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Leadership, Staff Development

Thanks to Mark Miller for this guest post, which coincides with the recent launch of his newest book, Talent Magnet: How to Attract and Keep the Best People. The book identifies three key elements for an organization to become a talent magnet. This article focuses on the first element, a Better Boss.


It’s fun to see different streams of work come together. I don’t know if you’ve had that experience or not. Let me try to explain the idea that’s stumbling around in my head.


I’ve been learning to lead for almost 40 years; I’ve been researching and writing about the topic for almost two decades. When I was asked to work on how we might win the war for talent, I was eager to learn and contribute, but honestly, I thought I had just entered another universe.


Now, many months into the journey, I see the convergence I referenced above. When I began thinking about talent, I initially took off my leadership hat. That was a mistake. I’ve now put it back on – Talent has always been a leadership issue. Looking at the war for talent through a leadership lenses I can see much more clearly what leaders must do to attract Top Talent.


Back to this idea of converging ideas – when we talked to Top Talent about their expectations of their leaders we found several attributes mentioned over and over. These two have been featured in other posts: A Better Boss must Demonstrate Care and Stay Engaged. Here’s another best practice… Top Talent expects their leaders to Lead Well. What does that mean? It means the unchanging fundamentals of leadership matter to Top Talent.


See the Future – Leadership always begins with a picture of the future.

Engage and Develop Others – Leaders create the context for people to thrive.

Reinvent Continuously – Progress is always preceded by change.

Value Results and Relationships – There is tremendous power in the “and.”

Embody the Values – People always watch their leaders.


Great leaders SERVE!


Don’t be discouraged as you look at the fundamentals and assess your own proficiency… you don’t need to be perfect to Lead Well. Influence is as much about being real as it is about being right. And great leadership is not just an issue of skills.


The attitude of your heart will ultimately have the greatest impact on your ability to lead well – admitting mistakes, sharing credit, maintaining a spirit of humility, being courageous and thinking others first all reflect your readiness to lead.


Do you really want to be a Better Boss capable of attracting a team of Top Talent? Commit to life-long journey and learn to Lead Well.


About Mark Miller


Mark Miller began his Chick-fil-A career working as an hourly team member in 1977. In 1978, he joined the corporate staff working in the warehouse and mailroom. Since that time, Mark has steadily increased his value at Chick-fil-A and has provided leadership for Corporate Communications, Field Operations, and Quality and Customer Satisfaction.


Today, he serves as the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership. During his time with Chick-fil-A, annual sales have grown to over $9 billion. The company now has more than 2,300 restaurants in 47 states and the District of Columbia.


When not working to sell more chicken, Mark is actively encouraging and equipping leaders around the world. He has taught at numerous international organizations over the years on topics including leadership, creativity, team building, and more.


Mark began writing about a decade ago. He teamed up with Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager, to write The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do (2007). More recently, he released Chess Not Checkers (2015), and Leaders Made Here (2017). His latest is Talent Magnet: How to Attract and Keep the Best People (February 2018). Today, over 1 million copies of Mark’s books are in print in more than two dozen languages.




LET’S TALK about strategies to retain top talent and increase employee engagement. A worker’s relationship with his/her supervisor is the X-factor. Send me an email or schedule a time to talk via my online calendar.


Leadership, Process Improvement

Guest Post By Dick Axelrod, originally published on


  1. Unclear Purpose


Meeting participants are unclear about the purpose of the meeting or what they want to accomplish. Before holding a meeting, ask yourself what you want to be different for yourself, the participants, and the organization as a result of holding this meeting. Make sure you share this purpose with the participants. If you are a meeting participant and don’t know or understand the purpose of the meeting ask, “What is the purpose of this meeting?” at the beginning of the meeting. Then ask yourself, “What can I contribute to make this meeting productive?”


  1. Unclear Roles


It is amazing to find out how many attend meetings where they don’t know why they are there or what is expected of them. We see many leaders who invite people to the meeting because they might provide a different perspective. However, these participants do not know that is what is expected of them. They attend the meeting not knowing why they are there and consequently feel the meeting is a waste of time.


  1. Decision-Makers Not Present


When the meeting participants are not empowered to make decisions, everyone feels their time is wasted. While participants may have fruitful discussions, they must then take their work product to the decision-makers who were not part of the discussion and who may not understand the reasons why recommendations are being made. This additional layer of bureaucracy wastes everyone’s time. Empowering meeting participants to make decisions or having decision-makers present will eliminate this added bureaucracy.


  1. Unclear Decision-Making Process


We have watched many groups flounder because the decision-making process is unclear. They don’t know whether they are being asked to learn about a decision that has already been made, provide the leader with feedback, or be part of the decision-making process. Clarifying the decision-making process prior to starting the discussion saves time and energy.



More about Dick Axelrod


Dick and is wife Emily Axelrod are pioneers in creating employee involvement programs to effect large-scale organization change, and co-founded the Axelrod Group in 1981. Dick is also a lecturer in University of Chicago’s Masters in Threat and Response Management Program, and a faculty member in American University’s Masters in Organization Development program. Dick and Emily created the Conference Model®, an internationally recognized high-involvement change methodology.


Together, Emily and Dick are frequent keynote speakers and co-authors. Their latest book is Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done it outlines a flexible and adaptable system used to run truly productive meetings in all kinds of organizations―meetings where people create concrete plans, accomplish tasks, build connections, and move projects forward.



Coaching, CPA, Leadership

Note: this article was originally published in the Minnesota Society of CPAs Public Practice e-Newsletter.


No matter what your role is, the first few months of the year are likely to be crunch time for one reason or another. If you’re in public accounting, April 17 marks the finish line for the annual race known as tax season. For CPAs in industry, the finish line may be closing your year-end, completing the audit, or filing quarterly reports if you have a year-end other than Dec. 31.


Unfortunately, it’s easy to get caught up in survival mode this time of the year. But don’t settle for mere survival this year. Instead, use these three self-coaching techniques to thrive during your busy season.


1. Revisit your ‘Big Why’


One approach to thriving this busy season is to revisit why you became a CPA and why you do the work you do. We are all motivated at our inner core by what I call the Big Why. It’s a sense of purpose that gets us out of bed in the morning. It’s what enables us to push through problems and difficulties on the way to achieving our goals.


You may have chosen the CPA profession because you like to generate financial reports. Perhaps you became a CPA because you enjoy talking about financial data with others in a consulting role. Or you saw becoming a CPA as a step toward starting your own business someday. Maybe, it’s because you viewed it as a good career path and job security. Or a solid paycheck to provide for your family, send your kids to college and enjoy nice vacations.


Likely, your Big Why is a combination of reasons, both selfless and selfish, which is OK. Some of those reasons may have changed over the years. Whatever your reasons for being in this line of work, it’s a good time to write them out. Jot down a few bullet points or write a short paragraph. Capture the essence of your Big Why in a way that propels you toward the finish line.


Once you revisit your Big Why, create some visual cues to remind you of it during crunch time. That might involve keeping pictures of your kids or grandkids on your desk or changing the background on your monitor to a scene from your favorite vacation spot.


2. Build natural rewards into your work


In their book, “Self-Leadership: The Definitive Guide to Personal Excellence,” authors Christopher Neck, Charles Manz and Jeffrey Houghton distinguish between external rewards associated with work and rewards that are inherent in the activity itself. Paychecks, raises and promotions are examples of external rewards. These rewards are important but don’t generate the same deep satisfaction that comes from doing tasks that are intrinsically rewarding.


To the extent possible, arrange your work to devote as much time and attention as you can to activities you enjoy. You may be able to delegate or assign less pleasant aspects of the work to others (bonus points if they find those aspects enjoyable). When you have no choice but to tackle both pleasant and unpleasant work, concentrate on the enjoyment you receive from the pleasant parts.


For example, you may not enjoy preparing audit schedules but get fulfillment from meeting to discuss them. In that case, focusing on the how the schedules will be discussed at the meeting makes the preparation more palatable and the overall work more rewarding.


Another natural rewards strategy is to find a pleasant place to perform challenging tasks. That’s one reason I frequent my “branch office” (aka the local coffee shop). Tackling a difficult writing project seems less daunting in a warm, friendly environment with my favorite cup of coffee. As I make progress on the assignment, my confidence builds, which enables me to complete the work sooner and with greater satisfaction.


3. Improve your self-talk


We all talk to ourselves. It may be in the car, while we shower or as we move from one meeting to the next, but we all do it in some way. If not out loud, we regularly carry on conversations with ourselves in our heads. Unfortunately, we often fall into the trap of negative self-talk, or using what Neck, Manz and Houghton call “sappers.”


“Sappers are destructive self-talk: they prevent you from achieving your goals and feeling good about yourself. They serve as self-fulfilling prophecies, because what you tell yourself every day usually ends up coming true,” per the authors.


The research bears this out. Effective use of self-leadership strategies such as positive self-talk increases self-efficacy, which is our perceived ability to successfully navigate challenging situations. Higher levels of self-efficacy lead to better performance and effectiveness. Compare the following examples of self-talk:


“I’m nervous that the client is going to ask me a question I can’t answer,” versus “I’m well-prepared and will give a good presentation to the client.”


“I always have trouble reconciling book and tax income,” versus “I’ve learned a lot about reconciling book/tax differences and I am getting better at it all the time.”


“I tend to freeze up when I deliver bad news to my boss,” versus “I’ve done my homework and I am ready to give my boss the information she needs, even though some of it is bad news.”


“I back down when confronting my direct report over poor performance because it makes him feel bad,” versus “I care enough about the development of my direct report to help him improve his work.”


Which self-talk statements are more likely to lead to a successful outcome? In each case, it’s the second statement, which serves as a reminder for us to constantly be aware of what we tell ourselves. So rather than going through this season saying, “I don’t think I can pull this off,” coach yourself with self-talk such as, “Busy season is a challenge, but I’ve been successful in the past and will be this year, too.”


Practice, practice, practice


Developing these self-coaching techniques takes practice. Set a daily reminder on your calendar to use them. Pause for positive self-talk before entering important meetings and conversations. Schedule a weekly review and record your progress. Find a partner to work with you, be it a coach, mentor or peer who can encourage you and hold you accountable.


Coach yourself to the finish line of your best busy season ever!


Jon Lokhorst, CPA, ACC, is an executive leadership coach and consultant, partnering with CPAs, CFOs, and other leaders who face massive change in their industry and recognize the need for a new leadership model to navigate those challenges.


Don’t want to go it alone? LET”S TALK about partnering to make 2018 your best busy season ever. Schedule a complimentary strategy call via my online calendar or contact me at


Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’’>alphaspirit / 123RF Stock Photo</a>





Despite the constancy of change in today’s global marketplace, the environment for change in many organizations is unfriendly at best. Few organizations have the appetite for change found at Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other innovative firms. I work extensively with CPAs, CFOs, and other technical professionals; a group not known for its propensity to change.


As a leader, you recognize that when the pace of internal change lags the pace of change in the external environment . . . well, it’s not good news. But what do you do in a context that resists change? How can a leader initiate and navigate change in a change-averse industry or culture? Here are five approaches to overcome barriers to change in these situations.


1. Launch a “CEO for a Day” forum.


Host town meetings with workers from across all levels of your organization to ask what they would do differently if they were CEO for a day. Offer a structured brainstorming conversation that invites new ideas. Start with questions that generate ways to improve current practices. Then move to explore new opportunities.


Leverage these gatherings to open your team to ideas for improvement, growth, or new opportunities. Workers are more apt to support change initiatives when they’ve been a part of forming them.


2. Host an “If We Were the Competition” discussion.


Invite a cross-section of employees to view your organization as if they worked for your top competitors. Encourage them to point out weaknesses that could put the organization at a competitive disadvantage.


Ask questions like, “How would our top competitors attack us if they had inside information?” Or, “What weaknesses make us vulnerable to losing customers or market share?” Flipping the conversation will prompt your team to think critically about things that need to change.


3. Form an innovation team.


In 1943, Lockheed Martin commissioned an engineer to create an experimental team to begin work on a secret fighter jet for the U.S. Army. The name Skunk Works originated from the bad smell near the rented circus tent in which the team worked. The company website shares the full story of how this team delivered the new fighter jet and sparked an innovative culture at Lockheed Martin.


Your innovation team need not operate with the same degree of secrecy as Skunk Works but should be given the autonomy to explore and develop new and innovative projects. Include workers from all areas of the organization critical to the project’s success. It should be led by forward-thinkers, but consider including a skeptic or two to ensure hard questions are asked.


4. Create a pilot program.


This approach invites commitment to change as a trial run. Framing a new initiative as a pilot program eases fears of “betting the farm” or putting workers’ jobs at risk.


Conduct a structured review of the pilot program at regular intervals, so skeptical team members know it is being carefully scrutinized. This creates an iterative process where the new program can be retooled or enhanced as it is being developed.


5. Provide an innovation budget.


The fear of losing money on a new initiative is enough to kill it without further consideration. Allocating resources for new ideas shows a willingness to fund them without expectation of immediate return.


Every annual budget should include funds for innovation, even if new ideas are yet to be identified. Plan for them to emerge as the year goes on. This helps overcome the “it’s not in the budget” argument against such initiatives. At the same time, quantifying the allocation ensures the organization doesn’t open a bottomless pit.


Don’t be afraid to push the envelope


After all, that’s what a leader does. Be mindful of your employees’ and customers’ appetite for change as you consider how fast and far to push the envelope. But don’t neglect to push it. Try these approaches and start gaining new momentum on your change initiatives.



This article was first published on the LeadChange blog on December 12, 2017.


Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’’>thingass / 123RF Stock Photo</a>


Leadership, Strategy

More than half of finance executives in a global study by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and Institute of Management Accountants identified strategic thinking as critical to professional development for chief financial officers. These skills are just as important for CPAs in public accounting who want to advance in their careers or grow their firms. Strategic thinking is the key to delivering exceptional value in today’s rapidly changing, competitive business world.


This article describes the essence of strategic thinking and how it differs from traditional strategic planning, along with ways to develop strategic thinking and build it into your regular routines as a finance leader.


What is strategic thinking?

Strategic thinking is the process of exploring new and improved approaches to meet customer needs. It is future-oriented, focused on future customers and their needs, not just today’s. It involves regular scanning of the horizon, watching for emerging trends in the external environment. These trends include concerns such as globalization, economic movement, demographic shifts, and regulatory changes.


Strategic thinking is also customer-focused. By observing behavior in your target market, you are better positioned to respond to changing customer needs and preferences. Strategic thinking opens the door to innovation as you discover new ways to serve existing customers, as well as new customers. The best strategic thinkers open new frontiers. Consider Steve Jobs and the iPhone as a prime example.


Strategic thinking requires an awareness of your industry and monitoring the competition. Successful strategic thinkers differentiate their firms from competitors by offering superior customer value and effectively communicating that distinctness to the marketplace.


Strategic thinkers possess a keen understanding of their firm’s capabilities and ways to leverage them for competitive advantage. They find ways to build or acquire new capabilities to capitalize on emerging opportunities. Strategic thinkers go beyond operational improvements to develop new business models that enhance profitability and growth.


Strategic thinking versus strategic planning

Strategic thinking offers several advantages over traditional strategic planning, which by itself is insufficient to compete in today’s marketplace.


  • Strategic planning concludes with a static report that often ends up gathering dust on a bookshelf. Strategic thinking is continuous, nimble, and dynamic.
  • Strategic planning is a more rigid process. Strategic thinking is agile and flexible.
  • Strategic planning often becomes a destination in and of itself. Strategic thinking is a journey, a means more than an end.
  • Strategic planning is viewed as a project or an event. Strategic thinking is an ongoing process.


In most firms, strategic planning is at best an annual exercise. It’s valuable in that it prompts leaders to pause to evaluate their firms, scan the horizon, think about their customers, and establish goals and priorities. However, it doesn’t happen frequently or fast enough to address the challenges of a rapidly changing environment. Adding strategic thinking to your skillset will multiply your value — to your firm as well as to your customers.


Develop strategic thinking skills

Leaders with strategic planning experience are familiar with SWOT analysis — the assessment of a firm’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Strategy professor and consultant Stanley Abraham suggests building on that foundation as a step to develop strategic thinking skills.


Abraham offers six questions to go beyond SWOT analysis and cultivate deeper, “out-of-the-box” strategic thinking:


  1. What other type of customer could benefit from our product (service), even if used in a different way?
  2. What other products (services) could we produce for the same customer?
  3. What other products (services) could we produce, for any customers, that use the skills, techniques, technologies, and know-how that we have?
  4. Is there a way of reinventing our business model that would give us a competitive edge?
  5. What unmet needs do people or companies have that we could meet, even if it means acquiring the necessary know-how and expertise?
  6. What are the highest growth industries now and in the foreseeable future?


Regularly asking these questions and others will stretch your thinking to generate new approaches to meet customer needs and grow your firm in the process.


Build strategic thinking into your routines

The typical pattern in this deadline-driven profession is to run from one thing to the next without pausing to think about the future viability of the business itself. It’s easy to work in the business and never work on it. Or to become reactive, rather than proactive.


Here are a few tips to build strategic thinking into your routines:


Set aside TIME. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner calls this “the importance of scheduling nothing.” Weiner blocks out 90 to 120 minutes each day for high-level activities such as strategic thinking. Schedule a recurring appointment with yourself for strategic thinking every week, if not daily. Guard that time as the most important meeting of your week or day.


Find a PLACE. Get away from your office and the day-to-day operational duties that reside there. My best strategic thinking happens in coffee shops, hotel lobbies, and libraries. The white noise and a great cup of coffee add to the pleasure of knowing I’m doing what’s most important for my business.


Get OFFLINE. You may need to be online for reading and research. But get offline to do your best, undistracted thinking. A pen and notebook are the only tools I need.


Engage your TEAM. Assign each team member one of the questions above. Gather periodically as a team to discuss what you’re thinking and explore new opportunities together.


Expand your strategic thinking skills and multiply your value as a finance leader.



This article was first published in the May-June issue of the Wisconsin Institute of CPAs On Balance magazine. Click here to view the article as it appeared in the magazine.



We return to the series, Your Greatest Leadership Challenge: A Look in the Mirror at Self-Leadership. Visit my blog to read previous articles in the series.


Knowing your strengths and struggles is essential to leading yourself and others well. Self-awareness about your unique design leads to greater effectiveness and, at the same time, lessens the risk of derailing yourself as a leader.


The strengths movement has gained momentum since the release of Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, in 2001. At last count, nearly 16 million people have taken the StrengthsFinder assessment, administered by the Gallup organization.


Here’s how Gallup defines a strength:


A strength is the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity. The key to building a strength is to identify your dominant talents, then complement them by acquiring knowledge and skills pertinent to the activity.


Lead from your strengths


The premise behind leading from your strengths is simple. Tapping into the behaviors that come most naturally requires less thought and energy, allowing us to employ those talents more frequently and consistently.


For instance, my strength of focus enables me to set clear goals and priorities, whether at an individual or organizational level. It also enables me to block out distractions and concentrate intensely on what’s most important in terms of those goals and priorities. Doing so allows me to gain momentum on key results areas, which ties into another one of my strengths, achiever.


Knowing my strengths provides an awareness that my own work and that of the teams I lead will be very results-oriented. That’s great for meeting deadlines, staying within budget, and getting things done. It informs my desire to take on initiatives with clear goals, objectives, and targets. Productivity and profitability are among the top business outcomes that come from that strength-based approach to leadership.


Is it possible to employ too much strength?


An overemphasis on strengths can have unintended consequences. As Jerry Mabe, founder and CEO of RightPath Resources, states, “Strengths overdone are more often the greatest hindrance to a person’s success.”


Unfortunately, we don’t always recognize when we cross the line into overplaying our strengths. This leads to what researchers Robert Kaiser and Darren Overfield call “lopsided leadership” (more on that in the next article in this series).


When my strengths are overdone, there’s too much focus on results, which can be very tiring for myself and those I lead. It’s easy to overlook the human element, relationships, and work-life tensions. Being too focused can also lead to tunnel vision, or a reluctance to explore new alternatives or opportunities.


In the assessment tool Mabe developed, this dynamic is referred to as a struggle, as opposed to a weakness, or non-talent. For each strength identified by the RightPath instrument, potential struggles are presented.


Seeing these factors scored on a continuum highlights the strengths a person is most apt to overplay into a struggle. RightPath characterizes the most extreme scores on the continuum as intensities, which my coaching clients find helpful to better understand their leadership style and potential pitfalls.


How well do you know your strengths and struggles?


There are numerous assessment tools to help you understand your natural wiring, personality, and behavioral tendencies. Most involve an online questionnaire that almost immediately generates a report of your results. That’s true of both the StrengthsFinder and RightPath profiles.


Other popular tools include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DISC profile, and Enneagram. Many of these resources have been replicated with free online versions, although let the buyer (or free user) beware, as they don’t typically have the same research validity as paid resources.


To get the best value from these tools, debrief your reports with a mentor, colleague, coach, or trained facilitator. There are often valuable insights hidden below the surface that you won’t find on your own. Make the time and investment to understand your individual uniqueness and leverage it for better leadership!


Want to take a deep dive into understanding your unique design and its impact on your leadership style? Let’s explore these factors together. Feel free to contact me via email or schedule a telephone conversation at my online calendar.


Leadership, Resources, Staff Development

What if your understanding of motivation is faulty? What if that misunderstanding has caused you to frustrate, rather than encourage and inspire, your employees? Or even your kids? What if traditional carrot and stick methods are only temporarily effective at best, and perhaps counterproductive in the long run?


Those are Susan Fowler’s conclusions in her newly updated book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does. Fowler suggests that when we ask why someone isn’t motivated, we’re asking the wrong question.


Why are people motivated?


The question isn’t whether people are motivated. In fact, they’re always motivated. The question is why they are motivated.


“People are always motivated. The question is not if, but why they are motivated.” – Susan Fowler.


Asking why a person is motivated opens the spectrum of motivational possibilities. Fowler describes less effective sources of motivation as suboptimal, and those that are more effective as optimal. Moving toward the optimal side of the spectrum generates energy, vitality, and well-being.


Fowler’s spectrum of motivation goes beyond the typical definitions or extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, although there are common threads with suboptimal and optimal sources. Suboptimal motivation comes from disinterested, external, and imposed sources, while optimal motivation is aligned, integrated, and inherent.


The Need for Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence (ARC)


Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does draws from important research on the science of motivation. In doing so, the book highlights the relationship between motivation and employee engagement, a driver of key business outcomes such as productivity, creativity, and job satisfaction.


Fowler offers an easy-to-remember acronym to better understand the source of motivation and leverage its power. She relates the essence of motivation to three critical psychological needs, autonomy, relatedness, and competence (ARC).


Autonomy refers to the need for choice, or at least, the perception of choice. In the workplace, autonomy is about a sense of having some of control or choice about one does, or how it’s done. This doesn’t mean managers are hands-off, or laissez-faire, but that they allow their employees to have influence.


Relatedness is about connection, to others, and to purpose. People desire to be part of something bigger than themselves to belong with others in the process. Herein lies a powerful opportunity for leaders, to help people find meaning in their work and be part of a healthy team environment.


Competence represents the need for a sense of growth and learning over time. It’s about feeling competent to handle the normal, everyday challenges of the job. Leaders play an important role here as well since the workplace is where people spend the most time. Not feeling competent in the workplace can negatively impact other parts of workers’ lives as well.


When ARC needs are met, people thrive and flourish, satisfying an innate desire that is present in all of us.


A Learnable Skill: MVPs


Motivation is a skill that can be learned, starting with an awareness of where one is on the spectrum of motivation. Fowler offers a second acronym, MVP (mindfulness, values, and purpose) as the key to shifting toward higher level motivation.


The book contains tips for conducting motivational outlook conversations and numerous examples from Fowler’s research and consulting work. The epilogue contains short stories of masters of motivation, such as the great NBA coach Phil Jackson and former Southwest Airlines President Colleen Barrett.


Why Motivation Doesn’t Work…and What Does should be required reading for anyone in a leadership role. It’s an excellent discussion starter for executive teams, mentoring or coaching relationships, and training activities. Beyond the workplace, it has powerful application for parents, teachers, athletic coaches, and youth leaders.


Is it time to shift your approach to leading your team and developing your people? Let’s Talk! Contact me via email or schedule a complimentary strategy call on my online calendar.



This is the third article in the series, Your Greatest Leadership Challenge: A Look in the Mirror at Self-Leadership. Visit my blog to read previous articles in the series.


An elite athlete’s inner core is a critical driver of his or her strength, power, speed, and agility. That’s equally true for an effective leader. And to lead others well, you must first lead yourself well. Healthy, confident leadership comes from a strong personal foundation.


As I wrote last week, building a strong inner core comes from clarity on these four key elements:


Vision:                Where are you going?

Purpose:            Why is this important?

Mission:             What are you doing?

Values:              How will you act?


This week’s focus is on mission and values. Along with an explanation of each element, I provide questions to help you get clarity in each area.


Mission: What are you doing?


Mission and purpose are often viewed as synonymous, but there is a difference. Purpose answers the question “Why?”—why accomplishing the vision is worthwhile or important. Mission answers the question “What?”—what you are doing to reach your desired destination.


Laurie Beth Jones, author of The Path: Creating Your Mission Statement for Work and for Life, describes a mission statement this way:


“The mission statement is centered on the process of what you need to be doing.”


Here’s a great example from one of the world’s most well-known companies: “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”


Your mission statement should be aspirational, like Google focusing on “the world’s information.” It describes what you do in broad terms without getting too tactical (i.e., the word “organize” from Google). Finally, an effective mission statement conveys the impact of your work on those you serve.


It’s your turn: what’s your mission?


Set aside time alone to write your mission statement. As I mentioned in last week’s article, you may have separate statements for your work and personal lives, depending on your situation. However, there should be congruity between the two.


Here are six questions to guide you in this process:


  1. How will you achieve your vision?
  2. Who do you serve?
  3. What do you do for them?
  4. Why is that important?
  5. What kind of impact will you have?
  6. How do you differentiate yourself?


Like the other core training exercises, it may take a few attempts to create something you’re happy with. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Get to a statement that has some staying power but room to tweak as time goes on. For an example, look at the statement under the headline on my website.


Values: how will you act?


Values add a qualitative element to your core. In Self-Leadership: How to Become a More Successful, Efficient, and Effective Leader from the Inside Out, authors Andrew Bryant and Ana Kazan describe values as:


“Personal or shared enduring beliefs or ideals about what is good or desirable and what is not.”


Values are filters that guide decisions. They form a moral compass that guides behavior, whether as an individual or an organization. In the marketplace, values inform the way in which an organization interacts with its employees, customers, and other constituents.


Ritz-Carlton is highly regarded for exceptional customer service in the hospitality industry. Among its Gold Standards, the company lists 12 service values that are stated in first-person terms to make them personal, empowering, and operational. For instance, as a Ritz-Carlton employee, “I own and immediately resolve guest problems.”


It’s your turn: what are your values?


Answering this question is more about discovery than decision. Your values are already there; you just need to put words to them. Although there’s nothing wrong with common values like integrity and excellence, make sure your stated values reflect your character and personality.


Condense your values down to a few key words or short phrases to make them easy to remember and articulate. There’s no “right” number, but once you get past five or six, they become difficult to remember and can be diluted in terms of effectiveness.


I landed on five values, which I list on the About page of my website:


  • Holistic excellence
  • Growth mindset
  • Bias for action
  • Desire over fear
  • Legacy thinking


Here are some key questions to guide you in discovering and compiling your values:


  1. What is important to you?
  2. What qualities do you admire about yourself?
  3. What qualities do you admire in others?
  4. What qualities are mentioned when others compliment you?
  5. What principles guide your decisions?
  6. How do you want to be remembered?


Review your values regularly, looking for consistency between them and your behavior. When leaders derail, it’s typically the result of behavior that drifts from their values, further and further over time.


What’s next?


If you’ve done your homework the past two weeks, you’re well on your way to strengthening the inner core of your self-leadership. With this strong inner core in place, we’ll move next into a discussion of individual differences and personal uniqueness.


How can you strengthen your inner core? Let’s explore the possibilities together in a complimentary strategy session. Feel free to contact me via email or schedule a telephone conversation at my online calendar.



This is the second article in the series, Your Greatest Leadership Challenge: A Look in the Mirror at Self-Leadership. Visit my blog to read previous articles in the series.


Strengthening your core is as important to your leadership success as it is to your physical well-being. Healthy, confident leadership is born out of a solid personal foundation. Without a strong inner core, your leadership will be weak and wobbly, just like a human body without core strength.


Building a strong inner core comes from clarity on four key elements:


Vision:                Where are you going?

Purpose:             Why is this important?

Mission:              What are you doing?

Values:               How will you act?


The next two articles in this series will explore these four elements in the context of self-leadership. Along with a description of each element, I include questions to help you get clarity in each area. Invest the time. Do the homework. That is if you’re serious about becoming a better self-leader.


Depending on your situation, you may need to answer the questions separately for your professional and personal lives, although the two need to be consistent to have integrity. As a solopreneur, my professional and personal responses are much more intertwined than for those who work for someone else.


Vision: Where are you going?


Strengthening your core starts with gaining clarity of vision because, as Hall of Fame baseball player and sometime philosopher Yogi Berra said,


“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”


Professors Michael Hackman and Craig Johnson define vision as “A concise statement or description of the direction in which an individual, group, or organization is headed.” Others describe vision as a preferred place, destination, or state of being.


I think of vision as a place that I’d like to be, a compelling destination that I’m headed toward. Vision is aspirational, directional, and momentum-building.


Characteristics of effective visions


Acclaimed leadership author Burt Nanus lists four characteristics of effective vision, which I’ve paraphrased slightly to fit the self-leadership context:


  • Vision generates commitment and energizes you.
  • Vision creates meaning in what you do.
  • Vision establishes a standard of excellence.
  • Vision creates a bridge between your present and your future.


Many vision statements are perpetual or represent a lifelong journey. To make vision more actionable, I like to put a timeframe on the destination I’m trying to reach. President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 “moon shot” speech is one of the best vision statements in this regard:


“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”


It’s your turn: what’s your vision?


Set aside time alone to write your personal vision statement. Think about where you want to go, your preferred destination. Let the following six questions guide you:


  1. Is it energizing and inspiring?
  2. Is it aspirational yet achievable?
  3. Does it compel you to action?
  4. Does it require new standards of excellence?
  5. Does it link the present and the future?
  6. Is it concise and memorable?


Don’t get hung up on creating the perfect vision statement. It may take a few revisions and you may modify it over time. But knowing where you’re headed is critical.


Purpose: why is this important?


Once you determine where you’re going (and perhaps before you finalize the destination), the next step is to clarify why it’s so important for you to get there. Get a handle on your “Big Why.”


Self-Leadership: The Definitive Guide to Personal Excellence defines this sense of purpose as “our reason for being, our aim in life, our reason for getting up in the morning.” Knowing your Big Why is critical for when the going gets tough and you’re ready to give up.


I’ve been blessed with coaches and mentors who pressed me to drill down on my Big Why until I was absolutely clear about it. They knew I would need to be reminded of my purpose when the inevitable adversity and challenges of launching a new venture set in.


It’s your turn: what’s your Big Why?


Just as you did in clarifying your vision, take time to determine why that vision is so important to you. Keep asking yourself “why?” until you get to the deepest levels of motivation.


Motivational factors vary widely from person to person, so don’t judge yourself if your motives don’t seem as pure as the next person’s. These factors might focus on things like family, health, spiritual well-being, retirement, business growth, etc.


Entrepreneurs, professionals and other leaders often hesitate to include profit-making or wealth-building in their Big Why, as though it’s not altruistic enough. Yet, there may be even deeper motivators that support a money-oriented goal. When I was a practicing CPA, one client viewed his knack for making money as a way to generously support a number of worthy causes.


Here are a few homework questions as you write out your Big Why:


  1. Why must you achieve your vision?
  2. What will your life be like if you do?
  3. What will it be like if you don’t?
  4. How will it impact the people around you?
  5. Will your “Big Why” motivate you to persevere when you might be tempted to give up?


What’s next?


If you’ve done your homework, you’re well on your way to strengthening your inner core as a self-leader. Good work! Up next: mission and values.


How can you strengthen your inner core? Let’s explore the possibilities together in a complimentary strategy session. Feel free to contact me via email or schedule a telephone conversation at my online calendar.






Most leadership development focuses on leading other people. But to lead others well, you must first lead yourself well. As leadership coach and consultant Glenn Gutek writes, “All leadership starts with self-leadership.”


The importance of self-leadership


Self-leadership is so important that former VISA CEO Dee Hock once suggested that leaders focus 50% of their time and effort on leading themselves, before leading vertically and horizontally within their organizations.


Thirty years of academic research reveals numerous positive business outcomes from effective self-leadership: increased commitment, confidence, job satisfaction, performance, productivity, creativity, and innovation, among many others.


The benefits of self-leadership transcend the workplace. Improvements in emotional health, relationships, physical fitness, and spiritual well-being are often attributed to positive self-leadership.


The antidote to leadership derailment


Self-leadership is also an important antidote to leadership derailment, when seemingly high capacity leaders veer off the tracks. Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy once said, “The number one reason leaders are so unsuccessful is their inability to lead themselves.”


In some cases, derailment occurs when leaders lose sight of personal values or ethical standards, succumbing to greed or the trappings of the office. Classic derailment examples include Kenneth Lay, Bernard Ebbers, and Dennis Kozlowski, leaders at the helm of three colossal corporate scandals in the early 2000’s.


Derailment also occurs when leaders perform below expectations, often to the point of demotion or termination. Marissa Mayer has taken a lot of criticism lately for Yahoo’s underperformance. She’s been described as a driven workaholic who once spoke of managing bathroom breaks in order to work exorbitant hours in her prior role at Google. Others note her lack of listening, learning, and attention to culture as marks of poor leadership.


Soft skills deficiencies


Derailment is rarely due to a lack of technical knowledge and skills. It more likely results from deficiencies in soft skills or non-technical factors. The International Journal of Economics and Financial Issues cites five recurring themes when leaders derail: interpersonal relationship problems, failure to build and lead a team, failure to meet business objectives, inability to change or adapt, and too narrow functional orientation.


Successful self-leadership is the starting point to overcome these potential pitfalls.


What is self-leadership?


UMass Amherst Management Professor Charles Manz defines self-leadership as:


A self-influence process and set of strategies that address what is to be done and why as well as how it is to be done.


Self-leadership is not simply an anecdotal concept, but one rooted in several theories and models from psychology: self-regulation, social cognitive theory, self-determination, intrinsic motivation, and self-management.


Become a better self-leader


This is the first of a series of articles that will take a deeper dive into the practice of self-leadership. Next up: building a strong personal foundation through clarity of vision, purpose, and values. Then: understanding individual differences, strengths, struggles, and blind spots. Later: establishing self-leadership disciplines to show up as your best self in every situation.


Join the journey and maximize your leadership!


Where are you at most risk of leadership derailment? Let’s talk about ways to use self-leadership as a springboard for better leadership of your people and organization. Contact me via email or schedule a complimentary strategy session on my online calendar.


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