Monday, July 28, 2014

Servant Leadership: It’s not for the Faint of Heart

Today we have a guest blog from Shannon Bruce:

As business evolves and change accelerates, developing as a servant leader is vital. Servant leadership is a distinguishing factor among high performing organizations that engage cohesive and collaborative teams that leave a lasting impact, not only in productivity and profitability, but also in the way they engage and serve those they influence, both within and outside of the organization.

So what is servant leadership and what does it take to become one?

While servant leadership is a timeless concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in “The Servant as Leader”, an essay that he first published in 1970. Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world. For more information about the essay and Robert Greenleaf’s concept,  click HERE.

In my role as an Executive Coach and Group Leader for Excell Puget Sound Kitsap, I have the opportunity to meet with Executives and CEO’s regularly. In building our group, I am seeking those who are life-long learners committed to growing and developing companies that are successful in both relationships and results. In essence, I’m looking for servant leaders who recognize the value of humility and acknowledge that receiving support and accountability from a group of like-minded peers isn’t considered weak, but is actually a sign of strength.

I had the privilege of meeting this type of leader this week. Bruce MacDonald, President and COO of Applied TechnicalSystems models servant leadership from the moment you meet him. He is a man of high integrity, warmth and humility who gets results. Leaders in his company have high regard for him, and as I network in the community, he has been recommended as a person to meet by several other leaders in Kitsap County. Bruce has made a life-long commitment to developing his skill set in this area and during our inspiring conversation, he shared the following insight with me and has given me permission to share these tips with you. This list will help you decide where your opportunities for growth are as you develop as a servant leader:

Eight Things Those You Are Privileged To Lead Have a Right to Expect From You
  • To know your character.  If I follow you, will I know who you really are?  Will you deal with me with integrity?
  • That you’ll take the time to explain your vision.  What’s the future and where do I fit?  Is there a place for me or will you simply “use” me?
  • To never be left in isolation.  Will you be there for me?  Will you care for me?  Will you care about my needs?
  • To be heard.  To whom will you listen?  When you’re busy and overloaded, will I still be heard, taken seriously and appreciated?
  • To be trusted.  Can I take initiative without fear?  Will my ideas be rewarded and encouraged or will I be regarded with suspicion and distanced?
  • To be given an opportunity to grow.  Will I be encouraged to be a lifelong learner?  Will my gifts be increasingly identified and expressed?  Will I be developed?
  • To be held accountable.  Will I be fairly evaluated for my performance?  Will I be held to the highest standards for my life?  Will you show me how to do it better and be patient while I learn and self-correct?
  • To be the object of grace.  Will I be forgiven even in the face of shortcomings, inadequacies and failure?  Will I be lead with kindness?

That’s What Followers Have a Right to Expect of You – So Don’t Let Them Down!

Servant leadership is not for the faint of heart as the list of expectations above indicate. It requires a willingness to be transparent and to take risks, to have empathy and curiosity and to communicate openly and consistently.

How would you rate yourself as a servant leader on a scale of 1 – 10, with “1” being not at all to “10” being I regularly and consistently show up as a servant leader each and every day without exception? What action will you take to develop your skills as a servant leader? And who will hold you accountable?


Shannon Bruce, PCC is a Professional Certified Coach and current President and CEO of StoryBridge, Inc. of Kitsap County. She has been in the professional coaching industry for over 11 years working in many capacities as an Executive and Leadership Coach, Team Coach, Facilitator and Trainer. Her diverse background also includes 13 years as a CPA with Ernst & Young, Corporate & Regional Operations Management in the wholesale distribution field, and entrepreneurship launching multiple business start-ups.

Shannon considers herself a Catalyst for Culture Change who is an “out-of-the-box” thinker looking for new and life-giving ways to enhance business results and team relationships. With her corporate background and coach training, Shannon understands the needs of both “people” and “profit” to help companies produce more with less. Her true passion & mission is “going into companies” to “create communities”.

Living in Bremerton, WA with her 13-year old daughter, Shannon enjoys quality time with family and friends in addition to reading, exercising and hiking.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Creating the Hero Experience

Today we have a guest blog from Earl Bell:

While coaching Little League baseball during May of 2006, a nine year old boy taught me a very memorable lesson about the power of creating a hero experience.  On our first day of practice, I asked each player to write down what they wanted to accomplish by the end of season.  Most answers were fairly predictable; i.e. they wanted to pitch in a game, learn how to hit a baseball, etc…. but one boy wrote down; “I want to be a hero!” 

Now that was interesting…  I asked this boy what being a hero meant and he replied…  “To get a game winning hit and have everyone cheering for me!”  That’s simple, right?

Well, nearly three months later, this young boy hadn’t gotten a single hit in game.  Most ball players would have been discouraged and want to quit.  Instead, this young boy showed up each day with a smile on his face, simply glad to be playing ball with his friends and I really enjoyed having him on the team.  Fast forward to the first game of the post-season playoffs and during the top half of the last inning, our team was down by one run but had runners on 1st, 2nd and 3rd base with two out. Guess who comes up to bat?  Yep, you couldn’t have written a better script.

I called a time-out and walked over to home plate to ask this boy if he knew what time it was?  With a slight smirk he replied, “7:15 pm and time for a pinch-hitter?”  I said, “Nope – it’s time for you to be a hero - and it is totally going to happen, because I believe in you…“ With a whisper, I reminded him of his pre-season goal and then said, “This is your time!”  With a look of determination and an impish smile, an amazing thing happened when our little hero cranked the ball, and I mean hard, deep into left field.  When the dust settled, our hero was on 3rd base, having driven in three runs.  Everyone was going crazy (even the other team) and the smile on this young boy’s face (and his parent’s faces too) could have lit up the sky at that very moment…  Well, guess who signed up to play baseball next year with a couple of friends?  Yep, you’re right!  So what does this have to do with business?  In a word, “EVERYTHING!”

Imagine building a business where a key business strategy was to create heroes.  Customers become repeat buyers and your advocates when they realize their hero experience (whatever that might be in delivering your product or service.)  If you aren’t creating hero experiences for customers, is this acceptable to you or instead a big business problem?

So here are my questions for you…. “What percentage of your customers or clients would say that you deliver the hero experience to them?”  If you do not know the answer, my question to you is, “why don’t you ask? What’s the harm?  My guess is that you’ll learn a few things along the way, and you’ll be glad you did…


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, July 14, 2014

Training do it yourself or find good training vendors

This past week, a client and I were talking about “buying” and/or “building” his management team.  My experience is that training is not a strength for small companies (revenues of less than $250M). 

It is not a strength because it is not a high priority and resources for in-house training would represent too large a percentage of gross revenues.  It is questionable if it should be a high priority.  There are some necessary skills and tools that a small company requires on a part time basis and this is where training budgets for small companies should be focused. 

Time after time, I sit with CEOs and business owners who believe in investing in employee training, even training and adding resources for their managers, and yet only focus on technical/tactical skills. If your company is growing, I can say with some certainty that the way you do what you do now is, at some point, going to need to change.  How will your staff know when to change systems and processes? What are their strengths and weaknesses as people/managers?  How will they improve in these areas? 

Some CEO’s, that I meet, tell me about how they do nothing regular, consistent and frequent about growing their own skills, tools and capabilities.  In practically the same breath, the very same CEO’s have said that their employees aren’t ready for where their company is heading.  I usually ask if they are ready and they tell me they are. 

Unfortunately, they often are the reason their company gets stuck and does not grow to the next stage because they think that their job/role is not changing, even though they realize that everyone else’s role is, or should be.  Most Business owners/Executives believe that their company is a pyramid, not a bad metaphor. 

The Business Owner/CEO sees themselves sitting at the top of the pyramid, their direct reports (management team) sit below them and the “worker bees” complete the lowest and largest segment of the pyramid. 

When their business grows, they think that the bottom of the pyramid gets larger (more workers but the upper part does not get wider/bigger or that the total of the pyramid grows upward larger/higher). 

Many of the problems that businesses have in scaling, comes from this view. It does not take in to account increasing complexity/size of the total organization and does not include demands on the upper and top of the pyramid.  

What really happens?  Using the ‘pyramid’ metaphor, the two upright walls of the pyramid grow out and up (think larger structure everywhere: base, sides and height).  When it grows, the business does have a larger base of workers. What is significant is that the business grows up as well as out.  It becomes more complex and it demands a more talented, trained and professional management staff and CEO/Owner. 

As a business grows, it not only needs more line workers, it grows in complexity.  It must create/use more complex and robust process tools and the management, including the CEO, must grow their skills, sharpen and add management tools and expand their abilities to address the increased complexity.  

So, if you want to get to or stay at the top of your game.... how will you invest in your skills to lead, communicate, strategize and execute on more complex levels?  What do you do to invest in yourself? 

If you have grown and run companies that are much larger and more complex then your present company, perhaps you can devote yourself to training staff in-house.  On the other hand, if you spend too much of your time on this valuable activity, when are you going to run your company? 

The dilemma is a fairly easy one for me to answer, as an executive, one of my roles is to mentor, coach and teach people who report to me.  My role as mentor/coach is focused and limited and not a substitute for an intensive focused program.  I am always learning and want to continue growing professionally.  To continue my professional growth, I undertake a number of activities, which include being coached (challenged and supported). 

 I have yet to work in a company that has the resources to provide high level executive development programs, so I look for programs and opportunities to strengthen my skills, acquire new ones and expand my repetoire.  At the same time, I urge and challenge my reports to do the same. 

What are your favorite ways to make sure you grow professionally?