The Video Says It All — The Sexiest Topic in Leadership, Part 8

OK Go -- This Too Shall Pass 4A few years ago DirecTV had a set of humorous TV commercials based on the idea that a single event can set in motion a series of events that leads to a less than desirable outcome. One of those commercials went like this:

(from an ominous announcer’s voice)
“When you have cable and your picture freezes, you get irritable.
When you get irritable, your work [as an criminal defense attorney] suffers.
When your work suffers, the wrong man is convicted.
When the wrong man is convicted, he has time to think.
When he has time to think, he thinks about you a lot.
And when he thinks about you a lot, your house explodes.
Don’t have your house explode.
Get rid of cable and upgrade to DirectTV. Call 1-8-0-0 DirectTV.”

DirecTV had many commercials in this series, all ending with bad outcomes. As humorous as these commercials were, they serve as a great introduction to the second major tenant of strategic thinking.

Challenging the Process (a guru’s podcast) — The Sexiest Topic in Leadership, Part 7

“Timing is everything,” goes the saying. Today, for our tribe here at The Aperio, these words definitely apply.

Our timing is currently this…

(1) We’re in a blog series on “The Sexiest Topic in Leadership” = Thinking Strategically.

(2) Within that series, we’re currently focused on The Hunt for Better — the consistent need for leaders to drive positive changes both big and small if they are to be strategic.

(3) Within The Hunt for Better, we’ve spent our last two postings taking a look at how leaders foster change in their organizations.

All of this just happens to coincide with a podcast published this month by an outstanding leadership teacher, Andy Stanley.

More About Why The Best Ideas Don’t Win and What To Do About It — The Sexiest Topic in Leadership, Part 6

Ideas Are Scary 4This week we continue on in our focus on the most popular (aka “the sexiest”) topic in leadership: strategic thinking. In last week’s posting, we acknowledged that strategic leaders not only help unearth great ideas, but they navigate them through organizational gauntlets to get implemented. Strategic leaders do this in spite of the fact that great ideas don’t get implemented simply because they are great. Organizational change is more complex than that.

* Last week we covered the first two steps for bringing innovative ideas to fruition:

Step #1: Expect resistance
Step #2: Appreciate the pain

Now, we’re ready for the step #3 and a video to help us feel what its like for new ideas to reach their potential.

The Best Ideas Don’t Win and What To Do About It — The Sexiest Topic in Leadership, Part 5

Ideas Are Scary 2We’re in the middle of a series on strategic thinking. Over the past three blog postings, we’ve explored the requirement of strategic leaders to always be in search of what’s better in both big and small ways. We’ve called this Prioritizing the Hunt for Better. Merely finding great ideas, however, doesn’t make them reality; new ideas must be brought to fruition to be valuable.

Successfully leading the change that comes attached to new ideas is paramount to being a strategic leader. Therefore, we’re going to take the next two blog posts to explore the practical realities of moving great ideas from concept to implementation. 

* To kickoff this discussion, let’s start with a couple of questions:

(1) Have you ever run into road blocks when suggesting needed changes in your organization?
(2) Have you ever had it’s-so-obvious-we-should-do-this-that-I-can’t-believe-we-even-have-to-discuss-it improvements encounter resistance?

If so, there’s an important principle to remember that will keep you (1) from going insane and (2) on the path to organizational change and improvement. That principle is this: the best ideas don’t win.

“What if…” —
The Sexiest Topic in Leadership, Part 4

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 4.20.20 PMWe’re in the midst of a multi-week exploration of the most favorite son of leadership theorists: strategic thinking. Last week we looked at the first of three practices for fostering the discovery of paradigm-shifting improvements. This week we’ll continue that process by looking at the remaining two.

To start, let’s take a moment to consider a list of questions…

–What if you could store food in a box that would allow it to be preserved for extended periods of time?
–What if you could ride in a machine that would take you half way around the world in 16 hours?
–What if you had a device that could play, on demand, nearly any song ever recorded?
–What if you could send a message or document anywhere in the world in mere seconds?
–What if, whenever you had an idea, you could write it down and stick it to your computer or desk without having to use glue or tape?
–What if there was a machine that you could put your clothes in and after about 30 minutes they would come out clean?

The refrigerator. The airplane. The smart phone. Email. The Post-It ® note. The clothes washer.

Each of these innovations was unimaginable at a point in the past. Now each is a commonly accepted part of the world. And each answers a compelling ‘What if…”

A Whole New Perspective —
The Sexiest Topic in Leadership, Part 3

washing clothesThis series is titled “The Sexiest Topic in Leadership” because strategy is something that seems to intrigue all who are interested in leadership. Everyone seems to like the idea of thinking strategically and sees value in doing so. Most who are interested in leadership love to hear stories about how a particular strategic move vaulted this or that company into new levels of performance and achievement. There’s cachet in the idea of strategy. That’s what makes it “The Sexiest Topic in Leadership.”

In last week’s posting we noted that one of three things strategic leaders do is Prioritize the Hunt For Better by investing in the search for “incremental progress.” This week, we turn our attention to the other side of Prioritize the Hunt for Better — looking for “monumental, game-changing paradigm shifts.”

There are three habits that assist us and those we lead in the search for monumental, game-changing paradigm shifts. To introduce the first, I’ll share one of my favorite business stories.

There once a company that made laundry detergent. They operated in a third world country where it was customary for people to wash their clothes in the local river.

Scenes from the Bathroom —
The Sexiest Topic in Leadership, Part 2

doorsWe’ve just begun a multi-part series exploring the most talked-about topic in leadership: strategic thinking. What makes a leader strategic? How can we help ourselves and the leaders we are responsible to develop become more and more strategic? What are the key principles of thinking strategically that can be fostered at all levels of leadership? To begin to answer these questions, we are going to take a trip to the bathroom. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

It has long been joked that the bathroom is the birthplace of many a good idea. One look at Auguste Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker gives us ammunition to support that idea. (Is he sitting on a rock…or is that a toilet?) That said, it’s recent advancements in bathroom technology that give us examples of the first commitment of strategic thinkers.

The Sexiest Topic in Leadership, Part 1

I spend the majority of my working life helping individuals and executive teams understand the connection between who they are as people and their effectiveness as leaders. That most often results in clients doing exercises over the course of months and years to become more humble, empathic, curious, emotionally mature, personally secure, and well-developed in various other inner qualities. The end goal is more effective leaders who produce better bottom-line results while creating better lives for themselves and everyone around them.

That said, there is more to the world of leadership than the inner development of leaders. Though strategy, execution, and motivation are less statistically significant than most leaders assume, they are still important leadership topics. So for a number of weeks forward we are going explore what is perhaps the most noted and sexiest of all leadership topics: strategic thinking.

There is no shortage of strategy theories in the world. Porter’s 5 Forces, Ohmae’s 3C’s, and McKinsey’s 7-S Framework are a few of literally hundreds of theories that exist to help leaders and organizations make strategically astute decisions. It might seem unnecessary, then, to add more dialogue to the mix. But that’s not so if a few more words can codify the overarching ideas that make a leader strategic.

Our Trip to the Pediatric ER

cast Last September we had a pretty significant accident in our home. Our two year old son had his right pinky finger in the hinge of a door when our four year old daughter decided the door needed to be closed. The result was the tip of my son’s finger being cut off and a frantic drive to the hospital for him, my wife, and myself.

In order to aid the healing process, my son had to wear a cast which extended not only over top of the injured finger, but all the way down his arm and past his elbow which was at a 90 degree angle. It seems that young children are fond of pulling off protective casts, so extending it that far was necessary.

At one point during his weeks of wearing the cast, my son noticed the he had a small scrape on his leg. It was tiny indeed. I attempted to point out that the “owie” on his leg was nothing compared to his cast. No matter what I said, he was fixated on the tiny bump on his leg. To him the cast was no longer noticeable. It had become the norm.

Seeing as this is a blog about leadership, you might be wondering “What does any of this have to do with leadership?” I’m glad you asked.

The Best Question I’ve Ever Been Asked (re-post)

question markOnce per quarter we share blog posts from the past so that our newer followers receive some of our past content and our older followers receive a useful reminder. In this week’s posting we look back on a blog post from April 2015. It shares the best question I’ve ever been asked and why it is valuable for every leader to ask it of themselves and the leaders they are developing.

Many people have “pivot points” in life–moments when their perspectives dramatically change direction. Often these pivot points are created by a single, simple idea. So it was with me.

Years ago I found myself in a very difficult situation as a follower. I was frustrated, even disgusted by my boss’s behavior. I was suffering because of his selfishness, lack of willingness to take responsibility for his promises, and deceit. The problems were clear and undeniable. I was angry and felt more than justified in my anger.

Then a wise and accomplished friend asked me the best question I’ve ever been asked:

The Leadership Opportunity We Normally Miss

12654199_1244752162207454_5500140414448218340_nI had just finished my senior year in high school. I was 18 years old. My friends and I were busy making plans for where to attend college. The world was full of possibilities and options.

One afternoon that spring the phone rang. It was clearly an adult on the line but he wasn’t asking to speak to my mother or father. He wanted to talk to me.

“I have some questions for you about Axel Spens,” said the voice on the other end.

Axel was a good friend of mine. We’d become close while playing high school basketball together. We’d spent countless hours in cars and buses going to and from games and practices.

Just Plain Stupid
(aka Leadership and Media Coverage of the American Political Process)

Special note to our international readers: I estimate that media coverage of politics in democratic countries is similar to what we experience in America. That said, I’m keeping my assessment focused on the United States as I get to watch its craziness firsthand.

2016 Candidates

It has begun and is in full force. By “it” I mean the insanity and stupidity of the American media’s coverage of its political process. It happens every time there’s an election and every four years, when we elect our President, the levels of insanity and stupidity soar exponentially.

You’d think that with commentary that regularly refers to the President of the United States as “the leader of the free world” at least a smattering of the media’s coverage would be analyzing the candidates’ leadership capabilities. Nothing could be further from the truth and there’s a warning in that for all of us to heed.

Why Leaders Need to Keep the Yardstick Up In the Air

In our last two blog entries we’ve investigated (1) an important way to keep followers motivated and (2) how to help followers consistently make good decisions. This week’s video blog shows the single leadership concept that those ideas point toward and how it works to make leaders not only more effective, but also more efficient. 

The One Phrase That Every Leader Needs

Aquafina, anyone?In last week’s blog, I shared that my wife and I kicked off the new year by volunteering at a spiritual development conference called “Passion 2016.” The scope of the conference was impressive: 40,000 people between the ages of 18 and 25 hailing from all 50 states and 51 countries spread across three different arenas in the southern United States. This was no small undertaking.

My wife and I were assigned roles on the Hospitably Team at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. It was our team’s responsibility to ensure that our venue’s volunteers, audio/visual production staff, on-stage communicators, musicians, and administrative team were properly hydrated, caffeinated, snack-i-fied, and in some cases, straight up fed. All in all there were more than 400 people we were serving in four different parts of the building ranging from the second to highest floor in the arena all the way to the basement.

With such an assignment, one might expect that our primary marching orders would have to do with the details of delivery schedules and communication processes. What we received from our leader, however, was something far simpler and more effective than any detail could provide.

40,000 College Students and One Great Reminder

This past New Year’s was a first for me. It wasn’t the first time I fell asleep before midnight on New Year’s Eve. (That’s the norm since children became a part of our family.) It wasn’t the first time I’ve been out of town over New Year’s Eve. But it was the first time I spent New Year’s Eve asleep before midnight, out of town, and prepping to spend the next four days as a volunteer.

In late 2015, my wife and I decided that we’d kick off the new year by volunteering at Passion 2016. Passion Conferences are gatherings of 18 to 25 year olds (aka college students) specifically for the purpose of their spiritual development. Attendance at this year’s Passion Conference: 40,000. A small army of more than 1,000 volunteers was utilized to pull off the multi-day event. As a member of that army, I had the opportunity to observe some of Passion 2016’s behind-the-scenes leadership. As I did, I was reminded of an important leadership practice that is often neglected when the pressure and pace of leadership increases.

That Obnoxious Dad at My Kid’s Basketball Game Might Be On to Something

line up blurredMy oldest son is 6 years old. This winter I’m coaching his first foray into the sport that has been a deep passion for me, basketball. As you might guess, this team of little boys produces only a dim reflection of actual basketball. It’s a herd of 10 kids running up and down the court, barely dribbling, and failing to make more than a few baskets over the course of an entire game.

At the start of our second practice, before we’d played any games, the father of two kids on our team approached me. He didn’t approve of the way I’d taught the kids to shoot a basketball during our first practice. I explained why I was teaching the boys as I was. I couldn’t tell if he was satisfied with my answer or not. Nonetheless, I felt confident that I was doing right by the kids in teaching them proper technique.

Then came our first game. (Enter ominous music: Du, du, duuuuuuuuh!)

Finding and Fighting Listening’s Greatest Enemy

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 9.22.21 AMIn recent weeks we’ve been exploring the impact of how well we listen on our effectiveness as leaders. Week one found us looking at the relationship between listening and trust. Week two had us exploring a simple listening practice that creates a positive and disproportionate reward for us as leaders. In our third and final week, we address the highest hurdles to listening well.

Walt Kelly was an animator and story teller. His career included work on Disney favorites such as Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Fantasia. In 1948 Kelly’s creation “Pogo the possum” began running in the New York Star, a newspaper that existed for less than a year. Despite the Star’s failure, Pogo lived on and was picked up in syndication. Pogo was published in comic books and newspapers for more than two decades. Walt Kelly passed away in 1973. A year prior to his death, Simon and Schuster published a comic book featuring Pogo and the quote that became Pogo’s greatest legacy.

How to Get a Disproportionately Greater Reward

Turn it offIn our last posting, we heard from a group of leaders who identified “listening” as one of the key characteristics of a trustworthy leader. Given that trust touches every facet of leadership, further exploring how to listen well is a natural next step.

Over the next two weeks we’ll explore some practices that make us better listeners, and thereby, more trustworthy leaders. This week we’ll focus on one of the simplest ways to improve our ability to listen. It’s a practice that creates a reward disproportionately greater than the effort it takes.

An Unexpected Way to Become More Trustworthy

Ear ListenThis past week I had the privilege of addressing the top 100 leaders of one of my clients. It is a publicly traded company with operations on multiple continents and over 12,000 employees. It has, like many companies of its scope, plenty of opportunity to wrestle with complexity through its logistics, variety of businesses, and cultural diversity. Over the last 3+ years, the company has experienced an 89% gain in its share price.

The question I put before the company’s leaders was, “What makes a leader trustworthy?”

The room swelled with noise as these leaders, split into groups of three, debated and discussed the question. After about 20 minutes, I asked a few people to come up on stage and share the conclusions their groups had reached. Their first answer was something not many people would expect.

Maximizing Potential and the Psychology of Followers (re-post)

Once a quarter we share blog posts from the past so that our new followers receive some of our past content. In this week’s posting we look back on a video blog that explores the psychology of our followers when it comes to them reaching their potential.

In the first video in this series, we discussed the one question we need to be asking ourselves in order to maximize the potential within our followers. In this week’s posting, we head back to “This Old Lot” to explore the psychology of potential from our followers’ perspectives.

The Questions Great Leaders Ask

Today’s blog will both start and end with questions. First, our starting questions:

Question #1:–When you-know-what hits the fan, what do you find yourself thinking about first:
(a) How I’m not to blame or how I’m a victim of the situation.
(b) How I contributed to the situation.

Question #2–When you-know-what hits the fan, what do you find yourself thinking about most:
(a) How I’m not to blame or how I’m a victim of the situation.
(b) How I contributed to the situation.

If you’re a leader and either of your answers above is (a), we need to talk.
If the person you follow would answer (a) to either of questions above, we also need to talk…because what you’re about to read will likely be cathartic.

Am I Disabling My Future as a Leader?

walking off the ledge narrow“Am I consciously thinking about the type of leader I want to be? Or am I so busy trying to succeed according to my organization’s or boss’s scorecard that I’ve forgotten I have a say in who I am?”

These questions are applicable to all leaders no matter their stage of life, but they are especially applicable to up and coming leaders in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. And its these questions that grabbed my attention this week through an unnerving charitable experience.

Earlier this week I went online to make a donation to a large, well-known, international charity. 

What’s Your Perspective on Motivation? —
Motivation, Part 5

ball top of hillI want to challenge your perspective on motivation.

Perspectives are powerful. Our perspectives color everything we see, think, and experience. They decide whether we focus on the path toward winning or the roadblocks in our way. They determine whether we see failures or lessons well-learned. They dictate whether we live in hopefulness or fear. Given the power that perspectives hold, it is important that leaders be conscious of their perspectives when it comes to the issue of motivation.

Throughout this series on motivation, there has been a subtle but consistent perspective baked into each blog posting.

Free, Simple, Effective, and Forgotten —
Motivation, Part 4

Yesterday I got a text from a good friend, trustworthy leader, and A+ communicator, John Ott. He wanted me to check out a website focused on leadership development. I did so and immediately started kicking myself.

The website was It is hosted by Mark Miller, VP of Leadership Development at Chick-fil-A. Mark has been writing books and helping develop leaders both inside and outside of Chick-fil-A for many years. His website was clean in appearance and easy to navigate. It had a nice video promoting his most recent video offering. Overall it was extremely professional and full of good content.

So why was I kicking myself?

Do You Know Who You’re Motivating? —
Motivation, Part 3

Last week we looked at a epic sports turnaround that leveraged an underappreciated motivational tool. This week our series on motivation turn its attention to a simple 4-step application that enables us to motivate those we lead more effectively.

Last Thursday I spoke to a group of people who lead the financial functions within their companies. There were about 80 people in the room when I asked them to choose the most important leadership capabilities from a list of eight possibilities. For what felt like the millionth time in my experience as a speaker and consultant, the most popular category selected was that of motivation. No matter the conference or leadership team with whom I’m engaged, everyone seems to value the leader’s ability to motivate those he/she leads.

At times we can be tempted to rely on organizational systems that bestow recognition, champion accountability, and censure poor performance as key motivational drivers.

Do You Have the Guts to Share It? —
Motivation, Part 2

Schnur's PlayLast week a conversation between two disengaged employees kicked off our series on motivation. This week we’ll use the way-back machine to examine a key driver of motivation that doesn’t get nearly enough airtime in discussions about effective leadership.

It was 1995 and Gary Barnett was entering his fourth season as head football coach at Northwestern. (That’s American football for our non-American readers.) In the 24 years prior, the Wildcats were the laughing stock of the Big Ten Conference and, at times, all of college football. During that span Northwestern had not a single winning season as it amassed a record of 46-207. Between 1979 and 1982 they lost 34 games in a row. In one five year stretch, they lost every single Big Ten Conference game.

Barnett was hired in 1992. His first three years hadn’t yielded much progress in terms of the team’s record. The team won just 8 games during that time. But Barnett saw something brewing.

September 29, Disengaged Followers, and Human Nature — Motivation, Part 1

coffeeYesterday morning I was in a nationally known food establishment whose profits are highly dependent on coffee sales. I won’t say who it was exactly, but I will say #1) it wasn’t Starbucks, and #2) it’s name rhymes with Unkin’ Onuts.

So there I was, minding my own breakfast, when I heard a couple of the establishment’s employees talking about a quickly approaching date.

The Shortest Blog Post Ever

Employee ListGrandma’s apple pie. Timely encouragement from a loved one. An unprompted “I wuv you,” from your 2-year old niece. Some things simply can’t be improved. So it is with the focus of today’s blog: a simple quote.

This past May I was facilitating a discussion about how humility, curiosity, and empathy impact a leader’s effectiveness. In the midst of that discussion, one of the leaders in the room shared a quote that had been shared with him. And now I share it with you…

The Great Lie and How I Pulled It Off: A Cautionary Tale

CaricaturesDespite the fact that I have been exposed to a million and one assessments in my career, I get excited whenever a new one comes my way. I look forward to learning anything I can about myself that I didn’t previously know. Even when assessments confirm things I already know about myself, they serve as helpful reminders.

Each time I sit down to receive feedback from a new assessment, the nervous butterflies materialize in my stomach. Until the assessment results are in, I feel slightly stalked by the thought of I wonder if I’m about to get blindsided by something I didn’t know about myself. Usually the blindsiding doesn’t happen. This time, it did.

The Full Power of “Leader”

Power ArmIn our quest to achieve goals, earn bonuses, and get promoted, we sometimes forget the full impact that comes attached to the title of “leader.” I was reminded of this fact in a clear fashion during a recent trip.

Last Friday night/Saturday morning I took the red-eye from Los Angeles to Atlanta. Unfortunately, I was both unable to sleep and too tired to work. So I decided to watch a movie.

On the plane’s in-flight entertainment system I stumbled upon a movie about a father estranged from his son. For many decades they’d had zero contact. The father had hit a point in his life where he wanted to make amends for his absenteeism or at least attempt to be a better father than he’d been in the past.

An Open Letter to Leaders: What Your Followers Really Think When You Don’t Get Back to Them

No ResponseDear Leaders,

Day in and day out we, your followers, use email, text messages, voicemail and the like to communicate with you. There are many times — probably more than you care to admit or recall — when you don’t respond to our messages in a timely fashion or, in some cases, at all. As your followers, we thought you might want to know a bit more about what we’re thinking when you don’t get back to us.

Carpe Your Followers

Robin Williams picture from PhotoPinLast week we explored how to make our leadership communication radically more effective. We will now turn our attention—as we so often do at The Aperio—to the inner workings of the leader. This week we’ll explore the internal development of the leader that precedes and enables radically effective communication.

In the 1989 movie Dead Poets Society, the late Robin Williams played the role of school teacher John Keating. Keating teaches poetry and English in an all-boys preparatory school. His teaching methods would have been considered unique in any school but, in the buttoned-up world of a traditional boarding school, they were scandalous.

How To Be a Radically Effective Communicator

gloveIn last week’s post we explored the communication mentality of an effective leader. If you possess that, you’re ready for today’s topic. Today we look at how to radically–and I do mean radically–improve the effectiveness of our communication. To do that, we’ll take a look at a couple of real-life leaders.

Meet Lance. Lance was an up-and-coming leader in his organization but still getting his footing in what it meant to lead.

Do You Have the Communication Mentality of a Non-Leader?


Former US President Harry S Truman

For Father’s Day this year my wife gave me the gift of getting to spend an hour alone with each of our three kids. There is little in the world I enjoy more than getting to be with my kids one-on-one. With the hustle and bustle of a family of five, such opportunities are rare. Each kid was given the choice of how to spend the hour with me. For her hour, our 4-year old daughter decided that she and I would go swimming.

We arrived at our local workout facility and jumped in the pool. There were LOTS of people swimming that afternoon. Not long after getting into the water, I was told to move to a different part of the pool by the lifeguard.

Helping Leaders Sleep at Night

Recap emailTwo weeks ago we took a look at what ignites followers to the highest levels of engagement. Last week we analyzed the barriers that keep leaders from creating that engagement. This week’s blog continues that story line by focusing on a practical tool that helps leaders communicate more effectively and overcome their fear of delegation.

Communication is a regularly discussed topic when it comes to leadership. The what, how, when, and who of communication is often the painful punch line of plans gone awry. I had such an experience just this week.

The Risk Every Leader Must Take

riskLast week’s blog told the story of how leaders can ignite exceptional engagement within their followers. This week’s blog continues in that vein by addressing the primary hurdles that keep leaders from creating that engagement even when they know what to do.

We love to hear stories about the dramatic risks that leaders take. There’s the story of FedEx founder Frederick Smith playing blackjack with the company’s last $5,000 to keep it afloat. The world of athletics loves to debate the game-determining risks that coach’s take; such as the risk Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll took to throw the ball near the goal line in the waning moments of this past January’s Super Bowl. And then there are risk-filled stories of military and political choices such as former US President John F. Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 or more recently with the risk taken by current US President Barack Obama to fly troops into Pakistan to go after Osama bin Laden in 2011.

While the drama of big risks creates interesting story lines, it actually represents a very small percentage of the risks leaders must take in order to lead well. The most important and frequent risk leaders at every organizational level must take in order to realize their potential is more personal than dramatic or strategic.

Getting “Dollhouse Engagement” from Those You Lead (re-post)

dollhouseBelieve it or not, today marks the start of 2015’s 3rd quarter. Roughly once per quarter we revisit some older blog posts so as to get good-but-already-posted content to our newer subscribers and offer some helpful reminders to more longstanding members of The Aperio community. Today’s post was originally shared just under a year ago.

A couple of summers ago, I helped my neighbors, Matt and Meredith, move into their new house. A group of us had gathered to lend a hand because, well, that’s what you do for your friends. You lovingly help them move (up two flights of stairs) their disassembled Bowflex home gym that they bought and swore they’d use every day.

In the midst the loading and unloading, Meredith caught my attention and made a special request related to a prized possession of her two-year old daughter. She said, “Tim, I trust you to move this dollhouse. I don’t trust those other guys. But you, I trust.”

Disagree With Your Followers To Deserve Their Trust

To Smoke or Not To SmokeAs I help individuals and organizations increase their leadership effectiveness, I occasionally encounter sales department leaders who are looking for keynote speakers. When I ask them about the messages they are trying to get across to their sales teams, I’m not surprised when they use the word ‘leadership’ to tell me that they want their people to sell more product. In such instances, as I probe further, I usually find no distinguishable difference between the sales leader’s use of the word ‘sales’ and the word ‘leadership.’ But those words are decidedly not one in the same. A convenience store near my home helped remind me of that fact just this week.

How Leaving Money on the Table Makes You a Better Leader

last 50 centsJack Welch is one of the most revered names in modern American business history. He’s credited with leading global business giant General Electric to a 4000% value increase between 1981 and 2001. During that time, Welch developed a reputation for being both strategic and somewhat ruthless; the latter largely stemming from his policy of firing the bottom 10% of his leaders annually.

Given his reputation, many people may be surprised to learn about Welch’s views on negotiation.

Increasing Commitment within Our Followers by Widening the Trail

Three weeks ago our blog took us to the Rocky Mountains. This week’s posting takes us back to Colorado. Click on the video below to see how a walking trail next to the Arkansas River shows us what emotionally thoughtful leaders can do to increase commitment within those they lead.

A Mindset That Effective Leaders Can’t Afford to Be Without

come by it honestlyAs leaders, we can never escape the reality that our beliefs about people influence the way we lead them. We might fancy that we can neutralize our beliefs at least enough to not be found out, but the truth is, over time, reality always reveals itself. There’s no way for those we lead to avoid our beliefs about them over the long haul. This is why it is so important for leaders to pay close attention to their inner monologue about those they lead.

Imagine — and this is totally hypothetical — that you have a couple of people on the team you lead whose attitudes and behavior are underwhelming. (I know, I know, it’s tough to imagine such a thing, but do your best to pretend.)

What To Do If You’re Following a Crappy Leader

Man in the Mirror 2Many years ago I had a good friend, Jordie, call me up. He shared with me that he wanted to grow and develop as a leader but felt stuck in being able to do so. His current boss wasn’t an effective leader and wasn’t someone Jordie wanted to emulate. To make matters worse, his leader didn’t invest well in Jordie’s development.

Jordie had a choice to make. Would he let his life, career, and leadership be dictated by the subpar leader for whom he was working?

Leadership Development
Courtesy the Sydney Harbor Bridge

Sydney Harbor Bridge wholeA few months ago I was in Sydney, Australia to meet with a client. I was describing my client’s leadership development process to an Australian consultant. He responded to my description by saying, “We call that ‘painting the Harbor Bridge.’ ”

The Sydney Harbor Bridge is an imposing structure. It weighs more than 52,000 tons and is held together by more than 6,000,000 rivets. Standing near it you can feel its scope and strength.

16 Years Later, I Still Remember

Interview BarryIn the Spring of 1999 I began a concerted effort to understand leadership. My investigation began with a commitment to interview as many successful leaders as a I could. This past weekend, while attending the wedding of a dear friend, I ran into an old acquaintance named Barry. Barry was the very first person I ever interviewed in my effort to understand leadership.

Barry has positively influenced literally thousands of people with his work. He has spent his life not only building a successful business but also using that business to make the lives of others more fulfilling.

Barry is a wise and powerful leader, so much so that I easily remember the details of the day—and its leadership lessons—I spent with him 16 years ago.

The Best Question I’ve Ever Been Asked

question markMany people have “pivot points” in life–moments when their perspectives dramatically change direction. Often these pivot points are created by a single, simple idea. So it was with me.

Years ago I found myself in a very difficult situation as a follower. I was frustrated, even disgusted by my boss’s behavior. I was suffering because of his selfishness, lack of willingness to take responsibility for his promises, and deceit. The problems were clear and undeniable. I was angry and felt more than justified in my anger.

Then a wise and accomplished friend asked me perhaps the best question I’ve ever been asked:

Recording in Progress
(popular re-post)

The Aperio occasionally re-posts blogs so new members don’t miss popular content. (And if the content is that popular, older members might benefit from the reminder as well.) This is one of those weeks. See below for one of our most popular posts originally shared in September 2014.

This week’s leadership topic accosted me as I found myself in one of America’s most well-known stores. So, I broke out the video camera and made an on-the-spot vlog. Apologies for the shaky camera but it’s worth the reminder.

Physical Space and Building Culture

Atlanta from PCC

One of the walls within Passion City Church
creatively depicting the city of Atlanta.

Have you ever seen an office or production facility and thought, “Boy, if I got to work in that space every day, I’d be inspired, creative, and more effective”? I have. And one of those days was yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon I had the good fortune to have a backstage tour of Six Steps Records and Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The facilities—carved out of a former Home Depot—were amazing. From the brains and hearts of directors Louie and Shelley Giglio, the space in which this organization is housed caused me to pause the moment I stepped into them.

How My Family Was Impacted by One of College Basketball’s Legendary Leaders

MichaelJordanDeanSmith.jpgAs the Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament culminates with the Final Four this weekend, we are sure to hear remarks about one of the game’s great leaders, Dean Smith, who recently passed away. The name “Dean Smith” means many things to many people, but that name is more than a name in my family. That name is an actual person.

It was 1974. The North Carolina men’s basketball team had a young athletic trainer named John Spiker…who just happened to be my father. At the time (and still today) North Carolina had a JV men’s basketball team. They would load their bus at old Carmichael Arena–or “Carmichael Auditorium” as it was known back then–and ride over to have their pre-game meal at a cafeteria on campus before heading out for road contests.

The Greatest Relationship Hack Ever, Part 2 — From Firing Someone to Being Invited to Hang Out on His Boat

boatsA couple of weeks ago, I got a call from a young, high-potential leader named Jerome. Jerome had a dilemma. He needed to fire someone. 40 years older than him. Over the phone. On a different continent. And he needed it to go well. #nofun #noteasy

This was not a situation where someone could simply be escorted to the door and have their personal effects mailed to them. The transition needed to go smoothly to protect the company’s interests and relationships. This meant the person being fired, Lowry, assisting with transitions between himself, his replacement, and clients.

The Greatest Relationship Hack Ever, Part 1

Gloves OnOne of the most fundamental truths about leadership is that it involves relationships.  We should, therefore, care a great deal about relational practices that connect us to our followers and others with whom we work.

What if there was a single concept that immediately calmed nearly any relational turmoil? An idea that caused everyone involved, whether emotionally defending themselves or intellectually throwing punches, to put their boxing gloves down? A commitment that, when used over the long haul, transforms us into relational samurais?

Well, guess what…there is.

Don’t Do What I Did —
Learning from My Leadership Failure

no judgmentToday’s blog entry comes from the Tim Spiker “I Wish I’d Been a Better Person” Leadership Hall of Fame…or should that be Hall of Shame?

Many years ago I was leading a large leadership development event for a food distributor in the Southeastern US. I was working side by side with a number of trusted colleagues. Chief among those colleagues was Rulo. If there’s ever been a person on whom one could count, it was Rulo. Willing to stay late? Certainly. Admits mistakes? Yes. Cares about doing a great job? Deeply. Easy to get along with? Definitely. Rulo was a joy with whom to work.

What If It Was All On You?

All on me?If you’re the kind of person who requires a blog post to be “3 Steps to This” or “2 Keys to That,” you’re likely not going to enjoy this posting. This posting is a challenge. It’s a no-answers, what-if, question-to-ponder blog post. Reading it won’t take long. Solving it may take a lifetime.

I was recently listening to an old book by Seth Godin called Small is the New Big. In it Seth shares musings on a number of business and organizational topics. He was lamenting how companies are so careful with information such as phone numbers and names of employees even as the Internet provides us boatloads of such information. Then he asked this question: “What sorts of bad things would happen if…every head hunter knew exactly who did what, why, and how…at your company?”

That question really got me thinking.

Two Enemies to Avoid —
Setting Standards, Part 5

fear and anxiety goalsWe’ve spent our last four weeks looking at how standards help leaders set direction. Last week, we dared to peer underneath the mechanics of setting standards and into the motives leaders have for setting them. This week, we investigate how our long-term leadership effectiveness is impacted by our reactions when standards are violated.

To start that investigation, let’s first think about what it means to be a follower. What does it feel like to be on the losing end of a standard? What happens inside followers when they must be corrected regarding a new or existing standard? What happens within on-looking followers who watch the enforcement of standards unfold?

What’s Your Motive? —
Setting Standards, Part 4

looking under the hoodFor the last three weeks we’ve been looking at the role that setting standards plays in the leader’s effort to set direction. We started off with wise words from Colonel Art Athens. We spent the next two weeks looking at four truths about setting standards.

This wouldn’t be The Aperio if we didn’t look under the hood to see the truth about what drives leaders to set standards. To do so, we must look below our actions and into our…(dramatic pause)…motives (audible gasp).

What you’re about to read will not surprise your mind. It may, however, challenge your heart. (But only if you have the courage to let it.)

Two More Truths —
Setting Standards, Part 3

barometerIn the first week of this series, we were introduced to the role that standards play in helping leaders set direction for their followers. In last week’s posting, we looked at two truths that need to be considered before leaders set standards:

Truth #1:
Standards are About Culture, Not Goals

Truth #2:
Standards are Often Expensive

To see both of these truths on display from Duke Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski, one of the most successful leaders ever in the world of collegiate athletics, check out this story (especially Krzyzewski’s comments) which broke late last week.

With that real-time example in our pocket, let’s move on to truths #3 and #4 about standards.

Don’t Be Flippant —
Setting Standards, Part 2

large_5359614153In my first two years in college, I played basketball at Purdue University for Hall of Fame coach Gene Keady. Believe it or not, Coach had just one team rule for us: “Do your best.” Simple as it was, that standard influenced the way I thought and set the tone for our basketball program. (It also gave Coach all the ammunition he needed any time one of us slacked off in practice or made poor choices in our academic or social endeavors.) To see the clarity that standard created, simply note that I remember it today, more than 20 years later.

In last week’s blog entry, we met Colonel Art Athens, the Director of the Center for Ethical Leadership at the Naval Academy. He shared that when it comes to the leader’s responsibility to “Set Direction,” one key method for doing so is setting standards, standards like “Do your best.” Though its difficult to argue with the wisdom of creating standards, doing so should not be done flippantly. No matter the standards we choose, we and those we lead have to live with the consequences of implementing them.

Here are a couple of truths about standards worth considering before we put them in place.

Simple Words from an Accomplished Leader —
Setting Standards, Part 1

medium_456443078During my now 15 year investigation of the inner realities of exceptional leadership, I have been blessed with opportunities to visit with leadership development professionals at three institutions whose focus on developing leaders is quintessential: The United States Military Academy (aka “West Point”), The United States Naval Academy, and The United States Air Force Academy.

During my visit to the Naval Academy, I was hosted by Colonel Art Athens. At the time, Colonel Athens was serving as a Distinguished Military Professor of Leadership. Today Colonel Athens serves as the Director of the Center for Ethical Leadership at the Naval Academy.

Colonel Athens is not the type of person one easily forgets.

Something Rather Amazing:
A Leadership Lesson from College Football

Cardale Jones getting reps in practice

Cardale Jones getting reps in practice

Something rather amazing happened a couple of nights ago. Though it happened in the sports world, you need not be a sports fan for it to be valuable. If you’re interested in leadership, it’s worth your time and attention.

The world of college football had its eyes focused on Arlington, Texas this past Monday night. It was the championship game of the first ever College Football Playoff. It pitted the much celebrated Oregon Ducks against the much questioned Ohio State Buckeyes. What turned out to be a memorable moment for Ohio State and its fans was, in fact, a great leadership lesson many years in the making.

Let’s Make 2015 the Year of
“Here’s How I Screwed Up…”

medium_4644911648Ever been asked for advice? Ever had someone ask you how to make a tough call, parent a troubled child, or coach a challenging subordinate more effectively?

No matter how experienced or accomplished we get, requests for leadership advice are flattering. It is encouraging to be told we have something of value to share, and it is gratifying to help others through our own experiences. But the problem that often arises in these moments is that we don’t share the whole story. We only share a portion of it, and we end up short-changing the person who is asking for our help.

Are You Leading a “JJ Fast” Team?

JJ Fast cNot long ago I found myself in the drive through of a certain fast food…I mean “quick service”…restaurant that specializes in serving chicken. While sitting by the drive through window, I noticed they had a board on the wall tracking their goals. In the blank where they write in their “Speed of Service” goal were the words “JJ Fast.”

Just to make sure I wasn’t assuming too much, I inquired if the “JJ” stood for Jimmy John’s. Indeed it did. I knew there was a better than average chance that “JJ” referred to Jimmy John’s (as opposed to JJ from the 1970’s sitcom Good Times). Why? Because the Jimmy John’s sandwich chain has an uncanny ability to make their sandwiches fast. And by fast I mean nearly instantaneously. Which leads us to a few questions today…

Bully in the Board Room

Budgeting. Only a unique group of people actually enjoy it. It doesn’t normally make it on to the list of “Fun Things To Do.” So how could something as dry as budgeting display the hidden truth that who we are as people is the key determiner of our effectiveness as leaders? Answer: Through a leader named Eric.

Word of Warning: If you dislike ‘story problems’ as much as my wife and mother-in-law, you’ll have to grit your teeth and hang in there. This story isn’t really about the numbers. You’ll see that when you get to the end.

Are You Planning Your Way to
“Management” or “Leadership”?

Leadership vs. Management v2With the calendar year drawing to a close, it’s common to find ourselves planning for the 12 months which lie in front of us. Planning is an essential tool of organizational and personal life. It helps us anticipate problems, prioritize our efforts, and see opportunities. But the role of planning in the life of an exceptional leader is often misunderstood.

Many people today categorize planning as a function of “management.” Most famous in his analysis of the differences between “leadership” and “management” is author and teacher John Kotter. Kotter has long contended that management is the ability to plan, organize, and control outcomes while leadership is the ability to set direction, align resources, and motivate and inspire. Kotter has asserted that the world is full of organizations and individuals who mistake management for leadership and suffer the consequences of doing so.

What’s Joy Got To Do With It? —
Maximizing Potential, Part 4

In last week’s video, we discussed how leaders unconsciously influence the development of their followers both positively and negatively. In this week’s posting, we head back to “This Old Lot” one final time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves a courageous question.

What does joy have to do with maximizing the potential of those we lead? Play the video to find out.

The Psychology of Leaders —
Maximizing Potential, Part 3

In last week’s video, we discussed how leaders can influence the psychology of their followers to help their followers reach their potential. In this week’s posting, we head back to “This Old Lot” to explore the psychology of potential within the leader’s mind.

What does the dated photo below have to do with it? Play the video to find out in this, our third in a four-part series.

The Psychology of Followers —
Maximizing Potential, Part 2

In last week’s video, we discussed the one question we need to be asking ourselves in order to maximize the potential with our followers. In this week’s posting, we head back to “This Old Lot” to explore the psychology of potential from our followers’ perspectives.

Though this blog series originally started out as a two-part series, we need to adjust to be able to touch on everything that needs to be covered. That now makes this the second in a four-part series.

Don’t Throw the Baby

baby face sudsLeadership failure is all around us. Both traditional and social media send stories of leadership failure around the world within minutes. The simple fact is this: Leaders make mistakes. They let us down. Sometimes surprisingly so.

We need to be careful where we place our faith and trust when it comes to our leadership education. If we put too much stock in the leaders themselves rather than the leadership principles they teach us, we set ourselves up to lose many of the positive leadership lessons we have learned in the past.

When Knowing What Happened
Kills Our Development

peekOnce upon a time, I had the opportunity to work with a subcontractor who produced a major event for our organization. Just about everything that could go wrong did. Video screens were blurry. Lighting was poor. Audio was unevenly distributed throughout the room. Even a fabricated visual element planned to illustrate a major teaching point failed the night before the big talk and had to be taken out of the presentation.

When the time came for us to debrief the event with Terry (not his real name), the production company’s leader, I received word that he wasn’t interested in having the discussion. Why? He “didn’t think it would do any good.”

The Best Ideas Don’t Win
and What To Do About It — Part 2

Ideas Are Scary 4In last week’s posting, we acknowledged that the best ideas don’t necessarily get implemented in organizations and discussed why that happens. We then covered the first two steps for leading change well in the midst of this reality:

Step #1: Expect resistance
Step #2: Appreciate the pain

Now, we’re ready for the step #3 and a video to help us feel what its like for new ideas to reach their potential.

The Best Ideas Don’t Win
and What To Do About It — Part 1

Ideas Are Scary 2Have you ever run into road blocks when suggesting needed changes in your organization? Have you ever had it’s-so-obvious-we-should-do-this-that-I-can’t-believe-we-even-have-to-discuss-it improvements encounter resistance? If so, there’s an important principle to remember that will keep you (1) from going insane and (2) on the path to organizational improvement. That principle is this: the best ideas don’t win.

How Sports Commentators Are Screwing Up
Our ‘Leadership’

iStock_000024373002_SmallI grew up in a family that was and continues to be a college sports family. Both my father and my brother have worked extensively for college sports teams, football and men’s basketball respectively. My mom and sister believe that ESPN Game Day on Saturdays in the Fall is the perfect soundtrack to their morning activities. I played basketball in college and have traveled more miles than I care to admit to watch college football games. So, yeah, we’re kind of into it. Given that, and the work I do in leadership development, I am allowing myself the freedom to call out sports commentators directly. Why? Because they are screwing up our ‘leadership.’

A Curious Voicemail From a
Highly Effective Leader

You've Got VoicemailOne morning I received a peculiar voicemail from a coworker, Tommy. His message simply said that he needed to touch base. He offered no other details.

Though not an executive, Tommy was one of the most influential leaders in our company. He had broad respect throughout the organization. He related well to people of all statures and responsibility levels. He was a strong and highly effective leader.

I had been in a meeting with Tommy much of the previous day and guessed that his call had something to do with that discussion.

We’re Swimming In It

In a blog posting sometime ago, Seth Godin made a statement of particular importance to leaders.

Godin wrote,

seth-godin-white-background“The next time you’re puzzled by the behavior of a colleague or prospect, consider the reason might have nothing to do with the situation and everything to do with who is making the decision and what they bring to it.”

Two Words That Win Over Followers…
And Should

If we want to supercharge our effectiveness as leaders, there are two words we need to get comfortable saying: “I’m sorry.” 


When was the last time you said, those magical words…together…without a ‘but’ attached…and meant it? Literally, how long has it been since you’ve said it? To a peer? To a supervisor? To a subordinate (!?!?!?)? To a friend? To your spouse? To a family member? How long has it been?

Saying “I’m sorry” might not seem like a grand leadership exercise, but when you consider what it indicates when sincerely spoken, it is.

Decision (West) Point

West PointThe basketball team representing the United States in the upcoming FIBA World Cup of Basketball had an unusual day yesterday. Instead of a focused practice with the usual efforts to eliminate outside distractions, they visited West Point, the United States Military Academy.

While this team’s success or failure is yet to be determined, how history will speak of its coach is well decided. Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski is the all-time winningest coach in Division I basketball history. In addition to his collegiate coaching exploits, he is 63-1 as a Head Coach for USA Basketball since 2005 which includes Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012. Because of his success, scores of people, many well outside the world of sports, look to Krzyzewski as a source of leadership wisdom. And yesterday afternoon, he gave us a small but important opportunity to learn from that wisdom.

Getting to “Dollhouse Trust”

Child's doll house with furniture on whiteA couple of summers ago, I helped my neighbors, Matt and Meredith, move into their new house. A group of us had gathered to lend a hand because, well, that’s what you do for your friends. You lovingly help them move (up two flights of stairs) their disassembled Bowflex home gym that they bought and swore they’d use every day.

In the midst the loading and unloading, Meredith caught my attention and made a special request related to a prized possession of her two-year old daughter. She said, “Tim, I trust you to move this dollhouse. I don’t trust those other guys. But you, I trust.”

I have never moved a piece of furniture so carefully in my life.

When Bosom Buddies Fight

iStock_000016941037SmallWhat are you more interested in becoming — a great ‘success’ or a great ‘leader’?

If given the opportunity to be a great ‘success’ and a great ‘leader,’ most people would take it. Generally that’s fine because the vast majority of time — let’s say 98% of the time as an estimate — being a great success and being a great leader are bosom buddies.

But what about when they aren’t? What happens when being the best leader you can be butts up against how you’ve defined success?