Know Thy Self

The content this week contains thoughts on knowing one’s own strengths and weaknesses.

The most successful leaders we have worked with are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and not resistant to relying on others to take on tasks that are not in their wheelhouse. They are also good at seeking the perspective of others whom they recognize as having a different point of view and, therefore, something valuable to offer.

For example, a current client has a unique technical expertise that makes him in demand in the market. He knows his strength is in conscientiously attacking a problem and working out a viable solution. He prefers to work alone and to take on one challenge at a time.

He’s an excellent technician but has little interest or practice in networking with potential clients or making sales calls to secure the next contract. He may be an exceptional partner with someone who is more people and sales oriented but on his own, he is likely to have trouble getting steady work.

The point is, of course: Alone this client has a small chance of thriving but, partnered with someone with complementary skills, the chances of thriving increase significantly.

This example has relevance for leaders at all levels of an organization because even though the details can vary, the fact that all of us have areas of strength and areas of weakness is invariable. The best leaders accept this fact and act accordingly.


The content this week contains thoughts on prioritizing.

Setting priorities sounds easy and sensible.

It is sensible but that does not mean it’s easy.

Even if you’re not one to procrastinate, it’s commonplace to lose sight of what’s important or a priority. That’s just the way we’re made. It’s why the squeaky wheel gets the grease and why we get drawn into fighting fires every day, no matter how big they are.

As a leader, your task is more challenging because, in addition to setting priorities for yourself, you have to set priorities for others and then communicate those priorities clearly (which means, defining what success looks like and when the task is going to be reviewed).

A couple of tips:

  1. Set your own priorities every day. Make a list (written or electronic) and keep it short. When a task gets done, replace it.
  2. Think about your list before committing to it. Answer the questions: What’s the most important task for me to work on today? What’s after that? And, so on.
  3. Appreciate the power of the discipline of creating a list of priorities. It’s simple to do and doesn’t take long but it takes your effort to make it a habit. Once it’s a habit, you’re in good shape (think of establishing the habit of flossing your teeth).
  4. Understand that people need you to constantly communicate your priorities to them. If “drift” (working on tasks that are not a priority) was eliminated, you could probably cut your workforce in half.
  5. Accept that priorities change and revise accordingly. It’s okay when it happens and practicing “letting go” is important (more so for some than others).

Hiring for Fit

The content this week contains thoughts on hiring for fit.

If you are reading this, the chances are high that you’ve been exposed to information on personality or leadership style (e.g., The Eight Dimensions of Leadership). So, you’re probably familiar with the notion of seeing people as extroverted or introverted and people-oriented or task-oriented.

The advice is to determine what the best fit is for a given role and the personality characteristics of the person being considered for the role. Too often, there is a mismatch between the demands of a role and the characteristics of the person in the role or being considered for the role.

This is frequently the case when a task-oriented person, whether introverted or extroverted, gets promoted to managing others (a role arguably best filled by people-oriented individuals). They may be exceptional at getting things done but unless the person learns to be more people-oriented (through coaching or self-awareness or both), he or she will inevitably start to “lose” some of the people who work with and for them. This, in turn, reduces productivity and engagement–a net loss.

Other common mismatches are introverted/task-oriented sales people, extroverted/people-oriented accounting specialists, and introverted marketing managers.

To combat mismatches, work to understand the personality characteristics needed for a given role and sort candidates based on introversion/extroversion, people/task-orientation. Look to those who have been successful in a given role in the past and understand their personality characteristics. Use assessments like the DiSC to guide you when judging fit.

There are always exceptions but it’s usually easier to have success when the fit is right from the start.

Business Mindfulness

For whatever reason, mindfulness, in general, does not get the attention it deserves in the business world. There are exceptions (General Mills, Aetna, Google, and others) but mindfulness is not a tool that’s regularly brought out like cash flow analysis, project management, leadership development, sales training, etc.

This is unfortunate because mindfulness can reduce stress and stress is common in every workplace. It may be due to the spiritual aspects of mindfulness and the basic oil and water mix of business and spirituality.

Have no fear, mindfulness, at its core, does not require a spiritual belief system. At its core, mindfulness is about staying in the present, in the “now.” The benefits of staying in the present are better concentration, better problem solving, better communication, increased self and other awareness and the resulting improvement in relationships, and resilience in the face of stress.

Staying in the present offers all of these improvements because, by staying in the present, you are less likely to let your mind take off down any of several unproductive paths. These paths include catastrophizing (thinking about the worst possible outcome), figuring out how to avoid any criticism or CYAing (interfering with relationships), and plain old “time wasting” by needless fretting. Going down these paths mentally is common, even normal, despite the inefficiencies.

To practice mindfulness, you need to learn to stop your thinking when you find your mind starting down any of the paths mentioned above or others. Easier said than done. But once done, it’s relatively easy to refocus on the present and return to more productive thinking (observing, interacting with others, planning, etc.).

In brief, implement this plan:

  • Notice when your focus turns away from the present.
  • Reorient yourself to the present by refocusing on what is going on around you and/or your breathing.
  • Return to focusing on the present (observing, interacting with others, planning, etc.).

Best wishes with your attempts at becoming more mindful in the business setting! As always, let us know if you have questions…

“The main business case for (mindfulness) is that if you’re fully present on the job, you will be a more effective leader, you will make better decisions, and you will work better with other people.”–William George

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.