The Painful Process of Pivoting to New Markets

shutterstock_150777920Many senior leaders I encounter are grappling with the modern business problem of our time: what to do for an encore. And no, the encore isn’t a personal one, but rather it is all about the business. Long successful businesses are waking up to the reality that not only did someone steal their cheese, but, the thief ate the cheese. That cheese is not coming back.

Reinventing an old business  in the process of being rendered obsolete due to changing tastes, new technologies, disruption via business model or some or all of the above is the most difficult act in all of business. It happens, but it is rare. When it does, we study it in business schools, attempting to grok the deep insights of the firm’s managers so that we can apply these enlightened and obviously brilliant rules for reinvention to our own situations. Unfortunately, the rules always seem to be for a game we are not playing.

For every successful re-inventor there are many, many others that flail and fail in the process. The roots of these failures are found in human nature and exacerbated by our stubborn application of our traditional, short-sighted management approaches. Oh, and leaders with true courage are often nowhere to be found.

Why the Deck is Horribly Stacked Against Reinvention:

The firm’s collective knowledge and experience—the secret sauce is all about one recipe. The knowledge, skills and abilities are focused on the legacy markets, customers and offerings. The dominant logic of the firm is rooted in making decisions around a set of well understood variables in the industry and with customers. What made you great yesterday, may be one of your biggest disadvantages tomorrow.

We are mostly in denial about the creeping irrelevance of our legacy businesses. Even in the face of obviously declining markets, revenue and profit targets are ratcheted upward by senior leaders who naively believe that they can fight gravity. “Our sales team is stronger than our competitor’s…we will take market share,”offered one executive facing a factually undeniable collapse in demand for their offerings. Even if it works once or twice, it is a dangerous mindset that delays the urgent need to replace old revenue streams.

We talk a good game about innovation, but lack the discipline to pull it off. With our traditional strategy rendered obsolete, we have no filters to help us assess the quality of ideas and to select experiments to invest our shrinking company treasure. All the ideas seem good in isolation.

Desperation makes us stupid. As the numbers from the legacy business enter free fall, we start to flail, looking for quick fixes and we swing away, hoping to connect on a last minute home run hit. The distance from flail to fail is very short.

Even when we find a viable option, we tend to starve it for resources, focus and time. Our tendency is to evaluate new ideas against traditional metrics, and when the results fall short, we reduce our investment support and increase our agitation over the slow-to-emerge results.

Why Leadership Courage is the Missing Ingredient:

Some would argue that a declining business should be allowed to die—sooner if possible to minimize squandering any remaining shareholder treasure. I struggle with blind acceptance of the need for creative destruction. Having lived through and led during one of these that worked (and one that did not), I know that there is no easy answer. For any chance of success however, the one ingredient that must be present is leadership courage. Every single step of the process of reinvention demands a level of courage that many senior managers struggle to manifest.

Why Leadership Courage is Core to the Reinvention Process:

Navigating successfully into new arenas is frightening to your stakeholders. Shareholders, board members and external influencers will caution you against taking unnecessary risks and urge you to move carefully into these uncharted markets. They will second-guess every move you make, and if you are not careful, their creeping doubt will infect you. Of course, they will hammer you mercilessly for near-term results.

Employees—the ultimate stakeholders, will struggle to understand what this change means for them. Some will fight it, others will resent it quietly and some may even leave. You are left on one side with the need to engage and motivate your employees and on the other side with the need to blow up elements of the culture.

Real-time demands will challenge you every day to put more attention and more resources into the legacy business. The distractions will siphon your energy, gray matter and focus so essential for the new endeavor.

Scanning for new opportunities is often limited to the firm’s myopic view of the world. It is challenging to push beyond the gravitational pull of the legacy world. You are fighting the internal system and the dominant logic. You need help…and often, you will have to ask for help.

Saying “no” to the many good ideas that you will hear—avoiding what Jim Collins describes as the “undisciplined pursuit of more” is essential for survival. It is hard to say “no.”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

If only this issue were simple enough to distill down to one of those ubiquitous “Ten Steps…” type lists so common to blog posts. Life and business are mostly never that easy. And no, my indication of the need for “leadership courage” is not the default answer of a leadership blogger. It is the observation of a veteran of these wars. Without leadership courage present and accounted for in every decision, every day, there is no chance of success.

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Get the latest e-book (free) from Art: “A Bold Cup of Leadership Caffeine: Ideas to Stimulate High Performance.” 

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Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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Leading Employees Who Struggle with Self Doubt

mindsetThe biggest barrier to remarkable achievements in our workplaces is not a lack of resources or a shortage of great ideas. Rather, it is a distinct shortage of a very personal attribute: self-confidence.

Of all of the challenges of serving in a role responsible for others, guiding and developing individuals who lack confidence in their own abilities is perhaps the most difficult. It is easier to exorcise a poor performer or a person who seems to operate with a set of values incongruous with those of the firm, than it is to help build up someone who struggles in his or her mind with their own abilities. Sadly, those lacking in self-confidence often are inappropriately lumped into the poor performer category, not because they “can’t” but because they “don’t.”

Most managers ply their trades sans any formal expertise in the realm of psychology. As such, we are left to our own designs to attempt to understand our team members and provide the right environment and push the right buttons to stimulate their interest and motivation. Mostly, we flail and for many, we fail.

If you have worked to try and help an individual who struggles to recognize his/her own gifts and abilities, you can relate to how difficult this challenge truly is. We try moral suasion, quiet appeals to assert, loud notes of encouragement that fall on deaf ears, and at some point, we show frustration and even disappointment. Every one of these behaviors exacerbates the problem.

Instead of attempting to bludgeon or argue someone into a state of improved self-confidence, why not diversify your efforts? Here are six ideas to help you help those who struggle with themselves. No psychology degree required.

1. Accept that you cannot control or change the individual’s belief in self through excessive cheerleading or browbeating or anything in-between the two. Change is up to the individual. Your best starting approach is to offer your respect and empathy (not pity).

2. Offer very clear, positive feedback when earned. The more specific you are about what it was the individual did to achieve a positive outcome, the more valuable this feedback becomes.

3. Positive feedback is best served warm with a big helping of feed-forward. Coach Goldsmith’s idea of feed-forward: discussing and defining what strong behaviors look like in the future, can serve as a target to aim for, particularly after the positive behavior was observed. Armed with the knowledge that he/she has successfully exhibited this behavior before, the barriers to achieving it in the future are diminished.

4. Tailor your developmental activities for the individual to move forward in small increments, not big leaps. We talk a lot about “stretch goals,” and much of this talk is playground bravado that would have been prefaced by, “I double-dog dare you…” at an earlier age. Keep the stretching very, very light initially; leverage the feedback/feed-forward techniques described above and gently work with the individual to define his or her own next stretch.

5. Choose who you spend your time with carefully. If given the option to invest in someone who struggles with self confidence, but brings good character and values that align with my own and the firms, versus attempting to rehabilitate the values-deprived jerk with mad gray matter, I will back “character” every time.

6. Balance the needs of your stakeholders and accept that you may face a tough decision. If someone does not respond to your thoughtful support as outlined above, you are left with a dilemma. You cannot sacrifice the organization or team to individuals who under-perform for an extended period, regardless of their potential in your eyes. Be kind, clear and decisive when if that time comes.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It is painful to see someone of talent struggle under the weight of self-doubt. Our instinct is to push, challenge and prod. In this case, instinct is wrong. Empathy and support are essential, but leave the audacious goals and other bad management motivation ideas at home. Personalize your support and exhibit belief and patience. Remember, no one said this job would be easy.

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Get the latest e-book (free) from Art: “A Bold Cup of Leadership Caffeine: Ideas to Stimulate High Performance.” 

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Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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A Note of Encouragement to the MBA Graduates of 2016

Compass pointing to the word career. Note from Art: every year, I share my thoughts and guidance via this blog to the most recent group of MBA graduates. (2015 Graduates, It is Time to Rededicate to Learning) As both a management educator at the graduate level and a long-practicing executive and coach, I feel duty bound to offer encouragement to build upon your hard work of the past few years. 

Congratulations on your accomplishment! After several years of putting everything on hold as you navigated your day jobs and occupied classrooms and stared endlessly at screens, it is time to reclaim the your life.

Gone are the sunny Saturdays spent with your nose buried in books while your family and friends carried on without you. You can relax a bit during Sunday nights instead of locking yourself away until midnight working on the paper due Tuesday. And, there are no more group calls and meetings soaking up your evening time, as you prep for yet another presentation.

In a few years or more after the glow has worn off of your accomplishment today, you will look back at this phase with a bit of nostalgia as you recognize it for one of most stimulating experiences of your life. You will not miss the grind, but just about everyone who lives through this experience comes to view the time spent learning, thinking, collaborating and being exposed to new ideas, as a very good time in their lives.

Yes, congratulations on having the fortitude to finish what you started. Spend some extra time with your family. Play some golf. Push your old texts out of sight or clear them off your your e-reader. It’s time to recharge, reflect a bit and then get on with life and learning.

Taking Stock and Looking Ahead:

While the world has not shifted on its axis now that you have completed your degree, you have every right to be excited about your future. Here are a few thoughts to consider as you reflect on the completion of this phase of your life and prepare to begin the next phase.

  • Finishing your degree program while navigating the complexities of work and life is a test of fortitude, and you passed. You will face many more of these tests in your future, however, success follows a pattern of the right behaviors and you have already imprinted this pattern on your mind.
  • The degree today is less about arriving at a destination than it is gaining admittance to a new set of challenges. Yours says: Admit One. Pursue these challenges with zeal.
  • The world is as challenging or more so than in many generations. And like the distance runner who complained to his coach that he was tired from running high in the mountains while it was snowing and sleeting and freezing, you should remember the words of the coach. “You’ve been training harder than anyone in the world. You will need this training to win the race.” While others trained with you, you and your peers are now armed with the latest and greatest tools in management thinking to help us all navigate the storms ahead.
  • You have an opportunity to redefine management and shape the form of leadership necessary for success in a complex, volatile world. This is an era for management innovators and leaders grounded in strong values and fierce determination to do right by others. Do not squander this opportunity.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

You can choose to chase just the money, but take it from those who came before you, the feeling at the end of that race is hollow. And pay no regard to the people who suggest it is impractical to chase a dream. Use this time to refresh old or define new dreams and much like you set out to win the day and earn your degree one class session and one assignment at a time, start moving towards your future.

Get the latest e-book (free) from Art: “A Bold Cup of Leadership Caffeine: Ideas to Stimulate High Performance.” 

See posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

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Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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Leadership Caffeine™—Don’t Let a Bad Employee Experience Define You

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveEvery person who has spent any significant amount of time in a management role has encountered at least one employee from that warm place, and I am not talking about Phoenix. The best of the worst are master manipulators who work within the system confounding attempts to discipline or dismiss them with vexing, nose-thumbing ease. Along the way, these walking toxic waste dumps destroy group morale and drain the life energy for leading from their bosses.

While it would be nice to believe you could avoid these close encounters of the evil kind, life is never that easy. A bad apple slips through the hiring cracks. An employee passed over for a promotion feels slighted and seemingly devotes her free time to thinking of ways to torture you. The brilliant but mercurial employee you support because of her brilliance turns out to be the epicenter of dysfunction on your team. And those are just three I dealt with at various points in my career. I hear new examples regularly from my coaching clients.

These are often bitter, crushing situations filled with regrets and second-guesses and creeping self-doubt. “If only I had…” is the refrain I hear most often as managers describe their own painful situations. And while some readers might wonder why the managers failed to exorcise these people from the workplace, the reality is that the system is typically set-up to minimize litigation and not maximize speed of resolution. Due process in some firms becomes dead-slow process, where the manager is forced to survive and teammates suffer while the individual in question skates along on the thin line between survival and elimination.

In most instances, these situations eventually come to an inglorious ending and the manager and team are left to clean up the mess and cope with the post-traumatic stress fallout that follows in the wake of these bad apples. I know a few managers who lost their love for their work of guiding and developing others and made radical changes in their careers. Others have become suspicious and cynical about everyone they encounter and hesitant ever again to extend their trust, lest it be trampled upon. And some managers use these experiences to come back stronger and more committed to their work than ever before. It is the behaviors of this latter group that most inspire me.

Four Lessons in Constructive Recovery from Dealing with a Toxic Employee:

1. Press the restart button. Use the immediate post toxic employee period to build stronger relationships with your team members as individuals and as a group. One manager met with her employees and without revisiting the entire painful experience, took full responsibility for her missteps and the past pain. She apologized and committed to doing everything in her power to avoiding a repeat scenario. She met personally with each team member to let them vent and she redoubled her efforts to insure accountability for respect and results in daily activities.

2. Roll up the lessons learned and apply them moving forward. One of my personal favorite examples of constructive recovery involved a manager who engaged a mentor to review what had transpired and to identify situations where she failed to act or to act properly to drive a speedy resolution. She summarized the lessons learned, shared them with her boss and her boss’s boss and identified how she would improve her handling of a difficult employee situation in the future. From faster, most specific feedback and follow-up on the feedback to immediate engagement of human resources to ensure that the proper processes were followed from the start, she was well prepared for her next difficult situation.

3. Reset on your group’s or firm’s values. Another manager recognized that he had failed to live up to the values of the firm in his handling of a challenging employee. He admitted as such to his group and asked for their help in creating an internal initiative to review the values and identify opportunities to translate them into daily activities. The group’s effort was appreciated by senior management and soon became a company-wide initiative.

4. Take a break. I actually did this. It turns out that after a few months of being responsible for no one but myself, I realized how important it was for me to be supporting the efforts of others. The break allowed me to reset and rethink how I practiced leadership. I came back ferociously committed to helping others develop while helping my business succeed.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The common threads in the “survivor” lessons above include the recognition and admission of responsibility and the resolve to turn the negative situation into a set of strong, positive behaviors in the future. Those who give up miss out on the opportunity for growth created by a tough experience. They allow themselves to be defined by this one situation and the world loses someone who now has the context and experience to truly help others in the future. My counsel: lick your wounds; admit your responsibility; rethink your approach to leading and turn this one lousy experience into a set of behaviors that help others succeed on their career journeys. And remember, no one said this would be easy.

Get the latest e-book (free) from Art: “A Bold Cup of Leadership Caffeine: Ideas to Stimulate High Performance.” 

See posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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Observations from a Sabbatical in the Southern Hemisphere

IMG_1748I never envisioned taking a sabbatical. If it were not for my wife pushing and then seizing the initiative, I doubt I ever would have considered much less acted on taking more than a month away from my work.

With stubborn reluctance, I pushed away from my desk, packed my Macbook Air (for pictures of course), grabbed some clothes and embarked upon a journey that would take us to Australia, New Zealand, and a number of the French Polynesian Islands, followed by a week in Hawaii with family to recover from the first month of travels. It turns out the experience was remarkable on many levels.

Instead of sharing a few thousand digital images (anyone remember when the use of film required us to be much more discriminating with our choice of images?), here are some insights and observations from our travels.

Insights and Observations from a Month Spent Traveling:

-Perspective is the Key to Understanding. I am an absolute addict for museums of any sort. Both in Australia and New Zealand, the museums are outstanding in presentation and information. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about both the foundations of these countries and the historic and geologic histories and indigenous populations of the lands. While we all intuitively grasp that where you come from shapes your view on the world, the differences become meaningful when you study the roots of other cultures.

-Perspective, Part 2: It may come as a shock to many, but the world does not see things through American eyes. People in every country view world events and challenges through their own cultural and personal filters. It behooves all of us in business and life to take time to ask questions and listen and learn to understand how and why people see situations before striving to impose our own views on them.

-Commitment to Honoring Heroes. In both Australia and New Zealand I observed and sensed an intense high regard for those who have sacrificed or placed themselves in harm’s way for their countries. While every nation does this to some degree, the commitment to IMG_1290honoring and maintaining the collective memory of the sacrifices of others seemed to be at a uniquely high level in these countries. The Australian War Memorial was both somber and remarkable and the Te Papa Museum in Wellington, New Zealand is home to a staggeringly powerful exhibit of the Gallipoli Campaign—a major event and disaster in the stories of these nations.

-New Zealand is practically pest free. And no, I am not talking about that person playing music through his earphones loud enough for everyone on the train to hear and sing along with, but rather, the creepy crawly, biting kind. The big controversy around Picton, New Zealand is how to wipe out the invasive species of pine trees that we would all admire here in the Midwest. Each of these unwelcome trees are carefully monitored with their own GPS location as local authorities monitor initiatives to eradicate the trees with a slow acting and carefully controlled poison.

-Coming to Grips with Painful Past Mistakes. A bit more serious than the absence of flying and crawling creatures in New Zealand is the work in Australia to educate citizens about the historic mistreatment of indigenous peoples. The museums have elevated the education and preservation of native cultures to the level of mission. While I do not have insight into whether the efforts are meaningful or impactful for current day indigenous citizens, the education efforts are visible almost everywhere you turn.

IMG_1382-Sydney, Australia is Truly One of the World’s Great Cities. From the stunning harbor to the remarkable architecture to the clean streets of this city, it looks on the surface to be a model of effective civil government. While I heard undercurrents of the challenges with politics, bureaucrats and taxes, our short immersion suggests this may be the modern city that works, supplanting my own hometown of Chicago, which used to work. Today, Chicago is a city in complete and utter turmoil characterized by armed conflict and a runaway financial disaster. It was refreshing to remember what a great city feels and acts like.

-Yes the World is Fascinated with American Political Theater. The typical question within the first 60-seconds of meeting someone in a different country was: “Is it possible that Donald Trump could win?”  Everyone is watching this ultimate reality show—all with fascination, some with excitement and a few watching closely in horror.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I am back, refreshed, recharged and forever changed just a bit by the exposure to other people and places. And yes, once again, I learned that my better half is always right.

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Get the latest e-book (free) from Art: “A Bold Cup of Leadership Caffeine: Ideas to Stimulate High Performance.” 

See posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty is a coach and keynote speaker/workshop presenter helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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Leadership Caffeine™—Quit Hacking Your Way Through Your Days

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveA coaching client—the CEO of a successful software firm—was struggling to help his firm navigate a critical transition to a new strategy. He was forcing his actions, leading by command, and generating stress and strife in his wake. After listening to the comments of his colleagues and then sharing this input with him, he went quiet for a few minutes and then sighed, and offered: “This situation is critical for our firm. I fear that if we fail, the lights will dim on what should be a bright future. I feel like it is my responsibility to bring this new strategy to life, and I am failing.”

He made my job as a coach easy, because internally, he understood that he was the cause of the problem. Like an athlete on a bad day, he was off his game—his actions were disjointed and his mental game was a wreck. After challenging him to reassess his role and ask his team members how he could best help and support them with the strategic transition, he relaxed, focused on purpose and regained his leadership flow.

Too often in the world of leadership development and coaching, we preoccupy on the visible manifestation of leadership—the gestures, actions, styles and habits—when the real work of leadership is forged in our minds, invisible to all but the lone individual waging war against self-doubt or other insidious dark forces.

I call this the “Inner Game of Leading,” in tribute to Timothy Gallwey’s fabulous 1970’s era book: “The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance.” (While tennis is a vehicle, the book is an extraordinary guide to succeeding with the challenges found between your ears.) This book was an early influence on me as I worked to overcome my mediocre—on a good day—serve and my spotty, temperamental backhand. Later on, it served as a guide for keeping my ego in check and learning not to defeat myself on the leadership court.

Yes, in our training courses and programs and books and blogs, we spend most of our time focusing on the motor skills of leadership and not enough—and in many cases, not at all—on the inner game so essential to leading effectively. That’s too bad, because success goes to those who get the inner game working—creating flow and eliminating spotty behaviors and unforced errors.

If you’ve not asked and answered some variation of the following questions recently, it is likely your inner game is out of sync with your leadership actions.

  • Why do I lead?
  • What is my real purpose?
  • What do my team members need from me to help them succeed?
  • At the end of this project (relationship), what will my team members say that I did?

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The questions above are simple, yet your answers have a profound impact on how you play the game. Answering them honestly every day and at every encounter and you will mostly avoid hacking your way through your days.

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Get the latest e-book (free) from Art: “A Bold Cup of Leadership Caffeine: Ideas to Stimulate High Performance.” 

See posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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The Best Of: The Difference Between Finishers and 70-Percenters

Note from Art: I’m traveling with my wife for our 30th anniversary celebration. (Hey, you only live once!) In light of that, I wanted to leave you with some great content from the archives while I’m away.


There’s a class of professionals in the world one of my former bosses labeled as “70-Percenters.” They’re the people who are great at making noise, and even getting things started, but they don’t know how to close.
They’re not finishers.

startAre you a Finisher or a 70-Percenter? Are you cultivating Finishers on your team?

5 Key Behaviors of Finishers:

1. Finishers walk into the heat. The 70-Percenter runs away from messy situations, while the Finisher understands that she owns a problem or difficult team situation until it’s solved. She recognizes that one of her jobs is to lead the cleanup on organizational spills, and she relishes the opportunity to help a team move from disaster to success.

2. Finishers understand that commitment IS commitment. The 70-Percenters are masters of excuses. Finishers eat accountability for breakfast, exude responsibility all day long and display fortitude in the most difficult of circumstances. Projects are completed, issues are resolved, problems are fixed and opportunities are pursued with a vengeance.

3. Finishers want the ball with time running out. 70-Percenters fear the implications of blowing the final shot. They look to pass the ball. Finishers are the sales representatives who engineer game-winning drives to bring home the orders at the end of the quarter and the engineers and developers who understand what it takes to go from whiteboard to finished product.

4. Finishers aren’t glory hounds, they are results fiends. 70-Percenters love the limelight, and live to find it. Finishers value the results and lessons learned. They climb mountains because they’re there and they complete their work, because anything else is tantamount to giving up. Finishers don’t know the words, “I give up.”

5. Finishers look around corners for answers. 70-Percenters run from vexing dilemmas and situations where the answers might involve a blend of experimentation and hard work. Finishers understand the iterative nature of most solution development activities and live to experiment and to gain insights from non-traditional sources in untraditional ways.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Finishers make the world go. 70-Percenters are along for a fun ride, but they don’t provide much locomotive power. As a leader, strive to cultivate Finishers on your team. Reinforce accountability and importantly display the behaviors that teach by example. As an individual contributor, adopt the behaviors above. They need to be part of your professional DNA.

While a team filled with Finishers offers its own challenges, it certainly beats the painful monotony of coping with the chronic under-performance of 70-Percenters.

Get the latest e-book (free) from Art: “A Bold Cup of Leadership Caffeine: Ideas to Stimulate High Performance.” 

See posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Leadership Caffeine™—Successful In Spite of Yourself

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveIn relative terms, you have been successful. You have the title, the salary and the perks that say, “success,” but how much of a performance penalty have your leadership tics and bad habits imposed on your teams, your firm and on your career? 

Some context: most senior and successful leaders have a strong view of their strengths. Ask a senior leader what has helped him/her  succeed over time and you will likely hear a listing of behaviors or attributes they are particularly proud of.

Alternatively, ask about the factors, gaps or weaknesses that have caused them to stumble or leave performance on the table and most will not have much to offer beyond some token, cliché answers.

We are all mostly card-carrying members of the “fundamental attribution error” society, where we attribute our successes to our skills and our failures and stumbles to factors beyond our direct control.

What most/many/all fail to see are the behaviors and leadership tics they have developed over time that leave opportunities for additional performance on the table. This Leadership Performance Overhead (LPO) is costly to firms, teams and of course, to the individuals who have been successful in spite of themselves.

Leadership Performance Overhead in Action:

  • The CEO regularly changes her mind on fully vetted decisions, frustrating her team members and promoting a period of post-decision paralysis as everyone waits to see if she is going to stay the course.
  • The General Manager draws upon his roots as a successful sales executive and frequently inserts himself in the larger sales. Instead of supporting the responsible sales team, he takes over the dealmaking, remaining involved long enough to stir things up only to require the team to regain control once he is off chasing after the responsibilities of his day job.
  • The brilliant product manager regularly bypasses the project team to interact directly with the head engineer—a longtime friend. They make critical product design decisions on their own, leaving team members to discover this news significantly after-the-fact.
  • The COO takes pride in his short-attention span. “If you want to make a point with me, make it fast and clear, or, go back and rethink it. I am busy running this place.”

The examples above and the many more I can cite from coaching work are drawn from individuals who have long lists of accomplishments in their careers. Yet, in each case, the individuals are their own worst enemies, striving to produce positive results, yet imposing a considerable LPO penalty on their activities and interactions.

On a personal note, I have no doubt my own LPO Penalty was much higher than it should have been. I was supremely confident in my abilities to lead in all circumstances. I took great pride in my ability to solve complex strategic problems and I had no hesitancy on tinkering with how I orchestrated my resources in search of the right results. And yes, I liked the power.

In other words, I was a mildly narcissistic pain in the ass approaching benevolent dictator of a leader at one point in my career. Not surprisingly, real success didn’t arrive until I understood the LPO penalty I was imposing on everyone.

It took a strong mentor to kick me in the butt and force me to focus on this part of my performance—because it was in my best interest. While I did not change my nature, I absolutely reined in some of the penalty inducing behaviors. I can assure you, it was both humbling and difficult. Of course, meaningful change is never easy.

Getting Started on Reducing Your Leadership Performance Overhead Penalty:

1. Embrace the reality that your performance can improve. Ultimately, my coach helped me realize that it was in my best interest to tackle the hardest professional development project of all: myself. I had to accept that in spite of my visible success, I could achieve more for myself, my family, my firm and my team by strengthening my own performance.

2. Get help orchestrating a meaningful, actionable 360-degree feedback process. We almost never have enough insight into how we confound and stress our team members with our behaviors. Asking is good, but often, we don’t get the full or real story. And many of our h.r. administered feedback processes are flawed. Work with an experienced coach or better yet, take advantage of a high quality leadership development program where the feedback work is a core part of the development experience. My personal favorite: the Center for Creative Leadership.

3. Tell everyone around you about the feedback findings and tell them you are striving to improve. Seriously. The entire feedback process only works if people understand where you are striving to improve, and IF they are comfortable calling you out on missteps.

4. Ask people to keep you honest on your behavioral improvements. This one only works if you reward honesty and don’t bite off the heads of the people you’ve asked to help you. Shoot one messenger and your program for improvement is in serious danger. Instead, thank people and then strive to adjust the noted behavioral tic.

5. In parallel to the feedback process, take a cue from Clayton Christensen (“How Will You Measure Your Life”) and work on defining how you will measure your impact on those you encounter at work and in life. While this sounds deeply philosophical—it is—it is also a healthy part of the process of evolving as a person and professional. Decide how people will describe what you did for them during their careers and then live it.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The answer to most performance problems in our workplaces is staring back at us in the mirror. It takes a bit of courage to recognize that the best gains might just come from you getting better at the job of leading. Changing your behaviors for the better takes grit.

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Get the latest e-book (free) from Art: “A Bold Cup of Leadership Caffeine: Ideas to Stimulate High Performance.” 

See posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

The Best Of: How to Thrive in High Pressure Conversations

Note from Art: I’m traveling with my wife for our 30th anniversary celebration. (Hey, you only live once!) In light of that, I wanted to leave you with some great content from the archives while I’m away.

image of a coffee cupEvery professional faces important “moments of truth” as they navigate through their work days. Whether it’s the invitation to speak at the board meeting, the opportunity to connect one-on-one with the CEO or, a tough feedback conversation with a team member, you need to be ready to succeed in these High Value/High Risk (HV/HR) situations.

Some HV/HR situations unfold in real-time and others afford ample time to prepare your mind and message. While the prep time varies, the process for dealing with these important situations is very similar.  The mnemonic L.A.S.E.R. is a useful tool to help you remember 5 critical actions required for success in every critical conversation.

Using L.A.S.E.R. Focus to Succeed in High Value/High Risk Situations:

1. L= Look for Cues and Employ Active Listening.

The last thing most of us are doing in a high-stress situation is focusing on the speaker and looking for social cues. We’re conditioned as humans for fight or flight, or, we are planning our response instead of focusing on the other party. It takes extraordinary effort and discipline to concentrate completely on the communication exchange. Deliberate effort to focus and listen is critical for success.

2. A=Assess by Asking.

Once you’ve tamed fight or flight, you need information to process and form a response. Active listening combined with the power of a few good clarifying questions are your best tools for survival. If the situation affords a break until a response is required (think: upcoming board presentation or sit-down with the boss tomorrow), ask questions until you’ve gained context for the situation, expectations and positions.

3 S=Strategy (and Message)

We all create and think differently however, in working with many different professionals, a simple message mapping process can help you think through a situation nd formulate a strategy and message for dealing with it.

Your core point goes in the center…supporting points (no more than 4) hang off the core point and each supporting point includes one or more points of evidence. When it’s time for that HV/HR meeting with the boss or board your Message Map is your best friend for delivering your narrative and answering questions. Public Relations pros will tell you that all issues and questions lead back through the message map.

While the process may seem labor intensive, after practicing and using it a few times, clients report that the process is so simple and effective that they are able to rapidly construct these helpful tools on the fly.

4. E=Engage with Confidence

Showing confidence (not hubris or arrogance) is critical to success in almost every HV/HR situation. And yes, it takes incredible self-confidence to admit a mistake or to genuinely be empathetic to others. Having and knowing your message map is an important confidence booster. Practicing your delivery and gaining feedback to strengthen your non-verbal effectiveness is another. Gaining feedback on your verbal and non-verbal performance from trusted advisors is priceless

5. R=Review Outcomes

Not all HV/HR situations go the way you planned. Always loop back and review with those involved on what worked and what didn’t work. I advise clients who are going to be in front of boards to find a boardroom buddy who will observe, take notes and provide frank feedback. My own boardroom observer noticed that when under pressure and heavy questioning, I would drink water incessantly. That nervous tic certainly showed anything but confidence and was getting in the way of my message. While trivial sounding, the feedback was priceless.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Others choose us for success. Your performance in High Value and High Risk situations goes a long way towards establishing the perception people carry around of you. And yes, perception is reality. Make sure it’s a good one. It’s time to get to work.

Get the latest e-book (free) from Art: “A Bold Cup of Leadership Caffeine: Ideas to Stimulate High Performance.” 

See posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Leadership Caffeine™—Rethinking Leadership Execution

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe words around leadership are well covered. The definitions are complete and the behaviors have been described over and over again by countless authors. There’s very little new to be said about what leadership IS. There is however a great deal to be said about how leadership takes place—particularly in an era characterized by what the academics call VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, conflict and ambiguity.

The how…the execution component of leadership is where value is created or destroyed, and it’s where the easy words of leadership books and posts undergo a conversion from raw material to diamonds or coal dust. The “how” is messy; it never takes place in a straight line, and in contrast to the words in the books, those charged with this role almost never know the answers when staring down the critical questions.

Much of my work is now focused on helping the youngest of our workforce move into positions of increasing responsibility, and yes, into leadership roles. My challenge is to help them move beyond the textbook definitions and into action. Fortunately, they are remarkable students—hungry for ideas and anxious to apply and learn. (Sidebar: The laments of the older generations about millennials are empty, narrow-minded perspectives. They reflect a failure to understand and adapt. The millennials don’t have to change, you do, but this is another post for another day.)

The leadership execution topics that occupy our discussions and experiments are identified below. We are all well served to embrace these lessons and rethink our own approaches to executing on our role as leaders.

4 Areas Where You Must Rethink Leadership Execution:

1. Motivation is about creating a series of adventures—quests in the video game vernacular of our younger generations—and providing opportunities for instantaneous feedback to support learning and achievement. The cause is the issue. Inspire others with a meaningful cause and they will move mountains.

Our greatest generation had a galvanizing, encompassing cause. In our world of endless problems, the leader has to give shape and texture to a specific cause and capture the hearts and minds of the right contributors. Corporate profits or some large, far-reaching strategy are not causes that motivate. Issuing directives or expecting others to pay-their-dues while waiting for the bigger and better cause to emerge is guaranteed to fail, particularly with the younger generation. Define the cause, and the grinding is no problem.

2. More on causes. One of the attributes of our younger generations in the workforce is their genuine desire to change the world in some way. They have watched nothing but disruption in the lives and careers of their parents for the past two decades, and they have a fierce drive to select different paths and drive different outcomes. Anyone in a leadership role today must harness this passion and drive to change the world—it is rocket fuel for execution.

3. Teach, don’t tell. I am convinced that in our era, one of the essential activities of anyone in a leadership role is to teach—a distinct contrast to the command and control models of the past. As a leader today, you can only promote progress, execution and success by teaching the following:

  • How to think critically and creatively.
  • How to talk—how to drive discussions that move forward on gray matter, not fisticuffs.
  • How to negotiate.
  • How to experiment and keep learning and improving.
  • How to make decisions and how to make increasingly better decisions.
  • How to galvanize support by leveraging and cultivating power and navigating the politics of the organization.

At no point in my career with some great large and small firms, did a manager or person in leadership help with any of the above. Today, these activities are the currency of the realm. Leaders teach.

4. Constantly Challenging Individuals and Groups to Refine their Field-of-View. There’s too much happening to remain isolated on the same picture. Every business, every industry and every career is in the process of being disrupted by something happening somewhere. The challenge is to learn to constantly challenge assumptions by shifting your or the collective field-of-view to take into account these external triggers and forces. In contrast to prior eras where the leader pointed and said, “We’re going this way,” today’s leader challenges her team to identify the destinations. He or she might need to tune or parameterize the initiatives, but the setting of direction is now a community activity. This is profoundly different than our prior world of strategy and goal setting.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There’s little doubt in my mind that we must foment a revolution in how we lead, or, we will fail at the big tasks in front of us. We need accountability and decency from our leaders in all areas of our firms and our lives, and we need leaders that recognize that the “How” of getting things done has changed.

For those new entrants to the world of leading others, you can succeed, just don’t emulate the bad habits of those who came before you. For those who have been around the sun more than a few times, it is time for you to rethink everything about how you execute on your role as a leader.

Get the latest e-book (free) from Art: “A Bold Cup of Leadership Caffeine: Ideas to Stimulate High Performance.” 

See posts in the Leadership Caffeine™ series.

Read More of Art’s Motivational Writing on Leadership and Management at About.com!

Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.