Monday, April 16, 2018

Weaknesses and Leadership: 3 Ways to ask for Leadership Feedback

Here is an excellent article in HBR regarding “Knowing Your Weaknesses” and the importance of feedback.
We work with many of our clients to complete a 360 assessment to help identify blind spots, giving them feedback with the help of an anonymous survey.  But, we all know we need to move beyond anonymity and be better when it comes to feedback.  So here are a few considerations that align with what we teach in our programs:

Ask for feedback on your leadership philosophy 

We work with our clients to formally declare their personal behavior standards via a written document called a “Leadership Philosophy.”  We then have them share this with their team to provide transparency and eliminate the guesswork with regard to priorities, expectations, and non-negotiables.  This is a great way to open the door for feedback.  Have your direct reports review it regularly and ask for “2 Ups & 2 Downs,” i.e. 2 things you are doing well and 2 things that are not perfect, to ensure you get something to address. Communicate that you have a sincere desire to learn and improve, which means don’t get defensive when people do what you ask them to do when they identify your “opportunities!”  Often, the best time to get feedback on you is after you’ve given them feedback!  Revisiting your leadership philosophy regularly is a great way to ensure credibility and an easy technique to get feedback on your behaviors.

Ask for feedback on your organization’s Values (or other such known TEAM standards)

Are you modeling the right things for others?  Are you living up to the behavioral standards your organization has targeted for all team members?  Most every organization has values and/or some sort of corporate commitments for behavioral norms.  Inviting input regularly on those standards not only demonstrates your commitment to their importance but affords others the opportunity to provide you with feedback on how you measure up to them.

Ask for feedback on specific areas you are trying to improve

A great place to start?  Consider your blind spots (things you don’t know about yourself but that others may), or areas you know you need to improve. The more specific you can be in asking for feedback, the more likely you’ll receive actionable suggestions!  If you’ve completed a 360 assessment, seek input regularly on those areas that weren’t perfect, while demonstrating a genuine interest in making them better.
Challenge yourself to seek out your weaknesses and then ask for feedback. This (initially) uncomfortable process leads to growth, as well as a better understanding of who you are as a leader. Over time, you’ll get better, both at asking for input, and dealing with it when people give it to you!

If you have any questions about how we can help you get better feedback, or maybe completing a 360 assessment to start to identify your “opportunities,” let us know!  We all know this is something that all leaders should do well, making this…Leader Business!
Lead the Way!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Motivating Millennials

Happy New Year to all!  I hope you set some goals for yourself (personally and professionally) and are ready to get after it!  I know I am!

I Just finished a good book on “Motivating Millennials.”  As we know, they are coming and…they are different!  By 2030, this group will make up 75% of the workforce and will fill most of your Organization’s leadership roles.  Unfortunately, 63% of this group believe their “leadership skills are not being fully developed” according to a 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey. 

What are you doing to develop this group?  Here were some things in the book that resonated with me:
  • As we know, this group needs regular feedback.  As such, we can’t wait for the annual performance review to be the time we talk to them about what they did well…or not so well.  More frequent coaching sessions, specificity on their performance, and honesty in our communication with them (“Millennials are really good at cutting through the crap….”).
  • Millennials may not always value the chain of command.  “If…Millennials think (they) have a good idea and want to make sure it’s heard by those who can actually make it happen (no matter what their rank), (they) think it’s perfectly okay to share it.”  What forums do you have to hear their ideas?
  • Millennials thrive on consistently being challenged and want to learn new skills.  Keep looking for ways to expand their horizons and take on new projects.
  • Millennials truly value a sense of purpose.  What are you doing to communicate the purpose of your organization and ensuring these people understand how their role connects?  They can be immensely helpful in spreading the good news (think of them as brand ambassadors)…once they feel it personally.  They value “Cause” over “Compensation” in many areas of their lives.
Lots of interesting topics here.  Think about what you might do to address some of these issues as you look ahead to 2018.  How are you integrating some of these concepts into your Strategic Plans?  These people, many of them new to your team, are the future.  How you “Lead” them, may be your personal legacy!

Let me know how we can help.  We look at motivation of all employees, to include Millennials, as a key component of all of our leadership programs.  If you see opportunities for growing your leaders, aligning your team, and helping your organization go from GOOD to GREAT, we are ready to help!  You can see our full schedule for Open Enrollment “Boot Camps” in SoCal on our website.  Contact me directly if you want to look at an “in-house” program with your team!

Happy New Year and…Lead the Way!

Tom Magness

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Accountability and Ownership


I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of accountability in the new year.  Accountability to do what we say, to walk the talk.  This really is what the “Leadership Philosophy” does for the leader, especially when you ask for feedback from those you lead.  I’ve been encouraging those who have written and shared their leadership philosophy to use it during performance evaluation discussions.  Once you’ve given feedback to those you rate, turn the tables and ask them to do the same for you.  And the standard you want to be evaluated against – should be your leadership philosophy.  Be accountable to your own written standard.

What about your goals?  Do you have 100% commitment to mission accomplishment?  I heard about a Mobile App in which you load up your goals and milestones and then put money toward those goals.  Then, you designate a charity or cause that you DESPISE!  Every time you miss a milestone, money is sent to that organization.  Wow.  What might that do to hold you to your commitments and be accountable to do what you said?

Finally, I’d like to recommend a book to all of you.  I’m sure a few have already discovered it and can echo my comments.  The book is “Extreme Ownership.”  Now, I don’t easily give credit to books written by Navy folk.  This is most definitely an exception!  It gets to the heart of what it means to lead, to own every element of your team, no excuses.  Here are a few quotes I found to be especially impactful from the book:

 - When subordinates are not doing what they should, leaders that exercise Extreme Ownership cannot blame the subordinates.  They must first look in the mirror at themselves.

- Total responsibility for failure is a difficult thing to accept, and taking ownership when things go wrong requires extraordinary humility and courage.

- When leaders blame everyone else, you end up with a unit that never felt they were to blame for anything.  All they did was make excuses and ultimately never made the adjustments necessary to fix problems.

- When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable – if there are no consequences – that poor performance becomes the new standard.

- When it comes to performance standards, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.  If you allow the status quo to persist, you can’t expect to improve performance, and you can’t expect to win.

I thought a great example of this was evident from the Houston Texans football coach (Bill O’Brien – BO in the interview below) after his team lost to the New England Patriots last night (14 Jan 2017).  Here is an excerpt from his press conference:

Q: You guys have been 9-7 three straight years. Winning two AFC South titles, get to this point, and play the Patriots in a close game. Is it clear to you even post-game that for you guys to take that next step, the offense has got to take the next step?

BO: Yeah, and again, it starts with me. I don't point fingers. I look in the mirror. I look right square in the mirror and I figure out what I can do better. And I'm already thinking about that right now. You can't have the offense where it's at in this league, and expect to win a championship. And so we've got to figure it out, we've got to improve. I think special teams needs to be more consistent. Obviously you can't give up kickoff returns. Sometimes we look like a great special teams unit. Other times we look like a bunch of, I've got to be careful here, but we look like…not very good. And then offensively, we have to get better. It's pretty obvious. It's not rocket science. It's pretty obvious. I thought our guys fought hard today, and like I said, the Patriots are a great team and this was a tough game.

Q: Billy, you say it's on you…

BO: I'm the head coach.

Q: Is it on personnel too, delivering on the field?

BO: No, it's coaching. We've got to get better, coaching better. We'll evaluate…I'm responsible for a lot of things around here. I'm responsible for the product on the field, so I'm going to try and do a better job. I'm going to work hard to do a better job.

Q: There's a fine line between coaching and on-field execution.

BO: Again, I think it's all about making sure we are putting them in the right position to make plays. Guys, obviously they need to go out there and make plays. They're paid to do that. Again, I look at myself right away. That's the way I was brought up, that's what I believe in. I think we have a good football team. We are better than what we played tonight. I believe in coaching. I think coaching in this league is a very, very, very large part of success, as witnessed tonight on that sideline. So I think that we can do better, and that starts with me.

 Great example of “Extreme Ownership” in action.  It is on us as leaders.  We can’t blame our customers, the Board, the weather, the budget, our higher headquarters, our subordinates, or anyone / anything else.  When we come up short, it starts with that person looking us in the mirror.  Every time!

Anyway, truly recommend the book.  I promise some of you will want to have all of your team read it.  Set up a little study group and have some discussions on what Ownership and Accountability mean within your team! 

Take some time to think about what you are doing to hold yourself, and others accountable.  Do what you say.  Walk the Talk.  Lead the Way!  That's Leader Business

P.S. For those interested, you can find the full list of upcoming Leadership “Boot Camps” for 2017 – here!  We have a number of “Open Enrollment” 3-day programs throughout the year in Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Inland Empire (San Bernardino).  Let’s talk about giving some of your team members the boost that comes from this kind of intense leadership program!  We teach accountability, goal setting, and the writing of a personal leadership philosophy in these high-impact programs.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


I don’t know about you, but I am FIRED UP for 2017!!  I have spent the last week or so doing goal setting and strategic thinking for the year ahead.  On the advice of one audio blog, I spent some time listing everything I’d do if I could.  No judgment, no fear.  Just make the list.  Some are crazy and pretty much unlikely.  But, the exercise of just putting stuff on paper was highly impactful.  Some…just might make the cut as I continue to refine and make plans for the year ahead.

Whatever you do, be deliberate.  Whether for yourself or your organization, don’t just think about it.  Put it in writing.  Make plans.  Get everyone on the same page – focused, aligned, and prioritized.  As General Eisenhower once famously suggested:  “Plans are nothing.  Planning is everything!” 

On the professional / organizational side, I ask you these basic questions: 

1.      Does your team have a written, basic plan to guide your strategic direction for this next year?

2.       Do you have a handful of basic goals that focus time/energy on the answers to this basic question – Who are our primary customers and what do they want from us?

3.       Do you have a plan to review progress against those goals?  Remember, what the leader in-spects, the people will re-spect.  What is the frequency of these progress reviews and how will you hold people accountable?

4.       How are you communicating those goals to your internal and external stakeholders?

5.       Does your plan address these 5 common challenges that we find with most organizational goals (Own it if you can’t give unqualified ANSWERS!!!) 

a.      Do your goals focus INWARD and on yourself versus on your CUSTOMERS and those you serve?

b.      Do your goals further reinforce stovepipe behavior (i.e. accomplishment of the goals – by design – causes people or teams to focus on themselves and not corporate/team success)?

c.      Do your goals fail to inspire? (For example, are they written to challenge and stretch people or will they happen on their own?  Yawn!)  Do you have AT LEAST one BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) for the year ahead?

d.     Do you confuse mission for goals?  (Mission is what you are told to do, whereas true goals are determined by you in areas where you will do what you do…better, cheaper, safer, faster, and in specific ways that address the needs of your customers)

e.      Are your goals just “To Do” lists?  (Do this by June 30th, i.e. written as on/off switches versus written in ways that can be measured regularly and you can see the needle move; most “To Do” list items are not truly goals but they are the “HOW” you will get to your goals)  Make sure you are not taking your eye off the ball and focusing on the HOW versus the clearly defined WHAT! 

If your answer to any of these questions was, “Uh…,” then let’s talk.  This is a major point of emphasis for our team this year.  We want to help  others develop fundamentally sound strategic plans, with a governance structure and communication strategies to gain consensus and alignment within the team and among key groups whose help is needed to make the plan happen.  Let’s do this! 

I hope each of you enjoyed your holidays and you are ready to get after it in 2017!  Let me know how I can help!  Lead the Way!  That's Leader Business!

P.S.  See our full schedule of "Open Enrollment" leadership "Boot Camps" in Southern California -- here!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

“How NOT to Micromanage”

I am regularly asked what can leaders do to stay on top of work assignments, yet NOT be guilty of micromanagement. I offer a couple of suggestions (please read and share with others!).

One, stop telling people HOW to do things! Get out of the weeds. Instead, use intent. Spend time carefully crafting your intent (essentially the what and why, also known as task & purpose) and share it regularly with your team. Let them determine the HOW. Then, before they start execution, have them share the HOW with you. This allows you to confirm they will get to the desired destination (i.e. achieve your intent) while empowering them to think for themselves and solve their own problems.

Let me offer a few things to help understand this concept. One, click here to see the article on how GE ran circles around their competitors in their high-end refrigerator line. Note especially the very clear use of intent in the 4th paragraph from the GE Appliances CEO. The rest is left to the team to make it happen. They won’t disappoint! Secondly, here is a blog on“intent” with a great military example on the importance of the leader’s role in providing intent for the team:

“Imagine your instructions are to storm a building, clear it of hostiles, then go secure the roof to make sure that it’s all safe. You storm the building and then head up to the roof. But, you have no cover. You’re fully exposed to any of the baddies that may be lurking around. But you follow orders and put your team in danger.

Now imagine the same scenario, but add the intent of the commander. You are told to set up on the roof so you can watch the north road to ensure that no one comes in on it. Knowing this and then seeing the roof with zero cover, you can make the decision to head down one floor to a room with the windows facing north. From this room you can watch the road (achieve the intent of the order) and keep your team out of obvious sight from everyone in the area.”

Some great examples on the importance of intent. Your team must hear and understand your intent very clearly, allowing them to make their own decisions and think for themselves, all based on their understanding of what exactly you expect from them. Clearly defining Purpose, End State, and any Key Tasks (the 3 elements of intent) will help give people enough clarity on the outcome, while still being broad enough guidance to allow them to figure things out on their own.

It is a simple concept but when you see the value, you can understand why this is such a powerful tool:

1.       Buy-in / Ownership. Let’s face it, when you provide the exact solution, you own it.  People give the bare minimum. When it is their solution, they won’t stop until it is successful. The pride and esteem that comes from seeing one’s ideas become real are immeasurable.

2.       Learning. Rather than forcing the leader to do all the thinking, this approach engages the full brain capacity of the entire team. As people figure things out on their own, consistent with the leader’s intent, they learn, they grow, and they prepare themselves for problem-solving at increasingly higher levels.

3.       Initiative. Know that when leaders offer up their solutions (i.e. they provide the HOW), that IS the only solution that will ever come to the surface. If instead, leaders offer intent and allow people to think on their own, the ideas never stop flowing.  Some may struggle (and learn along the way). Others may very well revolutionize your business. As with the GE example, organizations and leaders who incorporate this practice are setting the market for others, leading the way with new ideas, products, services, and initiatives that truly are game-changers.

4.       Time. When leaders dictate the HOW, they will find a long line outside their office every time the conditions change. When leaders provide INTENT, and people determine their own solutions, the line shortens and leaders can instead focus on what they SHOULD be doing (higher level thinking, coaching and staff development, etc.).

Win/win, right? This is how senior leaders communicate. They provide intent, confirm understanding, then monitor execution, focusing on the outcome – namely do people / teams achieve the intent?
If you are down in the weeds, try this approach. Use intent and help unlock the full capability of your high performance team.  Let your people think for themselves, solve their own problems, meet your expectations. Provide clarity on intent and set your people free. That’s…Leader Business!

P.S.  You should know that helping leaders understand intent…and many other concepts…are covered in our “Leadership Excellence Course” or leadership “Boot Camp.”  Maybe it is time for you, or your team members, to put a few tools like this in their leader tool box. I’d like to help. You can see information on this intense 3-day program -- HERE. Beginning with our upcoming program in LA (Downey, CA) at the end of the month, for which we have only a few remaining seats, we have plenty of opportunities for leaders to go to the next level.  Here is our schedule for the remainder of the year:

Upcoming Leadership Excellence Course Schedule:

30 Aug – 1 Sep                  Los Angeles, CA
20-22 September                San Diego, CA
18-20 October                    Inland Empire, CA
15-17 November                Orange County, CA
13-15 December                 Los Angeles, CA

Let me know if you have candidates and we’ll find a way to make it fit anyone’s budget and schedule! And, as a reminder, program graduates will receive 36 PDUs / CPEs for completing this program (for CPAs and PMP Project Managers, respectively).  Lead the Way!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Tell Your Story


While on duty in Afghanistan a few years ago, I did my best to bring a video camera with me on every project visit. It was easy enough to have someone do the filming while I grabbed the local project engineer and asked a few questions about their efforts on the job. It was an opportunity to brag a little about the great people we had and the phenomenal jobs they were doing. Just as important, I wanted those who supported the efforts of those in the field, in my case the architects, contract specialists, and Human Resource professionals, to see the fruits of their labor. It was real progress and they needed to see it. 

Here is a link to one of the videos if you are interested:  You don’t need to watch the whole thing to get the point! They are raw, with little editing, man-on-the-street interviews.  One take…never more!  Just turn on the camera and let it fly. You can see my guys added some additional background video stuff, easy enough to do these days.  But, the interviews themselves were just ad hoc. 

A great leader in Los Angeles County’s Public Works Department, Director Gail Farber, has been doing something very similar that you can see here: I’ve seen some great videos recently from another great Public Works Department leader, Director Jeff Rigney, in San Bernardino County.  He just started doing his and has been getting awesome reviews from his “troops!”  For reference, we discussed doing these during the “Communication” module of the leadership programs we did with each of those leadership teams over the last few years.

The point is, the technology is there for us to communicate – both internally and externally. For senior leaders, this is a great way for you to reach all the way to the individual employee, to talk directly to them about what your organization does, the important purpose it fills for those you serve, and to highlight some of the superstars on your team.  And, for those who need external communication, why not put your messages on the public domain and let others see your many successes? It’s easy to do and, with a little practice, any one of you can be the next media star!

I was reading earlier today how important this communication is to our newest employees, those millennials. Remember, they have all grown up with an expectation for this sort of communication and the use of tools like YouTube, SnapChat, and Twitter. Meet them where they are and find new and innovative ways to connect people to purpose, you to them, team members to each other and to the customers you serve. 

Every one of the leaders I know, whether public or private sector, has a great story to tell. You are doing awesome projects, serving your customers to great effect, and with amazing people doing heroic tasks every day!  Get out there and tell it. Ahem…speak into the mike, please!

Lead the Way!  That’s Leader Business.

Upcoming Leadership Bootcamp Schedule:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Commitment: How Far Are You Willing To Go?


Many of you know the story of Spanish explorer Cortes. It is believed that when he landed in Vera Cruz (Mexico) he ordered his men to burn the boats, indicating they had no return, no other options but to settle the new lands they encountered. No buts, no outs, no caveats.  Cortes was all in for this new adventure. That is commitment. 

In the final session of our multi-session Leadership Development Programs (LDP) with public sector organizations, as we have done with many of you reading this blog, our clients create a series of leadership commitment statements. The intent is to have some standard to hold yourself to, some baseline for corporate leadership behaviors. Like the personal leadership philosophy does at the individual level, these corporate commitment statements can truly establish an organizational baseline for leader behaviors. Many of our clients have done this with awesome results! 

Where this document can really add value is when you ask the organization (staff) to hold leaders to this standard. Not only can this start an important conversation, it can truly be a foundation for accountability. Leaders can ask staff if they are holding up their respective end of the bargain. When they are not, that feedback can be shared much more readily (in other words, getting feedback on specific statements is much easier than asking for open feedback…which if we are honest, we know doesn’t happen often…if at all!).   

Here is what the Director of the Department who created the commitment statements below shared with me recently (with permission):
We spent a few months as the Management and Executive team developing this document after your program.  It was an interesting process to develop – it assisted us in a big way to take our managers’ meetings in a different direction too. At one point the group got stuck on whether we needed feedback from the troops prior to finalizing. My thought was this document tells the troops how we are going to conduct ourselves as their leaders so what would we do if we received feedback that was contrary to what we believed. When we rolled it out at our Leadership Lunch one of the points we all drove home was if you aspire to be a leader in our organization you should start to live these commitments starting today.

Powerful stuff. What baseline have you established for leaders in your organization? How do you ask for and receive feedback to ensure leaders meet their own standard? How might you, as this particular Department did, establish some clear standard for those who aspire to be leaders on your team?

Great stuff and perhaps a good discussion at your initial senior leader meeting this week! Let me know if you’d like to know more about this process, and the programs that we lead to help bring these sorts of mature leadership conversations to the table!

Take a stand. Be accountable. Like Cortes, don’t give yourself, or your leaders, an out. Be all in, fully committed, in a way that leaves no room for interpretation. That is…Leader Business!

Tom Magness

Upcoming Leadership Bootcamp Schedule:

30 Aug - 1 Sept - Los Angeles, CA
20-22 September - San Diego, CA
18-20 October - Inland Empire, CA
15-17 November - Orange County, CA
13-15 December - Los Angeles, CA