"executive leadership"

Wed 25 March 2020
Let’s first define what is a mentor. “Mentors focus on providing you sage advice and wisdom gathered through experience and knowledge when you ask for their insight.  Mentors can be considered a library of human knowledge in the particular areas of life they have gained expertise.  Mentors normally focus on providing knowledge, understanding and direction, but have been known to help in your improvement as a person when you allow yourself to become the subject.”

Everyone should have a mentor whether it is professional or personal reasons.  A mentor is someone you can trust and build rapport with because this person will be there for you through the good and bad times.  Encouraging and inspiring along the way, is why a mentor is often confused with a coach.  A coach is different from a mentor in a sense that coaches are not supposed to offer advice as to what a person should be doing.  Coaching concentrates on the person implementing the best strategies to achieve their desired goals.  

The majority of mentor’s volunteer their time and are unpaid when asked to render guidance.  Some benefits to having a mentor is listed below:

  1. Support and encouragement 
  2. Inspiration and guidance
  3. Improve social skills
  4. Career and professional advice
  5. Spiritual advice

My mentor is someone who I met a few years ago after signing up for the mentor/mentee program at our church.  My mentor is someone who has helped me to grow in my business and to expand my career. By having a mentor who is also a business owner like myself, she provides reliable advice to me when making challenging decisions.  I value her opinion and look forward to our daily conversations.  My mentor is someone that I can trust and share my concerns about anything, and I know the advice given to me will be in my best interest. My mentor has encouraged me to do things that I normally would not have had the courage to do if it wasn’t for her believing in me. The experiences and knowledge that she shares with me helps to shape me into a better business leader, mother, and wife. I have learned so much from her over the past 2 years. 

If interested in having a mentor, make sure you are honest with yourself as well as your mentor. The relationship only works if honesty and transparency is at the core.  It is difficult for someone to provide guidance and advice to anyone if the relationship is built on dishonesty.  Also, make a list of what you are looking for in a mentor so when an opportunity to work with a mentor arises, you will know what qualities to seek.  The benefits are unlimited when working with a mentor who understands you both professionally and personally.  Having a mentor to confide in and receiving valuable advice from them is priceless. The opportunity to have a mentor in my life was one of the best decisions I could have made. 
Mon 3 August 2020
As a business, you must be constantly setting new goals and working towards accomplishing your current goals. The goals you aim for need to be big enough to ensure consistent growth while remaining tangible, realistic, and achievable.  

But goals also need to be flexible. Managing how your team goes about accomplishing those goals requires you to be open to suggestions and improvements or else risk falling behind the pack. 

Oftentimes, there will be an aspirational quantifiable goal that your team is working towards accomplishing. For example, reaching $1 million in annual revenue. While there are many different ways you can accomplish this goal, the conventional wisdom is usually to follow the same methods that lead you here and keep progressing along the same path towards that goal.

Sometimes, the plans that got you here are not the plans that will lead you to your ultimate goal. Let’s continue with the quantity goal of achieving $1 million in revenue. Now let’s say you are collecting monthly payments on your product or service, and your sales team is growing sales at 10% month-over-month: it looks like you are well on your way! But you might be missing crucial factors. You might not notice until it’s too late that your product isn’t high enough quality to retain those clients and now you are losing 20% of clients after three months. Now you are stuck in a situation that is essentially just pouring water to a leaky bucket.

The cost to make the quality adjustments might be really expensive…but the cost of consistently losing business is usually going to be worse. If there aren’t quality controls in place, it’s going to make achieving your $1 million in revenue goal harder and make the next important milestone even more difficult to achieve if you don’t change your things up. 

Word spreads quickly and first impressions are incredibly important! If word spreads that your quality is inconsistent, you will saturate the market with a negative reputation and eventually find it very difficult to garner new customers.

Essentially, the cost of consistently putting out a bad product becomes more and more expensive as word spreads. This cost to reputation quickly grows to be significantly greater than the cost of doing nothing.

A story that does a great job of conveying this is the story of Pixar Animation Studios and the story of Toy Story 2. In the 1980’s, Steve Jobs (after getting let go by the board of Apple) bought Pixar from Lucas Film, and in the early 1990’s the Walt Disney Company hired Pixar to make 1 full-length, completely computer-animated movie.

At the time, there had never been a full-length completely computer animated movie. It had never been done. Pixar had done shorts before (and actually won an Oscar in 1988 for Tin Toy), but they had never made a full-length movie before. The agreement was that the Walt Disney Company would pay for the entire cost of producing the film but would receive 100% of the royalties. 

Steve Jobs and the Pixar management team knew that this was not necessarily the greatest deal for them. They knew that if the movie was a hit and Disney kept all of the royalties, they would have Pixar hamstrung and forced into this type of deal for the future because their profit on this deal was minimal.

Therefore, right before Pixar’s first movie with Disney went live to theaters, they made a bold move. They decided to have an Initial Public Offering (IPO). This was risky because if their first movie flopped, the company would be out of business. But, if it was a success, they knew Disney would come back to them to make more films and the additional funds from IPO would allow them to cover their half of the production cost and take a half of the royalties. 

Their first movie: Toy Story. 

What else needs to be said? But just in case you need a refresher: Toy Story was a smash success and won an Oscar in 1995.

The Walt Disney Company agreed to a deal to cover half of the production cost for two more movies and split the royalties with Pixar. This was still a relatively risky spot for Pixar because if any of these movies flopped, they would be on the hook for it. 

Pixar’s next movie was A Bug’s Life. Not only was it another great box office success and instant classic, but the production of the film went off without a hitch. 

Their second movie was Toy Story 2, and the production of the much-anticipated sequel was not nearly as smooth as A Bug’s Life or even the original Toy Story. In fact, Toy Story 2 almost ended up never being released…twice! 

Because Pixar was a young and quickly growing company, they hadn’t really established the type of quality protocol and procedures necessary when making films. Like most startups, they were flying by the seat of their pants. 

Since they were making A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2 at the same time, they had to split their teams to focus on each respective movie and hired an outside film director to direct Toy Story 2. 

The Pixar team was so focused on releasing A Bug’s Life that they gave essentially free reign to this new director to direct Toy Story 2. By the time Toy Story 2 was “ready” for a final review, Pixar encountered a huge problem: the movie just wasn’t very good. It simply wasn’t emotionally gripping or well-put together. 

The Pixar team had to make a choice: keep this sub-par film that they invested millions of dollars into, or scrap the entire film and start over (and risk upsetting everyone that worked on the original Toy Story 2).

The short-term risk was losing the millions of dollars they spent producing the film. The long-term risk was losing the Walt Disney Company as a financial and commercial partner, leaving them having to go off on their own and figure out distribution channels, promotion, and everything else that Disney brought to the table that made their involvement so valuable.

So, Pixar decided to pivot. They scrapped the entire first draft of the movie (losing millions of dollars) and started over. 

Production was going well: great story, great characters, great emotion. But, right before Toy Story 2 (the second version) was ready to be released, something happened. The developers at Pixar were working on improving some small visual features and that involved writing over the code in some folder. But, they used the wrong command: ask a programmer and they will let you know that this is easy to do! So, when they went to delete and replace the folder, the command instead started deleting every file it encountered. And…a developer accidentally entered that command. After a moment, they started seeing files disappearing and realized what was happening.

Everything was deleted. Woody, Buzz, Mr. Potatohead, everything! They scrapped millions of dollars on the first movie and then accidentally deleted the entire second go-around of this movie. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue. Everyone knows to backup important work, right? Except the backups were untested, and failed when they tried to retrieve their work. All seemed lost. 

However, they had a lifeline. One of their employees who was pregnant was granted the opportunity to work from home (back when working from home wasn’t the norm). Every week, she would back up the entire movie on her home hard drive. After they realized this, they dashed to her house to find out whether or not their entire project was truly gone. 

The Pixar team drove to her house, picked up her hard drive and…it was all there! 

The movie released and was a total success and laid the groundwork for Pixar to create: Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, and so many other movies that became instant classics.

Pixar had an original goal: to make 2 movies with Disney. They could have stuck to the original version of Toy Story 2, but that could have led to lost business and opportunities down the line (the equivalent of a leaky bucket). 

Pixar chose to pivot in the face of adversity for the opportunity to set themselves up in the long-term.

They created the Brain Trust which is a quality control team that meets with directors weekly to ensure that the movies they are directing are on track and quality.

They also implemented technical systems that prevented employees from losing everything in their system, and ensuring that their work is backed up, that their backups are backed up, and that those are backed up too! 

Technically, Pixar didn’t need to make either of those pivots to make 2 movies. But to make 2 high quality movies that would sustain the success of their business for years to come, these pivots were absolutely necessary.

The point: having goals is a great first step. But to maintain your success, you are going to need to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge that what you are doing now isn’t perfect and will be improved. There are some activities that may not directly drive your outcome in the short-term, but will absolutely lead you to success over the long term. Knowing when, how, and just being open to pivoting is critical to your success as a leader and as a company.

Wed 12 August 2020
Over the course of my career, there has been an increasing focus on making work “easier”.  This initiative has taken many forms over the years, ranging from process improvements and documentation, to streamlining meetings, to improved electronic platforms, etc.  As I began to get involved with the Ambition in Motion program, my personal workload began to increase as well, and more than ever the need for an “easy” application was essential.

 I can comfortably say that this program is very easy, with a clearly defined structure, easy to follow instructions, and continued touchpoints and follow-up from the program administrators.  In addition to the regular Mentorship sessions, there as many other opportunities for personal growth.  I can honestly say that the most difficult portion of this program is personally finding the time to take full advantage of what is offered.  I am very excited to see how this continues to grow and evolve.



Mon 17 August 2020
I am in a mentoring relationship with another CEO who has been having some people issues at this company. The focus of our most recent conversation was how to handle these types of situations without harming company culture and morale.

The issue he is focused on right now is with his controller (or lead accountant). His controller is a really nice guy, everybody loves him, and from a company culture perspective, he brings positivity to the workplace. But, he just isn’t getting his work done on time, and he is often a bottle-neck for the entire company. 

My CEO mentor recognizes this and doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t want to fire him because people genuinely like him and he has positive attributes that make the work environment rewarding. But he can’t let the whole company be hamstrung because of one person’s delayed work.

3 weeks earlier, this CEO mentor of mine had a similar issue with a couple of his salespeople. They were nice employees and people liked them, but they also weren’t getting the job done. In that situation, the CEO essentially gave his salespeople an ultimatum: “If you don’t increase your performance, we are going to have to move in a different direction.”

The result…both salespeople took his suggestion, moved in a different direction, and left with a sour taste in their mouth of their working experience.

It didn’t stop there either. Additional costs for the company and my CEO mentor were significant because he now needed to recruit, hire, and train 2 new salespeople, all the while losing out on the sales from the 2 former employees. This all set him back on accomplishing other business goals that he set his company.

The CEO decided that he wanted a different outcome with his controller. My mentor realized that the ideal outcome would be to transition him to a different role without the employee taking this as a personal affront.

Neither he nor I knew if that could be possible, but my CEO mentor knew there had to be a different, and better, strategy than the “my way or the highway” approach.

One thing that he brought up to me in our conversation was Marshall Rosenberg’s idea of Nonviolent Communication.

Nonviolent Communication is a series of steps that help de-escalate a potentially contentious situation by stating the facts, removing emotional generalizations (e.g. because I hate when you do that, or because it wasn’t fair for me), and provides a clear, tangible next step that is ideally reasonable and accepted.

The steps to nonviolent communication are: observation, feeling, need, and request.

Observation is an unequivocal fact that can’t be disagreed with. When conveying the observation, there shouldn’t be a positive or negative tone in the voice of the person stating the observation. It is merely a statement of fact.

Feeling is the feeling that the person initiating Nonviolent Communication is feeling. This is ONLY THE FEELING. Anything else that comes with the feeling is irrelevant. Feelings include: mad, sad, angry, frustrated, and anxious. Avoid insults and anything that starts with “I think”. Also, it can be easy to fall into the trap of mistaking insults for feelings (e.g., “You do this on purpose to be a jerk”). 

Need is a need that everyone can agree to. A need is not “I need you to do xyz things”. A need is a higher level notion that is aspirational and is something that EVERYONE can work towards. It holds the person conveying Nonviolent Communication, the person receiving it, and anyone else involved accountable to this need. An example could include “my need is a work environment where people are respected, they get their work done, and they can find joy in the workplace.” Most people can agree that they would consider this a need for their work environment. 

Request is a specific, tangible, ideally measurable request that is reasonably achievable. If it is vague, it will be difficult to know if it was achieved and if it is unreasonable, it will create resentment. A bad example of a request would be “my request is that you never interrupt me again.” This is a bad example because it requests for somebody to change actions instantaneously and without margin for error. An employee might develop some minor habit of inadvertently interrupting you but not realize it frustrates you so much. So, when you finally decide to bring it up to them and ask (order!) them to never do it again, you are presenting an unrealistic request and not seeking to understand the person. A better request would be:

“My request is that when we have a conversation, you try practicing reflective listening, meaning that when we have a conversation, you take a pause after I am done speaking to reflect on what I just said before jumping in with what you are going to say. I recognize that this might take time to practice and implement, but my request is that you give it a chance and are intentional about practicing it in conversations.”

You could potentially add in a specific number of times that would be acceptable for that person to interrupt you to be measurable, but that may sound condescending for this situation. The key difference is that the request is much more likely to be adopted than the original bad example. By practicing Nonviolent Communication and working with the person, you are working together to find the best solution for all parties.

So, my CEO mentor decided to apply Nonviolent Communication to his situation with his controller to see if it might be able to achieve his desired goal of getting him to work on a different task while showing him respect and maintaining his dignity.

His observation: The accounting work that was due on June 20th came in on July 1st. This has happened each of the past 3 months, and we have had several conversations about the importance of timely accounting work over the past 3 months.

His feelings: He feels frustrated and anxious. 

His need: A work environment where people are respected, they get their work done, and they can find joy in the workplace.

His request: “Would you be open to helping onboard a new controller over the next 3 weeks, and then transitioning your work to the marketing department afterwards?”

The result…his controller was open to it! The CEO mentor of mine may not have perfectly implemented the keys to Nonviolent Communication, but he did them well enough to achieve his desired goal. This part is important: you won’t get it perfect on your first try. But practice makes perfect, and even imperfect execution can help you solve your people problems. 

His controller, now marketing assistant, helped onboard the new controller, and because he was so well-liked by others at the company, his transition to marketing was smooth. So far, he is getting his work done on time and finding a greater passion for his work in marketing compared to accounting.

As business leaders, we may scoff at the idea of showing emotion at work and sharing our feelings. And if we do, they may come out as massive generalizations that can be hurtful and negative to culture. In this example, this CEO mentor of mine showed emotion, vulnerability, and subsequently leadership and was able to accomplish his goals and his company goals. 

Mon 5 October 2020
My company has been helping executives learn about their own strengths and weaknesses and there was one number that really stood out to me when I was checking out the data. Seven out of every ten executives in an Executive Mentor Program gave worse ratings to their own leadership ability than the ratings given by their colleagues on leadership as part of their 360-degree assessments.

This statistic fascinates me because it forces me to start questioning what these executives are seeing in themselves that their colleagues apparently miss.   

Is it an act of humility to acknowledge that there is room to grow even though one’s colleagues are satisfied with their leadership?

Is it a perceived lack of ability compared to other leaders they aspire to emulate (something which apparently is missed by their colleagues)?

Or is it a lack of self-confidence, and that more executives feel like they are “faking it” until the one day that they are actually “making it” (while their colleagues don’t know any better)?

To properly answer this, leadership should be defined. By leadership, the study focused on two areas: general perceptions of leadership (e.g. I feel this person is a good leader) and one’s ability to provide clear expectations for those that work with them.

As a society, we seemingly look to the most prominent business leaders as if they have it all together, brimming with confidence, and are unshakable.

We condition ourselves to believe that to be a leader, we must be ever confident and we must have all the answers. For some people, this is an attractive endeavor because our vision of ourselves is the person at the top making the decisions and having the answers – that almost by being at the top of an org chart that we will inherently have the answers (or an alternative solution) because we have control. For others, however, leadership is not an attractive endeavor because of the perceived responsibilities and eyeballs looking to you for what the next step should be; be open to criticism and all the while constantly nervous about whether or not you are choosing the correct path.

While we aren’t sure exactly why 70% of executives underestimate their leadership ability compared to their colleagues’ ratings, we do know that this mismatch in perception exists.

Therefore, there is good news and bad news implied by these findings. The bad news: for those people who are attracted to leadership because they believe that once they are a leader they will have the answers and the confidence; that seems to be an unlikely, though not unheard-of, outcome. Instead, this seems to show that leadership is a never-ending pursuit of improvement. This becomes exacerbated when team members and the people they work with don’t understand their expectations of themselves and the metrics they would like to achieve to be considered a success.

The good news: for those people that avoid leadership because of the perceived responsibility of knowing every next step, being criticized, and nervous about whether or not they are choosing the correct path; most leaders feel this way and the feeling doesn’t stop! Instead, it seems like they just get better at dealing with those feelings.

The reason this is good news is because it shouldn’t hold you back from pursuing opportunities to improve your leadership abilities. This feeling of nervousness when leading a group of people is normal (the data shows it!) and it probably won’t be going away anytime soon. If you lean into the opportunities that present themselves (or seek them out), you can ensure that you are constantly growing and learning.

Speaking of leaning in, Sheryl Sandberg’s story of joining Google embodies the lessons learned from somebody jumping into leadership despite the uncertainty.

Sheryl accepted a role at Google during Google’s infancy. Her prior work experience was in government and she had minimal experience working in technology or startups.

It had taken her almost a year of living in San Francisco to get her first job offer. But persistence paid off and eventually she was receiving multiple offers, one of which was with Google. The other offers were very similar with what she had done in the past and paid her more, but the opportunity for leadership and growth with those other companies wasn’t nearly as high as with Google.

She was torn about what to do. As she was about to reject the Google offer, she met with Eric Schmidt the then CEO of Google who was still part of the interview process (which also gives you an idea of how early this was with Google). She laid out all the offers she had on her spreadsheet and the pros and cons of each offer. The only substantial positive for Google compared to the other offers was the opportunity for growth and leadership.

So why did she choose Google?

It was Eric’s response that convinced her. Eric put his hand over her spreadsheet and said “Don’t be stupid. If somebody offers you a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask ‘which seat?’ you just get on.”

She accepted this new challenge of working in a different industry than she was accustomed to, learned to thrive in it, and transitioned that experience into what she is doing now: the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook.

If you are currently a leader, this executive data should hopefully be the inspiration to pursue new experiences and expand your horizons with the hope that it improves your leadership abilities. You don’t need to follow what you think is a “tried and true” method to leadership because there is no “tried and true” method to leadership. Leadership is constantly evolving and 70% of executives feel they are worse leaders compared to their colleagues’ perception of them. 

This is not a guarantee that trying new activities will have some magical power that directly improves your leadership. You might not even realize your strengths and growth as a leader until much later. But, doing nothing new and avoiding challenges is a sure-fire way to stagnate. 

Mon 30 November 2020
When work engagement stats are brought up inside a company, employee engagement levels are typically correlated to the impact engagement has on retention, employee productivity, minimized sick days, overall team morale, and how it impacts a company’s culture.

Naturally, when most executives learn about the importance of monitoring and improving engagement they typically invest in these services for their employees. They want to know their team’s engagement score and work on pursuing activities that can improve their engagement.

But what about measuring engagement for the executives?

This may seem like an odd thing to measure for an executive because, as an executive, you would naturally think that your fellow executives aren’t going anywhere (especially if they are the founder or CEO). Furthermore, often their compensation is tied to their performance so they are economically incentivized to perform at their best.

The issue with this train of thought is that it fails to properly understand what engagement is. So much research has used engagement and its downstream effects to show how it impacts the bottom line.  As there are fewer people at the top of an organizational chart and more people lower in the hierarchy, you might think that this is the most cost-effective way to apply engagement because it would directly affect the greatest number of people.

Therefore, it would make sense that when executives learn about this research, they are interested in measuring it for those employees that work for them and are less interested in measuring it for themselves–executives should have no economic reason to rack up sick days, be less productive, or leave. 

But this is simply not the case. Instead, this is a blind spot for executives! I’ll explain more below, but first, let’s take it up a level. 

What is engagement?

Engagement is the culmination of emotional attachment, energy, camaraderie, and work fulfillment employees (including executives!) have at work. Executives are employees too! 

I run an executive Horizontal Mentorship program where I pair two executives from different companies (and typically industries) together for Horizontal Mentorship. If you aren’t familiar, Horizontal Mentorship flips the script on classic mentorship programs by creating mutually beneficial mentor partnerships instead of hierarchical, top-down mentor-mentee relationships. I also run corporate Horizontal Mentor programs where I pair employees within a company together for mentorship.

When I started the first executive mentor program, I made a mistake when sending out the initial assessment. I accidentally forgot to take off the engagement questions that are originally meant for the corporate Horizontal Mentor programs that I run. 

I assumed that executives didn’t need to measure their engagement and that it would just take extra time on their assessment. But, by the time I realized my mistake, it was too late and the executives had taken the assessment in its entirety. They were good sports about the length of the assessment, so I might have been wrong twice in one assessment!  

When it came time to collect the follow-up data after 6 months of their Horizontal Mentor relationship, I figured if we already had the original assessment with the engagement questions, we might as well reassess with those exact same questions.

Here is what I learned:

The average executive improved their engagement score by 5% in 6 months!

This is fascinating for a variety of reasons. First, it shows that work engagement for executives is malleable, just like other employees. When we break down engagement into its components (emotional attachment, energy, camaraderie, and work fulfillment), it is clear how an executive can be impacted by these factors. Now let’s look at each component in a bit more detail. 

Emotional Attachment: We learned that executives, when talking with the same people, doing similar actions, and pursuing similar outcomes – over time – can reduce their emotional attachment to what they are working on.

Energy: We learned that executives need a break as well. When somebody spends too much time working on one thing and talking to the same people, they are eventually going to burn out unless something changes.

Camaraderie: We learned that executives need new, fresh perspectives in their world and if they aren’t seeking that out, they can’t appreciate the relationships they have at their own company.

Work Fulfillment: We learned that work becomes less fulfilling when executives are stuck in their own echo chamber, but becomes more fulfilling when they can learn about what somebody outside of their network (that they can relate to) is going through.

Second, it highlights how easy it is for an executive to get stuck. When first entering this executive Horizontal Mentorship program, their engagement scores weren’t alarming, but clearly there was another gear these executives simply weren’t hitting before their mentor experience.

Third, it demonstrates the need, and importance, for executives to have somebody that can see the forest from the trees and help them get outside of their bubble. Learning another’s perspective clearly sheds light on how executives can improve in their own world and gives them invaluable perspective. 

If you are an executive reading this article, you might be able to relate to some of the points brought up about engagement. You might feel that you are losing the emotional attachment to your work, starting to feel burnt out, appreciating those you work with less, or just not finding your work as fulfilling as you used to. 

If you can relate to any of those common feelings, that is great as that means you can start the process of doing something about it. And if those feelings seem alien to you, then that is normal as well. Most of the executives in our executive Horizontal Mentorship program never mentioned concerns with their engagement at work, but they showed improved engagement scores as well! 

The point is that executives should absolutely be monitoring their own engagement levels. Engagement, for executives, doesn’t typically become a conscious concern until it gets really bad. This is because of all of the economic incentives companies have for performance – e.g. “if I am making more money or creating more value for my shares of stock in the company then I can push through this without any help.” 

Everyone faces ebbs and flows of their engagement at work, and the engagement of executives is especially important because how executives treat their coworkers will ripple outward and impact the engagement of everyone they interact with. 

These engagement levels should be monitored and actions should be taken to enhance engagement because ignoring them only leads to work (and eventually personal life) getting worse.

Mon 25 January 2021
The goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and vulnerabilities in your professional skillset. By getting feedback from your colleagues and comparing their perspectives to your self-assessment, you can get a deeper understanding of your work performance. 

There are generally 3 outcomes from a 360-degree assessment: 1) somebody has underestimated their abilities, 2) somebody has overestimated their abilities, or 3) somebody is self-aware about their abilities. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:

Self-Aware - People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management

Overestimating -  People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management

Understanding Underestimating your Abilities for 360-Degree Assessments

When somebody has underestimated their abilities, they are essentially giving themselves a lower score for whatever category is being measured compared to their colleagues’ score of them. At first glance, this may seem like a positive thing: “If my colleagues believe that I’m better than my self-assessed performance, then I must be doing pretty well!” This is partially true, but this article will shed light and provide examples of how underestimating your abilities can be an opportunity for improvement.

When my team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentorship programs, we also include our 360-Degree Assessment (and its report) to each participant. We’ve found that our members use these insights to reveal the areas most in need of improvement. This has helped members identify the best course for professional growth and helps provide a major launching pad for helping them open up and be vulnerable in their mentor relationships.

The 5 core areas we measure in our 360-degree assessment are People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management.

This article is one in a series of articles focused on why underestimating one's score on a 360-degree assessment report based on the 5 core areas listed in the paragraph above is not necessarily advantageous for one’s career.

Communication Skills

The ability to communicate effectively affects every interaction you have personally and professionally. When you make improvements to your communication skills, you are likely going to improve your skills in every other category measured by our 360-Degree Assessment. This is because when you underestimate your abilities with these skills, it is typically caused either by a lack of effective communication with your colleagues about what you are doing or by a lack of communication back about what your colleagues appreciate about your work. Communication is based on one’s ability to listen, trust that others are speaking openly and honestly with them, and understand what others are sharing before focusing on being understood.

If you gave yourself a lower score on your communication skills than your colleagues did, this could indicate a lack of trust, strong body cues for listening without retention, or a perceived lack of patience.

Lack of trust

The reason why underestimating your communication skills compared to your colleagues could indicate a lack of trust revolves around the question of trust: do you trust that others are speaking openly and honestly you? If you feel like others can’t be open and honest with you, but your colleagues feel that they can be, it is typically a sign that you don’t trust that you are getting the full information when you are speaking with your colleagues. The key is understanding why you might feel this way. Try to consider if you have a valid reason to not trust their honesty and you might just end up realizing that your assumptions are incorrect.
Strong listening body cues but a lack of retention

When it comes to non-verbal communication, some people have naturally great body language while others must work to ensure their body language fits the situation. As humans, the majority of what we perceive in the form of communication is via body language. We believe we are heard when we perceive the physical cues that the person is listening to. However, in some cases, people are great at giving physical cues that they are listening, whether or not they are paying attention at all. While naturally good body language is a gift, you might need to check that your internal response matches your external cues. By realizing when you are listening and when you aren’t, you can gain confidence in your communication abilities and know where you need improvements.

Perceived lack of patience

Some people are hyper-aware of their feelings and level of patience with other people. Some people feel that they are losing patience when communicating with their colleagues, but their colleagues aren’t perceiving it this way. Similar to having strong listening body cues, what others pick up from you is different than your perception of yourself. The difference is that when somebody feels like they are losing patience with somebody else, they are at least aware that they are losing patience – even if it isn’t perceived by the person somebody is speaking with.

A few solutions to help close the gap in one’s communication skills is to start practicing trusting your team. Try giving them responsibilities and information that you previously felt guarded about to start building trust. You can also deliberately practice reflective listening–meaning you mirror other people’s statements back to them and consider their words carefully before responding. Just by asking your team to share their concerns for their work and the upcoming hurdles they may face, you are growing mutual trust and practicing patience.

Counter-argument

The eternal counter-argument to this is “I just set the bar really high and I feel like I am not where I would like to be in this area.” If that is the case, then you are not effectively communicating your standards to those you work with. If your colleagues don’t know your standards, then they can’t properly assess your abilities in relation to those standards.  

Overall, the goal of a 360-degree assessment and report is to identify the gaps and blindspots one may have so then they can improve their performance. The goal is to be self-aware, thus enabling you to work towards excellence in each area. Underestimating your performance might feel good at first because it shows others think highly of you, but continually failing to meet your own expectations means that you risk burning out or losing engagement. So, try being honest with yourself and setting honest goals. Professional growth is a slow process that takes dedication, consistency, and honesty, but by following the path, we are all capable of becoming our best selves.

Mon 10 May 2021
I lead an Executive Horizontal Mentorship Program and part of what I do is facilitate group sessions where all the executives come together to share their insights, questions, and thoughts on a new topic each session.

For our March group meeting, the topic was leadership and how we can improve our ability to lead at our companies. These meetings tend to start with one topic, but eventually lead to fruitful, wide-ranging conversations that might not obviously connect to our initial topic. For this meeting, we eventually started discussing psychological safety, the belief that you won’t be punished for making a mistake. 

And then, one of the executives in our group brought up the point:

“It seems that progress and gratitude are in conflict with each other. If I am grateful, I am celebrating something that existed in the past. But if I am focused on progress, I am quickly dismissing the wins to move onto the next challenge.”

This is a fascinating point that I’ve been ruminating on for the past few weeks. There is a lot of research on the power of gratitude and its correlation with happiness. As a simple demonstration, really try to be grateful and angry at the same time and notice the contradiction between those feelings. 

There is also a lot of research validating the power of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals to achieve progress. 

Being grateful necessitates focusing on your past; being goal-oriented necessitates focusing on your future.

Can these mindsets work together?

This article is going to assess the merits of both practicing gratitude and goal-setting. I’ll consider their respective implications on business outcomes and analyze whether or not they are truly incompatible.

Gratitude

Gratitude is the public and private act of conscientiously and deliberately acknowledging something that has positively affected you. In a work setting, gratitude can inform your team of a job well done or show how much your team’s efforts meant to you. Gratitude gives your team purpose, a sense of pride, and a sense of belonging. It is an important signal showing the impact of their work and it shows that their work is respected and appreciated.

When frequently expressing gratitude for specific, meaningful actions is ingrained in the fabric of a culture, people tend to be happier and more likely to reach out to a coworker when something negative happens. A culture of gratitude helps build up rapport and unity across people and across teams.

People are also less likely to mistake feedback for criticism. When gratitude is an active part of the culture, it fosters emotional resilience for negative news because they know that there is no malice from the other person when receiving feedback. 

The point is gratitude helps build emotional resilience. And a culture of gratitude for specific, meaningful actions helps deflate passive-aggressive mindsets or people omitting information for fear of hurt feelings. A culture of gratitude supports open, honest communication, resilient mindsets, and high-quality work. 

Goal Setting

SMART goal-setting means setting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound activities (SMART) for achieving your goals. This helps you identify a specific vision and create a measurable and achievable plan for something you intend to accomplish. SMART goal-setting helps teams plan for the future, improve performance, and identify specific issues and solutions for the problems they encounter. 

SMART goal setting improves the efficiency and effectiveness of teams. It empowers people to envision what they would like to accomplish and helps them create a specific step-by-step plan that will accomplish that outcome. 

Can gratitude and goal setting work together?

 The Executive Horizontal Mentorship group that started this discussion seems to think that they are compatible, and I am inclined to agree. As mentioned previously, a culture of gratitude can boost the emotional resiliency of teammates, and this makes the identification of challenges faster and finding solutions easier. 

When teams don’t have a culture of gratitude, issues start popping up all over the place: an employee trying to solve a tough problem alone; a coworker spending too much time crafting their feedback to avoid hurt feelings; a teammate happy to criticize problems without caring to offer solutions. These brief examples are only the tip of the iceberg.  

The ability to identify these challenges and properly communicate them with the team helps support the work of setting SMART goals to solve the issues at hand. Open, honest, grateful communication helps your team look into the future, and SMART goals help your team leverage the present to improve the future. 

Taking intentional time for gratitude on a consistent basis creates pathways and lines of communication that make problem-solving and SMART goal setting more effective. So, while the two ideas of Progress and Gratitude seemed to be in contradiction at first glance, hopefully, I’ve shown you how that is simply not the case. Instead, Progress and Gratitude build off each other to create a strong, productive, and engaged workplace. 

Wed 7 July 2021
Every year, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) conducts a survey of over 5,000 CEOs to assess trends and forecasts based on what these CEOs are seeing in the marketplace.

PwC’s global chairman on strategy analyzed the responses to this survey and identified two key trends that leaders need to be preparing for in 2021 and beyond. The first is urgent innovation, the ability to make quick pivots in the face of data contrary to your expectations. The second trend is fostering an environment of innovation that builds teams that feel comfortable generating bold potential solutions, turning those into actionable plans, and sharing their results after testing. 

These concepts may seem like obvious goals that all leadership teams strive for, however, the reality is that most leadership teams struggle with empowering their teams for urgent innovation and the ability to empower their teams to be innovative.

This article is for people in those companies that tried new business ideas, regardless of whether they worked. Most leaders would agree that it’s important for their company to be innovative but struggle to empower their people.

Common things I hear from leaders are:

My team always comes to me (the leader) with problems but rarely with solutions,

Or

I give my team complete autonomy, but they keep doing the same thing over and over again,

Or

My team and I talk about being innovative all the time, it’s even in our core values, but we never find time to actually innovate.

When leaders run into these pitfalls and struggle to empower their teams, it’s usually for one (or both) of these reasons:

1.       Leadership didn’t provide sufficient context, and the team fails to focus on the problem that needs to be solved or on the desired outcome being created.
2.       Leadership failed at demonstrating psychological safety. You need to be willing to showcase your own mistakes and bad ideas in a way that invites others to share their own crazy, off-the-wall ideas.

The reason this article is titled Innovation with Bumpers is Better is because this approach is a simple way of solving both challenges from a leadership perspective.

Innovation with bumpers provides context to teams because it helps outline the problem being solved and the outcome being created.

For example, if you were to ask your team to cook you an entrée and stop there, that’s not enough context (i.e., too much autonomy). If you ask them to cook you an entrée after going to the grocery store, that still wouldn’t be enough because of the near-limitless combinations of ingredients your team must pick from. However, if you ask your team to cook an entrée from what’s available in your refrigerator now–that’s how you spark some creative solutions because there are a finite number of potential entrées your team could cook.

When you narrow down the problem scope and present clear context, it becomes much easier for them to innovate. The more open-ended your innovation process is, the less likely your team is to innovate because they don’t have enough context to innovate. 

Bumpers are the context clues you provide your team based on your own experiences in the market. You still leave some problem aspects open-ended, but you focus them on achieving a specific desired outcome because you are facing a specific problem that needs a solution.

Innovation with bumpers also provides teams with the psychological safety necessary to innovate.

A great example of this is the honeypot example. A Canadian power line company faces the challenge every winter of getting snow off their power lines. Their solution has been hiring a person to climb up the wire poles and shake the snow off the lines one-by-one. Not only is this process dangerous, it’s also extremely expensive. Insurance premiums from this work are enormous, plus the one-by-one nature of de-snowing each pole is extremely inefficient.

This power line company was very clear about the problem that needed to be solved (removing snow from the power lines) and the solution it wanted but left the team open-ended on how to solve this challenge.

A team without psychological safety will defer to leadership to generate ideas because they fear what their leadership might think if they share an idea that seems nonsensical or absurd. 

The reason this is called the honeypot story is because one of this company’s lowest level employees suggested putting honeypots on top of each pole and when bears smell the honey, they will try to climb up the poles for a snack and shake off the snow in the process. 

Take a moment to let that sink in…what an insane idea!?!? For a low-level employee to feel comfortable enough to propose an idea like that, it shows a LOT about their level of psychological safety within their team. 

And although the company didn’t end up using the honeypot idea, it did spark their eventual solution: hiring helicopters to fly by their power lines and using the wind from the helicopters to knock the snow off: a cheap, safe, and efficient solution. 

Psychological safety in innovation doesn’t mean that people feel comfortable when proposing the ultimate idea. It just means they feel comfortable proposing ANY workable idea and help narrow down what the eventual idea might end up being.

One of the best ways to build psychological safety on a team is with vulnerability. As a leader, being vulnerable shows your team the emotional bumpers and that you don’t always have answers to every problem. Vulnerability also shows your team that you have made big mistakes and had awful ideas before and that those ideas help lead to better solutions. In the early days of Amazon, they had to pack their boxes on the floor, and Jeff Bezos suggested that the team needs knee pads; psychological safety helped an employee to say “No Jeff. We need packing tables”. 

When I write “innovation with bumpers is better”, this means that if we can provide enough context and psychological safety to our teams, we are much more likely to empower them and build an environment of innovation.

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