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  • Aspire » Leadership

    01 Jun


    Leadership often seems to be an intangible thing…a soft skill that makes a huge difference but is difficult to teach. This mystery around leadership is likely made worse because of the sheer volume of information out there – a quick search on Amazon lists 100,000+ books on leadership and most of them have a different spin and advice.

    My recommendation is to start with a simple approach – I firmly believe the businesses that will succeed over time are the ones who consciously develop a culture of leadership within all levels of the business. But what would a culture of leadership within a business look like?  How do you go about consciously creating such a thing?

    What is a leader?

    Leaders and leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. One of the most well known and respected authors on this topic – the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey posited that ‘leadership is a choice, not a position’.  Maybe the best way to define a leader is to look at the characteristics or behaviors of leaders at all levels.

    In their book ‘The Leadership Challenge’, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner found in their worldwide study more than 50% of respondents selected the following characteristics people would willingly follow:

    *Note – these results have been consistent since they first did this study back in 1987.

    • Honest
    • Forward looking
    • Competent
    • Inspiring

    Based on my own experiences – I would also include the following:

    • Passion
    • Courage
    • Humility
    • Sense of Humor

    If you gave it some thought, your list might be slightly different, but I’m willing to bet that we’re at least in the same ballpark on most of them. And since these are behavioral characteristics, it’s not just enough to appreciate these traits – you (and your team) have to be consistently demonstrating them.

    Gut check time – do these qualities (or your list) consistently describe you?  Would others use these qualities to describe you?

    What’s the opposite of leadership?

    If you buy into Covey’s idea that leadership is a choice, not a position, then what are people choosing if they’re not choosing to step up as a leader?  One way to look at it is they are choosing to be a victim (or more precisely to exhibit victim behaviors). What are the traits you associate with someone who acts like a victim?

    From my experience victims don’t take accountability or responsibility – it’s always not their fault. They tend to point fingers and place blame on anyone and everyone else. They are negative, reactive and always looking for a short cut and looking to others to explicitly tell them what to do. They are comfortable ignoring or denying challenges or things they don’t want to deal with.

    In their book “The Oz Principle”, authors Roger Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman introduce a simple and powerful idea – the Line of Accountability. This thin line represents accountability and responsibility…a culture of leadership. And because Leadership is a choice, you can either choose to be above the line – acting as a leader…or below the line acting as a victim.

    L-V-accountability line2

    The power of this simple tool and model is in it’s simplicity. It can be very difficult to call people out their behavior (“Hey Jim – you were really slacking off with your work last week on the Smith account weren’t you.”).  However…if you have the right people on your team and they all want to win for the team – then they will immediately see the value and validity of The Accountability Line – and the importance of being above the line as often as possible.

    The reality is that we are all going to have days or moments where we slip and we’ll be ‘below the line’ – it’s impossible to be focused, positive, pro-active and on top of things all the time, but if we can recognize when we’re having a bad day…or if we can help others recognize the wrong kind of behavior then it’s easier to correct.  (“Hey Jim – do you think you were below the line last week with the Smith account?”).

    Culture of Leadership

    In his bestselling book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, Patrick Lencioni calls out the importance of trust, productive conflict and the ability of a team to hold each other accountable. If you’re building a true culture of leadership, then the team will expect and appreciate that others (team mates and their manager) will call them out when they are ‘below the line’.

    Of course it’s likely you have people on your team right now who absolutely will not want to be held accountable in that way (a victim behavior). If that’s the case you will need to help them understand that this is a new reality for how the team / company is going to operate – ideally they’ll get on board and modify their behavior. Maybe they’ll opt out on their own and choose to go elsewhere…but if one of those 2 things doesn’t happen fairly quickly then you must ask them to leave – otherwise your behavior is ‘below the line’ for not holding others accountable.

    What do you think? Is this a model that would work in your business? Do you already have a team that lives up to this kind of behavior? What would it mean if they did? We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Thanks to my friend Robert Knowles for the inspiration on this post.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    18 May

    Close up of a men's quadruple skulls rowing team, seconds after the start of their race

    Teamwork has been described as the ultimate competitive advantage for a business.

    If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.
    ― Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

    According to Lencioni (and quite a few others) – great teamwork starts with trust. Not that you trust how someone will react – but real, vulnerability based trust where you really know someone as a person. Where they are willing to share their weaknesses and concerns with you (and vice versa). And most importantly where you know with certainty that they put the goals of the teams ahead of their personal goals.

    When you have real, vulnerability based trust and everyone is on the same page then teams can argue, admit weakness, point out issues and challenge each other – and that productive conflict will make the team and the outcomes better.  (And it’s fun to be on a team like that…which pays off down the road as well).

    When you don’t have that kind of trust – one of two things will happen. Team members will lash out at each other when they feel threatened, believing that the best way to get ahead is to bring others down (lots of political games). Alternatively (and probably more likely) people will fall into an ‘artificial harmony’ – where they agree with everything on the surface (or at least don’t disagree) but have absolutely no intention of actually supporting anything. This leads to all sorts of issues like infighting within the ranks, lots of passive aggressive behavior and a significant likelihood that nothing gets done.

    As a leader, how do you develop trust?

    So we’ve established that trust is critical if you’re going to build a great team. And that trust is based in vulnerability and the idea that the team members want to be part of something bigger. It’s all very logical and really not that difficult to understand…but it’s not likely to happen without some focus and leadership. As that leader – what can you do to develop trust within your team?

    1. Actually have a team…

    There’s a huge number of business owners who have employees, people they work with, but they don’t actually have a team. Anything that’s important is personally handled by the business owner and everyone else is just there to help. That’s not a team, that’s a very busy, stressed out business owner who has some help with lots of tasks.

    Having a team means a leadership team where everyone has clear responsibilities and accountabilities. They may need to get approval for big decisions, but on the whole they are enabled by the business owner to make things happen in their area.

    Do you have a team?  Could you create one?


    2. Have a vision…

    People want to be part of a team because they want to achieve something that they can’t do on their own. In sports players don’t talk about trying to become the MVP…they talk about winning championships. As a business owner, what are you building? What’s your big picture? It doesn’t have to be finding a cure for cancer…it could be as simple as being the best pizza/plumber/wealth manager in your city. Whatever it might be, you’ve got to have something that others will find compelling – what would make them want to be part of your team?

    Do you have a clear idea of what you’re building? Have you shared it with your team lately?


    3. Go first and be vulnerable…

    If you want others to trust you, you’re going to have to trust them first. You’re going to have to be the first one out on the ledge before others will follow. If they sense you’re not willing to open up, be vulnerable and to trust others…there’s no way they’ll trust you and the team will never come to pass. The vulnerability part is often very difficult for a business owner. *Note – it’s important to point out that you don’t have to share your deepest, darkest innermost secrets (in fact you shouldn’t) – but you do need to be a real person with hard and soft edges.  And you do need to admit weaknesses…and be able to accept that you’re wrong (and that others are right).

    Suggestion – get to know each other on a more personal basis. Where did you grow up? What kind of challenge did you have as a kid? What was your family like?  Consider using some behavioral assessments as a way to develop a common language around different styles.

    Are you putting up a front for your employees that you can do no wrong? Or are you willing to admit that you need their help and value them?


    Building a great team isn’t really a complex thing – the ideas are straightforward and easy to understand. But they’re not easy to implement…and it’s not a one time thing. You can’t just buy a team in a kit – instead you have to start leveraging core behaviors every single day. Things like:

    • Taking the time to get to know each other on a personal basis,
    • Letting go of important responsibilities and trusting others to come through,
    • Engaging in productive conflict – disagreeing on things (in a professional way) and expecting and encouraging others to disagree as well but also to ultimately commit to whatever the team and the leader decides.

    Simple – but not easy.

    What do you think about trust and teamwork? Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach


    20 Apr

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    Establishing goals and defining values with our clients is one of the fundamental exercises we try to work through in trying to help create a road map for their future.   Candidly, the” buy-in” from our clients in this process varies.  Though almost every business agrees that setting goals is important and establishing a standard of core values makes sense, many often dismiss the importance of following through with the implementation.

    Clarifying the two…

    Goals are like items on a bucket list; once you do them you cross them off and go on to the next one.  A realtor may sell $1M of real estate one month, but the next month they start back at $0.  Goals help create focus on a particular project and give constant feedback on how well you are advancing towards an end point.

    Values are what matter most to you.  Things you are committed to.  They are not one and done events. You don’t cross off values after a $1M month of sales.  They are a constant. Think of them as a compass that keep you pointed in the direction you want your business to go.  Values come from a much deeper place.  Your business doesn’t “achieve a value” it exemplifies and demonstrates it in the way your company conducts business day in and day out.

    The alignment…

    When one accomplishes goals and does so using the values that are important to them (regardless if they have ever written them down or verbalized them) they feel good about it.   If you accomplish goals but are not able to do so using your values, it will likely cause you stress and you will struggle to feel good, even though you achieved the goal.

    Recently I heard about a sales person who left a company, not because of lack of sales but because the tactics the company was using did not align with the sales person’s personal value system.  It didn’t matter how much this person sold, the values and the goals did not align.

    Why this matters to you…

    Many companies struggle with turnover and getting everyone on the same page.   The factors that contribute to these two issues are more complicated than simply goals and core values.  That said, there has to be a foundation under every building.  We view the core values of your business as the foundation of any organization.

    It is hard to build a strong team and expect them to focus on a goal if the members of the team all have different core values.   It’s unlikely that you’ll have every employee of your company agree 100% with the core values of the company, but that doesn’t mean they don’t abide by those values.   And, the more the values are referenced, whether it is a new employee orientation, during employee reviews, or just shared openly as part of the culture of the business, the more likely the employees will be setting goals, taking actions, and responding to things in ways that complement the values instead of disregarding them.

    Setting and attaining SMART Goals is important.  If you want to increase your success rate and improve the morale of your company, consider looking down at your foundation.  If you (and your team) haven’t clearly verbalized what matters most to you in the way of a set of values, make some time to clarify them in writing and then share them with your company.   Then set goals that allow you to incorporate and align with your values.  We trust you will be happy with the results!  As always we value any feedback in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas Business Coach

    06 Apr

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    Recently Gallup released their latest report about the state of the labor force in America; it turns out that 1 in 2 employees leave their job because they can’t stand their boss. Stories & headlines like this are good for filling air time on the business network channels because everyone has an opinion, though I often wonder how many of them have ever actually had an employee.

    If you’re a business owner let’s start by taking an optimistic approach.  1 in 2 is 50%, so your glass is already half full….now let’s focus on filling it up!

    This past week Business Insider posted an article by Jacquelyn Smith titled 3 Things that make People Love their Boss. She referenced a different Gallup case study of over 7,700 US adults and found 3 things that make employees feel good about their bosses.  I decided to put the 3 suggestions to the test for a quick Case Study with one of our Aspire clients who has been working diligently on this part of the business for at least a year now.

    3 suggestions from the Gallup study…

    Gallup suggested the following: Consistent and meaningful communication, Performance management beyond annual reviews, and a Focus on strengths, not weaknesses.  Putting that into perspective with a local business (our client) for a case study, here are the initiatives they put in place that match up with the Gallup suggestions:

    1. Consistent and meaningful communication

    • This business holds weekly meetings all employees to keep employees abreast of pertinent news about current and upcoming work.
    • They have the opportunity to ask questions.
    • Employees are recognized for their accomplishment in front of their peers.
    1. Performance management beyond annual reviews.

    • Several “on-going” metrics in efficiency (KPI’s) are being measured and tracked. (Not 100%  “live” yet,  but getting closer.)
    • Expectations in maintaining actions and metrics that various employees are responsible for are reviewed weekly.
    • Expectations of employee alignment with the company core values & mission.
    1. A focus on strengths, not weaknesses.

    • Bonus program that focuses on successes.
    • Leadership training that allows employees to learn from each other.
    • Rewards for perfect work.
    • Employees are praised in public, reprimanded in private

    Case Study: The results…

    Ironically, in a recent meeting this client noted

    • This may be the best group of employees their company has ever had.
    • It is the largest group of employees the company has ever had.
    • Turnover is low.
    • Work efficiency numbers are at an all-time high.

    There isn’t nearly as much magic in all of this as we are often led to believe, but it takes commitment and hard work to get there.  If you think you might be viewed as a “Bad Boss” (or know someone who is) maybe it is time to consider implementing these three strategies into your business?  Make your employees feel good about you and maybe your half full glass will be fuller too!   Please feel free to share your thoughts on this topic.  As always we value your comments and feedback.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    24 Nov

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    Thanksgiving Parade Picture from Martha_Chapa95 via Flickr

    Thanksgiving Parade Picture from Martha_Chapa95 via Flickr

    There is no other single day of the year that causes us to pause and give thanks more than Thanksgiving.   As the biggest travel holiday of the year, more friends and family are gathered together during this period, than any other holiday.  We spend time with family, we usually eat way more than we should, and we give thanks for what is good in our lives.

    Business owners may not have an official thanksgiving day, although I think some would say it is the day after they finish their YE taxes. 😉    But as a business owner or manager we all have so much to be thankful for.  Not just once or twice a year, but every day of year.   Here are 4 that I think we all should raise a glass and have a toast to:

    Always Be Thankful for….


    It has changed the way we do business. The world can be your market place.  Today even the smallest companies can look as big as they want on the internet.  Brick and Mortar is not a requirement or measuring tool for success.  “The Cloud” has allowed businesses to be more remote than ever before.  The ability to access information, network and share ideas, and outsource business functions has never been easier; and it will only get better.  Be thankful and leverage this.

    Social Media.

    Technology created it and there are negatives with everything, but the positive impact of social media is changing the game of traditional marketing and how we connect with our customers. Big advertising budgets are often being replaced with leaner more targeted social media strategies that can connect and interact with their target markets instantaneously. Be thankful and tweet it, pin it, or share it!

    The USA.

    It is easy to find things to complain about when it comes to owning or operating a business.  We all hate taxes, over regulation, etc. etc. and globally there may be other countries that are more business friendly.  But, the powerful blend of culture, resources, and the laws that guide our country are unmatched. The bottom line is, the USA still offers tremendous freedom an opportunity to those who choose to go out and get it.  Be thankful for our freedom and all those who gave their lives so we could have it.

    Employees, Business Partners, Friends, and Family.

    The anthem of the business owner in independence. But the people we surround ourselves with ultimately have a huge impact on long-term success. Take stock in the people around you.  Thank them for their contributions and support. Let them know they are valued and appreciated.  These people (esp close friends and family) are often the people who support you the most and are acknowledged the least.  Be thankful they are in your life and let them know.

    On this Thanksgiving, we would like to thank all of those who have contributed to our successes in life and in business, especially our families.  It is through your trust, support, understanding, and encouragement we are where we are.

    Finally, we are thankful for our clients who allow us to help them in their businesses and entrust us to be part of their business success story.  We are thankful.

    What are you thankful for?  We always appreciate your comments.  Happy Thanksgiving!

    Chris Steinlage   Kansas City Business Coach