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:

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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:

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?