Posts Tagged Heartwood

Adaptive Leadership: Risk, Relevance, and Relationship

I want to challenge Adaptive Leaders to start with OUTCOMES and NOT RISK. Risk doesn’t have much to do with breakthrough decision making. When a decision needs to be made, making an assessment of risk is often the most prudent approach. It also greatly limits learning and can eliminate the many possibilities of success that otherwise are never considered. You do nothing differently and you get the same result…and yes…that is the definition of leadership insanity.

Risk stops leaders from making or keeping a commitment. We may stop short of something extraordinary for us that would seem…just to risky. Adaptive leadership is not just seeking relevance with risk or reward. It is about a relationship that treats each decision, individual, or team in a different way. Risk may never  be a relevant part of your decision making as a leader after you read this post.

Adaptive leaders know about commitment and understand what exactly they are committed to—right now in this moment—and over time. It is the balance of risk, the relevance to your values, and the relationship with a leader’s sense of commitment that creates breakthroughs. It is important to know, as a leader, that each person, situation, and team is unique to the breakthrough they seek. It is difficult to breakthrough without a relationship and relevance to values. 

What would it look like to be a goal maker instead of a risk taker? Adaptive Leadership certainly includes prudent decision making to minimize risk and maximize reward. This conversation is intentionally focused on getting crystal clear on how leaders can think differently about risk adversity and re-frame their entire view of risk. 

The bottom line on being an Adaptive Leader is not about going about “willy nilly” as a leader. It is the ability to ask yourself (and others) clarifying questions at strategic moments. The following types of questions are examples of clarifying questions.

  • What is the outcome I’m seeking? (This may seem to simple, but really powerful!)
  • What is most important and/or most essential at this very time in my life or this business chapter?
  • How can I get the clarity needed to make powerful decisions relevant to my values and goals ?

Adaptive leaders seek relevance rather than risk. Whatever you do to build a strong sense of clarity is critical. Being clear about the decisions you must make, want to make, or could make. Clarity becomes “job one” and a highly valued activity.  This takes a strong relationship with great coaches, mentors, and the embodiment of your personal values. Effective leaders stay in relationship with and connected to their values…all the time.

The most trying and difficult decisions can become amazingly clear to a value driven leader. This relevance to our values sets us back squarely on center for making sound grounded decisions. These important decisions are value based and goal driven. NOT driven by fear or unexamined goals. Clarity becomes the basis you can anchor to when making seemingly small or even life changing decisions.  Especially when making decisions that you have no experiential basis from which to ground your assessments. Thinking strategically with others becomes important if you are going to be able to understand the whole system.

Risk is not relevant in areas where we become extraordinary and work for creation of our future in new ways. The concept of risk is frequently made from an assessment based on what we stand to lose. It seems reasonable to say risky decisions have potential to cost you or create loss.

  • Should I or shouldn’t I?
  • What’s a person to do?
  • How could I ever give up that paycheck?
  • If I “fire” that customer where will the business come from? 

Value based decisions have the potential to create more abundance. You see beyond the paycheck and how spending more time with customers aligned with your values and goals will grow business results, not reduce them.


Adaptive leaders simultaneously see the current trajectory of results (and/or output) matched against the desired results (output). Then they declare a destination and make adjustments with courage and conviction. They have faith and believe in the outcome. If they don’t, who will follow and why would you follow them? Pretty simple really when we look at it that way.

Life is strategic. Almost all decisions we make are connected to the flow of our existence and purpose. You can make your goal to minimize risk…OR…live from a framework of commitment and values. The “knowing” of the values and purpose that define those decisions needing to be made becomes essential. There are few risky “life threatening” decisions but all decisions can threaten the life you want to live and work you want to accomplish. Living towards your desired outcomes is exactly related to the old metaphor of “Playing To Win” and NOT “Playing to Lose”.

Next time…Go with the FLOW of Change.


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Coaching to Core Ideals – Environmental Engineering of Success

This is another post in the series Coaching to Core Ideals.

The IDEAL LEADER is 1) Visionary, 2) Authentic, 3) Disciplined, 4) Accessible, and 5) a Strategic Learner. See the Coaching to Core Ideals post to get a quick overview and context for the series. We are going to break each sub-topic down over the next few weeks.


  1. Physically available to the right people at the right time.
  2. Adept at creating forums where discussion and ideas get shared.
  3. Emotionally, mentally and intellectually available

Leading is about engineering success at many levels within an organization. Leaders are focused often only on the “output”. This is only part of the equation. The larger and more complex an organization becomes the more vital it is that I coach leaders around process. Leaders are responsible for the entire environmental system. Leaders are responsible for results or the output that is needed to create success. Success is certainly measured often with financial metrics, but results can be other tangible and intangible defined outcomes.

As an “environmental engineer” you need to quickly learn basic systems theory. The diagram below will provide your master’s level description.



You have to make sure that you have 1) the right inputs, 2) defined output, 3) effective processes, and 4) a grounded feedback. This post will speak to value of the process of creating forums to gain feedback and desired output/results for success. Each process should have a goal and each goal serves its accompanying process as clearly connected to the success desired.

A forum is a PROCESS where conversation can take place and people can be heard. Being heard is a basic human need. Regardless of what that content is…it is important that those you lead experience being listened to by you and others within your organization. I was intrigued that the definition of forum also included the words OPPORTUNITY and MARKETPLACE. Forums are about opportunity and creating an environment that supports not only the values of a leader, but the values of those they lead. A savvy leader knows that meetings/forums are an asset and not a necessary evil that is endured just to get—“the damn thing over with”.

Could you agree with this next idea? The extension of your internal forums into the marketplace makes powerful sense for many leaders to consider. In fact, the quality of the conversations you practice as an organization or team will directly impact the quality and effectiveness of conversations in the marketplace. How many times have we as leaders wondered, even aloud to a battery of subordinates—“Why do our customers feel that we don’t appreciate them?” I

s there a forum in your business that discusses “appreciation and acknowledgement” of each other and the customer? There is great benefit in getting people together in dialogue to share ideas, learn together, and develop relationships that establish accountability to the most important outcomes needed to succeed. There are several types of forums that leaders use to communicate their ideas. Meetings are just one of the important forums that can be a place where important knowledge, information, and direction setting goals can be shared.

Unfortunately communicating or sharing goals does not ensure they are understood and acted upon proactively. My coaching to clients and organizations is the following. Leaders are responsible for creating effective forums that nurture a well informed and aligned community within their business. Become adept at this skill and it will lead to proactive action, accelerated learning, and accountability.

The word “forum” has its roots in the Roman culture of public spaces usually in the middle of a city where speaking and debate took place. It was an important part of the Roman culture. In these forums (or meeting places) ideas, beliefs, and relationships were built. They had social significance for those that were a part of the community. With the Internet and mobile technology we can now create virtual forums like discussion boards, social medium, and blog posts as needed to respond to needs of businesses and customers.

These forums are valid ways for virtual and geographically dispersed teams/organizations to be engaged and connected to important with leader’s dialogue. AND it is often a huge miss on a leader’s part to not take advantage of using a forum to dialogue with their people and organization. It’s not always what does get said that hurts a company as much as what doesn’t get said. The unsaid things (have fun with this one), especially around times of stress (from growth or downturn) in the business, are missing links to understanding.

Managing transition and stress requires keeping people’s minds “right” around how to interpret what is going on in their organization or marketplace. Even more interesting is that when a leader doesn’t communicate people will make crap up. We are “meaning makers’ and we are constantly trying to make sense of our environment. Missing conversations are as bad as or more damaging than poorly held discussions.

One of the most potent and powerful learning experiences I have had as a leader and coach was training on facilitative leadership. Not all of it was about managing meetings, but there was a significant portion of this training around the whole domain of—how we meet. The process of meeting involved managing relationship, process, and results simultaneously. The core premise still resonates with me some 16 years later now. Meetings (or forums) are a microcosm of the larger organization. If you observe how a team meets you have a good view of the macro environment or culture of an organization.

What have you observed as a leader at meetings? Let me make a short list…

1. No agenda and lack of desired outcomes for meeting

2. No process for making decisions or even lack of what decisions needed to be made and by whom.

3. Too much for time allotted or too little time for so much…take your pick.

4. No clear roles defined for the meeting…like a simple “time keeper” makes a huge difference along with a note taker that captures commitments made, so that we can hold each other accountable

5. No clear purpose for “why” we are meeting in the first place.

I could make a list 3 times longer, but you get the point in most likely in your own personal experience. Death by meetings as a phrase even became a book by Patrick Lencioni! It’s a good read and the hyperlink will give you a good summary. There is even a clock that keeps track of the cost of meetings in time investment.

Content of a meeting is extremely important. However, I have seen very good content lose out for lack of meeting process and facilitation. Forums (like meetings) done well are energy builders and not energy suckers. They are forums of opportunity and not just opposition! Some people believe that modern day corporate environments are structured in ways that prevent productivity. I cannot necessarily disagree with that idea…yet coaching is about possibilities and I don’t see much opportunity in that point of view.

My coaching point here is make meetings an asset not “ass” set. Why waste precious time, money, and resources of your people…and maybe even worse is the time you squander as a leader. You could be out with customers or employees doing meaningful work and make more progress. Better yet engineer the environment you need to create a successful conversation within your business and marketplace.

Coaching Points:

  • Leaders are responsible for creating effective forums.
  • Engineer the environment you need to create a successful conversation within your business and marketplace.
  • Forums can be energy creators and leaders should use it build momentum towards meaningful action.
  • Building an aligned community within your organization will lead to proactive action and accelerated learning.

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Coaching to Core Ideals – Be There or Be Square

Coaching to Core Ideals – Be There or Be Square

This is another post in the series Coaching to Core Ideals.

The IDEAL LEADER is 1) Visionary, 2) Authentic, 3) Disciplined, 4) Accessible, and 5) a Strategic Learner. See the Coaching to Core Ideals post to get a quick overview and context for the series. We are going to break each sub-topic down over the next few weeks.


  1. Physically available to the right people at the right time
  2. Adept at creating forums that important knowledge, information, and direction setting goals can be shared and understood.
  3. Emotionally, mentally and intellectually available in ways that they take risks in being vulnerable by sharing not only what they are thinking but what they are “feeling” or sensing

As basic as it seems, the biggest challenge for any leader is to show up. The gift of your presence is surprisingly underestimated by many leaders. Failing to be with your direct reports on a consistent basis is costing businesses and leaders dearly. Being with your people can not only increase top and bottom line results, but has huge strategic significance for you as a leader. “Showing up” for your people is strategically important in impacting long term results in a marketplace.

Spending time with employees and constituents in your organization is the foundation of relationship. You can’t build relationship without spending time. Not sure you would pay a consultant a lot of money to figure this one out, but I’m telling you that leaders within many organizations are spending very little time “in relationship” with the greatest asset in their business—the human capital —their people. Reasons abound as to why leaders run a deficit in time spent with people.

In many businesses the “span of control” has increased over the last 20 years to ratios that make for a very challenging leader/follower relationship. The increasing global nature of businesses has broadened the geographic dispersion to more internationally. Research has indicated in years past that 7-10 people are the ideal and thought to be the best ratio where teams and managers were most effective. More recently because of economic pressures and technology advances organizations have flattened out. Consequently there have been managers responsible for more and more direct reports.

There are many variables that could influence how to effectively manage more people and be available to them in meaningful ways. Some of it depends on the skill level of the individuals and the type of work being done by them. It seems more appropriate to think about the relationship that is needed in order to drive the results needed. All this aside, I’ve seen managers and leaders with very few direct reports fail miserably in “being” with the people they have been entrusted to lead. Conversely I have seen others build powerful relationships in spite of the large number of people they lead.

It really comes back to a leader and business owner’s clear line of sight to the success of people and the impact on bottom and top line results. We talk more in the next post about the concept of designing forums and space for conversation. Personal skills of time management and prioritization on the leader’s part are vital to success regardless of the numbers of direct reports. Managing your time becomes increasingly important though as people responsibilities increase. You must be better at everything you do to gain efficiencies in your time spent on any given task.

There are many ways that leaders determine when and where to invest in their human capital. With increasing span and consolidation/growth in the size of businesses segmenting employees has become essential in the talent development and management process. The implementation of the process of segmenting employees can be a good thing as long as it is kept in perspective. Success in leading people is ultimately done through commitment to a relationship to people and not a process. Processes should always serve people not the other way around.

Situational leadership is a great example of how a leader determines the focus and need of each individual. It really is a simple approach to making sure you spend time with the people that need you the most.  And when you are with them you are focused on the right conversation.

A good leader develops “the competence and commitment of their people so they’re self-motivated rather than dependent on others for direction and guidance”. – Paul Hersey

 The main thing I appreciate about situational leadership is that there is no one “perfect style” of leading people. Situational Leadership articulates that employees need support in building the necessary commitment and competency to perform. You can then determine not only what to spend time on with a person, but even the level of intensity. There may indeed be a time when those you lead have the skill, but lack the necessary commitment to be successful and vice versa. Understanding when someone’s performance is due to lack of skill or motivation is paramount to knowing what conversation needs to be taking place.

Showing up and being there for your people IS your job. BEING THERE is the core asset  whether you are the CEO of a global organization, president of a country, or line supervisor at a factory. Not being there could change the success of the person in their job and career and the long or short term success of the business. There are times that are critical points of a career, a business, and/or a crucial circumstance that will change the trajectory of a career or business; making yourself accessible is what wins the day for those looking to you as a leader in times that really count. And it counts every day.


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Coaching to Core Ideals – Are You An Owner or A Renter

This is another post in the series Coaching to Core Ideals.

The IDEAL LEADER is 1) Visionary, 2) Authentic, 3) Disciplined, 4) Accessible, and 5) a Strategic Learner. See the Coaching to Core Ideals post to get a quick overview and context for the series. We are going to break each sub-topic down over the next few weeks.


  1. Makes tough decisions in a timely manner
  2. Talks straight and moves forward with feedback effectively and courageously
  3. Does the not make their problems anyone else’s, they own them and act accordingly

In coaching leaders; whether they own their own business, lead an organization, or a team of sales and account managers there is one constant. Successful leaders are experienced in embracing their problems as their own and enlisting others in their network to help them. It never works to blame the market place or the incompetent leaders below you on the organization chart. Who do you think they get their leadership from anyway? This is not just a leadership play to run, but a powerful way to be with life’s twists and turns. The experience of owning anything is entirely different than renting or leasing it. Yet we all experience when we default to not excepting the “deed” on problems we face. Why would we treat the things we work so hard to acquire or dedicate so much of our lives to like they have no value? Doesn’t make sense does it.

Here is a part of the answer. When we have a clear line of sight to what we want from our life and business it brings more clarity to how we approach solutions to our problems. Our point of view is oriented in a totally different way. I heard this perspective quickly and simply explained like the following…

Scenario #1 – You’re driving a rental as a loaner while your car is being fixed and you need something at Wal-Mart. It’s a quick stop and these are the nastiest parking lots with high traffic and lots of shopping carts. Do you park way back in the empty spaces or do you drive as close as you can and even squeeze it into tight spot?

Scenario-#2 – You have been saving for 5 years and just purchased the car of your dreams. It’s a vintage Corvette or a latest model of the luxury brand you only dreamed of owning some day. Everything you ever wanted in a vehicle is now at your fingertips. Hey, it could even be a minivan! Now where do you park this vehicle? Even when you are in a hurry?

Likely the answer to Scenario #1 is YES to squeezing it into a narrow spot up close. At minimum you really aren’t even concerned with where you park unless you are trying to get your 10,000 steps a day in. The answer to the second scenario is likely—somewhere way back in the open spaces away from the masses of parked cars. Or maybe not, because there are a lot of people that treat their cars just like they treat their problems—they are renting them!

The car example defines that ownership can carry with it a completely different perspective. Ownership is an experience that has accompanying levels of responsibility. It’s still a challenge to sufficiently explain the concept of owning our problems and then getting into action on solutions. Mostly it is challenging because it is an experience or a way of being. There are employees or retail partners that have problems and struggle in overcoming obstacles that will grow their business. In corporate settings they can often serve as a rich resource of scapegoats for business owners and leaders. It is much easier to tell a story why something isn’t working or the numbers aren’t adding up—than to say …”I’ll own this one, now let’s look at some solutions. What’s possible here?”

Let’s look at the two words that can often start out most sentences for those just “leasing a problem”. IF ONLY…

  • The marketing department had a better strategy.
  • Operations had their stuff together.
  • Leadership listened better to our customers.
  • The price was lower.
  • Our people could handle negotiations more effectively.
  • I could win the lottery!

What does it really mean to own your problems? When does a problem become my problem and not someone else’s? How do I own something I don’t even control? If you have a case of the “IF ONLY’S” you need to find the cure and quick before you become irrelevant as a leader. This isn’t a “big company” problem. Individuals and small business owners can get caught up in this as well even when their own net worth is at stake. The magic comes when you can turn the culture of a business into one that doesn’t mouth the words “act like an owner”—it is powerful when you experience leaders acting like owners. Shoulder it up and move on down the trail.

What’s the magic in this discipline? It’s taking initiative at its very root. When I can have my business filled with solution oriented people it is a great day as a leader! Most likely the employees and down stream leaders are supported to solve problems on their own. They also have the resources and moral support behind them to ask for help. Realistically you will always have to stay in the game on this concept of being disciplined. We drift. Overtime we mellow out like fine wine and turn back into a fine “whine”. It is understandable that you don’t control all the outcomes or circumstances. I have to coach leaders to stay drilled in on the things they can control and influence. Crap happens even to the best of us, but how we deal with that “crap” is about being responsible. Able to respond in a way that will optimize and not minimize. How we deal with crap is all about responsibility. Park your car where you want…it’s your choice. You will just have to fix the dents in your leadership later. I leave you with this thoughtif you have something be a problem then its your problem. You can decide what you will do about it and get after it or let it go. Get on it or get off of it and move on.

Next time—Ideal Leaders are ACCESSIBLE.  Where are you hiding out? Can my leader come out to play?

Bonus Read (read on if you like, I take a poke at corporate HR) —Have any of you ever evaluated an employee in a corporate setting on their pattern of behavior? I can bet one of those “desired” behaviors was listed as—“ Acts like an owner” most likely in the decision making category. A classic sub-description is—Takes responsibility and initiative to accomplish a given task”. This idea of getting employees to act like owners is missing the boat. In reality I’m an employee with an mid-year and annual review that has a manager that wants me to act like an owner. Now if I own a lot of stock in the company that I work for I just may feel more like an owner. The problem is this—I just don’t get treated like one most days. And in fact when you own stock all you really have is the right to vote at annual meetings and that has been automated. The answer lies in the conversation above. And the question is what do I really own?  These latest fads in Corporate HR efforts to find some magic words to manipulate the masses just don’t work.

If you are asking me, to join in the concerted efforts of making “stakeholders” and the CEO with his crew more money; that’s a rental car move (see story above). If you have outlined to me as my leader and manager what the employment transaction is and what you want from me in performance—I can make that connection. I can also then own my dreams and how that transaction with you will make those dreams come true. Plus, I’m watching you as my leader to learn just what owning my problems really is like…it’s an experience that helps me with my own career and portfolio of skills. If your people aren’t doing what you want them to it’s your fault not theirs.

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Coaching to Core Ideals – Straight Talk and a Straight Walk

By heartwoodgroup

This is another post in the series Coaching to Core Ideals.

The IDEAL LEADER is 1) Visionary, 2) Authentic, 3) Disciplined, 4) Accessible, and 5) a Strategic Learner. See the Coaching to Core Ideals post to get a quick overview and context for the series. We are going to break each sub-topic down over the next few weeks.


  1. Makes tough decisions in a timely manner
  2. Talks straight and moves forward with feedback effectively and courageously
  3. Does not make their problems anyone else’s, they own them and act accordingly

In an earlier post on meaningful dialogue I asked the following questions.

Do you have to go “undercover” as a leader or can you build a culture that fosters, demonstrates, and rewards straight talk?

Why do managers hesitate saying what needs to be said rather than just talking about it?

Straight talk or “telling it straight” is a significant leadership concept that is 1) not practiced consistently and 2) a skill that requires a tremendous amount of emotional maturity. This single concept can be a source of tremendous personal success and business results. We all can espouse that straight talk is great and believe it is the right and principled thing to do. However, practicing it consistently and embedding straight talk as a “way of being” into your own behaviors and organization’s culture is where effective leaders begin to separate from many managers and business owners. Straight talk is a language activity we lose quickly as we become social beings. The opportunity is not so much about acquiring it, but rather to recapture what was lost.

We had it when we were kids and then slowly social norms train us to just stop saying “what is”—because it just might hurt someone’s feelings. Or even more influential is the idea that we may not be liked by another if we said it straight. Little kids are a riot when they use the words and limited language they have to explain the world they see. Many of you may be too young to remember the early TV show Kids Say the Darndest Things by Art Linkletter. He was master at interviewing kids and getting to their straight talk on how they saw things. If you have never watched it (click the link) get ready for some good laughs! It’s refreshing and restorative to see these children just say it from their perspective.

Our family has a few prime examples of straight talk, which I define simply as telling it like you see it. One of our favorite examples is the following—one of grandkids in the family enters the bathroom where elderly grandma is in the bathtub. Grandma says, “Hi”, and the little one looks her naked body up and down real close—then says, “Grandma you are falling apart”. From the mouth of an innocent a 3-4 year old it is a funny story that even grandma would repeat. If grandpa had said it—we are quite sure grandma wouldn’t have thought it funny. It may have even been experienced as very hurtful…even to grandpa!

This story quickly illustrates what really gets in our way in delivering straight talk.  Straight talk is not always valued and especially if the person receiving thinks your intent is different than that of an “innocent” toddler.  It’s all about perspective of the intent of the “speaker” first. The content of the straight talk only is received or considered when the receiver clearly understands your intent. The perspective of the receiver of your motives then becomes the most important part of delivering straight talk or successful feedback. As a leader you must be adding value and straight is born out of a base line commitment to the other person.

When you are coaching a leader to be better at having powerful conversations the key starting point is having them gain clarity for their own commitment to changing things or helping someone change. Once this is discovered you can begin to help them refine their understanding of their own energy and passion to be actively involved in changing outcomes for others and the business. Conveying intent or your “real commitment” to the person you are leading and coaching is not about being polite, it’s about results and effective action. These results are not just about “the business” it is really about “the person” that individual needs to be in order to achieve success. The success they need in their career. The business will thrive if they are clear and sometimes that means changing behaviors and sometimes careers. Regardless, it is about the individual and business aligning the vision, values, and passions in an authentic fashion. True sustainability is only reached when clarity for both the outcomes for system and the individual within the system are brought forward together in the conversation.

If I believe in your commitment to me is genuine (and I have no reason to think otherwise) I can take some very difficult conversation from you. It may be difficult to hear straight talk about the system’s situation and how it impacts you. In turn, it can be equally demystifying to really understand my position within the system as an individual. What has to be said won’t feel good or make me happy-all-warm-inside as a person, but I if know your intent and it is meant to help and not harm me—I have just received a gift that many just will not give me.  I have gotten pure feedback. A rare form or contribution many will experience infrequently if at all in their adult life.

That’s why, as leaders, we need to deliver straight talk with a simple set up. Its pretty simple so here is the set up and it’s worked for me every time (because I deliver it from an authentic commitment to the team or individual).

You open with a question:

“If I knew something that was going to help you be better, more successful, and reach the goals that were most important you—AND—I didn’t tell you because it was really difficult for me to say; what would you think of me or how would it make you feel?”

The answer you will get is usually in some shape or fashion like the following—“not very good…you have let me down…you don’t really care”.  You are now set up to begin giving feedback.

You might begin with something like:

“That’s why I want you to listen to me like someone who cares about your success. So please listen to what I have to say from that point of view that I have something I think will make a difference for you. Then let’s both discuss together.  How’s that sound?”

You must always ask for permission and this is prevalent in many books on tips for giving and receiving feedback. I’ve found little is said about setting up the “listening” for your intent of the feedback. It can make all the difference.

When you ask for feedback you better be prepared to do something about it. NEVER ask for feedback without clearly resolving to be active with it. If even at minimum you thank me and say you are unwilling to change in that area, I know you are making a conscious decision and not blowing me off. You can also build power by thanking others for feedback and then declaring how you will use it and what you want to be held accountable to in context to the change you will make. Feedback really is the “breakfast of champions” and becomes very addictive.  Once you build a relationship that operates at this level of candor you realize how much efficiency and expediency to act it creates.

If straight talk and feedback are so powerful, why do we struggle with creating an environment where it becomes the norm? I think it fundamentally challenges some of our deepest “hard wired” behaviors as a human. We live by default so much of life that we really are blind to our opportunities. To get better is hard work and it challenges our perspective of who we think we are. Our identity resides in others and yet somehow we cling to our own points of view rather than value a clear description of how we really show up outside our own reality. We make others wrong and then we get to be right. And then the real travesty begins. We live by default in a world that maintains our identity, but brings little value to our dreams, aspirations, and authentic self.

I am certified in Crucial Conversations.  It is a fantastic program and I suggest reading the book to clearly understand what a successful leader does that makes them a successful communicator—when it counts. When a business fails or underperforms it hurts a lot people. There are also dire consequences in some professions when crucial conversations don’t happen. People die or get gravely harmed. The program works because it unpacked what successful leaders do when they communicated effectively. I believe in this sound approach. How many times have you participated in a “training program” that was the product of the most recent theory or trendy program. Sound development is often repeated when you define or study where it is successful and then use that model to develop others. You don’t always need extensive training to gain success. You may just need perspective and awareness, so that you can recognize when you should be getting in the game. Too many human beings want the quick fix and the tips or techniques without going deeper into their own role in the dysfunction. The thought is—if we could just train those people the problem would go away, when in fact the straight talk to that business owner is…”It’s not a training problem, your business model is wrong or your culture is not conducive to people contributing their ideas or taking initiative themselves.

Where do you need some straight talk?

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Coaching to Core Ideals – Tough and Timely Decisions

This is another post in the series Coaching to Core Ideals.

The IDEAL LEADER is 1) Visionary, 2) Authentic, 3) Disciplined, 4) Accessible, and 5) a Strategic Learner. See the Coaching to Core Ideals post to get a quick overview and context for the series. We are going to break each sub-topic down over the next few weeks.


  1. Makes tough decisions in a timely manner
  2. Talks straight and moves forward with feedback effectively and courageously
  3. Does not make their problems anyone else’s, they own them and act accordingly

When I started to write about Coaching to Core Ideals it was my inaugural attempt at posting to a blog that I had set up last spring. Coming up with ideas and subjects are not the issue for me. I needed to get into the practice of writing and to be disciplined (not as in punished!) in my writing. My belief is that once I start posting I have made a commitment. Commitment is a way of being intellectually and emotionally bound to a purposeful action. When I start up with new clients we begin with defining this word, so that we both live and language with a common understanding of what it means when we say…”I commit”. BEING DISCIPLINED implies that you understand how to make and keep commitments to yourself and to others—AND do it repeatedly over time. Understanding commitment has everything to do with the ability in making tough decisions.

I’m in this writing adventure for the long haul. Here I am 6 weeks or so later and this is my 9th post. I have been pleasantly surprised at having hundreds of views and growing connections with others who are interested in being a lifelong learner and growing as a leader. Our communities and businesses need leaders to aspire to Core Ideals in every aspect of their lives. There is a growing demand within our families, our communities, our work place, and this planet (that grows smaller) every day. My goal is to help leaders understand commitment and the discipline it takes to be the Ideal Leader others need and want you to be.

I make this commitment to write—first to myself and equally to you as a learner and a leader, I will keep writing and finish this series—even if only one person were to read these posts AND take on the actions, rigor, and discipline required to succeed at their calling as a leader.  Leading, like writing, has its fundamental disciplines.  It takes time, consistent practice, and a clear focus on the end result. In my younger impetuous youth the word discipline was more associated with punishment. Writing and leading feel like punishment sometimes if you don’t have a clear “line of sight” to the end goal. Faced with many other demands on your time; it becomes critical that you can make choices to focus and stay on task.

Some decisions are the proverbial “no brainer”. It is obvious what needs to happen. How about a tough decision that needed to be made quickly and in a timely fashion? It might be that you don’t have all the information you need and— your business’ very existence is at stake. We struggle with making decisions when we lack perspective. What can I anchor to when it really counts? Ideal leaders get better and better at making tough and timely decisions. I believe this is because they work hard at gaining perspective and points of view that serve as a guide—and this is a constant. This is why expert coaching has a huge ROI for leaders. It is all about perspective and being proactive. Ideally you capitalize on the learning from past judgment and tough calls based on the experience of others in your network.

I was in a powerful conversation with a client recently and the discussion evolved to the 2 biggest and influential elements in decision making. They are time and pressure. The things that of which diamonds are made.

1.       Time – Could also be called “Timing”.  It has to do with timeliness of decisions.

a. What amount of time has been afforded you is not in your control in many of the situations. It is a circumstance to be dealt with—either accepted or overcome. Terminal cancer patients are given a time estimate that they may influence, but likely won’t avoid. Truth is, we are all terminal—the terminal cancer patient just has a better estimate. Making timely decisions requires extraordinary skills in leading teams and businesses to overcome obstacles of time.

b. Some opportunities have “THE WINDOW” (you know the cliché). When the “window of opportunity” passes there is no option for – “I’ll do it later”. The opportunity bus stopped, you had a chance to get on, and you hesitated or just reached back for your bags—it left the curb and drove off with you left standing in a cloud of exhaust fumes.  Just that fast “opportunity” was gone! The old saying—“Opportunity only knocks once” is no longer true.  Life and work is moving so fast now, that I don’t think opportunity even takes time to knock at all anymore. It slows up just enough for you to recognize it and you run alongside and jump on board.

2.       Pressure –Is about intensity and importance. It has to do with the level of impact of decisions.

a. Under Pressure” the Queen and David Bowie song always plays in my head when I hear the word. “Pressure pushing down on me…” Defining the degree of pressure on your decisions can begin in clearly understanding the critical success factors vital to reaching necessary outcomes. The pressure to perform is a good thing in my book. Life is full of expectations and winners/leaders want to take on the challenge.

b. No doubt some people want the ball on fourth down even though they may end up failing. You may have heard the phrase “glass balls”. This business metaphor refers to identifying those key items or “glass balls”—that if dropped would be extremely detrimental to the success of a business. You need to know where you are vulnerable and not live in a dream world. Every business goes through some stress and testing and you need to know where you are weakest.  The tough decisions may involve minimizing the damage and living to fight another day.

Discipline was not something that was “put off” in my family growing up. It usually was quite timely, swift, and sometimes painful to my backside. Yes, my dad would open up a can of “whoop ass” on me—and you know I had it coming. Why? Because I was the kid that would weigh the pain of punishment against the fun I thought the mischief might bring me. It was a tough decision, but I weighed the options. That’s pretty sick really. But my stubbornness needed to be molded by discipline into focusing that youthful energy towards positive and productive behavior. I appreciate a Dad and Mom (they are in Heaven now) who cared enough to discipline me. If discipline was ever slightly delayed it was to protect my dignity and so that it could be done in private. I’m not sure it was my parents’ first choice of activities, I was sure sometimes it was a tough decision on my parents’ part to administer. They had a set of ideals and values they used as guidelines—they were molding me into an adult. Some of the toughest leadership calls come in our relationships with friends and family.

Just like my mom and dad; making tough and timely decisions are less stressful if you know where you are taking your family, organization, or yourself. It requires commitment and the ability to trust yourself to do it.

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