Tag Archives: Fierce Leadership

What Are You Avoiding? – What Conversations Are You Avoiding?

Your central function is to engineer intelligent, spirited conversations…
Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership


“Your central function is to engineer …conversations.”

Here’s more of the quote:

Your central function is to engineer intelligent, spirited conversations…
Do not, under any circumstances, tell a lie – of either commission or omission.  Do not stretch the truth, exaggerate, or make ___ up to get out of trouble or make yourself look good…
Do not attempt to project different images depending on whom you’re with.  People can spot inauthenticity…  Show up as yourself consistently.  Unless, of course, you are a jackass.
Any single conversation can change the trajectory of a career, a company, a relationship, a life.  Take it one conversation at a time.  Make them fierce.


The conversation is the relationship.  …business is fundamentally an extended conversation with colleagues, customers, and the unknown future emerging around us.  What gets talked about in a company and how it gets talked about determines what will happen.  Or won’t happen. 
A leader’s job is to engineer the types of conversations that produce epiphanies. 

So I was having breakfast with a man who leads a major department in a large organization.  He said quite a few things that all deserve a separate blog post.  Here’s one (I have paraphrased his thoughts):

“too often, communication is just ‘telling.’  That is not communication.  Never assume you have successfully delivered a message just because you have said a few words.  Did the other person hear the message; did the other person ‘get’ the message?  Until you know the other person truly got it, you have not communicated.”

We do not have clear communication because we avoid such conversation.  Some conversations that we need to have can be unpleasant.  We don’t want to confront, we do not want to “hurt someone’s feelings.”  And so, because such a conversation is difficult, we avoid having the conversation.  We have all sorts of tricks that we use avoid having the conversations, but avoid we do.

And such avoidance is costly.

Every moment we delay, every moment we put off the conversations that we really need to have, then our avoidance leads to even more difficulties.

What conversations are you avoiding?

(Oh — and just to be a little more pointed, what conversations are you avoiding having with… yourself?)


In Fierce Leadership, Susan Scott recommends that we keep this form handy, fill it out, and then follow throuh.  Follow through!

• Prepare your own “Conversations I Need to Have” action list:

Name________________________  Topic ________________________________________

Name________________________  Topic ________________________________________

Name________________________  Topic ________________________________________

Name________________________  Topic ________________________________________

Name________________________  Topic ________________________________________

Name________________________  Topic ________________________________________




Coaching Anyone? – Some Practical Ideas You Can Use Right Now

Recently, I delivered my synopsis on the now classic Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner.

From the book, here are the seven essentials of encouraging:

1.              Set clear standards
2.              Expect the best
3.              Pay attention
4.              Personalize recognition
5.              Tell the story
6.              Celebrate together
7.              Set the example

Side comment:  in Susan Scott’s excellent book, Fierce Leadership, she encourages every leader to intentionally plan, and then initiate, those important conversations they need to have.  She suggests that every leader prepare, carry around, and use this sheet of paper:

Conversations I Need To Have:

Name:  _____________________________   Topic: _____________________________

Name:  _____________________________   Topic: _____________________________

Name:  _____________________________   Topic: _____________________________

In the midst of the presentation of the Kouzes and Posner book, I shared this idea.  Take a sheet of paper.  Turn it sideways.  Draw four boxes – one box for each of the four people that you most need to coach/mentor/encourage.  (If you have more than four, then use two sides of the sheet of paper).

Assign one of the four names to each of the boxes.  Divide each box into two halves.  And, constantly update, and use your notes to have those crucial, improant conversations.

Each box will look something like this:

A couple of observations.  If you actually want to help people get “better,” and get the best out of people, it is important to do more praising than correcting.  A lot more praising.

Second observation:  a retired military sergeant told me that the boxes look very similar to an initiative that he followed in the military.  The point was the same, but the wording was different.  Instead of praise/teach & correct, they used:  sustain/improve.

I think this is a practical way to help a coach serve more effectively, and especially more intentionally.

(One footnote:  John Wooden used to plan all of his practice sessions, to the minute, on 3×5 cards. And he was very intentional and direct, calling players by name, praising them, and teaching/correcting them).

“A Blinding Flash of the Fricking Obvious” – some important reminders

In Susan Scott’s book, Fierce Leadership, she writes that she is going to name her next book “The Complete Guide to the Fricking Obvious.” Here’s my experience:  most “wisdom,” most books, teach me little.  But they do a lot of reminding — and what they remind me of is usually pretty obvious.  (So — as is true so frequently, we’re back to the knowing-doing gap that Bob Morris refers to with some frequencvy.  It is truly a serious gap!)

I frequently think about the”obvious” array of skills/practices/disciplines that are needed to be successful.  So, let me give a quick, to the point, partial list.

1.  Obvious reminder #1 — it is a good idea to improve your presentation skills. Every job, every endeavor, requires successful communication events.  From a one-to-one conversation, to a speech delivered to a room full of people, to the more recent challenge of the webinar – keeping the attention of a group of people listening over the telephone — communicating effectively is truly a core competency.  And, like everything else, the only way to get good at it is to work on it — with “deliberate practice.”   Consider these questions:  do you communicate more effectively today than you did a year ago?  Will you communicate more effectively a year from now than you do today?

2.  Obvious reminder #2:  it is a good idea to improve your preparation skills. For everything.  For meetings, for proposals, for presentations.  When you are ready to meet/deliver/work, good preparation is essential.  What you do before the moment at hand is absolutely as important as what you do at the moment at hand.  Are you a good preparer?

3.  Obvious reminder #3:  it is a good idea to improve your follow-up/follow-through skills. Mary Kay Ash was really big on this one.  She said that follow through is just about the most important success skill to develop.  (I need to work especially hard on this one myself…  OK; I need to work on all of these!)  Good intentions are just that — intentions.  Following through is the step that turns intentions into reality.  Are you better at follow through than you were a year ago?  Will you get better at it this year?

There are many other obvious reminders:  it is a good idea to improve your sales skills, your marketing skills, your time management skills, your problem-solving skills, your… You get the idea.  It is fricking obvious that we all need to improve our skills, in every part of our business (and personal) lives.  Because, the better we get at what we do, the better our chances for success.

Maybe Task One for Leaders: First You Look – Then You See

There are some really obvious truths.  I have oft quoted this:  “you are what you think about all day long.” The truth its obvious – what we fill our minds with creates who we are and what we do.

Well here is another obvious truth – what you see is determined by where you look and what you look at. And this oh so obvious truth has profound implications for leaders and what they accomplish.

The television show Undercover Boss would put CEO’s into everyday work situations in their own company.  They would go out in the field, work in the factory, alongside their own employees.  The employees would not know who they were. To a person, the bosses discovered all sorts of things about the work and about their employees that they did not know before.  Why?  They were looking in new places, thus they saw new things, and saw in new ways.

In the terrific Susan Scott book, Fierce Leadership, she calls on leaders to develop “squid eye.”

You need “squid eye” (squid hide among rocks that hide their presence) – you see many things that others cannot and do not see; you are an effective and efficient information gatherer…

For a person new to the task of finding and catching squid, this is a very difficult skill to master.  Squid hide very well, and you have to look in between the nooks and crannies to see the little tell-tale signs that squid are present.  She uses this metaphor to argue that a key task for every leader is to simply learn to look at people, processes, situations, much more carefully – look well enough to see what others miss.

In The Art of Innovation:  (Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm), Tom Kelley describes the practice of “observing” that IDEO follows on all projects for all clients.  I remember in one instance they were hired to design a new chair that would be more comfortable for women in the workplace.  Their design team members literally crawled around on the floor at the office, looking at ways women sat in chairs.  One discovery:  many women were using the yellow pages as foot rests, leading to new design challenges.

Here are some quotes from the book, giving us a little insight into this practice:

In many parts of your life, you go through steps so mechanically, so unconsciously…  When you’re off your own beaten path, however, you are more open to discovery:  when you travel, especially overseas; when you rent an unfamiliar car; when you try a new sport or experience a new activity.  At those times, you are more open to ask childlike “Why?” and “Why not?” questions that lead to innovation.

By studying people of all ages, shapes, cultures, and sizes we’ve learned that the best products embrace people’s differences.

You don’t just send your researchers out to do research and your designers to do design.  You send your designers with researchers to do design and vice versa.

Finding the right people (to observe) helps.

Observe real people in real life situations to find out what makes them tick…
Visualize new to the world concepts and the customers who will use them.
Innovation begins with an eye: Inspiration by observation…
Make small observations, which lead to small improvements — keep that process up continuously, and you will find yourself at the head of the pack…

And though where you look “from” matters, just actually, simply looking really matters.  In the Vaclev Havel speech I quoted on this site yesterday, delivered as he assumed the presidency of his country, he stated:

Allow me a small personal observation. When I flew recently to Bratislava, I found some time during discussions to look out of the plane window. I saw the industrial complex of Slovnaft chemical factory and the giant Petr’alka housing estate right behind it. The view was enough for me to understand that for decades our statesmen and political leaders did not look or did not want to look out of the windows of their planes. No study of statistics available to me would enable me to understand faster and better the situation in which we find ourselves.

And then he describes what he intends for his presidency:

To be a president who will not only look out of the windows of his airplane but who, first and foremost, will always be present among his fellow citizens and listen to them well.

Here are some lessons/reminders for leaders:

1.  Actually look – at people, at processes, at products.  (Think design, and the brilliance of Steve Jobs and Apple).

2.  Look at people and products where they are actually used.  Look when people don’t know you are looking.  Simply observe.

Most of all, remember this:  First You Look – Then You See.

Switch & Tribes & Many Other New Business Book Synopsis Presentations now available at 15minutebusinessbooks.com

Karl Krayer and I have just completed our 12th year of monthly presentations of business books at the First Friday Book Synopsis.

Our webmaster (thanks, Dana!) has just uploaded a number of these on our companion website, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.  When you purchase one of our presentations, you receive the handout, which includes representative key quotes from the book, and an outline of the content of the book.  In addition, you receive the audio of our synopsis in an MP3 format, which you can listen to on your computer, load into your iPhone/iPod, of use in any other way you would like.

The way to take maximum advantage of this is obvious – listen to the recording while following along with the handout.  This is what the participants at our live monthly event do each month.  But you can get plenty of information by listening alone while you work-out or drive, or just by reading the handout alone.

Here’s a testimonial from the CEO of a mid-sized, growing company.  He knew that a client was a fan of one the books we had presented, and wanted to discuss the book’s implications for his business.  The CEO purchased our synopsis from our site, read over the handout (he did not have time to listen to the audio), and then met with his client. The client had read the book – the CEO had not.  As they discussed the book, it was clear that our handout had provided enough of the important content that the CEO actually had a better grasp of the key content and transferable principles of the book than the other person had, who had actually read the book.

If you have never ordered from us, you might want to read the FAQ’s to understand where these presentations and recordings were made, and learn a little more about what we offer.  Some of these were presented by my colleague Karl Krayer, and the others were presentations I made.

Here is a partial list of the new titles now available on our site.  And more are coming each month.

59 Seconds

Book author(s) Richard Wiseman

Presented at FFBS in 2010 March

The Design of Business

Book author(s) Roger Martin

Presented at FFBS in 2010 February

Fierce Leadership

Book author(s) Susan Scott

Presented at FFBS in TYBTL

The Healing of America

Book author(s) TR Reid

Presented at the Urban Engagement Book Club

Inside Advantage

Book author(s) Robert Bloom with Dave Conti

Special Presentation

Mastering the Rockefeller Habits

Book author(s) Verne Harnish

Special Presentation


Book author(s) Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Presented at FFBS in 2010 February


Book author(s) Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner

Presented at FFBS in 2009 December


Book author(s) Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Presented at FFBS in 2010 March


Book author(s) Kevin Maney

Presented at FFBS in 2010 January


Book author(s) Seth Godin

Presented at FFBS in 2009 January

Tyranny of Email

Book author(s) John Freeman

Presented at FFBS in 2010 January

Knowing is Easy — Doing is Much More Difficult (Maybe “The” Lesson of Switch)

“Knowledge does not change behavior.”
(Jerry Sternin, working for Save the Children).
Quoted in Switch: How To Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.

I have really been struck with the lessons that I learned — or maybe, the truths that were reinforced – in Switch. In fact, to borrow a phrase from Susan Scott’s Fierce Leadership, nearly everything that I learn, from anywhere/everywhere, really is simply a matter of the “fricking obvious.”

What the Heath brothers tell us is that habit/automatic pilot is “easy.” It’s going off of automatic pilot that is very, very difficult. Here’s a quote from the book:

Self-control is an exhaustible resource… Much of our daily behavior is more automatic than supervised, and that’s a good thing because the supervised behavior is the hard stuff. It’s draining.
We burn up self-control in a wide variety of situations: managing the impression we’re making on others; coping with fears; controlling our spending; and many, many others.
When people try to change things, they’re tinkering with behaviors that have become automatic, and changing those behaviors requires careful supervision by the Rider. The bigger the change you’re suggesting, the more it will sap people’s self-control.
Change is hard because people wear themselves out… What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.

And they also say, in their imagery of the Rider (who thinks rationally – “If I understand this intellectually, I will change”) and the Elephant (who thinks “emotionally” – “I have to feel like changing”), that “knowledge does not change behavior.” This is truly “fricking obvious.” Everyone knows that we should floss our teeth every day. Every supervisor knows that he/she should catch an employee doing something right, reinforce positive behavior more than criticize what needs to be changed; every smoker knows that smoking is bad for their health. The “knowing” is already a done deal. But the change, the switch itself, the doing, the actual changing, is so very, very difficult.

It is such a universal reality that there is a name for this problem: the “knowing-doing” gap. Check out this article from Fast Company in 2000, Why Can’t We Get Anything Done? by Alan M. Webber. It refers substantially to the book The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton. (Here is Bob Morris’ review of this book).  And here is the first of sixteen rules from the article:

Rule #1. Doing something actually requires … doing something!

The Heath brothers say that to succeed at the doing – in other words, to actually make the switch/embrace and implement the change — you have to stack the deck in favor of change.

Make small steps. Overload “convenience.” In the book, they recommend that you actually put 1% milk in your refrigerator, and never put whole milk in your refrigerator. We drink what is conveniently available. Again from the book:

How do you get Americans to start drinking low-fat milk? You make sure it shows up in their refrigerators… People will drink whatever is around the house… you don’t need to change drinking behavior. You need to change purchasing behavior.

So, if you don’t floss your teeth, buy a small convenience store supply of floss. Put some by your bed, some in your bathroom, some atop your coffee maker, some by your computer, some in your car. Let floss stare at you every where you turn, and then actually floss. Make it convenient — take a small step until it becomes automatic.  When it becomes automatic, you have then actually changed; you have arrived at switch.

Find and use such convenience triggers with everything you are trying to change — at work, at home, everywhere.

Knowing is relatively easy. It is the doing that is so tough.

Start doing!