Golf, Ego and Leadership: 3 questions to get you out of the trap

Golf, Ego and Leadership: 3 questions to get you out of the trap

In my league this week I shot double my handicap, which in my case is an extra 10 strokes for nine holes. I was playing against a guy named Reese, who happened to shoot under his handicap, which was a 3 already. In real terms, he shot a 37 and I shot a 55. I lost.  More than losing though, is I lost a chance to learn. You see, part of my problem was the long grass that has grown since my last round. When I got in it, I never cleanly hit my ball out, and one time it took me 3 swings to move it 40 feet to regular grass. Reese got into the same grass and knew how to hit the ball cleanly towards the hole, and one shot traveled over 100 yards and landed within 10 feet of the hole.

My loss was not in the score, but in the anger and frustration that just made me swing harder. Ironically it was 12 hours after the round ended that it dawned on me – why didn’t I just ask Reese for some tips on how to hit out of that grass?  He and his father were both great golfers and nice guys, and I am sure he would have given me some pointers because I will be back in that stuff next week, guaranteed. 🙂 My EGO got in the way.

Has your EGO ever put you in a position where you just ‘swing harder’ or maybe just stopped participating?

In my book, People-Centered Performance, I call misaligned ego as the number one threat to people-centered leadership. Ego, by itself, is actually a necessary ingredient for leaders. Merriam-Webster defines ego as “the opinion that you have about yourself.” As a leader, it gives you confidence and helps you recover quickly from mistakes. Here is what I wrote about the conditions that make ego get negative:

Ego is most at risk when we are in the midst of disorienting change. When change is too much, too fast, our self-perception is challenged by the unfamiliar landscape. Anytime our ego is at odds with reality, we are vulnerable.

Back to my golf game, I wrote these words but did not live by them. You see, I am not a great golfer and if I am faced with changing conditions I will shoot a higher score until I figure out how to change how I play. Historically it is the next round. 🙂 My misaligned ego kept me from adjusting. It kept me from asking for help.

Where is your ego misaligned?

  • Is a peer offering input that you are dismissing because you have more experience?
  • Are you managing people that are experts in their work and you spend time getting in the minutia of their work vs aligning their efforts with bigger organizational goals and removing barriers they are encountering?
  • Are you working for someone younger or less experienced than you are and find yourself thinking ‘What an idiot’ or ‘Who are they to tell me what to do?’ everytime they open their mouth in a meeting?

As I look back on my coaching work over the last year I have seen this over and over. It can be an expensive leadership lesson if not corrected quickly – Your best people leave. Your bonus is lower. A promotion goes to someone else. You lose your job.

Tip: Spend a week looking for situations or people that trigger you into going into EGO overdrive. If you are not sure ask your spouse or close friend and they will tell you. Next time you find yourself in that situation or with that person, here are three questions to get out of the heather:

  1. What outcome is important here?
  2. Who can help me achieve this?
  3. Am I ready to ask for their help? (then ask)

Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!

Easy Way, Hard Way

Easy Way, Hard Way

As a young parent, a challenging task was bath time – especially when the kids developed the muscles to effectively jump, squirm, and grab. The toughest part was hair, because the “No more tears” promise on the bottle never seemed to work. When I encountered Avenger-like resistance to washing hair, I developed a standard script with them which sounded like this – and most of the time it was delivered in a calm and even tone of a loving father. Most of the time 🙂 “Aubrey, you have a choice here. Easy way – You hold your breath and close your eyes when I tell you, and I will do everything I can to keep the soap from getting in your eyes and mouth. Hard way – you keep screaming and I will just pour the water.”

Many of you know I wrote a book on parenting, and as I look at the paragraph above I am not sure a chapter like that would ever be written. If it did, it might involve waterproof stickers or $50 Avengers mask that protected ears and eyes. In hindsight, I was trying to teach them a first lesson of choices and teamwork because we face decisions like this daily as teenagers and adults, and the reality is that this flips as adults when the hard way actually becomes the right way.

People-centered leaders focus on the choices their team members have and work hard to coach them through decisions so there is greater ownership. They recognize when people choose the ‘hard way’ in communication by sharing a hard truth that puts their job at risk. Here are some examples:

Situation 1: Your leader is not effective at leading you because they second guess all your decisions, fail to give you the information you need to make the right decision, and have not given you any routine performance feedback in 2+ years.

Easy way: Complain at happy hour about your leader or resign and hope there is an exit interview for you to share your frustrations.

Hard way: Share how the leader is making your job harder at your next one-on-one and ask for help.

Situation 2: The smell of a teammate’s perfume or body odor is making it hard for you to work (allergies, or just a bad smell) to the point you are thinking about working remotely. {Sounds crazy – but ask an HR professional about their story on this and I guarantee they have one.}

Easy way: Buy $100 worth of potpourri for your office.

Hard way: Pull your team member aside and share the impact the odor is having on you (perfume, body odor, shoes being off) and ask if there is a way to address it.

Situation 3: Your project is going badly and you don’t know how to fix it.

Easy way: Do the best you can to fix it, but hide the truth in updates to your leader and team.

Hard way: At the next update or meeting with your leader, tell the truth and ask for help.

Of course, the key ingredient in all of these situations is trust. If it is there, it makes the hard way easier. When a high degree of trust between two people is not present, the easy way becomes the only way.

People-centered leaders recognize when someone has chosen the hard way, and shared something that they did not have to. When that happens, make sure you stop and recognize the choice they made. If you don’t know what to do? Easy way – Pretend you do and make promises you might not be able to keep. Hard way – Tell them this is a new situation for you and ask for 1 hour/1 day/1 week to give it some thought so the next conversation will be a productive one. Commit to helping resolve it, and follow through on your commitment.

What did you do today to build trust with each individual on your team?

Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!

Here are two resources for those of you interested in what a conversation around different ‘hard way’ choices might sound like:

Read Crucial Conversations

Podcast and book: Radical Candor

Successful Does Not Equal Perfect

Successful Does Not Equal Perfect

As graduation season passes, I am reminded of how we too often set the bar of success in the wrong place.

For example:

Success = Perfect (i.e., does not x, y, z)

It is in the x, y, and z that we spend time in judgement rather than seeing excellence and recognizing the attitude and grit that allowed an individual or organization to overcome the barriers that get in the way of excellence for so many others.

I work with high-growth/successful organizations and leaders that strive for more (responsibility, impact, personal growth), and they let me in on a secret:

Successful leaders/organizations <> Perfect

The truth is, successful leaders and organizations are passionate about their work and hopeful for their future. They don’t sit back and wait for someone to fix their problems, or spend a lot of extra energy hiding their mistakes. You can tell this when you get into a room to solve a problem and bad ideas get voiced often, yet one of those ideas becomes a seed for something that will work to solve a problem.

Your choice: spend time in judgement, or get to know the person or organization that has done amazing things. Then maybe, if you hang around long enough and invest in that relationship in small/unselfish ways, you get invited into the room to solve a critical problem they are facing. That is the sacred space for successful people/organizations.

The first step is to pick a formula and form your views around it. One gets you into cool conversations, and one attracts a bunch of other like-minded people to define x, y, and z.

I prefer the former.

Lead well!

Not enough…money? Time? How to move to enough.

Not enough…money? Time? How to move to enough.

All leaders should be in a peer group. I attended mine this week and an individual who works in wealth management shared some wisdom with us. One of the things he shared stayed with me for the day – and inspired this post.

“In my experience, it never seems to matter how much individuals have, they spend lots of time worrying that they don’t have enough.” He went on to share how their process works best when people are able to articulate their goals and aspirations in life, then the planning part just becomes working toward their goals. Sometimes it takes several years to get people to shift from being centered on ‘not enough’ to ‘goals/aspirations’.

This post is not about money; it is about the loaded words ‘not enough’.

  1. Not enough money
  2. Not enough support
  3. Not enough budget
  4. Not enough respect
  5. Not enough time
  6. Not enough space

Ever heard any of these come from one of your team members? From your teenager? From you?

Let’s talk about #5. This is the one area where everyone from Bill Gates to Scott Patchin to you – we are all equal. I think back to my friend’s questions around money: What are your goals and aspirations? Then maybe: If we were looking at where you spend your time, what does it say about your priorities and longer term goals/aspirations? Do they align? What one thing could you change that would move you toward the state of enough time for the important things in my life?

Watch out for the ‘not enough’ wheel. As a leader, help people step back and think about their priorities, then work through the constraints. Better yet – demonstrate to them what it looks like to live with a clear purpose and alignment around the important things. People-centered leaders don’t walk past the hard conversations.

FYI – They have studied money and happiness, and the number where having more does NOT make you happier is around $75,000. Here is a link if you want to learn more.

Lead well!

Leadership Wisdom 101: Developing Your Capacity to Lead Change (Part 2 of 3)

Leadership Wisdom 101: Developing Your Capacity to Lead Change (Part 2 of 3)

What is the biggest change you have ever experienced in life and how well did you lead through it?

How long did it take you to move from ‘the fog’ that overtakes you in a big change to a place where you could see new opportunities?

I believe transitions are the single biggest place for growth and pain. It is also the place where big personal changes provide us an opportunity to develop the wisdom and experience that translates back into our ability to lead change at work. The researchers call this resilience. The regular word we use in daily conversation is wisdom. Here are two lenses to help you develop the capacity to lead change. Next time you hit a change of any sort, use one of these to reflect, act, and grow.

Lens #1: William Bridges – This model is presented in more detail in his book, Transitions, and is a powerful lens through which to see our personal transitions in a different way. I have used it extensively with people in career transitions or any other job-related change. It is based on a recognition that in personal changes we need to let go of things (Endings) before we can see our situation in a new way (Neutral Zone). In the Neutral Zone, painful and confusing feelings still exist (emptiness, confusion, alone-ness) until we actively begin to try new things, which ultimately move us to a New Start. Yes, we do slide back, and in highly complex changes, multiple endings emerge that force us to retrace our steps. Here is a real example of how the model plays out in a career change:

It was the first day of our 3-month career transition program. During the check-in, she talked about how she was a teacher, and the idea of leaving her profession made her feel guilty for abandoning her kids and losing her summers. (Can you hear the endings in those statements?)  After a few classes and different exercises, she shared that she was beginning to see herself as someone who had a passion for helping people, and was skilled at using learning to assist people to grow and contribute more in their work. She was also wondering where that fit in the business world? Admittedly, she was still feeling anxious about actually working in a business. (Can you hear the neutral zone clues?) In our last conversation, she was two weeks into an internship with a business helping them pull together customer training for a new product they were launching. She was excited about the realization that learning for adults was like the hands-on/experiential approach she used in her classes. She was also excited about how quickly the learning showed up in performance. Having the summer off was still something she was not sure she wanted to give up.

Lens #2: 3 Ps by Martin Seligman – In her book Option B, Sheryl Sandberg shares a model explaining the barriers to personal recovery in life events. If you don’t know her story, Sandberg is the COO at Facebook and lost her husband from a heart attack a couple of years ago. Here are the 3 Ps that stunt personal recovery from events in our lives:

  1. Personalization – The belief we are at fault.
  2. Pervasiveness – The belief that an event will affect all areas of our life.
  3. Permanence – The belief that the aftershocks of an event will last forever.

Studies have shown that adults and children will recover more quickly when they realize it was not their fault, begin to see the positives in other aspects of their life that were not taken away by the event, and begin to see improvement and healing through the gift of time.

While the Seligman 3 P model is generally applied to big life events like death, divorce, job loss, or abuse, can you hear the similarities with what Bridges shares? For those of you that have navigated such a life event, how has that translated back into how you lead others?

Change will happen inside and outside of work, and each event is an opportunity to develop the personal ability to navigate those changes, which becomes the foundation for all of us to be great leaders of change.

For leaders, here are the three truths that you need to take into any change conversation:

  1. It is a studied process, so rely on a model to plan the change.
  2. It takes time, so the sooner you start planning, the better.
  3. You cannot control how people react, but you can control creating conditions where people feel supported/safe and are invited to take the next step in change.

The #1 reason leaders struggle with change is because they cannot control the choices others make. The #2 reason they struggle with change is because they have not allowed people the time they need to process change, especially the big ones.

The third issue that trips up leaders in navigating change is that it requires the help of others. In the next post, we will explore what I call The Power of 2.

Download a free one-pager on change. It includes the Bridges model, and also an additional tool that works well with planning organizational changes from Scott & Jaffe.

Lead well!

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!

What will people remember about your leadership?

What will people remember about your leadership?

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,

people will forget what you did,

but people will never forget how you made them feel.

~Maya Angelou

The great thing about aging is all the different situations you have experienced. They are not all positive, but with time they all have the potential to become wisdom, and this quote reminds me of the value of a smile and being present.

I admit that I still get this wrong. Recently I was doing a check-in on day 2 with a client, and two people on the leadership team commented how great the exercise was and how it energized them about the year to come. Energized? My memory was of a low energy, difficult to facilitate time with a group of people that needed to be carried over the finish line. Clearly I was wrong.

I did not create the one-on-one template with this quote in mind, and yet it is designed to help leaders create conditions where feelings flow and people leave feeling supported and listened to. We all need to keep learning this lesson as we lead. I always smile when this reminder happens, and if a client asks I simply say, “You just reminded me of the importance of being in a room together and getting the truth flowing. Even at the end of a long day it is energizing – so let’s do that again today.”

And remember – it can also go the other way. When people feel devalued or fearful, that is what they will remember. The problem is, they will not share that at the morning check-in, which makes your job even harder as a leader.

Which lasting memories are you going to sprinkle around your team today?

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!