Next Level Blog

Simple, practical, applicable

How to Get Your New Team Off to a Strong Start May 21 2015 no responses

runnerstart2If you’re a leader in your organization, there will be multiple times in your career when you have to get a new team off to a strong start. One of the critical steps in that process is when you bring the team members together for the first time. That’s a rare opportunity to define the purpose, build trust, establish the ground rules and set the priorities. Like they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Make the most of it by giving some thought to that first team meeting and taking some time to prepare for it.

One of my executive coaching clients recently faced this exact situation. He’s leading a start-up team and has been in heavy recruiting mode filling the key positions on the team. After months of hard work, he’s gotten everyone hired for his leadership team. In talking through what he wanted to accomplish in his first leadership team meeting and how he wanted to approach the meeting, we came up with a simple four-part agenda that would work for almost any first meeting of a team.

It’s built on four one-word questions.  Feel free to use it the next time you need to get a new team off to a strong start. Here’s the agenda:

Why?:  Open the meeting with a discussion of why this team even exists. What’s your purpose? How does fulfilling that purpose contribute to the larger organization, your customers and other stakeholders? The goal here is to articulate and connect with why the work of this team matters.

Who?:  This is the part of the agenda where you lay the foundation of connection and trust among the team members. Have everyone introduce themselves but go beyond the common who you are and what you do script. I like to use a technique I learned from Pat Lencioni in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Ask everyone to take a couple of minutes to speak to three questions: Where did you grow up? How many kids were in your childhood family? What was the biggest challenge of your childhood? I’ve used these questions dozens of times over the years and have found that they do an amazing job of connecting people quickly. In even the most diverse group of people, there’s always one thing everyone has in common – they were all kids once. Get them connected by talking about that common experience.

How?:  As the team leader, come to the meeting with clear ideas about how you want the team to work together. You may have some non-negotiable ground rules and you may have some that are nice to do but not essential. Either way, put them on the table. To get your team to buy into them, ask for their ideas on how they’ll know the ground rules are working. What will the behavioral evidence be that everyone is playing by the rules? The more they can articulate that, the more they’ll know how to hold themselves and each other accountable.

What?:  This is part of the agenda where you answer the classic question, “What does success look like?” Make that tangible and actionable for everyone by defining success at a point in the future (two years from now for instance) and then working your way back from that to success markers on the way to that end state. Land on what success looks like over the next 30 to 90 days. That specific picture of what success looks like in the very near term should establish momentum and set you up nicely for your next check-in together.

What do you think? Would this team start-up agenda work for you? What would you change or add to it?

Mindful Mondays: Pope Francis’ Nine Rules for Happy Living May 18 2015 one response

popefrancis1In case you haven’t been paying attention, it turns out that Pope Francis is one of the most popular people in the world.  A recent Pew Research Center survey found that he has a 90% favorability rating among U.S. Catholics and a 70% favorability rating among all Americans.  Another Pew study at the end of last year found that he has a median favorable rating of 60% across 43 nations and only an 11% unfavorable rating.

Timothy Egan’s recent column in the New York Times, Pope Francis and the Art of Joy, does a great job of explaining how the nature of the Pope’s positive personality helps make him a transformational leader.  It’s definitely worth five minutes of your time to read.

For now, though, let me share a slightly reformatted quote from Egan’s column that I found particularly compelling.  Egan wrote that last year the Pope was asked about his secret to happiness.  He responded with nine rules that I have listed here (again, big hat tip to Timothy Egan for sharing these):

1. Slow down.
2. Take time off.
3. Live and let live.
4. Don’t proselytize.
5. Work for peace.
6. Work at a job that offers basic human dignity.
7. Don’t hold on to negative feelings.
8. Move calmly through life.
9. Enjoy art, books and playfulness.

It seems to me that just about anyone of those nine would be a good thing to practice as another week begins.

Which one resonates most with you and why?  If you were going to add a tenth rule for happiness to the Pope’s list, what would it be?

Mindful Mondays: Three Simple Ways to Be More Aware This Week May 11 2015 no responses

keepcalmIf you’ve been reading my posts, articles or books for awhile, you know I do my best to keep things simple. Most of us have too much on our plates to make life any more complex than it already is. Hence, my emphasis on simplicity.

For instance, the definition of leadership presence I introduced in The Next Level breaks that concept down into three sets of behaviors: personal presence, team presence and organizational presence.

For another example, when I coach people who want to be more effective leaders or less stressed in their lives, I encourage them to start by focusing on doing one or two things that are in the sweet spot of relatively easy to do and likely to make a difference. If that works, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, try something else.

As yet another example, the definition of mindfulness that I offer in Overworked and Overwhelmed is that mindfulness equals awareness plus intention. So, in this week’s Mindful Mondays post, I thought I’d go a little deeper on the first part of that equation – awareness. Here are three simple ways you can be more aware this week:

Would You Sell It to Your Kids? May 7 2015 no responses

cutekids1Decision making can get pretty complex sometimes. That’s especially true in businesses or other organizations where the often competing interests of different stakeholders have to be balanced.

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear how the CEO of a large and well known company thinks through decisions by sitting in on a business briefing he did for his extended leadership team. He’s definitely a long term thinker as a well as a continuous learner. From a strategic standpoint, he follows the advice of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and “skates to where the puck is going to be.” Along the way he invests months of time in educating himself on the latest technology and other trends in the global economy. He leverages what he’s learning to think through the offensive and defensive implications of those trends for his company. All of that can get pretty complex.

Here’s the question he asks himself to make things simple: “Would I sell this product or service to my kids?” If he wouldn’t encourage his kids to buy it or use it, he doesn’t want his company to sell it. He’s backing up his answer to the question by making changes that benefit his company’s customers that, on the face of it, will hurt the bottom line. What he’s finding in practice, though, is that doing what’s right for the customer is also good for the bottom line. Whatever financial hit the company takes up front is paid back in reduced expenses and increased customer loyalty.

The benefits aren’t just financial. When the people in his company hear from customers how much they notice what the company is doing for them and the difference it makes in their lives, they feel connected to something much bigger than just a job. They’re both encouraged and inspired to work there.

Finally, investors are clearly happy with the company as their share price is stronger than ever.

So, yeah, business can be really complicated and it is almost always really demanding. As a leader, you can make it a lot simpler by asking yourself and your team members some simple questions that reconnect you with the human side of business. “Would I sell this to my kids?” is a great place to start.

Mindful Mondays: Hug the One You’re With May 4 2015 one response

goldbergAs I was skimming through the headlines from the New York Times on Saturday morning, I was stunned to read the news of the death of Dave Goldberg. You may not have heard of him until this past weekend. He was the 47 year old CEO of the online questionnaire company, Survey Monkey. He was also the husband of Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook COO and author of the mega best-seller, Lean In. Goldberg died while he was on vacation with his wife.

By all accounts, most especially Sandberg’s in her book, Dave Goldberg was a great guy. It appears he was one of those people who spent his life encouraging others while doing interesting things himself.

It’s a tragedy when anyone dies unexpectedly in the prime of life. What literally took my breath away when I read the news of his death was the stark reminder that tragedy can happen to anyone at any time. Power couples don’t get much more powerful than Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg. Wealth, fame, friends, access, interesting work, a beautiful family, a vibrant marriage – they seemed to have it all.

None of that, of course, could protect them from the tragedy of sudden loss. When it comes to that, we’re all in the same boat.

I’ve written a lot about being present in these Mindful Monday columns over the past month. What Are You More Likely to Remember? and What Do You Have to Share? are the two most recent examples. The subject of today’s post is one more reminder to be present with the people you care most about.

Take some time today to hug the one you’re with. There’s not going to be a better opportunity than the one you have today. Don’t wait.

Mindful Mondays: What Do You Have to Share? April 27 2015 one response

nepal-eqThe news from the devastating earthquake in Nepal this past weekend is tragic and heart rendering. It’s a natural impulse at times like this to want to help. Most of us, of course, are not qualified to offer help on the ground. Fortunately, there are organizations with volunteers who are. If you want to contribute to their efforts by sharing some of your own resources, this link provided by the New York Times will provide you with the donation links for over two dozen organizations that are moving to help the people of Nepal.

Tragedies like the one in Nepal spark our desire to share what we have with those in need. On a day to day basis, you likely have other causes that are important enough to you that you share your time and resources with them.

As we begin another week, I’d like to encourage you to also consider what you have to share with the people you come in contact with everyday. I’m talking about the people you live with, work with and come in contact with in the normal course of life. The situations I’m thinking of aren’t particularly dramatic; they’re just little opportunities that make a difference. They don’t require special skills or heroic efforts. We just need to be mindful enough to be aware of them and intentional about acting on them.

For instance, you might spend some time caring for a sick friend or family member. You might take a few extra moments to really be present and offer encouragement for someone going through a tough time. You might share what you’ve learned about working through a challenging experience that someone else is just starting. You might share your appreciation with someone who does an everyday job in an exceptional way.

Interested in investing a few minutes of your time that will practically ensure that you and some of the people in your life will have a qualitatively better week? Before you move on to the next thing on your to-do list, take five minutes to make a list of what you have to share this week. It could include time, money, encouragement, appreciation, care, compassion, knowledge, connection, coaching – your list will be uniquely yours. After you’ve come up with a list of what you have to share, make another list right beside it of the people with whom you want to share. Then, connect the dots – match what you have to share with the person you want to share it with.

As you go through your week, act on at least one opportunity each day to share what you have to share. As you do, I’d love to hear through your comments on this blog about the difference it’s making. Happy sharing.

What’s the Difference Between Executive Presence and Leadership Presence? April 23 2015 7 responses

exec-draperThe title of this post is a question I was asked yesterday during an interview for the book summary service Get Abstract. (Audio excerpts from the interview will be available in a few months.) While I guess I’ve thought about the difference between executive and leadership presence over the years (I wrote a book on the latter after all), I have never had the question put to me that directly.

My answer was that, depending on the situation, executive presence can be a subset of leadership presence. As I unpacked my answer, the interviewer referred a couple of times to Don Draper of Mad Men as someone who embodies executive presence. As a fan of the show, I could see what she meant. No one wears a business suit better than Jon Hamm as Don Draper. When Don Draper is sober and in full pitch mode he embodies what the very traditional picture of executive presence looks like.

And that, in essence, is the difference between executive presence and leadership presence. The simplest distinction between the two is that executive presence is about how you look and leadership presence is about what you do. If you want to take it further, executive presence is about how you talk and leadership presence is about what you say when you do.

First impressions count so advice on executive presence often focuses on how one dresses, enters a room, makes eye contact in conversation and other behavioral nuances. The challenge with advising or coaching on executive presence is that one size doesn’t fit all. Every person is different; organizational norms are different and cultures are different. What works in one setting doesn’t necessarily work in another. As I wrote here earlier this month, it’s possible to have too much executive presence. If you’re too polished and too slick, you create distance. And the judgment on too polished and slick is in the eyes of the beholders. Because almost every leader is operating in a global context today (social media and web conferencing makes that the case even if you never leave your hometown), executive presence doesn’t travel like it used to.

Leadership presence, on the other hand, is much more portable. That’s because it’s about the people and not the leader. Taking the perspective of the leader, it’s about you, not me. As Harvard professor Dean Williams and I discussed in a recent audio interview on this blog, the most effective leaders use their presence to help the group identify the work to be done or the adaptive challenge to be overcome. They help set the agenda. They help organize the team. They coach. They ask questions that help people come up with their own answers. They encourage accountability. They celebrate success. They applaud effort. They help the team learn from failure, self-correct and move on. In all instances, the leader’s focus is on them – the people.

So, those are some of the distinctions I’m making between executive presence and leadership presence. What do you think? What’s the difference between the two? What’s the impact of one vs. the other? What have I missed?

Mindful Mondays: Look for the Space Between the Waves April 20 2015 one response

ocean-wavesOne of the great things about having old friends is that they can remind you of things that you said once but have since forgotten. That happened to me last week when I spent time with my dear friend, Rae Ringel, at a training program for faculty members of the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program. In an early conversation last week, Rae told me that she still remembered what I had shared with her about “bardo” when she was a student in the program 9 or 10 years ago. The blank look on my face said it all. I had totally forgotten about bardo.

Since we live in an age where no question has to go unanswered, I got out my iPhone later in the morning and looked up the word. Bardo is a Tibetan word that translates into English as an intermediate state. In the Tibetan spiritual tradition, bardo is the state one is in between death and rebirth. Depending on one’s level of preparation, bardo can either be a great experience or a terrible one.

Once I refreshed my memory on the concept, I remembered that I first read about bardo in an article in which the author described it as the space between the waves. (I lost the article long ago and couldn’t find it online this morning. So, apparently some questions still do have to go unanswered!) Thinking back, it was the idea of being aware of the space between the waves in our lives that really appealed to me. It still does.

In an always-on world, it’s too easy to lose sight of the rhythm of the waves in our life. We’re often so busy applying the gas pedal to get more and more done that we don’t tap the brakes to slow down and appreciate what’s already been accomplished. We push through the next wave and then the next without pausing to process what we’ve learned, thank and recognize the people who are supporting our journey or just give ourselves enough of a break to simply rest and digest to be prepared for what’s next.

In his classic book, Managing Transitions, the late William Bridges made the point that before anything new can begin, something else has to end. There’s a space in between the ending and the beginning that he called the neutral zone. You could also call it bardo or the space between the waves.

Whatever you call it, why not look for it this week? Here’s a tip for you as you look: it’s not about finding balance, it’s about noticing the rhythm. There are moments in your day or hours in your week where, if you’re looking for them, offer space in the rhythm of the waves. When you find the space between the waves, take your foot off the gas for a little while and see what else you notice.

Are You Ready to Change the Way You Think About Leadership? April 16 2015 one response


When you think of the word “leader” what comes to mind? For lots of people, the picture that comes to mind is the charismatic visionary that sets a direction that people want to follow. All too often, that model of leadership fails because the followers inevitably end up disappointed and disengaged when the leader is incapable of delivering everything he or she promised.

Harvard Kennedy School professor Dean Williams, my guest on this episode of The Next Level podcast, offers a different way to think about and practice leadership. In his new book, Leadership for a Fractured World: How to Cross Boundaries, Build Bridges, and Lead Change, Williams makes a compelling case that the most effective leaders are the ones who help groups identify the adaptive challenge and take on the work of change themselves.

Leaders who do this are what Williams calls “global change agents.” As he says in our conversation, it’s not that they necessarily take on global-scale challenges but rather that they look at the world and act in an integrated way.  Global change agents stand in contrast to those who practice what Williams calls “the Big Man” model of  leadership. Big Men and Big Women leaders set themselves up as the focal point of hopes and aspirations.  In a complex, multi-modal world, that’s a recipe for failure.

This interview is a little longer than my average podcast because Williams has a lot of thought provoking stories, ideas and suggestions that require a little bit of soaking time. When you have 30 minutes for a conversation that would well change your own approach to leadership, give it a listen.


Mindful Mondays: What Are You More Likely to Remember? April 13 2015 4 responses

scott-diane-vegasSo the original plan for this past weekend was to get caught up on some work while my wife, Diane, was away at a conference in Las Vegas. To some degree, that was the plan for both of us. We have a couple of big new projects coming on line so Diane took her computer with her and planned on doing some work in the evenings as well.

And that’s pretty much how Friday night went down. She had dinner, played roulette for an hour or so and went back to her room to work on our website. Meanwhile, I was in our apartment in Los Angeles clearing out emails and other tasks while an HBO documentary on Sinatra played in the background. It was when Diane and I had a good night FaceTime call later in the evening that I knew that could not stand.

After we were done talking, I asked myself, “Do you really want to be doing this again tomorrow night when you could be hanging out in Vegas with the love of your life?” The answer was easy and obvious – hell, no. Then the little voice inside my head countered with, “Yeah, but there’s so much work to do.” Of course, there’s always going to be so much work to do. More in any given week than I could do even if there were three of me.

The conversation inside my head ended when I asked myself, “What are you more likely to remember 10 or 20 years from now? A weekend at home grinding out the work or driving over to Las Vegas, surprising your wife and hanging out with her?” The answer was a no-brainer. So, just after lunch on Saturday, I got into the car and drove to Vegas to get there as Diane’s conference meetings were ending at 5:00 pm. Just as I was I pulling into the parking garage at the hotel, I got a text message from her.

Here’s the exchange we had as I was walking from the garage into the hotel with the mission of finding and surprising her:

Diane: What are you doing?

Me: Hanging around.

Diane: Around what?

Me: The usual. What are you doing?

Diane: I’m walking around the casino.

Me: Are you going to play a game?

Diane: Not now. Maybe later or maybe not. Just need to move. They have this cool fountain here.

Me: In the casino?

Diane: Yes in the middle. People throw money in it. Best odds.

Me: Odds of what?

Diane: Knowing you’re not getting your money back.

Me: Ha ha. So I see the fountain but I don’t see you. Where are you?

Diane: What are you talking about? I’m not at the fountain.

Me: So where are you?

Diane: Wait, what?

Scott: Where are you right now?

So, it turned out she was about 10 yards away from the fountain and was super surprised (in a good way!) to see me. We had a fantastic rest of the afternoon and evening including the moment in front of the fountains at the Bellagio where the low quality selfie that accompanies this post was taken.

Even for someone who’s written a book called Overworked and Overwhelmed, it’s all too easy to just put your head down and your foot on the gas and keep working when it feels like there’s so much to do. Here’s the thing – there’s always going to be so much to do. I’m grateful that in a moment of mindfulness this past weekend, I asked myself, “What are you more likely to remember?” and made the right choice in that moment.

It’s a question that worked for me that might work for you too. That’s why I wanted to share it.