Leadership – What was I learning early in my career? Not what Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings is teaching!

netflixWhy is this memory imprinted in my brain? Although this happened to me over 25 years ago, I remember it so vividly. This article triggered it again! (Link below)

I was a newly promoted manager who had “made it” – being promoted to the home office. During the first few weeks in my new assignment, I was working late when the President of the Division walked by my office door. He stopped, looked in my office –then directly at me and said “You are a hard worker aren’t you?”  He smiled and then said, “I am impressed.”

Why was that important? Well it sent a message to a young and ambitious manager –so much so that I found myself cultivating that reputation. I wanted to be known as one of the hardest working managers in the company. I often found myself looking out the window in the early evening – seeing whose car was still parked outside. It also became a “game” to brag about how many unused vacation days I had at the end of the year. I wanted to be known as the hard working “problem solver.”

Looking back, it seems really silly now. I became burnt out at an early age. Fortunately I was able to recover through the help of good coaching, mentoring and family support.

I am sure I did solve some problems – but where did it get me, my team and ultimately the organization? We had success, but I know we missed our potential because I did not work smart.

It is not about activity it is about results. That happens when you are able to step back and give yourself time to thinking about what is most important. It is only when your shift your mind to results versus activity are you able to win. Then you become the strategic leader who Thinks to Win!

The Next generation of leaders are the ones who will get it right.



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Are you stuck in your job search? Think to WIN!

Consider this,

For Candace, a promising college senior, the thought of paying off her student loans was a constant worry, keeping her awake nights wondering how to land her dream job; the job that would pay her loans and satisfy her desire to learn and advance in her field.  Candace knew it would be difficult, yet she became increasingly frustrated when her search was getting her nowhere. As many young professionals learn, being thrown into the real world can be a daunting task when you are not secure in your skills and what you can bring to a new job. A key step missing in Candace’s dream job process was how to assess her skills and find out what she needed to succeed in a world where most recent college graduates and alumni are unemployed. For Candace’s business management class she was assigned to read Think to Win but she never realized how essential it would be in helping her with her own career search. She found out what she needed was a strategic tool to help with her job search and Think to Win was that tool.

As we worked on writing Think to Win (TTW) we were gratified at myriad ways this analytical process could be used for a host of other applications. Beyond our business model, TTW offers a path to become a winner whether you are changing professions, planning to retire or setting up a nonprofit organization. Whenever important decisions need to be made you will find the TTW process a proven winner. With basic principles to guide you and your evidence based research to answer your questions, the TTW methodology directs you to the best options for your particular inquiry. Like strengthening a muscle, the more you use the process the more adapt you’ll become at using it. From there you will see what a convenient guide you have to make decisions, big and small, when you face the multiple demands of life.

I will be posting a series of blogs about Candace and how she used the TTW analytical process to find her dream job. You’ll learn how she challenged the conventional wisdom about job availability and used evidence- based data to understand the true job opportunities. She examined her goals and worked out the strategies it would take to accomplish them. From reading Candace’s story you too can begin to look at decision making in a new light. 

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Content Free Values? Not with a Winner like Shaka Smart!

Even if you are not a sports fan – here is a valuable lesson in living values. Being a big college basketball fan, myself and many other VCU alumni were deeply saddened when we lost our basketball coach. Shaka Smart, one of the most sought after coaches in the country is known for building winning programs. I mean winning in the big sense –not just in wins and losses on the basketball court. He won with his players, the university the fans and the community. He is now the head basketball coach at the University of Texas where he was hired to do just that.

While flipping through my weekly issue of Sports illustrated, I was presently surprised to find an article about him. Written by Brain Hamilton, Attack the Day: Shaka Smart instilling his style in first summer at Texas highlights Coach Smart’s leadership style. The part of the article which resonated with me most was the importance he places on values and how he expects all players to make them real. When Values are just labels – they are content free and are meaningless.

How does he do this? By having each player live them! Here is an example of how we does it with the teams value of “appreciation” wants to manifest the value of “Appreciation.” Here is an excerpt from Sports Illustrated writer Brian Hamilton’s article:

Smart is gifted with uncommon charisma and a relentlessly positive outlook, but he is just like every other coach taking on a new job. He must motivate strangers to buy what he is selling. This is Appreciation Monday, and Smart gives every player homework. Each must demonstrate nonverbal appreciation to someone that day—a hug, a smile—and report back. “It’s tough to do,” says Holland, who will fulfill his duty by hugging the strength coaches, “but he wants to hear about it.” Smart demands that his players live his core values.

Leaders who produce results are able decide what is most important and bring those concepts to life in order to achieve results. In our strategy planning retreats with senior leaders, we will we often ask people to take out a blank sheet of paper and write down their company values. It is not uncommon to see some struggle with this exercise — much less be able to provide examples of how people live them. Values expressed and lived are an important part of any organization. The set the tone for the culture – which ultimately is what Strategy rides on.

We could all learn from coach Smart – he Thinks To Win


The Power of the Taylor Swift Brand

apple.swiftI have enjoyed following the Apple – Taylor Swift story. Apple Music is a streaming music service, scheduled to launch this month. As a promotion for its consumers, it is offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. Sounds great – one problem it was not planning on paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. Enter Taylor Swift!
Last year, Fortune ranked Apple as the most powerful brand in the world. According to Forbes, the Apple brand is worth $124.2 billion and almost twice as much as any other brand in their annual study of the world’s most valuable brands. It has tremendous credibility and leverage and they have continuously leveraged that in the marketplace.
Well how about the Taylor Swift brand? It is also meaningful and significant! We believe Apple made the right choice on this one –what do you think?

Read the New York times article below

Stephen Curry NBA Champion: how to challenge assumptions and think like a winner!


NBA’s Champion Stephen Curry busted every assumption people have been making about him. He knows his strengths and further develops them into a competitive advantage. Dan Wetzel provides us with a beautiful example of how to challenge assumptions and think like a winner.

Curry worked hard to build those strengths into a collective competitive advantage. Wetzel writes — he just kept developing what he could — an even better shooting touch, more floaters, ever-refined ball-handling skills, even smarter understanding of spacing and pacing and passing. Hard work, and focusing on what is most important can do to lead your team there. He knows what is unique about him and leverages that to win! Curry proves he is a leader and leaders win!



I wish I had learned this sooner

I wish I had learned this sooner — 3 lessons in leadership by non-profit leaders – how they think to win!

Rolling up your sleeves and working with the executive director and a board of a non-profit provides some of the best training for leaders I know. Invest the time and see how they …

  1. Make decisions that truly balance the financial health of the organization with the organization’s mission. Think about it — without money there is no mission – yet without mission there is no money.
  2. Manage “volunteers” who can come and go much easier than employees — they are experts at building relationships and using influencing skills.
  3. Use the collective thinking and expertise of key stakeholders to identify the best strategic options. A lack of resources requires them to reach out for help. The ego is on behalf of making a difference with their organization.

FIFA in Crisis – A Lack of Leadership

Here it happens again, the power of NOT doing the right thing. It is ultimately a failure in leadership isn’t it? A lack of ethical leadership is a road that leads to disaster.

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is an association governed by Swiss law founded in 1904 and based in Zurich. It has 209 member associations and its goal, enshrined in its Statutes, is the constant improvement of football (Soccer to U.S.A. Fans).

While I was an executive at Gillette, one of the values we held dearly was of ethics. It had been one of the founding principles of the organization for over 100 years.  Additional emphasis was placed on ethics with the new CEO, Jim Kilts, in 2001.  He reinforced it by how he ran the company.  It became one of our 3 core values.

INTEGRITY – Mutual respect and ethical behavior are the basis for our relationships with colleagues, customers and the community. Fair practice is the hallmark of the Company.

When Gillette merged with Procter and Gamble in 2005, it was no different. Over 30,000 Gillette associates received additional training on P&G’s business ethics as well as the purpose, principles and practices of the combined company. This was accomplished within the first 30 days of the merger.

Warren Buffet said it best, “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy.  And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.”  A person’s dishonesty will eventually catch up to them. It may not be today, and it may not be for many years, but you can rest assured that at some point there will always be a reckoning.

By the way, Buffett was on the board of Gillette when Jim Kilts was hired to help turn the company around.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

       I recently interviewed a team of senior executives for an upcoming planning session. When I asked the question of what was going well the executive whom we will call Phil was to the point and able to articulate two to three points without hesitation. When a follow-up question came, “What is missing or could this executive team do better?” Phil’s answers were prefaced with, “I want to tell you something that I would not want repeated.”
When we work with teams, we always interview the executives before an engagement, and we are very clear on how the information will be used. We emphasize the interview feedback will be reviewed to identify patterns and themes in the data, and all information will be consolidated and reported by patterns and themes, and specific information will not be attributed to any individual.
We are almost always told that we can “share with anyone what I am saying” –but inadvertently, always during the interview, an executive will ask to go off the record, oftentimes with something that should be shared.

     My question that comes up is, what would you do if you were not afraid?

Our research shows that although respondents feel that their organization is open to new ways to explore and change the status quo, more than 70% believe that their organization does not encourage them to express their views. Three recommendations to reduce the fear:

        1. Get clear on the language of what it means to “encourage” people to express their views.   Realizing that most people really care and are committed to doing the right thing is important –make it easy for them to do the right thing!
        2.  Teach people how to better discriminate between what is fact and what is opinion (allows people to be more objective). People gain confidence when they are able to sit back and assess a situation that is grounded in facts. They are better able to articulate their concern, or the fear subsides and the concern can be placed into a larger context –not an individual compelling.
        3.   Encourage people to explore answers to questions together –this builds trust and mutual respect. The old adage ”Two heads are better than one” can help a lot here. Partner with a colleague.

The ability to create a culture where people are encouraged to express their views increases when people have the tools to truly conduct a fast-based assessment, take opinions out of the equations, and jointly co-discover what the issues are.

Leadership & Strategic Thinking —- The Power of Clarifying Questions!

A Leadership Problem: More than 75% of people make decisions before they thoroughly understand the issue that needs to be addressed!

Leadership & Strategic Thinking —- The Power of Clarifying Questions!

               George, the executive in charge of R&D for a leading consumer products company, was recently presenting an update to the senior leadership team on the progress in the development of a unique new product. He quickly became frustrated by the questions he was being asked. How so?

He was only on the first page of a 6-page presentation; and, he was already 45 minutes into his 1 hour time slot. What was happening here? People were asking the wrong questions first. The executives were jumping into content questions before they had asked clarifying questions. Content questions were framed as such: “Why? Have you reached out to …?” and “Did you consider?” Can you imagine how frustrated George was, or what opportunity could have been missed?

The solution?

We have an important tool we always employ when we are facilitating a strategy planning session. It seems so obvious, but I don’t see it used in practice very often. The simple request to ask for clarifying questions before content questions. It is not easy to do at first, but it is a behavior that can be learned by all. The trick is to be able to draw the distinction between the two. A clarifying question begins with — “What do you mean by this?,” “Can you clarify something for me?” etc…

We have found that clarifying questions asked early and throughout a presentation can often address content questions in a better way. One thing to keep in mind — people will only follow this rule if they know they will have a chance to weigh in at a point in time. That can be either at a natural break in the presentation or at the conclusion of a short one. Also, try using a Parking Lot Chart to collect content questions asked along the way. This will help ensure people know you are going to address the important content questions at an appropriate point in time.


Source: GlobalEdg Research 2014

Strategic Thinking: Do the Opposite! Asking the right questions is what really drives change in an organization.

In the 1990’s one of the highest rated program in the U.S. was Seinfeld. The premise of this program was Jerry Seinfeld and his friends going through everyday life, talking about situations that many of us can relate to.  The personalities of the offbeat characters who make up Jerry’s social circle contribute to the fun. In one classic episode entitled The Opposite, Jerry’s theory that every instinct his friend George has is wrong. George decides to try the opposite, and that proves successful – finds a girlfriend, gets a great job and a nice apartment to live in — all not probable if he had followed his original instinct.  Obvious the sitcom does not always portray real life, but it I entertaining to think about.

So many times we focus on the answers to our questions and we miss the importance of asking the right questions.  If you approach that completely OPPOSITE – flipping the old way of thinking upside down — finding the right questions will definitely lead you to the right solution. Strategic thinking helps drive change in an organization only when the right questions are addressed.  Over the years, we have worked to identify which questions are most relevant.  Whether it is working with a large fortune 500 company or a small non-profit, we have seen the power of asking the RIGHT questions. Think about any situation you have been in …. How many time have you and your teammates jumped to solutions?  Have you ever heard the old saying “we have a solution looking for a problem”? If you approach that completely opposite – flipping the old way of thinking upside down — finding the right questions will definitely lead you to the right solution. Our Strategic Thinking Framework just does that, my colleague Jack Mastrianni and I have worked years to perfect this.  We use an hourglass to graphically display the questions. Next—Why the Hourglass –stay Tuned!  see the hourglass at www.globaledg.com