Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious (Mouths of Babes Division)

Sat, Dec 3, 2016



A large non-U.S. investment house has brought to life a new internal entity that deals with higher risk and higher reward than anything the firm has experienced.  Further, it is imagined as an imminent global powerhouse in New York, Europe and Asia.


  1. Why might this laudable internal intrapreneurial effort work?
  • Because they have hired new people with great experience, expertise and networks of relationships
  • Because there is a pool of analysts in the system who can be tapped to support those hired in the new entity
  • Because the senior people in the parent have worked hard to win approval of the first deals proposed (precedent-setting)

2. Why might this effort fail?

  • Because the parent views compensation demands by the new people as beyond the pale and politically explosive when known by their traditional investment people
  • Because there are few (no people?) people on the decision-making committee with relevant risk/reward experience


It is always a thrill when people in my client organization express an insightful observation concisely. The parent organization hired a relatively junior person for the local analyst pool who has lived all over the world and has experience in the higher risk/higher reward activities.  Consider the brilliance and brevity of his remark:

“An additional employee in the parent is seen as a cost increase to be minimized, an additional employee in the new unit is seen as an investment requiring a return.” The first leads to either underpaid or under-qualified managers. The second allows for “best athlete” or at least “major league player” to be considered.

This bit of concentrated wisdom is so obvious that it was not fully understood by decision-makers.


When conceiving a departure from the status quo, fresh eyes and people with conceptual and analytical skills can alter the plan from the get-go. Whether they are existing staff, new hires, new senior advisors or consultants, there is a high return on investment for their participation.

For a terrific example of a young start-up CEO in network software, read Adam Bryant’s interview (First Principle Thinker) in the Sunday NY Times (December 4, 2016):

First Principle Thinker (Adam Bryant Corner Office interview)

*                      *                    *               *               *

That’s just my view. What’s yours?


Active Listening: A Dire Need in a Polarized America

Tue, Nov 15, 2016



In decades of experience with leaders in companies, universities and hospitals, nothing beats active listening for great problem-solving, consensus building and choices which deserve and get buy-in by the most people.

What is active listening? Asking questions and really listening so well that you can make the case with which you disagree as well as or better than the person believing it. It takes a lot of patience and persistence. And it takes two to tango.


Before this election, I have never blogged about anything political – only sharing insights about leadership gleaned from decades of working intimately with leaders.

Now, whether you voted for Trump, Hillary or someone else, the election is over and civics classes teach us it is final. You may disagree with the new administration’s policies and directions, you have many avenues with which to work for what you believe (and against what you abhor). But you do not have the right to abuse people for what they believe. And you have an obligation to promote tolerance of citizens with different views regardless of skin color (including white), religion, heritage, region or any other characteristic.


If you get your news from a wide variety of sources, you may believe that incidents of hateful speech, hateful vandalism and hateful intimidation as well as physical attack are growing in number and perpetrated by citizens on both sides of the electorate. The new president has said into the camera: “stop it,” but once you let the dogs out, it is not easy to contain them.

If you get your news from only the most conservative sources, you may believe that the frequency of such acts is low, that they are perpetrated by paid agitators and that the offenders are “the other.” That is the view expressed to me by several Trump voters in the past two days.

If you get your news from only the most liberal sources, you may believe that the offenders are Trump supporters who feel they now have license to attack non-whites of all stripes as well as Jews. That is what several Hillary voters have expressed to me recently.

And professors tell me of a colleague who told minorities in his class that they “are not safe here anymore and should withdraw.”


How do we have civil public discourse before the number of injuries and deaths persuades us it is an American problem? Before thousands of citizens  who contribute to our society, but are living in fear stop contributing or worse?

I am making a personal crusade to engage as many thinking people on both sides of the electorate to stand up against intolerance. It is not clear where to take these conversations or how but it is a civic obligation.

I wish I could name at least one powerful organization that promotes tolerance and open dialogue that would not be classified by one side or the other as biased. If you have suggestions, tell me. I wish I could think of a handful of famous citizens who could be missionaries for civil public discourse and tolerant and not be viewed by one side or the other as tainted. If you have suggestions, please name them.

That’s just my view. What’s yours?




Sat, Nov 5, 2016



In our last post (Narcissists, Psychopaths and Other CEOs), we reviewed lessons from Professor Adrian Furnham on CEOs on the under-weighting of knowable negative factors to desired strengths in vetting CEOs. These negative traits often lead leaders to de-rail.

Lessons from My Own World

One of my clients is U.S. leader for a parent company in Europe. He has had 6 CEOs in 8 years All were seen as having desirable strengths, each de-railed for personal flaws or personal reasons which might have been discovered in better vetting.

Another client was the fourth CEO in 6 years at a major, public company operating around the globe. Again, each prior CEO de-railed for personal flaws, almost all related to ego, selfishness, low emotional intelligence, inability to listen.

In each case the Board who appointed these CEOs was dissatisfied with the then-current CEO and was so biased in favor of change, that they were in a hurry to achieve change even at a high cost.   The consequences were poorer than projected results, departures of superior talent, defection of customers and more.

The Choice on Tuesday

We have two flawed candidates for President of the United States. We have thirty years of data on the significant flaws of one of them and can reasonably predict how those will affect our own well-being and the circumstances under which de-railing may occur. The other’s flaws are  far less known, but we have a year of observing behavior and a year of research into his potential for de-railing. This could be viewed as a Hobson’s Choice (between lesser evils). However, the consequences for a poor choice are far greater for the nation than those for a single company.

I was a moderate Republican before I became an independent. My experience with leaders will dictate my vote. What will dictate yours?

That’s just my view. What’s yours?



Narcicists, Psychopaths and Other CEOs

Wed, Oct 26, 2016



There is ample evidence that recruiting and vetting a new leader is, at best, a 50/50 proposition (fewer than 1 in 2 perform to expectations), even when an intense effort is carried out. Why is that?

My Vistage CEO Peer Advisory Board has years of top-grading their leadership teams with new C-suite executives and two have recruited successors and moved to Chairman. They confirm the 50/50 nature after taking unique steps (e.g., after signing an NDA, candidates were asked to prepare and present to the board their stratplan for the company; dinners were help with spouses and board members; screening included behavioral interviewing about moral choices, stress, and conflict; essays were written about pros and cons of working for the founder and more). Why is the record so fraught?

Some of my private equity deal partner clients report a similar belief that selecting a new CEO, sometimes a first-time CEO but even a serial CEO is chancy. Why?


Prof. Furnham has authored 60 books! Most are on subjects of psychology and leadership; over decades he has amassed considerable insight and wisdom by consulting and coaching to major league companies and leaders. After an initial discussion of narcissists and psychopaths and the number of CEOs in prison (really!!), after a conversation about what traits can and cannot be coached and improved, we turned to the subject of vetting. 

Here are a few notes from our exchange at a small gathering sponsored by my friends at Halkyut (a research and advisory firm) who themselves have developed and are continuing to develop a body of work in leadership behavior and behavior modification (see below).

  1. Over-focus on desired abilities and traits vs. “de-railers:” traits and experiences that can lead to catastrophic impacts on people as well as decisions
  2. Over-focus on self-reporting by the candidate in interviews and documents vs. vetting “every which way.” There are all sorts of sources of data and more than one type of practitioner to do the exploration. By way of illustration:
    1. Personality profiles (e.g., Berkman, Enneagram, Imprint) that identify strengths that can be de-railers
    2. Background check companies who can identify “signals” worth follow up in public records
    3. Reference checks by more than one type of questioner and with more than one type of reference with different perspectives (e.g., people lower down in the candidate’s company)
    4. Interview questions more likely to lead to useful disclosures (questions about long term relationships – successes and failures, failures at work, conflict at work, worries, complements they most want to hear, criticism with which they have the most problem, even traffic violations). Professor Furnham was subjected to a 30 minute interview by an intelligence agency – the experience confirmed how much ground can be covered in 30 minutes with the right questions.
  3. Not enough people (from the company seeking the leader) engaged in the process who possess elevated emotional intelligence, intuition and an understanding of company culture


My friends at Halkyut have developed a global practice in “human intelligence (finding out what people are thinking)” but in a broader field of leadership behavior and HR. Here is what Wikipedia has on them(the Haklyut website has contact information):

Re Haklyut

That’s just my view. What’s yours?




Coalition of the Willing for America

Mon, Jul 11, 2016



We are a highly divided nation in an era of highly divided other nations. And, as a leadership expert, my view is that those in the public eye are feeding the frenzy, failing to lead us all, failing to inspire us all and so much is at stake for us and our children and grandchildren.

Michael Eric Dyson wrote a thoughtful and provocative piece in the New York Times (Death in Black and White, July 10, 2016, later updates) arguing that white people do not understand what it means to be black in America and imploring more listening. It is worth everyone reading:

The article prompted my own thinking: when was the last time you admired one of our leaders for bringing people together? for generating a great dialogue amongst parties with different interests? for taking that a step further to real commitments to change the awful status quo on some topic?
In this era of active avoidance of real listening to people whose perspective differs at all from our own..,

In this era in which beliefs without facts drive an unthinking total push for particular solutions…,

In this era with so little tolerance for exploratory conversation to discover truth…,

We the people desperately need a new:

“Coalition of the Willing….”

…a commitment by wise, respected boldface names to band together, change the discourse, articulate the thought processes (and ultimately the mutual commitments) that will restore the unity and pride in being in American.

I long to see its creation and a communications campaign to engage all who would be our leaders at every level.

Just my view. What’s yours?




Sun, May 29, 2016



What would it take to have a “farm system” of future leaders getting better and better?


A fellow coach and I have each spent time with executives in charge of “talent management” in different enterprises.

Comparing notes, we found that these executives are proud of the recruiting and assessment they have accomplished but struggling with development.

Too few of the bench of potential parent and division CEO successors show trajectories of significant and timely leadership growth.  


Not much has changed over time in the essentials:

  • Experience – “shaping experiences” which develop a range of attributes to mastery (on this subject see my own book per URL below the text)
  • Feedback – an unvarnished mirror for leaders to see how they are showing up in real life situations, how they affect others, the wisdom and consistency of their decision
  • Sounding boards – a safe person with whom to test business decisions, interpersonal challenges and life challenge

These are hard to come by in any work situation, especially in a large organization. Why?


Internal 360s are often of little value. Third party 360s may be better, but often do not weigh culture and relationships correctly.

Mentors within a company may have wisdom, the ability to increase the odds of a career opportunity and even the mentee’s back, but often lack the ability to give great feedback or hold up the mirror or tailor the target opportunity for development as well as advancement.

Shaping experiences may be either rarely available or without guidance for interpreting and maximizing the opportunity. 

Depending on the culture, shaping experiences, feedback and sounding boards may be more limited for women and other segments.


  • Mentors with mentoring training
  • Leadership coaches with business or industry experience
  • Peer advisory boards (see Vistage website below)
  • Leadership Development Workshops
  • Developmental/competency based job rotation/career path
  • Two-hat assignments
  • Encouragement of participation in not-for-profit roles
  • Anonymous third party surveys
  • Third party feedback
  • Encouragement and assistance of personal board of directors

Sites worth visiting:

  1. what made jack welch JACK WELCH (shaping experiences for 30 leaders)


2. Best membership organization for CEO Peer Advisory, C-Suite Peer Advisory

Why Vistage?

That’s just my view. What’s yours?



Wed, Mar 2, 2016


What Do the CEO Coach and the CEO Have In Common?


Exceptional leaders are good at active listening: extracting the essence of someone else’s predicament or point of view or proposal. The coach must be even a more active listener to get at the root cause of whatever the client is confronting.

In recent sessions, some of my clients have reported using some of the same frameworks as I do.


  1. The first has to do with sorting: is what they are hearing situational? Pattern? Or Condition?

Situational – a specific conflict or problem or choice that needs attention or a solution and is likely a one-off.

Pattern – a conflict or problem or choice that crops up repetitively and must, therefore, be driven by a factor that needs to be changed (e.g., behavior driven awry by wrong-headed incentives)

Condition – a level of frustration and associated behavior that crops up repetitively because of participants’ mindset (beliefs, fears) and personality traits.

Confusing one with another leads to misguided analysis, miscommunication and wasted time and effort. And often a repeat of the same conversation later, Determining which bucket is the right classification is crucial to a successful outcome.

  1. The second has to do with a sense of time and timing.

Does this situation require a choice:

  • On the spot?
  • Before this meeting is over?
  • At a later time or date? Can the topic be deconstructed into something now and something later?

Confusing one of these time requirements with another can lead to unnecessary pressure and conflict in the situation, a premature or wrong decision. Getting it right allows a more informed and thoughtful resolution. And individual egos may be the factor that drives to a poor choice (More on that another time).

These two frameworks for active listening frequently save energy, time and emotional energy.

In my role as Chair of a CEO Peer Advisory Board in the Vistage International CEO membership organization, I have come to learn and adapt tools that help resolve many types of situations. In a later post, I will address one or more of the most useful. Meanwhile, there is much to learn from the Vistage site:


That’s just my view. What’s Yours?



What Made jack welch JACK WELCH

How Ordinary People Become
Extraordinary Leaders

by Stephen H. Baum (Random House)

Most leaders of American companies started out as ordinary people. What prepared them for the top job?

Countless more ordinary people of equal talent never developed the leadership core required to run the show. Why not?

"Lessons for life about the core leadership traits of character, risk taking decisiveness and the ability to engage and inspire followers."
--Jim Clifton, CEO, The Gallup Organization


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