Leadership Development — Now, Then and Beyond

Today a client called me to provide advice to his son who is the president of their company. Twenty-seven years ago, I coached the father in his career. All this time later, he said he still remembered things we discussed and he wanted some similar help for his son. As we caught up with each other, he told me that a lot of his plans, goals, and dreams were realized because of our discussions. One specific hope he'd had was to have a son who wanted to and could take over the helm of the successful business he’d built. Of course, I immediately reached out to his son and we had a productive conversation around a leadership situation he wanted advice on. Yes, I’m bragging to you with this story because:

One, I’m proud of having a bit of an impact in this important man’s life. Two, to remind you that if we work together, you get me "for life” as your coach. Nothing makes me happier than to hear from a past client seven years or seventeen years or in this case, twenty-seven years later. Each of my clients is important to me, and I’m here for them — and you.

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Leadership Styles Vary, But Successful Execs Share a Common Trait

The most frequent reason a CEO sends executives to me for coaching is to improve their leadership styles. The individuals are described in some fashion as "off-the-charts bright ....but needs to step-up-to-the-bat and take control of the power that could be theirs." When I get CEOs to explain further, I find that they mean the otherwise smart person is either too aggressive in manner (and puts people off) or too passive (and doesn’t get buy-in) when dealing with others. It’s an over-simplification to coach the right leadership style because what’s right depends on the organization, the business environment, the company size and stage of growth, the industry, what’s best for the workers, what’s best for shareholders, and whether an entrepreneurial leader vs. administrative leader vs. salesman leader vs. an innovative leader is needed at this point in time. For effective leadership styles, context is everything. But one element is required in all leadership styles regardless of the context: That element is confidence. When someone is too aggressive, mean-sprited, demanding, and critical of others — it stems from their own insecurity. When someone is too passive, risk averse, afraid to make decisions, and poor at delegating — it stems from their own insecurity. My job is to change their confidence level through the introduction of new ways of thinking and new behavior -- that they previously didn’t think possible. Because when they become consistently confident, they:

Make better decisions, more quicklyTake careful risksRefuse to be a sycophantRefuse to tolerate sycophantic behavior in othersExpress themselves betterDon’t lie...or need to lie to cover up their insecurityTruly “step-up-to-the-bat and take control of the power that can be theirs"

Every emerging leader comes to me with a unique personality and proclivities ingrained since age six and honed until twenty-six (or so). I want to retain that individualism. (Well, frankly, it can’t be changed.) But I can provide individuals with new ways to think, act, and interact that coincide with their beliefs and make them measurably more effective at the same time. Give me a call if you know someone who could benefit from this approach.

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CEO Whisperer...The Backstory

This month’s issue of Fortune features Tony Robbins on the cover with the bold headline "The CEO Whisperer."  That is a domain name I’ve owned and used for many years, so I was quite proud to see it prominently featured.  Didn’t hurt that it brought some nice hits to my site,  www.CEOwhisperer.com. Robbins is quite a pro.  We were on the same speaking docket for YPO (Young President’s Organization) in Mexico City some years back where I got to spend time with him and his entourage, and see the power he presents from the stage and behind the curtain. People often ask where my domain name CEOwhisperer.com came from. Well, I’m married to a cowboy and he knew of the man known as the “horse whisperer” famous for calmly talking and developing trust in improving a horse's behavior — while never breaking down the spirit of the horse. So being around the cowboy and his horses I’ve learned that people can be like horses in that some will test you, some will teach you, and some will bring out the best in you.

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In Every Culture, Effective Leadership is Key

It’s always a fun email to receive from a client or friend traveling in Abu Dhabi, Sydney, Hong Kong, or other parts of the world who sends a note like, “Saw your book at the Heathrow Airport bookstore today. Pulled it out and placed it on the shelf so the cover was showing, not just the spine!” Puts a smile on my face because I can see them doing it — as I have done it in bookstores around the world. The publishers send me a handful of copies of my books printed in different languages. If in your diverse circle of friends/colleagues you have some whose native language is German, Turkish, British, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Chinese, or Arabic and you’d like to surprise them with a book, contact me. Drop me a note, and I’ll make them available to you for the cost of shipping only.

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Clear Thinking Becomes Clear Writing

Whether writing an email, a proposal, an article, or a book, my writing mentors have taught me a simple 3-step test to ask myself. It’s a must after each completed piece, but equally important after each paragraph, even each sentence:

1.  What am I trying to say?

2.  Have I said it?

3.  Is it clear to someone reading it for the first time?

Following that simple test, I’ve found that my writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things I keep out that shouldn’t be there. I’ve added one more question to the test:

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Wise Words from One of My Mentors

Reading The Wall Street Journal in the late 80’s, I frequently saw a byline in the Manager’s Journal column “by Jack Falvey.”  Every few months I read Jack's well-documented, thought-out, and colorfully written commentary on business.  His was the column I always looked for, tore out and saved. After a couple of years reading his writing, I decided to try to contact him and talk to him in person.  Keep in mind this was pre-Internet days so I couldn’t search Google, LinkedIn, or Facebook. I had to do a little detective work, but I found him in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.  He picked up the phone when I called. No secretary interceding. No voicemail. Just Jack. I told him I admired his writing and just wanted to tell him how much it helped me as a young career woman. He was gracious, gave me his time, gave me advice, and became a life long friend and mentor.  To this day, I still call Jack when I have a vexing problem and always get a fresh perspective on things. Daily he sends a missive through MakingtheNumbers.com.  I especially liked today's message, so I'm passing it on: "When a customer does layoffs, keep track of where everyone goes. We sell to moving targets. There are fewer gold watches given out than ever before. That dynamic means that we should have a means of tracking our industry contacts. When someone is hit between the eyes, they always appreciate a kind word. We who are in the business know how to take hits. That is not a common trait, especially among the buying versus selling fraternity. The person who would not return your phone calls, rescheduled or canceled appointments, and generally made your life miserable, will now join you for lunch on an hour’s notice. Make the call. Make their day in as positive a way as possible. Because you are professionally out and about, you have the industry knowledge that cubicle dwellers do not. Share that perspective. It will cost you nothing but a lunch to demonstrate a little humanity. The circle of life is much larger than many small people think it is. Widen their world a bit. Brightening someone’s day will do wonders for your own positive mental attitude, while at the same time being an excellent business practice." You can sign up for his missives by contacting him at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Go For the Top Job: 11 Reasons to Be CEO

My expertise is to help people who aspire to the CEO role to think and act like effective ones do.  But sometimes people say to me, “I’m not sure I want to be a CEO.”  My response: “What! Why not?  That’s the best job in the company!” That top job is the job where you can:

Turn things around; make things happen.Make a difference.Select the people you work with.Do something about the problems you complain about.Make your own decisions.Minimize doing things that you think are stupid.Do what you think is right.Choose the chances you’re going to take.Make decisions that can make the world a better place.  (Use your influence and resources for your choice of initiative:  world hunger, malaria, humanitarian relief, global peace, fighting corruption, and so forth.)Make more money (to give away if you want).And control your own destiny.

Most everyone would be happy to be the top dog, the honcho, the chief for the above reasons; but most feel it’s unrealistic.  So they turn it around and act like they don’t want it anyway. But they wouldn’t turn it down if offered! It’s going to happen to someone; it might as well be you. You don’t have to be the company’s top record producer, an alumnus of the best B-school, or have the highest IQ. You can come from any walk of life. You can be tall, short, attractive, and not so attractive. You do have to work on being CEO material before you get the job – that helps you get there, causes them to see you in the role, and increases your chance of success while in the job. If you’re going to work anyway, you might as well go for the top job. I say, “If it’s not going to happen in your company, go to another company, or start your own!” A CEO friend of mine said, “I figured I’m as smart as others running the show plus I didn’t like busting my a**  as a good soldier and corporate stooge for someone else. I decided to be the boss that I always wanted to have.”

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Keep On Keepin’ On In Whatever You are Doing

My book Executive Charisma (McGraw-Hill) was published in 2004.  Last week it showed up on some business bestseller lists, ten years later.  Now that’s an early Christmas present for me! Not only did it please me to see renewed interest, but it means in April and October of next year there will be another royalty check in the mail. I don’t write this to brag but to give you the back story.  After my first book Lions Don’t Need to Roar (Warner Books) I thought, “That’s it. I wrote a book. I’ve done it.” But what I didn’t know is if it sells well, the publisher wants you to write another one. I thought I was a one-book person – I put everything I knew into that one. Well, the publisher insisted, paid a nice advance, so I struggled to write another while thinking, “I can’t do this.” Until one night when I woke up at 3 AM and decided to change the words to “I can do this.”  Went back to sleep, got up and started writing How To Think Like a CEO (Warner Books) which made all the big business bestseller lists. So then I got hooked on writing and ended up publishing my tenth book this Spring, The CEO Difference (McGraw-Hill).  When cleaning out my files yesterday I ran into one titled “Book Proposals” and started going through it.  Although the publisher wants you to write another book, you still have to have a good idea so you pitch a proposal you think they might buy. In one six-month period, I presented eight different proposals to them. Each one was rejected until the last one (on the list that follows) hit the mark. To give you an idea of what was rejected:

How to Present Like a CEO: The Ten Keys to Commanding Authority, Influencing Others, and Leaving a Positive Lasting ImpressionDo It Everyday: 365 Tips, Tricks, and Tales from a Leadership Development ExpertBeyond Brilliance: 101 Ways to Ensure Your Upward MobilityBusting Out of Pink Collar Prison: Career Advice for Women on How to Break Out and ProsperFix It!: Today’s Business Leaders Show You how to Solve Problems and Become Tomorrow’s LeadersTop Dogs Talk: What Good Leaders Do and You Should TooThe Heart of the CEO: The Human Side of the Public JobWhat to Do From Age 22 to be CEO by 42

Every pitch got rejected except the last one, which was re-titled and became my ninth book, CEO Material (McGraw-Hill).  So when I brag about a new book, remember that it came after l-o-t-s of rejection.  You and I just keep trying though, don’t we!

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Red Flags This Job Isn’t For You

When you are looking for a job and get an offer, your excitement can cause you to overlook some red flags. Even if you're at a time of near-desperation, slow down and honestly ask yourself (and answer) the questions below.  You want to minimize your having to look for a job, again, in the near future because this one didn’t live up to your expectations.  And, by the way, these questions are ones you can ask yourself about your current job, too.

-Will this position broaden my experience, expose me to new areas, and teach me things I’ll need in the future?

 -Is the management philosophy in sync with my own?

 -Is it a stable management time for the company?

 -Would I want to work here for the rest of my life – or even five years?

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NFL Football is Business Just Like Your Business

For a few days I found myself staying at the same hotel as the New England Patriots football team.  Naturally, I took every opportunity possible to engage in conversation whether in the elevator, lobby, workout room, or restaurant. When they found out I was an executive coach — interested in parallels in athletic coaching —  various players were open to telling me their opinion.  Repeatedly they wanted to make clear that playing football isn't a game to them, it's their job.  In high school and college it was a game, but pro football is their profession as “money is the big motivator just like any business."

They told me they don't need or look for motivation and locker room pep talks from their coach (again, that’s for high school and college).  As one player said, "So many people want to be NFL players that we're pretty self motivated.”  What they want from coaching is:Technique and skill development (with both verbal and visual explanations)Good direction that covers all contingencies and keeps them from going in unpreparedHonest and loyal encouragementAnd like you, they prefer not to be yelled at.
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Push Back With Respect

There is a new show on NBC this season called Madam Secretary starring the talented actress Teo Leoni.  My favorite line in the season opener was when the Secretary of State (e.g. Madam Secretary) was told about her boss's order (e.g. The U.S. President), "You don't have a choice."  And her response, "Here's the problem.  I've never met a situation where I don't have a choice in the matter." I like that attitude:  With respect, do not defer.

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Pass On What You Learn

Today I browsed a used bookstore in my neighborhood, looking to add to the pile of books I hold in reserve in the corner of my office for emergency reading. As an author supporting the publishing industry, I should be shopping at a Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or 800-CEO-reads buying new books. But I read so much, I can’t afford my habit. Smack dab in the middle of the $2 hardcover shelf I spotted a very familiar book: How to Think Like a CEO. My book. It was a Businessweek and New York Times business bestseller when published in 1994. Of course I had to buy the book. I couldn't let it sit on the $2 shelf next to thirteen Nora Roberts romance novels and four Lance Armstrong It's Not About the Bike books. At the checkout counter I told the clerk with mock exasperation (but really with pride), "I found a copy of a book that I wrote," showing the book jacket photo so she could see it really was me. "That's way cool," said the clerk, and I think she meant it. At first I was disappointed that the original book buyer decided to get rid of it. Then I changed my perspective and decided to rationalize that the original book owner had learned all s/he could and wanted to generously pass on to others the great wealth of knowledge. I chose the perspective I want because I remembered what one mentor told me many years ago: "Your ability to be happy is directly related to your ability to rationalize!"

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Why I Write, Coach, and Speak

Some of the last words my mother said to me before she died were, "...you teach people how to be good to other people." I'm glad she saw her daughter's work that way. I'd just add, "...teach people how to be good to other people while still being a strong, strategic, decisive leader." You can do both; in fact, to lead today's diverse work force you have to do be able to do both -- or people will not trust, follow, or listen to you. That is my life's work: To help you be different and better than competitors -- in how you think, act, and interact -- in both your professional and personal worlds. It's not to have control over others, but to be in control of your own world. I constantly try to get better -- to learn new or better ways of handling myself and situations that I face in my world. Everything I know and learn I'm eager to share with you, and that is why I write, coach, and speak.

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