Using opposites to help people win

Using opposites to help people win



The thought that popped into my mind was unexpected.

All I had to do to resolve my problems with the plant that continued to vex me was to toss it into the compost bin. No longer would I have to deal with the spindly, frustrating thing that wilted in the sun, refused to grow in the shade, and sent out shoots that withered and died.

While that was a fast solution, it didn’t feel right.

What held me back from pitching the plant was the memory of the beautiful flower it bore the day I received it. I imagined a glorious mass of those blossoms spilling over the side of its container. That was a sight that would make me, and others, smile.

Thinking of not giving up on the possibility of having those incredible blossoms prompted me think of David, a long ago boss.

David had enticed me to move across six states to take a new job with a new company, working for him. Hubby and I had packed up all our worldly goods and moved 1,227 miles to a place with “new” everything.

I wasn’t effective right away. Given all the newness, I needed a couple of months to find my footing and flourish in my job, so it was a good thing David didn’t give up on me. As he told me later, “I knew you’d find your way. You just needed a little time.”

David was a rare breed of leader—the nurturing kind.

Not nurturing in the sense of cosseting, indulging, or over-protecting. Rather, David supported and encouraged his team on one hand and pushed us relentlessly toward rigorous goals on the other.

He had that paradoxical both/and leadership thing nailed. He excelled in giving people the space to grow, experiment with new processes, gain new skills, and build capacity. He demanded results but also gain us room to fail and learn.

He inspired us to better ourselves so we could better the company.

The main reason for leading is to help other people win. ~Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner


7 opposites wise and effective leaders manage


They delegate and guide.

They empower employees who have the right skills to do the right work at the right time. They check in periodically to assure all is well, answer questions, or remove barriers.

They hold people accountable and create freedom.

Having the latitiude to create, take risks, and disrupt the status quo is a precious gift. However, this gift comes with strings: responsibility and accountability. These leaders know, and teach others, that they must deal with the consequences, intended and otherwise, and see things through. There’s no walking away when the going gets tough or pointing the finger of blame at someone else.

They dream and do.

They know that work can’t always be like a spreadsheet that contains the perfect formula that always tallies perfectly. Nurturing leaders make room, and time, for dreaming, for feeling, for connecting. They encourage creativity, imagination, fun, laughter, and sometimes a little silliness.

They champion and oppose.

Sometimes the right answer is yes, other times it’s no. Nurturing leaders don’t back away from saying no. They also have the backs of those on their team.

They celebrate success and allow failure.

Giving an employee permission to fail and then learn from failure is the one of greatest gifts a leader can grant. The lessons of success may be superficial, not so with failure. Failure brings alignment to our heads, hearts, and hands. It helps us see the value in leading with our hearts and managing with our heads.

They foster the individual and sustain the collective.

Some activities can be all about “I.” Some things must be about “we.” Nurturing leaders know when to flex between the team and the individual.

They pull back and push forward. 

They understand that innovation is good; and so is honoring stability. Nurturing, thoughtful leaders find the sweet spot in allowing just the right level of disruption that keeps things current, fresh, and relevant without creating chaos.

Do those being served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous? ~Robert Greenleaf

Leadership is about managing opposites, things like delivering results and helping people connect. Connecting is about supporting. Supporting is about being brave enough as a leader to flex your nurturing muscle so others can flex theirs and learn to make a difference.

Image source before quote added: Pixabay
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Want to be promoted? Talk about yourself!

Want to be promoted? Talk about yourself!

power of self-promotion


When I was growing up, my mom told me I needed to be a good girl in life and doing that meant following a few simple rules. One of those rules was to never talk about myself or money. Never, ever. She said good girls just don’t do the self-promotion thing because talking about what you’ve accomplished is bragging and talking about money is impolite.

I listened to my mom, so do other women. 61% of women in a study said they would prefer to discuss the details of their own death than to talk about money.

In another study, 76% of executive women said it was difficult for them to draw attention to their accomplishments.

Brothers hear their moms say these things to their sisters but not to them, so they carry these socially approved notions—OK for boys to do it, not OK for girls—with them into the workplace.

The result?

Some women don’t ask for the raise or higher starting salary and receive neither. Other women do talk about their accomplishments and are branded as selfish, non-team players. Business women are caught in the crossfire between social conditioning, stereotypes, unconscious bias, and leadership norms.

One element of that nasty crossfire is the double standard—women who behave in a manner more expected of a man are criticized when men aren’t. Women should care for others and not themselves. That man understands his worth.

Another element is how people evaluate us is by our accomplishments, successes, abilities, and potential. If business women aren’t providing that narrative, people draw unflattering or incomplete conclusions about our abilities or fail to give us credit for them.

And yet another is a lack of critical thinking and curiosity. Paola Sapienza, professor Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, points out that “men tend to overstate how well they do relative to women. And the people who are making the decisions after hearing everyone speak tended to take most people’s statements at face value. You’d think that people would discount what men say somewhat and inflate what women say about themselves. But in reality, they didn’t do that.”

The bottom line impacts of all these elements?

  • Bosses criticize women for playing against social expectations of being modest when they ask for a raise.
  • Bosses bypass women for opportunities because it’s assumed they have no achievements because they haven’t talked about them.

Business women can circumvent the crossfire and begin to change social norms about women talking about their accomplishments by doing four things.


4 ways for women to bypass the barriers to effective self-promotion


First, women have to get right with their own reservations about talking about their accomplishments and give themselves permission to do so.

From all those years of “good girl” messaging, I thought talking about my achievements was bragging, and I didn’t want to be that icky person who was always talking up what they’ve done and how wonderful they are. I had to learn a couple of things before I could get past that line of thinking.

  • Bragging and self-promotion are two totally different actions. One is a social turn-off; the other is a leadership skill.
  • Bragging is “me-focused.” I landed the big account; I was the one who convinced the boss to change his mind, I did all the work on that project.
  • Self-promotion is me-sharing-how-I-can-serve-you; it’s “we-focused,” and it’s a valuable leadership skill.

Second, women accept that talking about their successes and skills is a just another part of being an effective leader. It’s also a way for women to change the social norms that say women who talk about their performance are being immodest.

“Self-promotion is a skill that produces disproportionate rewards, and if skill at self-promotion remains disproportionately male, those rewards will as well.” ~Clay Shirky, NYU professor

Until people begin “discounting what men say and inflating what women say about themselves,” women telling their story isn’t optional; it’s mandatory.

I had a hard time getting my mom’s voice out of my head when it came to talking about myself. Then I learned about the smorgasbord of opportunities in which I could share my expertise and accomplishments and not come across as the braggart beating his chest.

Consider these avenues of action. You can:

  • Write an article for the company newsletter or blog in which you share a story about a skill and a success it brought you and how others might benefit from doing the same.
  • Teach a workshop to share a skill. Be a mentor.
  • Send short emails or texts to the boss about a successful outcome, just want to let you know that blah-blah good happened.
  • Speak up in meetings.

An important part of getting good with this skill is learning to take the praise when it’s offered and not attribute the positive outcomes to luck.

Third, women frame the story they tell about themselves to include both their performance and their potential.

  • The business world evaluates men on potential, women on performance. Until there are enough women in senior positions to change that orientation, business women have to own closing the gap.
  • Because most people don’t make the automatic leap we hope they will, we have to do it for them and say things like, with help from my talented team, I made our department the highest performing one in the company. I’d like the opportunity to do the same with the northeast division.

study conducted by Catalyst, an international nonprofit focused on advancing women, found that women who consistently made their achievements known did better than women who didn’t.

This both/and approach is a way to bridge existing social expectations and ultimately change social norms. In interviews, meetings, and other venues, we bridge social bias by talking with grace about our past performance, future potential, and how the organization benefits by what we do.

Fourth, women support other women who are learning to get comfortable with self-promotion.

This support is crucial—it helps to make it OK for women to talk about themselves and their accomplishments and not feel like they are doing something wrong when they’re really doing something right.

This support can take lots of forms.

  • It may mean gently reminding a male colleague how men receive accolades (and promotions and raises) when they talk about themselves, so let’s be fair and do the same for women.
  • It may mean coaching a female colleague to get go of her fear and talk to her boss about her achievements while asking for a raise.
  • It may mean asking a colleague to support us as we bravely apply for the job we really, really want, even if a few performance gaps exist.

Take the leap with knocking knees and courage

Despite what our moms may have taught us, we have to learn to be fearless and go for it because self-promotion matters.

So do we.


Image before quote credit: Pixabay






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Why executives need peer groups

Why executives need peer groups

leadership peer groups


There’s a huge difference between networks and networking. Networking is often desperate and transactional; whereas networks are groups of peers we trust.

While few enjoy “networking,” many crave authentic conversations with peers, clients, and key stakeholders. The pace of change is accelerating, and executives need peer groups more than ever to understand what others are thinking and doing.

The most successful executives often have the best networks to share insights, provide support, and pursue common interests. However, strong peer interactions rarely happen on their own. Time, trust, and low expectations too often get in the way.

I’ve spent my career creating these networks: peer groups for C-Suite executives, and board directors—essentially hand selected discussion groups for those who don’t have many peers internally and may not realize they can benefit from them. These relationships are important, and executives need to know how to create them.

Several “building bridges” concepts should influence the design of any executive peer network. They also need to be coupled with the right tactical “how to” items. By doing both, executives can enhance the impact of their own networks—whether as a participant, convener, or sponsor.

5 principles for building effective peer groups for executives


I see five principles that are crucial for executives to be successful in building a network that works for their development:

  1. Leadership is more an art than a science, and it is getting more difficult all the time.
  2. Beliefs drive our behaviors, and behaviors drive outcomes. Beliefs matter.
  3. Leaders are best able to refine their beliefs through conversations with trusted peers.
  4. These conversations rarely happen, in part because busy executives have few opportunities to engage with their peers in a meaningful way.
  5. Even when a group of peers gets together, the design and nature of their interactions rarely supports an increase in trust over time.

There are more than a million conferences a year in the United States, and nearly every vendor in every industry hosts roundtable meetings, webcasts, or seminars. Some are substantive, while others are less so. But most of these events rarely address the needs of senior executives.

I believe well-designed, well-executed executive peer dialogue is possible through private, invitation-only networks.

Executives have to demand more because, in a transactional world, we all need to belong.


Today’s contributor is James Millar, the founder and president of SkyBridge Associates. James believes in the power of great conversations, in building authentic relationships, and in executives sharing valuable insights with each other.





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How to ace the heart part of being a leader

How to ace the heart part of being a leader

head and heart leaders

As I think back over my career, what I find fascinating, puzzling, and sad is how few people I’ve worked for knew how to lead with their hearts and manage with their heads. I can count them on one hand. Those incomparable individuals pushed or encouraged me to learn, take risks, be kind, be curious, and to border my comfort zone with elastic, not concrete. These head and heart leaders made me better and enriched my life.

All my bosses shared a few talents. They were all good at planning, organizing, directing, giving orders, assigning work, and watching the numbers. A few were genius-like standouts in some of these areas of responsibility.

I followed all of my bosses, some because I had to. My paycheck or continued employment depended on it. With them, my head was absolutely in the game, my heart not so much. But then, there were those bosses I followed because I wanted to, inspired and motivated by what they did.

Getting the heart part of leadership right


What set that handful of head and heart leaders apart?

I respected their knowledge and was motivated by their vision. They showed us how the work we did fit into the big picture. They let us know we mattered. We knew we were more than a cog in the wheel or a means to an end.

I thrived in the space and time they gave us to grow. They taught me how to equally value results, the bottom line, connection, and relationships. They pushed for quantity but never at the expense of quality. They were role models for caring about tomorrow, the end of the quarter, and ten years from now. They asked us if we needed help and were having fun. They valued traditions and still encouraged us to be innovative and creative.

I soaked up their lessons on how to manage the opposing tensions workplaces are so full of, things like balancing bottom-up and top-down decision-making or knowing when to centralize or decentralize to maintain efficiency without sacrificing effectiveness.

I was engaged because they asked us what we thought, what we wanted, and they listened. They nurtured, demanded, praised, and corrected. They knew when to be rigid in enforcing the rules and when to flex them. They understood that “we” is more powerful than “me.” They found a way to bridge the simplicity and complexity of leveraging diversity of thought, opinion, and perspective.

I learned it was OK to be vulnerable, to care, and to have both confidence and humility. They showed us that admitting to being wrong and making mistakes came with the job because being popular for the wrong reasons isn’t important but being respected is. They served the greater good, not their ego. They always valued people, principles, and profits equally. They never surrendered mission to margin because ethics, honesty, integrity, and character mattered all the time.

Character is the indelible mark that determines the only true value of all people and all their work. ~Orison Swett Marden, author and founder of SUCCESS magazine

Genuine leaders manage with their head and lead with their heart. They’re pros at the “science” part of the job, knowing the technical, operational, financial, regulatory, and process components of their job stone cold. But they don’t stop there. They ace the “art” of leadership—the people and character part. This heart focus is what sets them apart and makes them special.

I try every day to emulate their good head and heart practices by balancing logic and emotion, meaning and money, results and relationships, taking charge and taking care. I succeed some days, fail on others.

On the days in which I fail, I pick myself up (usually with a special someone’s good head and heart-balanced help) and pledge to do better tomorrow.


Image source before quote: Pixabay




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The 5 Biggest Teamwork Ills

The 5 Biggest Teamwork Ills


Twisting your features into a mask of pain, you dig your heels into the soft grass. A rope tears into your palms. A clear, tiny voice speaks to you amid the many confused thoughts swirling in your head, “So-o-o-o, what am I learning about teamwork from this experience?”

Well, if you’re like many who have done this exercise at a corporate retreat, you should be learning about teamwork. As others join you, the collective rope-pulling effort seems to demonstrate the point. Little by little, the boulder starts moving until it nudges over the 30-foot mark. Cheers erupt.

But you notice something. With each additional person who contributes to the effort, the boulder moves faster, but not as fast as you would have imagined. By the time the tenth person steps up, you feel the group is barely pulling harder than when it was only six, even though everyone seems to be working hard.

This well-documented phenomenon, social loafing, is an issue that plagues any group of individuals working together, but it isn’t the only one. Knowing what to look out for can be half the battle.

5 Biggest Teamwork Ills


Below are the top five biggest teamwork ills, and some prescriptions to help you avoid them.

1.   Overemphasizing Abstract Goals 

People like to talk about transcendent goals for a reason. Steve Jobs was known for his inspiring keynote talks that emphasized changing the world.  Such goals are uplifting and can make work feel more meaningful. But when teams overestimate the importance of inspiring vision when setting goals for their team, they risk not paying enough attention to aligning personal priorities with those bigger goals. If team members don’t understand the “what’s in it for me,” it can be hard for them to commit to working towards team goals.

Teamwork Rx: Make sure that big, collective goals align with small, personal commitments that drive performance.

2. Underemphasizing Roles

Many teams think that merely getting the right talent in play is all that it takes for a team to be successful. Research has shown, though, that you need clear structure and well-defined interdependent roles in order to best leverage the strengths of those on your team. Contrast the 2004 U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball Dream Team’s disappointing performance to the 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors’ expert management of team roles.

Teamwork Rx: Well-structured teams generally outperform those with more raw talent—strength, skill, or IQ. Take time to find the roles and structure that make sense for your team.

3. Making Too Many Rules

Human beings are rule-making machines—it is what defines us as a species and allows us to interact as social beings. Often the tendency in teams is to try to plan for every possible situation and create rules for all potential contingencies. This is both time consuming and ineffective. Starbucks CEO and founder, Howard Schultz understood the importance of focusing on the right rules when he decided to bring back in-store bean grinding to help restore the brand’s reputation and performance.

Teamwork Rx: Focus on the few rules that are likely to have the biggest impact on your team’s culture and performance: information-sharing, decision-making and conflict resolution. 

4. Ignoring Reflection

One of the major cognitive biases recognized by research is outcome bias: if you’re successful, you don’t really reflect on what went well or could have gone better. However, in a world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, or VUCA, successes are fleeting, and reflection is as imperative when things are going well as they are when they’re not. Too often companies and teams reserve formal reflection for annual retreats or quarterly reviews, when in reality it needs to be taking place with much more frequency.

Teamwork Rx: Remember that check-ins need not always be huge affairs reserved for day-long retreats—they can be as simple as a weekly stand-up meeting. 

5. Failing to Sell the Change

You can be right, but ultimately still be unsuccessful. Such was the case for Lloyd Braun, the ABC executive who was the champion and driving force behind the smash hit, Lost. Braun was so convinced that his idea would be a hit, he barreled through green lighting the most expensive television pilot budget to date, $12 Million. He did not take the time to get others on board with his vision, and even though his intuition was correct, he was fired before the show even premiered.

Teamwork Rx: Strength of will and charisma are not enough to push through change—work hard to get buy-in so that people want to come along with you.

In the end, good teaming is about being mindful about how you’re working together, and making sure to check-in frequently to close the gaps between what you say you want to do and what you’re actually doing.


Today’s guest contributors are Dr. Mario Moussa, Dr. Derek Newberry, and Madeline Boyer, the authors of Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance. Dr. Moussa teaches in the Executive Programs at Wharton School of Executive Education. Dr. Newberry and Ms. Boyer are lecturers at the Wharton School of Business and Senior Consultants at Percipient Partners. Connect with the authors on Twitter, @Committed_Teams.

Image credit before quote: Pixabay





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What creates a powerful purpose?

What creates a powerful purpose?

purpose and blind spots

The following is an excerpt from What Are Your Blind Spots? by Jim Haudan and Rich Berens


One of the foremost thinkers on purpose in recent history is Simon Sinek, who has published several books and gives an excellent TED Talk titled “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” According to Sinek, purpose is not about what you do, but it is about why you do what you do.

It’s the big-picture answer to the question, “What is your reason for being as an organization?” Most companies have spent time working on “the what” and “the how” but have not really gained deep clarity on “the why.”

And absent that, you are more strategically vulnerable to not adjust to today’s environment of rapid change. You are also vulnerable to the chance that your people will not have an authentic and meaningful connection to your company, leaving them feeling more like a cog in a wheel.

If you are not sure how to authentically make purpose the driver of your company, try this. Look at any successful person or company in history that you admire and really listen to the conversations about that success. Watch people tell their company story or observe how people passionately discuss what they do. In almost every case, the idea that they are a part of something bigger than themselves will surface.

When Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, was asked to only commit to those activities that were profitable, he responded by saying, “When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI.” That goes for many areas Apple pursues. According to him, the company does “a lot of things for reasons besides profit motive. We want to leave the world better than we found it.”

Apple is one of the most profitable companies on the planet and has been for some time. Cook’s point is not that Apple doesn’t care about profits. But profits are merely the outcome of being a company that is focused on creating unique value for its customers and doing things the right way. Cook knows that is important to him, to the people working at Apple, and to most people buying Apple products. It’s not only the right thing to do; it is actually the smart thing to do.

While a meaningful purpose is important, it’s also crucial to understand that this can raise difficult questions that teams need to be ready to wrestle with. CVS is the perfect example of such a situation. In September 2014, CVS stopped selling tobacco products because such products went against its purpose of helping people on their path to better health. The company understood it would take a significant short-term revenue hit, but the purpose of the company was the main driver.

After a few months of not selling cigarettes, CVS conducted a study of the impact this change had in states where its pharmacy share was prominent. The results were astounding. The company found that tobacco sales in those states across all retailers decreased by 1 percent in an eight-month period. That is a reduction of five packs per smoker and an overall reduction of 95 million packs of cigarettes in those states! That is living your purpose.

While CVS lost significant tobacco sales, the company also gained a lot of respect from many customers and employees because it showed it was serious about what CVS stands for. The jury is out, but we would venture to guess that over a 10-year time frame, this will prove to be a very profitable strategic decision embraced both by CVS employees who feel that there is an authentic commitment to purpose and by customers who show a greater degree of loyalty and trust toward the company.

Purpose ultimately requires great conviction and courage from leaders. Their focus must be on something larger than themselves and creating or fostering that in their organizations.



About today’s guest contributors

Jim Haudan is Co-Founder and Chairman of Root Inc. Root Inc., the organizational change expert on helping companies create leadership alignment, execute strategies and change successful, build employee engagement, and transform businesses.

Rich Berens is CEO and Chief Client Fanatic of Root Inc. and has helped align leaders at Global 2000 organizations to drive strategic and cultural change at scale.


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