You can’t have your cake and eat it too…

Words are only cheap when we make them cheap.

It’s no wonder concepts like “alignment” “empowerment” and “accountability” are considered faded clichés in most organizations.

This is because leaders have abused these terms for so long by pronouncing them left, right and center at their convenience to present themselves as modern and enlightened leaders only to repeatedly not live up to their declarations and to the promise of these powerful leadership concepts.

Many senior executives say they want to build greater trust with their team, but they are unwilling to invest the time to bring their team together in order to build that trust.

Many leaders say they want to empower their people, but when their leaders attempt to give them critical feedback, they become irritated and angry, which suppresses any space for authentic communication.

Many leaders say they want to engage their people in the mission of the company, but when their people give them advice or bring up ideas for improving things, they ignore these inputs because they feel ‘they know best’.

Alignment and ownership, or ‘command-and-control’. They are mutually exclusive. You can’t play both games. You have to choose one or the other.

Leaders who think that alignment means everyone agreeing with their direction, views and management style and wholeheartedly following them and doing what they say with ownership and passion are simply naïve, disconnected and/or delusional.

If you want to build an environment of genuine ownership and alignment it comes with the price of people being encouraged and allowed to think for themselves, express their views and get the job done with their own voice and in their own way.

Empowerment is not a cliché or slogan from a management textbook, it is a powerful leadership paradigm and approach that is not for the faint-hearted.

If you are so convinced that you know best, you have all the answers, you are smarter than everyone in your team or you are simply too afraid of getting feedback and criticism from your people an empowered and aligned team environment is not for you.

If you behave like a dictator you will trade-off people’s ownership, empowerment and commitment. If you don’t listen, you will surround yourself with people who don’t speak.

The problem is that most leaders know how to play the corporate game and say the right slogans. Some actually drink their own Kool-Aid and believe their own stories. They believe that they are committed to promoting empowerment and alignment around them.

If you want to know the truth, find a way to ask your people. Either directly or through a trusted third party. If you are reluctant to do that you are probably not open to building an empowered and aligned team environment. However, if you are eager to do so, you probably are committed to building an open, honest and authentic team environment.

None of this is set in stone. If you recognize that you haven’t been focused on, or effective at building an environment of empowerment, trust and communication in your team you could always shift gears and start doing so.

However, to succeed you must first be honest with yourself and probably with others too, about the type of leader you have been and who you really want to be in the future. You cannot pretend to be committed to building an environment of empowerment, trust, and communication. Your inauthenticity would be clearly recognized. Some leaders really believe in the command-and-control approach. They have achieved good results with that and they don’t have a desire to change. If you are one of those leaders, be honest about that.

However, if you are committed to leading through empowerment, trust, and communication, declare that, acknowledge your gaps and identify your opportunities and start developing the necessary skills to become really good at it.


Take One Little Step…

One little step stands between being courageous or being a coward. Literally!

The difference between being courageous and being a coward is – Action.

If you are committed to an outcome or direction that is beyond your comfort level and you take action toward it, you are courageous. If you don’t – you are a coward.

If you are committed to an outcome of direction that is beyond your comfort level most likely you will be afraid; you will have anxiety and/or nervousness about your ability to succeed. You will have moments of doubt, second-guessing yourself and even moments in which you will regret having committed to the direction. You will definitely be tempted to buy-in to excuses such as “It’s the wrong time”, “The risks are too high” and the variety of “I am not good enough” justifications. The fear and anxiety aspects are the same whether you are courageous or a coward.

In fact, the essence of courage is to acknowledge and embrace your fear and then go forward in the face of it. To not be stopped by fear. If you didn’t have the fear, you wouldn’t need to be courageous. Fearless people don’t need courage. However, what makes the difference is how you behave when you are afraid; do you take action to fulfill your commitment or not.

I was coaching a manager who unexpectedly lost his job after dedicating 25 years of his life to the company. He needed to work and earn an income, but he believed he was too old and unqualified to find a new job. He was discouraged, and this led to overwhelming hopelessness and desperation, that paralyzed him.

He made some attempts to reach out to people in his network seeking employment opportunities, but after these weren’t fruitful, he stopped trying. In fact, he stopped other things too, like going to the gym and eating well.

When I met him, he wasn’t in good physical and mental shape. However, he was in good enough shape to sincerely want to change.

My conditions for helping him included him going back to exercising at least four times a week and returning to eating well. These were small familiar actions that he could easily take on. I could see a noticeable difference in his energy and outlook within a few days.

We then made a list of contacts and leads and devised a plan whereby he would contact at least one person every day and then call me to share his progress. Within, a week he lined up two job interviews. Needless to say, this boosted his morale significantly. After four weeks he landed a new job.

If you adopt the mantra of “Progress, not perfection” it will empower you to take action.

You can get yourself unstuck from anything by taking small steps of action. Don’t try to take on too much at once, otherwise, you are likely to fall short, get discouraged and fall back into a bad place. Start with small steps of action in the right direction. I know it may not seem enough, but I promise you that small steps will eventually lead to bigger steps. Progress evokes more progress.

The good news is that we all have everything that we need to be courageous and take action. We may convince ourselves and others of all the reasons why we cannot take a small action forward. However, even if our reasons are legitimate, they are never the true cause of not taking action.

Taking action doesn’t guarantee the outcomes you want. However, if you go full out and fall short you will probably feel much better about yourself and your chances to succeed next time than if you fail because you didn’t try much in the first place.

One of my early professional mentors once told me:

You either have the results you want, or you have the story why not.”

This mindset has stayed with me ever since.

There are two types of players in life: those who are brave and take action, and those who avoid action.

Which of these do you want to be?


What kind of leader do you want to be?

The CEO of a large global service organization was a very strong and tough leader. This enabled him to drive, almost single-handedly, significant and impressive changes in the structure, performance and market position of this organization.

His leaders admired the CEO for his bold leadership and the progress that he was driving. However pretty much all of them also felt intimidated by his strong personality and assertive and decisive leadership style.

The CEO stated that he wanted his leaders to be engaged and co-own and co-lead the company with him. However, in reality, he had such strong views about the business – which were often the right ones – that he infrequently actually listened or incorporated his leader’s ideas. And, the fact that he was wicked smart and knowledgeable about most aspects of the business, as well as an extremely rigorous and diligent leader presented an extremely high bar, which most of his people couldn’t match or live up to.

The members of the senior leadership team were frustrated because they weren’t making the difference, they felt they should and could be making and the difference they wanted to make. They felt they weren’t engaged and involved enough in influencing and shaping the important strategic topics and directions. They were also frustrated about the fact that they were not operating as a real cohesive and aligned team. They felt discouraged because they felt they couldn’t change their predicament. Needless to say, this company had significant alignment, teaming and cohesion challenges across and within its businesses and functions.

However, the story is not all bad. The company was making great progress and people, including the senior leaders, were feeling good about that.

Everyone wants to be part of a winning team. Everyone wants to be associated with great results. There are benefits from success – a sense of pride, satisfaction and often financial rewards too. That is why people are often willing to put up with a lot of hardship in order to stay associated with success.

Business success is important, but it isn’t everything. People spend the majority of their life at work. They dedicate so much of their heart and soul to their company’s cause. And, they often make a personal sacrifice for their job and put their work before their personal priorities.

The way you drive and achieve the results is often as important as the results themselves.

Unfortunately, many senior leaders still believe that business success is everything and the only thing that matters at work. They relate to team spirit, culture and job satisfaction as ‘nice to have’, but not a critical aspect of the business, or their job. So, they behave accordingly.

If you think back through your career and recall the most memorable teams you were part of, and impactful experiences you had – what do you remember most? The business results or the team dynamics, atmosphere, spirit, relationships and communications that took place that led to the business results. I am sure it is the latter.

People remember the leaders who inspired them by driving team unity, alignment, collaboration, growth, accomplishments, and pride. They remember the environment that enabled, empowered and encouraged them to be authentic, brave, express themselves, grow, be part of something bigger, and make a difference.

So, if you are a formal or informal leader or you want to be, you should ask yourself the questions:

  • What type of leader do I want to be?
  • What legacy do I want to leave on others?
  • What impact do I want to have on people that I lead?

Stop buying into people’s complaints and excuses

When you take on a bold initiative or outcome most of the time in the beginning people will be excited about it. They will envision and imagine the new and improved future state with all its benefits to both the company and them. Hope will be high, and many will genuinely believe that they will make things better. They will also get excited in the beginning by seeing their leaders genuinely committed to the change and open to everyone’s engagement and contribution toward it.

But like in a marriage, after a while, the honeymoon period will be over, and you will have to keep regenerating and refueling people’s energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to the cause. You will have to keep enrolling your people and reminding them why the change is important, what the new future will look like and what possibilities and benefits it holds for the company and for them.

Keeping the engagement, energy, and excitement up will become especially difficult when you have to execute. At first, people will be expected to juggle both their existing day job objectives whilst also spending more and more time driving the new initiatives and tasks that eventually will propel the organization toward its new future. It is inevitable that people will have to work harder without easily seeing the progress and return of their efforts.

If you are lucky, you can hire a few additional people to support the new initiatives. However, in most cases, the reality is that you can’t go out and hire an additional crew to work on the new stuff while the current team continues to work on the existing things. The same people have to do both, and for a period of time, so the people will feel stretched and overwhelmed.

Most change initiatives fail in this phase, because of these exact reasons.

It takes a tremendous amount of foresight, courage, determination and sustaining power to see change initiatives through. Most leaders don’t have what it takes; a powerful and rare combination of compassion and ruthlessness.

You can’t ignore people’s pains and complaints. In fact, you have to listen, acknowledge the challenges and keep thinking out of the box of ways to eliminate the obstacles and reduce the strains by doing things differently, including motivating and incentivizing people appropriately in this transition.

It is critical in this phase to keep highlighting and recognizing any and all progress, wins and improvements, even small ones. This will help people to stay optimistic and hopeful about the change.

However, you also can’t buy into people’s complaints. You can’t compromise on the key principles and expectations of the change. If people see that you don’t have the courage and resolve they will lose faith in you and the process.

A technology company that was struggling with their performance set out on a bold change initiative to take their sales performance, market share, culture and brand to a new level. The senior leaders were all on board and excited to go.

They set some aspirational goals and engaged their middle managers to come on board with them. Everything was going well, and everyone was excited about the new direction.

But when they started to execute on their new initiative reality kicked in and leaders and managers found themselves confronted with all the extra work required to drive both their existing core business and their new initiatives.

The senior leaders who initiated the change became the biggest issue. They started to drop the ball – arriving late to initiative meetings and not keeping promised deadlines. In fact, they were the ones who complained the most

Unfortunately, instead of the CEO holding his leaders to account and demanding they role model leadership behavior, and despite his declarations to the contrary, he bought into his leaders’ complaints and tolerated their lack of leadership commitment and integrity. Eventually, the managers became discouraged too, and that was the end of that change!

In contrast, the CEO of a different struggling service company also took on a performance turnaround change initiative. The CEO was a bold and inspiring leader. He made big changes that upset many of his leaders and team members. He remained very ‘in tune’ and ‘in touch’ with the sentiments of his organization throughout the process, but he didn’t budge from his initial mission and he demanded his leaders to do the same.

To make a long story short, at first, people loved him because he was going to save the company. During the execution phase, people hated him because he was ruthless and relentless about delivery and execution deadlines. However, when his changes started to take root and pay off from a results standpoint, people regained their sense of pride and accomplishment and with that followed a great deal of respect for their fearless leader.

Unfortunately, most leaders give up too quickly. But, if you don’t want to be included in that statistic, don’t get discouraged after the first wave of enthusiasm and excitement wears off:



Can you tolerate things getting worse before they get better?

Consider this rare and true example: A sales team of a technology company was struggling to achieve its objectives. Team members worked long hours, including weekends and holidays to meet their numbers, everyone felt overworked and stressed and needless to say “work-life balance” was a big issue. 

The General Manager of that organization, who was a bold, demanding and strategic leader, came out with an edict to transform his team’s predicament: “No one was allowed to work past 8pm on weekdays or at any time on the weekend.” He made it clear that everyone was still expected to deliver their numbers, and that offenders of his new instructions would suffer the consequence. At first, people were shocked. Many were skeptical. However, after firing the first person who violated his new policy people started to take notice.

In the first month, the team missed its numbers by 20%. Everyone expected the General Manager to cancel his “unrealistic” policy, but he didn’t. In the second month, the results were still around 10% below and only in month three did the team hit its numbers for the first time in a long time. What happened following the third month was quite extraordinary. Not only did the team start to consistently meet its number, but it actually often exceeded its numbers. In addition, something changed in the overall atmosphere within the team. The overall energy, commitment, and dialogue of the team shifted to be much more productive and powerful, and more oriented around how to do more with less.

Unfortunately, this example is indeed rare. Most leaders can’t tolerate even the slightest temporary dip in performance. They panic at the first sign of a dip, and they often react in negative ways that set the team back and send a message that they don’t have the courage and faith to stay the course.

This is especially true in publicly traded companies and the common justification for not taking risk is that it would negatively affect the stock performance.

Case in point, the senior leadership team of a technology company that had acquired a couple of companies and whilst in the process of fully integrating and leveraging its new assets it was struggling to achieve its sales results. After the first missed quarter people blamed it on the integration, so they didn’t make significant adjustments to the strategy. However, when their shortfall repeated itself next two quarters people started to get frustrated and discouraged. Some of the senior leaders urged the CEO to adjust the strategy and make bolder changes in order to plant the seeds for breaking out of the negative vicious circle. However, the CEO didn’t feel comfortable rocking the boat, so things continued to chug along. Eventually, the CEO did listen and make some changes, but he lost a lot of time and the goodwill of his people, stakeholders, and investors.

If you are a status quo leader driving a status quo agenda, you don’t have to worry about doing bold things. However, if you want to take on a bold objective or initiative there is a high likelihood that things will get worse before they get better. It’s not a slogan. If you can’t tolerate the rollercoaster ride, don’t get on the train.

But, without this courage, you will keep retreating backward instead of pushing forward to overcome your courage and resilience barrier.

The good news, however, is that if you do stay the course and reach the other side, things will get even better than they were before you started.


Are you just expecting results and progress or relentlessly driving them?

If you want to achieve a bold outcome or drive a new reality and change in 2019, don’t expect your desired outcomes to just happen, cause them to happen!

This statement may sound over simplistic, obvious and common sense to you. However, I cannot tell you how many times when I work with organizations even at the senior levels, where I see people frustrated because they did everything, they believe is needed in order to get the result and it still didn’t happen. Alternatively, they put in place the process, metrics, milestone and/or alerts to achieve the result and they have been tracking them on a frequent basis or they instructed their team members to achieve the result, and then they relied on the same result happening as in the past.

I am sure you have heard people say things like “We should be further along”, “The initiatives are not achieving big enough results”, “We are moving too slow”, and “We don’t see a change in behavior yet”.

If you mapped out the trend of any significant achievement or initiative, more often than not it would look like a horizontal hockey stick. If you have been around, you know that things often do not go the way we planned them.

Sometimes what we wanted, but didn’t expect, happens. At other times, what we were sure would happen didn’t.

With any meaningful achievement first, you need to invest a lot of effort and energy at first without seeing a lot of return and progress. By the way, I said, “without seeing a lot of return and progress…” I didn’t say “without any return and progress actually happening…” A lot is happening, we just can’t see it until things begin to take off.

Expecting progress, change and results is the wrong approach. You have to drive and cause them!

Just like you wouldn’t dig out a flower seed every week after you planted it to see if it is making progress, you can’t second-guess yourself, your direction or your team.

In fact, if you want to succeed in any significant undertaking you have to manage your expectations and have the mindset that your job is not to “see if it will work” but rather to “ensure and prove that it will work”.

It seems that leaders who don’t stay the course when they want to achieve a bold result, always tend to justify their failure with excuses and blame. I often hear them explain their failure with excuses like: “There was too much going on“, “The change initiative interfered with our core business or results“, and “People stopped being on-board“. The quitters worry more about their own personal brand and image and how they will be perceived. They tend to want to cover their behind.

In contrast, leaders who stay the course tend to always look inward at the source of what is working and not working – especially what isn’t working. They don’t care about blame or fault. They only care about how to make sure the promise of the new future will stay alive and be realized.

When things go well, they become nervous and shake people up in order to avoid complacency or arrogance. When things don’t go well, they rally their teams and engage in questions such as – “What are we doing or not doing that is causing this?” and “What could we do differently?”

So, in order to achieve great things in 2019, give up blaming others and circumstances for what isn’t working, and instead take 100% ownership and responsibility to get it done, even if it is challenging.

Is your team showing up aligned in public?

A senior executive of a large global service organization, whom I was working with, was sharing with me the challenges he and his peers were having in being able to address key challenges and opportunities as a senior executive team, through open, honest, authentic and courageous debate. The collective trust wasn’t there and as a result, the senior leaders either avoided dealing with key challenges or when they had the opportunity, they weren’t honest enough to reach resolution and alignment.

Needless to say, the senior executives often left the Executive Leadership Team meetings feeling dissatisfied with their outcomes and frustrated about the lack of debates and alignment.

It was hard for the senior executives to contain their personal frustrations and convey a unified front that things were good. In fact, the executives often engaged in back-channel conversations with other executives, and even with their direct staff. When I spoke to some of the leaders who report to the senior executives, they even acknowledged that their bosses often made sarcastic comments and sniping remarks about their colleagues and other businesses and functions when they spoke about company strategy and dynamics.

The senior executive described the dynamic as:

We don’t debate things enough privately in order to be aligned publicly

I thought that was a very insightful way to think about this.

One of the big frustrations and challenges I encounter in so many organizations is the lack of alignment of the senior leadership team. It’s always associated with a lack of real, robust debates and conversations. Needless to say, that when the top team is not aligned the disconnects, divisions and silos permeate throughout the entire organization. In siloed organizations communication and sharing doesn’t flow between divisions and levels. Everyone looks out for their own agenda and success, people protect themselves and this environment is typically a breeding ground for politics, blame, finger pointing, and overall cynicism and resignation.

Communication is the source of the problem and communication is the cure. You cannot grow and take a sizable organization to the next level without the entire senior leadership on board. And, you can’t get the entire senior leadership on board without open, honest, authentic, courageous and effective communication. It is naïve and irresponsible to think otherwise.

Strong CEOs may be able to turn an organization around through command-control. In a turnaround, people tend to be open to being told what to do by someone they trust who could rescue them from a bad situation. However, that mode won’t sustain and scale over time. Even if a CEO can continue to crank out great business results, the culture of that organization would most likely be one of fear and politics. People may be pleased to make money, but it would only be a matter of time until good people will want to leave.

In order for the senior leadership team of any organization to be genuinely aligned and on the same page about the important things the leaders must be able to debate the topics and reach alignment and decisions with high ownership.

In some organizations, the role of the senior team is to advise and give input to the decisions of the CEO. Even then the senior team has to be able to debate the important topics. The senior leaders have to feel that they are heard, and they are influencing the direction and decisions of the company. If they feel that way, they will be able to show up in the wider organization as a unified front and voice that owns the decisions. If they don’t, they will become resentful and cynical, and continue to perpetuate the negative environment. It is inevitable.


Shift the conversations and the results will follow

I can’t say enough about the power of words and conversations. Changing certain conversations can change the course of your direction and results for the better or worse.

People say that “Talk is cheap“. That is not true! Talk is very powerful, but we tend to make talk ‘cheap’ by speaking in ways that either don’t make any difference or that undermine what is important to us.

For example: If a commitment we have or a project we are working on isn’t going well, complaining about it, or blaming others for why it isn’t working won’t make a difference and won’t change anything. In fact, it would most likely make things worse. Blaming others may be based on a legitimate reason, but apart from making them wrong and making you right, it won’t change the outcome.

Alternatively, feeling bad or ‘guilty’, or beating yourself up and blaming yourself is the opposite side of exactly the same thing – undermining and doesn’t make a difference.

People also say:

Actions speaks louder than words

Well, that is not true either. Words are action and action depends on words to make it most effective and impactful.

For example: If a Rabbi or Priest pronounces you and your spouse “Man and wife” your life just changed. If a judge declares you “Innocent” or “Guilty” that will affect your world. And, if the president of your country declares war against another country, that will affect your life too. Words are very powerful. They shape and alter the course of our life.

Alternatively, if you take an action with the intention of helping someone, but that someone doesn’t interpret your action consistent with how you intended, most likely you will create upset or other negative effects. The road to failure and disappointment is often rife with good intent. Or as we sometimes refer to it: “Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons”.

The power of words and conversations manifests in organizations every day. If you go to any organization and you pay attention, you would hear, see and sense it. In some organizations the conversations circle around victim conversations. People whine a lot, complain, blame and make excuses a lot. In other organizations, there is zero tolerance for excuses and blame. Instead, the conversations orient around commitment. People don’t care about who’s fault it is. They only focus on conversations that make a difference like: requesting, promising and declaring commitments. These two sets of conversations are drastically different and you can clearly hear them in both the formal and informal conversations in any organization, and see them in people’s actions and behaviors.

I have worked with organizations that were dealing with very challenging market conditions. When I came in to help them people were complaining about their circumstances, making excuses and blaming other functions in their organization for their struggling performance. When we shifted the internal conversations and rhetoric from “excuses, justifications, and complaints” to “declarations, requests, and promises”; from “cynicism and resignation conversations” to “holding each other to account and highlighting successes“, their performance and results started to shift too.

I have also seen organizations that had very strong market conditions. They tried to launch new initiatives and ideas, but because their internal conversations stayed cynical, complacent and circumstantial they didn’t succeed, they didn’t stay the course and they couldn’t leverage the tailwind they had to achieve the growth they wanted. Instead of taking responsibility for their behaviors and failures they continued to blame the market and their competitors, and they stayed stuck.

The moral of the story is:

Words and conversations are powerful actions – if you shift the conversations and rhetoric in your team, your behaviors and results will follow.

However, actions without conversations are not as powerful – if you keep doing more of what you have done, and even try new things, but you don’t shift the conversations to be more commitment, ownership, and action-oriented, your results most likely won’t shift much either.

The power is in the conversations, which is good news, as it is not that hard to shift conversations. Focus on shifting your team’s conversations to be consistent with the type of dynamics, behaviors, and results you want, and see what happens.


Are you investing in building your team?

If you were the manager of an NBA basketball team, or any professional sports team, with the best stars in the league, would there be any dilemma or doubt in your mind about the need for a coach?

Would you think: “We don’t need to spend time on team strategies and team dynamics, they take away from individual players’ shooting practice or their chance to rest between games?

And, if you were winning the playoffs, would you then feel that “We don’t need a coach because we are doing so well“?

The answer is No, No and No! No sports manager in his/her right mind would think this way. And, by the way, it is the same with any Olympic athlete or world-class musician and probably in many other disciplines.

So why do so many CEOs and leaders don’t get it?! Why do so many leaders avoid investing in building their teams?

You could say: “Well, in the NBA the goal, prize and what is at stake are so clear” and “Well, basketball is a team effort“.

But, isn’t it exactly the same in business?

I was working with a large global technology company that was going through tremendous growth and change after acquiring a few companies in a very short period of time. A very ambitious undertaking under any circumstance.

With such a bold undertaking they expected that things would get worse before they got better. But the ‘get worse‘ phase was taking too long. Their performance wasn’t where they wanted it to be and it wasn’t improving fast enough. Needless to say, the downward trend was undermining internal and external morale and confidence.

The senior leaders were especially frustrated because they felt that a big reason for why things were not improving faster was that the level of alignment, trust and communication within the senior team itself was not strong. This was undermining the level of alignment and collaboration within the teams under them and hindering their ability to collaborate and fix problems.

However, the CEO felt that taking the senior leaders out of the field for a meeting was not a good investment of time. In fact, he felt that every minute away from being with customers or selling was a waste of time. He also felt that there was no point talking about anything other than how to make the sales numbers for the current week, month and quarter because if they didn’t make their very short-term numbers, they won’t have a future to talk about. Lastly, he felt that the one-hour conference call he had with his leaders every Friday, was sufficient for them to coordinate things and stay on the same page. Most of the heavy lifting he did in one-on-one calls with each of his senior leaders.

While his rational had logic, following it dragged the company further down. He was speaking with all his leaders, but they were not speaking among themselves. After a few quarters, during which the company did not meet its targets, the CEO was only then willing to change his mind. He agreed – at first reluctantly – to spend a day with his senior leaders.

To make a long story short, when the senior team started to spend quality time together, their trust, unity, alignment, courage and communication grew exponentially. They were able to discuss and address the real challenges and opportunities and make decisions that they all owned. It didn’t take long before company results started to turn around too.

I have seen this type of turnaround many times before!

When team members are in it together, they can accomplish extraordinary things. Nothing is too big for them. They are bigger than any circumstance, challenge, or opportunity. However, when team members are siloed and divided, they will be smaller than their circumstances and they will not overcome even basic challenges and opportunities. In fact, things would most likely get worse around them, just like the example above.

If you want to take your game to the next level, you need to think strategically and that often means going slower and smarter in order to go faster. To do that you must make sure that your senior team is 100% aligned, committed and in it together.

Like any NBA championship team, you need to invest the time to build and coach your team.

Agreeing to disagree is always a cop-out

Too often I see the following scenario: A team meets to discuss issues that are critical to the organization’s success. The conversation goes on and on without resolution, as different people have divergent opinions about the best course of action. When the leader tries to bring it to a conclusion, they are no closer to alignment. They leave the meeting “agreeing to disagree.”

Such meetings are worse than a waste of time, in fact, they can actually damage the organization, which is then no closer to making the necessary decisions and assuming responsibility for them. People stay within their comfort zones at the expense of moving the organization forward in new and dynamic ways.

Take as an example a successful technology company that was trying to take its game to the next level. One of their biggest challenges – and opportunity – was to get all their business units and functions working together in a more cohesive and aligned way. Instead of interacting with customers with one voice, different sales and services groups were promoting their own agendas, often competing with other internal groups for customers’ mindshare and business. Cross-selling was suffering and a lot of potential revenues was left on the table.

The senior leadership team of this company made many attempts to get on the same page. They scheduled many long and exhausting meetings, but these perpetuated the vagueness and didn’t create clarity and alignment. Leaders left these meetings with different understandings and expectations and every time issues came up and a leader would say “But, we agreed on this!” a colleague would respond with “We never agreed on this!” Needless to say, this company was not going to the next level any time soon.

Why does this happen? It is either because leaders lack the courage to drive clarity in the face of controversy, or they lack the understanding of their role as leaders, or they lack the ability to effectively manage conversations.

True leaders know how important it is to have an open debate with honest, respectful listening because there is rarely a single right answer to any dilemma or question. They are able to elevate their people to set aside their personal egos, agendas, and preferences to align with the collective wisdom of the group. They instill in their teams a real commitment to the type of conversation that leads to making choices, aligning behind those choices, and taking responsibility together. This requires courage.

There is never a justification to leave a conversation agreeing to disagree. It is always a cop-out!

Of course, some topics are complex and may need a number of meetings to gather the necessary input and to digest it as a group. But paralysis by analysis is always an excuse to avoid taking a stand. And, the cost of lack of decisiveness, accountability, and follow-through is cynicism, resignation, and stagnation.

Achieving extraordinary results requires the ability to align on goals. Agreeing to disagree precludes that. Organizations that achieve 100 percent alignment behind a goal that is 80 percent right have a much greater chance of success than those where people are divided behind a perfect goal. Compromise too often means that some of the people are 100 percent behind one point of view and others are zero percent. How motivated are those ‘zero percent people’ to work towards the success of a goal they have not endorsed? They are the ones watching and waiting to say: “I told you so”.

Obviously, it is scary to step up to the plate and take full responsibility for a goal or direction that is uncertain, controversial, difficult to achieve, or politically incorrect. Making choices means eliminating alternatives. But when team members do find the courage to make tough choices, they are immediately more powerful. They are able to apply their energy towards proving their choices right rather than wasting energy on proving that others are wrong.


Don’t underestimate the power of intention

I know too many people who don’t have the reality they want personally and/or professionally and they constantly complain about it, blame others or the circumstances for it and overall give excuses for it.

In fact, when I asked one of them the question “How are you doing?” their response was: “Same shit different day!” I have heard different variations on that theme from others…

Contrast that with a real-life story (no names) with two chapters:

Chapter One:

A sales team that was struggling with making their sales targeted numbers for a long time wanted a break. They had enough of wallowing in their sorrows. They wanted a breakthrough; they wanted to start winning and move from a survival mode to a thriving and abundant mode. So, to make a long story short, they had a “come to Jesus” meeting in which they all committed to a future (with specific details) that included making or exceeding their goals every quarter with more and bigger deals. They acknowledged that they had fallen into a “victim mentality” and they committed to stop complaining, blaming and justifying. This commitment was a big deal for them! The first quarter they came close, the second they made it and by the third quarter, they exceeded their results.

Needless to say, everyone was elated. However, with their new success came a lot more work and the new work was much more intense and demanding then they had been used to.

Chapter Two:

After two very successful quarters of record sales results, people were feeling the strains of the long hours and hard work. They had to hire many more people to accommodate their growth, but that was taking longer than everyone had hoped so the brunt of the hard work fell on fewer people.

Everyone felt the stress of over the lack of work/life balance. Even the people who were around before the success had forgotten where they came from.

When you walked the halls of this team you started to hear disgruntled team members engaging in negative conversations again – complaining, blaming and justifying their frustrations. Unfortunately, with time the negativity only increased and with it ownership, dedication and quality deteriorated.

When the team lost its first customer everyone brushed it off and attributed it to the circumstances. However, when their downward trend repeated itself and they had multiple issues with other deals and customers, which lead to them missing their sales results again, it was too late to turn things around.

Commitment and Intention are so powerful. You can understand this phrase, but if you don’t “get it”, trust it, apply it and live it this won’t make a difference.

The punch line is:

If you are dealing with a bad situation or reality and you complain about it you will most likely continue to have that bad reality. I am sure you would agree…

If you are dealing with a bad situation or reality and you commit to changing it, and then you start speaking and acting consistent with your new commitment, it will only be a matter of time – “when”, not “if” – you will turn your predicament around.

However, if you succeed in turning your bad predicament around and you go back to complaining about what you got, or what is not working, it will only be a matter of time – “when”, not “if” – you will lose what you created and return back to your old state…

Even if you don’t understand how intention works or if you don’t believe that intention works – it still does!

You can either embrace the concept and figure out how to use it to your advantage, or you can reject and dismiss it and then you will lose the competitive advantage and power that this powerful principle could give you.

Stop wasting time in worthless meetings

I was working with two different organizations that were going through significant growth and change. One company had completed its second acquisition of a large competitor and was in the midst of integrating teams, products and strategies to optimize this significant change and growth.

The other company had done such a great job in their core business of selling machines and hardware that they were expanding their market reach into adjacent areas of software development and consulting. This change required new capabilities, skills, processes and mindset.

Needless to say, in both cases, there were many complex details for the leadership teams to debate, make decisions about and iron out both in their growth and change strategy, as well as in its execution. In both cases, decisions were not being made fast enough.

The leadership teams of both of these companies had a similar routine of holding a weekly call for about 90 minutes each, where leaders, in turn, shared updates on the activities they were working on. These weekly calls were mostly oriented around updates and sharing with little-to-no interaction or debate. In fact, most leaders didn’t find these weekly calls very productive and critical, so throughout the calls, they were busy doing their emails while the call was going on, so they weren’t even paying that much attention to their colleague’s updates to begin with.

Needless to say, these weekly update calls were not the forum where the leaders could debate and dig into the big topics of challenges and opportunities that were affecting everyone’s day-to-day life given all the massive growth and change they were going through.

Every one of the leaders in both companies felt a burning need for their leadership team to spend quality time together in order to debate the urgent topics that were on their minds, but they had no other meeting scheduled beyond the weekly calls to do that in.

The leaders actually did have plenty of opportunities to meet each other in-person in their quarterly business reviews (QBR) and other company functions, but these always included many other participants beyond the leaders so there was no opportunity for alone time for the leaders. They occasional dinners together as a leadership team also didn’t provide the opportunity for meaningful debates.

Everyone was frustrated about the lack of quality leadership team time, but no one did anything much about it. When I asked why the leaders don’t schedule additional leadership team meetings people responded with: “We are too busy with the day-to-day” and “We can’t find the time….”. When I challenged them they added and explained: “We have too many other meetings that are filling our schedule, that are a waste of time; things we could cover via email”

I see this exact same dynamic with so many companies!!!

The “We don’t have time” excuse is exactly that – a lame excuse and a cop out!

It’s actually worse, the need for the leadership team to spend quality time in order to debate and address the big challenges and opportunity of their growth and change is real and critical. It is not a “luxury” or “nice to have”. It is a “must” and a “leadership responsibility”. Not doing it is unacceptable.

The solution is actually quite simple and straightforward:

  1. Have the courage to stop/cancel all the meetings that are unproductive and not a good use of time.
  2. Share information that could be shared/updated via email – via email.
  3. Schedule meetings with enough time, on topics that are important. For a company that is going through significant change, the leadership team should meet no less than once a quarter for one or two full days. In some periods/phases of change, even that is insufficient and the leadership team should meet every month or every other month.
  4. Make sure the important meetings are productive, with clear objectives, agenda and someone to manage/facilitate them. Don’t let them decline or get out of control.

If you stop the ineffective and worthless meetings and you make sure the important meetings are productive and worthwhile people won’t feel like there are too many meetings. They will simply see these as “what we do to be successful”