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Leader’s ABCs

business team meeting

What is your most valuable leadership skill? Is your team achieving all you wish they would?

Love him or hate him, Alec Baldwin made the ABC catchphrase famous. “ABC, always be closing.” Later it was parodied on SNL with a bunch of Christmas elves who were scolded by Baldwin to “Always be Cobbling”.

With highly effective leadership another ABC applies; Always Be Coaching.

A leader’s influence on the people they serve is best demonstrated with perpetual coaching and mentoring. Above all, sharing insights and giving your team honest feedback helps build a legacy of powerful leadership.

In this crazy busy world in which we live, it’s easy for a manager to feel the need to just get by; get your own things done and call it quits at a reasonable hour each day.

Yet when you spend the time to coach your team, one by one, you get amazing dividends. In other words, rewards that are returned to you in higher performance, greater trust, and even better efficiency.

What is Coaching

Coaching is a different approach to developing employees’ potential. With coaching, you provide your staff with the opportunity to grow and achieve optimal performance through consistent feedback, counseling and mentoring.

Rather than relying solely on a review schedule, you can support employees along the path to meeting their goals. Done in the right way, coaching is perceived as a roadmap for success and a benefit. Done incorrectly and employees may feel berated, unappreciated, even punished.

This requires the skill of reacting and expanding. You should acknowledge the employee’s suggestion, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the suggestion, ask for and offer additional suggestions, and ask the employee to explain how to resolve the issue under discussion.

These seven steps, when followed, can help create a positive environment for providing feedback.

Step 1: Build a Relationship of Trust

The foundation of any coaching relationship is rooted in the manager’s day-to-day relationship with the employee. Without some degree of trust, conducting an effective coaching meeting is impossible.

Step 2: Get Agreement

Probably the most critical step in any coaching process is getting the employee to agree verbally that they are open to your coaching.

Step 3: Communicating Clearly During the Open

If you choose to schedule a coaching session, in opening the meeting, it’s important for the leader to clarify, in a nonaccusatory way, the specific reason the meeting was arranged.

The key to this step is to restate — in a friendly, nonjudgmental manner — the meeting purpose that was first set when the appointment was scheduled.

Step 4: If Performance is Really at Risk

Overlooking or avoiding the performance issue because you assume the employee understands its significance is a typical mistake of managers.

To persuade an employee a performance issue exists, a manager must be able to define the nature of the issue and get the employee to recognize the consequences of not changing his or her behavior. To do this, you must specify the behavior and clarify the consequences.

Step 4: Explore Alternatives

The best coaching happens in the moment. For example, if you are walking the floor and hear or see behavior from an employee that needs adjusting, don’t be afraid to get the employee’s attention.

Remind them of the vision and values your unit operates under. Show them the connection between their action and that vision.

Be specific in the coaching moment.

In doing this you must be certain to have your discussion in a manner that does not demean or degrade the employee, but rather helps to build them up, showing the better way.

Next, explore ways the issue can be improved or corrected by encouraging the employee to identify alternative solutions.

Step 5: Get a Commitment to Act

The next step is to help the employee choose an alternative. Don’t make the choice for the employee.

To accomplish this step, the manager must be sure to get a verbal commitment from the employee regarding what action will be taken and when it will be taken. Be sure to support the employee’s choice and offer praise.

Step 6: Handle Excuses

Employee excuses may occur at any point during the coaching process. To handle excuses, rephrase the point by taking a comment or statement that was perceived by the employee to be blaming or accusatory and recast it as an encouragement for the employee to examine his or her behavior.

Respond empathetically to show support for the employee’s situation and communicate an understanding of both the content and feeling of the employee’s comment.

Step 7: Provide Feedback

Effective coaches understand the value and importance of giving continual feedback to their people, both positive and corrective.

There are a few critical things to remember when giving feedback to others. Feedback should:

  • Be timely. It should occur as soon as practical after the interaction, completion of the deliverable, or observation is made.
  • Be specific. Statements like “You did a great job” or “You didn’t take care of the clients’ concerns very well” are too vague and don’t give enough insight into the behavior you would like to see repeated or changed.
  • Focus on the “what,” not the “why.” Avoid making the feedback seem as if it is a judgment. Begin with “I have observed…” or “I have seen…” and then refer to the behavior. Focus on behavior and not the person. Describe what you heard and saw and how those behaviors impact the team, client, etc.
  • Use a sincere tone of voice. Avoid a tone that exhibits anger, frustration, disappointment or sarcasm.

Positive feedback strengthens performance. People will naturally go the extra mile when they feel recognized and appreciated.

Remember Your ABCs

Always Be Coaching. These are the ABCs of real, effective leadership.

Lastly, if you’re still not sure what coaching can do for your team, ask a coach. Engage someone who coaches for a living to share the methods and principles they use for effective coaching.

Are You a FAST Leader?

FAST leaders

International leadership guru Gordon Tredgold coined the term FAST for his book by the same name and his teaching on effective leadership.

FAST is an acronym that encompasses all the best attributes for finding success. Whether your dreams are personal or professional, FAST can help.

Let’s unpack this powerful meaning.

F is for FOCUS. You must be able to focus your vision and view of the goal you are trying to achieve. Too many business leaders are fuzzy on the exact expectation they have.

If you’re not clear on where you’re going most any road will get you there.

First, check to make sure that the goal(s) are clear, that they are aligned with the overall objective, and that they are going to deliver the right results.

A is for ACCOUNTABILITY. You must be accountable to the team, the cause and the process to get you to your goal.

Look at the organizational setup. Does everyone know what they are supposed to be doing, do they know what is expected of them, and do they have the right skills, tools, and training to be successful.

S is for SIMPLICITY. You must find the simplest of ways to make things happen.

It has been said complexity is the enemy of execution. Trying to reach a desired destination with too many complex and conflicting pieces of information or procedure can only interrupt the desired results.

In the military we used the KISS principle, which most of you know: “Keep It Simple Stupid.”

Review the approach. Ask yourself if the solution is the simplest available. Is it easy to understand, and is it believable? Teams become inspired when they have plans they believe in. When we over complicate things, it leads to doubt, hesitation and often failure.

T is for TRANSPARENCY. Transparency allows the leader to be genuine and clear for the benefit of everyone around.

Look at the progress tracking. How easy is it to check that progress is being made and was outcome-based rather than just recording effort spent? Is the information accurate and fact-based, or just based on gut feel? How often is it shared with the teams? Do they know how they are doing, or are they just running blind?

Does It Work?

Gordon tells the story of deciding at age 52 to start running marathons. He wasn’t in very good shape. Friends told him he was foolish. They asked how he expected to get that done.

He applied FAST. The focus was running a marathon. The simple part for getting there was to run 15 minutes every day for the first week. Then run 20 the next week, 25 the week after, and so on.

Did it work? Well, I’d say yes. He’s now run 10 marathons.

FAST can be applied to your own leadership toolkit. Regardless of the size of your organization or the scope of your budget, FAST can energize and propel your way to success on a consistent and reliable way.

Question: In what ways can you adjust your leadership to follow the FAST method for success?

Get Gordon Tredgold’s book here:

FAST: 4 Principles Every Business Needs to Achieve Success and Drive Results

We’ve All Been Ambushed at Work

bad email news picture

Let’s face it, it’s no fun when you get ambushed at work. Being trapped by surprise can come in several forms. A co-worker can steal the credit for something you did. Or a peer can undermine something you’ve been slaving away to make perfect.

The one I hate the most is when the boss does it. You know what I mean. You’re working along thinking things are going well. Maybe the boss even said something publicly about how happy they were with your effort.

Then BAM! You get pounced on. When you least expect it, you get an email saying you screwed something up or missed some deadline; basically failing on expectations.

Even more problematic is getting that email while you’re away on a planned (and approved) vacation. The email hints your absence is part of the problem. GEEZ people !!!!!

The employee is not the problem

Dealing with your co-workers is tough enough, but when the boss ambushes you, what are you supposed to do?

I’m convinced most employees start out with the intent to do a good job. Sure there are a few bad eggs who slip around, job hopping, doing very little, but thankfully they are in the minority.

Most workers try to do the right thing. So a boss who feels the need to ambush must be the one who is in the wrong. Generally, the employee is not a problem.

I read an article Gary Vaynerchuk posted saying poor performance is all on the manager. I like that idea. Here’s exactly what he said:

“Here are three steps to managing underperforming employees: 1. Take the blame yourself. 2. Start to communicate better. 3. Tell them they’re not executing at the level you’re hoping for. Then ask, “what can I do to help?” Then actually start helping.”

Bosses who are frustrated with perceived performance problems and feel the need to barf on someone’s parade, especially at weird times, must be harboring some ill feelings.

Great leaders provide adequate AND timely feedback to their team. Feedback should never be a toxic dose of bad news.

If things need the leader’s corrective action, he/she should give proper feedback and restate expectations. Yet hiding behind an email to deliver the message is a weak way to do so.

Woman getting bad email from her boss

What to do

If you are the leaders here are a few thoughts and recommendations to avoid ambushing your people.

First, find ways to share feedback in the right way. Give the employee the respect to tell them “bad news” face-to-face. I know with larger, perhaps global teams, the personal face time is hard. However, in those situations, video capabilities can afford each party the next best thing to face-to-face. Oh and never use email unless it is a last resort.

Think about the timing. I know you have a burning desire to fix things, but decide whether the fix is critical at just that moment. I like three questions I’ve coached for a long time:

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me now?

Be objective about whatever the issue may be. Stephen R. Covey called it “seek first to understand.” Don’t pose the issue as a condemnation of behavior or results. Perhaps your source of information has slanted the matter. Present the details as observations, not final facts. (Hint: You will get embarrassed.)

Lastly, be graceful in your approach. Again, I believe most employees are there to do the right thing. Unless that employee is a proven screw-up, don’t assume the worst. Believe the best and work through the issues gracefully.

Using these steps you can avoid the hated ambush of your people at work.

Leaders: Is Your Myopia Your Utopia?

Single vision

When it comes to leadership and management, nearsightedness or myopia is a common occurrence. What does that mean? Is Your Myopia Your Utopia?

Single vision
Single vision

Since effective leadership is part art as much as part science, I see too many managers taking a nearsighted look at their role and responsibility. Nearsightedness is called myopia. By this I mean we place more emphasis on the duties and responsibilities (the science) where policies and procedures govern and control the thinking. This happens while the more subtle aspects of leadership (the art) like communication and delegation suffer.

The Track Record

In your early years of management duties, you had a specific team with clearly defined duties to push widgets or turn cranks. Much of what gets done there is process or project oriented. Process is derived from principles and procedures. Get the process right over and over again, BAM! you’re a good manager. OK hooray for you.

That kind of success starts to sink in and you get swallowed up in a false sense of accomplishment. You figure if you keep doing that, you will keep getting bonuses and promotions. The nearsighted myopia creeps in.

You get so enthralled by the surety of your achievements as a manger, you never explore the more subtle art of becoming a leader. The success seems like Utopia. Why should you ever change?

Growth as a Leader

Leaders, or people wanting to be leaders, must embrace a mindset for growth. Whatever your natural capacity is to lead (and we all have some capacity), you can grow beyond that level.

As John Maxwell cites, there is a Law of the Lid (from the book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership“). Some call it the Peter Principle. We all have maximum capacity beyond which we struggle. The fortunate truth is we also can grow beyond that capacity.

However, the first step in growth is knowing there is something more. Myopic vision will never allow that. If you stay fixated in a comfort zone, you cannot grow.

The Key Question

The primary question to ask yourself if you profess to want to be a leader is, who am I going to be? What will you be to those around you; the 360 sphere? How will you handle your team? How will you represent yourself to your boss?

When you begin to build a vision for the leader you want to be, you can set your growth targets on the attributes where you are the weakest. The traditional ways to begin growing are these:

  • Find a coach or mentor –  someone who has been there before and who can come alongside to guide you through the growth process
  • Build accountability – Create your own personal board of directors with whom you seek counsel, bounce ideas, and get feedback.
  • Read –  Reading cannot be encouraged enough. With so many great authors and thought leaders sharing ideas and insights, you simply must indulge.
  • Practice –  Great leadership must be exercised. Practice every day. State your vision and demonstrate your intention to go that way.

Committing to grow as a leader requires intentional action. Dreams only go so far.

A vision without traction is just hallucination.


Gino Wickman, Creator of “EOS”

You must put things in motion. There is a certain irony here. Think about it, if you want to be a leader, but never execute any action, what kind of leader are you?

Above all, stay away from letting a myopic vision of prior success stop you from growing into a leader.

Feel Like an Entrepreneur?

Two business owners were talking. One was having a pretty good run with his new, and growing business. The other had suffered a series of bad turns and hard luck.

Entrepreneurship

The one with the better business asked, “So now do you feel like an entrepreneur?” 

The other answered “Heck no. I feel like a pile of manure.”

Running your own business is not for the faint of heart 

It takes a whole lot more than a smart new idea to make a business tick. If yours is a wild and disruptive idea (think Uber and AirBnB) you may truly have some potential, but you will quickly find that the details of finding money to make money and managing everything can really be a bigger challenge than you ever expected.

Several times a year I speak to audiences on college campuses. After my talks, I get the usual line of attendees who want to ask questions, make comments, and otherwise share things. 

It never fails that I get a student or two who is convinced they will conquer the business world as we know it with their new idea. I ask them to explain. So far I have never heard anything earth shattering. 

I am not  sure if that is because we don’t teach enough creative thinking or whether we are truly failing to impart the full truth about what it takes to make a business go.

Sidebar: As I write this, it occurs to me that many of the more famous entrepreneurs of our modern era never went to college or never finished (think Gates and Zuckerberg). I digress.

Getting the Entrepreneurial Bug

There are those among us who are natural entrepreneurs. Others get the idea after spending too many years working for others. For me I caught the bug early in life. I watched my single Mom quite a stable, secure job to live her dream. 

Mom was a gifted interior designer. She did that work for other companies before setting out on her own. Slowly but steadily she built a well-respected and thriving business. Solopreneur she was long before that was  a thing. 

I wrote about the 10 things she taught me. See that article here.

I’ve had the opportunity to start three businesses and three non-profits. Each one was a labor of love. Believe me when I say I didn’t do it alone.

Somewhere along the way mentors had taught me one key principle. Ideas are great, but before you commit big resources (and energy) test it with several faithful advisors.

If you can get them interested, then you might have something. Otherwise, it’s just a dream.

To All the Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Here are my simple rules of entrepreneurship.

  1. DO – live your dreams, but be smart about it. Test your ideas with a few trusted advisers. Be open to their honest feedback. Tweak your plan if it looks like you must.
  2. BUT – don’t get totally discouraged. Dogged determination does create some very exciting possibilities. (I still don’t understand how Jeff Bezos survived the first 10 years of Amazon).
  3. EGO – Your ego is good when used the right way. Watch who you alienate as you grow your idea. You will need friends sooner than you think. NEVER take yourself too seriously.
  4. FUN – have fun doing what you decide to do.

Being an Authentic Leader Does Not Always Come Naturally

Authentic leadership

One of the highest valued attributes of great leaders is their authenticity. Being authentic does not always come naturally. The good news is, you can develop a more authentic leadership style.

On one hand, being authentic requires having a sense of “true north.”

True North

Ask a room full of people to close their eyes and point North. When everyone opens their eyes, fingers are pointing all over the place. (Try this some time; it’s a great ice breaker).

The message is that “north”, can conjure various meanings depending on one’s perception. Yet, true north is available for specific identification and location using the right equipment. It doesn’t change.

Your leadership should have this same kind certainty about it. You have to decide on your definition of true north, then stick to it.

When issues swirl around you and your team, you should have a reputation for responding to certain things in certain ways. If your people know this about you, then there will be a confidence in the face of uncertainty.

Accepting Feedback

Being truly open to feedback helps build the sense of leadership authenticity. By accepting input from others, you demonstrate a desire to learn and grow.

We all have tendencies to fall into a kind of rut. We find a rhythm to our life and we put things on cruise control. However, if that path takes you away from the authenticity you seek, you need a nudge to get back on the better path.

Here’s what to do. Say to those around you “Here’s my vision and my plan for how I intend to operate. If you see me doing something to the contrary, I invite you to say so.”

The other benefit of soliciting feedback is that you come across as genuinely engaged with the people you count on. Rather than constantly demanding something from them in terms of performance and accomplishment, you give them a chance to “shoot back”.

A healthy exchange of ideas can add great value to your relationships at work and everywhere else. You’ll become a more authentic leader.

One Caution

One word of caution though. Don’t “over-share”. Your people don’t need your burdens, but they will appreciate knowing you too have life outside the office.

As an example, you can casually say something about your daughter’s birthday party coming up, but you don’t need to share all the details and drama that might be going with the event.

Take Inventory

If you aren’t sure how authentic you might be, ask. Get some feedback.

Huddle with a circle of trusted advisors and ask them to provide you with a description of how they grade your authenticity. You might also ask them about ways they could see you improving.

If all of this is still a puzzle to you, I’d be happy to book a short call to help you learn more. Click the link below to schedule a call.

Click box to schedule a call with Doug Thorpe

Establishing a Personal Reflection

Taking time for personal reflection

“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I will remember, involve me and I will understand.” ~ Socrates (470-399 BC)

Socrates had it right. The more we are involved in and with something, the more we understand the topic.

While most of us can easily agree with diving into our work using all the technical knowledge and subject matter expertise, seldom do we pause to reflect on the most powerful source in our reach. Oursleves.

Do you have a regular habit of being reflective?

A colleague of mine, John N. Younker, Ph.D. writes on this subject:

“Reflective Practice is the ability to reflect on one’s actions so as to engage in a process of continuous learning.  

It involves paying critical attention to your values and principles as you apply them in your everyday actions (decisions and choices). 

By practicing reflection, as a part of your ongoing learning, it can result in developmental insights. A key rationale for reflective practice is that experience alone does not necessarily lead to learning; deliberate reflection on experience is key and essential for learning from your life experiences.

Further, it has been written, that reflection … or having a reflective practice … can be an important tool in practice-based professional learning settings where people learn from their own professional experiences, rather than from formal learning or knowledge transfer. It may be the most important source of personal professional development and improvement. 

A person who reflects throughout his or her practice is not just looking back on past actions and events but is taking a conscious look at emotions, experiences, actions, and responses, and using that information to add to his or her existing knowledge base and reach a higher level of understanding.”

For these reasons I have learned to enhance my own New Year’s resolution and goal setting habits to include a deep dive into reflective learning; learning from the past year’s experiences.

Besides merely defining some BHAGs for the new year (Big Hairy &#^#% Goals), you should be deciding on life changes that keep you in sync with who and what you truly want to be about.

Living a Purposeful Life

Living life with intentional direction is far more rewarding than one day arriving at some destination and wondering why or how you got there.

personal reflection

This is why having a different process for setting your new year vision should include an outlook/forecast as well a your own annual planning.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#d98310″ class=”” size=”18″] Therefore, your Outlook & Annual Planning is the ability and the discipline required to live and experience a “Purposeful Life.” Personal strategic planning is a disciplined thought process, that actively engages and involves you. It leads you to make important decisions and take actions that shape what is truly important to you. You do it because of who you are and what you uniquely do; guiding how, when and why you do it. ~John Younker[/perfectpullquote]

The purpose of the Annual Personal Outlook process … Personal Strategic Planning process is to help you to:

  1. Decide on a direction for your life … your future.
  2. Make purposeful and meaningful contributions throughout your life.
  3. Gain clarity of your core values, beliefs and aspirations.
  4. Make decisions that will positively affect and impact your future.
  5. Focus your energies on what is most important to you.
  6. Achieve the greatest results in a defined period of time.
  7. Focus on increasing your level of performance, in all aspects of your life.
  8. Live and enjoy a more fulfilling life.
  9. Create balance and freedom to more effectively choose from your opportunities.
  10. Reduce uncertainty, anxiety, doubt and fear.
  11. Leverage your unique Knowledge, Skills and Abilities to more effectively Perform (KSAPs).
  12. Enhance your confidence and overall peace of mind.
  13. Be more by doing more that ultimately enables you to gain more from your life choices.

Finding a Plan

If you are into looking for good tools to help you map your intentions and reflections, look at STRYV.

STRYV Dashboard

The STRYV (strive) dashboard gives you a simple but powerful way to plot the areas of your life that mean the most to you. If you are lagging in your impact in one or more areas, STRYV gives you the planning tools to get on track and stay there.

Disclaimer: STRYV is an independent offering not affiliated with DougThorpe.com or HeadwayExec, LLC. There is no financial consideration for STRYV being mentioned here.

21 Ways to Improve Leadership Effectiveness

Every box on every organization chart is about who the executive or manager is going to be. At least that is where the thinking usually starts. We somehow think we need to name the managers first, then we place employees under them to build out a team.

This whole focus on “managing” the team sets wheels in motion that drive how people react and respond to the named person in the top box.

Oh sure, there is power in the position. Anyone who has ever been placed in one of those manager boxes knows this. But relying solely on that power creates a very shaky perch for the boss sitting there.

What About Leadership?

As you move around your organization, if you are one of the ones selected to occupy one of those “manager boxes”, ask yourself this question.

What can I do about my leadership ability?

Your answer should be “If I can provide real leadership, not just effective management, then maybe I can make a big difference here.”

When people ask me what leadership is, I like to have them think about people they’ve admired. I ask them to think about people they have worked for, seen or know about who have helped make a difference. They might be leaders of a cause or some famous movement. Or they might be your high school principal.

If you spend some time thinking about the people who have made a difference in your own life, likely they were exhibiting some element of leadership.

The Good News

The great opportunity here is to adopt some of the traits and habits you admire in others to expand your own leadership muscle. Add methods to your toolbox that you know were effectively demonstrated by others.

I feel blessed because I was, and still am, surrounded by great mentors in my life. Very few of them ever wrote a book or filmed a movie to tell their story, but they made huge impacts in my community. The wonderfully amazing thing about all of this was that I got to pick and choose from the best of the best.

As each person coached me through various situations, I got to see and hear how they operated. I could pick the calmness in one person, or the resolve of another, or the decision making skill of yet another. Then I could weave these attributes together to write my own version of a leadership story.

John Maxwell writes about “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.” His list of 21 attributes rounds out a very comprehensive description of what makes up powerful leadership. You can debate the terms he uses for each attribute or principle, but you cannot deny the substance each one represents.

Here’s the List.

  • The Law of the Lid – We all have caps on our natural ability. You must constantly strive to lift the lid.
  • The Law of Influence – Character, relationships, knowledge, intuition, experience, ability.
  • The Law of Process – Leadership develops daily, not in a day.
  • The Law of Navigation – Anyone can steer the ship but a Leader plots the course.
  • The Law of Addition – Add value by serving others.
  • The Law of Solid GroundTrust is the foundation; knowing how to build trust matters.
  • The Law of Respect – People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves.
  • The Law of Intuition – Leaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias.
  • The Law of Magnetism – Who you are is who you attract.
  • The Law of Connection – Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.
  • The Law of the Inner Circle – Your potential is determined by those closest to you.
  • The Law of Empowerment – Secure leaders give power to others.
  • The Law of the Picture – People do what people see.
  • The Law of Buy-In – People buy into the Leader before they buy-in to the vision.
  • The Law of Victory – Leaders find a way for the team to win.
  • The Law of Big Mo – Momentum is your best friend.
  • The Law of Priorities – Activity alone is not an accomplishment.
  • The Law of Sacrifice – Give up to Go up.
  • The Law of TimingWhen to assert your leadership is as important as what to do and where to go.
  • The Law of Explosive Growth – To add growth, lead followers. To multiply, lead Leaders.
  • The Law of Legacy – What people say tomorrow depends on what you do today.

Becoming the Better Leader

If you can find someone who lives and leads by every one of those 21 laws, you will know about being a very influential leader.

Why don’t we see more of these people working in those management slots on that org chart? It’s because very few of us get exposure to or training for all these characteristics and principles.

When I start an executive coaching assignment, I like to spend time with my client assessing where they stand. In other words, how many of the 21 laws do they know how to follow? Then we decide on where the gaps might be. We set a plan to work on two or three of the missing links; the gaps. Then as progress begins to happen, we periodically revisit the list and decode whether a few more can be explored.

The goal becomes mastery of all 21. To date, no one I’ve ever know has perfectly mastered all 21 areas of effective leadership. However, by working on a few at a time, they have added extra horsepower to their own leadership expertise so that team performance improves, and management issues decrease.

If you may be interested in hearing more about this way to grow your own leadership abilities, give us a call.

Saying Thanks to Old Mentors for Their Inspiration

This week families across the USA gather to celebrate Thanksgiving. It means many different things to different people. As one of my clients shared when I asked about his plans, “lots of food, too much to drink, and too much football.” (Sounds like my kind of gathering, but I digress).

The spirit of this holiday is to pause and reflect. More importantly, it’s a time to offer thanks for the many blessings in life, whether material, emotional, or spiritual.

Thanking Leaders from the Past

I was reminded this past week there is another kind of thanks we seldom share. A good friend and fellow coach whom I’ve known for decades was telling me how she recently wrote a blog citing mentors and leaders she has known. The central theme was a note of gratitude to those former bosses for being great leaders; senior managers who inspired and motivated their following.

Hearing my friend share this poignant idea, I was convicted that I have not done enough to say thanks to those who have guided me. I’ve been blessed with some amazing people who have come into my life at various stages, investing time and energy to share their views and experience. The collective wisdom has helped me make better choices along the way. It has shaped my values and principles.

As I think through my list, the reality is that many, not all, of those I count as great inspirations, have passed away. Their legacy remains with me, but I no longer have the chance to say thank you to all of them personally.

I’m going to list the names but won’t go into detail about their impact. Simply stated, I thank you, one and all for spending the time you spent to help a young man. So in no particular order:

  • Jack Whitaker
  • George Jared
  • Tim Balter
  • MSG Jimmy Howard
  • Col. Hal Gaines
  • J. Wayne Stark
  • Col. Gaither Bray
  • LTC Jap Champion
  • Everett Gambrell
  • Dr. John Bisagno
  • Gene Elliott
  • Harriet Wasserstrum
  • Lane Sloan
  • Mary Kole
  • Dick Hendee
  • Mel Maltz
  • Dr. John Lockhart

Thank you for being who you are and doing what you do. You didn’t have to do it, but you did/do.

Who In Your Life?

Take a moment and think about those in your life who made the commitment to mentor. If you can contact them, do so. Spend a minute to give back.

Use the lessons they gave to continue your leadership growth toward the ability to make a difference. They did. Why shouldn’t you? It’s your turn to be a stepping stone for someone.

 

 

What Are Your Defining Moments?

Defining moments. What do they mean to you? I don’t hear people talk much these days about defining moments, but we all share them. No, not the exact situation or set of circumstances, but the reality of having things happen to us or through us that make big changes in the way we see the world.

Often defining moments come via life events; relationships that come and go plans we thought we had with great potential, disappointments, or big fears overcome. The list of possible defining moments or “aha” moments varies for each of us.

A Few Stories

In my own case, the list of these moments seems long. As the only child of a single, working Mom, I was a latch-key kid before that was a thing. Facing certain fears of coming home from school and going into an empty house had to be overcome. At seven or eight years old, that was huge. Yet I did it. My sense of self-confidence began growing at such an early age. It was fight or flight. I did neither.

In middle school, there was a situation when I felt wronged by the administration for missing a deadline due to a minor illness. This wasn’t a disciplinary matter, but an opportunity to run for student council that required filing deadlines. Mom refused to fight my battle. She said if I believed in what the issue was about I needed to fight for what I believed. At age 13 I marched into the principal’s office and delivered what was a well-rehearsed pleading for justice. Clearly, it worked. My filing exception was granted and I ran a successful campaign. Life lessons were being taught.

The Big Cheese

Fast forward some 18 years. I was working in my first few years at a large regional bank. A very senior executive jumped me one day in a large meeting. He essentially chewed me out for delivering some bad news for his department. It was definitely embarrassing for me. I was the proverbial messenger and nothing more. That night I thought about it long and hard.

This executive was famous for arriving at the bank before anyone else. So I was there too. I went to his office and knocked on his door. It startled him. He was not used to seeing anyone for at least another hour. I asked if he had a moment to talk. Visibly shaken, he agreed and invited me in. Again I was prepared. I told him I thought the situation yesterday was uncalled for. I was merely the messenger. Further, I said that I planned to have a long career there and I knew that because of his already senior leadership role, I needed to work well with him. To that end I wanted him to know that while I respected his position he needed to respect me too for what I could contribute.

He smiled and said “Doug you are perfectly correct. I apologize. And I look forward to our days and years ahead.” Another defining moment.

By the way. A few months later this same executive called me back into his office. He handed me an envelope which turned out to be my first bonus check at that bank.

The ‘So What’

Defining moments are only valuable once you can point to a specific moment in time and realize something big changed. As I said earlier, we all have defining moments. However, it is what we do with them that makes the difference.

If a particular situation happens and you ignore it, then likely it is by no means a defining moment. Yet when the really special moment happens you usually know it right away. You discover a new you or you change your outlook in an instant.

I suggest that there is value in revisiting those moments throughout your career. Use them as stepping stones to keep moving forward. If you start feeling down or defeated, just remember one of those earlier defining moments. Grab the strength and resolve from them to renew your spirit and rekindle the purpose you need.

Remember, overnight success is a myth. Name anyone who has been considered an overnight success and you will find they actually spent years perfecting their offering. The same is true of great business and community leaders. It takes years of intentional effort to build a reputation as a leader. Your defining moments can shape you and mold you for the right opportunity.

If you’re having trouble seeing the storyline unfold, an executive coach might be the right answer.