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: http://vistage.com

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?



Bad Advice to Leaders (New York Times article)

Tue, Sep 15, 2015


SELF-DOUBT OF leaders has been among the top issues in my career as a coach to CEOs. One of the key learnings from interviewing three dozen CEOs in 2007 was the extent to which they worked on overcoming self-doubt and how they did it. In fact, I wrote a book about it:

what made jack welch JACK WELCH still available on Amazon. Through a series of shaping experiences they developed their desire and their ability to lead themselves and others.

Last week, the NY Times published an article on self-doubt Paul Jasnukas, on the faculty at Maryland Institute,

Self-doubt and The Confidence Game  in which he argues that:

(1) in no line of work is extreme confidence <always??> wholly justified yet we are constantly tested to see if we have it with “moment-of-truth” gut checks – “…are you sure?” Others ask us to test us.  “To be sure and unsure at once, to suspend doubt long enough to perform your role with convincing élan — this is the challenge.”

This far, his view is consistent with my research and professional experience.

Then he goes astray from my findings and decades of experience, saying:

(2) It is necessary to act with loud-voiced bravura. In our society, “it pays to brag and boast” and act with brawn and braggadocio.” He cites sports champions and Donald Trump. He asserts that avoiding perceptions of weakness requires affecting such persona. Speaking quietly in meetings, he asserts is a bad thing.

Having worked closely with CEOs in moments of high stakes, this is rarely effective and even more rarely required.

In fact, GRAVITAS is the more important quality and (as argued in my two prior posts on this subject) the behaviors are anything but brawn and braggadocio – and the best followers recognize it when they see it. If you wish to learn how to know Gravitas when you see it and if you wish to understand what is going on inside the leader who lives it, read two prior posts on this website:

Gravitas: Best of the Best Leaders

Leadership maturity: Inside the Eminence Grise

If you are an aspiring future leader, if you are already a leader and aspire to be better, there is more downside to following Jaskunas’ second assertion. Confidence is not a game. It is a developed state of mind.

That’s just my view. What’s yours?


Gravitas: Best of the Best Leaders

Fri, Aug 28, 2015



Ever notice someone in a meeting seems to command immediate attention when he or she speaks? Not just because of their rank but because of respect for their views when they choose to express them?

And when this happens, does it also seem that they seem wiser, more thoughtful, more centered, more articulate? They may not show up as the smartest or quickest. But they seem to get the big picture and have the ability to resolve conflict and move the group forward. Their very presence is calming.

The French have a phrase for this person: “eminence grise,” literally gray eminence or elder statesman, someone of high repute.

My CEO coaching clients may be successful leaders by most standards: set the right course, top-graded the team, created the climate for the best culture, opened communication channels, made tough decisions and saw the fruits of their labors in increased market position and earnings (and other ways). But the best of the best want to be more than strong leaders. They want to achieve gravitas which they can then apply as CEOs, board members or board chairs who can make a difference in their world beyond their companies.


What differentiates the person with gravitas from others?

  • Experience and Knowledge, translated into relevant story-telling
  • Presence and behaviors


Some people capture the essence of each of their many experiences – translate them into lessons learned, take-aways and analogies for future use.

Some people’s passion for their industry or calling leads them to be voracious readers of articles and books with abstracts of other leaders’ stories. And they seem able to relate these stories when relevant to a conversation.

Some people are both privileged and able to have a ringside seat while other leaders create or tell their stories. And the ability to bring those stories to life at the right moment as well.

All of these become the mental library from which wise elders (some quite young) draw upon in conversations.

These same people may at times use the library to formulate better questions than others or make better suggestions than others. But the primary approach is to use the library to tell the right story at the right time in the right way.

I once heard a CEO introduce what he thought a relevant story in a management team meeting. Desiring to avoid coming off in a negative way, he described what another company had achieved outside their industry. He prefaced the story with this tale:

A rooster came to believe his hens were not as productive as they should be. He borrowed an ostrich egg and rolled it into the hen-house saying: “I am not complaining or criticizing, just showing you what is being done elsewhere”).

To get a bit more specific, these are the library sections for my industrial CEO clients:

  1. Broad knowledge/stories on key topics such as how industrial companies really make money, typical problems at different life stages, challenges they all face today and some solutions that have worked
  2. More general knowledge or functional knowledge of how companies work and respond to world conditions
  3. Drawing on the broader list of what the leader has learned at a ringside seat: international boards, currency, banking, hedging, business cycles, failures, recovery and lessons learned
  4. Ability to introduce visual frameworks for choices being made
  5. Mix of truly strategic thinking and practical translation into action choices
  6. Humor that illustrates the above


What makes a person seen as “senior,” wise, having gravitas, chairman-like?

  1. Behaviors/presence: speaks only to add value, not to sell or show off; appears cool, calm, confident; appearance is “together;” quick of mind, but unhurried
  2. Responses are “considered” rather than quick; may re-frame the question rather than give a direct answer
  3. Demeanor is thoughtful, exploratory: what analogies are valuable? kindly, calm but firm when needed; centered, one of quiet but strong confidence; ego does not lead; rarely emotional; ego kept in check by quick self-awareness of becoming emotional (“mood check” or “body signal”); emotional if it is a deliberate choice
  4. Communication statements are articulate, brief (packets, testing audience tracking periodically), positioned as “in my experience” rather than axiomatic and generic; no one person in a group is the entire focus, the audience is all participants; humor, especially avoiding sarcasm that diminishes or discounts others’ worth
  5. All of the above is supported by powerful active listening and patience; summarizing, eliciting assumptions by asking “say more or tell more,” making the other’s argument); asking: what do you want others to walk away feeling, believing, wanting to do?

That’s my view. What’s yours? I am truly interested in all comments and examples. I thought his post had already been published but was wrong. See also the prior post which should have followed this one.



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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