Thursday, September 10, 2015

9/10/15 Picks of the Week: Tom Brady, Content Marketing and (for good measure) more Tom Brady

It was pretty quiet in and around our social media circles last week -- maybe everyone was grabbing the last summer vacation. Well, good for you!  But the rest of us were here trying to work, er, I mean, trying to ignore the uproar about deflategate.  Even Forbes put a business spin on last week's NFL ruling about Tom Brady.

But now that you're back from vacation, and ready to work, take a look at the articles that gained the most traction with the Excell community last week.  Including, of course, Tom Brady.

1) When Tom Brady calls, or is in court, people pay attention.  But how does "deflategate" reflect on his leadership qualities -- and what does the ruling mean for the definition of leadership, overall?  Good leaders, according to the author, display the "right stuff." And, this Forbes article questions whether Tom Brady displayed the honesty, integrity, and trust that make great leaders.  Ouch.

2) If you want to see a quizzical look on the face of some business owners, CEOs, or entrepreneurs, then just mention the buzzword "content marketing."  Or you might just find them dozing off and suggesting that you'd be better off talking to the new kid in the marketing department.  Because, as the article states:

 "there's no immediate business value to be drawn from writing regularly, and it takes away the time you might spend developing your product or speaking to investors..."

Are you nodding your head in agreement?  Well, if you are the open-minded sort, you might want to check out how this Fast Company author went on to outline five reasons why he recommends that all entrepreneurs start blogging.  Mind blown.

3) And while you are busy being a great entrepreneur, you might also want to read this Entrepreneur article about the 4 Leadership Fundamentals for every entrepreneur.  They would know.  So, how do you match up?

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Friday, September 4, 2015

8/31/2015 Picks of the Week -- Some of us are at the movies, while others are getting back to work!

It seems like a lot of people are looking forward to next year's Star Trek movie.  Or they love Captain Picard.  Or Captain Kirk.  Or just love the movies and don't want summer to end.

Here are the articles that got the most attention last week.  See if you can make sense out of them!

1) Let's cut to the chase.  The movies are a place to go and escape from the world.  A place to step into another's shoes and experience things differently.  But a place to look for leadership advice?  Perhaps.  In this article, Patrick Stewart thinks that politicians - and leaders in general -- could learn something from his Start Trek character, Jean-Luc Picard. This was in response to a comment made by Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, a Trekkie, when Cruz told the New York Times that his favorite U.S.S. Enterprise captain was "James Tiberius Kirk."

Additionally, perhaps as a bridge between summer and fall, vacation and work, another favorite article was one about the best movies about leadership.  You all get an "A" for effort! :)

2) While some people are returning from short vacations, others are returning from a longer hiatus.  Maybe the extended time away was in order to help a sick family member, or a sanity break, or after several years attending to small children.  But the article about a coach who is specifically helping former executive women return to their executive job level after some time off, resonated within our Excell community.

3) With the political season heating up, much has been written about what makes a great leader and what makes an effective leader.  We might now have some insight into Ted Cruz, but...what about you?  If you missed it the first time around, read this analysis about the 4 types of leadership and uncover whether you are a pragmatist, idealist, steward or a diplomat.  Or something else altogether.

4) And more about the millennials.  There's always more about the millennials.  And, you know what? We can't stop reading about them because not only are they now among us, side-by-side, in the workforce, but they are changing things in a monumental fashion.  Specifically, they are changing the face of leadership.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

8/26/2015 Picks of the Week -- Jon Stewart, the NFL, Puget Sound Pride. We are all over the place!

As summer winds down, it appears that everyone's attention-span is a little wayward. We are gauging this because the most shared/retweeted/favorited articles this week covered a wide spectrum from food, to TV, to football...

Perhaps we all need a little more structure?  Hate to say it, but, specifically, maybe we all need the structure that autumn brings?  Just a thought.

1) Some of our community are concerned about a leadership "crisis" insomuch that one-third of companies surveyed don't regard coaching or leadership development as a business priority.  Overall, this may be because businesses don't know where to find the data that leadership development creates a positive impact on the bottom-line.  If you want to know more about this, please contact Dave Shapiro to discuss the benefits to executive coaching and how Excell can help your business.

2)  The "Altruistic Leadership" buzz phrase caught on in this piece from Forbes about Greystone Bakery, in Yonkers, NY.  The owner attributes the business growth to the fact that the bakery "doesn't hire people to make cakes. It makes cakes to hire people." Pretty inspired.  Make sure you read their story.

3)  We have a lot of local pride here in the Pacific Northwest!  When the University of Puget Sound was deemed by Forbes to have one of the Top 20 colleges in the country for developing entrepreneurs, we all wanted the world to know.  Congrats to the Loggers!

4) In the world of entertainment: Jon Stewart's leadership style is highly regarded.  Meanwhile, across town, some argue that New York Jets' Quarterback, Geno Smith, got punched in the face by a teammate because his leadership is  (Thankfully, some are placing blame on the guy who actually punched Geno.)

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8/16/2015 Picks of the Week -- Executive Coaching and...Michael Jordan?

It seems like everyone is gearing up for September and what that traditionally brings:  Education!  Self Improvement! And when you are a company that shares information about how to become a better business leader, it usually means that the "education" and "self improvement" has something to do with "executive coaching." 

1) This article suggests that the "wise entrepreneur assembles a cadre of advisors" and that the best advisors are a peer advisory group, much like the ones we organize at Excell Puget Sound.  So we are on the right track.  Are you?

2) To help you decide whether you are on the right track and can "do it alone," why not take a look at these four questions to ask yourself to help determine how an executive coach can help you.

3) If you still think executive coaching isn't for you, that's OK, but you might want to read this article about how coaching can help leaders improve their "work/life" balance.  So, coaching isn't all about being a great leader.  It's about how you can achieve overall contentedness by handling your executive leadership job well.  To learn more about how Excell can help you with that, please visit our Membership Page.  We look forward to answering your questions.

In related news, a Duke University professor was interviewd by the Washington Post about leadership and how he is hopeful that the focus on leadership training will have a ripple-effect on the future of big business.

And, finally, we guess everyone still wants to "Be Like Mike" because the article about Michael Jordan and how train to become a business "athlete" was a big crowd-pleaser.

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8/9/2015 Picks of the Week -- Politics, business, and debunking leadership stereotypes

According to a recent Huffington Post Article, Donald Trump's bombastic "arrogant" style is outdated in corporate America.  And based on the articles that our readers found most interesting, it seems like our members and social media followers are wondering the same thing.  Aren't trends interesting?

1) In that vein, our most shared article this week was a discussion in Forbes about whether the best leaders are feared or warm -- and what science has to say about it.
2) In his popular column from the Huffington Post, Harvard's Bill George talks about how battling the intrusions of technology is one way to gain control and emerge as a better, more "mindful" leader. Even the Dalai Lama chimes in on the topic.

3) And, even though it doesn't seem very Trump-like, studies are showing that leaders who find a way to attend to their employees' needs are rewarded with not only happier employees, but also greater, overall business success!
  • Why not? While we are on the topic of Donald Trump, why not share this quick and pithy interview between Guy Kawaski, one of Apple's founding members, and The Donald.  It's old -- from 2007 -- but, while not particularly enlightening, it is mildly entertaining and, at the very least, shows that Trump is consistent.
Another theme appearing this past week is that people are looking for advice on starting new jobs.

4)  A popular article was about creating an "onboarding" strategy to help a move from an IT managment role to leadership role.

5) Similarly, distinguising between the talents needed for success as an engineer and talents needed as a leader to engineers was a big hit.

Did you miss these articles?  Hope not.  But there is no need to miss another one!  Please click on the icons below to visit (and follow!) our social media pages for daily updates about leadership, coaching, the business industry, and Excell Puget Sound.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Fatigue, why am I hearing so many signs of fatigue?

In 2008, a perfect storm formed.  The largest recession/depression since 1929 hit the world.  At the same time, we all experienced the full fledged 10 year adoption cycle/impact of the internet.  Through the next four years, two trends emerged:  The markets required companies to do more, do it better and do it faster and all this with fewer people. 

We are now beginning to experience, individually and organizationally a sense of fatigue that comes from depletion.  When I was actively rowing, I learned a valuable lesson related to depletion.  In a rowing race, you start the race with a very intense sprint which immediately puts your body in to a state of anaerobic depletion (this state means that the rowers body is both attempting to take in more oxygen then is possible and is unable to convert fats/carbohydrates to energy…. So, the rower begins the race in a state of pan “pins and needles” in the legs, etc.).  By the end of a six minute race, a rower has performed the fatigue equivalent of playing, full out, two back to back basketball games. 

The lesson learned…. step away.  There are times that continuing a pace puts one, or one’s organization, in peril.  Now, for those who are ready to respond with “Yeah… and watch my customers go away and my progress melt away” let me offer that the purpose of stepping away is to focus on improvement and efficiency.  It is not about giving up. 

So, tell me… what would you do if you stepped away?  What would your team do if they paused and regrouped?  What would change about the spiral I see of faster, better, cheaper? 

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Top 10 Ways Not to Lead

Today we have a guest blog from Lauren Owen:

This month I’d like to present my own lighthearted take on leadership improvement, specifically the Top 10 Ways Not to Lead. (I also want to thank my wonderful clients, who are genuinely dedicated to improving their own leadership abilities and are continually setting examples of great leadership.)

Click HERE to read the Top 10 Ways Not to Lead:

Lauren believes in making a difference in her clients’ lives. She does this by helping them identify their personal and organizational WHY and shows them how to share that with their teams and their customers.  She identifies their areas of development as a leader so that they can focus on making changes that will make the biggest and quickest impact. As a result, their teams, organizations and personal lives are all transformed for the better. 

Lauren is a certified WHY coach and a Stakeholder Centered Executive Coach.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Why are more and more people in business talking about vulnerability?

Please follow me.  I am watching the Seahawks finish off the Panthers.  One of the announcers says that Wilson, the Seahawk quarterback, visions the game before it ever happens and then manifests it.  Following the psychology of sports, I was not surprised to hear terms like “vision” and “manifest” spouted by commentators of today.  The other eight people in the room were surprised and commented on it. 

Soon, I began hearing other words about the vulnerability and trust developed for the level of teamwork achieved.  Now, I have to admit, unless you watched Oprah, then I imagine you haven’t heard the word vulnerability bandied about too often in a rough contact sport like football or in male dominated business meetings. 

Yet, there it was.  So, what is vulnerability?  I’ll give you my definition… pure and simple it is risking something or being at risk.  Applied to business groups, I believe it means placing oneself in a position where others may potentially have power over us. 

Patrick Lencioni in the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team starts from the position that many of us feel a need for safety and we equate this to invulnerability.  So, feeling vulnerable is not something we do very lightly. 

Risking is a first step to producing trust and trust is one of the foundations of creating a highly effective team.  So, what is it that needs to be risked?  That actually depends on each person.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself, or others and which, if answered honestly and with self-awareness would show vulnerability, risk: 
  •  What is it that if I revealed it, I would feel that I looked less than good?
  •  If my team new something about me, what do I believe would undermine my authority?
  • Why don’t people like to work with me?
  • What is my weakest skill and how do I shore up that lack of skill?

First, if you can truly answer these questions, even to yourself, you are a person worth getting to know.  Second, most of us can’t? 
  •  "There is no 'I' in TEAM" ~ Anonymous
  • "A single arrow is easily broken, but not ten in a bundle" ~ Japanese proverb
  • "A boat doesn’t go forward if each one is rowing their own way" ~ Swahili proverb
  • "Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success" ~ Henry Ford
  • "One man can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team" ~ Kareem Abdul Jabbar
  • "A group becomes a team when each member is sure enough of himself and his contribution to praise the skill of the others" ~ Norman Hidle
  • "You don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note" ~ Doug Floyd

“Remember teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” Patrick Lencioni

So, what would you risk in order to create trust?  What is it that you do that makes creating  trust more difficult? What actions do you take to create trust? 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Quantifying Your Value Proposition

Today we have a guest blog from David Lightfoot:

Much is made of financial metrics. This is good but often the simplest metrics are the best.  Gross Margin is one of the best. Gross Margin is the difference between the business’s revenue and cost of sales. Cost of Sales is the cost of providing goods or services to your customers but not including any costs of overhead.

The right way to calculate Gross Margin in a service business is to include the cost of labor of all people who provide direct client/customer service within Cost of Sales.  And that labor cost needs to be fully burdened including taxes, benefits and paid time off (PTO). To use the manufacturing term, that’s called Direct Labor.

Indirect Labor goes in Overhead. Indirect Labor includes managers, supervision and support staff. Often, some people do some work that is directly billable to clients and some work that is supervision or management. In this case, the labor costs need to be allocated between Cost of Sales and Overhead.

For most professional service companies, Direct Labor (unburdened) needs to be charged to clients at 2.5X to 3.0X. For example, if a staff person is paid $50 per hour, they would typically be charged to the client at $125 to $150 per hour. Looked at another way, Gross Margin in a professional service business should be about 50%. That’s Revenue less Direct Labor including burden.

Gross Margin of 50% sounds great but remember overhead and profit need to come out of that 50% margin, leaving (hopefully) some Net Margin.

Businesses selling goods rather than services will have significantly different gross margins. I’ve seen 30% typically for contracting and 90% or more for software. Whatever the business, gross margin, properly calculated, is usually one of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

There are a number of things that are significant about making an accurate Gross Margin calculation. First and foremost, this is the purest measure of the value proposition of a business. It measures what customers will pay for the business’s goods or services against what it costs for the business to provide those goods or services. It is the quantification of your value proposition.

Why is all of this important? It helps with understanding the cost behaviors of the business. This allows one to calculate breakeven, figure out how to be more profitable and whether the business has a viable model.

Do you know what your gross margin is?

David Lightfoot
David Lightfoot has over 35 years of accounting, finance and operational experience as Controller, Chief Financial Officer or Vice President of Finance for small and medium-sized businesses. He also has operations experience and has worked as a CEO, giving him a broad business perspective.

      Mr. Lightfoot is currently a Partner with B2B CFO, the world’s largest provider of CFO services. David’s clients range from start-ups to $50M in annual revenue. He specializes in professional services, real estate/construction, software and healthcare.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Can Companies with fewer than 500 employees do effective training and should they?

Universally, companies with fewer that 500 employees are pretty poor at training employees.  The reasons for this are understandable and many, starting with flat organizations, populated by doers and a mindset that people are hired to add value. 

The reasons that training becomes more important to a company as it grows from 15 to 50 10 120 employees are just as universal: employees stop providing as much value if they are not challenged and developed; self-learners are extremely rare; companies whose employees, processes and systems don’t improve get stuck/complacent at points in their growth. 

So, what’s a CEO/Company to do?  Here are a few options that reduce risk, improve sustainable growth and provide size appropriate focus to the training that is needed:  Recognize training is important and that training is something you model; not what your company can train and what training it may not be able to provide. 

If you are an executive or business owner without a coach, then you don’t yet recognize that training is important or that it is something you model.  I know of no professional athlete who is without a trainer/coach.  Maybe they know something you don’t know?  If you are getting coaching ask yourself how much you are communicating its value to your team/employees?  Do you have goals for the coaching you receive and do you share those goals/KPI’s?  Do you include your key reports in the coaching process? 

As to training others… I have found that in most companies of the 15 and 50 employee size, that they are best at technical training, next best at operational training and usually weakest in training leadership, management and supervisory skills (soft skills:  communication, professional improvement, etc.).  These are important roles/skills and tools.  They should be a part of employees professional improvement plan and there should be some budget attached to the training involved. 

Back to the technical training…. If you make something, provide a service or distribute something, the knowledge base and tools to do it and do it better are likely to be within your and your employees wheelhouse.  Meaning that you have best practices, skills and tools that can be taught.  The companies that do this the best focus on three aspects of training: the provide training in very narrow areas and cross train; they train people to train and make the training a constant part of employee’s jobs. 

So, what works in your company?  How did you initiate training?  How did you make sure that training was a part of what everyone does? 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Can You Take a Punch

Today we have a guest blog from Dan Weedin:

I vividly recall being a member of the junior high football team. I was a skinny kid that probably looked pretty funny in my football gear. I was definitely NOT a fighter. I wasn’t ever looking for a tussle from anyone that was filling out their uniform and growing a beard at 14 years old.
One practice on a crisp autumn afternoon, we had a drill where the ball carrier was going to run through a gauntlet of teammates and practice holding on to the football at all costs. My turn as ball carrier came up and this was the first time I had tried the drill. As I made my way through the gauntlet with ball firmly tucked under my arm, I swiveled to the left to see if I could make my way out. WHAM! The next thing I know, I’m lying on my back and the absence of air (or the ability to even inhale) was palpable. My good buddy Eric had come out of nowhere and basically “blew me up” with a collision to my chest. It was my first experience of having the wind knocked out of me. After a few seconds (that seemed like hours) elapsed, Eric was helping me up so I could resume practice. To this day, I have no idea if I held on to the football or not!

I was blindsided by Eric because I had a huge “blind spot” in my process of running. What blind spots do you have in your business?

Football teams at all levels – from junior high to professional – run drills and practice in part to figure out their “blind spots.” They learn through drills to anticipate perils and to be resilient in the event of crises. For my part, I never more ran without my head on an allegorical swivel, to assure that I kept my breath where it was supposed to be!

As a CEO or chief executive in your company, you’d better have your head on a swivel, too. Just like Eric didn’t announce his impending presence to me, neither will a disaster send a calling card. You will have unexpected “collisions,” and without having identified, analyzed, and prepared for them, you may just find yourself flat on your back. You must then hope that someone is there to help you up!

The best way to avoid this is to take control yourself of the strategic work related to crisis planning, business continuation, and resiliency. This isn’t something that should be delegated away. The buck ultimately stops with you. So while you can delegate implementation, you can never relinquish the duty of being the strategic leader of your team. Only you can eliminate your blind spots. And the best way to do that is through planning, preparation, and practice.

It’s all about that action, boss!

Dan Weedin, CIC, CRM
The Crisis ConquerorP.O. Box 1571 / Poulsbo, WA 98370

Blog –
Skype: danweedin

Inducted to the Million Dollar Consultant™ Hall of Fame – 2012

If you’d like to follow Dan’s work, subscribe to his free newsletter by texting EXTRAPOINTS to 22828. Follow Dan on Twitter @danweedin.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Power of “Not Yet!”

This winter, I am undergoing my usual:  I have a plan for improving my golf game.  It includes a certain number of lessons at an indoor golf range and practice sessions.  What I did not initially grasp is that it would require me to embrace the concept of “Not yet”. 

You see, as I completed my fifth year of playing golf, I thought that I was going to be working on nuance and refinement of my swing.  (you can skip the next paragraph if you don’t golf)

I walked in to the first lesson and heard myself declare, “ I am hitting my driver 200-225 yards.  I may as well put it away and just hit my 3 wood.  I hit a 3 wood  about as far and more accurately.”  My instructor asked, how far I wanted to hit my driver and I answered by saying that on longer courses my second shot was not a 7 iron but a wood, or at best a rescue club.  This means that my strategy of being on the green in two is significantly reduced.  My accuracy and the likelihood of parring the hole go down if it takes me three strokes to get to the green.  To hit with better golfers, I needed to hit the drive 250 yards. 

What my instructor offered was to get me to hit my tee shot farther by spring and as, or more, accurately then I was when I hit it a shorter distance. 

What I have had to confront is failure.  I confronted the possibility that I can’t hit a golf ball longer.  To avoid the frustration of failing, I have undertaken a mantra, “not yet”. 

How many times have you said (or heard others say), “I can’t do that”.  The truth of the statement is self-evident and self-defeating.  By exchanging the above words for “not yet”, I get to take failure off the table. 

In business this is often critical.  To succeed, we have to try things that we have never done and have no data to support our accomplishing.  We have staff/teams who get stuck by saying, “We can’t do that!” and a simple substitution is to exclaim, “not yet!”. 

If you can get your teams/key employees to embrace “not yet” you are half way home to achieving a goal.  Your mindset will shift.  You still have to take action, accomplish your goal.  What is removed is the hurdle of telling yourself, as you work toward that goal, that you are failing.  Try it and let me know how differently you feel? 

What mindsets do you create to increase your and your team’s odds for success in a project or new endeavor? 

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Importance of Telling a Single Story

Today we have a guest blog from Elizabeth Andreini:

Have you ever heard the Indian fable of the six blind men and the elephant? Each man felt a different part of the elephant and described the elephant based on what they felt. One man who touched its tail thought the elephant was like a rope, the one who touched its trunk thought the elephant was like a tree branch, the man who felt its leg thought it was similar to a pillar, etc. Although there was some truth to what each one said, what they described was incomplete because it couldn’t describe the entire elephant or accurately represent what the elephant could do. Anyone hearing each man’s description wouldn’t be able to get the full understanding of the elephant.

Sometimes companies fall into this same trap with multiple messages and varied value propositions. Different individuals may describe what is offered is a variety of ways, whether based on their experience or their perception of the value offered. While those descriptions may be accurate, the message about the benefits of working with the company and value offered by its products or services is likely to be incomplete or fail to convey the full benefit of what the company offers. Multiple messages and different value propositions also create inconsistent understanding in the marketplace and a weaker story for the company, leaving opportunities for competitors to make a stronger impression with a more complete story told consistently. Potential customers selecting a weaker offering from competitors is one sign that your message may not be strong enough or your story consistently told.

Test the story you share with the market by conducting an internal survey and comparing those messages for consistency – and to ensure the story aligns with what your company wants said. Ask each executive and member of the sales/marketing teams to describe the company’s brand promise, its unique value proposition and a summary of your elevator pitch. Compare what each person says to uncover whether everyone describes the company’s value proposition, brand promise and elevator pitch well and consistently.

Once you have a description of the company’s brand promise, its unique value proposition and a summary of your elevator pitch from multiple sources, ask yourself:
  1. Is everyone in my company consistently and effectively communicating our company’s unique value proposition to prospective clients and current customers?
  2. If we aren’t describing what we offer in the same way, how can I get everyone telling a single story?
  3. Are we clearly differentiating our products and services from our competitors so that potential buyers understand why they should choose us over competitors?
If you are sending multiple or different messages then you should bring everyone together and ensure the story you are sending to the market, customers and prospects is consistent and clearly conveys the advantages of working with you. If you are sending a complete and consistent message that highlights the benefits of working with your company and the value offered by your products and services compared to the competitors, then congratulate yourself! (If you would like an example of a tool you can use for this purpose, email me for a template that I used during a recent presentation to Excell at

Elizabeth Andreini

As the President of Accelerate Marketing, LLC, Elizabeth Andreini, is the "secret weapon" CEOs turn to at key growth points when they need to transform marketing and product management to grow their customer base, increase revenue & scale their business. 
 In addition to providing experienced executive insight and guidance, Elizabeth often works as an interim CMO or VP to provide the hands-on leadership needed to rearchitect marketing and product management and improve execution from the inside.  

Elizabeth Andreini, founder & president of Accelerate Marketing, LLC Accelerate Marketing, LLC
206-769-3420 or
Twitter: @acceler8mkting