Tag Archives: Susan Scott

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 ________________________________________




Conversations: Crucial Conversations, Fierce Conversations – Have those Conversations!

As I have written many times, “you accomplish what you meet about.”  (I learn this and have this reinforced from so many sources, but it is especially described in vivid detail, with a clear action plan, in the excellent book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish).

Meetings are simply well planned conversations.  And conversations are at the heart of all business progress.

There are books:  Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, Fierce Conversations.  But I like Susan Scott’s summary of the why in her more recent book, her “follow-up” to Fierce Conversations, Fierce Leadership:

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. 

In the old days, when we worked on farms or on assembly lines, we could work without many conversations, all day, day after day.  But in today’s world, for most of us, we work this way:

• alone, I get “my” work done.

• then, together, we get “our” work done.

And it is back and forth, from alone time to together time.  It is this rhythm that defines out work, and then within and from this rhythm we accomplish our work.

And at the heart of it all, we need conversations.  Conversations with ourselves, and collaborative conversations, and occasional confrontational conversations.

(And, by the way, some of those crucial confrontations are with ourselves, and some of those are with co-workers, and some of those are with our bosses…  and some of them might even be with our customers).

Here is an important reminder:  What is a conversation?  It is this (I heard this years ago, from either a pastor or theology professor, I don’t remember which.  So, my apology for not giving full credit; I simply do not remember the source):

• the first person speaks while the second person listens
• then the second person speaks while the first person listens
• this is called turn-taking (you take turns speaking, AND! you take turns listening.

It is that listening component that so many of us have trouble with.

Oh, and one more thing,  You have to schedule time, save time, take time for those conversions.  Remember, these are crucial conversations, and they are definitely worth your time!

So, here is your challenge for today:  Have more, have better, have lots of conversations.

How good are you at the art of conversation?  No matter how good you are, it’s probably time to get better.

But most of all, have those conversations!


Here’s a Suggested Reading List for Leadership Development (for 2011) – Now, with Update

Let me help you plan your reading for 2011.

The issue is… Leadership Development.

Look at those words.  Think about them.  They say a lot.  Mainly they say this – leaders have to be developed, and leaders have to focus on, and work on, continual development.  This does not happen by accident.  Some leaders may be “born,” but most leaders are “developed.”

And one practice of ever-developing leaders is that they read.  They read books for the purpose of personal development.

I thought about all of this after a great conversation over breakfast with my blogging colleague, Bob Morris.  We talked about a lot.  We share a love of reading, we share a deep appreciation of good authors and good books, so we are probably a little “biased” in our view of leadership development.  But I think the evidence is on our side – leadership development does not happen by accident, and reading good books is a critical and time-tested path to leadership development.

So – assume that you are leader, and that you want to work on leadership development.  What should you read?  I’ve got a suggested list.  If Bob, or my First Friday Book Synopsis colleague Karl Krayer were to suggest a list, it would be a different list.  These are mostly books that I have read.  It is my list of “areas of focus.”  Some of these books are not new.  But they are all worth reading, and if you want to get serious about leadership development, I think this is a pretty good list to start with.

Of course, there are other areas of focus that need/deserve/beg for attention — and other truly deserving book titles.  This list is only a beginning…

So – here it is – my suggested reading list for leadership development.  It includes seven areas of focus, with a total of eleven books.  That is one book a month for 2011 (giving you either July or December “off”).  Whether you choose these titles or not; whether you choose these areas of focus, or not; this I recommend:  follow a leadership development plan.  It is worth the investment of time!

As you focus on: A good book to read is:
The Right Values True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership (J-B Warren Bennis Series) by Bill George and Peter Sims
The Right Strategy The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking by Roger L. Martin
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm by Verne Harnish
Effective Leadership (note:  this was a tough “focus” for which to choose the “best” book(s).  I absolutely would include this Kouzes and Posner book:  it is practical, and extraordinarily valuable). 

Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today by Susan Scott
Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

Effective Communication Words that Work by Frank Luntz
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Functional, Effective Teamwork 


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
Cultivating Creativity and Innovation The Creative Habit:  Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp
Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
Successful Execution Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan

I hope you succeed at your attempts at leadership development in 2011.

Note:  this is not my first attempt to suggest a reading list.  Earlier, I posted this:  Build Your Own Strategic Reading Plan — or, How Should You Pick Which Business Book(s) to Read? It has other suggestions, for other areas of focus.

So many books…so little time!


Here are three ways we can help with your leadership development efforts:

#1:  You can bring me, or my colleague Karl Krayer, into your organization to present synopses of these, and many other books.  These synopses provide the key content, and facilitated discussion of the implications.  Contact me at .
#2:  You can purchase our 15 minute version of these synopses, with audio + handout, from our companion web site at 15minutebusinessbooks.com.  (Most of these were presented live at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  Be sure to read the faqs).
#3:  Our blogging colleague Bob Morris is an accomplished business consultant, and can help your organization tackle these (and other) issues in an extended way.  Contact Bob directly at .


Update:  My blogging colleague Bob Morris, added some worthy volumes to this list.  Check out his expanded list by clicking here.

Here’s his expanded list:

The Right Values
True North by Bill George and Peter Sims

The Executive’s Compass by James O’Toole
The Highest Goal by Michael Ray
The Heart Aroused by David Whyte

The Right Strategy
The Opposable Mind by Roger L. Martin
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish

The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Unstoppable by Chris Zook
Enterprise Architecture as Strategy by Jeanne Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson

Effective Leadership
Fierce Leadership by Susan Scott
Encouraging the Heart by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

Maestro by Roger Nierenberg
True North by Bill George and Peter Sims

Effective Communication
Words that Work by Frank Luntz
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Influence by Robert Cialdini
The Back of the Napkin and Unfolding the Napkin by Dan Roam
Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Functional & Effective Teamwork
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman
Collaboration by Morten Hansen
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Cultivating Creativity and Innovation
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

Freedom, Inc. by Brian M. Carney and Isaac Getz
The Idea of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation by Thomas Kelley
Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono
Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind by Guy Claxton

Successful Execution
Execution by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan

Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki
The Other Side of Innovation by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble
Open Innovation and Open Business Models by Henry Chesbrough

Plus two additional categories:

Leadership Development

Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice co-edited by Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana
The Talent Masters by Bill Conaty and Ram Charan
The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development co-edited by Ellen Van Velsor, Cynthia D. McCauley, and Marian N. Ruderman
Extraordinary Leadership co-edited by Kerry Bunker, Douglas T. Hall, and Kathy E. Kram

Employee Engagement & Talent Management

A Sense of Urgency and Buy-In by John Kotter
The Art of Engagement by Jim Haudan
Engaging the Hearts and Minds of All Your Employees by Lee J. Colan
Growing Great Employees by Erika Andersen


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.