Tough and Tender – The New Leadership

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Have you ever found yourself working your butt off and not accomplishing what you want? Revenue growth is slower than you would like. Clients and customers are not closing deals fast enough. New products are slow in the making. Bonuses look slimmer than last year. How do you make sense of all this? Shouldn’t there be a direct link between how hard you work and your performance and rewards?

Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work that way. Uncertainty is the new normal. We can help to shape our futures, but we can’t always control the outcomes. That’s where timing, mystery, chance, luck and circumstance take over. This human dilemma calls up the ultimate paradox in our lives:

All Business is Personal!

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I have a radical proposition to make: all business is personal.

Whether you are calling a customer, running a meeting, presenting to your board or having a performance discussion, the impact on yourself and others is a deeply personal one. In fact, everything you do in business affects who you are and your relationships with others. Executives who claim “It’s just business, nothing personal.” are kidding themselves. Business is immensely personal, and the sooner we realize this the better we will be.

The Secret Sauce to Success!

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Everyone is looking for the secret sauce to success. I have personally spent the past thirty years traveling around the world searching for the recipe. Though I can’t say that I’ve found the leadership equivalent of the Holy Grail, I have noticed that the most successful leaders among us have a very distinct way of viewing their businesses and creating a sustainable competitive advantage:

It has to do with the way they believe value is created in an enterprise.

Whether you run a large division in a global corporation, a department in a federal agency, an entrepreneurial start-up, or a Girl Scout troop, you are confronted with four agendas: the finance, marketplace, operations and human agendas. As a seasoned professional, you know that you must master all four of these agendas.

Do You Have a Growth Mindset?

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Everywhere I go these days business is getting easier AND more complicated. We have access to more information, seemingly unlimited resources, and opportunities to succeed. Yet there are more choices, competition comes from everywhere, and it’s tougher to focus and prioritize getting the work done. The world is simply getting more complex.
Fortunately, our brains are wired for growth and renewal. Our brain cells die and regenerate every day and our minds are an ever expanding classroom adding new knowledge, imagining new possibilities, and making fresh connections all the time. This is a good thing, because every business I walk into these days is having to change how it does business.

Middle Management Saves the Day


Key Lesson:  When experiments fail, be quick to acknowledge the facts and move on.

Like any good CEO, Ryan Carson is interested in creating an environment where workers are happy, engaged and productive. And like many CEOs, he experimented a bit when he founded Treehouse Island, an online coding school based in Portland, Oregon. At Treehouse, staff enjoyed four-day work weeks, only worked on projects that interested them, were rarely required to send email and had no direct bosses or managers.

Falling Down and Getting Up

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After talking to hundreds of CEOs in dozens of countries, there is one fundamental truth that stands out for me. There is no such thing as stability; the only constant is change and uncertainty. Great leaders must learn two lessons that are critical to their success in life and business: First, embrace the reality of uncertainty every moment of every day. Every time we breathe the world changes. Second, we have to get comfortable being uncomfortable and not be so afraid of adversity.

Cultural Diversity

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I still remember my first trip to Japan. Surrounded by the signs and sounds of Japanese, I felt utterly lost. Unable to decipher even the most basic information in restaurants and on city streets, I retreated into myself. It was hard to stretch into unfamiliar territory. When I asked questions, people reacted in ways I couldn’t quite understand. I simply couldn’t read their psychology. In an instant, I understood what it means to be illiterate.

Are You Using Your “Executive Brain”?

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We don’t often think about it, but it is such a gift to be able to be a participant and an observer of a conversation at the same time. As humans, we have this wonderful capacity to be witnesses to our own lives. By observing ourselves in action, we can remember where we’ve been, recognize where we are and envision where we want to go. Our amazing brain is able to multi-task by sorting, evaluating and selecting our path forward. Our mind can be our own travel guide as we interact in the moment. What a powerful skill for leadership and life!

Maybe Your Boss Isn’t From Hell?

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Becoming a leader is a lifelong adventure, much the same as becoming a healthy, integrated person. It is truly a journey of dreams and fears, successes and failures. But why is it so hard to embrace that humanity inside ourselves or to accept the humanity of the leaders around us?

Many of us tend to see our leaders as heroes or villains. We love them or hate them, idolize or demonize them, in much the same way as the press portrays our presidents. But this conception of leaders as larger than life, as the organization’s Big Brain, undermines leaders and followers alike. It puts tremendous stress on leaders, who know they can never measure up. The result? Frustration and workaholism—or the arrogance of someone who has begun to believe this fantasy of omnipotence. Both responses are psychologically corrosive.

Lead With Who You Are


Key Lesson: When terrible things happen, how we respond says a lot about us.

Our Grounded Leader of the week is Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter. On October 20th, the unthinkable happened – one of Schnatter’s employees was shot in the chest during a robbery at a Papa John’s in Tennessee. The employee, 22 year-old Gordon Schaffer, had complied with the thieves’ demands, but they shot him anyway. He died a short time later.