Leadership Wisdom 101: Seeing the bigger picture in leading (Part 1 of 3)

Leadership Wisdom 101: Seeing the bigger picture in leading (Part 1 of 3)

We were meeting to review the launch of EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) with her team, when one comment stuck with me:

Scott, one of the things you did extremely effectively was to bring in analogies around leadership and planning that relate back to being a parent. We are all parents, and that helped us see how our experiences as parents are actually building blocks for us as leaders.

I was glad to hear that, because that is a core message of mine and she listened!

It is also a passion of mine to help people see themselves leading in all aspects of their lives. In my work with hundreds of leaders, too often I see them compartmentalizing their learning to one aspect of their lives, and missing the chance to apply it to all areas of their lives.

Another recent reinforcement of this was during a check-in with a leadership program I lead. When asked to share one way in which they applied a learning since the last time we met, a leader shared – with a significant amount of surprise and some timidness – that “the active listening learning actually helped me at home in some situations I was working through with my teenage daughter.” My response? Grateful! Grateful this person was strong enough to share a non-work and personal experience to remind us all that we lead in all aspects of our lives.

Do you see yourself leading in all aspects of your life? Here are three questions to help you reflect and learn from your own experiences:

  1. In what part of your life are you being most challenged to lead and it is not going well?
  2. In what part of your life is your ‘leading’ going well?
  3. How can you apply what you have learned in #2 to have more success in the area you defined in #1?

I face the same challenge everyday, too. One tool I have used to help me see my ‘whole life’ as my leadership canvas is the Wheel of Life exercise, which is a foundation for coaching. If you want to explore this, download it and follow the directions.

More to come on lessons I have learned in one area of my life and how they apply to leading in others. . .

Lead well!

Stress – is it bad?

Stress – is it bad?

Last month I shared my 5 favorite leadership TED talks. Today I want to add one:

How to make stress your friend ~ Kelly McGonigal

I work with leaders of growth-minded organizations, and one of the most important questions is, “Do you have time to do the accountabilities of the job/jobs you signed up for?” It is a core part of the EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) process. It is during this conversation where the leaders who feel overwhelmed say it, and it is over the next six months of working together that I can tell how they are handling it. Stressed people can still be happy and productive, and yet some get so buried in it that rocks don’t get done and they start to withdraw from the work of the leadership team. This video puts some perspective on it, and it is really a life or death situation.

My favorite part of the video is the last six minutes, where we see the impact of reaching out to others to help you with stress or reaching out to friends that you know are under stress. One big aha: Caring for others creates resilience.

Stress is not bad in itself. What is harmful is how we process it. When we process it by connecting with others, it actually makes us stronger.

Lead well!

Leaders: What their questions will tell you

Leaders: What their questions will tell you

Recently I was invited in to lead an EOS® review session with a group of next level leaders. I believe great conversations start with a question, so every session I lead starts with, “What questions do you want answered today?”

When I asked this group of leaders, here is what they shared. As you read these questions, what themes do you see and what gaps would they reveal if this were your organization?

  1. Data/Scorecards/Measurables/Issues: How do you make things more visible and knock them out forever?
  2. What is the biggest hurdle when companies go to EOS®?
  3. Agile is a software design approach of cross-functional teams. How does EOS® fit into this?
  4. Does EOS® work for all companies/organizations?
  5. What happens when Rocks are not hit?
  6. How did EOS® come about? Why did we decide to use it?
  7. When did our organization start using EOS®?
  8. How challenging should Rocks be?
  9. How many companies have implemented EOS®?
  10. Accountability: Is it dependent on my manager?

As I listened, a few things hit me about this group:

  1. There was a gap in teaching around Rocks and people were still a little uncertain about them. (#5, #8)
  2. When helping adults learn, it is important to connect new concepts/words with something they are already familiar with. This should be part of onboarding, and I wondered if that was happening well? (#1, #3, #10)
  3. It is easy to forget to talk about the ‘Why?’ when teaching and spend too much time focused on the ‘What?’ and ‘How?’. Someone on the leadership team needs to be a storyteller, and in this case not enough time had been spent talking about the journey. (#6, #7)

Empathy is not a talent that all people have, and trying to become an expert in reading behaviors or all the subtle hints that get passed along in conversation is something most of us will fail to master. We can all ask questions, and if we couple that with creating a space where we can listen to the answers, it becomes easier to understand the needs, wants, and barriers of the person sitting across from us.

That is the main belief behind my people-centered leadership motto: Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!


Here are some valuable tips on listening using the Johari Window in a short video.

Here are a couple of tools I use to script questions for leaders:

Key Leadership Skill: Sharpening the Saw or Clarity Breaks – 2 Tips to help you get started

Key Leadership Skill: Sharpening the Saw or Clarity Breaks – 2 Tips to help you get started

We are all too busy.

Do you believe that? I see too many leaders struggling with this feeling, and with the health effects that all too often follow this constant state of being.

At this moment, 20+ leaders from my EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) clients are doing a 6-week challenge to develop or reinforce the habit of taking one hour every week to spend time in what Stephen Covey called ‘sharpening the saw’. Gino Wickman calls it a ‘clarity break’™, and like many of the leaders I coach, I have struggled to establish the habit. I believe it is important, and currently I have two straight weeks of clarity breaks going, so here are two tips that have helped me:

  1. I created a template to make it easy to focus on the most important questions I need to answer each week and the work I need to review.
  2. The place is important. I live near Lake Michigan, and have found that a short drive to the water and sitting in my car helps me detach from my work. The picture you see here is the view that I have. My desk and coffee shops did not work for me.

Clarity breaks don’t fix being too busy, but the impact is to help you see your priorities more clearly so that the time you have will be focused on them. (FYI – check out my LinkedIn article about 3 Things Leaders Should Stop Saying in 2018 – “I don’t have enough time” is one.)

I am thinking of doing a broader Clarity Break Challenge in a few months for all of the readers of this blog and I am open to allowing each of you to invite people from your company. If you have interest in learning more, sign up here; if you would like to explore doing a challenge with leaders/individuals within your company indicate that in the note space. I would be glad to explore the possibility of kicking it off with a webinar or lunch and learn to help jumpstart their success.

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

The #1 Skill Your People Need

As I reviewed the most popular pages on my website in 2017, I found that the Rock Project Plan was the most visited page. I was surprised at first, but the more I thought about the leaders I had coached, taught, and mentored in 2017 and the challenges they faced, the more it made sense.

The fundamental thing your people need to understand is how to predict and plan how the work of a project will get done. Creating a project plan is a great way to organize this information and break down a goal into actionable steps and accountable owners.

Two things that are driven by a project plan:

  1. The foundation of accountability, i.e. the goal and the specific work that has to happen to complete the task
  2. Multiple moments where “I need help” can be said

All leaders are helped by #1, because it creates conditions that are easier for them to manage.

All individuals are helped by #2, because the hardest words for the leaders I coach to say are “I need help.” This impacts your team’s outlook because if they see you as resistant to asking for help, they interpret that as not being okay. Here is an example – I did a feedback session with a leader and their team where each person had the chance to give and receive feedback to every other person through answering the question: What is one thing [person’s name] could START or STOP doing in 2018 for the greater good of this team? The overwhelming message people told their leader in the feedback – we see you being stressed and busy, and you need to START asking for help because we want to help you! Hidden benefit – a project plan of any type drives teamwork too!

All this from a little old project plan. Practice and teach this skill in 2018 and reap the benefits of performance AND teamwork!


So you understand the following templates, in EOS® we call the most important work for the next 90 days ‘Rocks’. All Rocks need a basic project plan. Here are free templates I share to help you be the most effective leader/manager you can be.

View all of the 25+ FREE templates. I share them to equip aspiring and committed people-centered leaders. Lead well!

Present and Listen: 2 Things Leaders Taught Me

Present and Listen: 2 Things Leaders Taught Me

Last week I presented a keynote around strategic planning to a group of business leaders. I have made a habit of presenting and then making myself available for questions and coaching for 6 to 24 hours. While I enjoy talking to groups, I get a very valuable perspective on my topic when I interact with people after my keynote and I get to listen. Remember one of my core beliefs: Great conversations start with a question.

Here is a key message I heard: Great meetings are rare, and leaders want to get better at leading meetings. EOS has a meeting called the Level 10 Meeting™. The goal is to make it so effective and engaging that people rate it a 10 at the end. Of the twelve conversations I had with leaders after my keynote, eight mentioned the Level 10 Meeting™ tool as the one takeaway they wanted to go implement. Their reasons were mainly focused around feeling like they are doing all the talking, with engagement (i.e. voices of others) from the rest of the participants not happening.

Question for you: How do you equip new leaders with tools to run effective meetings?

Here is another key message I heard: People everywhere are knowledgeable and passionate about their work and want to contribute more. For this, you need some background information. This keynote was in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan – a long way from the major population centers of our state (Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids). There are even names used to identify two distinct groups in our state: Trolls (live below the Mackinaw Bridge) and Yoopers (live north of the bridge). When I mentioned I was going to the Upper Peninsula to do a keynote, I heard an arrogance than exists against small town business leaders; comments like “Are there any businesses up there?” The work ethic, common sense, and business sense of the leaders I met was equal to any other area/state that I have worked. I could even make an argument that the basic work ethic and humble approach to success is higher above the bridge. I knew that, and yet it is an important thing to relearn as I live the two values that drive my interactions with clients: Serve First and Kindness Matters. There is no place for arrogance in either value. As we try and reverse some of the polarization that exists between population centers and our more rural cities and towns, everyone – including me – needs a reminder to listen.

Question for you: What are your habits around leaving your main work area to listen to employees/clients in other communities and/or parts of your business?

Next time you talk to a large group, I encourage you to hang around for a while – there is lots of good learning that happens when you do.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

(If you are interested in seeing my presentation, you can find a copy here on my website. Video clips will be available soon.)

The Importance of Clarity + 2 Tips for your Organization

The Importance of Clarity + 2 Tips for your Organization

I had a clarity issue in my recent trip to Italy to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We only spoke English and all the people we met only spoke Italian. In hindsight, the celebratory dance I did when we were able to get the grocery store owner to realize we were looking for eggs (fyi: uovo in Italian) would probably be embarrassing if it was released to YouTube.

It is impossible to have clarity if we speak different languages, and the irony is each day we go to work and find places where clarity issues exist between people who speak the SAME base language. Some examples:

  • Engineering talking to sales
  • Leadership reporting financials to everyone
  • Accounting communicating to anyone

We have all experienced it, and the irony is that it is always the other person’s fault. One of the reasons every leadership program has a piece on communication styles – using a tool like DiSC or BEST – is because we need a lens to see these moments differently so we can step back and ask, “What can I do to communicate more effectively?”

The place I encourage you to start is with your words. For leaders, I see a huge opportunity to standardize how you talk about the priorities in your business.

I use a methodology called EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) with my clients for strategic planning. It is very clear around setting terms for priorities and commitments we make:

  • To Do: less than 7 days to complete (single owner)
  • Rocks: less than 90 days to complete (single owner)
  • Goals: 1 year to complete (owner is leadership team, or whatever team commits to doing it)

Even with these terms defined, leaders still come back and talk about goals the team set for this quarter or tactics for 2017. It is a simple concept, and yet not that easy to do.

Here are two tips for creating clarity around your plan and priorities:

  1. Commit to the same language: I can help you start this with my ebook Demystifying Strategic Planning (free on Kindle). This simple step will have a huge impact on your ability to create clarity at all levels of your organization. Also, remember that things have to be communicated 7 times before they are retained – so the roll-out is a journey, and not just an email or single all-employee meeting.
  2. Write things down on a single page: The spoken word does not create clarity. The written word does not, by itself, create clarity. But writing it down will help drive a more productive clarity conversation so you will get there faster.

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

The Trust Bank: 9 Habits That Make Deposits

The Trust Bank: 9 Habits That Make Deposits

As leaders, we all have moments when decisions must be made that cannot be fully explained to the organization. Sometimes even your team has to be kept in the dark as to the full truth. Some of these moments include:

  • Firing someone for criminal acts at work
  • Reducing your team by 10%, including the two nicest and most liked people in the department
  • Asking an under-performing and extremely good person to resign in 45 days
  • Negotiating a sale of the company
  • Reassigning a leader due to allegations for certain behavior
  • Firing an executive for performance issues

I remember a conversation with a leader about the impact of one of these big decisions, on both his people and the trust within his team. He had just let someone go and nobody could know the truth. It was immediate, and it was explained by a vague email. I shared with him a perspective I learned in watching trust shifts after these BIG events: in my experience, these events did not alter the trust level because it was the thousand decisions we had made up to the event that made forgiveness easier.  Trust was kind of like a bank account. If the deposits had been made along the way, then the effects of the one big withdrawal were minimal.

Leaders make these little deposits when they:

  1. Tell people the real business numbers when sales records are hit and missed
  2. Publicly apologize for a bad decision that made life harder
  3. Show up at potlucks
  4. Go to funerals, weddings, and other big events in people’s lives
  5. Send a note after seeing someone’s child recognized in the paper
  6. Ask questions about family – and remember their names
  7. Have monthly breakfasts with people where any question is answered
  8. Answer emails from employees that send questions
  9. Embrace policies that make a positive impact on the lives of people

The good news? Big events don’t happen that often. The better news? They will pass faster if you spend the time between them being open and honest with your people, and practicing some of the habits mentioned above.

Just remember – focus each day on telling and hearing the TRUth and building/giving TRUst.

For EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System®) leaders, at your next clarity break tally all the ‘deposits’ you made this week and pick one thing you can do tomorrow to make a deposit.

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often.

What The Heck is EOS? ~ A book review and 1 tip on how to use it

What The Heck is EOS? ~ A book review and 1 tip on how to use it

This is part book review and part ‘here is how you could use it’. Value #4 of The trU Group is learning + doing = growth, so learning is always accompanied with support to move to action! If you are not a company that uses EOS, check-out the EOS Journey page to get some context on what it is.

I need to say up front that I was a little skeptical of this book because I felt the previous book from EOS Worldwide, How to Be a Great Boss, was more repackaging old content to sell a book. After I read this book, I was skeptical no longer. It is formatted to be an effective learning tool, and I feel that any EOS company could and should integrate it into the development of EOS throughout their organization. It also follows my core belief #1:

Great conversations start with a question.

At the end of each chapter, they have included questions that an employee should ask their leader.  I guarantee these questions will drive some powerful conversations.

The book is written with a tone and language that speaks directly to people in your organization who are not on the leadership team. This is evident by looking at the table of contents; notice how it speaks directly to your people and drives their ownership in using EOS to help them work toward their own personal goals and the goals of the organization:

  • Chapter 1: What the Heck Is EOS?
  • Chapter 2: How Does EOS Work? (The EOS Model)
  • Chapter 3: Do You See What They Are Saying? (The Vision/Traction Organizer)
  • Chapter 4: Who’s Doing What? (The Accountability Chart)
  • Chapter 5: What Is Most Important Right Now? (Rocks)
  • Chapter 6: Why Do We Have to Have Meetings? (The Weekly Meeting Pulse)
  • Chapter 7: What’s My Number? (Scorecard and Measurables)
  • Chapter 8: How Am I Doing? (People Analyzer)
  • Chapter 9: What Do I Do Next? (Conclusion)
  • Appendix A: Your Role
  • Appendix B: Questions to Ask Your Manager

Here are the core sections I flagged with post-it notes as I read the book:

  1. IDS, p. 104: Teaches the IDS methodology and provides an example of how a leader might facilitate an IDS topic with two teammates. The example falls into the category of simple but not easy, yet as an implementer many of you have probably seen me be this direct. I have witnessed truths like this shared and issues resolved.
  2. Chapter 7: What’s My Number (Scorecard & Measurables), p. 114: Metrics to help teams and individuals see progress or issues more clearly in their work are critical for growth-focused organizations. This is also the topic I see organizations struggle with the most. The title pulled me in, and the content will drive great conversations with your team.
  3. Chapter 8: How Am I Doing? (People Analyzer), p. 129: This chapter is something that will scare leaders because a portion of your team will ask for feedback, and if you don’t do quarterly conversations around performance then get ready. The part I love about this chapter is that it teaches the People Analyzer method and encourages them to schedule a conversation with their leader.
  4. Great questions for self-evaluation and preparation for quarterly conversation, p. 139-140: Let me say it again, great conversations start with a question. The two questions presented that should guide the quarterly performance conversation are: “What’s working?” and “What’s not working?” This might be my favorite part of the book, and I am looking forward to your stories about the conversations that result from these questions.

There is lots of value in this book if you use it effectively. For some tips on how to do this, here is a book study template. I highly recommend this as an addition to your library. Here is a link to the book.

For my EOS partners, remember that I pledge 2-4 hours between quarterlies to more actively support your effective use of EOS. If it would help, I would be glad to help you construct and maybe even facilitate a portion of the roll-out of this book to your team. Just call me if you want to explore that option.

Guest Post: Blue Collar Scholar, Jim Bohn – What is our Organizational Level Engagement?

Guest Post: Blue Collar Scholar, Jim Bohn – What is our Organizational Level Engagement?

Today’s guest blogger is Jim Bohn. Jim spent a career helping leaders and organizations do the work of successful change. I was connected to Jim when he stepped out of his corporate role and was answering the question, “What is the next journey for me?” I have followed his journey through his powerful articles on LinkedIn and have been impressed with the wisdom he continues to share around change and helping organizations build and sustain a healthy culture. Jim also calls himself the ‘Blue Collar Scholar’, which captures the essence of his wisdom for me. Leaders need to think about what they need to accomplish, and then they must roll-up their sleeves and do the work. I am grateful to Jim for sharing his wisdom today.

The following content is the property of Jim Bohn and is shared on this blog with his full approval. Any reproduction or use of this material without his consent is not lawful. If you like it and want to use it somewhere else, just ask him directly using the link at the bottom of the post. Also included at the end are some free resources for those of you that want to learn more.

Key question for leaders to answer: What is our Organizational Level Engagement?

Employee engagement has been around for over 20 years.  If we are honest with ourselves, we know employee engagement is now part of the routine and does not hold the prestige and impact it once held. So, as an executive, have you thought beyond employee engagement to organizational level engagement?  If your water coolers could talk, what would they tell you about the conversations your employees have when they talk about your organization?

 Key question: What is Organizational Level Engagement?

Organizations high in engagement demonstrate many of the following characteristics:

  1. A high degree of morale, specifically a desire to be at work and a desire to do work on behalf of the organization.
  2. Enthusiastic workers who want to be part of an organization.
  3. Workers willing to take on complex challenges.
  4. Workers who believe they are stronger than their competition.
  5. A track record of accomplishments.
  6. Evidence of innovation.
  7. Data and knowledge sharing.
  8. Increased speed and quality of decision-making.
  9. Effective conflict management.

It focuses on “We” not “Me”

While acknowledging that the individual is important, organizational level engagement focuses at the organizational level.  It does not dismiss the value of the individual, but acknowledges the critical nature of organizational level performance.  It focuses on how people work together across an organization to accomplish outcomes.

As an executive, you’re likely to respond: “Well, we have our financial performance metrics to tell us how we’re doing as an organization.”  True – – – but that answer is not sufficient.  Financial metrics only tell one part of the tale.  Organization Level Engagement is about how the organization is performing from a people perspective.

For example, all organizations have ‘silos’, groups of people who do not work together.  Organizational level engagement discovers pockets of silos allowing managers and leaders to improve how groups work together, sharing data and improving decision making processes.

Do your people know the mission of your organization?  Merely repeating the mission by rote does not mean they have integrated the mission of your organization with their daily work behavior.  Do your people work together?  Do they make effective decisions by considering others who may be impacted by new strategies?

The following chart describes the differences between employee engagement and organizational level engagement.

Employee Engagement Organization Level Engagement
Focused exclusively on what employees derive from the organization Focused on what the organization derives from all employees working together
Focused on individual motivation – what’s in it for me? Focused on organizational level motivation – what’s in it for us?
Focused on ‘local’ issues such as environment, pay and benefits Focused on organizational level outputs such as customer satisfaction, data quality, and leader effectiveness across groups.
Focused on the leader the individual works with each day Focused on how all leaders work together each day and throughout the year
Focused on “Me” Focused on “We”

 Senior executives should ask, at the beginning of every fiscal year, during a fresh start:

  • How well do we work together as an organization?
  • Do our people truly know the goals of this organization?
  • Are we (leadership team) setting an example of decision making and cooperation at the top?
  • How sharply are we focusing our efforts on things that really matter and jettisoning things that are a waste of time?

Senior HR people should ask:

  • What are we doing to help people across our organization work together better?
  • How are we training our people to share data and make better, high quality decisions with the organization in mind?
  • What are we doing to help our teams become more resilient in the face of project setbacks?

Employee survey or in a small group conversation, leaders should ask (and record to evaluate trends across the organization):

  • What prevents our teams from working together?
  • How can we help our employees understand where they fit into the overall mission of the organization?
  • What one thing do we need to improve at the organizational level to perform at a higher level? (Expect some to say, “pay increases” but look for other trends such as restructuring to improve communication pathways.)

*Jim has published his research in this area and his Bohn Organizational Efficacy Scale is part of that research. If you want to learn more about his research and survey please contact him directly.

By taking this important step and investigating organizational level engagement, you will improve the effectiveness of your organization, leading to increased profitability and improved employee satisfaction.

Did Jim’s words and wisdom resonate with some of the challenges you are feeling in your organization? As you come up on your yearly planning, would you like your leadership team to spend some time on some of these critical questions, and use the answers to listen and act differently in 2018? Visit Jim’s website or email Jim directly at james.bohn@att.net. Here are some other resources to take a deeper dive into this topic:

Architects of Change: Practical Tools to Build, Lead and Sustain Organizational Initiatives by Jim Bohn, Ph.D.

The Nuts and Bolts of Leadership: Getting the Job Done by Jim Bohn, Ph.D.

LinkedIn: What makes an organization tick? Employee engagement is not the answer (1 of 173 articles Jim has shared on LinkedIn)