Monthly Archives: June 2014

Effective Leadership in a Fast Paced Organization:

While working as a consultant to Wal-Mart I had the opportunity to speak to various groups of senior operations leaders across the company.   I would be asked to speak or train on a variety of topics, including Building High Performance Teams, Balancing Work and Personal Life, Workplace Violence Prevention, Optimizing Stress for Success, Improving Emotional Intelligence, and more.  But around Wal-Mart the one that got the most attention was Time and Priority Management.  As one executive who requested this training put it,

“Working in this organization is like riding a jet engine and holding on with only one hand.”Riding a Jet Engine

That statement reminds me of growing up in East Texas where regional rodeos were weekly events. Bull riders would strap themselves to wild and angry 1,500lb beasts and hold on for dear life while they were pushed, pulled, spun and thrashed in every direction.  I have worked with enough leaders in fast moving organizations to understand that leadership and management can feel much like the dizzying task of the wild 8 seconds riding a rodeo bull or like holding on to that jet engine with one hand.

A few years ago, a division executive requested my help training his team of district managers for whom he was very concerned for both their professional and personal lives.  He knew they were working hard in the fast growing pharmacy division.  Pharmacists were in high demand in the retail sector, and the customer demand at nearly every store was just as challenging, not to mention the stress of ensuring that every prescription had to be filled without error.  He knew that these district managers were under a lot of pressure to build and manage their teams while exceeding their goals.  And while they had a lot of support from the corporate office, it was critical that they figure out how to effectively manage their business and their personal lives if they hoped to survive and thrive in this environment, which was exactly what he wanted them to do.  It was evident that their survival and success was his top priority.  This is when he made a statement I will never forget:

“You’ve got to help them understand that we know there is more on their plate every day than they can possibly ever get done, and it is their job to determine and act on the priorities, those that are important to the business as well as those that are important to their personal well-being.”

 Do you ever feel like the job of leadership has your life spinning out of control?  Have you simply resigned yourself to thinking that these feelings are just part of the job and there is nothing you can do about it?  Those who survive and thrive are those who have figured out how to identify and act on personal and professional priorities.  They have developed the focus and disciplines that keep them on track in both arenas of life.  What are you doing to stay grounded and focused while balancing the tensions of a multitude of demands? Who do you engage when trying to navigate the unique nature of the demands and priorities you face?  While your supervisor may be concerned about your personal well-being, they expect you to manage it effectively while you focus on the business.  Whereas, an executive coach is able to help you take a good look at both aspects of life and work.  Don’t wait until you lose your health or your family to define your focus and develop the essential disciplines for success.   Don’t go it alone.  Ask you supervisor, HR or Organizational Development department about getting a coach to help you be as effective and successful as possible.  You can succeed without burning out and without failing your health or your family.   You can learn to ride this jet engine.

“We are talking out of both sides of our mouths and we mean it.”

Yin-YangI will never forget the time when I first heard the above statement.  I was fairly new to the corporate environment when I was in a session where David Glass, CEO of Wal-Mart Stores (at the time) was speaking to a group of us who were responsible for training managers, district managers and various others in leadership and supervisory positions.   He told us to be sure that we get this message across to them.   As I absorbed this statement, it helped me understand the importance and challenge of leadership.   I understood that leaders are the people who manage the many paradoxes common to highly effective businesses.

I truly believe this is one of the reasons leaders are paid the differential.  They live in the constant tension of determining what is good for the customers, the shareholders, and the stakeholders (and there are lots of stakeholders).  They frequently have to discern which corporate value should take precedence in a particular situation.  For example, companies tend to value customers and customer service, and they also value their employees and hope they feel engaged and a part of a cohesive team.  It is easy to come up with things a leader can do for customers and for team members to help them feel appreciated and valued.  The paradox appears when you place these values along side the value of expense control and profitability.  The leader must determine how to do both of these, because the reality is that one side of this equation cannot exist without the other, and that is the paradox.  Leaders wake up every day facing this dilemma, trying to figure out how to maximize both sides of this equation in order to achieve the best long term and short term results.  They know that their decisions are accompanied by trade-offs.  They face the challenge of having to analyze the trade-offs and determine the best course of action.  Sometime they have to make decisions that will a pay off in the long run.  On the other hand, there are times when they have to think about the short-term in order to achieve what is necessary, knowing full well that they will have to justify the decision and the expense to their supervisors or to the shareholders.

Jim Collins, in his first book, Built to Last, alluded to these types of paradoxes when he pointed out that “gold medal companies” maintain a dynamic tension between people and profits, and work very hard to ensure that the pendulum never swings too far in either direction.

All this says to me that leadership is an awesome job and responsibility!  Leaders wake up every day with the opportunity to keep all these things in balance as they focus on growing their business or achieving their vision.  They have to decide which risks are worth taking and which must be delayed or simply ignored.  They have to decide which capital investment is going to provide the greatest return.  They have to decide which candidate is most likely to add the greatest value.  They have to decide what things they can delegate, to whom they should delegate, and what things they must do themselves.  They have to decide whether and how much to invest in training and developing people.  They have to know when to be demanding and when to be encouraging.   And on and on we could go.  As awesome as it is to be a leader, it is apparent that it is also quite challenging and not for the faint of heart.

How do you handle the paradoxes of your position?  Do you isolate yourself?  Do you rely solely only on your own instinct or experience?  Do you seek out resources you can trust to give you wise counsel?

This is why I love executive coaching.  It is an honor and a privilege to be brought into a leader’s confidence to provide them with feedback and perspective as a trusted coach.  I love helping these men and women work through these paradoxes and come up with the best possible strategies that will help them succeed professionally and personally.

Perceptual Psychology! How’s that for a couple of fifty-cent words?

GLooking Glassrowing up in small town East Texas we used to speak sarcastically of people who used what we called “fifty cent words” in order to show off their education and uppityness, especially when the same thing could have just as easily been said more simply.

This idea of Perceptual Psychology is not a new science or philosophy. In fact, King Solomon wrote about it in Proverbs 23:7, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he”. If you are not familiar with King Solomon, that quote comes from the Bible, and was written some six to seven hundred years before Christ. Then there are the words of the central figure of the Bible, Jesus of Nazareth, who said “The truth will set you free”. That was written over two thousand years ago.

In 1902 James Allen published his book As a Man Thinketh, filled with such statements as “A man is limited only by the thoughts he chooses.”

There is also Zig Ziglar, the speaker and writer who had the greatest influence on me in my early career, who said, “You are who you are and where you are because of the things that have gone into your mind. And you can change who you are and where you are simply by changing what goes into your mind.” I can certainly attest to the truth of this statement, because it was Zig Ziglar who taught me how to challenge my thoughts, belief systems, self-perceptions, and personal paradigms. He taught me to drill down to explore what I had come to believe to be the “truth”, and to find truth that would set me free.

These truths, stated a bit more simply:

“People learn to believe what they hear themselves say”.

From a leadership perspective (whether you are leading as a parent, supervisor, or organizational executive) it is important to understand a core truth about people. They come to you only with the potential for capability, not with all the capabilities themselves. They come to you with a certain set of beliefs about themselves and their own capabilities, beliefs that have been shaped by their various experiences, backgrounds, and by what they have been saying to themselves for years. Some of those beliefs are accurate and some are not.

My question for you is, “What difference would it make if your job of developing capable people was as simple as helping people see themselves differently than they do today?”  What if the manager’s job was as simple as helping people say the things out loud or to themselves that you know they need to hear themselves say? If doing so could make a significant difference in their engagement and performance, how would you approach your job differently than you do today?

It is not as difficult as you may think, but it does require a shift in the way you may see yourself, your role and your people.  And it will definitely require commitment and practice. Helping leaders make these subtle shifts is just one aspect of what I do as an executive coach.  The results of leaders making a few small changes are nothing short of incredible.

Kudos to an Unsung Hero

I recently had the privilege of taking a group of executives to The Johnson Space Center to study the NASA as a metaphor for building high performing teams.  I was pretty stoked by the opportunity because, as a kid, I was obsessed with the space program.  I had put together all the space craft models and watched intently to each of the launches and especially the Apollo moon landing.  In those days I had given little to no thought to what it took to pull this off.

I could go on and on about the lessons on leadership and organizational effectiveness from this experience, but the one thing that stood out so clearly to me was the leadership of James Webb, a person who is likely unknown to most of us, but who is in my estimation, the hero of that decade.  Congress had determined to accelerate the space program by forming NASA and bringing under a single umbrella, the works of thousands of people and many different companies and agencies around the country, all to do one thing; fulfill the President’s charge of leaping ahead of Russia in the space race by landing a man on the moon and bringing him safely home before the end of the decade.

NASA Around the Country

James Webb was selected to displace a leading scientist/physicist, Hugh Dryden, who had headed up NASAs predecessor organization NACA.  To his credit, Webb knew what he didn’t know.  He immediately asked Dryden to join his leadership team to lead the scientific aspects of the program.  He also knew that, in order to coordinate the works of all these agencies and companies to accomplish the vision, he would require a strong organizational leader.  He called on Robert Seamans to be the third leg of the triad that would lead NASA.  Seamans was trained as an engineer in Aeronautics and Science at Harvard and MIT.  He had already worked at RCA, a very large and successful organization.  He knew what it would take to get things done.  So while Dryden and Seamans worked together to herd  this new and gangly organization, Webb used his years in public service to manage the politics and politicians of the program.  Together they made a remarkable team and accomplished the unimaginable.

The deeper we got in to what they accomplished with what they had back then, the more impressed I became with James Webb.  He built a collaborative organization made up of highly competitive companies and egos to form a high performance team who could focus on results, overcome obstacles, get past their own egos and drive for profits for “my” organization or silo to accomplish a feat that put  the United States light years ahead of any other nation in the world when it came to advances in science and technology.  It would take volumes to list the benefits that our nation and the world has enjoyed as a result of one man’s vision, and another man’s leadership.

Kudos to an unsung hero.


Is Someone Drilling Holes in Your Ship?


In a recent coaching session with a CEO, we were discussing Gallup’s annual survey on employee engagement. He compared the results to people aboard a ship. Thirty percent of employees are Fully Engaged, that is they are actually on board and rowing the boat in the direction established by the company leadership. Twenty percent of employees are Actively Disengaged, that is, they are either drilling holes in the hull of the boat or rowing in the opposite direction. That leaves fifty percent of the employees (the Not Engaged) on board the ship standing around looking at the scenery and taking up space. As many times as I have read these annual survey results from Gallup over the years, this is the probably the best visual picture I have heard to illustrate the impact of those statistics. My hope is that you know who your Fully Engaged employees are and that you are rewarding them for their efforts, contributions, commitment and performance; that you are working hard to transition the Not Engaged to greater engagement; and that you are focused on helping the Disengaged find someplace else to work.

The greatest opportunity for leaders is with the Not Engaged.  And the question everyone is trying to answer is, What does it take to move them to Fully Engaged?  Here are a couple of my thoughts:

  1. Help them find purpose and meaning in their jobs. That may mean that you will have to first define the meaningful purpose of your company. People want to do meaningful, significant, and important work. If your service or product is being purchased, your organization has significance. Some of the most fun work I do is interviewing employees to help organizations clarify and articulate their purpose. Once this is done, helping the individual employee connect their work to the purpose is much easier.
  2. Recognize them for their contributions. Make sure they know that you are noticing their work and appreciate the value they bring to the outcomes you are trying to achieve. Make the recognition specific rather than a generic “thank you”.
  3. Invest in their growth and development. Nothing says, “I value you” more than investment in training, development, and challenging projects or assignments.
  4. Help them know what they can do to get ahead.  One of the greatest tragedies in the war for talent is when you lose a key player because you failed to tell them they were a key player.  Do they know what the future opportunities look like in your organization and what they can do to land one of them?
  5. Make a few tweaks to your incentive programs and organizational structure to send a message that they are valued.  With today’s workforce where we are more and more reliant on the technological skills of employees, you may want to investigate creating dual career tracks, where highly skilled technical contributors can grow, get ahead and improve their financial standing, without necessarily stepping over into management.
  6. Make sure their voice is heard and their comments, concerns, ideas and innovations are welcome. This may take the form of an Open Door Policy, an Innovation Depository, Employee Engagement surveys, etc.
  7. Be as transparent with them as possible. There is nothing that builds trust among employees than when leaders speak the truth to them, even when the truth involves tough messages. This becomes even more important in today’s economic environment. The American Psychological Associations 2014 Work and Well-being Survey just reported that 24% of employees don’t trust their employer. Some of the distrust is our own fault. When the cuts in benefits, stagnation in pay, and layoffs occurred after the downturn, employees probably grasped why those changes occurred, whether we clearly explained them to them or not. They were simply glad to have their jobs. However, with the resurgence of the stock market, the rumors and news or record executive pay, the news of productivity growth without employment growth, skepticism could easily reign. As such, it is more important than ever that you are clear with them about the fiscal state of the company, why you are making the investments you are making, and the kinds of things that impact decisions regarding their pay and benefits.

If you are as successful as you are with thirty percent of your workforce Fully Engaged, just think of what you can accomplish if you raise that number and eliminate a large portion of the Actively Disengaged?