Monday, April 28, 2014

How am I doing?

This past week, I was working with a client who is exceptionally good at everything.  He asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks and allowed us to deepen our conversation and the results that we both received from our time together. 

After about an hour and fifteen minutes of working together, he asked, “How am I doing?”  I asked him a couple of questions to make sure I understood the focus and framework of his question.  He was literally asking me how effective, efficient and productive he was being as a client. 

He was valuing our time together, believes I am a professional with significant experience and wanted to know how he compared to others and, regardless of comparisons, wanted to know how he could improve.  His simple question kept reverberating throughout my day. 

From the taxi ride to the airport, to the operations training I conducted before he and I met, it was clear to me that I felt I was smarter and more knowledgeable then those I had come in front of that day.  I was often telling these other professionals how to do their jobs.  

I am a blessed guy.  I get to work with some pretty amazing people during the day and then spend my evenings with a very talented executive and leader, my wife.  With all of these people I tend to feel humbled and it creates curiosity.  I mean that I often feel curious around them and wonder about what I can learn. 

What this client taught me this week, was how one question can open the door to a lifetime of relationships where curiosity is foundational.  You better believe that the next taxi in which I sit will be driven by someone who can teach me something. 

So, which of your employees never teaches you anything?  What questions do you need to ask in order to achieve a state of curiosity? 

Monday, April 21, 2014

What the science around creating Joy tells us about leadership

This year, I have committed to the following:  Each day, I am making at least three statements of gratitude, at least three times per week I am acting kindly toward someone(s). I am journaling that I have completed my commitments. 

Sounds pretty simple.  Yup.  It is pretty simple.  So, why do this and what do I think is my payoff?  Well, from the reading on what is now being called the science of joy, there should be an impact on how I show up, how I feel about those around me/my life and the results I achieve. 

I started this project on day one… first day of the year.  During this time, I have noticed that I have fewer negative thoughts.  I mean from how the weather affects me (I live in Seattle and that ought to say enough right there) to what I find my mind is doing (on what it is focusing) when I sit down and talk to someone. 

It is now March and this month, I have counted four different people, just this past week,  telling me something is different.  I have asked these unsolicited purveyors of feedback to tell me what they saw.  Each has said almost the same thing.  The components of their statements are:  you are more present; you are more relaxed and you appear happier. 

So, I am not a large enough universe on which to build a theory and I will tell you that my results are simply paralleling those of researchers who are testing by the thousands.  Let’s just say early indications continue and others are noticing and more are responding to the impact of my weekly gratitude statements, unexpected kind acts and journaling. 

Does this shift have any impact on running a company?  I think it does. 
How we show up creates the framework for which we do or don’t get things done.  The 12th Man, Seahawks fans, made Seattle a really difficult city to come to for other NFL teams.  The attitude of fans is, “We really can make a difference and have to do our part to disrupt and impact those visitors.”  Scientists are learning, as they explore human emotions and how we are wired, that the chemicals that turn on and off certain emotions, can impact and change an individual.  If one person shows up acting differently and their mindset is intentional, it is harder to throw them off balance.  This means that a CEO’s attitude can positively and negatively impact those around them and the art of leadership is getting some pretty strong guidance from the research being done. 

In the meantime, I am having more fun.  How about you? 

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Red Truck Plan Starts With You

Today we have a guest blog from Earl Bell:

If you were to discover that a high level of business risk existed where only one person had the relationship, knowledge, skill or ability to perform a certain job task or tasks, would you do about it?” Taking this a step further, what if this applied to you in your role as CEO?” 

A harsh reality is that bad things happen to good people all the time.  Sudden and tragic accidents, or unexpected health issues like a stroke, heart attack or brain cancer can turn a company upside down overnight; that is if the company is not prepared for such an event.

My strong suggestion is to acknowledge this risk and proactively manage it by creating a red truck plan for the CEO role.  This means engaging with your leadership team to design, develop and practice an executable contingency plan which will enable others to lead in your absence. 

In doing so, you will accomplish a couple of things:

1.    Developing a red truck plan for the CEO role immediately enhances a company’s value by reducing the risk that future cash flows could be negatively impacted by the CEO’s inability or unavailability to lead.

2.    Leading by example sends a message to others in the organization that the CEO is serious about building redundancy in the business and that strengthening the team by reducing risk is important.  After all, winning in business is a team sport!

Building and preserving company value is a primary responsibility of the CEO.  My challenge question to you this week is this… “Will you commit to and engage your leadership team to create a red truck plan for your role as CEO?”  Assuming the answer is “yes,” know that this first step will make it much easier to get your leaders, managers and employees to do the same for their roles.  If fact, your leadership example sends a strong signal that running the company is a team sport which sometimes requires others to step up when asked! 

If the answer is, “no – I will not create a red truck plan for myself,” two questions to ask are; “why are you and your board of directors willing to accept this level of risk” and “what will happen to the company if you suddenly were not available to run the business?
I’m willing to bet that nothing but positive things come out of going through this red truck exercise throughout the company, starting with you.  Are you willing to bet otherwise?


EARL BELL is the author of, Winning in Baseball and Business, Transforming Little League Principles into Major League Profits for Your Company, which provides a roadmap to success for leaders that desire to build thriving companies in a very competitive 21stcentury business environment.  Earl believes that “everything you need to know about business, leadership and team building can be learned from Little League baseball.”

Earl conducts workshops, coaches and consults with owners, business leaders and their teams, teaching them how to dramatically reduce the time it takes to improve profitability, customer experience, employee engagement and company value, while simultaneously increasing discretionary time and reducing both stress/employee burnout.  He believes the secret to winning in baseball, business and life can be summarized in a simple formula:  Winning = Service + Humility. His motto is that Winning in Business is a Team Sport!

Earl has served in the Chief Financial Officer role for numerous companies throughout North America. His personal passion is youth sports and he has coached 28 teams since 2002.  Earl is a CPA, graduated from SU (Seattle University) with a BA in Accounting and from the MILL (Mercer Island Little League) with a Master’s in Youth Baseball.

Earl Bell can be reached at and 206-420-5946

Monday, April 7, 2014

What creates quality questions?

Susan Scott in her book, Fierce Conversations, provides numerous valuable ideas and take aways.  One of her tenets is that the questions we ask (or don’t) determine the quality of our relationships. 

I am often asked, “How did you think to ask that question? It got right to the heart of the matter!” When I am in coaching/mentoring mode, there are some very important steps to achieving my results and asking the right questions. 

The steps are simple and sometimes not easy.  Step one, breath.  Step two, ask myself what is my goal/purpose here? And Step three is to ask open ended questions. 

One of my strong beliefs is that our state of mind/emotion determines the quality of our questions.  When I am stressed, I default to a narrow focus and my questions follow suit.  The result is that, in this state of mind, I am very focused and the information/feedback I receive is narrow.  What I usually want to ask are open ended questions. 

For me, the reasons that make such simple actions difficult are all internal… related to my state of being.  If I am feeling stressed due to time constraints, that I am not present (most often because I have taken on too many responsibilities); or beliefs I have that get in the way (feeling embarrassed, guilty, etc.) then it is unlikely I will be open and curious. 

Breathing and remembering why I am there (perhaps to mentor a direct report and use a recent event as a teaching moment) often makes it both simple and easy to be open and curious. 

Where do you notice your internal state getting in your way?  What is most important for you to self-manage; set your state of mind and thus ask great questions?