Learning Organization: Your Company’s Survival Depends on It

A colleague of mine at Royal/Dutch Shell, Arie de Geus wrote a book called The Living Company Habits for survival in a turbulent business environment.

He contended through his work that a central attribute of companies with long lives was a sensitivity to the environment with the ability to learn and adapt.  De Gues highlighted several other attributes that contribute to a long company life, which will be discussed later.

In my recent of blog on February 23, 2021 describing the world of accelerating and chaotic change, leadership agility was advocated as a competency every leader should learn.

The main purpose of this blog is to say that will not be enough for your company.  If you want your company to survive without a premature death, then you need to build a learning organization.

What are some of the attributes of a learning organization? 

My tutelage on learning organizations came from a consultant Shell used, Peter Senge, who wrote The Fifth Discipline The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization.

Senge delves into the notion of a learning disability.  A key point I want to make is that you will naturally develop this learning disability.

The Proverbial S Curve

In my opinion, living systems tend to follow the proverbial S shape curve because of their learning ability.

 A newborn entity has little knowledge and focuses outward through a structuring process of how things work or should work.  Once a foundation is set, the structuring process accelerates, and rapid learning growth occurs.

As time progresses, this learning growth slows as the focus shifts inward towards maintaining all this structure of perceptions, beliefs, values, processes, procedures, mental models and so forth.  As Senge aptly points out in his book, “Today’s problems come from yesterday’s ‘solutions’” (page 57)

Eventually, the growth and learning plateaus, that is, unless there are interventions.

As a “living” entity, what can a company do to become a learning organization to combat the natural inertia from the past?

Learning Structures

Your company must specifically build in learning structures. De Guess identified two more habits worth noting.

One is tolerance both within and outside the entity itself.  Another way of thinking about this habit is valuing diversity of thoughts.

It’s more than inclusion. The organization needs to seek out understanding of these diverse views. In this respect, the diverse views involve differences from the current modus operandi of the company.

Understanding does not imply immediate change. Many diverse views will not make sense for the company to pursue.  But an arbitrary discounting of such ideas becomes deadly in this rapidly changing world.

Secondly, de Guess describes the habit of building cohesion and identity. 

This may sound contradictory to diversity.  Quite the contrary, the persona must be built around this burning desire to learn from one another.

As Senge describes, your people need to be lifelong learners.

Thus, the concept of a learning organization needs to be built into the stated company values.

The organization needs to celebrate renewal efforts and achievements.

Learning must become fundamental to the culture.

Systems Thinking

Peter Senge advocates that systems thinking is a key discipline of learning organizations.  I clearly agree.

When I received my master’s degree in management science, systems thinking was a cornerstone, but you don’t hear as much about it today.

It is all about seeing the big picture in a wholistic way looking at the various relationships and factors that bring about your outcomes.

As entities build structures on how things work, there become a lot of parts and sub processes which bogs down learning as the focus is on the trees and not the forest.

This is not to say that continuous improvement programs should be scrapped.  They are one of the “structures” that should be imbedded in a learning organization.

The major shifts and transformations occur at the wholistic system level of a company.

Learning organizations need to imbed vehicles to periodically look at the big picture or when alarms are sounded from external sensing systems.

System audits should ask from the internal side, “What ground-breaking change could we do differently that would have a magnitude improvement on our outcomes?”

From an external perspective, system audits should look at competitors but also pace setting companies who have made major transformations.

Obviously, scanning for new technologies and how they could redesign the way your company operates is another part of a systems audit.

Then there are also major environmental events like COVID 19 that should trigger a systems audit.

Layering on a new S Shaped Curve

Another Shell consultant back in the 1990s was Ichak Adizes who taught us about corporate lifecycles.  He authored a book called CORPORATE LIFEcYcLES How and Why Corporations Die and What to Do About It.

Adizes described to us the growing and aging process a company goes through and outlined some characteristics of growing companies versus aging companies.

A couple of these characteristics really struck me.

In a growing company, “Personal success stems from taking risks” whereas in an aging company “Personal success stems from avoiding risk.” (page 87)

In a growing company, “Everything is permitted, unless expressly forbidden” whereas in an aging company “Everything is forbidden, unless expressly permitted.” (page 87)

Relating to this last point, he talked about the importance of culture with the two dimensions of flexibility and control.

At a company’s prime, flexibility and controllability are balanced.  As controllability becomes more dominant, the aging process eventually leads to death.

My big takeaway was a learning culture can expand the shape and timing of a company’s S curve through maintaining flexibility.  Today, that is called agility. It needs to be part of the organization’s fabric.

Beyond that, there are times in the life cycle when systems thinking can bring about a major transformation in the business model.

In essence, the company layers on a new S curve.  The key is to jump onto the next S wave before it is too late.

When this structural competency is developed in an organization, the life cycle can be extensively extended by having multiple layers of S curves.

Adding Learners to your Company

The last “learning structure” that I want to recommend is consciously adding learners to your company.

Bringing diversity of thought, perspective, and backgrounds as previously discussed is important for your hiring process and something you have likely already included.

My suggestion is that you carefully examine potential hires’ willingness to be tolerant of other points of view along with a strong learning desire.

You can’t build a learning culture with a preponderance of people who aren’t learners.

Many new hires will come from the Millennials (those born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s) plus some of Gen Z (those born between the mid-1990s and 2010).

Millennials Like to Learn

Fortunately, the Millennials are generally curious with an eagerness to develop new skills and learn.

They are also multi-taskers.

I remember one day when I heard a lot of noise from my Millennial daughter’s bedroom.  She had told me she had a lot of homework, so I wanted to check up on the commotion.  It was an incredible sight.

She was sitting with a laptop in her lap but typing on her desktop while watching TV with music blaring away.

When I asked her what she was doing, she answered my homework.

Beyond that, Millennials tend to excel with out of the box thinking and creative problem solving. This will be an important competency skill set in developing the next S shape curve for your company.

Many have high expectations of your company and not afraid to express their views which is what you want in a learning organization.

Gen Z Diversity

Generation Z also has some positive characteristics.

They are entrepreneurial and not surprising all about technology.

This generation has grown up in a rapidly changing world, so they are receptive to change.

You will need that attitude in your learning organization.

Fortunately, diversity of all forms is natural to them and generally not a divisive issue.

Don’t Forget Baby Boomers

Lastly, you may want to consider a baby boomer (those born between 1946 and 1964) as a mentor to help you build your learning organization.

They have many positive characteristics too including resourcefulness and being mentally focused.

As this generation deals with their Millennial sons and daughter and their grandchildren of the next Generation Alpha, their views of change continue to morph.

Now that they are in a mentor position in their careers, baby boomers can bring a lot of unbiased wisdom having seen it all evolve.

Summing it Up

The most basic need of a living system is to survive.  If you have not built-in structures that will foster a learning organization in your company, take some advice from a baby boomer—do so now before it’s too late.

Your company’s survival depends on it.

Contributed by Lane Sloan, former Shell CFO and Silver Fox Advisor.

Situation Based Leadership

Leadership does not have a simple formula for every situation.

A lot of the leadership theory comes from academicians studying a formulation of their leadership model from observing the real world.  They test the model with empirical research to determine results on performance. Then, it’s the publish or perish phenomenon.

If we look at the chapter headings from a well-known college text by Northouse entitled Leadership: Theory and Practice, we find a long list of these type models as well as some more generalized topics: Trait Approach, Skills Approach, Behavioral Approach, Situational Approach, Path-Goal Theory, Leader-Member Exchange Theory, Transformational Leadership, Authentic Leadership, Servant Leadership, Adaptive Leadership, Followership, Leadership Ethics, Team Leadership, Gender and Leadership, Culture and Leadership.

Wow, how do you sort out all these concepts?  And this is just a college textbook articulating all these different perspectives.  There are lots of other relevant authors both academicians and practitioners not included in the chapters listed above such as Strength Based Leadership.

The point is there are many dimensions and factors that come into play when leading.  One facet is all about the leader.  Another dimension is the organization which includes followers, culture, and so forth.  Others are about the relationship of the leader and the follower.  Still other facets are about the broader environment. And so forth.  It is hard to mold all this into a grandiose model.

If that were not challenging enough, the overall environment is changing at a rapid pace as we discussed in my blog on leadership agility.

Ultimately, it all centers on the particular situation and how all the multiple dimensions line up. Fortunately, many situations are comparable, and the response can be repeatable.  Many others will be unique in some fashion that will require you to adjust.  Like playing a game of golf, the better you are the more natural the adjustment.

Situational Leadership

One model by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard has been coined “Situational Leadership.”  The model has evolved over time, but the basics are the style of the leader changes depending on the situation and readiness level of the followers.

In a situation of low readiness such as a new employee, then the style is much more directive. You have to tell them what to do. As progress is made, the mode of the leader shifts to coaching with high on direction and supportive behavior.  Further progress by the employees suggests lower direction but still highly supportive behavior from the manager.  Finally, in the fourth stage with a matured employee on performing their role, the leadership style shifts to delegating with low on direction and relatively low on support.

Of course, this model is limited in that the focus is on only the dimension of the manager and employee’s relationship.  Nevertheless, it provided a significant breakthrough that no one leadership style fits every situation.  Moreover, it makes sense and can be applied rather easily.

Adaptive Leadership first described by Heifetz in Leadership Without Easy Answers back in 1994 also gets into the relationship of the leader and the follower based on the follower’s situation.  As the name implies, this model gets into adapting to change which has become more pronounced today.

What to Do?

First, do not think you have all the answers by learning one highly touted approach to leadership.  Rather think of the dimension it is adding to your leadership portfolio of knowledge. The critical point I have been trying to make is there is no one holistic model that prescribes what you should do in every situation.

Second, if you’re in the early stages of your leadership growth, do get several books to read. Take a leadership course or seminar. But also get advice from a leadership coach/mentor. Think of learning golf, a coach goes a long way.  If you are a CEO at a small company  that is growing, you should also consider joining a CEO Roundtable.

Third, once you have some leadership experience, do an assessment of yourself.  I would suggest you look at my Leadership Personal Profile blog of February 23, 2021. It will help you identify areas for improvement.

Fourth, I advise mentees do not get yourself in a “tizzy” on what to do. In leading, be engaged.  Get whatever input you feel is important, then, behave/decide what you think is best given all the circumstances and what you know at the time. In the case where action is needed, that can range from you making the decision, to a team participation, to a delegation and so forth.  In other words, all you can do is the best you can given where you are at in your leadership journey.

Fifth, whatever the leadership situation and the action has been taken, always be open to feedback from followers particularly with significant events or direction. Simultaneously, look at the impact on the performance of the business. Think of the feedback and results not as a critique but a new learning in your portfolio whether it’s good or bad.

Sixth, as your leadership matures, be flexible to the situation and not locked into you know the answer of what to do. Situations always evolve over time, and now they are evolving rapidly. In the maturing process of living systems, we naturally structure approaches to solve problems, issues, and opportunities. Many CEOs go through a pattern of first being incredibly open and inquisitive in their early days to eventually becoming rigid in their thinking to the detriment of the organization.

Seventh, insure you maintain your character and are true to your core values.  This builds trust with your followers.  They know they can count on you to do what is best given changing circumstances.  We will talk about that more in an upcoming blog entitled Character: A Learned Behavior.

Eighth, utilize a wise coach who can act as your alter ego to help you avoid these rigidities setting into your leadership while helping you maintain your authenticity.

Ninth, be sure you are coaching your leadership team and employees to become better leaders. This will be a huge help to them but also keep you fresh.

Lastly, if you want to be a great leader, then seek first to be a wise leader. Wisdom is knowing you need to know more.  Your rigidities will set in when you quit learning. A little humbleness on what you know goes a long way in your lifelong leadership journey.

Contributed by Lane Sloan, former Shell CFO and Silver Fox Advisor.

March Newsletter

March is a busy month here at Silver Fox Advisors.

Education Series

We are launching our 2021 Education Series on March 16. The Education Series is a program featuring various advisors and associates of the organization, bringing you topics and information to help you as a business owner/leader.

The first session for 2021 will be titled “The Science of Selling in a COVID World”. Two of our members, Rich Hall and Mark Miller will be presenting. For more on this informative session, read the link below.

There is no fee for this series, but you must pre-register. We will begin at 10:00.

Lunch & Learn

Then, on March 25 at Noon, join us for our monthly Lunch & Learn event. This month, Mr. Brian Greene, President and CEO of the Houston Food Bank will be speaking on “Understanding How Nonprofit Organizations Are Different So You Can Be More Helpful to Them”

This is a virtual webinar. There is no fee to attend, but you must preregister.

Blog Articles

Please feel free to browse our library of articles, studies, and messages written by our members. Visit SilverFox.org

Need an Advisor?

Is your business running exactly as you hoped it would? Are you struggling with turning the corner or getting to the next level of success?

Think about contacting an advisor. We here at Silver Fox Advisors are proven business leaders with decades of practical experience, ready to come alongside you and your business. Contact us today or read more at SilverFox.org.

March 25th Lunch & Learn

On March 25th, the Silver Fox Advisors will be holding our monthly Lunch & Learn program. This month we are honored to have Mr. Brian Greene, President & CEO of the Houston Food Bank. Mr. Greene will be speaking about “Understanding How Nonprofit Organizations Are Different So You Can Be More Helpful to Them.”

Thursday, March 25th, 12:00PM CST – Seats will be limited.

Rapid Chaotic Change Requires Leadership Agility

Understanding Change

It is undeniable that change is accelerating and becoming more chaotic.  Leaders need to understand this change.  What is driving the change?  What are the implications on your leadership?

Technology is driving the change. I have put together a model to help you understand this change and high-level implications on your leadership. After exploring the model, we will highlight key thoughts on leadership agility to deal with this rapid and chaotic change in today’s business world.

Industrial Revolution

We are all familiar with the industrial revolution starting back in the mid-1700s.  New technology in the form of machines changed the manufacturing process of goods.  Machines substituted for human labor.

It brought about new forms of business enterprise because this change was mass production.  Organizations had to evolve to deal with the larger volume of transactions.

It was a new world.

Management by Exception

Back in the 1960s when I was taking organizational behavior courses the buzz word was “management by exception.”  You probably heard of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The assembly line was key to production.  You had to keep it going.

Change was not rampant.

Therefore, the focus was on control.

To lead these massive organizations with their hierarchies, the management style was traditionally autocratic.

Information Revolution

The technology of automation from the Industrial Revolution paved the wave for a transformation change in information processes with the advent of computers.  Software programs did the work of repetitive clerical type roles and more.

I joined Shell Oil in 1970 as one of those programmers to create this new software.

The new buzz word was “Change is the Constant.”

The rigidity of large bureaucratic organizations was being significantly impacted by the delayering and restructuring brought on by this information processing revolution.

More decisions had to be made to cope with the constant change.

Knowledge became more important with these constantly changing dynamics.

It made sense to have others participate in the decision-making process. 

Thus, the management style shifted more toward Participative.

Companies needed to keep up and not get lost in the change from their competitors.

The focus turned to adaption.

Second Wave of the Information Revolution

By 1965, an M.I.T. scientist developed a way of sending information from one computer to another that he called “packet switching.”

This has continued to evolve into today’s multi-faceted internet world.

It is not just social media.

You can type anything into your browser and get a voluminous amount of information in seconds.

This has been a big driver of the acceleration of change which creates instability.

Molecular Revolution

The hybrid DNA-RNA was created around 1960 as part of the early beginnings of the Biotechnology Revolution.

At the turn of the century, the world had advanced to the sequencing of the human genome.

On a similar front, the theory of manipulating atoms was around 1960.

Some twenty years later, the scanning tunneling microscope was developed that could see individual atoms.

Nanotechnology is real.

Together this has all led to the manipulation of cells and atoms.

Chaotic Change

Today, this Molecular Revolution has come to the forefront.

It is transforming the very fundamentals of living systems and materials.

In short, the molecular revolution is another key driver underpinning the chaos.

Fundamental Reprogramming

The ability to fundamentally reprogram things is opening people’s minds not constrained by traditional boundaries.

Management styles are shifting to visionaries.

Instead of being whipsawed by accelerating and chaotic change, visionaries are creating the future.

Ramifications on your Leadership Style

There are practical ramifications of today’s changing dynamics for every leader.

Those in fast cycle industries have been in this chaos for some time.

Slow cycle industries have sped up.

Life spans for companies have shortened.

Technology and imaginative minds are driving more technology and transformations that lead to even faster change and more chaos.

Leaders must be more agile and flexible to cope and prosper, but how do you do that?

What competencies and skills are needed to be an agile leader?

There has been some very thoughtful research on this question.  In this blog, I can only give you highlights and direct you to some of the better resources (in my opinion).

Leadership Agility

In 2007, Bill Joiner & Stephen Josephs wrote the book LEADERSHIP AGILITY Five Levels of Mastery For Anticipating and Initiating Change.

It is a rather sophisticated approach based on their notion of a Leadership Agility Compass outlining four competencies: Context Setting Agility, Stakeholder Agility, Creative Agility, and Self Leadership Agility. 

Using the compass, they then take you through their five levels of agility development: Expert, Achiever, Catalyst, Co-creator, and Synergist.

It has a lot of content. If you are really trying to enhance your leadership agility, it is worth a read.

Learning Agility

Korn Ferry has also done a lot of research on leadership agility outlined in their paper on The Organizational X Factor: Learning Agility.

They describe learning agility as made up of five factors: Self Awareness, Mental Agility, People Agility, Change Agility, and Results Agility. 

You can see some similar ideas to Joiner and Josephs’ Leadership Compass.

I like their addition of Results Agility described as delivering results in first time situations.

The authors, Mary Knight and Natalie Wong, contend that Learning Agility is a top predictor of high potential people. Companies with highly agile executives have 25% higher profit margins than their peers.

Core, Edge and Agility

Agility competencies are important.

It is also important to have a perspective in thinking about the context of this change in your day-to-day world. 

What is central to how the world should work for you to what are the dramatic implications of changing technologies?

In this respect, Lee, Hecht, and Harrison, a global leader in talent development, wrote an interesting paper on Core, Edge, and Agility.

My Silver Fox Advisor colleague, Doug Thorpe, has condensed their ideas and his own in an article on his website in 2018 entitled Leaders: There’s a New Way to Understand Change | Business Advisor, Mentor and Executive Coach | Doug Thorpe

It is certainly worth your read with the idea that agility helps manage the forces of what’s core and what is on the edge.

Set Direction Not Destination

Agility has certainly become a popular topic for organizational consultants in this 21st century.

 One concept I like from McKinsey’s March 2018 article of Leading with inner agility is “set direction not destination.”

This brings us back to my model introduced at the beginning of this blog on understanding change.

You not only have to have agility competencies, and a framework of thinking about agility as we have just discussed.

You also need to be the visionary highlighted in the model.

Ultimately, the management style of significance in this world of accelerating and chaotic change is a visionary leader.

Set directions with the agility to adjust destinations.

To paraphrase Jack Welch, control your own destiny or someone else will.

Contributed by Lane Sloan, former Shell CFO and Silver Fox Advisor.

Reflections on Servant Leadership

What is Missing?

Robert Greenleaf’s ideas on Servant Leadership have gained quite a group of dedicated followers since the publication of his essay in 1970. He articulated, “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.  Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.  That person is sharply different from the one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage and unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.” While the foundation of his ideas is very sound advice on leadership, Servant Leadership has not become the pervasive mainstream theory of leadership.  Why is this so and can his foresight be leveraged with additional insights?

Here are some thoughts for you to ponder that hopefully will be fruitful in leveraging Servant Leadership into our practical day to day world of business.

Confusing Contrast

The contrast to a servant leader by Greenleaf is a leader being driven by power and material possessions.  This line of thinking would have been natural at the time as the prevailing autocratic model of management was indeed driven by power and authority. That model was under challenge particularly in the 1960s from insightful thinkers such as Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Y, Rensis Likert’s work on the performance of different leadership styles, Blake and Mouton’s managerial grid and so forth that we discussed in my blog on The People side of Leadership.

Unfortunately, Greenleaf’s depiction of leadership becomes obfuscated without a clear distinction between managers and leaders. I addressed that in a previous blog Manager vs Leaders. In essence, a manager has a position of authority and responsibility within the organization that involves making decisions such as setting plans and budgets, organizing and staffing, controlling through accountabilities and so forth.  Leaders quite simply have followers on where they are going.

Greenleaf does not explicitly discuss managers; however, he implicitly intertwines the functioning of institutions and “the system” with leadership insights in his essay. This is not surprising as too often managers and leaders are equated with HR vernacular like “she was promoted to a leadership position.”

The idea of assigned leadership is still prevalent in modern leadership theory.  In my opinion, this misrepresents the actions of followers.  An employee may obey a manager’s direction.  That is different than followers who want to follow.

When Greenleaf talks about an unusual power drive or material possessions that too gets all intermingled with the role of a manager with little to do about leadership.  Managers because of their role in the organization make more money than the employees working for them and the position has inherent power which in many respects depicts the leadership contrast Greenleaf presents.  But unfortunately, that tells us little about the manager’s leadership ability. Greenleaf’s alternative in many respects is a false alternative to Servant Leadership because someone focused entirely on “me” being driven by power and purely self-interest will not be a leader.  Leadership requires a “we” not a “me” mindset.

We Mentality

Leadership requires more than one.  The leader must persuade someone to follow their advocated vision, goal, or simply direction. For someone to follow, their needs must be met in some meaningful way of value to them. The direction should include a common goal. There must be a form of a value proposition that motivates or better inspires them to follow that direction.  Thus, the leader’s mindset must shift from “me” to “we.”  The leader must serve the needs of followers.  As many authors suggest this leads to some form of collaboration.  If that direction and collaboration achieves meaningful results, then the followership is strengthened.    It is a natural process.  There is no need for the leader to have a position of authority in the organization or institution in Greenleaf’s vernacular.  Anyone can be a leader at any point in time.

Managers Need to be Leaders

In pursuing the leader’s advocated direction, the leader has needs that are met in some meaningful way as well.  Thus, the foundation of leadership is that mutual benefit is naturally derived for both the leader and the follower. In essence, leader and follower are serving one another.

Clearly, a manager is in a hugely attractive position to provide leadership because of their designated authority to direct.  If the advocated direction is seen to provide meaningful value to the employee, then following can occur naturally, and there is mutual benefit derived by both parties.  But for that to happen, the manager must be reaching out to employees and get them engaged and aligned with the direction. When this occurs, then indeed a manager can be a leader and, in the process, unleash inspired motivation from employees because the direction aligns with their higher-level needs.

Some may argue that leadership is not about “we” but rather about strictly serving the other person.  This is not really a discussion about leadership as leaders have followers.  Serving may or may not lead to following. There are many ways to get others to follow you.  One of the strongest is to develop them, get them engaged and guide them in the pursuit of their personal purpose.  In the case of managers, developing employees is a key responsibility.  A centerpiece of people development is serving, coaching, guiding, and mentoring others.

Think Value Propositions

What Greenleaf advocates is core to being a leader.  The leader must understand the needs of people in order to provide a direction that will meaningfully fulfill their needs through value propositions. Leaders dedicate themselves to fulfilling value propositions.

For a leader and followers plus managers and employees, mutual benefit for me is the leader serves by providing a value proposition that is meaningful to followers (employees in the case of a business owner). Likewise, the follower or one can correspondingly think of employee should provide a value proposition to the leader/manager to create mutual benefit.

Still, the manager and hopefully leader has other stakeholders.  There are many stakeholders that must be considered in a business enterprise including investors/banks, the relevant community, and so forth.    It is not simply the employees accountable to the manager even though they are crucial to success.  Practically there are tradeoffs in vision, goals, and directions for the various constituencies. Thus, the reality is more complex than simply one on one relationships of manager and employee.

In serving to fulfill other’s needs, the manager/leader’s needs will also come into play which leads to the centerpiece of achieving mutual benefit.  Mutual benefit lends itself to adaptability depending on the situation with various people shifting in and out of the leadership role (not managerial role) as appropriate depending on their relative strengths, capabilities, and foresight.

Think Teamwork

Thus, there is mutual support serving one another to achieve the greatest benefit for all.  This is the nature of teamwork and collaboration.  Leadership is very much like a team sport where everyone wins.  In Greenleaf’s essay the leader’s role is much more static with less dynamism than required in our fast paced always changing world today.

Without this concept of mutual benefit and its derivative teamwork, people in managerial roles find it challenging to pursue only a servant leader mentality.  For example, companies stay in business because they provide a meaningful value proposition to their targeted customers.  In that respect, successful companies serve the customer just as leaders serve their followers.

Servant seems Demeaning

The term servant can get in the way as well for managers even though there are interesting philosophical underpinnings in Greenleaf’s essay. No one needs to be a true “servant” to a master. The humbleness and will to serve are terrific traits of leaders. Tom Collins found this in his book Good to Great: Why some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. But for many the term servant seems demeaning.

Transcending to a more comprehensive state of mutual benefit with a “we” mentality, collaboration, engaging value propositions across the board, teamwork leading to successful outcomes more readily lends itself for managers to become leaders.  The positive momentum of a company grows enormously when managers become leaders too, which is why organizations spend so much time and money on leadership development programs. When managers become leaders, they can unleash the motivational potential of their employees and correspondingly significantly increase the performance of the organization. Remember that people follow success.

Contributed by Lane Sloan, former Shell CFO and Silver Fox Advisor.

The Performance Side of Leadership

Most small business owners/CEOs have a desire to grow and become successful notwithstanding the challenges. In my recent blog of October 8, 2020 talking about the 4 Stages of Growth for Small Businesses, I set out a framework on what the path forward could look like.  Leadership plays a greater and greater role as you progress through the stages.

In the Development Stage, progress is a lot about you and perhaps a handful of people that are trying to build a sustainable business.  As the business grows, more and more people become involved. In previous blogs, we have been building a leadership model based on the 3 Ps of People, Planning, and Performance.

On the People side of Leadership blog, we advocated to be a leader not just a boss by understanding and addressing what matters to them.  This facilitates people following you and being motivated.

On the Planning side of Leadership blog, we advocated your envisioning the direction and engaging your people to form a common purpose. We described the planning process and how your leadership impacts each activity. Setting specific plans that are critical for the business’s success follows your key strategies that provide your differentiated value proposition for your targeted customers.  This too will have a major impact on Performance and the motivation of your people to achieve these plans.  Finally, the performance review and adjustment process will also have a huge impact on performance of the business.  Plans are the catalyst to bring performance from your people.

This leads to today’s blog. Without successful execution of the plans that leads to positive performance, it can all become rather futile.  Most plans that fail do so because of poor execution. Don’t be deceived by thinking when the plan is done it will magically happen.

Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan in their book Execution The Discipline of Getting Things Done, say that “Execution is a systematic process of rigorously discussing hows and whats, questioning, tenaciously following through and ensuring accountability.” (p. 22) This is one of the few books written on execution compared to strategy and leadership that are overabundant.

What does matter on the Performance side of Leadership?

Communication Matters

Many leadership authors expound on the importance of communication. That ought to tell you something about its central role in achieving performance.  Most will say it needs to be clear, concise, simple, and executable.  Almost all recommend the leader being a good listener and soliciting feedback.

You might recall in my blog on the 4 Inner Ps of Leadership that one of the strength domains under Proficiencies is Executing.  Rath and Conchie in their book on Strength Based Leadership, further delineate this domain into strengths described as the arranger, consistency, deliberative, focus, responsibility, and so forth.  Under the Influencing Domain, key subsets are activator, communication, significance, etc. Their book is worth your while to take a read and the test.

George Bernard Shaw had a profound quote that gets to a key point, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” You cannot overcommunicate as long as its purposeful. Beyond regularly scheduled meetings, my recommendation is that you plan for your key communication interactions every week and modify daily. That planning coupled with your listening skills ensures communication happens rather than an illusion in your mind.

Ask yourself these kinds of questions. Have I set aside time to talk with my people on how things are going? Have I reinforced our company values?  When is the last time we talked about how the company is performing? Does everyone understand our value proposition?

Systems and Processes Matter

As Vice President of Business Services for Shell Oil, I led some big process redesigns as that was the era of business process reengineering.  There are numerous books on the subject if you are at that point to redesign your processes. Often, these books are geared towards larger companies. A simpler approach if you are just starting to think about processes is to view the Silver Fox Education Series (September 21, 2020) under Process & Systems. It is a basic primer for those not familiar with systems and processes.

In the 4 Stage Growth Model, the effectiveness and efficiency of business systems and processes improves as a company moves through the stages of growth.  No surprise as they represent how things get done.

When you first start your business usually processes are rather ad hoc and rarely written down.  As one progresses to the Growth stage, processes are often charted out and specified so people know what to do.  Then, with time the processes are continuously improved.  There may even be work on the bigger system on how the processes work together utilizing software programs.  At the Take Off stage, processes become an opportunity to really differentiate from the competitors.  Rethinking, simplifying, innovating, computerization, and so forth can make a difference.  By the Expansion stage, the processes and system architecture may require a further revamp to fit the volume and various new localities.

Organizational Roles Matter

The follow up to processes is organizational roles that outline who is responsible and accountable for getting things done.  Organizational structures have gotten a bad rap with many people suggesting for small companies you don’t need one. There is no doubt that overly bureaucratic structures can become an impediment particularly in this fast-paced world.  However, without role definitions of who is responsible and accountable there will be a lot of chaos and finger pointing on why things didn’t happen as planned.  These roles can be charted within your systems and processes because interfaces among roles can be the real goblin in the works. This leads directly to the next subject on teamwork.

But before that, let us go back to the 4 inner Ps of leadership model and talk about Proficiencies that make a difference in considering organizational roles. Strength-based leadership along with technical proficiencies should play a key role in deciding who plays what roles.  In other words, leadership capabilities are important for those having responsibility and accountability.

Teamwork Matters

In my book Develop a Leadership Plan Become a Great Leader, I say that “teamwork is a state of mind. It’s a cooperative attitude…” There are lots of books and articles on teamwork for those who want to go in depth.  John C Maxwell has several.  Patrick Lencioni’s book entitled The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable is still a good read

My Silver Fox Advisor colleague Doug Thorpe has given you a roadmap with his blog of October 8, 2020 on 6 Steps to Build Better Teams.

To sum it up, I love the quote in my book from Chief of Staff General Sullivan on his rule Leadership is a Team Sport. “Effective leaders forge alliances and build teams.  They break down walls, floors, and ceilings distributing leadership throughout the extended organization. Team building empowers people with a sense of responsibility…Effective leadership …is about unleashing the power of people.”

Capability Development Matters

As one progresses through the 4 Stage Growth model, the focus on developing your people’s capability grows on multiple fronts.  Training on specific job duties and activities takes on more formality. More attention is focused on developing people’s leadership capabilities through increased responsibility, accountability, and role expansion. A high priority is placed on learning and coaching one another as the organization vitality increases.

In the Silver Fox Advisors’ CEO Education Series of August 11, 2020 on Organization Effectiveness, I used these areas below as considerations for Capability Development.  Some are values to reinforce in the organization such Self-accountability, Achievement focused, Execution excellence, Process innovation, Outward looking, Forward-facing, and Performance driven.  Others are leadership activities such as Strategic Thinking, Coaching contagion, Relationship building, Organizational flexibility, and Learning culture.  Then there are those areas requiring knowledge and skill development such as Market knowledge, Leadership skills, and proficiencies in Execution excellence.  All these builds organizational capability.

Effective Direction                                                                                        Efficient Coordination

Market knowledge                                                                                       Relationship building

Strategic thinking                                                                                          Execution excellence

Leadership skills                                                                                            Process innovation

                                                                                                                         Organizational flexibility

High Motivation                                                                                            Ongoing Results

Self-accountability                                                                                       Outward looking

Achievement focused                                                                                  Learning culture

Coaching contagion                                                                                     Forward Facing                                                                                                                                                                         Performance driven

Culture Matters

As some offer, a business culture spans your vision, values, beliefs, norms, working style, tradition, and habits. You can see from the value list in Capability development above; culture has a huge influence on the Performance of your company. Being the leader, what you say and what you do matters.  It is always amazing to me the things people pick up on watching you and your behavior.

This is a big topic and rather amorphous to describe what you need to think of in building a positive culture as there are so many dimensions and nuances.  One thing is for sure—a bad culture kills performance. Virtually everything we have discussed in my blogs has an impact.

My only two recommendations here are first, think about the elements you want in pursuing the vision and values, plus when communicating, exhibit a sense of heart and purpose for your people. Secondly, in this world of accelerating and chaotic change, try to create a learning culture.  That will be a subject of a later blog.


Success comes from high performance.  The organization must have an uncanny focus on results. In my 3 P vernacular, Performance comes from  rich communications, highly functional systems & processes, clear organizational roles, powerful teamwork, significant capability development, and a positive culture synchronized with your emphasis on those things that matter to your People and your inspiring vision with executable plans and goals to get there.

Contributed by Lane Sloan, former Shell CFO and Silver Fox Advisor.

The Planning Side of Leadership

A plan is simply charting where you want to go. As Lewis Carroll once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will get you there.” As a leader, you need to know where you want to go.  Some say the term leadership was derived from the old Norse word “laed,” meaning to determine the course of a ship.

Charting involves some form of a planning process.  You need a process that facilitates the journey.  In my corporate strategy course, the corporate planning process taught was rather rigorous as the challenges of large corporations are complex. As a former Vice President of Corporate Planning, I can attest to that complexity and modeling. But the Silver Fox Advisors focus on entrepreneurs and small businesses which is the viewpoint this blog will take.

Envisioning Stage

A planning process is a natural sequence of activities the first being envisioning the business.  What business do you want to be in and why (often termed purpose)?  What will that business look like in the future. i.e. what are you hoping to achieve (often termed vision)?  What is the path or pathways that will lead you there (often termed mission)?  You may have been operating for some time and never thought this through.  It is hard to be a good leader without being able to articulate this vision.

In fact, leaders are good at visioning. Recall the Strategic Thinking strength discussed under Proficiencies in the 4 Inner Ps of Leadership blog.  My experience is that many people have difficulty in expressing big picture visions.  However, when presented with one, most people provide helpful feedback and commentary on whether they want to be part of that journey. Common sense is to have dialogue with others about your ideas to enhance and bring forth a common purpose for the journey.

There is an outward perspective as above, but do not forget the internal perspective of how the organization functions and behaves.  I find most often that small businesses do not think through their values as an example.  These behavioral rules will form one way or the other, so ensure they are positively impacting the organization by thinking them through. Think about three areas: conduct (e.g. respect), performance (e.g. accountability), and attitudes (e.g. customer centric). Again, involving your people enhances and develops buy in for your values.

As the leader, you cannot over communicate and dialogue this journey with your People. Get them engaged and excited regularly.

Opportunity Assessment (SWOT)

Will the journey be worthwhile?  Said another way, what is the business opportunity? Why do you think your vision will attract customers? Leaders think positively about the future that helps inspire followers to join the ride.

The next big question is who are your competitors?  Many times, small businesses answer there is no real competition for what I offer or intend to offer.  That is naïve because even in the remote possibility it is true and the marketplace likes what you offer, there soon will be competitors. There is an assortment of other threats to be considered particularly having enough working capital to sustain the business and so forth.

Thus, there will be competitors.  What are your strengths that you will/can leverage to attract customers?  What weaknesses need to be shored up or repositioned so that you have a viable product/service in your targeted marketplace?

This is a fast-paced world so be sure get as much input from others in the dynamics of this marketplace.  Be brutally honest in this assessment but positive in your game plan on how to achieve the vision.

Game plan

This SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) will lead to creating your customer value proposition that differentiates your offering from the competition. How then will you make that a reality?  What is the game plan that enables you to win the customer and beat the competition?  In planning terminology, what are your basic strategies?  Normally, there will only be a handful of these strategies that are key to your success. Don’t over strategize or you will lose focus on what is critically important.

The key is to concentrate on what really makes you different and better for your targeted customers. Do we have a better product or service and in what way (i.e. Product leadership)? Are we going to be more affordable by having some streamlined operations (i.e. Operational excellence)? Can we distribute or provide the product or service in a new way (i.e. Customer innovation)?  How will we attract customers via branding and what channels will we use to reach them (i.e. Marketing)?  How are we going to be more responsive to customers’ needs (i.e. Customer solutions)?  How will we raise or generate sufficient cash to run the business (i.e. Financial)?

Then, you need to put your action plans together. Given these strategies, what are the most important things that need to happen now, short term, and longer horizon? Again, be extremely focused on these tactics.  What is the objective to be accomplished?  Who is going to do it and be responsible that it happens? When will it be done and what are your checkpoints?

Think about strength-based leadership in formulating these action plans.  Get those who are going to be involved engaged in the specifics of what, why, and how. Remember that participative management leads to better performance.


Of course, the leader of a small business must be involved in the implementation of these game plans.  We will address this in a future blog the Performance side of Leadership. Keep the 3 Ps of People, Planning, and Performance top of mind. Planning is the catalyst that leads People to Performance.

Performance Feedback and Course Adjustment

The planning process is circular in nature.  Success rarely happens without continuously reviewing how you are Performing. Create a regular schedule to assess both your financials and action plans, monthly generally works well but at least quarterly.  Live your values in these meetings without demeaning people.  Think being objective. Make them more than status reports; chart out new actions as the situation dictates.  Celebrate success.

As a leader, address major opportunities, threats, and problems as they occur.  Be quick to react and when possible proact. Create separate sessions to address bigger picture topics or specific issues. Covid 19 is a good example.  Leadership agility has become critical in this world of accelerating and chaotic change.  We will share our thoughts on leadership agility and other adaptive skills in a future blog.

Ending Thoughts

In summary, the small business owner or CEO needs to be sure there is a planning process to set the course of direction.  Otherwise, there is just day to day fire fighting with little growth and questionable viability. My 4 Stage Growth Model for Small Businesses (blog post October 8, 2020) provides a great deal of insight into what you should focus on to progress to the next level.

Planning in small business cannot be a rigid structure.  Yet, you must write down your plans even in bullet form on paper and make it evergreen.  Otherwise, they just drift away.

There are those who question anything associated with planning/thinking beyond a couple months and perhaps annual arguing the world is moving too fast. Certainly, the cycle time of your business makes a difference, but for me that advice is rather naïve.  Envisioning will have a longer-term horizon.  You need specific plans for the here and now. But I find most business forget the mid-term.  What will be our next stage to bridge to our longer-term vision?  That is where the 4 Stage Growth Model can be helpful.  Identify the critical success factors needed to move up the growth curve.

Even though the activities of planning have a sequential logic, think of the process as parallel processing in real time shifting focus as the situation dictates.  Leadership shows forethought rather than panic.

Contributed by Lane Sloan, former Shell CFO and Silver Fox Advisor.

advisory board

The People Side of Leadership

In a previous blog on September 15, 2020, we looked at my 3 P Leadership Framework: People, Planning, and Performance. This blog goes more in-depth on the People side.

I am asked by small business owners for the best current leadership books to read that are concise and insightful. That is a good question and I say something like John Maxwell’s LEADERSHIFT The Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace. Given the accelerating pace of change in today’s business world, Maxwell does offer real insight.

In giving this response, I often think how much foundational insights are lost that really ground a person becoming a good if not great leader. Many key thoughts on leadership were not created these past couple years. Here are some key foundational insights that I think matter:

Beliefs in People matter

I believe modern leadership theory really began with Douglas Mc Gregor’s 1960 book entitled The Human Side of Enterprise in which he laid out two opposing theories on perceiving and motivating employees.

In simple terms, in Theory X the manager/leader believes employees have little desire for work other than the paycheck.  In Theory Y, people are internally motivated requiring less direction and control. In my opinion, these beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies and lead to different leadership styles. 

With Theory X assumptions of People, leaders will tend to be autocratic telling people what to do with little discretion.  Those with Theory Y beliefs will tend to give employees more freedom and bring them into the decision-making process.

We talked about beliefs as part of Persuasion in my 4 Inner Ps of Leadership blog of October 30, 2020. Clearly this belief around people’s internal motivation is critical to a successful relationship with your employees.

Leadership styles matter

Researchers picked up on the idea of different leadership styles.  Rensis Likert found four different styles whose titles accurately explain the approach: Exploitative Authoritative, Benevolent Authoritative, Consultative System, and Participative System. 

The punch line is the Performance of the organizations went from Exploitative Authoritative being the worst improving up the scale with the Participative System being the best.  His book The Human Organization published in 1967 still sits in my library.

Also, in the 1960s, Blake and Mouton published their Managerial Grid or better said Leadership Grid with two key dimensions: Concern for People and Concern for Results (i.e. Performance).  So, there you have two of the 3 Ps.  A style that was low on both dimensions, called impoverished management brings disharmony, disorganization, and dissatisfaction.  

In their lingo, the Produce or Perish style focusing high on results but low on concern for people breeds an authoritarian.  The high on concern for people and low on concern for results is labeled Country Club Management and as expected, produces low results with lack of direction and control.  

Interestingly, taking a Middle of the Road approach ends up with only mediocre performance.  The best, which they described as the Team Management having a high concern for both People and Performance, has a leader with a Theory Y belief and participative style- no surprise.

As we discussed in the recent blog on the 4 Inner Ps of Leadership, leadership style as part of your Personality has a significant impact.  Know your style and how you are relating to your People.

Trust matters

We described in my earlier blog on the 3 Ps of Leadership the Zenger and Folkman’s leadership model of a tent.  Character was described as the pole that holds up the tent of the other four stakes: personal capability, focus on results, leading organizational change, and interpersonal relationships. It is the centerpiece.

As Warren Bennis, one of the great leadership thinkers once said, “real leaders, and people of strong character, generate and sustain trust.” There are many elements that build trust such as doing what you say you are going to do.

In other words, People can count on you. On the People side, showing respect and listening goes a long way. Lots more could be said on character and trust, but you can generally see it and feel it when observing someone’s behaviors and actions.

Back on the Inner 4 Ps of Leadership, Persuasions have a fundamental impact on your interpersonal relationships.  If you lack a strong moral compass, People will be extremely cautious on what you ask them to do and why. As highlighted in the blog, Personal Purpose can be a guidepost in building your character.

People’s needs matter

In my psychology class, we discussed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one of the most influential models for me in understanding People.  You probably have heard of his theory that there are five levels of needs beginning with physiological (i.e. surviving) followed by safety, love and belonging (social), esteem or ego, and self-actualization. 

People move up this hierarchy and are motivated by the level they have reached.  If they are driven back down, they are demotivated.

Herzberg outlined this back in 1959 (in his Two Factor Theory of Motivation) as Hygiene factors such as pay, company policies, fringe benefits, physical working conditions, status, and interpersonal relations. 

In these hygiene factors you can become dissatisfied, but they are not big motivators.  He saw motivational factors as recognition, sense of achievement, growth and promotional opportunity, responsibility, and meaningfulness of the work. Even sixty years later, Herzberg had a lot of insight into what needs motivate People.

Back to Maslow, in my opinion as a society here in the United States we have generally risen to the level of ego needs.  As some say, we are in the “me” generation.  People want a job experience tailored for them and their desires.  A hundred years ago they primarily just wanted a job. Some would argue that People driven by self-actualization are emerging.  They can provide powerful results if your offering fits their needs.

There are a couple dimensions of the 4 Inner Ps of Leadership that support understanding your Peoples’ needs.  In the former blog, we discussed under Persuasions the importance of understanding others’ perspectives that drive their behavior. Then your leadership skills come into play.

In Proficiencies, strengths in Rath and Conchie’s domains of Influencing and Relationship Building not only help you understand others needs but can help you in addressing them.  Ultimately, that will lead to value propositions.

Value Propositions matter

In my book, Develop a Leadership Plan: Become a Great Leader I advocate that value propositions are needed for all your key stakeholders.  Of course, we all recognize the need for an impactful value proposition to attract customers.  The same can be said of your employees and leadership team. What do you offer that makes them want to work for you and your company?  How does that compare to your competition?

For an organization, I see value propositions as layered.  At the highest level, what is your value proposition for the whole organization?  This will include bigger picture ideas such as vision but also the values, empowerment, and other hygiene and motivational factors that People can expect. 

Then, at the individual level, what is your value proposition for specific people? How do you get the best that People can provide, and the organization needs? These tailorings will generally fit into Herzberg’s motivational factors with recognition, sense of achievement, growth and promotional opportunity, and the meaningfulness of work.

Do not forget their participation in decision making and engaging in the direction and vision of the business.

Depending on the size of the organization, there may need to be mid-level value propositions.   These are specific offerings for different types of work groups.

Incidentally, John Maxwell does a great job talking about leaders adding value in his book on LEADERSHIFT.

Bottom line, as a small business owner/CEO you are the boss, but to become really successful you will need to become a leader.  Think about People first.  Think about what matters to them.  In Servant Leadership vernacular, how can you serve them first such that it makes them want to follow you on a common purpose.  In a future blog, we will provide some Reflections on Servant Leadership.

Contributed by Lane Sloan, former Shell CFO and Silver Fox Advisor.


The Ultimate Leadership Development Guide

The Ultimate Leadership Development Guide

One of the biggest gaps in the maturation of leaders is the lack of an effective leadership development program. Leadership development is tough and expensive. It is not a 3-day course that you can bring in-house and expect to have rockstar leaders. It requires training in multiple areas of employee development along with ongoing coaching/mentoring over time.

Many training companies will try to turn their product into a leadership training program only to hit part of the target with an ineffective solution.

The most common reasons for ineffective leadership development programs are:

  • One Size Does Not Fit All – leaders of Fortune 1000 corporations need different training than leaders of small, family-owned businesses.
  • Situational Awareness – lack of relevant scenarios to develop on-the-job situational awareness
  • Emotional Intelligence – many courses teach it, but few spend enough time on it in the context of a larger training program. Very important but not all inclusive.
  • Lack of Sponsorship – most companies sponsor the program but do not ingrain it into the daily operations from top to bottom of the company. Executives rarely model their own training.
  • Limited On-Going Feedback – leadership is not a checklist. Very few resources exist to provide on-going feedback in the context of what was trained.
  • Circumstances Change – employees, managers, and circumstances change over time. The program must be flexible and more evergreen than a one-time inspirational session.

I’ve seen companies develop their own programs that were marginally more effective than the “box” ones. They usually start with a central theme and add their flavor to it. Examples are:

  • A course based upon a book that is popular at the time but doesn’t cover all the bases. Interest quickly fades when a new fad comes along.
  • An offsite facilitated training that is part training, part boondoggle, and part role-play but loses steam after real life back at the office continues.

Each approach has their own merit but should play their part and not outweigh other equally relevant areas.

What is the best approach to develop leaders?

The best answer lies in the combination of best practices within the culture of the company and the leaders being trained. What I am about to outline is a lot for a single course. I recommend having separate training programs along with an overarching strategy that is communicated to the future leaders. Show them how it all ties together and monitor their progress. Most HR systems today allow tracking of employee training and progress.

Let’s dive right in.

  • Company-specific training

If you ask most management personnel to name the company values, could they? What about an accurate description of the business model? Doubtful.

Many of the important factors of who, what, when, how, and why a company is run may not be fully defined or periodically refreshed with the employees. Giving a new employee the company handbook and walking them through it during orientation is not the way to train your leaders on the most important aspects of your company.

  • Key Company Specific Items for Leaders
    1. Business model
      • Explain how the company makes money, what it takes to make the product or services, and how it ultimately turns a profit.
    2. Culture
      • Do you know what your culture is? Trust me – you have one whether it is easily defined or not. Discuss it and reinforce with the leaders.
    3. Values
      • Everything starts with values. Do you have values written down and readily available? Do all employees know them, abide by them, and are they held accountable to them?
    4. Mission, Goals, Strategy
      • These are important for leaders to know and convey. There are always issues and initiatives that can be distracting for leaders. Do their activities align with the mission and goals of the company? Are the strategies in place aligned as well?

All levels of employees need to know why the company is in business, how it makes money, what the goals are, and the value of their role. This helps them feel like they are a valuable part of the company and not just a commodity.

  • High Performing Teams training

A core element of a leader is to develop teams that can accomplish more than a combination of individuals by themselves. How they do it is equally as important.

I’ve always been a big fan of leadership training programs based upon Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. It is scenario based which means people can really relate. It teaches team members to trust each other and to overcome the fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

The key takeaway for me is that everyone is focused on what is best for the company and not their own individual self-interests. When you trust each other, serve each other, and collaborate as a team, no hill is too large to climb. There may be individual sacrifices to be made for the greater good of the company over time.

There are other great HPT training programs out there. Investigate what is right for you and your organization and get some people trained. I prefer a “train the trainer” approach myself but you can decide which is best for your firm.

  • Personality assessment – Individual and Team

I’ve used personality assessments for years. I’m professionally trained in Birkman but have used DISC, MBTI, Predictive Index, and others. You can go as deep as you want with these.

The key use of personal assessments in a corporate setting is to recognize your own personality traits and learn how to best communicate with others. Create a cheat sheet of yourself and how you relate to your teammates. The single biggest problem in corporate America today is poor communication. Not poor intent.

  • Mentoring/Coaching

I believe having a mentor, whether inside or outside the company, is a tremendous asset to any leader. Having the ability to bounce ideas off someone else and discuss real life issues will greatly improve a leader’s growth and situational awareness.

You should also consider hiring an Executive Coach for key leaders. They tend to ask questions that make us feel uncomfortable. They try to stretch us into areas we need to grow and to look at things from different perspectives.

I like the coach that has been there and done that in the business world and is not afraid to broach difficult topics.

  • Repeatable Operational and Managerial Processes

As stated earlier, the company needs to clearly define what the goals are for the organization. Once defined, each leader and corresponding departments need to be aligned toward the goals. Everyone in the organization, from CEO to front line staff, needs to be on the same page to create a high-performing organization.

One of the best approaches out there is the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). The implementation process walks you through defining clear goals and then breaks them down for each department and person in the company. Everyone knows what is expected of them and when. It establishes accountability and discipline for everyone in the organization.

You can hire an “implementer” or get someone trained and do it yourself.

  • Sponsorship

If you really want to transform your leadership into top tier leaders, an initiative like this requires sponsorship and alignment from the CEO and executive leadership team. Remember – employees are always watching you. If you tell them they need to do something better, but you are not willing yourself, save your money. It will never work.

Be fully engaged as a sponsor and this guide will be transformational for you and your company.


A program like I’ve outlined here will work. It will not be easy nor inexpensive. Do not try to tackle everything at once. Phase it in over time. Some things will only need to be implemented once while others will need to occur periodically as the leadership team members change.

If you would like to learn more, contact me at rhall@silverfox.org. Happy to discuss all aspects of this program with you.