Sunday, September 27, 2015

Avoid "GroupThink"


A couple of thoughts on the fiasco at Volkswagen.  If you somehow missed it last week, here is a summary.  Yes, the CEO has apologized and been fired.  Massive fines, criminal investigations, and a worldwide recall for diesel engine vehicles only hints at the trouble ahead for the company.  What a mess. 

The issue to consider here is…how does a leadership team allow this practice to take hold?  Surely people knew.  This scandal was too complex, too massive to be hidden from VW’s entire leadership team.  They had to have known. 

“Groupthink,” in which teams stop challenging decisions, stop asking questions, go along to get along, despite what should be obvious signals is probably more common than we’d like.  When present, “Groupthink” causes teams to miss obvious signals, to accept what is clearly inappropriate, or avoid conflict because of things like charisma or charm.  “Groupthink” is the cause of many inadequate decisions and, as we will see in the days ahead with VW, can be the source of long term pain, even death, of organizations.

Think your team might be prone to “Group think?”  Here’s a short article which addresses 4 great questions to ask your leadership team at your “Monday meeting” this week:

  1. Do we have varied viewpoints and voices in our group/team?
  2. Are we open to dissent — or do we tend to shut it down?
  3. Are we insular? Do you we put up walls?
  4. Have we shared our plan with members of the organization, that can offer another perspective?
Make quality, values-based, decisions.  Avoid “Groupthink.”  Lead the Way!

That's Leader Business!

Upcoming Leadership Workshops

12-14 October                          San Diego  (3 Seats Remaining)

15-17 December                      Los Angeles (Public Sector Only)


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Have a "Growth Mindset!"


Fantastic article on the importance of having a “growth mindset” as a more important indicator of success than simple intelligence.  I believe it!!!  What can you do to demonstrate this “growth mindset” this week?  What could you do to encourage it in others, especially in times of failure or setback?  Find opportunity in everything you do! Read the article here.

Lead the Way!

Tom Magness


Upcoming Leadership Workshops

12-14 October                          San Diego  (3 Seats Remaining)

15-17 December                      Los Angeles (Public Sector Only)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

It Ain't the Money!

Dear Friends,

I've been sharing the Dan Pink video above with my Academy Leadership clients.  It dove-tails nicely with this McKinsey article on motivation.

So, watch this short video and read the article.  Then decide what you are going to do in 2014 to get the most from your team.  Spoiler alert:  It ain't the money!!!

If you want to know more about what your people really want from you in 2014, here is a good start!

Happy 2014 to each and every one of you.  I'm starting my year with a commitment to write more, to learn more, and to listen more.  I hope to finish Book #2 this year.  Correction...I WILL finish Book #2 this year!!  Stay tuned.

For those who might be interested (especially for those of you in Southern California -- or who want to escape to SoCal during the winter!), here is my winter/early spring Academy Leadership workshop schedule:

27-29 January    Los Angeles

11-13 February  San Diego

18-20 March       Orange County

15-17 April          Los Angeles

If any of these dates fit your schedule, and you are looking to stretch a little, check it out.  To learn more, here is the website

God bless and have a great 2014!!


Monday, May 20, 2013

Engagement Matters

Government Official Accused of Cover-Up....

Agency Head Pleads Ignorance on Actions of Subordinates....

$1.2M spent on Operators of Fully-Automated "Members Only" Capitol Elevator....

Can we all agree that leadership in government agencies at all levels matters today more than ever?  It is unquestionably a challenging environment -- shrinking budgets (at least at the state and local level), an increasingly disengaged workforce, and disparaging comments from all sides.  But aren't these the conditions in which proven, effective leaders have to step up?  Come on, people.  We are better than this!!!  Where are the LEADERS???

Federal Times had an article last month that suggested that over half of federal workers in some offices were looking for an exit (see the article here).  Now, before you applaud and wish them farewell, let's look at this another way.  These people are, for the most part, just like the rest of us, just as capable, and just as well educated.  I've worked with many of them and they are mostly solid professionals who want to do well, serve their communities, and take care of their people.  Losing half of them and then having to hire and train replacements is not the solution.  If you are hoping for greater efficiency -- that is not the answer!

What we need in government are real, no kidding, leaders!  Leaders who know the importance of the mission and do not quit until they've met it.  Leaders who don't make excuses and who hold themselves and their people accountable.  Leaders who don't think "Bigger is Better" but rather that "Better is Better."  Leaders who measure their output not by the size of their budget or their department but rather by the satisfaction of their customers, their speed of delivery, and the value (output/cost) of their deliverables.  Leaders who take care of their people, deal with conflict, manage priorities, coach for performance, and invest in the growth and development of their people.  Is this too much to ask?

The Federal Times article points to general dis-engagement among the workforce:  “When people are not engaged, they are looking for other jobs, and when they are looking for other jobs, they are not giving their discretionary energy to accomplish the organization’s goals and objectives.”  In other words, I'll put it this way...IT'S THE LEADERSHIP, STUPID!

If dis-engagement is the problem, then leaders have a direct responsibility to address the problem.  Fast Company, in "The Costs of Ignoring Employee Engagement," suggests that organizations (and I would argue both in the public and private sector) with high employee engagement reap the following performance outcomes:

* 37% lower absenteeism
* 25% lower turnover (in high-turnover organizations)
* 65% lower turnover (in low-turnover organizations)
* 28% less shrinkage
* 48% fewer safety incidents
* 41% fewer patient safety incidents
* 41% fewer quality incidents (defects)
* 10% higher customer metrics
* 21% higher productivity
* 22% higher profitability

Now...I don't know about "28% less shrinkage."  Sounds like something from a Seinfeld episode!!  But these are all positive results from leaders who get out from behind their computers and directly engage their employees. These are organizations with character, led by leaders who set the tone for their organization.  This is what we get from real, positive, purposeful leadership.  The same article then goes on to suggest these 5 things that leaders can do to influence this:

1. The organization is the most powerful influencer of employee engagement. In other words, the structure of management systems and processes heavily affect the level of a worker’s interest in his or her job.

2. There is no single “right model” for a high-performance culture; the most effective approach depends on an organization’s strategic priorities.  Leaders determine the appropriate approach and work tirelessly to ensure penetration to every level of the organization.

3. Employees are eager to invest more of themselves to help the company succeed, but want to understand what’s in it for them.  Leaders get the most from their people.  Employees willingly align their best efforts to acheive the best for the team.

4. Senior leaders need to make the leap to a more inspirational and engaging style of leadership to help drive higher engagement.  Don't lead through email.  Get up, get out, and get going!

5. Companies need to understand their employees as well as they understand their customers to design a work environment and experience that will drive higher engagement and performance. Find out what it takes to motivate people, each of whom is different, and ENGAGE!!

So, if you are a leader and you read these areas, insert your name where you see, "Companies need to...."  This is what we expect from our leaders, who recognize that effective organizations are the direct result of effective, engaged employees.  There are no excuses for not doing this.  Don't blame the budget cuts or point fingers at someone or something else.  YOU, Mr. or Mrs. Government Leader, are responsible for your people and everything they do. 

For the rest of us, let's demand better from our public sector leaders. Let's insist that public sector leaders go through rigoruous selection processes to determine if they are cut out for leadership and that there is an appropriate injection of leadership training throughout their professional journey. Let's ensure that before we appoint people to positions in which they must balance budgets, hire/fire, establish a culture of innovation and character, and take on increasingly challenging and complex issues, that they have the bona fides to do so. 

In other words, let's demand the same thing from the public sector that we expect from those in the private sector.  No more/no less.  These things are fixable.  Competent, well-trained leaders can identify priorities and effectively set goals.  Capable leaders can communicate with their team and create a motivational climate.  Effective leaders can engage their people and set the conditions for organizational success.  I have seen pockets of excellence at the municipal, county, state, and federal level.  So, there are no excuses.  Don't make us go all "Donald Trump" on you.  Step up and start leading.

If we don't, this problem will only get worse.  Leadership truly matters.  Now more than ever.  And the picture below suggests, is Leader Business!!

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Innovation is often the result of random conversations -- collisions -- where ideas outside your industry are applied to your own.  We want to acccelerate those collisions among people.  Tony Hsieh, CEO Zappos

I’ve been challenging the leaders with whom I am doing executive coaching to think differently about how to generate new ideas and creative solutions.  Too often, we default to traditional sources such as discussion with peers or attendance at industry or trade group events.  Not that these are bad things but, if this is the only exposure to different ways of thinking, don’t be surprised when we find ourselves limited to traditional solutions.  We need to seek out collisions.

Several years ago, my brother introduced me to Fast Company magazine.  With heavy components of design, IT, and sustainability, it was not really connected to my own profession (at the time military engineering).  But, I am quite certain that I took some idea from every issue and have been a loyal subscriber for almost 15 years now.  I find the same thing in Inc. magazine, a periodical devoted to entrepreneurs and creativity in business.  I’ve got stacks of pages I have ripped out, saving for some later use.  I am quite certain my military teams benefitted from these ideas, all from quite different settings.
Whatever it might be, we need collisions.  I have been to a few of my buddy Steve’s monthly Ripple sessions.  These are networking groups in Austin with amazing diversity, people with whom I would otherwise never meet, yet ideas I would most certainly be a fool to miss.  These events (Steve calls them Ripples) generate collisions – with people, ideas, and concepts different than my own.  They may not be perfectly aligned with what I do but they may be enough to move my thinking in a direction I otherwise may never choose.

The same can be said for the relationships we make and the friends we collect.  We need to be intentional about seeking out people and ideas different from our own.  The dialogue may not change our perspective but it will most certainly help strengthen our arguments, identify weaknesses in our positions, and cause us to examine our assumptions.  Two of my dearest friends could not be further from me politically.  Yet, every time I am with them, I am inspired by their passionate convictions and the energy they have for what they do.  They both make me think and for those collisions, I am thankful. 
Finally, leaders are responsible for creating collisions within their organizations.  From the April 2013 Inc. magazine, “Teams produce many more ideas when team members are encouraged to challenge one another in a debate setting, according to a 2004 study in The European Journal of Social Psychology.”  Co-author of the study, Jack Goncalo, a professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, says that debate “makes people diverge, so it reduces conformity.  It also fosters competition.”  Leaders seek opportunities for this sort of healthy debate in meetings and when evaluating alternatives for solving problems.  These collisions, not between people but among competing ideas, are exactly what we need in our organizations to help break the mold and broaden our thinking.

As leaders, we cannot allow ourselves to be satisfied with the status quo.  We must keep growing, keep developing.  Sometimes, a good, solid collision is exactly what we need.
Let’s commit to collisions today.  Subscribe to a magazine, pick up a book, or join a group that is different than your norm.  Generate some healthy debate in your meetings.  Get outside of your comfort zone.  Do yourself a favor though.  Have a pen and paper handy.  You never know when one of those collisions might be a game-changer.  That’s LeaderBusiness.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Know Yourself

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”  Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese general, had it right.  The first step toward victory is to know yourself.  In battle, it means to know your strengths (and how to leverage them) and your weaknesses (and how to protect them).  It means that before entering the arena, leaders must make an accounting for who they are and what they bring to the fight.
I believe this fundamental first step is absolutely the case in any leadership position.  Leaders must know themselves before they can lead others.  They must recognize how they are wired, how they respond under stress, and how they process information in order to be able to give and receive orders or to attempt to lead others.  Leaders must first and foremost be comfortable in their own skin, with a high degree of self-awareness about strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies.  Once they do, they can recognize how they process information and clearly articulate expectations to others.

In Academy Leadership, we offer 3-day leadership workshops (Boot Camps) in which we spend the first day focusing almost entirely on "knowing yourself."  Two of the key components of this first day are the Energize2LeadTM profile and the development of the "Personal Leadership Philosophy."  They really are critical first steps on a leader's journey to know one's self.
Energize2LeadTM (E2L).  We are all wired differently.  Surprised?  Don't be!  You are lucky if 1 out of every 4 people are wired like you.  More than likely, it is not even that many.  In all likelihood, the people around you have different motivations, likes/dislikes, and respond to pressure in ways that you do not.  It is important for leaders to know this about themselves.  For example, my E2L personality profile reveals that I am energized when I can think creatively, make plans, and operate as an entrepreneur.  I'm not good at keeping records or following strict procedures.  Don't tell me how to do something.  Rather, tell me what needs to be done and why -- and I'll figure out the rest. 
Some people work well in teams.  Others are driven to execute.  Some people thrive in a regulated environment while others enjoy freedom and independence.  The point is, each of us has unique wiring that makes us who we are.  When we operate "with the grain," we take on jobs and work in environments that take advantage of our strengths.  Does this mean that a person like me cannot work in a regulated environment, or do detailed spreadsheets, or document processes?  No...but I won't like it!  I can get it done but will be exhausted when I finish.
When I take the effort to understand myself, I can gain a better understanding of those around me.  I can recognize how and why people are different.  At the same time, I can assemble teams in which people complement each other, where strengths and weaknesses can balance out.  One of the things we do in our E2L workshops is produce a "team sheet" that shows the combination of the hard wirings of the members of a particular team.  This yields tremendous insight on how the team is wired and/or who might need to take the lead on particular roles in order to get the mission done.  I know, for example, that for any team I lead, I better have a detail-oriented deputy to keep me on track.  Leaders who know themselves, know how to position themselves and their team for success.
Personal Leadership Philosophy.  Leaders who know themselves, take the time to explain who they are, how they operate, and what they expect from those they lead.  This is the beginning of transparency within an organization.  It leads to consistency from leaders who have clearly articulated their standards to people who can know exactly where their leader stands, how they wish to be communicated with, and what they value.  In simple math, transparency plus consistency yields mutual trust within any team.  No team can be successful, in any arena, without a high degree of trust for their leader.
In Academy Leadership (as well as in the Thayer Leader Development Group's programs at West Point), we emphasize the importance of the personal leadership philosophy.  We deliberately work with leaders to help them articulate their values, priorities, and idiosyncracies, putting their hard wiring on paper to share with others.  While painful to do (especially for engineers like me!), it is key to knowing yourself.  Written out, in about 500 words or so, it says to our teammates, "This is who I am and how I operate.  Hold me accountable to this standard."  Refreshing, isn't it?  No surprises, no hidden agendas.  You know exactly where you stand and what to expect from a leader who articulates his/her leadership philosophy and asks for feedback if they aren't living up to those standards.  Barriers come down, doors open, and people trust each other.  It happens when leaders know who they are -- and share it with those they lead.
So, what about you?  Have you taken the time to really understand who you are, what you value, how you are energized, and how you deal with stress?  Believe me, your teammates want to know this about you.  They want to be led by a warrior who strives for the best from himself, as well as from others. 
Sun Tzu said that a leader who knows the enemy and himself cannot be defeated.   I think that when we fail to take this critical first step, we become our own worst enemy.  We try to be something we are not.  We try to hide our weaknesses or blind spots, rather than accounting for them with the support and interaction of others.  Have no doubt, when the enemy is us, we can forget being successful in battle, let alone having people who will willingly join our team. 
Your troops deserve better.  Know yourself.  Take some steps to be the best YOU that you can.  That is the first step toward victory -- on any battlefield.  That's Leader Business.
P.S.  If you want more information about "knowing yourself," drop me a note.  I've got a big mirror that I would be happy to lend to you!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The "Buzz" About Leadership

At a recent presentation I made in Orange County, a woman asked about the importance of charisma in leadership.  She thought I had sort of an automatic advantage because of my height and size (6'4" and 240 lbs).  To some extent, she's onto something.  Research suggests that when it comes to communication, words only account for 7% of the conveyed message, while 38% is manner, tone, and voice, and the remaining 55% are the accompanying non-verbals, body language, etc. 

So yes, we inspire and motivate people to action through the power of ideas, i.e. what we say, but apparently even more so with how we say it and how we connect with others.  What can we take away from this? 

1.  If email is your preferred communication style, then be sure that much of the message can be / will be lost.  Even if you use ALL CAPS for voice and tone, the lack of non-verbals makes it difficult to ensure that the message is received the way you intended.  Face to face is always best.

2.  If you have a strong message and are frustrated with why it doesn't seem to resonate with others, perhaps you need to work on the other 93%!  Take a communication class or join a group like Toastmasters to improve how you say what you say.

3.  Consistency matters.  To me, charisma is not just smooth talk, but rather alignment between what you say, what you do, and how you say it.  In other words, try saying a positive message, with strong tone and voice, but your hands in your pockets and head down, staring at your shoes.  The message will still be lost.  Charisma is gained by those who can leverage words, tone, and body language together.  Charisma in leadership is leveraged by those whose actions align with their words, compelling people to action.  You want a positive, inspirational message?  Be positive and inspirational!  You want people to be motivated to bold, aggressive action?  Be motivated, bold, and aggressive!  In other words, make sure people see your action.

So now, an insider secret.  Take a look at the little blue guy at the top of this article, inspiring and rallying his troops.  He is leveraging a scientific formula that I read about this month.  It seems that the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business found that there was something we (okay...mostly men) can do to appear more dominant, confident and masculine -- as well as appear 4 years older, 1 inch taller, and 13% stronger.  All good things.  What is it?

Yep.  Just like the blue guy!  A shaved head apparently communicates the non-verbal communication of confidence.  You see, I'm really only 5'9" and 160 pounds.  I just look bigger now that I have given up fighting my cursed genetics.  Thanks Mom!  Interestingly, the same study also found that men with shaved heads were thought to be considerably less attractive.  I choose to ignore that part and attribute it to bad data.  Haha!

Okay, so this particular technique may only help half our readership here!  But for all of us, the importance of aligning what we say with how we say it and how we live it is absolutely vital.  If we want those we lead to have confidence in us, we need to have confidence in ourselves.  Speak with passion.  Look people in the eye.  Be strong.  Apparently it is not the fancy words that inspire people to follow.  It's conviction about purpose and communicating that from every pore!  It's just that for some of us, like the bald blue man...those pores are a little less...encumbered!


Communication with purpose is one of the elements of the "Leadership Excellence Course & Executive Coaching" programs that I lead through Academy Leadership.  These programs in Southern California are highly impactful, action-oriented, small-group sessions targeting leaders and project managers.  PMPs receive 36 PDUs for completion.

Upcoming sessions in Southern California for 2013 include:

12-14 March        San Diego
2-4 April              Orange County (Irvine)
7-9 May               Los Angeles
11-13 June           San Diego
25-27 June           Orange County (Irvine)
9-11 September    Los Angeles
7-9 October          San Diego
4-6 November      San Diego
9-11 December    Orange County (Irvine)

To get a brochure for this program, go hereContact me for any questions, group rates, or discount codes!  I'd love to see you in these programs.

I'll bring the clippers!

That's Leader Business!