The Challenge of Real Change

As consultants, we are often asked to work on change. Whether it’s changing a process or an organization’s culture, we expect and often get resistance.

Sometimes we are able to overcome this resistance. Sometimes we are not.

When we are not, it’s usually not for intellectual or rational reasons. We can and do make the logical case for the change we suggest. Indeed, we rarely reach an impasse where we are told that what we suggest does not make sense. But, change being okay at an EMOTIONAL LEVEL is another matter.

Emotion is the challenge of real change. It may take the form of feeling uncomfortable with a new process. Like being asked, starting tomorrow, to drive on the right side of the street, à la England. It can also take the form of feeling fearful about the unknown, summed up by the idiom, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

All strategies for overcoming emotion based resistance start with recognizing and accepting that is what is going on. Once recognized, it’s possible to start soothing the emotions and reducing their contribution to resistance. For example, an emotion calming strategy might be to investigate the experience of others who have already implemented a given change — hoping for reassurance. Another emotional calming strategy might be to use mindfulness (or meditation) to help avoid the tendency we all have to “catastrophize” or start thinking about worst case outcomes.

Whatever strategy fits you best, it’s much easier to employ, if you recognize you’re tackling the foremost challenge to real change, emotion.

Please let us know if we can help…

Aaron Rodgers Makes A Case for Addressing the Five Dysfunctions of a Team

As we approach the National Football League’s AFC and NFC championships, we would like to note that none other than Aaron Rodgers, of Green Bay Packers fame, gave credit to a familiar business book for helping himself and his team succeed. The ESPN article reads:

“The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” is a business book. It’s about the problems teams face as they try to “row together.” Rodgers calls it a “phenomenal read for anybody in a leadership position.”

“One [part] that especially talked to me about this team,” Rodgers said, “was communication and conflict and being comfortable having issues with teammates and resolving them and moving forward in a positive way and not having that fear of conflict, which I think alienates and isolates individuals. Being comfortable talking to people and letting them talk to you about issues they have and being constructive and positive in your reaction to that.”

Rodgers’ leadership has been questioned in the past year. When things have gone wrong, there have been suggestions that Rodgers has disconnected himself from the team, sort of like Favre in his final years. Rodgers, the theory went, became so big, so much of an institution, that he couldn’t relate to his peers.

In November, the week of the Redskins game, Bleacher Report published a lengthy profile on the quarterback titled, “Can Aaron Rodgers Be the Type of Leader the Packers Need?” Ex-Packers tight end Jermichael Finley was quoted heavily in the story. He told the website, “I just don’t think he was a natural-born leader. He wasn’t put on Earth to lead.”

The story also said that Rodgers is estranged from his family, is aloof and is extremely rough on his receivers, frequently chewing them out. Finley said he wasn’t a hands-on leader and was more concerned about his stats.

In an interview last week, Rodgers called leadership “a challenge.”

When he wasn’t in rhythm earlier this season, for example, he had a short meeting with the wide receivers. Many of them are young, in their early 20s. Some of them, at some point, were terrified of letting down Aaron Rodgers.

“He kind of took us aside and said, ‘I’m not yelling at you guys just to yell. I’m yelling because I care. I believe in each and every one of you.’ I think it meant a lot to all the guys,'” receiver Jeff Janis said.

“It’s especially hard for younger guys because he’s Aaron Rodgers, and he’s won a Super Bowl. When he said that, it just reminds you that, man, he really is on my side. He doesn’t want to see me fail. He wants me to be the best player I can be. It kind of [took] us aback a little bit. It was just nice to hear.”

For the full article, click here. Hopefully, the message is clear… even one of the best “individual contributors” needs a functional team around him or her to get the best organizational (team) results.

Happy Holidays and Keeping Score

First and foremost, we wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season!

We also have a link to share. It’s to a slide presentation on the Pros and Cons of Keeping Score. We hope the slides are self-explanatory and look forward to hearing from you, if not. The basic idea is how keeping score vis-a-vis others or some internal standard produces stress and gets in the way of showing vulnerability. Not showing vulnerability reduces trust and inevitably decreases the odds of effectively leading others and working in teams. It’s a new way to think about a timeless challenge. The link is: here. Please enjoy!

Happy Holidays,

Vital Growth Consulting Group

Everyone Needs a Coach

Perhaps you already believe a coach can help you. Perhaps you know it. In this brief video [] Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt of Microsoft and Google fame, respectively, make a pitch for hiring a coach. It’s a brief video (< 90 seconds) and it makes the important point that no matter how good at your job you are, you cannot objectively assess your own behavior–like a trained coach can. Perhaps watching the video will push you to take the step of hiring a coach. If so, give us a call. We think you’ll be glad you did.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Vital Growth Consulting Group

The Hillary Step of Leadership

The Hillary Step is the last major challenge to reaching the top of Mount Everest (via the South East route). In our work, the Hillary Step is analogous to the challenge leaders face on their way to Jim Collins’ Level 5 Leadership where the leader “build[s] enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.”

Time and again, we have watched very successful business owners and leaders stumble on the Hillary Step of Leadership. They cannot get past the need to let others know, subtly or not so subtly, what they think should happen or “how things are.” At worst, they need to be the “smartest guy in the room” and position themselves to get all the limelight. At best, they intermittently criticize and leave a trail of frustration (by focusing more on people’s shortcomings than on how other factors, including their own blind-spots, might contribute to poor results).

In general terms, these leaders view their role as being the key contributor and director instead of as being the catalyst for the growth of and inspirer of others. They stand in contrast to the leader who exercises an iron will at moving in the right direction with an equal intensity for putting others in a position to succeed–complete with the credit for success.

Those who push pass the “Hillary Step,” without much additional effort, ascend to the top of the leadership mountain. In the process they not only achieve great success for their organization, they setup their successors for even greater success.

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in learning more about how to pass the Hillary Step, give us a call. We think you’ll be glad you did.

The Vacation Test

Sailing yacht in the Ionian sea Greece

August is a great time to go on vacation. If you’re a owner or a manager, it’s a ready-made test of the team you leave behind.

Can they run the place without you? For an hour, a day or maybe a couple of weeks? Will they pass the test of your being away without losing their way? Can you really take a vacation?

We’ve worked with a lot of owners who don’t feel secure leaving their organization in their team’s hands. Daily (or more frequent) calls are the antidote for this insecurity but come at the price of an interrupted vacation.

We’ve also worked with owners who leave for extended periods and don’t seek or allow interruptions, except in an emergency. These owners pass the vacation test. They combine trust in their team with a little personal sense of security to take a real vacation.

They also are in a better position should a planned or unplanned exit from the business come about.

We hope you are taking a vacation that is really time away from work!

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in learning more about how to pass the vacation test, give us a call. We think you’ll be glad you did.

The No Asshole Rule


Originally published in 2007, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t by Robert I. Sutton, paints a compelling picture of how hiring and retaining even one asshole undermines the performance of your organization.

The decline in performance spans both the departments with an asshole in residence and those departments that have or avoid relationships with the offending department. And that decline includes increased rates of turnover, theft, and lawsuits along with decreased productivity and resilience. Not to mention the personal toll for “targets” of psychological distress and dissatisfaction.

The book does a great job of laying out how to identify assholes, how to implement the “rule,” how to reform your own “inner jerk,” and how to survive in an environment that hasn’t followed the “rule.”

None of the advice is better than the need to take strong action against assholes in the interest of improved organizational performance. Chances are you already know how to identify who there are (people who are less powerful than them report feeling, more than rarely, slighted, demeaned or downright bullied).

Perhaps the book will convince you that it’s worth your while to take action for the benefit of the non-assholes in your ranks and enforce the “rule” going forward! Perhaps you’d like to take the ARSE (Asshole Rating Self-Exam) or have a co-worker take it?

If you’d like help identifying assholes before you hire them or letting one go, give us or some other coach a call. We think you’ll be glad you did.

Why Hire a Coach?

Fotosearch_swi0023The value of coaching is established in most people’s minds. If you’re someone who is skeptical about the value, reading further is unlikely to change your mind.

If you’ll allow that coaching has value, why would you want to hire a coach? Our experience highlights three reasons:

  1. Learning best practices. Coaches, including us, make their living reading about, studying and implementing best practices. These are activities that’s are hard to do when you’re running a business because of the pull of the day-to-day operational responsibilities. Hiring a coach can update your “toolbox” to the latest best practices without having to do all the reading and studying and experimenting yourself.
  2. Seeking accountability. It’s usually easier to hold others accountable than it is to hold ourselves accountable. This is true in just about all cases. It’s the phenomena behind the phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do.” A coach can help you hold yourself accountable by (gently) holding your feet to the fire.
  3. Increasing insight. Insight, in this case, is better self- and other “awareness.” That is increased understanding about why you do what you do and why others do what they do. It is also better clarity about what your strengths and weaknesses are and how best to change or compensate for them, etc. The point is that a coach can help you understand yourself and others better. When done well, this leads to increased influence (leadership) and improved outcomes.

If any of these reasons appeal to you, give us or some other coach a call. We think you’ll be glad you did.

A Model for Leaders – Odysseus Archetype Part III

In our last post we looked at how Odysseus, our archetypal leader, made use of a broad range of experiences and mistakes to learn and grow. In this final post we’ll discuss more of the characteristics that leaders of today could employ to their organization’s benefit.

Our protagonist understands the importance of assessing critical situations himself. In chapter four, Helen, of Troy fame, told how Odysseus disguised himself and entered Troy to see the city’s defenses for himself. He stayed in the character of a beggar when approached by Helen and finally escaped from the city with the info desired. Time and again we see him leading from the front and making his own assessment of situations. Leaders today should consider doing the same with major customers, vendors, marketplaces.

In book twenty Odysseus almost explodes verbally and physically. He knows unleashing them in a torrent of invective and action would not serve his purpose. He does a good job tamping down his emotions at that critical juncture. Executives, too, need to control their emotions to improve effectiveness.

Odysseus analyzes each situation before taking appropriate action. He uses emotional intelligence to determine what others want and how to best connect with them. He is always looking to learn about new people and changing situations. Odysseus makes those difficult decisions and takes action. He stays in character when appropriate and he always perseveres.

Sometimes, as leaders, we have to make those most difficult decisions. Occasionally we are called upon to take actions we know will affect people’s lives. We’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Scylla and Charybdis. There is some comfort to know others have struggled with these dilemmas for thousands of years. We’re not in this alone and can learn from the past, finding models to adapt to the current day.

So finally after twenty years, ten at the siege of Troy and ten being blown off course, Odysseus makes his way home to his wife and family. If you read the story you’ll find he still needs to overcome some challenging obstacles there, and he does. During his arduous journey Odysseus employs the skills and traits all good leaders should develop.

Having worked closely with business owners and top managers for the past twenty years I’ve noticed the best leaders share a number of Odysseus’ characteristics. Among them is emotional intelligence, courageous action, ability to make difficult decisions. They also tend to lead from the front, have perseverance, are lifelong learners and accepting we’re all human.

The Odysseus archetype is a solid model for today’s leaders to embrace. Becoming familiar with the towering characters in our classic literature broadens a leader’s perspective. It is an effective way to “visit cities of men and learn their minds”. Perspective is the other important element classic literature provides, in some case thousands of years of perspective.

The greatest thinkers and minds of all times have also engaged and commented on those characters. The emotional distance they provide enhances leader’s learning opportunities. Continue to lead as a lifelong learner.

A Model for Leaders – The Odysseus Archetype Part II

In Part I of this series we discussed how Homer’s Odysseus, exemplified a leader with high emotional intelligence who was able to think situations though, and make difficult decisions when necessary. We also considered the executive education value of perspective and emotional distance that this classic story provides.

One of the reasons the Odyssey is a classic is that Homer constructed the story on a number of levels. Many of us, when reading it for the first time, read it for the journey and the adventures. The Olympian gods add a surreal, almost Syfy, element for modern readers. Homer, perhaps the first Bard, is a master story teller. As such he advises us about all mankind, including ourselves.

In the first few lines (Fagles translation) we’re told a great deal about Odysseus. He is a “man of twists and turns driven time and again off course,”. As a man of twists and turns, this applies in both a physical and mental sense.

Which one of us has not been “driven time and again off course” as we pursue our goals? Our protagonist shows us over and again the value of perseverance. Odysseus is a poster child for perseverance. He continues to overcome obstacles placed in his way, and there are many of them. It’s a quality that all good leaders must have and employ.

Within the next few lines we’re told, “many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,” Homer seems to be telling us that a broad knowledge base is essential. Being open to wide set of people and different experiences is an excellent education. Understanding, empathizing with people is critical to success. Being able to employ empathy and diverse experiences to come up with new solutions are crucial in leadership. We learn there are multiple ways of organizing, viewing situations and accomplishing goals.

When the Bard tells us that Odysseus, “Learned their minds,” this indicates both an intellectual and practical curiosity. How do they do things? What can we pick up that will help us? How can this help us improve our probabilities of attaining our goals. Good leaders tend to be life long learners, like Odysseus. Our world is constantly changing so executives need to stay abreast of those changes.

Odysseus’ overarching mistake in the Odyssey occurred when he let his hubris run amok. He and his surviving crew had just escaped from the bloody, man eating Cyclops. As they sailed away Odysseus wanted to be sure the Cyclops knew who had tricked and blinded him and hollered out his name. The Cyclops, however, was the son of Poseidon the ocean god. So he called out to his father to destroy Odysseus and Poseidon sent storm after storm to wreck his ship and destroy Odysseus for years.

Odysseus learned from his mistake and kept his hubris in check for the remainder of the story. It was a lesson learned at quite a high cost. A mentor of mine used to say we must all pay the tuition and the cost of a good education is often high. Many of us seem to learn best by our mistakes.

Homer gives us a solid understanding of the character of Odysseus, showing us both his admirable and less than admirable traits. We too are a decided mix of both. The point is, our protagonist is human like us, not superhuman. He has strengths and faults as we all do. We can learn from both, as we catch glimpses of ourselves on our way to becoming better executives.

In our next and final post in this series we will look at the other characteristics that recommend Odysseus as a model for leaders today.