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.

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…

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.