Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Curious or Critical?

A million years ago I was coming off a successful operating executive experience and landed the CEO job I had always wanted.  I was 35 years young and eager to make my mark.

As you do at the beginning of a new job, I was meeting with people at all levels, key stakeholders, long-term employees and new ones alike.  The Board gave me great freedom to move about and explore the landscape.  In my enthusiastic self, everyone seemed happy to hear what I had to say and seemed ready to march to the new beat that I brought.  Perhaps.

Within a few weeks, I began to notice that while people were happy to talk, they really weren't all that interested in changing anything.  They were committed to the way they had always done things.  "But, where do I get to leave my mark?" I began to lament to myself.  "These people are stuck in an old mindset,  they have no plan, they are entrenched and all the power is being held by the wrong people.  Can't they see it?"  I became more and more critical.  Disillusioned.

About 90 days in, the HR Manager came into my office and shut the door.  Rarely is it a good thing when the HR Manager shuts the door.  So, I braced myself.

"You know Vince," she said, "This place has somehow managed to survive for almost 100 years before you got here.  From your questions and the way you are moving about, it sounds like you don't think we've ever done anything right.  You might get a better response if you showed up with a little more curiosity."

Hmm.  Her 2x4 upside my head hurt.

And, I heard her. I had been coming from a place of criticism.  I saw problems with the way things were being done and my questions were digging in to clarify and confirm that my criticisms were correct and that things needed to change.  Instead of appreciating what was going right, I had been on a hunt to verify what was wrong.  And, the troops were pushing back against me, defending themselves, and drawing the battle lines.  Yikes!

So, did I make a course correction?  I like to think so!  Within a year or so I looked around the room and realized that more people were paddling with me than against me.  I noticed that we were aspiring to a vision that seemed to be embraced by all.  A few people had left and I had made a couple of key hires which had helped solidify the team.  Appreciation and curiosity seemed to be more the norm than criticism and defense.

My sense is that over time, curiosity wins the day over criticism.  Not a big surprise, but sometimes surprising that I need to learn it over and over again.

As I look at my life today, am I coming from a place of curiosity or criticism?



Saturday, November 11, 2017


For nearly twenty years I have had a regular Friday morning coffee group.  First in south Orange County and then Palm Springs, these guys have become some of my closest confidantes and friends.  Someone asked me the other day, "How does it work?"
  1. Find four to six people.  Commit with one another. 
  2. Pick a spot.  I like public coffee shops with dispersed seating or a little privacy. 
  3. Pick a regular meeting time.  Usually 60-90 minutes.  I like mornings.
  4. Show up.  Even if only one of you is in town/available that week, still show up.  You'll enjoy coffee by yourself thinking about your friends.
  5. Agree on a little structure.
    • Quick Check In:  "What are three words that describe you today?"
    • Conversation Question:  Whoever is moderating today picks a good question and answers it first.  An example:  "If you could be world-class in anything, what would it be?"  No long conversation.  Just a way to engage.
    • Brief Personal Updates:  4-5 minutes per person, uninterrupted, no questions.  I like giving "three headlines" or quick summaries and then unpack one in more detail:  "Here are the facts... the stories I make up... how I feel... and what I want.  My next steps are..."
    • After everyone has a turn, close with appreciations and action commitments. 
The Big Idea is to create a space to give the story of your life some airtime, without being fixed, analyzed, solved, or judged.  Keep it safe and confidential.  Try it.  And, reach out if I can help you set it up.  Super easy.  Very powerful.



Monday, September 25, 2017

Where is the King?

Facilitating a team retreat the other day and I shared, "The King has every right to leave the castle and head off into battle. But when they do, they put the kingdom at risk."

"That's cool Vince.  What are you talking about?" the group asked.

Let's unpack this a bit.  When I think of all the great stories of knights and castles and courts and ladies, there are always certain characters that show up.  The King... The Warrior... The Lover... the Wizard... and what I've learned is that these characters (or archetypes) have a certain place in each of us right here right now.  We each have an "Inner King" and an "Inner Warrior" and I believe it serves us well to get to know these parts. 

So, when I think about the "King" in me (or the "Sovereign"), I am thinking about that part of me that holds, comforts, initiates, and decides things.  That's what Kings do!  I need my "Inner Sovereign" to be online and not get too caught up in the day to day grind of what's in front of me at this moment.  I need my Inner King to hold the balance between protecting and expanding my life.

And so, going back into many of the ancient stories, when the King leaves the castle bad stuff happens.  Evil wizards take over.  Lovers swoop in and wreak havoc.  Warriors raid and take their plunder.  Things run amok. 

"Okay.  Keep going," they said.  "And help us see what this has to do with our CEO?"

Think about the role of the CEO.  The CEO's role is to initiate, decide, align with purpose, comfort and celebrate... in short... a lot like the sovereign of days gone by.  But, before you go bowing and scraping to your CEO, let the metaphor just land on the governance role of the King... not the royal pomp bit.

Often, the CEO was the best damn Sales Manager this company ever knew.  Or the best CFO.  Or, the best COO back in the day.  So, it is no surprise that the CEO might have something to say about those roles now.  About how things should be done.  But, the CEO's job is not to direct activity.  It is to define outcomes.  It's up to today's hot shot Sales Manager to figure out the way to hit the outcome.  That's why he or she is the hot shot sales manager.  If the CEO defines the activity for the hot shot, well, the hot shot likely isn't all that hot.  He or she is just creating a dependency on the CEO... which drains energy and risks keeping the CEO from focusing on the more important issues of stewarding, protecting and advancing the broader work of the enterprise.

"Wow.  We get it.  But really, there will be no bowing to the CEO, correct?"




Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What Do I Do Now?

"For the first time in my career I now report directly to the CEO."
"Cool", I said.  "What are you noticing different?"
"It's weird.  The CEO doesn't expect me to really DO anything.  But I better be able to communicate what is going on in my area in just a few words and speak clearly to the end results."
"It sounds like you're being pushed a bit?"
"Well yeah.  I've always been measured by what I personally got done.  Now, I just make sure that an awful lot is accomplished, and more importantly I've got to be able to wrap it all up in a sound bite!"
"So, how's it working for you?"
"At first it was very uncomfortable.  Now, I'm learning that my job is really more about listening and asking good questions.  I used to think I had to answer all the questions to be valuable.  It's a shift."
And that's the difference between a producer (or an "operator", or "the front end") and an executive.  Producers get things gone.  Executives hold all the tension in an organization, all the risk, the biggest picture.  Executives ask good questions, communicate clearly, and make things happen.


Friday, February 3, 2017

How is that Working for You?

When I first headed out to build a leadership development practice ten years ago, everyone said, "Vince, you need to come up with a catchy name, create a website, write a book, get some products to sell in order to be successful!"  None of that sounded interesting to me so I decided instead to "do good work".  And, it works for me.

"If it works for you, keep it," I say!

So for now, this blog and simple introduction works for me!  My practice is full and vibrant and flexible and I love it!  Could I do more?  Probably.  And, I enjoy the life balance of time in the mountains, at the beach, and in the desert.  I enjoy coming alongside an eclectic group of clients who all want to dig-in and grow as people and leaders.  I'm also enjoying the process of welcoming others into this work and supporting their development as strategic accompanists, guides, and facilitators.

At some point, I may decide that "it's not working for me!" And at that moment, the possibility of change will arrive and I will assess the risks and benefits of moving forward in a new way. 

Until then, I'm off to the mountain.  2" of fresh snow last night.



Am I Listening?

A while back, someone said to me, “Wow, Vince, you’re such a good listener!”  It made me wonder what it’s like to be a bad listener!  So, I ...