Becoming Excellent

November 16, 2015 — Leave a comment

Excellence is a blessing and a curse. It’s always a noble pursuit. But it can be intimidating as well. With so much information and many high profile examples of what excellence looks like, how can we contribute in a significant way?

Regardless of what you aspire to do, excellence is a worthy goal. But it probably won’t be your starting point. So how do you get there? Try this.

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After repeat appearances, the Kansas City Royals have accomplished something they haven’t done in 30 years: win the World Series. Baseball experts point to a wide variety of factors for the team’s success: an emphasis on putting the ball in play vs. hitting home runs, aggressive base running, a dominant bullpen and a flair for dramatic victories. But people close to the team highlight an additional factor: the organizational culture carefully crafted by General Manager Dayton Moore upon joining the team back in 2006. When Moore came on board the team had lost 100+ games in three of the previous four seasons. It certainly wasn’t an easy ride – it took eight whole years before the team achieved a winning record. Now, the results speak for themselves. But what about the behind-the-scenes elements?

You may not work in the front office of a professional sports team. (Neither do I). But shaping your organization’s culture is always a top leadership responsibility. Here are just a few things the Royals did to build a championship culture.

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A recent Bersin study reported that U.S. companies invest over $2,000 in leadership development initiatives per company leader. That’s great news. But is it worth the investment? Just because an organization has a leadership development program doesn’t mean it’s successful, does it?

I’ve been privileged to help develop several leadership development programs (LDPs) in my career and I can tell you no two are identical for the simple fact that people and organizations are inherently unique – different cultures, different missions, different situations. While I don’t believe there is a perfect approach to building an LDP, there are definitely pitfalls. If your organization has one – or is thinking of investing in one – don’t fall short for one of the following reasons.

Arrows Missing Dartboard

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2015 was a big year for Millenials. According to Pew Research Center, Millenials became the largest generation in the U.S. workforce in 2015. I recently shared my thoughts on Eric Jacobson’s leadership website about how managers can engage their Millenial employees. What I’d like to do next is share how Millenials themselves can thrive in the workplace.

Here’s a start.

Millennials at Work

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Put Fear in its Place

September 21, 2015 — Leave a comment

Fear is an intensely human experience. We’ve all felt it. We probably learn to live with most of it. But the emotion often translates into crazy, irrational behavior. For an individual, that’s one thing. But what happens when a team or an organization hangs in the balance?

I’ve become convinced that fear is the single factor most capable of derailing a leader’s effectiveness. Responsibilities, pressure, visibility – all of these factors tend of “pile on” over time. Sooner or later we all need to come to grips with the fears inherent with the position.

Fear is a given. Our response to fear determines the outcome. It takes courage to lead.

Below are a sample of common fears leaders face – along with some common reactions and opportunities for response.

Burying head in sand

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How do you lead when you’re not the boss? It’s hard enough to lead when you are in charge. What are the other options?

If you’ve wondered this, I’ve got good news for you. It’s a lot easier than it sounds. And you can get started today. Here’s a game plan for you.

Lighting Matches

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My first job in high school was working at a small grocery store in town. I remember there were only eight aisles, so it wasn’t long before I had most of the place figured out. Unfortunately it wasn’t very complicated, and when I wasn’t assisting customers in the front, I was usually walking through the aisles pulling the products neatly to the front of the shelves. I’ll be honest, I hated it. I kept wishing I could be working with my brain instead of my hands. In fact, sometimes when I’d see friends come into the store, I’d find something to do in the back so they didn’t catch me doing such a menial task.

Fast forward several years. I was serving in Iraq with the Army. I was proud that my Special Operations job allowed me to work in an advisory capacity with both the State Department and local NGOs. One day I opted to work from the base instead of going on the mission, only to find out that all the soldiers remaining behind needed to help with a special project: sandbag detail. When I tried to get out of it, my leader gave me a pretty healthy tongue-lashing and appointed me sandbag project leader for the day.

How did I get so mixed up about what was really important?

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How exciting is decision-making?? I’ve always enjoyed the logic that goes into navigating the personal and professional crossroads of life. Sometimes things work out. Other times it’s a disaster. Did we make the right call? How can we know for sure?

I read a book a couple years ago that took decision-making to a whole new level. It was Decisive by Chip & Dan Heath. I don’t think I’ve heard as comprehensive (or creative) a thinking process as it relates to decision-making. And the best part is that is applies to nearly all circumstances, from business (should we sue a bigger company? offer a discount on our products?) to personal (should I break up with my significant other? let my adult child move back home? buy a new TV?).

Here is a brief summary of the WRAP decision-making process the Heath brothers use:

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Congratulations – you’ve just been selected to participate in a corporate mentoring program. Or maybe you took the initiative and enlisted a mentor yourself. Or perhaps, a seasoned pro has begun to formally or informally take you under his wing. Whatever the case, way to go!

Now comes the tricky part: what should you get mentoring for?

One of the difficult parts of entering a new mentoring partnership – especially for first-time mentees – can be deciding what exactly to invest a mentoring relationship toward. On one hand, it’s great to have a partner committed to your development. On the other hand, it’s hard to know where to start.

Confused Professional2

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If you have a leadership role at work, solving problems is just part of the equation. It doesn’t take long to realize that problem-solving can be pretty complicated. What type of problem is it? What caused it? What is the best action to take? And on top of all that, often times we either feel unqualified or under-resourced to come up with the best solution.

Welcome to organizational leadership.

[ File # csp4009686, License # 2827067 ] Licensed through in accordance with the End User License Agreement ( (c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / maigi

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What comes to mind when you think about continuous improvement? Hopefully you believe it’s a leadership responsibility we all share each and every day. “CI” doesn’t discriminate based on seniority, title, pay grade or job function. Good ideas can come from everywhere. And in a changing environment where what worked yesterday may not work best today, there is all kinds of opportunity.

That being said, continuous improvement isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen by itself. It requires the active involvement of as many people as possible… which brings me back to the question: how do you think about continuous improvement?

Continuous Improvement

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I haven’t forgotten one of my first coaching interactions that took place years ago. My client was stuck. She talked about wanting go back to school and make some new contributions with her life. But she couldn’t do it, she explained. What was holding her back? Her husband didn’t fully support her to the extent she needed. I remember thinking, well, why don’t you try it anyways?

I’m not sure if she ended up pursuing school in the years since or if she’s still waiting for that support. Here’s what I do know: having other people in your corner can mean the world – especially the ones closest to you. But unfortunately sometimes the support of others is unavailable. Then what?

It’s a popular belief these days that no one attains success on their own. There is always a supporting cast. In many cases this is true, but fortunately, not in all. If you’re on your own, you can still make it. Here are the top two reasons:

Lonely Journey


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