21 Ways to Uncover Real Power in Any Organization when Everything Changes

At a time when people are experiencing stress at epic levels, organizations need to support their teams like never before. While nearly every company is adjusting their expectations, the most successful are still optimizing to be the best they can be in today’s environment. The key to optimizing is to uncover the real power in your organization. That requires leadership.

Conventional wisdom says leadership comes from the top. But in my experience working with companies ranging from startups to multinationals, I’ve found that conventional wisdom is wrong.

Optimizing is all about fostering leadership power at ALL levels.

Here are twenty tips I use to do just that, plus one that needs even more emphasis due to the unprecedented COVID-19 challenge we now face. If you are a manager at ANY level, these will help you and your team:

  1. Announce ASAP – communicate your goals, but be firm on generalities and loose on specifics
  2. Build a MVA – quickly develop a Minimally Viable Approach with a small/diverse team
  3. Engage everyone – think broadly
  4. Use a “Go-Test” – support the “Go-Go’s” (those who get it), help the “No-Go’s” (those who will never get it) to find somewhere else to work, and spend your time with the “Go-But’s” (those who need something to get on board)
  5. Double-down on Values – reinforce the things that won’t change
  6. Overcommunicate – just when you think you are done, you are just getting started
  7. Watch body language – watch others to get clues on where they stand, and watch your own body language, because others are
  8. Enable champions – some on your team have a larger ripple effect than others
  9. Embrace bad news – don’t kill the messenger
  10. Develop kill lists – encourage people to nominate things to stop doing
  11. Be present – make others feel your focus—on them
  12. Create flexible structure – hierarchy can both help and hurt so don’t rely on it exclusively
  13. Increase recognition – lots of “at-a-girl”s and “at-a-boy”s
  14. Build a new language – create phrases that capture key messages and use them a lot
  15. Use stories – build descriptions of past successes and key learnings to help your team retain and apply them
  16. Celebrate heroes – revel in the accomplishment of the innovators
  17. Model vulnerability – lead by example to help others “stay real”
  18. One-minute manage – offer positive feedback prior to constructive criticism
  19. Embrace a growth mindset – use adversity to get better
  20. Measure what matters – prioritize and stop focusing on numbers that don’t matter

And while this toolkit works well, I suggest adding particular emphasis to ONE item that should be on the top of everyone’s list:

  1. Recognize personal differences – it’s never been more important to acknowledge each person’s distinctive nature, and challenges. While I’m a fan of the golden rule (treat others as you’d like to be treated), I’m also a fan of Keith Ferrazzi’s platinum rule: Treat others as they wish to be treated.

Managers at any level can create conditions that will increase the clarity, energy, and impact of their team members, even today. And there is no limit to how far that positive ripple effect can spread.

Why not start now?

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Anyone Can Be Chief—Including Children

I’m excited to announce pre-sale availability of Casey’s Kite, a picture book created to offer children a simple and powerful path to be the best they can be—and to be chief of their own lives. Parents and teachers who want to introduce their children to the idea of leadership at an early age now have the book they need.

But just as with Oh, the Places You’ll Go and The Giving Tree, Casey’s Kite also offers important reminders that are helpful to people at every age, particularly today.

Casey’s Kite’s central themes are rooted in the Serenity Prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Readers will meet a young girl who loves to build kites. But unlike many others who fly store-bought kites that look alike, Casey chooses to build her own kite with a shape and colors that she chooses. Like Casey, her kite is unique, and her courage to be different is admired by many of her friends.

But one kite-flying day a storm arrives quickly and the strong winds destroy many kites as Casey’s friends frantically tried to reel their kites in. But Casey made a different choice as she let out her line and allowed the wind to guide her kite. Her kite didn’t crash.

Casey had decided to surrender to a wind she couldn’t control. As she repairs her kite, she realizes it’s stronger than ever.

As Casey’s confidence grows, she enjoys both helping others with their kites as she learns from them at the same time. Casey’s wisdom about true leadership grows as she alternates between teaching and learning.

The Casey’s Kite book project is dedicated to teachers and families who empower every child with:

  • Courage to fly their kite every day
  • Serenity to surrender to winds they can’t control, and
  • Wisdom to build their kite to fly its own direction.

In their honor, Family Reach will receive 100% of all author proceeds from the book.

Family Reach is a national organization dedicated to eradicating the financial barriers that accompany a cancer diagnosis in children. For 42% of patients, this means depleting their entire life savings within two years of treatment. Family Reach works with more than 400 top-tier hospitals and cancer centers to reach families before they hit these critical financial breaking points. They allow cancer patients to focus on what really matters—their health.

Children have much to learn, and much to teach. We all do. When children start on a path toward courage, serenity, and wisdom early in life, the world becomes a better place.

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We Need Easterseals, Now More than Ever

At a time when even the strongest are challenged, it has never been more important to support those who need our help through organizations with a track record of doing that very thing, very well.

Easterseals has been supporting the youngest, the oldest, the most challenged, and the most deserving among us—every day for over 100 years.

Did you know that:

  • Easterseals has served veterans with transition services since WW II?
  • Easterseals runs a nationwide network of child development AND senior day care centers? Easterseals affiliate network serves 1.5 million people annually?
  • Easterseals has been an indispensable resource for individuals with disabilities and their families?

I didn’t.

I’ve learned a lot over the past six months about this amazing organization, and I’m excited that all of my proceeds from the sales of the second edition of Be Chief will be donated to support their great work. I’m also excited that we will be working together to advocate for the positive impact we can ALL make in the world. (See announcement.) Partnering with Easterseals was an easy decision for many reasons:

Mission

Easterseals is committed to ensure that everyone – regardless of age or ability – is 100% included and 100% empowered.

Community

Easterseals fosters environments where everyone is included and valued for their real and positive impact as we all live, learn, work, and play. Easterseals work can be seen in schools, workplaces, and communities nationwide.

Leadership

Easterseals National President and CEO Angela F. Williams sets the tone from the top for an organization that’s all about servant-leadership. Angela and fellow national leaders CFO Glenda Oakley, SVP Marcy Traxler, SVP John Osterlund, and VP Sharon Watson support similarly talented and committed state Easterseals teams who deliver outstanding service across the country.

Scope

Easterseals serves the comprehensive health and wellness needs of the one-in-four Americans living with health challenges today with outcomes-based services throughout their lifespan. Its services include, but are limited to:

  • early intervention and inclusive childcare
  • medical rehabilitation
  • autism services
  • job training and coaching
  • employment placement
  • transportation services for adults with disabilities and veterans
  • adult day services
  • employment opportunities for older adults
  • mental health and recovery programs
  • assistive technology
  • camps and recreation opportunities
  • caregiving support including respite
  • military transition services

Partners

Easterseals has an amazing group of seven national partners that share a passion for the mission. These include Albertsons, Amway, Century 21, Comcast/NBCUniversal, CVSHealth, Freddie Mac, and MassMutual.

Just as significant are the hundreds of other powerhouse state partner companies that enable Easterseals to serve.

Bottom line

If you are considering how best to help others at a time of great need, I urge you to consider by buying a book that can help you increase your impact while supporting Easterseals at the same time. Many in need look to them for help—now more than ever.

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Choices, Habits, and Impact

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, it is clearer today than ever before that we are all connected, that each person has a powerful impact on everyone around them, and that our power resides in our choices.

We are being bombarded daily with choices about social distance, masks, relatives, travel, work, childcare, shopping, eating, hand-washing—the list goes on.

The choices on everyone’s mind today are key to keeping us, and those around us, healthy. And the impact of these choices is broad and wide.

But in the weeks and months ahead when the daily bombardment subsides, our individual impact will remain high, but the key to our future success will shift from the choices we make to the habits we build.

Having spent a career focused on simple actions that enable people to maximize their impact, I believe strongly in the power of choices and habits. And while building good habits is also a choice, it’s not a simple one.

The truth is, creating new habits can be challenging, but a breakthrough book by researcher Wendy Wood titled Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick offers a great resource to those of us who want to get better at it.

Wendy starts by describing the challenge all humans face: our senses give us a never-ending set of stimuli to react to throughout each day, and we are faced with too many decisions. To make life manageable, we build habits. Research indicates we spend a shocking 43% of our day doing things without thinking about them!

Wendy offers a great toolkit of ideas on how to get rid of old bad habits and how to create better ones by understanding the three bases of habit formation:

  • Context – the external forces that either drive or restrain your actions. Woods points out that the easiest context to manipulate is proximity. Lesson: if you want to remember to wash your hands frequently, ensure there’s a large soap dispenser next to every faucet in your home.
  • Repetition – habits are formed when they can be repeated—often. Contrary to the popular idea that it takes 21 days to form a habit, research shows it actually takes 65 days on average of repeating a simple health behavior to become automatic. The good news is that you can miss a day or two and not go back to zero. Lesson: go easy on yourself if you fall short of your goal on any particular day because you are still on course!
  • Rewards – small “prizes” that immediately follow good behavior are important because they release dopamine, often called the “feel-good chemical,” that promotes habit-learning. Intrinsic rewards such as feeling pleased or satisfied are the most effective. Lesson: set yourself up for success by rewarding yourself regularly as you work towards any new goal.

Good Habits, Bad Habits also includes important lessons about timing, “habit-stacking,” and misunderstandings about willpower and self-control. The key takeaway is that you don’t need to be Superwoman or Superman to build great habits.

So what’s the message? It is clear that we are all connected, and that by making good choices and building good habits we can make our best and biggest impact, now and in the future.

Why not choose to build good habits NOW?

You may also be interested in the newly-released second edition of my book Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title. It offers simple tips and tools to help you understand, measure, increase, and spread your true power and impact—defined as clarity, energy, influence, and confidence. 100% of my book proceeds go to Easterseals to support the amazing impact they make for others.

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Feeling Powerless? Build Your Own Compass

Feeling Powerless? Build Your Own Compass

When everything is up in the air as it is today, where do you turn for guidance? What happens when you can no longer rely on the normal roads and routes you’ve used in the past to get where you want to go? And what can you do to counter the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness that has many of us in its grip?

When you think about it, there are two options. First, you can look to others for direction, but that approach invariably leaves us frustrated when ever-changing information causes the views to shift of those we look to. The second option is to look inside yourself to set a direction that you can rely on—one that’s more stable and trusted, because it’s your own.

Q: How can you set your own course when the road ahead seems so unpredictable?

A: When the old roadmap isn’t working anymore, choose to create your own compass.

Growing up, we didn’t travel much. My dad worked hard and so when it was time for vacation, the last thing he wanted to do was pile the family in the car for a long drive to a new sight or city. He just wanted to take it easy and relax. Rather than taking extravagant vacations, which we couldn’t afford, we took small day trips or simply drove to a familiar place using a different route. My favorite was a farm 20 miles from home that served the best ice cream on the planet. Maybe ice cream led to my love of roadmaps and my understanding of the importance of a compass.

First, consider roadmaps. Your driving preferences may change under different circumstances, but a roadmap offers alternatives. At times you might want the most direct way from point A to point B. At other times you may want to slow down, enjoy the ride, and take a detour. And sometimes you just want to take a new road. And when things don’t go as planned, sometimes a roadmap gives you alternatives to fall back on.

But with all the unprecedented events we are living through today, many of us are finding that the old roadmaps we’ve been relying on are falling short. We seem to be headed in areas where no one has been before. What do you do when there is no road?

The answer is, you use a compass.

When you’re unsure about what’s ahead, a compass is your best tool. You use it when you have a general idea of direction you’d like to go but you are faced with the task of blazing a new trail. You might get advice and counsel from others, but getting to this new place will have a lot more to do with your ability to do things your way. And you’ll be more successful as you get better connecting what you do to who you are. This is where your true power comes from.

Your personal compass can identify simple choices to increase your clarity, energy, and impact as you expand your confidence and influence. I have found great utility in the link between choices and a compass. In fact, I developed the extensively road-tested Power Compass to Be Chief to help you, and those around you to succeed.

Yes, even in tough times.

 

(This story was excerpted from Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title, Second Edition, slated for April 7, 2020 publication, where 100% of author proceeds will be donated to Easterseals in support of their work to help individuals with challenges become true Chiefs. Pre-publication book orders can be made on Amazon now.)

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Use Clarity to Build Confidence

We all want the feelings of self-assurance, self-reliance, and “having it all together” at work and in life. But sometimes we fall short. We all suffer at times from nagging feelings of doubt and/or uncertainty.

We admire people who speak and act confidently. And it’s often true that confident people are reinforced by others. So, how can we increase our confidence?

One answer is to increase our clarity.

Here are ten areas where you can project clarity, which will increase your confidence:

Clarity

Question – Request additional information anytime something doesn’t make sense. Chances are if you don’t understand something, you are not alone.

Simplify – Ask others to streamline their messages where possible, and do the same where you can. Overly complicated explanations don’t help anyone.

Synthesize – Combine different elements of a topic in a way that is helpful and meaningful to you. Seeing how the pieces fit together can help you focus on the whole rather than the parts.

Summarize – Condense ideas or concepts into their essential elements. A shorter message is easier to retain and share with others.

Define a course of action – Develop a plan to actualize your ideas and include others as you do it. By translating words into deeds you’ll reinforce the direction you have chosen.

Communicate – Establish a shared understanding. Remember that what one person may say isn’t necessarily what another person may hear. Make sure you understand, and are understood.

Anticipate change – Expect to make adjustments. What may be clear at one moment may quickly become murky as things evolve.

Check back – Ensure continual conversation with all groups. As things evolve, include all stake owners to make sure shared understanding continues.

Clarify your values – Spell out what’s most important to you. You will be a more effective messenger when you are sure about what you stand for.

Act on your values – Walk your talk. When what you do and say aligns with who you are, others will feel your authenticity, which will help them see you as someone they can trust.

Leaders at all levels are more effective—and happier—when they operate with confidence. Increasing clarity offers a useful path to help get there, and stay there, more often.

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A Different Kind of Compound Interest Can Drive Your Growth

In the financial world, people use the term compound interest to describe the practice of adding accumulated interest back to the principal sum so that interest is earned on top of interest from that moment on. The power of compound interest is the accelerated growth achieved as you maintain a pattern of regular, consistent investing and gain interest on your interest. In financial terms, the net effect of compound interest on growth is exponential as opposed to steady.

Unfortunately, most companies are missing the fact that compound interest is not solely a financial concept. It is also a critically important idea to apply to your people. Words can have more than one meaning. As always, the key is to ask the right questions.

Here are four big ones:

How much interest do your fellow employees have in their work?

Many companies actually measure the level of their human interest in employee engagement surveys. The challenge arises when a company starts out with low human interest. The problem has been well researched by Gallup who reports that across all industries, seven out of 10 employees are not fully engaged at work. Said differently, there is not as much interest as there could be.

How can human interest compound?

Research also confirms that once positive emotions are introduced, people who are engaged can spread those feelings at work. Specifically, Sigal Barsade has shown that anyone’s engagement can affect the interest of everyone around them. Think of the cascading ripple effect of viral engagement. Engagement is contagious.

What’s the impact?

Research has also proven that highly engaged teams drive the bottom lines (plural) of any company—the triple bottom lines of profit, people, and the planet that leading companies use today as the yardstick of true success. As in finances, the net effect of compound human interest on growth is also exponential rather than steady.

Finally, what can I do about it?

Even those without fancy titles or positions of authority can exercise a powerful influence in an organization. Anyone can be more disciplined, support others, develop insight, live (and work) their values, and create their future.

If you do have some organizational authority you can do the same.

Whether you use the term compound interest, contagious growth, viral engagement, or the ripple effect doesn’t matter. What matters is to first understand that people drive growth, and second, that anyone can light the spark that triggers compound interest.

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Are You Asking the Wrong Question?

We tend to like choices that are simple and easy. We like the ease of “either/or” questions. Things are easier if the choice is one or the other. But are you asking the wrong question?

Many times “either/or” questions lead us in the wrong direction. When we instead substitute the word “and” for “either/or” and do the tougher work of figuring out how both sides can be right, we get closer to the truth.

I was reminded of the importance of “and” questions when I recently saw a poster of Yoda and later that day read a quote from success guru Tony Robbins.

Yoda’s poster shared his simple view on success—“Do or do not, there is no try.” Simple translation: Doing is what success is all about.

Motivational expert Tony Robbins’ quote was simple as well—“It’s not about achieving the goal, it’s about who you have to become in order to achieve it.” Simple translation: Success is more about who you grow to be than it is what you do.

So who is right? Yoda or Tony? What if they’re both right?

Sorry Yoda, but I believe trying is really important because we learn from every step along the way.

And sorry Tony, but the becoming alone isn’t all there is. I believe we are meant to create and grow. What we do as we feel, think, speak, write, and act all matter.

I believe true success comes for each of us as we connect what we do to who we are becoming. Both doing and being matter equally.

They matter so much that I wrote a book about how to do it: Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title.

Most importantly, the next time anyone confronts you with an “either/or” question you might choose to substitute an “and” to see where the truth lies for you.

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Companies’ Worth vs Wealth

Great companies measure their worth, not just their wealth—here’s how.

Companies have traditionally measured corporate health and success solely in financial terms. Specifically, income statements and balance sheets, in some form or fashion, have been used for hundreds of years to communicate the financial wealth and prospects of an enterprise. But the best companies go beyond measuring their wealth—they measure their worth.

Since the 1970s, select companies have moved beyond financial reporting to measure their success. These organizations have been holding themselves accountable to reach a higher bar by evaluating their performance in relation to the environment, society, and appropriate controls (governance), also known as ESG. These companies have correlated focus on these areas to their corporate values.

ESG acknowledges the sustainability and ethical impact of a business. ESG reports are used to measure these intangible assets that add to a company’s reputation, intellectual property, and brand value. ESG includes the following:

Environmental – climate change, pollution, water management, biodiversity

Social – human rights, labor relations, health and safety, community relations, diversity

Governance – board structure and accountability, executive pay, bribery and corruption

But company results have proven an ESG focus impacts much more than intangible brand value. It can deliver tangible top- and bottom-line improvements as well. ESG companies have been outperforming others in their peer group. The data would support the fact that companies that “do good” also “do well.”

Even more recently, some companies are raising the bar again to increase their worth. These companies are stepping up to meet 17 bold, broad-based Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations in 2015.

The SDGs each have specific measurable objectives with enabling supportive metrics and goals. They include global issues of poverty, hunger, health, education, justice, equality, energy, economic growth, infrastructure, climate and environment protection, sustainable communities, and responsible consumption and production.

In short, today’s best organizations are focused on sustainable growth to increase their worth. They’ve learned that increasing their worth also increases their wealth.

Said differently, a company’s value increases when they focus on their values.

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The Solution to CEOs’ #1 Issue: Cascading Chiefs

Many companies are in a crisis of their own doing, yet most don’t even see it.

Yes, customers always need our focus. Companies must do everything they can to first improve customer satisfaction and then build true customer loyalty, but that’s not the biggest problem.

And yes, competitors—both traditional and non-traditional—are always threats. Both are utilizing technology to speed up their ability to innovate and make quick changes to challenge your company in the market. But the biggest problem doesn’t lie there either.

Sure, cost pressure is constant. Whether cost management is needed primarily to meet market prices, deliver adequate margins, or to minimize losses, it is always a top priority. But it’s never the #1 issue.

The biggest problem costs business an estimated $7 TRILLION worldwide according to Gallup.

Culture is the real culprit.

Employees are not coming to work with the energy, clarity, or confidence to maximize their influence and impact. Even with the best of intentions, companies are not adequately focused on improving this crisis. Gallup estimates between seven and nine out of 10 workers are “mailing it in” at work.

What’s the fix?

I use the term cascading Chiefs to describe the desperately needed antidote.

Here’s why I use the term. My definition of a Chief is everyone who has the energy, clarity, and confidence to maximize their influence and impact. This can apply to anyone and is completely independent of title or position. Research has shown that these Chiefs offer a positivity that’s actually contagious.

And while it’s important to hire great people so they can help increase the engagement of other employees in a side-to-side manner that I call viral engagement, there is also a need for top-down choices to accelerate engagement.

That’s why I use the term cascading, which means “pouring down rapidly and in large quantities.”

Those at the top of organizations need to immediately look at ALL levers available to them to dramatically increase the number of employees who feel engaged. These include a fresh look at compensation, education, recognition, performance management, promotion, communication, and decentralized decision making.

With appropriate attention, I’ve seen cascading Chiefs quickly spread their positive ripple effect throughout million- and billion-dollar organizations, and provide a foundation for customer loyalty, competitive differentiation, and cost controls that deliver amazing and sustainable growth.

Now that you see it, what’s next?

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The Biggest Question Facing any CEO or Manager Today: Where’s Leo?

The toughest job for any CEO is to ensure they and their teams are asking the right questions. The best CEOs rely on a gender-balanced, diverse team to both formulate those questions and get the right answers. The same can be said of managers today. As a turnaround specialist, I’ve worked across industries and in companies of all sizes to ensure the CEO is also asking what I believe is the single most important question I know.

I learned about this question from the game-changing book Servant Leadership – A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power. In it author Robert Greenleaf shares the inspiration for his ground-breaking work and the foundation for the question.

“The idea of the servant as leader came out of reading Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East. In this story we see a band of men on a mythical journey. The central figure in the story is Leo, who accompanies the party as the servant with his spirit and his song. All goes well until Leo disappears. Then the group falls into disarray and the journey is abandoned. They cannot make it without the servant Leo.”

Greenleaf goes on to posit “that the great leader is seen as the leader first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness. Leo was actually the leader all of the time, but he was servant first because that was what he was, deep down inside. Leadership was bestowed upon a person who was by nature a servant.”

The question(s):

Do you know where Leo is in your company? Where is that person who may or may not have a significant position or title but who is lifting your organization in ways you can’t measure? And who has the potential to have a detrimental impact on, or reduce the “spirit” in, your organization if they left? How many Leos do you have today? How can you help more people in your company bring out their inner Leo? And are you sure you are being the best version of your own Leo?

The impact:

Research by Sigal Barade has shown that anyone can influence everyone else in a work environment. And research by Gallup sets the cost to business worldwide of not enabling Leos across all organizations at $7T. Senior managers at all companies can take steps to enable increased power at lower levels with the right top-down approach on issues like communication and compensation.

But leading companies are also showing others the way by embracing a strategy of decentralization along with a parallel path and a “side-to-side” expectation that acknowledges the impact peers at all levels have on each other. They are focused on enabling Leos everywhere.

Where’s Leo?

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What’s Missing from Most Companies’ Core Value Statement

In some ways, all turnarounds are the same. In my experience working as a turnaround specialist for companies ranging from startups to multinationals and in many different industries, challenges come in common areas, no matter the setting.

Every company starts out with a plan for their customers, their competitors, their costs, their capital needs, and their communities of vendors and partners. Invariably these plans are captured in numbers that appear on business plans that span from one to three to five years. Lots of numbers.

Most companies also have an initial plan for the culture. But unlike the other planning areas, here the plan is described in words. And the words that companies use to describe their desired optimal culture are the same too. In fact, you can generally pick 4–10 from the list of 25 values offered below and you’ll cover 99% of the values statements out there. I’ve seen them all. Do you recognize any of these in your company?

Accountability
Agility
Boldness
Collaboration
Commitment to customers
Community
Continuous learning
Constant improvement
Diversity
Fun
Humility
Innovation
Integrity
Leadership
Ownership
Passion
Quality
Respect
Service
Simplicity
Speed
Sustainability
Teamwork
Transparency
Trust

Companies rely on their plans like an orchestra relies on written sheets of music to ensure the right beat and harmony among many instruments.

But then something happens, often in the market. The beat unexpectedly changes, sometimes dramatically.

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

—Mike Tyson

It’s then that plans need to be quickly adjusted by people who are (hopefully) ready for change. Numbers generally need to be changed in all plans, and while the orchestra is still playing. The best teams continue to play by improvisation.

But the key to great improvisation is culture. And it’s here I’ve found that the most important cultural attribute is not on the list of values above. What’s missing is courage.

Courage is the ability to face difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being deflected from a chosen course of action. The biggest risk to companies facing new challenges is that team members will lose their resolve to remain true to their values. In this case, improvisation will fail.

Successful organizations expect to face challenges. Those same groups know that when times get toughest they need to double-down on their values with a focus in an area remarkably absent from normal lists of core values—courage.

Your organization will need courage to keep the music in harmony when the sheet music suddenly changes.

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Student-Teachers Create Success

After delivering a keynote speech to a room full of Chiefs in 2014, I went back to my seat and continued a conversation that had started that evening with a Fortune 50 Chief. She wanted to spend more time swapping stories about building powerful teams.

She was clearly a strong leader in a company with a strong set of core values, but she had several things on her mind. While she had built her own strong team, she felt there was still room for growth. She also felt her team wasn’t being viewed broadly inside her company as the strategic asset it could be. Finally, she knew the right personal coach could help bring out more of her best.

I knew when I left the event that we could be great student-teachers for each other.

Two weeks later we agreed I’d do a keynote for her worldwide team at their annual meeting. Shortly thereafter, I began a three-year assignment with three objectives: help six individuals to become more powerful individually, and as a group, and help her organization to build broad companywide support.

Here is that leader’s assessment of the results we delivered:

“I knew my team was more than capable to take on the challenges that we were facing, however, I also knew we did not have a lot of time. I was confident that with coaching from someone outside of our organization who had experience with turnaround situations and a commitment to values-based leadership, we could create a synergy that would empower the entire team to accelerate our progress. I am pleased to report my expectations were surpassed. Here are some highlights:

  • We built strong companywide support. In fact, all business units that we support volunteered to transfer their people to us in areas where we demonstrated better leadership and leverage. (How many times have you ever seen that?!)
  • Our organization doubled in size.
  • All six individuals took on broader responsibilities and were ready for them.
  • My team was consistently invited to all strategic meetings for input. (Be careful what you ask for.)
  • Inside my organization, we demonstrated we could be agile-at-scale as 30% of our team changed roles as needs shifted.

Overall, we translated all our activities into value for the organization and focused our energy on better internal and external communications. Our people and our internal customers knew what we were doing, why we were doing it, and how it supported the organization’s overall mission. All six of us got better, and it cascaded throughout the organization.

When we invest in our people—who ultimately manage the change and the challenges we face each and every day—the payback is limitless, especially when that investment is in one-to-one coaching where the response is customized to not just address a bigger need, but also to address how that individual contributes to the bigger picture. And while each of us got better, we got better together too. I chose this particular coach because we share an understanding of the African proverb, ‘If you want to run fast, run alone; if you want to run far, run together.’

Believing in your team, investing in your team, and being willing to gain insights from someone who is not in the day-in-day-out environment will generate opportunities that you cannot imagine. The results are both bottom-line driven as well as individual people-development driven. Not everyone will embrace the opportunity but those who do will definitely be provided honest and transparent coaching and feedback to become who they aspire to be.”

—Fortune 50 Chief

From my perspective, it was great to work with such a hard-working, kind, values-based set of leaders who were committed to growth for themselves, their team, and their company. I was consistently reminded that i3k (intelligence, intensity, integrity, and kindness) mixed with humility and laughter is a powerful combination that delivers amazing results.

Yes, we began with the Power Compass and used other tools. But the real key to our success was the openness created by the understanding that we were all student-teachers capable of sharing counsel and learning something new. My client set the tone. She always sought input from all team members, worked as hard as anyone on her team, constantly created time to learn new things, and modeled healthy work-life integration. There were many gentle reminders as well as a-ha moments.

What’s the lesson?

Powerful leaders are always looking to improve themselves and their teams. They bring their A-game everywhere they go. And they surround themselves with other student-teachers to constantly raise their game and drive sustainable growth.

I am grateful for the opportunity to work with such powerful student-teachers.

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