Building Your Leader Aura

Building Your Leadership Aura

In This Blog:  Why do some people just impress you as leaders and some just do not? I believe it is a matter of “aura”. Aura is that distinctive atmosphere that just surrounds someone. It is an energy field that emanates from a human being. True, some people just naturally have it. Nevertheless, if you are committed to the effort, you can create the aura you want to project and do it in an authentic way.

 Three people stand out for me with respect to something I have come to call “Leadership Aura”. There was just something about how they presented themselves that immediately caused me to see them as leaders. Each, in their own way, demanded my attention and reaction. Let me clarify a couple of words I used in the last sentence. By “presented” I do not mean that acted to draw my attention to them. I mean that something that emanated from them, like energy, made it impossible for me not to really notice them. I used the word “demanded, however they did nothing purposefully to attract or keep my attention, I simply could not do otherwise. There was something in how they walked, how they talked, in how they simply were in their being.

Several years back when I was the CEO of Apollo Hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh, my assistant came into my office to inform me that the Aga Khan had requested a meeting with me. In fact, he was waiting in the lobby.  She seemed excited and deemed the meeting very important so I agreed. I few minutes later, in walked a very distinguished man in what was obviously an expensive, bespoke-tailored Savile Row suit. He carried himself with confidence, charm and fluidity. I was immediately comfortable with him. He extended his hand and quietly said, “Hello.” I thought, “I think he is British.” I invited him to sit and we spent the fastest hour together that I can recall. He let me know that he was in town to commission a new boarding school that was to open about four city blocks from the hospital. He wanted to see the hospital that would likely be used by students, faculty and other associated with the school. We talked healthcare and education over tea. He, in departing, asked me to be his guest at commissioning of the boarding school the next day. I had so enjoyed the man’s company and energy that I immediately accepted his invitation.

After he left, I learned who this “Aga Khan” actually is: Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini Aga Khan IV, is the Imam of Nizari Ismailism. He is the religious leader of the about 10% of the world’s Shia Islam (between five and fifteen million people). He is considered the “proof of God on earth”. This notion was affirmed the following day when I left the hospital to attend the school commissioning. As I left the hospital compound, I noticed that the streets were lined with people, six deep. Some were sitting in chairs and on boxes, clearly indicating they had been there for some time, maybe overnight. I asked the driver what was going on. He said, “They are waiting to see the Aga Khan.” I was stunned. Unfortunately, though I had honor of VIP seating, my experience was very different from the previous day. I could not even close to the Aga Khan. Everyone was vying for his attention. I actually felt a little sorry for him as I saw him being pulled in a hundred different direction. However, he appeared nonplussed, taking it all in stride.

My point in sharing this story is that I did not know who the Aga Khan was when I met him. I was not impacted by him based on his title or influence over millions of people. I was struck by some innate leadership quality and characteristic he carried within him, which emanated from him to affect my reception to him.

Less you think that what I am talking about is related to power or money, the second of the two people I am talking about is what I would call a “Beach Bum” having myself grown up on the beaches of Southern, California. In the Cayman Island, when away from the hospital, I enjoyed hanging out on the beach with a constant group of people (about ten of us). We fished, we swam, we sat around and “chewed the fat”, listen to music and, to be honest we drank a bit of beer. There was no formal leader of our “Beach Club”, but I did notice (because I observe for this kind of thing), that whenever the Bum was around he seemed to command everyone’s attention and focus. It was not that he tried to control the situation; it just seemed that we all wanted to do whatever it was that he suggested. He made being on the beach fun for all of us. In fact, he seem to radiate fun and he was not even trying. He was just being himself. That is the thing with “aura”. You cannot fake it. It is there, good or bad, or it is not.

Moreover, let me make it clear, there is such thing as a negative aura. Have you ever met or seen someone who sucks the life out of a situation? I once had a boss, I just could not bring myself to like. He was, certainly in my opinion, not a nice person. Whenever he came into a group, two things happened: One, he immediately made clear to everyone that he was in charge. Two, everyone else immediately shut down. It was always interesting to me that he felt he could not command the room unless he declared himself and he never seemed to see that he dis-enrolled people rather than enrolled them. The room seemed, for me, to get darker when he walked in. I hated the aura. It was a case of an aura repulsing rather than attracting.

If you will accept my argument that an “aura” is part of the kind of leader you are at any point, the question becomes, “How do you create the kind of aura that makes you powerful and positively influential?”

My first two examples of leaders whose auras affected me positively have one thing in common. Both persons seemed “comfortable in their skin”. They were not trying to be anything. They were just being. They seemed to be to be comfortable with the world around them and their place in it. This allowed them to be “authentic”. Authenticity suggest the quality of being real, true to one’s own personality, spirit or character. Therefore, I begin by challenging you (as I challenge myself) to be “real” in all things. Do not fake anything. It will eventually become apparent and influence people’s willingness to trust what you say or do coming forward. This may initial appear to contradict my suggestions in previous blogs to act from the knowledge that everything matters and everything speaks, to be always present in the moment, and to always act consciously in a manner that enhances your leadership presence.  

I believe that the two points are complimentary. You can be wholly authentic and still be very much aware of how you are being perceived. It is not inauthentic for you to shape how you are being and how you are perceived in the moment. The commitment to being “leader-like” in what you say and do is a forethought. In the moment, you are just ensuring you evidence certain desired qualities and characteristics in what you say and do. This is an internal conversation. For example, maybe you are comfortable using profanity in some situations. You are not being inauthentic is you purposefully avoid using it in particular situations. If you are about to utter a profanity, see that it does not fit in the context of the moment and you refrain, you are building your leader-like muscle.

Authenticity is more about truthfulness. Saying what needs to be said, when you need to say it (avoiding withholds). Being comfortable with what needs to be said and in how you say it does not mean saying the same thing in the same way to every person. I often shape the same message differently for different people. This allows me to be most “real” with each person. If authenticity is about being “comfortable in one’s own skin”, with the world and one’s place in it, then one must see that the world is different depending upon where one stands or who one is standing before. We are most authentic when we adapt to be comfortable in the world before us.

Here, I am reminded of an acquaintance who is quite vocal in his assertion that he is “completely honest with everyone”.  As he lays his truth on people, he declares proudly, “A spade is a spade. I call them as I see them and let the chips fall where they may.” What amazes me is that he does not see that people cringe at his approach; he has a very dark aura. His honesty can be brutal and without empathy.  He does not seem at all authentic, but rather appears uncomfortable and self-serving.

There is a direct correlation between aura and empathy. In the case of my meeting with the Aga Khan, I never found out much about him because he wanted to talk about my new hospital and the issues we were facing. He wanted to talk about how the poor children of Bangladesh would obtain quality education. His comfort was in his choice of conversation. I was attracted to him because I saw and felt his empathy for others and me. The Beach Bum was popular because he showed real interest in those who joined him on the beach. We were there to enjoy life and he opened avenues to us. Build your Leader aura by strengthening your empathy. You do this in two ways: one, really think about the feelings of others, and, two, show people that they matter to you.

Whom do you care for and about? Aura has a discrete component of “caring”.  Put this to the test. The next time you meet someone ask yourself the question, “Who do they care about?” You will have a preliminary, if not correct, answer. You will have an immediate sense of whether that persons’ “caring focus” is inward or outward. It will influence your initial perception of them. You will be feeling a component of their aura. Incidentally, if you are committed to being a leader and working in that direction, you will be paying positive attention to people and your “caring focus” will be perceived increasingly as outward.   

Aura exudes from respect. People will know immediately if you truly respect them. They will know this by how respectful you are with them. The Aga Khan greeted me before I greeted him. I could feel his respect for me in his handshake. When I saw the Bum for the first time every day on the beach, I could feel his respect, his value of me, in his greeting. Granted respect was an intrinsic element of both auras.

If you want to build an aura, become an aura analyzer. Pay attention to how people make you feel when you cross their path. Whether they make you feel good or they make you feel bad, ask yourself, “why?” Just thinking about this will have an impact on you. You cannot then help, thereafter, but always think about how you are affecting people. “Feel” for things like authenticity, caring, respect, and trust. These considerations are exercise for building your own leader aura.

Executive Leadership Systems Products and Services

ELS Products and Services

Today I was asked what Executive Leadership Systems (ELS) is all about. I am laying out a description of the basic Services and Products provided through ELS. This information is also available in “Pages” on the website itself.

Executive Leadership Systems (ELS) provides a set of products and services to meet needs of any and every customer. These products and services are designed to emphasize a personal relationship between the ELS Executive Coach and the customer, whether that customer is an individual, a group or a company. In every business relationship, the ELS Executive Coach interacts with the customer to transform a basic product or service into a one-of-a-kind solution designed to address the unique characteristics of their situation.

Executive Coaching

One-on-one Executive Coaching is the backbone on the ELS Service Line. In involves regular business-oriented Strategic Conversation between the ELS Executive Coach and the leader customer. The ELS Executive Coach facilitates the leader customer in identifying and responding to real issues facing them and their organization. ELS provides an intense One Hundred Day Rapid Cycle Coaching Service that is used when the leader and/or the organization is facing a unique and/or stressful situation. This service is used when the organization is in operational or financial distress and significant change is mandate to occur quickly.

ELS also offers a deeper Executive Coaching activity, which is designed to promote significant and sustainable change is the leader’s behavior or the organization’s performance. These services use a discrete process model that is a combination of the steps in the Coaching Process and the Ten Steps of Strategic Conversation. Detailed description of this process is available upon request. This service is typically provided in packages of six, twelve and eighteen months. Unless modified by agreement between the ELS Coach and the leader/customer, the packages consists of one coaching session per week and daylong review session once every three months. This service can be conducted face-to-face (preferably), via video internet or by phone.

This service is often augmented by one or more of the following services and/or products, which are also available separately.

Team Coaching

In all characteristics this services is the same as the one-on-one Executive Coaching. In this case, the offering is modified to support the development and enhancement of high-level teams within the organization. Team members are coached one-on-one as it relates to their performance as a member of a team. The team is coached, as a whole, on its process and output performance. The coaching emphasis is on decision-making and problem-solving. Again, this service is not designed as education (though that certainly occurs as by-product). The real work of the organization is accomplished in process. As with one-on-one Executive Coaching. This service is often augmented by one or more additional ELS services as might be requested by the leader/customer.

Peer Support

ELS believes in sharing “Best Practices”. On a regular basis, ELS conducts Peer Forums. In these forums, leader/customers of relative the same leadership background and experience level are invited to place their issues on the table and to have them considered by peers who are only invested in helping them address those issues. Such Forums are available to all ELS leader/customers on a scheduled basis. These Forums may lead to the application of other ELS products and services. ELS also uses the Forums to promote on-going peer relationships between participants beyond the involvement of ELS or an ELS Executive Coach. The only cost associated directly with this service is the Participation Fee for attending the daylong Peer Forum.

Strategic Conversation

ELS offers a unique alternative to traditional Strategic Planning. ELS promotes a more flexible, responsive and real-time alternative called Strategic Conversation. It is a Ten-Step Process that, again, is much more than education or training. The process of incorporating this methodology, result in the creation of a baseline Strategic Conversation to move the organization forward and the mechanism for the continuous consideration and evolution of that baseline Conversation over the course of the year. This unique service and product results in the strategic evolution of the organization in light of Mission, Vision, Goals and Objectives being discussed and acted upon by every employee, every day, in the course of their work activity. ELS packages this service and product as two-day initial Strategic Conversation with the identified organizational leaders (between seven and twelve people) and four, quarterly, half-day “Conversation Affirmation or Recreating” sessions.

Organizational Development & Process Improvement

ELS employs a unique Internal Resource Development (IRD) approach to Organizational Development. The approach trains Key Staff (in some cases the CEO) in the process and methodology of creating a self-sustaining culture of Continuous Process Improvement. This service and product is based upon another form of “Conversation” which is more Tactical (Operations) than Strategic. The cornerstone of Operations Conversation is ELS Function in Fives (FIF). FIF begins from the position that all process can be described in Five Primary Step. When we isolate and analyze those steps individually and, then, in sequence and series we can identify what is creating dysfunction and correct it through an Action Planning and Executive process. Of course, this process involves five steps. This service with inherent product is based on the principle of One Hundred Day Rapid Cycle Improvement. The service/product involves a one-day orientation and assessment activity, which must be conducted on-site by the ELS Executive Coach. The initial activity is followed by twelve, half-day interactive work session with the FIF Team, which is created in the first day session. The FIF Team Work Sessions can be conducted on-site by the ELS Executive Coach or can be conducted via internet video. The 100-Day Program schema is often reinforced with three additional one-day Follow-up Work Sessions in the first year. It is important to emphasize that this service/product does real work in and for the organization. It is not a theoretical education and/or training session.

Training and Development Programs

When describing the services and products above, ELS distinguishes what we do as being work product-driven. We emphasize that they are not primarily and purposefully education/training services and products. That is not to say that we do not place high value on education and training. In fact, we view them as essential for the success of an organization and the development of its human capital. Coaching and Organizational Development at the “work product” level is complimented and enhanced by formal and informal education and training services and products. ELS offers, either directly or through its Associates and Affiliates, an array of Education and Training Programs. We emphasize Programs that provide Skills and Tools to leaders and managers while stressing the values of Integrity, Respect, Trust and Commitment. A list of ELS-Direct Programs and the Programs of our Associates and Affiliates are provided on our website. Often, the ELS Executive Coach will recommend a particular Program based on the assessed and/or expressed needs of the leader/customer or the organization.

The Executive Leadership Systems Website and Blog

ELS is committed to using Information Technology and Social Media as tools to accomplish its work. To that end, we maintain a website at and a related blog. The website contains substantial free materials and tools. The blog is designed to provide meaningful interactive information on various aspects of leadership and management. Typically, ELS provides original content on its blog. Reblogging is done only when ELS feels it can make a “value-add” contribution to the original blog. The site is also home to the ELS Leaders Forum. This is a Membership Club wherein members can ask the ELS Executive Coaches and other Members’ questions on leadership, management and business and receive authentic and unbiased answers and consultancy. Members can exchange positions on various issues and exchange ideas. Club Members are deemed Associates of ELS and, where appropriate, will be promoted by ELS. Upon request and with approval, Club Members can be Affiliates of ELS or ELS may contract to become their Affiliates. ELS will only accept advertising on its site it if is consistent with our charter and reflects our values of Integrity, Respect, Trust and Commitment.

The ELS Platform

Some visitors to Executive Leadership Systems (ELS) are asking me what platform I am using. Please understand that I am brand new to blogging. I am learning it from day to day. WordPress was recommended to me so I went there signed up and selected “Flounder” as my theme. Any recommendations on how to improve my blog site are greatly appreciated. I am so not an expert. Sorry I can’t answer more of the blog questions I have been asked. Regards, Dr. Ed

A CEO’s Work

The CEO’s Accountability

View From Behind As CEO Addresses Meeting
© Photographer: Monkey Business Images | Agency:

“There is no rule that says, A chief executive has to be in charge of this and that. Of course, a chief executive is the court of last resort and has ultimate accountability. And the chief executive also has to make sure of getting the information necessary to assume this ultimate accountability. The chief executive’s own work, however, depends on what the enterprise requires and on who the individual is. As long as the CEO’s work program consists of key activities, he or she does a CEO’s job. But the CEO also is responsible for making sure that all the other key activities are adequately covered.” Peter Drucker

Response to a New Post on Businessleadershipmanagement (BLM) on WordPress

“No man is an island” is never more true than when we are looking at a CEO. A CEO, in my opinion does not run a company. He or she leads a Team which runs a company. I have done a number of CEO and leadership team assessments. There has been a constant in all of them. A CEO is, beyond any public persona, only as good as his or her senior leadership team. So, the work of the CEO is defined in the strengths and weakness of his or her team. The CEO must act to capitalize on the strengths of the individual players on the team and their collected competency. He or she must also actively mitigate the weaknesses of each individual team member and the team as a whole. The process identified by the CEO for capitalizing on the strengths of the individuals on the team can make other individuals stronger. More important, I have found, that the CEO can act to mitigate the weaknesses of an individual team member in ways that serve to strengthen the team overall. This is the most legitimate work of the CEO. It takes a well-functioning and properly led senior leadership team to effect an organization’s Strategic Agenda. Thanks, Dr. Ed

Coaching: It Is Great Leadership

Do You Want to be a Great Leader? Become a Great Coach

In This Blog: There are many different styles and approaches to leading people. As a life-long athlete, I have been greatly influenced by coaches. It is fair to say that each coach I have had has affected my personal and professional development in some way. In this blog, I will share my experience, from childhood to adulthood, with coaches and my experience as a coach. Most important, I want to encourage established and aspiring leaders to incorporate some aspect of the “leader as coach” style in their personal leadership profile.

You will not be a leader for long if you do not give something back to your followers in return for their loyalty and commitment to you and your vision. The successful and sustainable leader-follower relationship is reciprocal. Your “job” as a leader, particularly in the workplace, is to promote and support the personal and professional development of those you lead. By virtue of your leadership position, you have knowledge, understanding, skills, and experience that can be of tremendous benefit to those over whom you have control or influence. “How do you make that knowledge, understanding, skill and experience is a manner that meets your personal and professional needs while, and this is important, promoting the interests and meeting the needs of others?” I believe the best vehicle for this is coaching. Coaching leaves the responsibility for performance in the hands of the person being coached (the player) while legitimizing clear performance expectation and consequence by the coach. The coach-to-coached contract is mutually negotiated, executed, monitored and revised. This makes it enforceable and actionable. The reward for successful performance by the player inures to the benefit of the coach as well. Coaching has the potential to be very satisfying for everyone involved in the process.

Maybe, as a leader, you have never really thought about “coaching” as a style you could exemplify or even a tool you could use to produce Intended Results. As you develop your leadership personality and fill your manager’s toolbox, “Coaching” is worth considering. Let’s begin by looking at the definition of coaching (for the purposes of the definition we will consider “Business” or “Executive Coaching”).  The Association for Coaching, in 2005, defined “Coaching” as “… a collaborative, solution-focused, results-oriented and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and personal growth of the coachee.”  Whitmore, 2003, said it very well, “Coaching” is “Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them learn, rather than teaching them.”

This definition, I like it, reminds me of one of the best coaches I ever had. His name was “Sam” and I do not think he ever had more than a few days of formal education. I was in Bangladesh doing a hospital startup. For recreation, I became a member of the American Club, which was operated by the US Embassy. It provided a bit of “home”, including a pool, restaurants, fitness center, tennis courts and squash courts. I played racquetball for many years, so I decided to take up squash as the next best thing. I learned very quickly that the two games were quite different and that squash was really challenging. I needed help. The Club offered what they call “Ball Boys” who – for a very nominal price – provided coaching. I was lucky to meet Sam. He had been teaching and coaching squash at the Club for twenty-five years. He was anything but a “Boy”. He was a wise old man who reminded me of Yoda from the movie “Star Wars, both in terms of appearance and personality.” He did not so much teach me as he made me learn how to play. He intuitively understood the essence of coaching; he Observed, Discussed, Actively Coached, and Followed-up. Let me explain. He found me an opponent. I told him I was probably an intermediate player because of all the racquetball I had played in the past and suggested he find me someone who would challenge me.” He said, “I have some ‘beginners’ who will do quite nicely for our purposes.” I struggled to keep up with his ‘beginner’ for an hour and I was beaten badly in every respect, not to mention completely exhausted. Later, I would learn I played harder, not smarter. Sam observed the action and said nothing while it was underway. Then, we discussed his assessment of my skills – strengths and weaknesses. He suggested a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) and I agreed to follow it, in accordance with his ground rules, under his direction. Then, he began his Active Coaching. It always had two parts: an hour with him in practice and then an hour of competition with a partner he selected. In the hour of practice, he would stand in one spot and execute the PIP. Based upon his assessment of the things I needed to work on, he would hit ball after ball after ball to precisely where it needed to go to test me. He did that until I came up with my own solution and perfected my own technique. It was a beautiful learning experience. After I had completed the competition, Sam would sit with me to conduct a follow-up. He would talk about what I did in practice, what I did in the game with his selected opponent (who invariably seemed to know my weaknesses) and, together, we would modify or adjust my PIP for the next week. I always left excited and further committed to improving my performance.

What Sam did for me is what coaches do. Coaches empower people to make conscious decisions about their personal and professional behavior and performance. I decided how to react to the ball – out of trial and error – when he put it exactly where he knew I had trouble getting to it. At the same time, he always gave me an opponent who could really test me. However, that opponent was never so much better than me that I was beaten into the ground and discouraged. In fact, more than once I wondered if I was actually the “opponent” selected by Sam to test the skills and progress of another of his students. John Russell, when the Managing Director of Harley-Davidson, Europe, Limited, said, “I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process to draw out the skills and talent that was previously hidden within an individual and invariably finds a way to solve a problem previously thought unsolvable.”

Sam, without formal education, was a natural coach. He was a leader, too, because – certainly, as it pertained to squash – I was freely disposed to take his direction and accept his agenda as my own. We accept that while there are natural leaders, leadership skills can be learned. It is also true that if we are not natural coaches we can develop coaching skills by following good process and learning through experience. How do you get started coaching in the workplace, on the job? The Harvard Business Review provides a solid initial focal point, “The goal of coaching is the goal of good management, to make the most of an organization’s valued resources.” A good coach – like a good leader/manager – strives to make his or her players recognize what they could be rather than what they are. Coaching is nothing more than a conversation in which the coach and the “player” interact in a dynamic (constantly changing) exchange of ideas with the intention of achieving shared and individual goals and enhancing performance in the interest of the individual and the organization. Is this significant? Bob Nardelli, CEO of Home Depot in the US, thinks so. “I absolutely believe that people, unless coached, never reach their maximum potential.” As a leader/manager of people within an organization, you owe them effective coaching. It all starts with focused communication. Talk to people about what you see in them and how you might be able to support them in moving to another level of performance. That is enough to get started. 

With this in mind, you want to do two things. One, get yourself a coach. Find yourself someone with whom you can have those regular conversations. Two, enter into a “coaching contract” with someone you supervise. There has been discussion of whether a supervisor can or should be a coach, arguing in some cases it alters the supervisor-supervisee relationship. I say, “Why not coach?”  As a coach, you listen, you question, you clarify, you confirm and you support in performance. These are the very things we expect of a leader and/or manager in an organization. Just like coaches, leaders and managers assess performance, define expectation, monitor performance, and provide consequence. When coaching, you work with your player to: Define a goal; Define the Current State; Discover Choices; Develop a Plan of Action; Drive Execution; and Deliver Results. You do this in a disciplined manner. Begin by making your coaching expectation clear, as it cuts both ways. The American football coach, Lou Holtz, makes the point this way, “I won’t accept anything less than the best a player is capable of doing and he has the right to expect the best that I can do for him and the team.” Coaching deals with the present and the future, not the past. It is not therapy or counselling. It is Action Planning and Execution Management. Treat it as such.

Good coaches are anything but a “soft-touch”. They call it as they see it. I was ten years old the first time I received the harsh truth from a coach and the lesson has stuck with me all my life. I was playing “flag football” in a city park league and I was pretty good. I was certain I would be selected for the “All Star” team, but I wasn’t. I knew that the coaches from each team selected the players who would go to the All Star team, so I asked my coach why he did not selected me. I remember his words clearly. “Ed you don’t take things seriously enough. You goof-around at practice and make it hard for me to coach other players. You are my problem player, and I am finding ways to deal with you. You are more than good enough to be an All Star, but I am not willing to pass my problem on to another coach and another group of players. Maybe next year you will be ready.” Harsh thing to say to say to a ten year-old boy? All I can say, today, is that I didn’t make that years’ All Star team, but I made many others for years later. Practices remained fun for me, not because I joked and played around but because I learned to use them to hone my skills. I think that coach (Mr. Jim Perkins) did me a huge service I’ll never forget. He was fair and firm. He knew how to motivate and draw out excellence in performance.   

Coaching, like leadership and management, is part science and part art. I can give you the “science”. The art – which is the way in which you in particular deliver the science – will be yours to learn through trial and error (though I could “coach” you in that regard). If you go on the internet or to other sources of relevant literature, you will find dozens and dozens of treatments of the “science”. They all – as they should – boil down to steps in a process. There at five, six, eight and ten-step processes. I have my own Executive Coaching Process offering which has fourteen discrete steps. Here are the seven most common process steps:

  1. Determine the Stakeholders;
  2. Establish the Coaching Agreement;
  3. Conduct a Situational Assessment and a Personal Assessment, as required;
  4. Identify Coaching Objectives;
  5. Implement One or More Measurable Action Plan(s);
  6. Provide “In-Process” Monitoring, Assessment and Review; and,
  7. Deliver Post-Coaching and Ongoing Follow-up.

In a future blog, I will share my personal take on the process steps. You, too, will evolve your own coaching style and method over time and with experience.

As to the art of carrying out the above process steps, let me suggest that you just begin by being your “best self”. You must separate the performance of your players from your performance as a coach. Author and Executive Coach Dave Kirby, said it all, “I can help, but in the end it is up to you.” Professional athletes can buy the best coaches and yet, having done so, they change them up all the time. Sometimes the coach has imparted all the service he or she can. In other cases, a coaching style that works great for one persons just does not match up with another. Just stay present in the moment whenever you are coaching, watch for “Intent versus Impact”. That is to say, you must make certain that what you are saying and asking is taken the way you intend it to be taken. Monitor the relationship and be honest with your player about what you see. This includes how responsive they continue to be to your coaching. Remember, you are committed to leadership with integrity. You are saying and doing what you are in the best interest of your “player”. As a coach, your two best talents will be Active Listening and Probing (Open-Ended) Questions. If you focus on developing these coaching “skills”, you will work yourself out of most difficult situations. You are not coaching to solve problems. You are coaching to help another person solve problems.   

Meetings: A Waste of Time?

In This Blog: A colleague commented to me this week that he had wasted half of his work week in useless meetings. He asked if I thought meetings had any real value in the work place. Herein, I’ll share my views and the views of a few thoughtful others.

Meetings: A Waste of Time?

A direct question deserves a direct answer and I will try to provide just that. A colleague shared this week that he spent most of his week in meetings that produced no results and were, in his opinion, a complete waste of his time. He made his point in a way that suggested John Kenneth Galbraith was spot-on when he said, “Meetings are indispensable when you do not want to do anything.” He then asked how I felt about meetings, whether I agreed with him. My answer was “No. I believe meetings are essential to effectively and efficiently accomplishing work.”
To be clear, effective communication and coordination are essential to accomplishing work when the efforts one or more people are involved. There is no substitution for face-to-face meetings to accomplish that communication and coordination. Anything else is just a second best option, even if considered necessary.

If you go on line to research quotes on “Meetings” you will find that eighty percent of them reflect negative views. It is evident that it is popular to bash meetings. Be careful if you happen to value and appreciate meetings because several quotes suggest that this only evidences your inability to do real work. Frankly, I do not get it. To me it is a little like blaming a mirror because you do not like the way you look in it.

Let us begin by looking at the definition of a meeting. In the simplest of terms, a meeting is a coming together of two or more people by arrangement or chance. In the business context, the meeting of those people occurs as a deliberative assembly for a specific purpose. Based on pure definition, there cannot be anything inherently bad (or good for that matter) in the meeting itself. The quality of a meeting and its products is a direct reflection on the performance of the leader of the meeting and the participants in that meeting. Bad meetings are the product of bad leadership and bad participation.

If you want to be a leader, learn how to run a meeting. If you want to be a leader, learn how to participate in a meeting. A meeting is a place where individual strengths and weaknesses are on display for all to see and for all to evaluate. When you shine, you shine. Poor performance stands out like a sore thumb. We all know a great meeting leader when we see one. We all appreciate a participant who knows how to make a purposeful and balanced contribution. Whether we like meetings or not, we all want to be that participant who says just the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, and receives – as a result – with just the right collective response. So, become that person who people look to for great leadership in meetings. Become the participant other participants (and even the leader) looks to when a meeting gone wrong needs salvaging.

If you are preoccupied with finding fault in every meeting you are in, small group to large group, you cannot be working to make it the best experience possible. Let go of meeting negativism. Begin by being the conversation (in your head) that you will make any meeting you are in as purposeful and productive as you can. It is about attitude. Tiger Woods, a great golfer, begins by putting the best possible spin on the value of any meeting in which he finds himself. “The amount of meetings I’ve been in – people would be shocked. But, that is how you gain experience, how you gain knowledge, being in meetings and participating. You learn and grow.” Tiger goes into a meeting as he goes into a golf match; he is committed to the win. Turn any meeting you participate in into a growth opportunity. Create your own teachable moment. If nothing else, study the behavior of other participants and the leader. What do you see in their behaviors – good or bad – that tell you about your own behaviors? Do you see in them anything that will enable you to be more effective in either role in the future? Remember, we can learn as much, and maybe more, from a negative example as we learn from a positive one.

Whether you are a leader or a participant in a meeting, there are five key words to keep in mind before, during and after a meeting.

1. Plan – Whether you are the leader or a participant in a meeting, never go in cold. Plan what you will say and do in the meeting. Even if the dynamics of the meeting require you change your initial plan, you will modify from a platform of direction and intended involvement that will increase your control over the change dynamics. Planning requires that you really understand the Agenda and the Intended Result of the meeting. Knowing the Agenda will enable you to do your homework. Never walk into a meeting without doing your homework. You will lose out in process and take-away to someone else who has. If you are the leader of a meeting, planning requires that you ensure that the participants have done their required preparation. The quality of the meeting will be a direct result of not just your preparation but also the preparation of the participants. This leads to the next key word.

2. Inform – If you are the leader, you want to inform the participants (one or one hundred) of the Intended Result (the Desired Take-away) of the meeting. This allows the participants to prepare. In addition, let the participants know your expectations of them. This also allows them to prepare. As a participant, inform the leader of what you intend to put forward at the meeting (particularly if you anticipate it will be contentious or controversial). This does not mean you need to obtain the leader’s approval on what you want to say or do. Rather, your information allows the leader to prepare for the implications of what you will say or do. No less important, when letting the leader know what you intend to say or do relative to a particular Agenda item, you have an opportunity to gauge the reaction, and possible, “next move” on your position.

On a more mundane level, as a leader and as a participant you want to be clear on the location and time of a meeting. The Agenda and Intended Result can dictate best time and location. Conversely, time and location can influence the likelihood of effecting the Agenda and achieving the Intended Result. These factors should be components of the planning process. For example, a meeting intended to advance dialog between contentious parties should take place around a conference table not in a meeting space with theater-style seating. A meeting of two or three people gets lost in a large room. The intimacy usually essential to achieving the Intended Result of a meeting of this size cannot be created.

3. Target – As the leader you want to “target” the right participants or stakeholders. In my personal observation, many “bad” meetings are the result of not having enough of the right participants present or the result of having too many of the wrong participants present. As a participant, you want to assess the Agenda and the Intend Result and decide whether you are in a position to contribute to the meeting. If you do not think you can contribute to a meeting, inform the leader of your view. As a frequent meeting leader, I have come to appreciate that having a participant who does not want to be in a meeting, who thinks he or she cannot make a contribution, is detrimental to process and Intended Result. I generally support a requested “opt-out” request. On the other hand, I love it when an “opt-out” says to me, “I heard about the meeting. Boy, I should have been there.” It has happened more than once. The best measure of your competency as a meeting leader will be participants and would-be participants wanting to be invited to one of your meetings because they know something of consequence will occur.

Something of consequence will regularly occur when you, as a leader or a participant target your personal take-away from each Agenda item. A personal take-away is the consequence you want to see. You must know, before the meeting, what you want to see happen with each Agenda item in order to influence or shape that consequence. When provided an Agenda before a meeting, I often write out my personal take-away in the margin next to each item. When possible, I map out the steps I will take to the target: achieving my personal take-away.
Because I consider setting targets to be so important and see an Agenda as an essential tool for targeting, I now – whenever possible – opt-out of meetings that do not have one. When I must attend a meeting for which an Agenda has not been provided beforehand, I will not allow the meeting to begin until I have asked the questions, “What is the Intended Result of this meeting and what steps are we going to follow in achieve it?” With the answers to those questions, I am able to proceed as a contributing participant.

4. Contain – Everything about a great meeting involves “containment”. It all begins with an Intended Result and an Agenda. The only things that should be discussed at a meeting are the Agenda items. The Agenda items should only be worked in consideration of the Intended Result. It is the responsibility of the meeting leader to contain and focus the energies of the participants to those ends. No less the case, participants can and should “lead from the middle” and assist the meeting leader in bringing maverick participants back into constructive process. Location and timing are containment focus points. As a meeting leader, you establish control and behavior containment from the outset of a meeting when you start on time. As a participant, you should demand that a meeting start when it is scheduled to start.

Ground rules are an excellent containment tool for the leader and the participants. When a participant is acting out, use the ground rules to reel them back in. Even if a participant is only doing something as innocuous tool as wandering off the Agenda, reference to the ground rules can contain them without confrontation. Incidentally, whenever possible, put your most important ground rules on the Agenda so that participants are aware of them before the meeting.

Just as a meeting must begin on time, it must end on time. The leader must control the Agenda such that all items on it are addressed – only specific to the Intended Result – within the provided timeframe. Two tools can assist the leader in this effort. The first involves assigning a Time Limit for consideration of each item on the Agenda. When eighty percent of the time allocated to an item on the Agenda has elapsed, the leader and the participants must make a decision to close the item or to continue consideration at the expense of the time allocated to another Agenda item. The control over this process is the commitment and discipline to end the meeting on time. The second tool is a dedicated Timekeeper. The Timekeeper takes the pressure off the leader and the participants by knowing the amount of time allocated to an Agenda item and the time remaining available relative to that and keeping everyone else in the meeting aware of it. The Timekeeper calls out, in designated increments, the amount of time remaining for consideration of an Agenda item. This control promotes containment and keeps the leader and the participants focused on achieving their personal Intended Result (or take-away). After all, Parkinson’s Law dictates, “work expands so as to fit the time available for its completion.”

5. Hasten – Time and Tempo are everything in a quality meeting. It is not enough to start and end a meeting on time. Effective meeting leaders and participants control the rate of speed of a meeting. As a meeting leader you want to ensure maximum participation; you want to get everyone involved. Get everyone talking and change it up, do not let any one person talk too often or too long in any instance. This is not just about sharing the load. It is about tempo and boredom. The same person speaking all the time gets boring. Even the best speaker gets boring if we have to listen too long. As a participant, appreciate that your comments, observations, opinions and positions will be best received as short, crisp and timely inputs. Leave others in the meeting wanting more of what you have to offer. I once had a particularly good meeting (any and every meeting) participant tell me that he would never speak more than four times in any meeting. He admitted that he had a lot to say and that it was sometimes difficult to pick the right four times to speak. He often wished he had not exhausted his quota when he had another comment to make. However, he always exercised his discipline. When he did speak, his words were well chosen and crisp. More than once, I heard someone say they wished he spoke more at meetings because he always had something great to say. That was his great secret: he always left people wanting more of him.

I found a quote I love, but I cannot tell you the author. It is, “History is written by people who attend meetings, stay to the end and keep the minutes.” If you want to be a great meeting leader and participant, get involved. Look for opportunities to lead. If you cannot lead the meeting, embrace a supporting role. Offer to help the leader prepare the agenda. If you can, volunteer to keep and publish the Minutes. For years, I have offered to aspiring leaders that they should look for opportunities to write Executive Briefs, Position Papers and other Reports. For one, I have always sought out the opportunity to draft a contract or a working document (like charters, by-laws, rules and regulations, policies, procedures and protocols). Even if your original product is substantially modified, amended or altered, it all happens from your document. Someone smarter than me once said, “He who puts it on paper first wins.” Minutes are the corporate memory of a meeting. As an author of minutes, you can report out exactly what was said, done and decided while still infusing your perspective into the product by virtue of the words and phrasing you use in the construction.

Make the next meeting you are in as good for you as you make it for the organization you represent.

How Do We Create and/or Increase Value?

The core objective of every organisation is, or should be, to create value… without added value, there is no lasting business.

~ Michael Deimler

Let’s presume that the definition of Value we are using in common is “Quality for Money”. In consideration of this definition, I have always been sensitive to the reality that what I consider to be of Value may not be of Value to another person. Thus, the challenge for me in any business (or even social) transaction is to determine the Value proposition and equation of the person(s) with whom I am dealing. The proposition consists of answers to the question: Is what I have to offer you of Value and why? I can begin to work from those answers. Then, comes the Value equation: How will you determine that Value has been delivered and how will I know that you have been satisfied? Unless I have answers to the second set of questions, I can not establish my own Value for the relationship. I could work incredibly hard to provide the defined Value they seek, but I could never satisfy them if I am measuring my efforts one way and they are measuring them in another. So, my personal commitment to Quality service requires I obtain an answer to all four questions before I begin working. I recommend anyone attempting to deliver a quality product or service – with Value – use this question set. Dr. Ed

Creating Value

Originally posted on BusinessLeadershipManagement (BLM):

Value, Colorful words
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The core objective of every organisation is, or should be, to create value… without added value, there is no lasting business.

~ Michael Deimler

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“Never Let Them See You Sweat”

Never Let Them See You Sweat – It’s All About “Poise”

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with Dr. Zakirul Karim about some issues he was facing. In the course of that conversation I used the expression, “Never let them see you sweat.” I was suggesting that we, as leaders, want to always appear to be nonplussed by any situation. We want to appear to be in control of our emotions, poised. I say “appear” because we will always have a reaction to our experiences, that is the atavistic nature of stimulus and response. The distinction between people is how they handle and manifest the emotions resulting from any experience, particularly those they find stressful.

Many years ago, I was in a conversation with the lead paramedic in our organization following a major traffic accident. As it happened, I had come upon the scene of the accident just minutes after it occurred. This gave me the unique opportunity to see our ambulance and life-saving teams in action. There was wreckage and bodies intertwined everywhere. I watched this paramedic, his name was Mickey, thread his way through all of it to administer to those who were alive. In the middle of chaos, flames and smoke, this man exhibited incredible poise. He controlled what must have been churning emotion. He never let anyone on the scene see him sweat. His composure allowed others to find their composure. He was the consummate leader in that situation.

I do not remember how it came up in the conversation, maybe we were talking about the carnage of the multiple-car catastrophic accident, but he asked me how I thought he would hold up in combat under fire. He offered that he had always wanted to be in the military but was not able to join because of a congenital health issue. He said he always wondered if he would be able to handle the stress of being under fire. My answer came easily. I had just watched this man tend an injured person within ten feet of flames and more than one exposed gas tank. All I could say was, “Mickey, I am certain you would do better than okay under any circumstance.” I just knew from his manifest behavior, he would be the first guy I would want next to me under any circumstance. This is what followers look for in the on-going behavior of their leaders, evidence that when necessary they will stand their ground with confidence.

This week, I had a non-work related issue arise and I must admit that, for a good five minutes, I lost my poise completely. Anybody who wanted to could see “my sweat” and my panic. I knew others were counting on me in the situation so, I collected myself, regrouped and set about the activity the circumstances dictated. This situation and my reaction was a bit of a leadership wake-up call for me. It reminded me that my coaching, writing and efforts in leadership are not pontification (I do not have all the answers and do not always do it right). Being a leader is no less a journey than is striving to become one. The work is never done.

I love US college basketball. The National Championship called “March Madness” starts next week. A lot of the quotes I use in my work come from sports and, in particular, basketball. A coach, I don’t remember who it was, said, “The Key to Winning is poise under stress. When we’ve lost a game, I can go back in my head to that point in the game where we lost our poise and winning became impossible. There is always a point after losing your poise where a critical “choke” occurs, when learned behaviors and skills break down because of self-doubt.” This loss of poise and spin-down as describe by the coach happens to high-caliber players who thrive under stress. This exception in their behavior, the occasional mismanagement of stress, proves the rule, “Character is who you are under pressure, not when everything is fine.”

Peyton Manning, the NFL quarterback considered to be the best student of the game of American football to have ever actually played the game at the highest level, once said, “Pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what the hell you are doing.” The corollary to that is: remember you know what you are doing, in our case as a leader, and maintain your self-confidence. Manning gets better in a game as the stakes rise. He is one of those people who thrive under pressure. He makes a choice that many of us would-be leaders must intuitively and spontaneously make when facing challenges. He owns that he is the right person for the job and he steps up. When we face challenges, do we make them mountains or mole hills? Do we see them as something easily stepped over or as mountains impossible to climb?

Stress is not what happens to us; it is our response to what happens to us. The components of stress: anxiety, fear, anger are not things in the world around you over which you have no control. They are emotions within you which you, solely, have the ability to control. Unless we give life to them in expression they do not exist.

In India, I had occasion to sit and chat with a man revered and followed by many. He said to me that life is a river in which we float. The current has the power to take us wherever it wants, regardless of our wishes. It is best that we go with the flow, not passively but with complimentary energy. If something is meant to happen it will happen. If something is not meant to happen it won’t. We should not over-worry whether we will hit a rock or reach a particular beach. We should only consider what we might do if those eventualities occur.”

Maybe my youngest of two daughters is as wise as that guru. She always considers the worst thing that could happen in a situation. I once asked her why she tortured herself in this way. She said that it wasn’t torture but just the opposite. She just imagined the “worst case scenario” constructed it in her head and prepared herself for her own physical and emotion reactions. She concluded by saying, “I am prepared for the worst, stress-free. Anything that actually happens is less dramatic and consequential than any possibility of worse case I imagined.” Following the exercise in her mind, she no longer resists a possible reality. She is prepared for it. Like the human being swimming in the river of life, as presented by the Indian guru, she knows future events will only be unmanageable if she resists them, if she fights what she knows she cannot control. Go with the flow. Like the willow tree, bend but do not break.

An effective tool for learning to maintain your composure is to actually practice for the worst. Many years ago when I was in flight school we were instructed in Emergency Procedures, step-by-step actions that were to be taken in the event a particular problem occurred while we were flying the airplane. Night after night, I sat in a straight-backed chair in my bedroom, in front of three panels of a cardboard box which had drawings of the controls in the T-2 Buckeye aircraft. I’d declare a particular emergency and then move through the procedures I was expected to follow if such an event occurred while flying the aircraft. Later, when actually in the aircraft, an instructor would simulate the emergency, even to the extent of shutting down power. As the student, I responded out of the procedures I had ingrained in my head and in my muscle memory. This process taught the student to do five basic things:

            1. Practice possible eventualities;

            2. Create Situational Scenarios;

            3. Think about Scenario changes (“If the scenario changes this way, what will I do?”);

            4. Visualize situations, making them real enough to really experience them;

            5. Catalog Mental Models for response for clear and rapid retrieval.

The cool thing is that I learned this tool works in the business environment. So often, people have commented on how I handled an issue, a question, a meeting with aplomb. What I knew is that I had dealt the issue before, answered the question previously, and been in the meeting already. If I had not actually had the physical experience in the past I had covered it in executing the five process dynamics above. This rubric has helped me a lot in my personal and my professional life.

But sometimes it is just about controlling your raw emotions. I know I must and that I don’t always do a great job of it. My wife tells me I wear my emotions on my sleeve for all to see. I have taken several courses in negotiations. They all stress that a negotiator should “never let them see you sweat.” I like how Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of the United States, put it, “Nothing gives one person so great an advantage over another, as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” How do we do that? Only with practice can we be present in the moment, see our emotions bubbling up and catch the bubbles before they burst. Each time we prospectively control our emotions we become better at doing it again the next time. I have sat across the table from some great negotiators and they all have one thing in common. You cannot read their emotions. “Fools show their anger at once, but the prudent ignore an insult.”

The industrial psychologist Donald A. Laird studied people in the workplace for their leadership potential. His observations of the characteristics of potential leaders can be restated as things we can do to develop and maintain the leader characteristic of Poise.

1. Constrain Your Anger – remember it is the number one enemy of poise. Learn to take a reprimand from a senior or a superior. It is grace under fire.

2. Avoid Discouragement – books are full of successful leaders who failed many times. It isn’t about how many times you get knocked down. It is a question of how many times you get up. Try embracing your next rejection as the learning opportunity it actually is.

3. Laugh at Yourself – I have talked about my friend, Andrew Lorentine, and how he used to challenge me to “See how you are.” So often when I looked at who I was being, I had to laugh. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Find your ego balance point.

4. Keep Your Spirits Up – We wake up every day and put our face on. We choose in our waking moments the inner conversation we will have for ourselves each day. Even if the previous day ended badly for you, decide that each day is a “start-over”. Always look to the bright side of things.

5. Keep Cool – If you are not already a “Mickey”, learn to stay cool in emergencies. Those who don’t stay cool are looking for the support and leadership of someone who is.

Take heart and remember that “poise”, like so many other characteristics and qualities we as leaders seek to develop and maintain is a learned thing.     

Accepting Risk

Risk exists on a situational continuum. From the time we begin as children to experience our environment, make judgements, calculate risk and effect subsequent action we place ourselves somewhere on that continuum. High-risk acceptance is a product of experience. Somewhere in childhood someone takes a risk and the outcome is positive. It makes the next risk-taking situation easier to embrace. And so on. Risk positively rewarded creates an adrenaline rush. The successful risk taker wants more. The risk-averse adult is no less a product of experience. He or she experienced anxiety or worse. They want less of that. As human-beings we learn that taking risks on in some situations is “safer” than taking risk in other situations. We may be willing to risk in a sports situation something we are not will to risk on the job. So the point is, each of us in a particular situation are faced with our historically evolved “comfort-zone” of risk and our willingness to go further “at-risk” in stretching the envelope. This elevates a still more significant point. With effort and focus, we can – likely in successive approximations – become comfortable with taking on more risk or even teach ourselves to be more contemplative about what is acceptable risk. I hold that one will never be a great leader unless he or she plays on the absolute boundaries of “risk-taking”. Followers look to their leaders most when it is necessary to decide “So what do we do next?” There will always be risk in the answer to that question.