What Building Paper Airplanes Taught Me About Leadership

For me the fourth quarter of the year means planning. Many of my customers are putting together training plans and deciding which leaders in the organization they are going to provide coaching services for in 2017.

Planning is a pure management function that is vital to any organization’s success. Planning is a very serious thing for me as I am sure it is for you. The lifeblood of my business depends upon it. When I plan, I get very detailed and focused on my work and what my work is going to look like in the coming year.

What I find during these times of intense planning is that my creativity can suffer. I can become task-oriented and my leadership life can really suffer. My focus on tasks translates into me becoming way more of a transactional leader than I like or my staff deserves.


When I get transactional with my team, I am in more of a “tell mode” than I like. I get very directive with them when the style of leadership needed is coaching or supportive. Getting transactional as a leader happens way too often to me when I have spent a lot of time having my manager hat on.

Cure for Transactional Leadership

One way I have found that really helps me put my leadership hat back on is the idea of serious play.

Serious play is a special kind of intense learning experience where I give time, energy, passion, and commitment to something I enjoy and get a great deal of satisfaction from the experience. So I am working, learning, and having fun all at the same time.

As adults, we approach work and life from such a serious perspective. I understand that our work matters to us, and for many of us our livelihood depends upon our performance in our employment. We all have mortgages to pay and the electric company expects to be paid every month, not to mention that the kids like to eat from time to time.

Our work has very serious utility to meet some of our most basic needs. Got it! Check!

However, so many times we take this work so seriously that the mere level of our focus and concentration can inhibit our creativity. We get so caught up in the details of our work that we can miss the big picture of what is going on.

My Serious Play Experience

Recently I was asked to attend a certification workshop for a leadership simulation called Paper Planes.

In the Paper Planes simulation, participants play the roles of employees in an aircraft manufacturing company — assembler, inspector, tester, and so forth. Teams have an opportunity to sell as many planes as they can make that meet specific visual and performance quality standards defined by the customer.

During the simulation, teams go through three production runs. After each one, the group meets to evaluate their efforts measured by production cost, quality, customer satisfaction, delivery time, and worker satisfaction. After evaluating the production run workers can redesign the process. Along the way, customer interventions complicate the work redesign and the production process.

While participating in the simulation I got to really work on some leadership items that are part of my development plan from a recent 360 feedback I received. It was really great to take my development and have a playground of sorts to implement and experiment with some changes I wanted to make. The environment was safe for learning and growing. Most of all it was fun and I felt really refreshed!

My Learning from the Experience

As I talked with some of the folks I went through the simulation with there really was a lot of learning that was captured. I think the three highlights of the day for me were:

  • Seeing how important collaboration is for organizational success and how really bad most of us are at it.
  • Gaining first-hand knowledge of working across functional boundaries and how I can get caught up in my own silo and my own importance over that of the organization.
  • How to break down barriers to organizational success and team-based change while reinforcing the power of teamwork and communication.
  • Creates a learning horizon that is difficult to duplicate in the actual work environment. Too often in work, we can’t see the learning because we are immersed in it.
  • Gives an opportunity for role reversal. The CEO can become a line worker and a high potential leader gets an opportunity to lead a team in a safe environment.

A simulation like this was a great way for me to experience learning and help me get unstuck from some of the mundane planning I had been doing. The idea of serious play is not a new concept for me but really was a great reminder of what a valuable tool this can be for organizations going through change or building teams.

Serious Play For Your Team

Why might your team want to do a simulated learning experience like the Paper Airplanes Simulation that I did? Here are some things that your team could work on from an Organizational Effectiveness or a Leadership perspective:

  • Organizational Effectiveness
  • Teamwork
  • Collaboration/Engagement
  • Goal Setting/Planning/Execution
  • Innovation
  • Customer Focus
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Self-Awareness
  • Decision Making
  • Risk Taking
  • Tolerance for Change

My bottom line for this type of learning is that I was able to see one thing that my organization needs to do differently to be more effective and one place where I can improve as a leader. Not a bad take away for spending a day working on my business and not in my business.


When is the last time you or your team were involved in serious play? Would it be good for you to take a day and engage in an activity where play had some purpose? If you want to learn more about using simulations for serious play, or even using Paper Planes, send me an email! I would love to chat with you about it.

4 Factors to a Longer and More Successful Leadership Life

“One of my clients had a profound impact on my life this week. What I heard him say is:

“Scott I realized that I have to take care of me. I am at my best when I am taking care of myself. I decided that I am going to do yoga when I get up in the morning, and I am going to exercise at noon. I am going to be conscious of my diet and make good choices about what goes into my body.”

When I probed for the reason, he continued,

“There has been a lot of negativity in my life recently, and I am just not going to allow it to get me down any longer. I am going to choose the leader I want to be and not be some weak victim of circumstance.”

Absolutely Profound.

Businessman holding two papers with happy and angry face each on them

According to the National Wellness Institute, wellness is “an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.”

Four things to notice about wellness:

  • It is an active process. It is something you devote energy to making happen. It is intentional on your part as a leader.
  • It starts with self-awareness. Are you aware of the moment when health choices present themselves?
  • Wellness is a choice. You decide to be well in the moment, or say screw it and become a victim of your circumstance.
  • There is an end game. A successful existence. This is your life. You only get one. Why not make it the very best that it can be?

The National Wellness Institute describes six different dimensions for us to consider as we examine our own wellbeing:

  • Emotional
  • Occupational
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Intellectual
  • Spiritual

This week I want to focus on your Emotional Wellbeing as a leader.

The Story

One of my favorite authors is Martin Seligman. As a past president of the American Psychological Association, he has the credibility from a research standpoint that is really meaningful for me. In addition, Martin is a gifted storyteller who can weave a story together and then bring home a point that has real impact and causes me to pause and examine my own life.

One of my favorite stories that Martin tells is in his book Authentic Happiness. He details the stories of two of 180 nuns who are the subjects of an impactful and noteworthy study on longevity and happiness. If you want all the details, you really need to get the book, it is a great read. Here is the bottom line:

  • 90% of the most cheerful 25% of the nuns was alive at age 85 vs. only 34% of the least cheerful 25%.
  • 54% of the most cheerful quarter was alive at age 94, as opposed to only 11% of the least cheerful.

Studies of longevity are admittedly dicey and very complex from a pure science standpoint. Causality is extremely difficult to make a case for. However, one of the reasons this study is so impactful is that nuns lead very similar life. They eat similar food, they don’t smoke or drink alcohol, they have similar routines. Sure there are some other differences that could account for the results:

  • Different levels of intellect
  • Different depths of spirituality
  • Different outlooks on the future

However, none of these in the research made any difference. The thing that Seligman points out that made a difference in the longevity of the nuns was the amount of positive feelings expressed.

If longevity is at least one measure of a successful existence, then the positive outlook you have on life matters!

Happiness and Emotional Intelligence

In the Emotional Intelligence training that I do as a part of my consulting, one of the attributes we measure is that of Happiness or Wellbeing. In the model we use there are four factors that comprise Wellbeing:

  • Self-Regard: Believing in yourself and living according to your values.
  • Self-Actualization: A willingness to learn and grow in accordance with your values.
  • Interpersonal Relationships: Engaging in mutually satisfying relationships.
  • Optimism: The ability to respond, recover, and claim a happy state from disappointments and setbacks in life

There are two important considerations as you evaluate your own level of well-being.

The first is that you display as much of these four attributes as you can. Believe in yourself and live according to your values. Learn and grow in areas that really matter to you. Have friends and ensure that there is reciprocity. Realize that things are not always going to go your way. It isn’t if you are going to have a setback in life it is when. What counts is how you respond.

The second is that you have balance between these attributes. For example, you want to make sure that your self-regard is balanced with your interpersonal relationships. If you have a high level of self-regard and low levels of interpersonal relationships, you could come across as prideful and in it for yourself. If you have low levels of self-regard and high interpersonal relationships, then you could come across as needy and not fun to be around.

As you think about the successful life you want to live as a leader, are you choosing to maximize and balance these 4 attributes of emotional health?


Rate yourself on a scale from one (low) to 10 (high) on each of the 4 attributes of well-being. Are you maximizing each attribute? Are all four of the attributes in balance with each other? As you reflect on these, what changes would you need to make to live a long and successful life?

What Hurricane Matthew Teaches About Leadership

As I am writing this blog, my wife and I just went through our first major hurricane as Floridians. As of this writing, we made it through without any damage to property, although physically we are exhausted as we didn’t get much sleep last night.

This was a unique experience for us. Having grown up in the midwest, we are used to tornados happening every spring. With a tornado, a thunderstorm would blow up over the course of an hour or so, the storm would happen, and then pass by quickly. The damage from the tornado can be horrific for those in its direct path and there just isn’t much warning.

Unlike the tornados in the midwest, with hurricane Matthew, we watched the devastating storm for days before it hit. We saw the destruction in Haiti and then watched the storm turn north with winds over 130mph. The storm was reported to be the size of the state of Texas, covering at times most of the Florida peninsula. The advanced hurricane warnings gave us several days to prepare both mentally and physically for what could lie ahead. I can personally attest to preparation being the key to making it through one of these beasts.

Huge hurricane between Florida and Cuba. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

As Matthew passed the Orlando area we experienced winds of 55mph with driving rains and localized flooding. While we were spared any damage at our home, there were some anxious times watching the trees bend and the eerie whistling sound from gusting wind. If you want to hear the sound of hurricane wind you can click this link to get a sense of the spookiness.

We are eternally grateful for being spared. A shift of 30 miles to the west could have meant a completely different outlook Ifor us. Kim and I hope you will join us in keeping those in North Florida, Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands in your thoughts and prayers. If you feel led, I hope you will join us in giving a donation to the RedCross or a charitable organization of your choice who respond in times like this. The humanitarian work that organizations like the RedCross does in times of crisis is vital to bringing life back to some degree of normal for millions of those affected.

Matthew and Leadership

Preparation for the storm. Now there is a metaphor worthy of leadership!

It is not if you are going to go through storms as a leader but WHEN!

Some of the storms you will experience you will get ample warning about, like we did with hurricane Matthew. Other storms will pop up seemingly out of nowhere and will rip a narrow path of destruction across your leadership.

After having gone through this most recent storm, I can assure you that the time to prepare for those crucible moments as a leader is not during the storm.
During the storm:

  • Things are crazy! Information comes from all directions. It is hard to know what to believe.
  • Anxiety makes it hard to think straight. The only thought seemingly available is to survive.
  • Thinking turns inward. Thoughts of others become more difficult.

As hurricane Matthew raged around us all night long, we just prayed for the storm to pass and that we would be spared the damage and devastation that was possible. We saw the pictures from Haiti. We knew the threat was very real. It is funny that during these tense moments in life, how God somehow seems a little more real and personal.

Preparation is the Key to Performance

I am convinced that for leaders to perform during the storms that come around them, preparation is key. We likely would have been much worse off had we not taken the time to get ready in advance for this storm. What is true for weather, is wisdom for leaders.

Yet I am continually amazed at leaders who refuse development, or to work on their leadership during the calm seasons. “We will get around to it sometime.” “We just don’t have the budget right now.” “We are so busy, there is just no time.” “Sure, development is important, we just have too many priorities to fit it in now.” These are fairly common things I hear from organizations when it comes to developing leaders.

They wait until things get rough and the storm rages and then call in for help. One thing I learned during this storm we experienced that I did not know prior is that if the winds blew at over 45mph, rescue workers would not come and save you. If you did not heed the warnings given, and the storm got so bad, the first responders could not risk their own lives to save you. In leadership development often what we find ourselves doing is damage control when we are called in last minute. Why not be proactive and prepare?

Leaders, heed the warnings you get. Pay attention to the forecast. Prepare for your storms before they hit.

Here are some things we did prior to hurricane Matthew to get ready for the storm and some ideas for leadership application:


How ready are you as a leader for your next storm? How ready is your team? The time to build strength and reinforce structures is when the weather is good. Florida Governor Rick Scott continually told Floridians: “Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst.” Sage Advice.

Hope is a comforting vision..and a bad strategy.

As leaders let’s not hope we will survive our next storm, let’s put a plan in place to get ready now.


Reflect on storms you have experienced as a leader in the past. Where were you strong? Are there structures in your leadership that need to be reinforced? Are there things that need to be rebuilt altogether? What ONE action do you need to take today to plan for the next leadership storm? After you have thought about yourself, think about your team. Have them analyze where they are and what weaknesses they need to shore up to survive the next onslaught.

Guaranteed This Will Make You a Better Leader…or Your Money Back

Many of you know I am passionate about the health of the leader.

The premise I use is pretty basic… You have to be present to lead. Leaders have to show up. If they don’t, followers will drift from your vision. As a leader, your health matters. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will? And what message does this send to those who follow you?

As a person who is a cancer survivor, (cancer free for the past 3 years), I can attest to the fact that two of the greatest gifts in life are health and time. Maybe that is why I am willing to pay more for my healthcare.

You read that last sentence right. I choose to pay more for my health care than I have to.

My Story

When my wife and I moved to the Orlando area around 4 years ago, I made the choice to join a concierge medical practice.

For those of you not familiar with the concept, concierge medicine is a fancy term for medical membership. The patient pays a monthly fee to join a physician practice, similar to a subscription like Netflix!

My wife and I pay $3000 per year to be a member of my doctor’s practice. This is over and above the $1,200 per month we pay for traditional, high deductible health insurance for the two of us. A lot of money, you might say. But, in my opinion, it is totally worth it! Sure, it is much more than my monthly Netflix membership, but I get so much more than a movie from it!

I can hear you asking, “Scott, why would you choose to pay so much money to be a part of a physician practice?”

Fair question.

My Answer

I want quality care, and I don’t think you get that in a 5-minute office visit that you often have to sit and wait over an hour to occur. As a leader, our time is precious. I understand the typical physician has no idea what is behind the door when they walk in, and some people are really sick. But come on, every time I go to the office? This type of experience is not the exception, it is the rule.

According to Dr. Caleb Gardner, a physician and resident at Cambridge Hospital in Massachusetts, and Dr. John Levinson, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, primary care appointments are now as short as five minutes, and the physician must spend much of that time typing rather than attending to the patient and performing a physical examination.

In order for a physician to make a living, they must see a certain number of patients each day, in a certain amount of time. My understanding is that it is a numbers game. The more patience you can see in the fewest amount of time, the more money you make. Not really a tough business model to understand. It seems similar to McDonalds to me: the more hamburgers sold, the more profit.

More volume equals more profit, except seeing my doctor should not be like visiting a fast food restaurant. As a leader of people, neither should yours. Your health is too important. The algorithms your doctor needs to go through to accurately make a diagnosis are too difficult to do in 1/12th of an hour.

My reasoning is fairly simple…I want both quality and quantity of care for my health.

I never bought the quality versus quantity time argument when I was raising my kids. There is no substitute for quantity of time. Time and health are not replaceable in this life. I can make more money, but once my health goes downhill making more money is really hard. So I pay $4.15 ($8.30 for both myself and my wife) a day so that I can get both quality and quantity care from my physician. Interestingly, Kim and I spent over $8 at Starbucks the other day. Go figure.

How It Works

In exchange for the yearly membership fee, my doctor promises to keep his practice to a small number of patients, almost one-third the size of a standard family practice physician. This membership allows my doctor to spend more time doing what he loves to do, practice medicine.

My appointment time is one hour in length. I have never spent less than 40 minutes going over my history, labs, sonograms, or whatever other data that has been collected. For me, these discussions are highly motivational. I leave my appointment energized about what I am doing to stay healthy, not depressed about my problems. I see my concierge medicine physician as my “health coach.” His job is to give me advice on how I can stay in this game of life with both quality and quantity. His perspective is that I can live a long, full, active, and healthy life, not that I am a disease waiting to happen. I love the optimistic outlook!

I also have my doctors email address and cell phone number. How about you?

This is a great comfort to me, as like many of you, I travel a lot. It is really nice to know that if I get sick on the road all I have to do is email or call. To date I have not had to use his cell phone (for this I am thankful), but when I email I get a response usually within an hour or two.

These thoughts are perhaps best summed up in the article I referenced above by Dr. Gardner and Dr. Levinson, who say that medicine is losing its humanity in favor of market efficiency. When it comes to my personal health, I am not willing to make that trade-off. How about you?

Call to Action

Leaders, this leaning toward market efficiency doesn’t have to define you. Hey, if you like your doctor and you like how you are treated, then in the wise words of one of my professors in grad school, Dr. Sharon Drury, “Keep On Keepin’ On.” No change required. As long as you are meeting your personal health goals (you do have them, don’t you?), then all is well.

However, if you’re sick of the weight of the “efficient” health system, then for the price of a Starbucks coffee per day, you have an out.

Is concierge medicine right for everyone? Maybe not. The answer to that question is above my pay grade. If you don’t prioritize your health, why spend your hard earned money in this way?

I had a mentor tell me one time, “Show me your checkbook record and I will show you what you prioritize in life.” For me, it really isn’t that hard of a decision, and it is a check worth writing.

You lead, you choose, but you can’t lead if you can’t show up.

How Would You Vote on This Leader Development Debate?

I was recently interviewed to be a coach for a leader who runs a company owned by a venture capital organization. After laying out the situation for me, the person seeking to hire me asked a question I hear a lot at the end of an interview: “Based on what I have shared with you, Scott, can this leader be developed?”

My answer to this question is almost 100% of the time a dramatic Yes!

Man putting a ballot into a voting box - USA

It is not can a leader develop, rather, how difficult will it be for them and what are the chances that the desired change will be observable by followers? My position on leader development is simple: Anyone who has a positive, healthy, mental outlook can be developed through coaching – IF they really want to change. In coaching, we often spend too much time focusing on the skill of the coach and not enough on the desire of the leader to change.

I love what Angela Duckworth says at the end of her book, Grit, about this. You can grow your grit in one of two ways; from the inside-out, which is to cultivate your interests and practice. Her perspective is that you can also grow your grit from the outside-in via parenting, mentoring, friendship, and yes, even coaching. The question is not if change can occur, the question is how and how long.

I thought it might be fun to look at the “can the leader be developed” debate via a case study. This will give you an opportunity vote on whether you think these types of leaders can really learn and change.

Case Study

You have an opening in your organization that has been created by the retirement of someone who has previously held a few different roles in the organization, but held the one he is retiring from for about 8 years. There have been several applications made since the posting of the job, but the choice has been narrowed down to two candidates. One is an internal candidate and one is an external candidate. Neither candidate is perfect for the role, so you know that some development is going to be required for this new leader even though both have a lot of experience. Experience is key, but part of your challenge is deciding on the type of experience you will value most. You get the feeling that some changes need to be made in the role. In your interviews, both candidates claim to be agents of change and have somewhat of a track record to support their accomplishments.

The Internal Candidate

Industry experience is on her side. She has been around for over 25 years and has strong support. In fact, in a meeting with the person who is retiring from the organization his quote regarding this internal candidate was that “Your decision is a no-brainer. The future success of the organization and everything that he has worked on his entire time in the organization depends upon the internal candidate being chosen.” You value the perspective of the retiring leader, but as you reflect on his actions and reputation he really has been a “bully” in how he has accomplished organizational changes.

There is no question she is bright and has a strong network in the organization.Those who love her almost have a blind passion for her. People who you have seen think deeply about problems and how to solve them in other circumstances, seem to just answer robotically in a sort of “corporate speak” type affirmation when you ask questions about her qualifications for the role. You get this blind stare from them that feels like, “What other choice do you have?”

Since this candidate is internal there is quite a bit of history on her performance. Your impression, as you reflect on her accomplishments, is that you are really not clear on exactly what she did. Your knee jerk reaction is that her decision-making at times has been poor. It even seems like over time her story changes to fit her image, you want to call it unethical but you really can’t because you just don’t feel like you have all the data to make a claim like that.

As you pour through her files, your impression is that her judgment hasn’t always been the best, but there is nothing in her Human Resources file that supports your feeling. The feeling you get is that the entire file isn’t there, like something is missing or been deleted but you can’t put your finger on it.

You write down on your yellow note pad: Internal Candidate development needs are decision-making and judgment. Perhaps a bit unethical.

The External Candidate

Talk about slinging from the hip. This guy just doesn’t hold back at all. Opinionated and brash is what comes to your mind. You are surprised that of all the external candidates the organization looked at his name rose to the top. There were several other qualified choices, but in the end, this “outsider” rose to the top. Go figure.  You even ask yourself if you should start the external search over, but alas, getting a leader in position is more important that starting over. It seems like this search process has drug on way too long.

This external candidate has a lot of experience, although all of it has been built in a different industry. When you check around to get the scoop on him you find that there really seem to be two kinds of responses from those you talk with. Those who love him… really love him. Those who don’t… really don’t. Doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.

Since the candidate is external you wonder how his experience will translate into your organization. His external accomplishments are right in front of your eyes. You cannot deny his ability to make a tough decision. Countless people you talked to about him tell stories about the decisions he has made even when they were not the most popular.

As you pour through your notes on him, since you don’t have a formal file and some of the information he promised you has not come in yet, your impression is that while he can make the tough decision, he is a bit of a lone ranger. Your biggest concern is around fitness for the role. Really it comes down to his social skills, and he can at times be unpredictable and insensitive.

You write down on your yellow note pad: External Candidate development needs are Organizational Savvy and Executive Presence.

Your Decision

If these were the candidates you had to choose from to fill this important leadership position in your organization, what would you do? What questions are rumbling around in your head? Can you use good impulse control as the owner of this decision, separate yourself from your emotion, and make an informed decision? If you have all the information you need, what would you base your decision on? Does developing as a leader come into the equation? Which of the two candidates is most coachable? Which one seems to desire learning and development the most?

The Development Debate

You have a tough decision. Speaking strictly from a leadership perspective, which of the two candidates from the case study will respond to development and coaching? You know you are going to have some work to do no matter which candidate you choose. What kind of stories will you be able to tolerate as you observe the candidate you choose as a leader?

You glance down at your yellow note pad, which has reduced all the clutter and noise about your decision, to two sentences:

  1. External Candidate Development Needs: Organizational Savvy and Executive Presence.
  2. Internal Candidate Development Needs: Decision-Making and Judgment.

Which of these two is most likely able to change and develop upon the retirement of your current employee?


Watch the Presidential Debate tonight (Monday, September 26th) along with almost 100 million other people. Since no leader is perfect and we all need to develop, strictly from a leadership development perspective, what goes into your decision? I would love to know what you think. Send me a comment or a note. I am not really interested in how you will vote, rather I am much more interested in what you think about the nuances of leader development.

How to Know Your Leaders Are Trustworthy

Let me start by saying I usually do not write on political leadership. However, November is coming upon us quickly and this election season has been nothing short of eventful. Is that what you would call it…eventful?

Personally, I’ve had some good conversations about the upcoming elections with colleagues, friends, and for what I’m most thankful for, my kids. It’s been interesting and equally rewarding seeing them do their own research as well as engage in conversations to find out what their mother and I think. What I’ve gathered from my kids and other individuals is a feeling of indecisiveness when it comes to the election. What I believe invokes this indecisiveness is the lack of trust in either of the candidates. Looking at their past actions and decisions, as well as hearing their claims and promises, presents some nonalignment that makes voters increasingly uncertain in the decision they will soon have to make.

Hand drawn TRUST process for presentations and reports, business concept on blackboard..

At times I want to laugh out loud when I hear the pundits saying things like, “We are working on making our candidate seem more trustworthy.” Trust, from my perspective, is not a short-term fix when it is violated. The time to think about trust is before the violation occurs. My hope and prayer for you as a leader is that you never have to work on restoring your follower’s trust. I hope that in all you do, you remain trustworthy in the eyes of your constituents.

It is undoubtedly certain that trust is crucial in leadership, and if trust is broken it makes following leaders more difficult. In Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau’s classic article The Enemies of Trust (Harvard Business Review), several examples of how trust can be destroyed are provided. You may be thinking, “I don’t need an article to tell me that!” as I imagine many of us have experienced broken trust from leaders or even entire organizations (even as I eluded to with the current election). Instead of looking at trust from when it’s broken, I want to give you two items to reflect on as a measure of the level of trust you have earned as a leader.

Be Clear and Consistent

In previous blog posts I have emphasized the importance in communication. I’ve also mentioned the importance of repetition so that what you communicate is remembered and repeated by your followers (hence why I keep repeating the importance of communication.) Yet, communication loses it’s value when the message is not clear and consistent. If a leader isn’t clear when articulating expectations, it is difficult for followers to trust that the leader even knows what it is that they want to be accomplished. Equally, when multiple messages get communicated, the inconsistency of the message leaves you with questions and hesitation, not assurance.

Not only should the message be consistent, but the standards of followers should be on an equal level. Galford and Drapeau suggest that leaders may show favoritism to certain employees so that particular employee stays with the organization, however, the leader “doesn’t take into account the cynicism engendered in the rest of the organization.” (The Enemies of Trust, HBR)

Be Honest

It’s hard to talk about trust without centering the topic on honesty. Honesty is a compliment to trust. Think about a time someone was dishonest with you and the hesitancy you experienced trusting them the next time they gave you their word. That’s a pretty basic example of the value of honesty, but let’s think about some other circumstances where honesty from leaders is valuable. For example, Galford and Drapeau discuss the problems with false feedback and a leader’s inability to be honest about their follower’s performance, whether good or bad, hinders future decisions of termination or even promotion with employees. Not only does this lessen follower’s trust in their leader, but it limits the growth of the organization.

Leaders also must be willing to trust their followers. Putting faith in your followers to complete a task or step up in their own leadership gives value and recognition to the follower. We all know leaders who “hoarded responsibility” from an employee, leaving the employee resentful for not having the opportunity to use his/her skills and develop professionally.

I have a feeling we are all going to be hearing a lot about trust between now and November. These are two metrics I am using to evaluate trust in political candidates. How about you? What will you be using to assess whether or not you trust your leaders?

Where to Go From Here?

You might be thinking, “This is an interesting perspective, Scott, but what do I do with it?” My goal with this post is not to leave you with a list of “should’s and shouldn’t’s,” but to simply get you thinking about the leaders in your life. Whether it’s the ones you know and follow personally or the ones that are connected in your community, what do you trust or not trust in their leadership? Is their communication clear and consistent? Are they honest and trusting of their followers? What would help you trust your leaders? Or, an even bigger question might be, to help your followers trust you?


Spend some time reflecting on trust and what it means to you. How much do you value trust? How much do you expect your leaders to be trustworthy? What are some other habits of trust that you look for in a leader that we didn’t mention? Let us know what they are in the comments below.

Would those you lead say this about you?

My good friend Kris Bowers is the president of the Indiana chapter of the Kiwanis Club. A few weeks ago she asked me to be the keynote speaker at their annual convention. I was honored to be asked by Kris, who is a classmate of mine from graduate school and a person who exudes servant leadership.

Kris and I had the opportunity to talk over the phone about her organization and the goals for my talk prior to the event. As I was taking notes on what Kris was saying about Kiwanis and the direction the service organization was headed, one theme rang through loud and clear. According to Kris, this organization will thrive based upon the leadership that is exhibited.

Perhaps this is not a shocking revelation to you. I know so many of you who follow these musings truly believe that organizations rise and fall based upon their leadership.

And yet, how many of us fall into the leadership fallacies of:

  • Leader has the best view.
  • Leader is the smartest person in the room.
  • Leader means power position.
  • I got this far, I won’t fail.
  • My experience is valid, so I am better grounded than anyone else.

I have to admit that I have to check myself often to guard against these traps. Just the other day I was talking with my staff about a product we are excited about rolling out in 2017. In the middle of the discussion, I had a moment of self-awareness. It was not an out of body experience or anything like that, however, I found myself both talking with the staff and observing their behavior at the same time. I realized I had been droning on for about 5 minutes with all my knowledge, wisdom, and experience about what we should do and how we should do it.

It was kind of surreal.

In the moment, my mind took me back to the keynote I had done for Kris and the Kiwanis Leaders of Indiana. You see, I had asked these leaders to think of a leader they admired the most, then to write down the leadership quality that was most admirable about that leader.

In a very brave technology moment for me, I had the 300 or so participants text the leadership quality that they admired most about the leader they were thinking of to my PollEverywhere account. The results of their work were shown instantly on the screen.

Here is the actual result of that poll:


Nowhere on this list of most admirable qualities is: Smartest in the room, Most Experienced, Can’t fail, All-powerfull.

As I studied the graphic, I found almost the exact opposite:

  • Listener
  • Compassionate
  • Selfless
  • Humble
  • Positive

If we asked those who follow you to name the one attribute they admire most about your leadership, what word would they pick? What would your word cloud look like that would describe your leadership?


Spend some time in reflection on the last time you were with your team. Ask yourself, did you listen to them more than you tried to position your agenda? Did you really care what they had to say or did you just hold the time until you could exert your power? Were you able to remain positive even in the face of adversity? What does it mean for you to be humble and how does this attribute affect your leadership?

To Any Leader Who Has Ever Had a Struggle

I recently had a conversation with a good friend of mine, Drew Wilkerson, on some interesting leadership ideas.

I was excited because since Drew was my last call of the day and it was Tuesday, which meant Taco Tuesday at the Livingston home. My wife, Kim, and I were getting out all the ingredients so we could assemble our own tacos: tortillas, ground beef, cheese, lettuce, sour cream, etc. I noticed my wife, Kim, struggling to take the lid off of the salsa jar, so I gently gestured for her to give me the jar and proudly assumed the position to heroically twist the lid off the jar. It wouldn’t budge. I put forth a little more effort, twisting harder this time. Nothing. I resorted to running it under hot water for a while, then took a towel to dry it before I tried again. Sure enough, the lid finally gave way and the jar was open for salsa to be enjoyed that evening.

Young woman struggling to open bottle, isolated on white background.

Then it hit me. Drew and I had been talking about leadership LIDS as a part of our time together. During our conversation, the idea of the lid intrigued me. Yes, the lid is there as a cover or protection for what’s inside, but could it also be a cover or barrier keeping you from what needs to be shared or utilized? Many times it’s our own emotions and mentality that is holding us back.

In this blog, we are going to focus on four of these potential barriers: Loneliness, Indecisiveness, Defensiveness, and Selfishness.

Let’s define the LIDS and consider how we remove them. As you read, think about your own leadership and which LIDS you need to take off of yourself. Which of these LIDS is holding you back from sharing what you have to offer?

This could be something you are experiencing in the work place or in your personal life. It can creep up when you’ve physically spent too much time on your own or you feel as if no one can relate to what you are going through or processing. Feeling alone is difficult, and doing alone is even more challenging. As humans, we are meant for relationships. Although alone time can be rejuvenating, we aren’t meant to remain there in order to progress or thrive.

Remove this lid: Invite people into your world. Whether it’s including them on a project you are working on or asking someone to get coffee. If the loneliness doesn’t subside and you are having trouble processing or expressing your thoughts, consider talking to a mentor, counselor, or coach that can help you.

You may say that being indecisive comes from the inability to make a decision either because there’s seems to be no wrong or right way to go. While that’s true, I also see a lot of fear behind decision making. What if the decision I make is the wrong one? Yet making a decision is going to keep you moving while indecisiveness keeps you stagnant. How can you lead people if you aren’t really going anywhere yourself?

Remove this Lid: Make a decision. As the familiar Nike brand claims, “Just Do It.” Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from moving forward. Making a mistake or taking a wrong turn doesn’t mean you failed, instead, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow.

In the great American sport of football, the defensive line has a responsibility to keep the other team’s offense and quarterback from advancing the field with the ball. They push. They fight. This creates struggle and tension, not to mention it is exhausting as they keep it up until the other team scores or it is their turn to play offense. I bring up this example because we tend to think of defense as protecting, yet the defensive line isn’t protecting anything. They are pushing back and preventing advancement. We can be defensive in our own lives thinking we are protecting something. This could be our job, our reputation, or more often than not, our pride. In this case, protection is a fallacy and our defensiveness creates a barrier and tension that prevents the advancement of our goals or our team.

Remove this lid: It takes some intentional awareness of your emotions to see when you may be acting defensively. Your heart might start beating faster, your body temperature rises, and you may feel your lips tighten or unconsciously cross your arms. Try to identify what happens when you start to feel defensive, why you are feeling it, and what you might think you’re “protecting.” How is your defensiveness hold your own team back?

Putting your needs and desires before others is the easiest way to explain selfishness. It’s even easier, unfortunately, to get caught up in selfishness if we don’t stop to think about what we are doing or behaving. Consider what your priorities are right now. Are you focusing on your own advancements and needs? What about those of your team and followers. Don’t get me wrong, self-care is important, as long as it’s not at the expense of another person.

Remove this lid:
Think about your goals, priorities, and needs. What would it look like if you included your team in those goals, changing “I” statements to “we.” Even call on your team and followers to find our what their goals and priorities are, then think about how you can help them achieve their goals. Practice humility by stepping back, letting them take lead on a project, and praising them for a job well done publicly. Trust me, their success will be your success.

There may be other things you struggle with as a leader besides these four. I would love to hear from you and to have you describe your struggle. I promise two things: not to name you in any posting without permission, and to provide some perspective on overcoming your struggle in a subsequent post. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but as a community, I know we can all be better when we lean on each other.

Homework: Think about our LIDS analogy above and identify one of them that you need to remove. What action steps or conversations do you need to have in order to remove them? What benefits will come to you and your followers when you remove the lid?

Don’t Miss This Shift in Leading Your Team

A new trend in performance management is changing the landscape in the relationship between leaders and followers. In a recent article (At Kimberly-Clark, ‘Dead Wood’ Workers Have Nowhere to Hide) the Wall Street Journal reported on how organizations like Coca-Cola, GE, and Accenture are moving away from traditional yearly performance reviews to more real-time coaching and feedback.

Top performers in all the generations, from millennials to baby boomers, are applauding this shift. Those who desire feedback to grow and improve are ready to get more frequent, relevant, and actionable input on their performance.

Portrait of young business man and woman sitting in cafe and discussing contract. Diverse businesspeople meeting in hotel lobby reading documents.

The Story: A Tale Of Two Perspectives

Remmy had worked with Shelia as a market analyst for 18 months. While Shelia considered Remmy a solid performer, her perspective is that he is not anywhere near ready for the promotion he asked for at his year-end review 6 months ago.

Shelia’s Perspective

Remmy has a solid development plan that was put in place 6 months ago. We reviewed the plan at our monthly one-on-one meeting, and for every two steps forward Remmy takes another one backward. He has done a much better job of partnering with his marketing and training colleagues. Remmy just doesn’t seem to hear the coaching and feedback I am giving him on being more assertive in sharing the data he collects.

Remmy’s Perspective

I have learned everything I need to take the next step in my career. I have done all of the items on my development plan but I don’t know how Shelia would know. When we meet it is always her agenda and some new fire that needs put out. “Be more assertive,” she says. But really what she wants is for me to just be more like her. We never seem to have time to review how projects have gone or even use 10 minutes of our monthly one-on one time for me to get any feedback besides be more assertive. Shelia is so busy and I feel like if I am proactive with her about my development she will just give me some line about millennials all being alike. “Impatient” is the label she uses most. I heard a podcast recently that said if you want to get ahead you had to switch companies. I like it here, but maybe the reality is I need to move on.

What Shelia is Missing

Emotional Intelligence is being aware of your emotions and those around you. Self Awareness is where this discipline begins. Part of this self-awareness is recognizing your perspectives and biases as a leader. Another important part is being able to express them.

I want to acknowledge that there is a lot going on in the case study above. There are many twists and turns it could take.

The aspect I want to focus on is Shelia’s perspective. This is what needs to change. I would argue that Shelia has all the skill she needs. She is most likely transfixed on a perspective that has served her well in the past. The question is, does this perspective still serve her today?

Shelia observed at some point that Remmy could be more assertive. Point taken. Is she self-aware enough to know her investment in Remmy has been less than adequate? Is she aware that Remmy has developed, but that what is stuck is her perspective?

There are three dimensions she needs to consider improving in executing her role as the leader of her team and individuals like Remmy. Using a leadership model like emotional intelligence can give Shelia the real-time implementable change she needs to coach Remmy to higher levels of performance.

Interaction Frequency

The days of leaders being able to interact infrequently and provide feedback on irregular intervals are in the past. Shelia could consider her:

  • Emotional Self-Awareness – Is she aware of the impact her emotion is having on the situation? Are her emotions clouding her thinking?
  • Interpersonal Relationships – Has she taken the time for the relationship to be mutually satisfying? Does she realize she is reaping the reward of her investment ?

Interaction Relevance

Relevant coaching and feedback means that you have the other person’s best interest in mind and that what is being coached can actually be observed and has context for the improvement.

  • Self-Regard – Having enough confidence in herself and her expectations. Not only stating what can change but why this change gets the person being coached where they want to be.
  • Reality Testing – Ensuring she has all of the assumptions she needs to make accurate decisions. What data could she be missing? Is she seeing everything as it really is?

Actionable Feedback

  • Emotional Expression – Is she being honest with Remmy about how she is feeling or is she defaulting to biases and generalizations?
  • Assertiveness – Can she be assertive and compassionate at the same time?

Emotional Intelligence is a powerful lens for leaders to reflect, examine, and develop their leadership abilities. As expectations for leaders continue to change, what preferences and perspectives are you using that need to be reexamined? Could emotional intelligence be a valuable lens for your self-examination?


What one change do you need to make in your approach to development discussions? Perhaps you see individual development as a long-term process and you are thinking about repositioning this into short-term events. Thinking about development as taking bites of a meal rather than dinner itself. How could focusing on developing your emotional intelligence help you make this change that is rooted in preference?

What Is Your One Thing to Change?

My family loves to play games, and we have found a new one that everyone can play called Ticket to Ride.

Ticket to Ride is a fast pasted game where you try to connect cities by building railroad routes. What I love about the game is its underlying premise. When it is your turn, you can do one thing and one thing only. You can:

  • Draw train cards
  • Draw route cards
  • Lay down trains
  • Discard route cards

The winner is the one who has a firm strategy to connect their cities with train routes, then implements this strategy by doing the best “next one thing.” The ultimate goal is to gain the most number of points by completing route cards and trying to get a bonus for being the player with the longest train.

It is Nine Arch Bridge near Bandarawela, Sri Lanka

Sometimes it is in your best interest to draw train cards and sometimes you find yourself wondering if you should “waste” a turn by discarding a route card, which will count against your point total if you do not complete the route.

I receive no commercial endorsement from the publishers of the game, but if you are looking to build some family time this is an excellent game to do it, as long as the kids can tell colors and read cities they can probably play. (I will leave it up to your family culture as to what level of competition the game should take with young kids).

Application to Leadership

I love the idea of thinking about leadership as a game. Games change all the time. Different players have different strategies that constantly have an impact on your strategy and implementation.

With games in mind, I really like the Ticket to Ride approach of focusing on the “one thing” you will do that will make the most impact and be the most strategic that moment. What would be that one thing, one move, or one change? Let me give you an example of what I mean by telling you Bobbie’s story.

Bobbie was a participant in a recent Emotional Intelligence 360 training program I facilitated.

In this program, Bobbie received feedback from

  • Her manager
  • 4 of her peers
  • 3 of her direct reports
  • 4 vendor partners she works with on a regular basis
  • 4 family members

Bobbie’s feedback was centered around the Bar-On EQi 2.0, which is a trait assessment of emotional intelligence with 5 structured domains, each with three sub-competencies.
(Domain: Sub-Competency)

  1. Self-Perception: Self-Regard, Self-Actualization, Emotional Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Expression: Emotional Expression, Assertiveness, Independence
  3. Interpersonal: Interpersonal Relationships, Empathy, Social Responsibility
  4. Decision Making: Impulse Control, Reality Testing, Problem-Solving
  5. Stress Management: Optimism, Stress Tolerance, Flexibility

Here are the major takeaways from Bobbie’s assessment:

  • Her strength was her interpersonal relationships and the level of empathy she shows.
  • She rated her level of self-regard much lower than her manager or her peers did.
  • The rating she gave herself showed that her self-regard was much higher than her assertiveness.
  • Everyone, including herself and her family, rated optimism as her lowest competency.
  • Her level of stress tolerance was significantly below where most leaders are, which is putting her at risk for derailing as a leader.

What To Do

Like most people who get any kind of 360 feedback, a feeling of being overwhelmed quickly came over Bobbie. In our one on one debrief of her assessment, she lamented what most do when trying to digest 360 feedback, “I don’t even know where to begin!”

This is a very common feeling when a leader is faced with feedback. Many times this feedback can be paralyzing, and not knowing what to change the leader will just “freeze” on the development and default to doing what they always do.

I said to Bobbie, who was pouring over the pages in her report trying to make sense of it all, “Let’s put the report aside for a moment. Take a deep breath….and another one…and another one…let’s just breathe for a minute and relax our minds.”

As we did this, a sense of calm came over the room. Bobbie relaxed. (I even relaxed!)

I then asked her, “From all the feedback you received, what is the one thing your heart is telling you that needs to change?”

Why the Question

This becomes the fundamental question for leaders who get feedback and want to develop.
What is your next step? What skill do you need to enhance or develop or initiate? How do you need to balance Emotional Intelligence competencies like self-regard and assertiveness?

Finding the one thing out of the myriad of options can bring a settling calm and a real peace about being able to achieve the objective.

In their book on change, It Starts With One, Black and Gregersen make the case that the individual must SEE the change before the change can ever happen.

Way too many people who get feedback never process what the feedback is saying or take the time to SEE it. They move right into action and never really embrace the change.

Do you know what your “one thing” is to move on in your leader development plan?

Note to my family: Look out! I have my Ticked to Ride strategy in place and plan on winning this weekend.


What is the “one thing” you are working on in your development? Have you taken the time to process and SEE the change you need to make? Are you actively working on intentionally developing yourself as a leader? Change is intentional and it takes one step at a time to win the game.

*If you want to know more about doing an EQi 360 feedback in your organization, or you want to do one for yourself, click here for more information and contact us today!