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 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?