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?




Sun, Jan 24, 2016




I only recently was sent an article on child-raising by of National Geographic, published in October of 2014. In the article, Margaret Del Guidice reports on an educational effort by Angela Duckworth and her team to devise strategies to help students learn how to work hard and adapt in the face of temptation, distraction, and defeat. They seek the connection between traits and accomplishment. Duckworth’s findings are that grit is the key. She and others also cite self-control as a second key. The article link is below:

EXPERIENCE WITH CEOs and Entrepreneurs

In my experience, Duckworth is right, but the list is longer of traits that keep leaders calm under duress, persist in the face of long odds, engage followership and get the job done.

The list includes:

  • Grit (the ability to persevere over a long period despite obstacles and setbacks)
  • Self- Control (not allowing oneself to be triggered into an emotional state that takes you over)
  • Principles (it is a lot easier to find True North in a situation if you have your own)
  • Empathy (the ability to understand where others are in their thinking, emotions and what matters most to them)
  • Recognizing and avoiding toxic people

There may be others, but these lead the list.

That’s just my view. What’s yours?

If you like this post, pass it on. If you don’t, contact me.




Success Without Succession?

Tue, Dec 1, 2015



One “founder” client opted for real succession planning three years ago, had a mis-step with his first hire of a CEO to replace himself, but kept at it until he found a leader he says is far better than he at the next phase of the life of the company. The successful succession contributed to his ability to sell control to a P/E firm for a very large price and to stay on as Chairman, overseeing acquisitions.


Another founder client has no plans to step up or aside and does not plan to do so for three to five years. Yet he is providing new “scope of decisions” opportunities (latitude on key decisions) and financial incentives for several loyalists with long tenure. Without abdicating his authority on some decisions, he is trying to delegate it on others (even if there will be mistakes).

He is also seeking one or two additions to his senior team who are stronger succession candidates that any member already on board unless they step up. He recognizes the competitive need to top-grade his team. And to unblock the career paths of the younger stars.

Approaching a scale where specialists are worth having, he is backing away from filling a variety of positions himself and recruiting “best athletes” in Risk Management, IR (internal promote), HR and other functions. He used to make all the decisions. Now they propose and he disposes, though with experience and trust they are accorded more latitude.

Finally, he is beginning to see that an IPO might be more likely with a top athlete team.


A third founder client has jawboned his senior people into taking more responsibility but not yet offered a path to greater authority on key decisions and no additional financial reward. He has added some talented new people and is struggling with their lack of fit with the long-nurtured culture.

He may succeed, but he runs the risk of a turbulent period of defections.

*                       *                   *                       *

What is your plan? How will you be sure you have the best talent for competing in what is no easy environment?


Just my view. What’s yours?



Mon, Nov 2, 2015



Prior posts have described how to spot gravitas in a leader, a bit of how to develop gravitas and, in one post, insights into inside-the-CEO who has gravitas while observing President Jimmy Carter at a press conference.

At a regional Vistage International conference of 500 CEOs and 200 guests, Alan Mulaly spoke about his time at Boeing and at Ford, his approach to leading; then he spent considerable time answering questions.

In a future post, we will summarize his approach to leading. For now, we focus on his “presence” at the conference.


The most memorable aspects of observing Alan Mulaly on stage:

  • His kindly, self-effacing “aw shucks” demeanor
  • The clarity and simplicity with which he described his management system
  • The honesty with which he answered questions
    • “What would you have done if <nameless> had not stepped up?”
    • “Not a clue. Had no back-up plan.”
  • The passion with which he focused on transparency, accountability and the all-for-one, one-for-all spirit of spontaneous teamwork
  • The inclusion of a family story to illustrate how leaders “hold the values” of the family (which is applicable to what we call “parenting at work”)
  • The apologetic humor with which he behaved on the spot after a minor gaffe – using a phrase that produced titters of laughter because it could be interpreted as a sexual reference
  • His adaptation of principles to businesses of any size (many represented in the room are small businesses)
  • The simplicity and power of his answers to most questions (and his ability to duck a few without seeming to do so)

I believe that 500 business owners and CEOs in the room witnessed a presence to which we all aspire. And someone who, if in the room with you, would capture your rapt attention (as he did in the huge conference room).

To learn more about the CEO membership organization Vistage International, and the brain trust it represents, go to:


That’s just my view. What’s yours?


Letting It Slide: Why Some CEOs Procrastinate

Thu, Oct 15, 2015



Sometimes a very brief exchange with one of my CEOs seems worth sharing. How about this one stimulated by reviewing the idiosyncrasies of high-performing direct reports, some of whose occasional behavior is seen very negatively by the rest of the team:

CEO: “I believe it is really important for leadership to be able to accommodate very different contributors and personalities.”

Coach: “You have one under-performing direct report you see as critical to success over the next year whom you fear will quit if you set clearer expectations. You have never laid out where he has to be a lot more proactive, take more initiative.”

CEO: “I just am not sure how to do it in his case and not have him take offense. And yet my tenure may not run more than a couple more years so there is some urgency. I just keep putting it off.”

Coach: “You have someone else on your team who is capable in a key (financial) area but is toxic to those around him. No one on the team wants to work with him or help him.”

CEO: “He is better than a year ago and it would take a long time to replace him with someone as good. Even though he did something overt to undermined a decision I had already made last week and I sent an email with very specific ground rules on the topic. Now is not a good time.”


Other CEOs have delayed addressing:  a severely under-performing regional chief who would take time and money to replace; a field leader who fails to implement the agreed upon strategy and instructs people to stonewall and not escalate problems; a senior professional all about himself and publicly criticizing most of those around him; a group executive with one business sinking and another flat who will not ask for or accept help. And other similar stories. These are not uncommon, judging from the number of situations where I have a “ringside seat.”  Other coaches in the CEO peer -dvisory membership organization in which I spend half my time report similar experiences. For more on this visit:

Are you a lot slower to have “fierce conversations” with people you fear will quit as well as people you don’t want to fire because they are contributors (or have great potential?) with negative behaviors?


Why is this? One CEO says that there are so many urgent matters on his plate it is easy to let the fierce conversation slide. Another would rather wait until the problems become so acute he hears about it.  A third assigns trusted people to deal with it in his stead though they may not have the power to resolve the problem, only to do damage containment.

Clearly, some CEOs have a bias for action. Why? “To get it off my list;” “To send a message about the culture and raise everybody’s game;” “There are always better athletes out there who will be team-players. We have repeatedly been surprised at how good the new people are and how liberated the rest of the organization is when we outplace a B-player or someone with poor attitude.” “A-players want to be around other A-players when they play well as a team. It lifts the boat.”

What is not visible to those who procrastinate is the impact on good people’s morale, energy and, ultimately, stickiness to the organization. And the culture as defined by what behaviors people believe you will or will not tolerate. Not to mention the quality and speed of results.


There are precious few people on whom the boss an rely to tell them the truth, unvarnished and early. So the boss tens to see the problems only after the fire is well advanced. It can only help to cultivate your “listening system” of people who will tell you the truth and to take action early to put those on notice who need it and set new expectations and timelines. Or give authority to those on your leadership team to do it in your name (and back them up when the howls start).

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


Buy Now
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