Strategies for Developing Leaders

There were many Leadership Development approaches and models at The Lobby gathering in San Juan Capistrano. Intentional, consistent engagement with rising and potential leaders is still the core. A leader needs vision, time, someone who listens deeply, regular feedback, a place to process failure, and a laser-like focus on goals to shape a leader.

Here are some strategies and approaches to recruiting and developing leaders.

1)     Just ask.

So often we forget to make a simple, direct ask. “Join me” and “Can you help me?” and “I want you to enter a leader development process” are simple ways to call people into leadership. No begging, no dancing around. Just ask with clarity and boldness.

2)     Provide short-term experiences.

Give people a place and an opportunity to lead – even if they fail. But shorter experiences are ways to identify areas for growth and catch failure sooner. Sometimes we do not even need to tell them “this is training” but rather just give them a leadership experience.

3)     Apprenticing.

This tried and true approach is as old as history itself. Take someone under your wing, or place them with a solid leader. Give them a little leadership under the supervision and coaching of another leader and people will thrive. They gain confidence, get a good taste of reality, identify growth opportunities and have a laboratory to lead in without all the responsibility for the outcomes.

4)     Use online Resources.

Get a group of rising leaders in front of some good content (DVD or online) and then let them process and practice. Process the content and make sure it is understood, then form a leader development group and practice the skills together.


So choose a method or two and get going. There are no silver bullets in leadership development – just provide consistent engagement, real life experience and quality feedback. And watch the leaders emerge!

Leadership is ……?????

Leadership is ……?????

We have a LinkedIn Group in Barrington and we met this morning at a local restaurant instead of our normal monthly 5:30 pm at a local pub/restaurant near the train station. Much was the same except the time and location: new members connecting, friends getting reacquainted, organizations I was familiar with, leaders having light as well as strategic side conversations, food being eaten, laughter, handshakes and a few hugs (mostly guys here today), and the requisite exchange of a few business cards.

But as I simply watched and listened for a few minutes, allowing my ears to filter through the din of clanging plates and silverware, blended in with half a dozen unrelated conversations, I noticed something. In one sense it was really nothing yet, in another profound sense, it was everything – even leaders are wired to connect. Relationship is built into the leadership hard drive. And it is only the destructive, narcissistic, control-freak leader who erases that from his or her hard drive.

As I watched, I observed that this was not really about networking or scouting or schmoozing – it was simply about relating. We did not have to put “relationships” on the agenda. It simply was. The true leader – the real leader – is relational because that is our identity, who we are at the core.

Leadership is Relationship.

Granted, we do not always navigate smoothly across the sometimes choppy waters of relationships. There is always the potential for turbulent seas and rolling waves to keep us from reclining calmly in our favorite relational deck chair.

But make no mistakes. We leaders have a treasure within us, something we must steward with care and embrace with resolve. We are blessed with relational capacity that has the potential – on its own, with no agenda – to shape and reshape the world, one life at a time.

I doubt this morning that anyone made a new referral for business, or shared one fresh, game changing organizational insight, or offered one strategic management tip. If that occurred, it was a stealth operation. And it was a natural extension of the conversation so no one noticed and no one felt left out of the deal.

Yes, perhaps something will emerge down the road that produces some business for someone. But it will not be because we exchanged cards, or shook hands or clicked a few websites.  It will be because something far greater is at work – something deeper, permanent and good. Something defined by friendship, loyalty, trust and love (yes, I said it – love) for one another that was fostered and celebrated.

Today it was just raw, relationship-at-the-core leadership, with no demands, no controlling interests, and no need to impress one another.

Perhaps this is why I love doing so much work with groups and teams, helping leaders establish a real sense of community, whether between individuals or throughout organizations. It is because I am privileged to serve leaders who, at the center of all they are and do, are “relaters.”

Here’s a thought.  Perhaps this is what we need in more organizations and in our government: a Chief Relating Officer or Relater in Chief (RIO).


On second thought, nah…No way!  That would ruin the whole purpose. Pretty soon there would be Relating Committees and Relater Regulators and bonus schedules tied to Relater Interactions per quarter, or some such nonsense.

I think I like it the way it is. Better yet, I know I like it the way it is.

Because I was reminded again today how so much of leadership is relationship. Not “about” relationships, not “using” relationships, not “building” relationships. All those actions are essential and productive to any leadership endeavor. But it was so much more. It was so relational, so communal so vibrant.

It just was.

It just is.

Leadership is Relationship.

Running in Circles – A Leadership Reality Check

Running in Circles – A Leadership Reality Check

“What kind of organization are we?” asked a supervisor I had over 20 years ago. After sitting in silence for about 20 seconds a confused team member replied, “What do you mean?” I knew he was asking us to put on a business or organizational development hat for a moment. So to use organizational or business language I was thinking, “We are in the life-transformation business.” But something told me that was not what he was fishing for.

How would you answer such a question? Would your leaders expect an answer like, “We are in the people business,” or “We are in the event business” or “We manufacture custom auto parts,” or “We are a hospital – so naturally we are a health care organization or a service organization.”

“Let me tell you what I think,” he continued. “We are really three organizations in one. And we have to know where our emphasis is at any given time without compromising the other two.” And then he went on to draw three overlapping circles where we “run” and spend energy, and then explained the relationships.

Corporation: Every organization has a “corporate” component. It involves staffing issues, property, insurance, governance structure, board relationships, reports, compliance issues, tax concerns, facilities, and other “institutional” components. The Corporation is where the responsibility lies for effectiveness and efficiency.

Cause: Every organization has a reason for existing – to feed the poor, to manufacture office furniture, to build a library, etc. The Cause has the potential to inspire the passion and focus of the organization.

Community: Every organization has people or impacts people or thrives based on relationships with people. Inside the organization that means a healthy relational environment for staff.

Now here’s the challenge

Some people just think “cause” and some focus on “community” and others are “corporation” intensive. Each has its place, purpose and essential focus. But they NEVER function in isolation from one another – each must consider the other two areas of focus or an organization can falter or fail.

Many businesses tend to focus on Cause and Corporation. Get it done and get it right. People are important but we can always get new ones or better ones. After all, this is why we call it “work” – it is not supposed to be fun and chummy. We are here to get a job done.

Care-oriented non-profits are often heavy on Cause and Community. Passion for people and a strong sense of camaraderie drive the organization. Volunteers love to work in these environments, and people give money based on the relationship they have with the leaders and the cause for which they stand. But the neglect of the Corporation aspect can be their Achilles heel. Such places can be characterized by lack of strategic focus, poor money management, wasted resources, staff and volunteer burnout, and incompetent management.

Government agencies can struggle because they focus on Community and Corporation (in this case, the government structure, hierarchy, rules and regulations). As a result, the Cause suffers.

Name the tension and be wise

To live in 1 or 2 circles for too long is short-sighted. While it is essential to focus on a given circle for a season, you cannot live there. Ok, you need three months to reorganize the HR department so that people are valued and served – great! But you cannot lose your relationship with clients or the people you serve while doing so.

As leaders, we live in the center (L) where all three circles overlap. Our job is to determine when we need to move from that place into one or two of the arenas for seasons of emphasis or focus. But we must never lose sight of the whole. Be diligent to train staff and volunteers to know which circle(s) they “live in” most of the time, while making them keenly aware of the whole picture. Keeping all 3 in mind will prevent becoming too corporate, blindly mission-driven, or too self-centered.

So which circles are you running in these days?

Top Qualities of Successful Entrepreneurs

Top Qualities of Successful Entrepreneurs

So you want to step out on your own, or build a company from scratch, or launch a new non-profit, or plant a church? It is likely you’ve got that entrepreneurial spirit. Awesome…but do you have the essential qualities successful start-up leaders say you’ll need to break through?

A WSJ article on March 19 lists the results of a survey of successful entrepreneurs. Here are the top qualities they listed in order of importance:

  • Vision
  • Passion
  • Drive
  • Integrity
  • Innovation
  • Risk-taker
  • Resilience
  • Pro-activeness
  • Relentless customer focus
  • Ability to team
  • Flexibility

When asked, “Where did you pick up the capabilities needed to be successful?” they responded as follows (also in order of importance):

  • Experience as an employee
  • Higher education
  • Mentors
  • Family
  • Co-founders
  • Secondary education
  • Colleagues
  • Senior executives/board
  • Friends
  • Investors

First, it is no surprise that vision, passion, and drive are at the top of the qualities list.  You have to have your start-up in your gut, not just in your head. By itself, an idea is worth very little. But an idea that is developed, tried, refined, funded, and desperately needed will go a long way. The person who can move an idea into action, and works hard pulling others together with integrity and passion, will turn it into something transforming.

When it comes to an innovative idea, you cannot just see it – you must see it through!

And second, it is no surprise that experience (rightly evaluated and understood) combined with formal and informal learning environments, is our best teacher. Formally, classroom instruction can broaden our intellectual horizons and sharpen our abilities to engage and defend ideas. Informally, mentors, family members and our co-founding partners bring their experiences – successes and failures – into contact with ours.

The takeaway? Discover what is in your gut and go after it. Stick with it through failure and disappointment. But never do it alone, because you’ll need others to learn from and maybe cry with. Be relentless about the quality and usefulness of your product, service or mission. Become a voracious learner, and invite others to join your team in the grand pursuit of your life-changing vision.

And watch what happens! We all might be very surprised!

Strength Training

Strength Training

The emphasis on strengths-based leadership development is a refreshing trend. I am working with a friend who is trained in the Strengths Finder assessment, and we are helping a non-profit organization get a grip on who’s on their team, who has what strengths, and how do their strengths work together.

The four major domains or quadrants where the strengths lie are as follows:

Executing – knowing how to make things happen

Strategic Thinking – keeping focused on what could be

Influencing – reaching a broader audience

Relationship Building – providing the glue that holds teams together

Each quadrant has 8-9 of the 34 Strengths in the Strengths Finder assessment. For example, my strengths are Ideation, Intellection, Strategic, Achiever and Relator. My strengths lie primarily in Strategic Thinking area (Ideation, Intellection and Strategic), one in Executing (Achiever) and one in the Relationship Building area. None falls in the Influencing quadrant.

Therefore, though I know how to influence people and communicate with audiences and leaders, I need others who can broaden my influence and help me reach new audiences. So I have team members who are strong in those areas.

How do your strengths work with your team? I am strong at developing and defining new ideas and the strategies to move ideas forward. As a writer, speaker, consultant and coach to leaders, these are invaluable. And my Achiever strength means I am eager move people toward results. But to help more people I need partners who can expand our sphere of influence.

Reflect for a moment and ask yourself a few questions (even if you do not use Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder book):

“In which of the 4 quadrants above might most of my strengths be found?”

“Where do I have my greatest impact in my work?”

“Where do my team members’ strengths lie?”

“How can we leverage our strengths to make the greatest impact?”

“What strengths do we lack and how might we find add them to the team?”

Train in your strengths, get support for your weaknesses and mobilize your team accordingly. The results will rock the world!

Coaching Life-changing Leaders – Now Available in 3D!!!

Coaching Life-changing Leaders – Now Available in 3D!!!

Now that all the blockbuster movies are being re-released in 3D, it seems appropriate to talk about another new release coming in 3D. It is not a movie, but it will get leaders moving!

As Greg Bowman and I release Coaching Life-changing Leaders (2nd edition) in early May, I realize how essential it is to have a coaching strategy that works, one that has been tested over time. We have learned that a clear, concise approach has served us well.

A 3D Coaching Model

Discover: Leadership coaching begins with the leader. There is a temptation to begin with content or the program. This almost always fails. It looks mechanical and the leader feels like just another warm body in a pre-designed process. Like the plastic clone of Santa played by Tim Allen in Santa Clause 2, we are tempted to duplicate leaders instead of developing them individually.

Discovery is a “listen and learn” process driven by questions and observations.  It has a tactical component, learning about gifts, talents, experiences, failures, education, accomplishments, and so on. But it has a heart component as well: passion, emotions, commitments, dreams, longings and wounds. We begin coaching by listening deeply to an emerging leader, attentive to patterns we see and opportunities that arise.

Develop: Once we discover the real needs and opportunities for an emerging leader, we can design a process for growth and development. You can have a similar framework that you use for each leader, but that does not mean using the exact same starting point, process, materials and approach. This makes our job harder but keeps leaders around longer.

Your “delivery” system for development will likely involve these four approaches: classroom, self-directed, on-the-job, and coach-mentor interaction. Based on what you discovered in step one above, you can adjust the approach. Inexperienced leaders typically need more classroom time and self-directed learning, because they have to get their head around some core content and understand the vision.

As leaders gain experience, you can shift to observing them on-the-job and providing some mentoring and coaching. Development involves lots of conversations, problem solving, and exposure to successful models or people they can learn from.

Dream: Most coaches fail to include this third aspect of the 3D model.  We tend to focus on performance and problems, but ignore the motivational aspect of coaching leaders. And leaders thrive when they have a dream, a vision for the future.

“Imagine how your team could perform…imagine how your clients will be served…imagine your personal growth as a leader…” When you dare to dream about the next step, you energize that leaders you are coaching. They begin to believe in a grander vision, and begin to see beyond the small world of their immediate circle of influence.

That’s 3D coaching … and its coming soon to an organization near you!