Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Coaching, THE Leadership Habit

What drives culture?

Leadership. The single most important thing to a company’s success. Whether you have two employees or two hundred thousand.

I’ve worked in companies big and small. From start up to Fortune 10 and in between.

The single biggest predictor of success? Leadership.

What does it mean to be a great leader?

One word.


What defines a coaching leadership style?

  1. Coaches see the whole field. Seeing the whole field allows the coach to call the plays (strategy). Subsequently, this empowers the players to carry the ball (execution) down the field. That perspective allows the coach to guide the team around roadblocks, deflecting and handling distractions. It allows the leader to know how to tell the company story and build the strategy. MVP doesn’t go to the coach. It goes to a player. Great leaders lead from behind the scenes.
  2. Coaches provide structure to the game (and practices). Seeing the whole field also enables the leader to bring the team together, clearly defining roles and accountability. Accountability resolves conflicts head on. Structure is provided via regular 1:1s, team meetings and company communications. This structure of up and down the line communication is highly underestimated. Imagine a team running around the field with no clarity on position. What a cluster (literally and figuratively) – imagine a kindergarten soccer game. You’d be surprised how many teams operate this way. No clear swim lanes mean no one is accountable, the team starts finger pointing and no one delegates (which empowers). I call this abdication. It is a culture destroyer.
  3. Coaches ask more questions than tell. Run fast from companies that have leaders that suck the living air out of the room by talking more than listening. Great coaches ask questions, listen, reflect and then deliberately act. They know they don’t have all the answers. They don’t have to be the smartest ones in the room. Great listeners are intimidating. Why? Because you know they are listening to every word. They will act on your articulations. And call you out if you’re sloppy. You choose your words wisely and carefully when you have a good coach.
  4. Coaches spend a lot of time analyzing the plays. Details. There is no other way to run a company than to get into the details of your business. This is your game. You better know the competition, the market and the drivers of your business performance (or under performance). Start with current reports. Ask questions. Lots of them. Up and down the organization. Down in the organization is the most important as this is where you will find some of the easiest, but most often overlooked, answers to business performance issues.
  5. Coaches take hiring the team seriously. Recruiting players to your team makes or breaks the culture and subsequent strategy and execution of your company. It took me seven months to recruit a head of digital marketing. She was worth the wait and the other twenty plus 3 hour long interviews I conducted. Conversely, I’ve hired after two interviews and 90% of the time that ended in delayed productivity after having to fire the new hire. Never hire under duress. Take your time.
  6. Coaches have the hard conversation. When business is down, coaches talk about it and develop a plan with the team. If coaches don’t believe in your plan, they tell you directly and then empower you to come back with a different solution. Coaches give immediate feedback. In the moment. To the point. No sugar coating. Coaches don’t allow or engage in negative talk about anyone on the team. And I mean anyone. One of my best coaches knew there was a personnel issue on the team. It was a style and tenure issue. He cut off negative conversations about this individual. It sent a message. Without a word, his team knew he was handling the situation.
All the above combine to inspire a confident team.

Coaches inspire confidence.

If you’re not coaching, you’re not leading.

I’ve used this leadership definition check list to carefully choose who to collaborate with and where to lead.

It’s led me to hire one of the best teams I’ve had the pleasure of coaching (shout out team CBR!).

It’s helped me navigate my way to strong leaders to learn from that aren’t hiding in the bureaucracy of Fortune 100 companies.

And it pushed me to take the leap into the private equity world where I had one of the best coaches of my career.

Defining leadership guides me to know when I belong to a culture… or not. Specifically, by noting the antonyms of lead: comply, adhere, obey, follow, alienate, antipathy, neglect, overrule, repress.

My two favorite synonyms of coach are mentor and guide.

We need more coaches now more than ever. How are you showing up as a coach in your life?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Leaders: Don’t Take Yourself so Seriously

Leaders take themselves too seriously.

I unexpectedly ran into another CXO the other night at a social setting. A very casual setting of old college friends getting together in a wintry cabin. Sweats and active wear welcome. Dogs and kids running around freely.

He was so serious. Very executive like. Almost like we were in a board room.

I then realized that part of my climb up the executive ranks was an unspoken rite of passage. Be more serious. Less fun. Become less human.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t take your work seriously. Conversely, I’m saying you shouldn’t take yourself so seriously.

The corporate culture of Lean In means we lean out of everything else.

Case in point; I was recently having a lunch with a well-respected colleague. We were catching up after his recent exit from a successful acquisition. A transaction that afforded him a graceful exit to semi-retirement.

The comment that stuck with me; “I have a lot of years to pay back to my family.”

Why is this the accepted price we pay for success?

Instead of leaning in, we need to start having real and truthful conversations. Conversations about what we’ve sacrificed to get to the c-level. The big payout. The corner office. Truthful conversations about two things:
  • What we have sacrificed thus far
  • What we learned and how we do it differently now

In my last blog post, my learning culminated in a declaration: “I won’t put the company before everything else.”

What I am challenged with now is the continued perception that you should be on 24/7 to be successful.

First in the office, last one out. Pay your dues. That is so 1990s Glengarry Glen Rossesque.

 It’s time for leaders to start being honest on how to have balance. To walk the talk.

My most productive and creative times are not at the office. But rather in secluded and focused spaces. Starbucks. My back deck. Outside on a bench. In my home office. On an airplane. On the drive to Yosemite National Park (no joke).

How many of you hide away in conference rooms to get work done to avoid interruptions?

This is ludicrous!

Management by interruption is when someone else’s perceived priority costs you at least 10 minutes of productivity every time you are interrupted.

Flow. Interrupted.

You can cut out management by interruption by committing to at least two 1:1s with your employees a week. HT to Bruce Tulgan and his book, It’s Okay to Be the Boss.

One of my favorite leaders when I was in the Fortune 100 world used emoticons. In email. Constantly.

Little smiley faces.

I was so confused at first. This was seemingly unprofessional. Yet, he was one of the best virtual team builders and worldwide leaders we had. He was an effective leader and he delivered results.

Every time I saw that smiley emoticon I could hear him laugh and see his smile. The way he did in meetings, putting everyone at ease.

His emoticons made his communications smile. Made it more human.

He taught me not to take myself so seriously.

So why are CXOs so serious? Why have we taken the human out of our leadership?

Human is vulnerable.

A reference to the hour I stole away with my husband for lunch. A brief mention about coaching my daughter’s basketball team. A smile after calling out someone in a meeting for multi-tasking. A mid-afternoon walk to Starbucks with a team of 15 when you realize the meeting is going to run late. Really late. An unexpected high five after reviewing killer creative from the most junior person on the team.

It’s not a sign of weakness.

Time to put the human back into leadership.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When $ is Out of the Way

I can’t believe I haven’t posted since August. I was on a roll back in September and October, writing every day for Seth Godin’s altMBA (you can apply here for the next session – it’s life changing).

That experience taught me that you have SO much capacity in your days.

Capacity that is wasted.

Capacity that is waiting to be given to the world.

Capacity that will come back to you generously.

For four intense weeks, I juggled a full-time c-level start up job, a husband, two daughters in elementary school and just in case, threw in bringing home a new white lab puppy. Did I mention we were launching our company during these four weeks?

I never felt happier.

Was it intense? Extremely.

Did I hit a breaking point where I thought I couldn’t do it? Absolutely.

Did I push past it and realize that there is ‘good enough’ and you need to ship it? Yes, and it was a breakthrough moment.

My priorities were never more clear. There was no time for Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. No binge watching Stranger Things or Game of Thrones.

My communications were 100% focused on human interaction. Face to face. Voice to voice.

I created. I shipped. I listened. I asked good questions. I was never so present in all aspects of my life.

Which brings me to two questions to kick of 2017. These are grounding questions. Check yourself questions.

  • 1) If money was out of the way, what would you do?

I don’t think we appreciate how much we empower money to rule our lives. From career choices to daily priorities, money drives our culture.

Jay Shetty just posted this video describing the paradox of our times. In the words of Will Smith, “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.”

Some of the happiest people I encounter have very little. A roof over their head and friends and family around a warm fire is all they need. Think of this scene from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.

Human connection.


Do you ever notice when you give more it comes in more abundance to you?


My own personal reflection on money led me to leave a career in San Francisco, prioritize my family and move to Bend, Oregon.

Guess what?

My career didn’t end. In fact, it’s on a high and I’m finding a unique niche to fill with the gifts I have.

I prioritize walks with our new puppy. I occasionally fit in an afternoon hot tub before hammering out the next analysis or conference call. I’m sleeping 8 hours a night.

Gasp! I’ve had breakfast with my husband after dropping off the girls at school.

I’ve had more human interactions in work and life than ever.

  •      2) What are you willing to stop doing to get back the energy and time you need to do, build, nurture or create what matters the most? (HT to Tara-Nicholle Nelson and her 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders – also life changing – join here).

First, I created, said aloud and now demand my own boundary; “I won’t put the company before everything else.”

For the last 20 years, I’ve prioritized one thing: my role and contribution at the company. It was a bottomless and empty feeling sustained by the high I felt when I kept succeeding at climbing the corporate ladder.

Have you ever noticed the corporate ladder is a never-ending roller coaster of highs and lows? Just when you ship the latest ‘urgent’ item another ‘urgent’ item appears. There is not a lull… unless you allow yourself one.

I started this post with what I stopped doing. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and checking email obsessively.

From Jay Shetty’s video that I nodded to earlier, “It’s phenomenal that the same technology that brings us close to those that are far away takes us far away from the people that are actually close.”

I’ve been off course the last 2 months. Filling my capacity with useless items.

Thanks to my cancelled United flight this morning for giving me the quick kick in the arse I needed. I’m back. My compass is lit up. New books to read. Writing every day. And focusing on human connections.

From my snowy, cozy space in Bend… these excited, surprised faces greeted me this morning.

They don’t care about the meetings I’m missing. The money that we have or don’t have. They care that their wish came true this morning – school and Mommy’s flight was cancelled.

When money is out of the way…