Sunday, November 22, 2015

Leaders Listen!


Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a group of leaders negotiating a series of physical obstacles.  After each one, we conducted a quick “After Action Review” and then rotated leadership roles so that all participants had a chance to be the leader.

In one of the groups, the designated leader said, “Okay team, here is what I think,” and then proceeded to explain his proposed solution.  Afterwards, he asked, “What do you all think?”  The response:  Insert cricket noise!  Not a single word and certainly not anything to counter the “leader’s” suggested way ahead.

After rotating roles, a subsequent team lead began with, “Okay team, what do you think?”  That’s right, before she said anything about her thoughts, she asked for input from the rest of her team.  The result:  All sorts of great ideas, one of which ended up being the way they ultimately decided to go.

How and when we ask others for input matters greatly.  Those who go first with their own ideas must know that proposal, 99 times out of 100, will be the way.  THE way.  Asking others what they think, without “poisoning the well” with our own solutions, truly makes a difference.  Listen, understand, probe with questions, debate.  Then…maybe…give your ideas!

That’s how you get over most obstacles – physical or otherwise.  Try talking less and listening more to be a great communicator…and leader! Leader Business!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What Your Habits Say About You

Michael McKinney’s “Leading Blog” has a great post from last month on “20 Habits to Build Your Leadership On.”  McKinney says that, “Most of the actions we take during the day are habits. So, we must be intentional about what habits we develop and why.”  His list of 20 habits fall into 3 categories:  Who am I?  (Be Humble)  Where Do I Want to Go?  (Be Hungry)  How Will I Get There? (Be Ready to Hustle). 

It is the habits that result when we put the answers to those questions into ACTION that define who we are or, as McKinney says, they “create the playbook for your leadership journey.”

Mike Reuter in the “Three Minute Leadership” blog sums it up this way:

Aristotle wrote: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Warren Buffet said: “Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” John Dryden tell us: “We first make our habits, then our habits make us.” And beautifully Frank Outlaw wrote:

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

In all of my leadership programs, we call the written accounting of these habits, your “Personal Leadership Philosophy (PLP).”  Writing your PLP helps you understand your habits and why they are important to you, putting your thoughts into words.  Sharing it with your team allows people to have insight into your character and hold you accountable to “walk the talk,” making sure your actions / habits match your words.  It is a powerful exercise, to which I know many of you can attest! 

For those who have a written PLP, pull it out today and make sure you are meeting the mark, that your habits are taking you where you want to go.  If you need a little course correction, let this be it.  And if you don’t have that written account of your “habits,” let’s work on this together.  Read the “20 Habits” article and put a few things in writing.  I am here to help!

That's Leader Business!

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.