New word for your leadership toolbox – Capacity

In a recent conversation I was sharing a story with a mentor and friend about how I handled a difficult moment in a facilitation.  As I reflected back on how I reacted to the individual causing the problem in the session, the outcomes, and how some of my facilitation work in the past year prepared me she shared with me a reflection of her own:  Scott, you have increased your capacity to manage a space filled with many different perspectives and voices.

That word caught me off guard.  I started my career in a capacity planning role worried about the output of a steel mill and then 80+ injection molding machines.  It was a very familiar word for me, and yet it was one that I had only use with very physical and definable assets . . . And I like it!

If you are focused on your own ongoing growth of skills and knowledge, or have a team of people that you are helping prepare for future roles or challenges, this is a word that you should add to your toolbox.  Here are two examples of conversations where it could be valuable:

  1. Preparing a team for change: What is the capacity of this team to handle this change?  What will it require of us?  What proven skills and talents do we have?  What is one area we need to increase our capacity?
  2. Your own development: What part of your job are you “at capacity” and feel like you cannot possibly have any more to give?  What part of your job are you avoiding because it is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and/or undesirable – but important?  If you added 10% capacity in that area what would that look like?  How can that be accomplished?

Coaching is about increasing capacity in clients.  I get great satisfaction when I hear people say they see themselves differently and, as a result, are able to navigate situations effectively that would have tripped them up in the past.  One of my all-time favorite books on development is Mastery by George Leonard.  Inherent in a journey to mastery is a commitment to always be open and able to increasing your own capacity.

Capacity is a tried and true manufacturing word, and a great word for the world of managing talent in an economy putting so much emphasis on the knowledge and capacity of people.

How does the term capacity show up in your conversations today?

What other words are cornerstones to your talent conversations?

mini-trU Tip: The only way to know your true capacity is to exceed it because you push the boundaries.  That was true when I first started my career worrying about the capacity of equipment, and it is equally true as I enter the second decade of a career focused on the capacity of people.  A good topic for another blog posting . . . .


3 Books That Make Great Graduation Gifts

College graduation is coming up, and after last weekend working with 21 students in Michigan through our Governor’s Economic Summit I have been thinking a lot about what I experienced and ways in which all of us can invest in someone starting a career.  While high school graduations might compel us to get something like Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss, college is a little different.  Here are three books that would be great gifts for a new grad to help them to success in their first job and connect you with that success:

LinchPin by Seth Godin:  A little longer, but is focused on helping people be purposeful about building their brand and reputation through their work.  It is a good balance between practical advice and thinking bigger.

Great On The Job by Jodi Glickman: This book is targeted at college students.  I have also used some of the advice Jodi gives (especially around getting feedback) with some of the mid/late career transition individuals I coach through Shifting Gears, but she targets the new grad.  Our governor is actually giving a signed copy to each student from our recent summit.

Effective Immediately by Emily Bennington and Skip Lineberg: I am preparing to review this book and share my thoughts through my TruTips, but in advance I also like this book.  It differs from Jodi’s book in that it provides lots of 1 page tips for individuals.  How I would make this a great gift would be for you to write a note that identified your top 5 and pledge to be a mentor as they read and use this in their first job.

There are other books new professionals should read, but hold off until they get a job.  I actually like one of the chapters in Effective Immediately where the authors give them a list of books to keep in their cubicle and to read.  The great thing about all of these books is they are focused on helping them be successful, and coupled with a pledge from you of some time to read it with them/mentor them – this actually become a great gift.

How do I know you are a high potential? My 5 Qualifiers

As I watched them present, I realized that in the 16 hours since I last saw them – they got better.  It made me smile.

Sunday I had the opportunity to join a group of coaches to help 21 students looking for jobs in Michigan prepare to address 500+ business leaders and tell their story in 3 minutes.  The workshop included them presenting their story 4-6 times and having their peers and their coach give them feedback on what they did well and what is one thing they could do to improve next time.  Not surprisingly, they got better.  But what really made me smile is that after we sent them off (paired up with another student to do one on one coaching with each other), they returned and they demonstrated a huge leap in performance from the previous day.  In my 10 plus years being around high potentials through leadership development programs, it reminded me that is what high potentials do.

Are you a high potential?  Here are five things that tell me you qualify:

  1. You learn when I am not looking: If you read some of the research by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger they call this Learning Agility.  It is measurable and backed by research.  When I am helping leaders teams think about potential and what it looks like I use the book The Leadership Machine.  If you are charged with developing leaders in your organization, this should be in your library because it is backed with research and it will help you focus on the right things in your efforts to find and develop leaders.
  2. I experience your infectious energy: High potentials might not be the smartest person in the room, but they are never accused of being disengaged or along for the ride.  They see problems as opportunities, and that rubs off on the people around them.
  3. You listen: In any relationship a key part of listening is receiving feedback.  I know people hear something because instantly it is reflected in their performance and they say thank you in such a sincere manner that you know they appreciated it and are going to strongly consider it.  Listening is also apparent from the questions that people ask.  When you ask questions that help clarify or lead the speaker to an area they need to address next or completely missed, it means you are listening.
  4. I see you teaching: I watched strangers give each other great feedback, both on the positive and the negative (ie. improvement) aspects of their performance.  It was great, and it was extremely accurate.  I also found myself learning.  They showed me how about effective networking and gave me some tips about how colleges are preparing students today.
  5. I see results: In the end, high potentials figure out the learning curve and get to a result.  Most of the time it is quicker than what is expected, and often time the answer redefines what would be considered a great outcome.  The improvement and final deliverable of the performance is the special sauce.

One thing I did not include is “Everyone likes you.”  I left that out because high potentials have to learn to manage relationships effectively with peers and subordinates, but often times that lesson is part of the learning / development program.  It is critical that leaders like and respect you, so the ability to manage up and do the work is critical from the beginning.  Ultimately, high potentials should not move up without learning the craft of building respect at all levels and demonstrating the ability to build healthy relationships and teams – but that is for another blog.

If you want to see some of these students speak, here is a link.

Do you have anything to add to my list based on your experience?

4 Keys To Successful Transitions

4 Keys To Successful Transitions

Not Cool Robert Frost

If you have not seen the Kid President video on YouTube you should.  It has been played in our house through Apple TV no less than 12 times, with the funniest being watching my 86 year old father viewing it with his grandchildren saying “Isn’t this great Grandpa!”  It might not connect with all generations, but he was gracious. 🙂

There is a part in the video where Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken, is referenced and the kid president talks about how hard that road is with all the rocks, thorns, etc. . .   He then delivers the line – “Not cool Robert Frost”.  That line resonated and has been often repeated by my teenage daughter.  In the last two weeks, almost daily I have found situations where I repeat it.

Not cool Robert Frost

I love transitions.  People.  Teams.  Companies.  There is much to be gained in a great transition, and there is lots at stake because it is not an easy road.  Even in a successful transition there will be moments of failure.  My experience tells me that there are four key things that have to be there for a successful transition (whether it is corporate or individual):

  1. Desire to make the change
  2. Community of support for individuals doing the change (including at least 2 people willing to provide one on one support)
  3. Willingness and ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn (thanks for those words Greg Hartle) as part of the process.
  4. Resilience to do the work, regardless of the conditions (this is leadership)

As I look at this list, I see number 2 and 3 as the things anyone can be working on today regardless of their situation.  In fact, if you are not doing the work of making those a part of your work life, you are guaranteeing yourself / team / organization a difficult journey.

A story.  I was talking to someone who had successfully transitioned to a new role, only to have it go away months later.  The one thing they stopped doing when they landed?  Building/maintaining their community (#2).   Networking and maintaining your community is easy to stop when we are ‘busy’.   But it is the road that will become overgrown if not used at least a little.  It is also the piece that takes time to rebuild.  We create more rocks and thorns for ourselves when we stop doing all of the work of preparing ourselves, our teams, or our organizations for the transitions that will occur.

It is okay to rest, but don’t stop doing the work of preparation.  And when you hit a rock or a thorn, just blame Robert Frost and keep moving. 🙂

Words and Presence

What do you like about this teacher?

Well, she is nice and . . . . .

You know the first thing you said was She was nice?  Being able to connect that way to students is a gift.  It goes beyond doing.  It is about really caring, and we sense that.

I witnessed this conversation between my daughter and my mother.  My Mom is a retired teacher, and her words reminded me how important it is to listen to what people say.

The words we use tell a story about what is important to us.  It is not magic, it is conversation.  The magic is in choosing to be present and willing to explore what you hear.

The words remind us what we should be doing to make deeper connections with people around us.

One of my favorite coaching topics is empathy and building relationships.  When leaders take on the assignment to go listen more the stories they return with are always full of magical moments.  It is not easy to make a change like this, but the reward makes it easier to keep trying to make it a habit.

Try it today, by simply asking the question – On this team, who is your most valuable person?  What about them is so special?

Just listen.

Knowing our roles:  One Thing A Leader Does

Knowing our roles: One Thing A Leader Does

We finally got some winter where I live.  Yesterday we enjoyed the chance to go cross country skiing and sledding.

When we returned home and I was settling in the question came – Dad, would you come outside and help us build one of those big snow forts? My inside voice initially said No.  After all, my agenda was about rest and focusing on my to do list.  Then I realized how important it was for them.  So my verbal answer was Yes, and I spent the next hour helping them create a pretty cool fort.  The effort was rewarded later when my daughter’s friend was being picked up and the girls were bragging about the fort they built.  Their pride was my reward.

You see, there are certain roles we take on that, as part of the role, we commit to doing things that are important to others.  When we do that, the big message is You matter, so you get my time.  Relationships are built when we commit some of our time to the priorities of others.

Being a leader is one of those roles.  Inherent to your role as a leader is spending time worrying about/supporting others. Is it a sacrifice?  Sometimes.

One of the great books I have found that paints a picture of this time commitment is The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard.

Remember your roles today – and make some of the commitments that come with them.

Forget your brand. What is your art?


Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient.  the medium doesn’t matter. ~ Seth Godin (Linchpin, p.83)

It is popular now to talk about our reputation in terms of our Brand.  Just this week I received an email touting a class to define and grow your brand.  Coincidentally this week has also been a big week for another brand that is working hard to salvage its reputation.  Have you read anything about Livestrong?

Inherent to every coaching or development conversation I have is focusing on the foundational understanding of who you are, what you bring, and the experience you are creating for others.  I don’t like using the word brand because it is a word that too easily moves into the area of spin and perception.  I follow Seth Godin’s quote (fyi – he is also a world class marketer, among other things) to use the word Art.  Inherently, Art is personal and carries with it a passion for creation and sharing.  In the age of flat organizations, fuzzy job descriptions, and leaders too busy to provide daily care and leadership to their people – the world needs more artists.  An artist sees their gifts and finds ways to practice it because they love it.  An artist finds community naturally because they understand other artists and express sincere appreciation for what they do.

The other quote that Godin shares on the same page is from Roy Simmons ~ Most artists can’t draw.

Quit worrying about your brand.  Worry about your art and your medium.

(If you want to explore this further is to read Linchpin by Seth Godin.  I also use a model called trUYou to help clients frame this conversation.)

For a full list of books/resources I recommend here is my library.

Leadership Journey – Strengths to overused Strengths

They were a year into their first leadership role and the feedback was You do not careHow could that be – because I do! was the defense.  The proof to the contrary was two valuable people leaving the organization and the final expert doing everything they could to help the leader fail.

A universal truth of most people that write about competencies or personality profiles is the simple fact that if we have a strength (example:  getting work done) and if that strength is overused, it becomes a weakness (example:  so task focused that people do not care).  This is and should be one of the number one focuses of developing leaders, and if you look at a leadership program that is laced with classroom time and lite on self awareness/feedback – run.

If you need a second opinion and are not afraid of a 200+ page business book, read Flip Side by Flip Flippen. The Flip Side: Break Free of the Behaviors That Hold You Back

If you are a coach, and you want this conversation in the voice of a coach – read What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

If I had you at hello with this conversation and you want to jump in and try to avoid the mistake again, here is a simple way to start that conversation and get to an action plan:

  1. What are the reasons you got this leadership role? (list as many as you would like, pick the top 3)  *as their leader, feel free to correct their list after they have created it.
  2. How are these reasons (actually they are strengths) going to help you in this leadership role?
  3. How are these same reasons going to get in the way of your success?  What actions do you need to take to be successful and how can I best support you in this transition? (fyi . . if they don’t ask for help, so at a minimum meet with them weekly for the first 3 months)

The other solution is to speed past this conversation, let the situation play itself out, and try and fix it later.

fyi – Michael Watkins found that 40% of outside leaders hired into an organization fail in the first 18 months.  Brad Smart contends that a bad leadership hire takes 18 months to fire and the cost is 14.6x their base compensation.

Hmmm . . . .

Listen: If you hear any of these 3 things you/we have a problem

Leading people is hard.  It is even harder when leaders are in a mode of talking more than they listen.  When you lead knowledge workers, remember that when you are doing most of the talking their brain is focused on processing what you tell them and reacting to it versus using their own brain to think what they want to do and what questions they need to have answered.

I always promote more conversations – which means two people in direct contact with each other sharing the burden of talking and listening.

As I coach leaders and teams through the transition of having more purposeful conversations, here are things I hear that alert me that someone is not being honest or they are stuck in a place that will keep great conversations for ever happening unless they make a choice to move forward.

  1. It is someone else’s fault: It might be, and if we are talking about what help you need to get to a different level of performance, identify a target job for yourself, or maybe to find more joy/commitment in your work . . . . does it really matter whose fault it is?  If this becomes the primary focus there is a problem.  If accountability is the ultimate goal, then making fixing the problem the priority will make it easier to have the conversation of – What can we do to make sure this never happens again?
  2. I cannot do ANYTHING until you do your job: Really? I used to do a junior achievement activity around production. Each person had a job to do in assembling an item, and there was always one person who could not work fast enough.  Sometimes, people just stood and watched the person struggle.  In other groups, the people around this individual helped out so that the bottleneck went away.  If you choose to watch or chose to say no to any offers of help, then you are really the problem.
  3. I am too busy to have this conversation: Okay, if you are too busy now when would be a good time? This is a flag for me that something else is going on. Imagine not wanting to have a discussion about what we can do to make your job better, to improve the support I provide you as your leader, or to make career plans for you?  Too busy? Hmmm . . . .

It is messy to start the habit of more conversations with your people.  If you are a leader that has not made a habit of slowing down to listen to what your people need, it will be a hard change.  If people are used to you telling them what to do and not listening to their ideas, or not always explaining your decisions, then it will be hard for them to make the shift to owning things that are hard – like offering their own ideas and fixing their own mistakes.

If you work for someone trying to make a shift in their leadership style and you give one of these responses, then you are effectively saying “I do not support the change you are trying to make and I would like to work towards you staying the same”.  Really?

If you are a leader trying to improve the conversations you have with your people, here are some templates that might help you get started.


You don’t need more data

An email came from the Gallup organization yesterday inviting me to buy a full ranking of my Strengthsfinder results for the bargain price of $89.  It promised my 34 talent themes ranked from strongest to weakest.  For those of you that have never taken it, when you buy Strengthsfinder 2.0 or Now, Discover Your Strengths from Gallup you get a code that will allow you to take an assessment that gives you your top 5 talents.  It is a great assessment.

Great move by Gallup, because the popularity of this assessment has resulted in tens of millions of people taking it.  If 1% get excited about this offer it will be very profitable.

I have personally helped over 500 people understand their Strengthsfinder results, and in every group there is always one person who wants more data – all 34 talent themes ranked.

My standard response has been – “What would you do with more data?”  The answers I hear includes statements like Then I will really know or words like certain, exact, and total clarity.

My response – Talent themes start the conversation.  The rest of the conversation is about understanding them, self-observing to see them at work, building on them, refining your understanding of them, and then repeating this process endlessly.  It is not a neat and clean project that ends with a deliverable.  In the end, someone tells you something like You are wise or You do a great job adapting to different situations.  In that is the inherent belief that You get yourself.

Self-awareness is a journey.  It is more about the work than the data.  Would you respond to an ad that claimed Receive total consciousness on your death bed for $74.99? (this is for Caddy Shack fans)

Feel free to buy more data, but you don’t need more data.  Do the work.