Active Listening

The Power of Candid Dialog and Active Listening

My father (1920-2003) was a student of the philosophers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. It was, therefore, no surprise for me when going through his things, I found this artifact. Though mis-attributed to Virgil (the quote was originally penned by Cato), my father apparently liked it so much that he hand-painted it and kept it prominently displayed in his workshop.

There is much we can learn from the moral advice offered by these philosophers. Benjamin Franklin counted Cato’s works among his favorites.

There are at least two ways to interpret this quote. The second part of the verse implores us to listen carefully. When we as leaders listen to our employees – and anyone for that matter – we are better served when we listen actively. This means that we seek common ground to establish rapport, ask questions to better understand meaning, and create a foundation upon which we can further our leadership.

On the other hand, the first part of this verse is troubling. One measure of organizational health is how directly we can communicate with one another. If we speak with each other “with caution,” we risk masking our meaning. We mask our meaning by using general terms or flowery language. This does not further the cause. If, instead, we are open and direct, we build trust, which in turn creates an environment where people can move faster in the pursuit of organizational goals.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,




How to drive execution faster, with higher quality and better return

Speed, quality, and ROI.

Who doesn’t want more speed, higher quality, and faster and greater return on investment?

Did you know that more than half of executives do not believe in their own strategies? Why is that? Predominantly it is because they don’t believe those strategies can be executed.

The three main reasons strategy execution fails are lack of clear purpose, lack of leadership, and lack of adequate planning. Now more than ever, leaders need to move out quickly and effectively to successfully execute their plans.

My Activate workshop addresses all these issues with you and your leadership team and sets you on your way to greater profitability.

I’m pleased to announce my new e-book, “Activate: 15 Steps to Profitable Strategy Execution” will release this spring. The e-book gives you the approach to more effectively close the strategy to execution gap and drive greater profitability faster with your execution and change projects.

Stay tuned for more information about the e-book, and events surrounding its release.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



Solve XFD

How to Solve for Symptoms of Cross-Functional Dysfunction

What is cross-functional dysfunction? How do I recognize it? What do I do about it?

When I speak with a group or talk with clients, almost every time I use the phrase “cross-functional dysfunction,”also known as XFD, it elicits smiles and laughs. It seems most people have some idea of what it means just by its name.

Especially now, during this time of Covid-19, the risk of your organization suffering from cross-functional dysfunction (XFD) has never been higher. When more of the workforce is working remotely, and there are more distractions and disruptions, cross-functional dysfunction will more readily rear its ugly head.

Working with executive clients, specific symptoms of cross-functional dysfunction have surfaced. Included here are ideas to help you overcome this dreaded disease, along with examples I’ve used with clients to drive greater success.

Symptoms of XFD Organizational Needs Leader Actions Example of Solution
Misaligned goals. Clear purpose with clear outcomes that drives focused action. More communication of purpose with tangible outcomes to which employees can relate. Monthly leadership meetings to refine purpose, then regular meetings to communicate with employees.
Confusion about goals. Context of purpose and impact on specific functions. Speak to the outcomes transparently and unambiguously. Repeat often in different settings. Multiple forums to describe outcomes include lunch meetings, town halls and one-on-ones.
Confusion about how to proceed. Employees want to make a difference, want to succeed, and want development opportunities. Enroll employees in executing the strategy. Involve them in determining HOW to move forward. Implement front-line employee Change Action Networks.
Your leaders resist giving up power. Employees want more responsibility. Help your leadership team understand their role in driving action. Coach them to facilitate decision making. One-on-one meetings between the top leader and their team.
Fear, especially across functions. Greater “permission” to work across functions. More openness. Instill greater trust. Be a role model. Establish clear goals for cross-functional work, decision making and handling disagreements. In team meetings don’t intervene; set the example and facilitate the team to come to their own conclusion.
Too much top down control. Open organizational borders. Less adherence on hierarchy for day-to-day. Coach for and expect greater collaboration. Encourage people to work “across the aisle.” Develop core values for employees to follow to guide decision making. Coach, don’t tell, them how to proceed.

Use this guide to identify symptoms of XFD in your organization. Act accordingly. It boils down to being less directive and more facilitative.

Have you seen other symptoms of XFD? I’d love to hear about these or any other thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


I’m announcing three new free resources available for you today!

Leadership Self-Assessment. My NEW ACTIVE leadership model focuses on effective leadership behaviors and includes collaboration as one of its underpinnings. The model and free self-assessment are located on my resources page.

Coaching. I’m offering two free one-hour coaching sessions to help you lead through these challenging times. Contact me for details.

Team Health Checkup. A free one-hour facilitated team health activity built on Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Ideal Team Player. Contact me for details.

Three Predictions Updated

Steve’s Predictions – Revisited

I had no idea my predictions would come true so quickly!

Last December, I shared with you my three predictions about successful change in the future. Well here we are. The future is now. With the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re beginning to see these come true already.

  1. More change faster. We were thrown into this situation. We had no time to prepare our home offices. If we were still working. And if we are still working in an office, we had no time to prepare for that change either. We have learned how to adapt quickly. Looking to the future, we can repeat this again and again without a pandemic.
  2. Closing the strategy to execution gap. With the workforce suddenly dispersed, and with multiple new distractions, leaders have had to put more focus on keeping purpose in front of their people. Leaders have also had to spend more time working to keep their leadership teams aligned and moving forward together. These skills will carry over to the new norm, where executives will be able to profitably execute faster and more effectively.
  3. Reducing the Integrity Deficit Syndrome. Nothing like a good crisis to expose integrity issues faster. A pervasive social media environment helps keep us keep in check. Ruth Chris is a good example. Social media exposed the issues with their financial assistance. They were in turn prompted to give the money back.

We are now in a dynamic, ever-changing environment. Next week there will be another topic that is important for us to deal with, and the chances are good that we don’t know what that topic will be. Let’s keep an eye on these predictions and reevaluate them again in a few months – or maybe a few weeks.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


I’m announcing three new free resources available for you today!

Leadership Self-Assessment. My NEW ACTIVE leadership model focuses on effective leadership behaviors and includes collaboration as one of its underpinnings. The model and free self-assessment are located on my resources page.

Coaching. I’m offering two free one-hour coaching sessions to help you lead through these challenging times. Contact me for details.

Team Health Checkup. A free one-hour facilitated team health activity built on Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Ideal Team Player. Contact me for details.

Alignment Autonomy

How Collaboration improves Alignment and enables Autonomy

With so many people now working from home, aligned autotomy has never been more important.

An underlying benefit of employees working together in an office setting is that it is easier to promote alignment. When employees are aligned on purpose, it’s easier for them to work independently. Now that we’ve driven millions to work from home, we’ve lost “environmental alignment.” It takes more deliberate action to ensure alignment.

The challenge for leaders is to adopt new ways of leading that promotes greater collaboration, particularly at a time when collaboration is more difficult than just walking over to your co-worker’s office.

How do leaders promote improved collaboration?

  1. As I’ve shared many times, clear purpose with clear outcomes is vitally important. Particularly now with a physically disconnected workforce.
  2. Your role as a coach becomes more important than before Covid-19. Employees working from home are dealing with many new and different distractions. Coaching them through these unchartered waters is one of your key roles.
  3. Your influence has always been critical to your success. Our new reality demands you practice even more of this as you work with your employees, your leadership teams and your board.
  4. Even though we are physically disconnected, employees are more connected than ever with social media. Any hint of impropriety will spread rapidly. Now is the time to ensure you are squeaky clean.
  5. Enroll employees. Find new and creative ways to engage/enroll employees. Use Zoom or other technology to bring employees together to discuss opportunities and find solutions.

All these ideas come together to promote greater collaboration, which in turn creates greater alignment. When leaders and employees are aligned on the overall work, it’s easier for them to work independently toward your goals.

Sounds like an oxymoron. You need to spend more time together, so your time apart is more productive, and aimed more toward the goals of the organization. The effectiveness of your time together has a direct impact on your productivity.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


I’m announcing three new free resources available for you today!

Leadership Self-Assessment. My NEW ACTIVE leadership model focuses on effective leadership behaviors and includes collaboration as one of its underpinnings. The model and free self-assessment are located on my resources page.

Coaching. I’m offering two free one-hour coaching sessions to help you lead through these challenging times. Contact me for details.

Team Health Checkup. A free one-hour facilitated team health activity built on Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Ideal Team Player. Contact me for details.

Human Leader

How to be a Human Leader

“We still need to get 40 hours a week out of employees.”

As many leaders have had to move their workforce home, there are several issues they’ve had to deal with because of this shift in venue. Ensuring productivity clearly is one of them. But the statement above is just wrong. Plus, you can use this time to gain greater personal satisfaction from your leadership.

Regardless from where people are working, 40 hours of effort is not a suitable productivity measure. Examples of better measures are, number and quantity of customers served, purchase orders processed, product tests completed, or service requests filled.

Now is not the time to make sure your home-bound employees are sitting in front of their computers 40 hours a week. We had no time to prepare for this. Many didn’t have home offices. Many were also figuring out what to do with children, now forced to be home-schooled. Significant others are also now working from home. Some families adapted quickly. Some are still struggling.

Now you are called upon to be more human in your approach. You need to have one-on-one time with your employees and encourage your leadership team to do the same. Ask employees how they are doing, what obstacles they face, or what you can do to facilitate improved work-from-home conditions. Act on the feedback you receive.

Several years ago, I served as an ecclesiastical lay leader for a small congregation. We had the chance to build a new church building. We put tremendous effort in justifying and working toward this project. Along the way, I was rightfully criticized for putting more leadership toward this project than I was saving souls. We adjusted and moved forward. Years later when I concluded my term, I shared our successes with the congregation. I spoke of the new building for which we had recently broken ground, our 35% attendance growth, and our spiritual growth. I said the latter mattered most; and shared that you could witness the change. We had become more active in our love and kindness for one another. This won me more congratulatory hugs and handshakes than either of the other two accomplishments combined. Later I was told that if we hadn’t done the latter, the former two accomplishments would not have been possible.

What is the message of this story? Focus on the needs of your people. When you do, the business results will follow. Yes, employees are responsible for accomplishing work. When you take the time to see to their personal needs – particularly during this crisis – they will deliver. And they will deliver more than if you are only focused on “getting 40 hours of work out of them every week.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,



Work From Home

How to Work and Lead from Home

Covid-19 has driven lots of employees to work from home. I’ve been working from home consistently now for more than four years. Here I share my approach, customized for employees that have temporarily moved home. Also included are tips I share with my clients who are leading others through this unprecedented time.

General tips for everyone:

    1. If you don’t have a home office, put up a desk or table in a quiet part of the house.
    2. Keep only the essentials nearby. Computer, phone, notebook, and relevant files for the day.
    3. Clear it off at the end of the day. This will make the next day less stressful.
  1. Morning routine.
    1. Maintain the same morning routine. For me this includes a warm beverage, reviewing affirmations or meditation, reading the newspaper, and breakfast.
    2. Maintain and communicate a consistent start time. I start my office hours at 9am but am available earlier when necessary. I rarely take meetings before then.
    3. Dress the part. It’s tempting to lounge around in PJs all day. Get dressed. Groom. (You’d be surprised what I’ve experienced first-hand!)
    1. Schedule everything. I haven’t had a to-do list for more than four years. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth putting time on the calendar to do it.
    2. Turn off email and messengers. Yes, you need to maintain contact with the outside world, but not every second of everyday. My goal is to check and respond to email no more than three times a day. Some jobs require more immediate response – but be real – most of us don’t have those kinds of jobs.
    3. Drink heavily. Yes, that’s right. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. And warm drinks are better to help fight off whatever might be going around. I don’t drink anything colder than room temperature.
    4. Take breaks. Stretch. Play with the dog. Play with your children. They could use the break, too. Yoga, meditation, and other forms of exercise are good, too.
    5. Speaking of which – Exercise. I like a good power walk in either early or late afternoon. Combined with stretching and fresh air, it’s a great way to stay alert.
    6. Don’t forget to eat. Have lunch and snack breaks. Eat food where you normally eat – like the kitchen or dining room. Limit eating at your desk.
    7. News cycle. Turn it off. Limit your consumption of news to the morning paper or news program and an update in the evening. There’s enough out there to consume you 24/7. Don’t do it – it’s not healthy.
    8. Check in with others. I do this anyway, but with the current crisis, I’m doing it more often. I check in with my adult children daily. I check in with other family members and neighbors about weekly. I check in with colleagues as needed, but no less than monthly.
  2. End of day.
    1. Consistent end time. Shut down at a regular time every day. Don’t use email for business purposes in the evening.
    2. Family time. Now more than ever it’s important to check in with the rest of the family every day. Young children especially don’t understand why all of this is happening. My daughter takes time regularly to help our four-year-old granddaughter understand our current environment.
    3. Connect socially. I’ve been to more Zoom meetings in the last two weeks than in the last four months. It’s a great way to maintain connections with friends.
    4. Among other things, I’m a writer. I keep a daily gratitude list and a hand-written journal. Occasionally, when I have more on my mind, I write in an e-journal.

We leaders had almost no time to manage the change as legions of employees marched home from the office. Now that we are all here, there are a few important things you can do as a leader to help your employees cope.

  1. Follow guidelines. Whether you use mine or someone else’s, encourage employees to follow guidelines for working from home.
  2. No 24×7. Don’t expect your employees to be on call 24×7. Working from home adds different stressors employees are not accustomed to – especially if they have small children at home.
  3. Work time. In addition, encourage employees to shut off email and message apps for extended time so they can think and create. (Editorial comment – I believe one of the worst things we’ve invented is instant messaging apps. They encourage bad behaviors, sets up unrealistic expectations, and have destroyed our ability to think critically.)
  4. Introverts vs. extroverts. Recognize that different personalities have different needs. Your introverts may be thrilled about more private alone time while your extroverts are going crazy because they want interaction.
  5. Now more than ever, your meetings must have solid agenda with clear objectives. Some meetings are bad enough when they are in person. They are exponentially worse when conducted electronically.
  6. Encourage social time. Have one meeting a week where there is no structured agenda – at least for part of it. Give employees a chance to catch up with each other. Keep it informal. Also, encourage other social time together. As an example, do a Zoom happy hour from time-to-time.
  7. Focus on purpose. Keep your organization’s purpose out in front. With added distractions, it will be more difficult for employees to focus. Help them by reinforcing your organizations purpose.
  8. Recognize struggles. Know that some employees are going to have difficulties with this situation. They may have a relative dealing with the virus. Children are now at home. Elderly parents are at higher risk. It’s a long list and we are just beginning to see the mental health impacts. Keep Employee Assistance Program information available.
  9. Be an example. Follow these or other guidelines and make it visible as appropriate. For example, you don’t need to tell employees the details of your morning routine but letting them know how yours has changed helps keep the human element visible.

As we continue to proceed through a great deal of unknowns, your role as a leader, and just being human, is critical to the health and safety of others. This means both physically and mentally. Our prayers are with you as we fight this battle.

I always welcome phone calls and emails. Let me know if you’d like to talk. Anytime.

Dedicated to your safe and healthy transformation through this unprecedented time,


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.


Enroll Leaders

How to Enroll Your Leadership Team

“We are too busy now…”

I have heard this so many times in the last couple of weeks. And rightly so. This pandemic has thrown almost every organization and its leaders into new and uncharted territories. In times like these, perhaps more than any other, it is important to ensure your leaders are enrolled and aligned.

This video outlines five simple steps you can follow to ensure your team is aligned and marching forward. Especially now as you might need to adjust your purpose and your plans, these steps can make the difference between an aligned team and one that is disjointed and cross-functionally dysfunctional.

Please share your thoughts on LinkedIn.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


Christopher Davis

Effective Process Redesign Requires Transformational Thinking

I recently had the opportunity to interview Christopher Davis. Christopher is a seasoned  Chief Information Officer (CIO) – and no stranger to transformational change. We talked about an experience he had recently leading a business transformation.

Steve: What does it mean to you to be a transformational leader?

Christopher: There are two important elements of transformational leadership. The first is to recognize that as your business is moving along a strategic path, there are many opportunities for change and improvement. A transformational leader can see these needs before others. The other element is to be able to influence people in your organization to own and drive those changes.

Steve: Tell me about a time when this was particularly challenging or rewarding for you. What was the situation, what did you do, how did it work out?

Christopher: Sleep Number went through a couple of iterations of process and systems transformation. Essentially, we built a technology infrastructure that would support growth both internationally and domestically. In partnership with several business leaders, we went through a two-year implementation of Enterprise Resource Planning and Customer Relationship Management (ERP and CRM). This included the data analytics which required a great deal of process redesign. We were able to implement the entire organization with data analytics, increasing our decision-making capability six-fold with only 50% more employees to support the environment.

Steve: How did you clarify the purpose of your transformation?

Christopher: As part of our process design, we discussed the benefits of cross-functional analytics and repeatedly heard how challenging it was to perform this type of analysis. The new ERP platform would give us the capability to source data from an integrated system. We demonstrated how this could work and kept the idea of new cross-functional capabilities in front of the team.

Steve: In what ways did you experience cross-functional dysfunction, and how did you address this?

Christopher: The dysfunction was in the analytical detail, where the organization would have different definitions for the same metrics. “Company Sales” or “Margin” had different meanings between functions. This made it a challenge to design the solution. We had to drive to alignment on definitions before we could start the design, and this required several meetings to sort out these definitions.

Steve: Were there cultural attributes that made the transformation easier or more difficult?

Christopher: On the upside, we were also working on the total ERP & CRM solution, so there were many conversations. The project encouraged employees across the company to collaborate and be open to change. Also, the organization tends to be more cross-functional, so it made it easier to have these conversations.

The challenge was that sometimes a team thought they were right and weren’t easily influenced, so gaining agreement was difficult. This required us to bring people together to understand differences – and the dialog led to greater clarity.

Steve: How did you enroll others in the transformation?

Christopher: We engaged representatives from every executive team. We met with them regularly to define, design, build and operate. It was the first time we did this, and it worked out well.

Steve: Please comment on the organizational challenges you faced, both structural and behavioral.

Christopher: Time was the biggest challenge. We were required to change job descriptions to ensure ownership of this work and allocate the time necessary for the work. Some teams understood this better than others. We found that it was a function of executive engagement. When the senior leaders made it a priority, it was easier for us to move along the timeline more effectively.

Steve: How did you become more of a coach?

Christopher: Candidly, I had to be a coach because I was an influencer and not a direct- report leader. I needed the rest of the organization to understand the value of our work, and why the investment was worthwhile. I also found that this helped my team understand their role was to partner and coach with their counterparts across the business. They could no longer  drive change on their own. They became internal consultants who coached the organization to identify challenges and opportunities.

Steve: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Christopher: Listen. Listen. Listen. When you are making significant changes, you need to recognize there are three perspectives: people, process and technology. You need to pay attention to all of them and the technology is the easiest of the three.

Steve: Christopher, thank you for sharing this insightful journey on how to build a successful, transformative, analytics team. Best wishes for great success in the future.


Special Edition: Three Things You Can do Right Now

The coronavirus outbreak has challenged us in ways we never thought possible. More and more of us are working from home. As employees are hunkered down in their home offices, you risk losing cohesion and momentum. As a leader, there are a few things you can do to keep your organization together and reduce isolation during this critical time. Thankfully we have so much technology to help make this possible.

  1. Show solidarity. Keep your purpose alive and continue to communicate progress made toward achieving your goals. Consider doing this more frequently to help people stay in tune with the larger goals of your organization. Ensure your leadership team is doing the same with each other and with their teams.
  2. Solicit ideas and feedback. Studies show that innovation declines as people disperse. Now is the time to ratchet up your efforts to find improvement opportunities. It’s also a good time to check in with individual employees and seek feedback. This encourages greater collaboration across your organization – helping people to stay in touch with one another. It also shows you care.
  3. Remain committed to personal integrity. We have yet to see any widespread opportunism because of this crisis. Continue to pursue your relentless work to eliminate any sign of Integrity Deficit Syndrome in your organization and your community.

I work from my home office nearly every day, so this change doesn’t impact me as much as it might you. I find it is important to build breaks into your day. It’s easy to become so focused on your work that you lose track of time, and before you know it, you’ve been sitting in front of a computer for hours. Set a timer. Take a break. Go for a walk (be safe!). Play with the dog. Play with the kids – they probably need a break, too. These mental breaks are important.

Let’s all hope for a speedy transition through this current situation. In the meantime, be safe and be healthy.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,