Future State

As part of our coaching program for executives, I conduct feedback interviews with 10-12 people who work closely with the client. These are superiors, peers and direct reports who provide a broad perspective about a client’s strengths and weaknesses. As coaching goes, this is one of the ‘gold mines’ for identifying potential areas for improvement.

Last week, one of the high-level executives I interviewed recommended this approach for the client we were discussing:

“It starts with recognizing what made him successful before is not going to get him to the company’s desired future state. If he does a better job improving his skill sets then he can help us get there. These provide opportunities to search the soul and think about what he can do to help us. He needs to identify three weaknesses – and we all have them – and challenge himself to turn those into strengths.”

Too often leaders at all levels incorrectly assume that the skills and traits that made them successful – and likely earned them a promotion – end up being mostly irrelevant as their roles evolve into higher responsibility. That’s why great sales people struggle to be great sales managers… why outstanding workers struggle to be outstanding managers… why knowledge experts struggle to be generalists.

The key to making a successful transition up the leadership ladder is to avoid fooling yourself into thinking anything you did previously has relevance in your new role. While what you previously did provided a solid foundation, it is imperative you learn new ways to work with and engage people. Your main responsibility as a leader is to lead, not do. Marshall Goldsmith wrote it best in his 2007 bestseller by the same name: “What got you here won’t get you there.”

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Tiger Beat

As a former sports television producer, I pay close attention to the talent who provide play-by-play and commentary on the airwaves. In my opinion, the smoothest voice belongs to Jim Nantz of CBS – who in the last nine weeks hosted the Super Bowl, NCAA Basketball Championship and The Masters… all from the best seat in the house. He’s rock-solid, friendly and knows exactly when to raise his calm voice to a crescendo of excitement. My wife and I met him a couple of years ago and he was kind and engaging, with his ego solidly in check.

Which is why I am disappointed he chose to weigh in, after the fact, on Tiger Wood’s slips of the tongue at Augusta last weekend:

“If I said what he said on the air, I would be fired. I read in the USA Today and it was called ‘mild language.’ Someone on my broadcast team dismissed it as him having a camera in his face. Well, guess what? Phil Mickelson had a camera in his face all week and did you ever hear him come close to approaching that? He didn’t hit every shot the way he wanted. Have you ever heard Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus use that kind of language? What are the parameters between what’s right and wrong?”

My disappointment is Nantz went beyond the role CBS pays him millions to fulfill. He’s supposed to be Switzerland and remain neutral on and off the air so his journalistic credentials remain solid. Yes, television is entertainment; however, in my perhaps antiquated viewpoint, the role of the play-by-play person is to set the stage, call the action and ask hard questions of the commentators.

Think about the next time CBS airs a golf tournament and Nantz asks Nick Faldo about Phil Mickelson. Will you think, “You know, he’s a Phil fan; doesn’t like Tiger.” By inserting himself into the story,  Nantz lost an important piece of what makes him outstanding: objectivity.

By the way, I’m no Tiger apologist. Yes, I think he’s the greatest golfer. Off the course, Tiger messed up big time with his family. His public persona, which made him wealthy, was far from his personal actions. That said, as all business leaders know, change is a work in progress… two steps up and one step back. Hopefully, Tiger corrected his sexual misconduct. He’s clearly still struggling with salty language. Let’s see how he adapts over the next few tournaments before piling on again.

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It’s A Thriller

Butler’s run to the Championship game of the NCAA Basketball tournament – a reel-life “Hoosiers” sequel – captured the nation’s hearts. Although Gordon Heyward’s last-second launch from half-court bounced out and the Duke Blue Devils escaped with the title, the Bulldogs proved little guys can compete with the big boys.

Yes, America still loves an underdog… and that’s good to know during these times of fledgling economic recovery. While bailouts and government programs seem to be helping Wall Street and other giants, Main Street and small entrepreneurs continue to struggle. That makes it tough to get up in the morning and keep a positive attitude… tough to continue believing a new day is around the corner.

In the locker room minutes before the opening tip last night, Butler’s youthful coach Brad Stevens, calmly said these words to his would-be giant killers: “It’s about being a great teammate and being accountable. If you do tough things, if you stay together, you’ll not only attract that what you want, you’ll attract that what you are.”

As an advocate of the Law of Attraction, I’m convinced great results arise from great attitude. Regardless of how difficult things appear right now, your positive vision of believing you will be the David that overcomes Goliath is essential.

Thank you, Butler and Duke, for a great game. Thank you for reminding us great things happen when you believe.

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Did You Hear The One About

I’m speaking today to a local Rotary group. They invited me back three-and-a-half years after my first presentation. Came up with new jokes, new stories and a new ‘takeaway’ angle for them – especially after the person who invited me said, “I really don’t care what you talk about just as long as you’re funny again.”

Seems I heard the same thing about this time of year in 1978. It was my senior year in high school  and the graduation committee – made up of my soon-to-be fellow alumni – asked me to deliver the speech at our baccalaureate. I remember saying, “Wow, I’m honored.  Can’t wait to share my views on life, education and making a difference in the world.” The head of the committee said, “I don’t think you understand. We just want you to tell jokes and make everyone laugh.”

I guess it’s not only actors who get typecast (see: Culkin, Macaulay).

So my message today will be about two recurring themes I’m seeing in my recent coaching work with clients. With the challenges of the past few years, leaders are struggling to: remain positive you’re making the right decisions (confidence); and, present your solutions in a way that leaves no doubt in your audience’s mind of the position you’re taking (conviction). The first is an internal emotion, the latter external.

There’s no magic bullet or secret formula for overcoming these. You just have to look in the mirror each morning and think, “I’ve got this one.” As things occur in your business, remain steadfast in your belief everything is going to work out fine. You’ll do the right things.

As the saying goes, “Never ever let ‘em see you sweat.” And when you’re having ‘one of those days,’ take a deep breath and share a funny story. Laughter heals.

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In Search of Leaders

Here in Texas yesterday was primary Election Day… as Republicans and Democrats squared off to determine who represents each Party head-to-head on November 2nd. The big race was for the Governor’s Mansion. Incumbent Rick Perry beat Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison on the Republican side, while Democrats chose former Houston mayor Bill White over Farouk Shami, who made his fortune by creating the CHI hair straightener.

Either Perry or White will probably do fine as governor; however, the bigger question in my mind – both here in the Lone Star State and in Washington, D.C. – is “Where have all the statesmen gone?” Political campaigns these days consist of one side chopping up the other… with minimal amount of time spent explaining “Here’s my platform and here’s how we’re going to do it.” Instead of hearing plans for change, the Great Unwashed electorate is served up regular courses of complaints and criticism.

Of course, the shouting displayed in elections leads to the inevitable stalemate by the chosen ones. That’s why Congress continues to point fingers and take sides rather than work to find common ground and take action. Grown men and women act like three-year-olds – unwilling to compromise or accept another viewpoint. Those of us on the outside looking in are left to observe the melee presented in the partisan proclamations of CNN and Fox.

Somewhere George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and the founders of this nation are shaking their heads. They understood that putting the needs of the people first is Job One. They gave to receive… and 223 years after signing the Constitution their insight and approach stands as the brightest of lights. Today’s politicians would do well to take a pause and read some history. That would be a better use of their time and your tax dollars than what they currently do on a daily basis.

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