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…

Monday, August 29, 2016

3 Steps to Career Joy (Hint: it’s not $)

I’ve been on a little hiatus as I transitioned from California to Bend, Oregon, leaving behind my frantic pace in the corporate world. What did I learn?

One, my inspiration for writing comes from everyday interactions in business.

Two, there is a difference between career happiness and joy. Just as in life, these two things are profoundly different. Happiness is external. It's based on situations, events, people, places, things, and thoughts. Joy comes when you make peace with who you are, where you are, why you are, and who you are not with. When you need nothing more than your truth and the love of a good God to bring peace.

I wrote about my pit of despair in a three-part series, Purpose: Find Yours. I was happy. I wasn’t full of joy.

I’m now on my journey back into the professional world with a newfound focus – finding career joy. My three guiding principles:

  1. You can have it all, just not at the same time. Wise words from my Mom somewhere along my struggle to balance career and starting a family. Have you ever noticed that when career is going well, home life is struggling or vice versa? Manage this by finding the joy in each of these selves, in that moment. I’ve found being present in the moment is key to finding joy. That looks like turning my phone to vibrate when I am at home. Silent/do not disturb after 9pm. Putting the phone down in conversation. And guess what – that looks the same in my professional interactions – just different hours. HT to Arian Huffington and her 5 Secrets to Thriving at Work and upcoming ThriveGlobal company aiming to change how we work and live.
  2. Do what you love, not for the title. These mentoring words from my CMO as I had just chuntered on for 10 minutes about where I saw my career going in 5 years… only using titles. It was a definitive turning point in my career. From that day I decided to stop worrying about the next promotion and in the words of Seth Godin, “started making a rukus.” The joy of this approach? Promotions are icing on the cake.
  3. No bad outcome. My former CEO told me this after we were acquired. If this sounds familiar, I blogged about this experience in “M&A: Surviving the Arranged Marriage.” How empowering this statement is. A reminder of the fact that joy comes when you make peace with who you are, where you are, why you are, and who you are not with. With peace comes the realization that there is no bad outcome. My husband likes to refer to this as the “position of FU.” 
Someone I greatly respect once proudly proclaimed to me that their goal over the next five years was to have a net worth of $25M. After an awkward silence I asked, “why?” Money will never equal happiness. Money will never equal success.

My goal is to have a net worth of 25M in joy. I feel like I’m just getting started…

Friday, May 6, 2016

Fear: Driving Corporate Mediocrity

Six years ago I read Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Are you Indispensable? It pushed me across the finish line to never say “I can’t” or sit on the sidelines of inaction, imprisoned by a false definition of my work and title. The lizard brain wants you to fear. A linchpin smells fear and runs towards and through it.

In most of the corporate world, fear controls decisions. Coming out of a recent heavy change management leadership role, I thought I’d share my observations on fear driven outcomes and my experiences in how to push teams to bulldoze through the fear to being indispensable.

Two themes: Fear of Change and Fear of Confrontation

1.     Fear of Change: This usually looks like lack of structure. Lack of accountability. Both of which lead to extended and stagnant execution timelines. Culminating in an exit of talent (linchpins!) from the organization and subsequent impact to the health of the business.
a.     What Fear Looks Like: A litany of excuses: “We’ll do this later because… I have performance issues. I have a small team. If I do this, all the work will fall on me and I have no bandwidth. I have a long list of issues to address and need to prioritize other things. Changing things will only add to my list. I trust that people will do the right thing for the company.”
b.     The Fearless Approach: What better way to address performance issues than to move to action, hold people accountable and coach/develop your team? The biggest excuse I hear is, “if they fail, it will impact the business.” BS. If you’re doing your job, you’re setting up teams to win. It’s damn hard work. Regular and frequent 1:1s to identify fires before they happen. Documenting performance issues and having a live conversation for immediate feedback. Why is this so hard for so many organizations? Fear. Fear that one person leaving the organization (regrettable or non-regrettable) will impact the business. If you ever find yourself leading a team where one person is the single point of failure, you know immediately that you have been leading with fear and not addressing an urgent decision that needs to be made across people, process and/or technology. I have never seen one person carry the success of an organization.

I’d like to suggest we ban the word “bandwidth” from corporate America. Bandwidth is the energy or mental capacity required to deal with a situation.
Last time I checked, the only way to ensure your team is being developed and empowered to deliver and grow is to do the work (energy) of showing them what your expectations are (mental capacity) and then inspecting what you expect (situation). Make no mistake – this isn’t diving into every detail. This is being clear on the priorities, the outcome and then empowering the team to get things done. Which leads me to the next fear that collapses organizations…

Lack of accountability. Corporations highly underestimate the value of a clear structure. Structure provides clear accountability by defining roles & responsibilities. With accountability comes action. I’m amazed at how many organizations fight this simple exercise due to perceived disruption. The quickest way to stall M&As or start losing top talent is to put off structure. This includes leveling and scope consistencies. Many HR organizations like to think people don’t compare themselves against their peers. And this is simply ignoring why militaristic, command and control organizations work so well (fire departments, police, and military organizations). Consistency. All levels have transparent and defined roles, responsibilities and scope. Decision makers are clear. People do what’s right for the company when they have clear direction.

Change will shorten the issues list. And more often than not, when an issue is dealt with and removed, the business gets better. You find gems in the company that were otherwise stifled or almost walking out the door.

2.     Fear of Confrontation
a.     What Fear Looks Like: Everyone is cordial in person and back stabbing in the hallways. This is the surest way to let fear rule an organization. This behavior will destroy a culture like a fast moving cancer.
b.     The Fearless Approach: It is imperative that leaders have a no tolerance policy for this kind of behavior. What does that look like? Immediate 1:1 direct feedback on the behavior observed, why it will not be tolerated and the suggested approach going forward. The best leaders do this swiftly. In person 1:1. Immediately after the event. You feel the severity and you don’t do it again. And the great thing is you develop a culture that learns how to confront people in a way that is respectful and drives collaboration and execution across teams and organizations.

In one of my first management jobs I had a tenured direct report 15+ years my senior. I was made aware of several conversations she was having with other direct reports and cross functional partners unhappy with my approach to driving action both in and post meetings. I was seething. And then realized a live conversation was needed immediately. As the new manager, I couldn’t let this fester. I’ll never forget my heart racing as I sat at her desk and made her aware of the feedback I had received. Then the best thing happened – I asked her why she didn’t like what I was doing and what I could do differently. What ensued was a great learning for me. That one question enabled me to build a bridge of trust that still exists with this person today, long after we departed ways to different companies, and she even adopted some of the very practices that she complained about.

Confrontation doesn’t have to be a negative experience if you practice the mantra from Epictetus: We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.

Organizations that make decisions based on fear lose. Lose talent. Lose revenue. Lose innovation.

To close, I nod to “Star Wars Day – May the 4th be with you,” and my favorite character, Yoda.