was the motto of my high school.  The Basilian Fathers instilled this in us from our first day through our last day.  They created a total educational environment that ensured we matured into men who put goodness first, discipline second, and knowledge third.

I quickly realized that not only has this guided me for three decades, but it can guide leaders of any organization!

While in school, we repeatedly were challenged on our goodness, discipline, and knowledge.  The entire faculty, curriculum, and experience focused on this simple, yet powerful, message.

Goodness is first.  You must always strive to lead a life centered on good judgment, wisdom, and principles.  These principles guide you in making decisions of all kinds.  Ultimately, goodness is the ultimate characteristic of a humble person.

Discipline is second.  As a student, this was defined as having strong character and maintaining self-control in your life—with everyone and in all situations.  A disciplined person is able then to teach others by inspiring and modeling appropriate behaviors.

Knowledge is last.  While knowledge is necessary it cannot and must not be the primary source of your identity.  It should not define a person.  Rather, it encourages you to constantly learn and grow—to be open to new experiences and challenges.

Collectively, this motto helps transform selfishness and pride towards charity and unity.  In living for ourselves, we live for others (and vice versa).

In March, I visited my old school.  It had been some 20 years since I’d been on campus.  I also spent some time with three of the priests who taught me.  In both the tour of the campus and in talking with them, it became very clear to me that they continue to live a life of goodness, discipline, and knowledge and impart this on all who attend the school.  They’ve been doing so for 109 years and I expect they’ll do so for generations to come.

And so what are the lessons for leaders? 

  1. Center yourself and your organization on goodness first, discipline second, and knowledge third.  Can you only imagine if those on Wall Street, in public service, or working as CEO followed such a mantra?  I believe, rather, they rely on knowledge and good returns—leaving discipline on the side of the road.

  2. Plan for the future.  Build an organization that values longevity of ideas, concepts, and behaviors to support these.  In doing so, you’ll ensure the organization thrives for generations. 

If leaders could only adopt this simple motto, imagine the powerful memories they could create for their organization.  Some 30 years later, I continue to rely on this simple message.  Now, if they could only find a solution for the gray hair that comes with age…

Motivating Others in Tough Times

Given the circumstances many businesses and organizations find themselves in during this tough economy, I expect they’re struggling with the question of how to motivate employees.  I bet they’re wondering how they can not only keep people focused but, more importantly, how can they retain the talent with dwindling financial resources (not to mention that many ‘cool’ projects are on-hold because of the tough economic situation).

Frankly, it’s easy.  And no matter what you believe, it doesn’t cost much.

Take a look at the following list and pick the one thing that is most mentioned as the key motivator for employees:

  1. money

  2. extra time off, with pay

  3.  the best benefit plan—health, dental, 401K, stock plan, etc.

  4. clear understanding of their role and objectives

  5. oak plaques, crystal sculptures, and trophies

  6. nice office architecture, design, and workplace

If you chose #4, you’re right.

This shouldn’t be a surprise because the answer has been virtually the same for more than 65 years.  Whether you believe Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (in his 1943 article “A Theory of Human Motivation”), Frederick Herzberg’s Motivator-Hygiene Theory (in his 1959 book The Motivation to Work), or the recent work of Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in their 1999 best-seller First Break All the Rules.  In their book, based on extensive research on employee satisfaction and motivation conducted for over 25 years by Gallup, they find there are 12 factors that motivate (listed in order of importance):

  1. Clear performance expectations.

  2. Materials and equipment to do the work right.

  3. pportunities to do best work.

  4. In the last 7 days, I have received recognition for good work.

  5. Someone at work seems to care about me as a person.

  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.

  7. In last 6 months—someone has talked to me about my progress.

  8. My opinions count.

  9. The company mission makes me feel my work is important.

  10. Co-workers committed to quality work.

  11. A best friend at work.

  12. Opportunities to grow and learn.

And when you add the recent information from Rick Tate and Dr. Julie White in their book People Leave Managers…Not Organizations!, you can’t deny that the factors that motivate and inspire people are clearly related to strong leadership, exemplary management, and processes to support productivity. If you’re still not convinced, honestly answer these questions:

  • “When was the last time I was really excited about work?  So excited I told everyone how wonderful work was.”

  • “When was the last time I hated my job?  I was miserable.”

If you’re like most, your answers will confirm what we’ve known about motivation for over 65 years. 

Bottom line, it’s the work assignments, strong leadership, total work environment, and simple recognition that motivates people.

That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there are times in one’s life—back to my broke college student days—where money did ‘motivate’ me to stay in a job.  Surely there are times in all of our lives where we work just to survive.  But we don’t thrive in those jobs.  I think it’s just a combination of reality and practicality. 

So what are the lessons from all this?  Actually I think this is quite appropriate and timely to these tough times we face today.  Leaders should:

  • set clear goals and provide ongoing feedback

  • recognize people simply yet sincerely for a job well-done (a thank-you goes a long way)

  • build a work environment that encourages creativity, involvement, and development

The smart leaders will do these three things.  Others will just look to bonuses, big offices, incentive trips, and crystal sculptures to reward and motivate people.  Keep an eye out for these managers—their people might be looking for a job soon.