Leadership Move: How to Shift from Criticism to Feedback

A man holds a sign: Advice $.50. Good advice $2.00.

If you’re not clear on the difference between criticism and feedback, you could be missing out on your best coaching and developmental opportunities. I’m going to illustrate how this happens by sharing a particularly cringe-worthy error from my past but first let’s define what we’re talking about.

The Difference Between Criticism and Feedback

Criticism is easy to identify when you’re on the receiving end. Nobody likes it. It makes us feel bad — like we missed the mark. We blew it. On the other hand, feedback usually makes us feel better, more hopeful. We’re ready to try again. What differentiates the two? Continue reading “Leadership Move: How to Shift from Criticism to Feedback”


The Trusted Advisor

Give first, Give extra, Give without gainIf everyone in the world were free to choose their own job title, I suspect Trusted Advisor would be among the top ten in popularity. Who doesn’t want to be known for telling it like it is and helping others get on the right path? Clearly, that would place us on the opposite end of the spectrum from those who recommend products and services based on potential commission rather than what’s truly needed. In this post, we’ll examine how to spot a trusted advisor, and how to be one. Continue reading “The Trusted Advisor”

The Fall Of The Alphas by Dana Ardi

The Fall of the Alphas

I had two main goals in life when I was little. First, when I grew up I would have a house with dozens of rooms to hold my many interests. Second, I would own a complete set of the most up-to-date edition of Encyclopedia Britannica. I attribute both aspirations to having a mom with a deep appreciation for learning. For the longest time, I thought she was magic for having memorized the alpha notations on the encyclopedia spines. If you asked her how long katydids lived, her response would be “Go get the ‘hia to loc’ volume, it’s the ninth one.”

The Fall of the AlphasFast forward a few decades and I’ve eschewed the consumerism and real estate goals for a simpler life — but the daily pursuit of knowledge has stayed with me. I no longer lust after those volumes because I have something bigger and better: an inexhaustible supply of data and information via the Internet. 

I’m not the only one with insatiable curiosity. We’ve become a society of information addicts. When we want to know something, we want to know right now. And we have zero tolerance for lack of transparency or access. Social networking, blogs, and online magazines have taught us to be suspicious of partial answers. No problem. We’ll just Google it to get the rest of the story.

It’s no wonder the work environment is going through so many changes. We can’t shift as a society and expect leadership models developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s to be effective with today’s workforce.

The Fall Of The Alphas by Dana Ardi takes us through the agrarian and industrial ages, to our modern-day information age to make the following argument:

The information age demands a new approach to organizing groups of people, as well as to functioning within those same organizations. The Alpha paradigm no longer fits today’s world. We need a new approach to business that doesn’t rely on seniority and other strict traditional patterns of advancement and growth; an approach that gives employees and customers the ability and opportunity to acquire information and express themselves; and not least, an approach that promotes greater teamwork, both internally and externally. Did anyone say Beta?

Contrasting the traditional Alpha structure (think ‘top dog’ and hierarchy) Ardi defines Beta this way: The communitarian, horizontal alternative to the individualistic, hierarchical Alpha paradigm. Beta creates networks rather than silos. Beta de-emphasizes secrecy, and focuses instead on the pooling of information, ideas and opinions.

Wow. Sounds like us, doesn’t it? She goes on to use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to demonstrate the sameness and differences between Alpha and Beta work environments. The base, or primary, needs don’t change, but when we get into the third tier, the one where we seek affinity and relationships, this is where a Beta organization begins to distinguish itself. In the esteem and self-actualization tiers, the Beta organization leaves Alphas in its dust.

Another way the author differentiates the two is by pointing out that Alpha organizations are by their very nature elitist. I can attest to this from my own experience working in sales organizations. Elitism can manifest in the form of tolerating inappropriate behaviour from the highest producers while professing to hold everyone to the same standards of conduct.

What’s A Leader To Do?

The author’s stated goal is not to “transform established, successful, conservative companies. Rather, to help organizations position themselves to succeed with today’s workers, and in today’s new business environment.”

I’ve pulled out a few more lines from the book to better describe the distinguishing features of a Beta organization.

  • Beta companies are communities, not armies. They are made up of shifting, project- or process-based teams instead of rigid functional silos.
  • Instead of focusing on people who have the best metrics, companies need to recognize the facilitators within the organization.
  • “Craftspeople” need to be as valued and rewarded as managers.
  • The short definition of Beta: communication, collaboration and curation

The book appears to be light reading when you pick it up but is actually quite deep and academic in places.  I found it challenging to make it through the first two chapters (‘Corporate Anthropology’ and ‘Plows and Primates’) but it picked up after that. It’s not a quick read. I recommend it for leaders and leadership teams who are open to change and confident enough to question current methodologies. Ardi provides practical examples of ways in which organizations can exemplify Beta behaviours.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of writing this review. This review is my personal opinion and was not influenced by the publicist, the publisher, or author.

Entrepreneur, Solopreneur, Intrapreneur — Which Are You?

Entrepreneur Solopreneur Intrapreneur illustrationDriven business leaders are not created equal. Each of us possess separate and distinct superhero talents. When we develop self awareness, we realize there are certain situations in which we thrive.

Have you thought about the type of business leader you are, or might become? Let’s look at three driven types: Entrepreneurs, Solopreneurs, and Intrapreneurs. For each, I’ll give you a formal definition, then my definition, and finally, a blog you might enjoy reading if you fall within that personal leadership style. I hope you won’t mind that I’m going to ask you to do me a favour at the end of this article.


Formal definition: A person who sets up businesses and takes on risk in the hopes of profit.
My definition: You know you’re an entrepreneur when…

  • You see opportunity everywhere — even when your eyes are closed.
  • You see failure as a temporary setback — an investment in education.
  • Your favourite words are “What if…?”

A blog entrepreneurs might like: Both Sides Of The Table


Formal definition: A solopreneur is an entrepreneur who works alone; one who runs a business single-handedly.
My definition: You know you’re a solopreneur when…

  • You tell people you’re the CEO, the Accountant, or the company’s Administrative Assistant – depending on who’s asking and what day it is.
  • You know your daily receivables balance to the penny. By heart.
  • You can reconcile banking statements, bang out a killer proposal, and reprogram your computer… in a single morning.

A blog solopreneurs might like: The Solopreneur Life


Formal definition: An intrapreneur takes responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product within the confines of an organization; one who challenges the status quo within a company to build a better future.

My definition: You know you’re an intrapreneur when…

  • You’re the first person people look at when they need to solve a complex problem or initiate change.
  • You see connections where others see none; you’re able to think 3 and 4 steps ahead before a new process is initiated.
  • You work 60-70 hours per week because you’re building the business, not because anyone might notice and think more of you.

A blog intrapreneurs might like: Savvy Intrapreneur

I’m an intrapreneur. Which one are you?

Icons by Delekat

Quick Fixes To Get Your Projects Back On Track

ProjectBackOnScheduleAre your projects suffering from lack of momentum? Feeling stalled? Wondering why it’s so hard to make progress? The answer may lie in the way you’re handling communications.

Projects are a compilation of tasks, often requiring input or work from several people. The way you gain agreement to that input or work will have a direct impact on your ability to stick to a delivery schedule.

  • Wherever possible, have people select their own due date. Give them sufficient time to review what you’re asking them to produce before they give their commitment.
  • Tell all project team members that you’ll schedule auto reminders to be sent out three days before the due date. This way they won’t be surprised.
  • Don’t leave voicemail messages that put you in wait mode. If you must leave a message, make it compelling – not just “call me.”
  • Check in with people halfway through their work period — and never use the phrase “is everything going ok?” We humans have an unnatural need to say everything’s fine, even when it isn’t. At the checkpoint, review the project and their deliverable to see if you can stimulate any questions. This is actually your way of getting them excited about the outcome instead of dreading the deadline.
  • Instead of sending an email when you need an answer, use the phone, or visit them if you work in the same location.
  • Ask each team member what kind of communication they like best: phone, email, in person…

Your project leadership skills are getting sharper just from reading this! So what will you implement right now?

Free Social Media Guide

Social media terminology keeps changing. Would you like a little help to keep up? I created a PDF freebie with 27 new words on it. Use this link to my business page on Facebook. Click the like button and follow the prompts.


Growing Your Business The Coach Approach Way

CoachApproachPowerGridThe coach approach to growing your business relies on two skills: Using inspirational power to paint a compelling picture of a different future and choosing languaging that invites accountability.

First, let’s define the four kinds of power that are typically used within businesses and families.

  • Positional Power: “Do it because I said so.”
  • Social Evidence: “We’ve always done it that way.” Or, “Everyone else gets to do it, why can’t I?”
  • Group Pressure: “Everyone else has agreed. You’re the only hold back.”
  • Inspirational Power: In this power model, we paint a compelling picture of an alternate future that points out the advantages and the benefits to the listener.

Leading with Inspirational Power isn’t all flowers and candy. To be truly effective, the leader not only gains excitement and buy in from the team; it’s important to declare the gaps, build a plan and own the action steps together until everyone learns how to run on their own.

Leveraging inspirational power requires moving away from the Expectations Model and adopting the Accountability Model. Can you hear the differences in the descriptions below?

  Expectations Model Vs. Accountability Model
How it feels Being pushed for results. Command and Control management style. Judging. One-way communication. Pulling toward a shared outcome. Coach approach. We’re in this together. Team. Curious. Safe. Two-way communication.
What it sounds like “My expectations are…” Or: “You should have known what the expectations were because this is how we always do it.”  “I’m sure you got the memo – go look for it.” “What needs to happen in order for us to reach this new state?”  “Let’s outline together what we are agreeing to make happen. Then, let’s meet periodically to see how things are going and make sure we stay on course.”
How things get done Relies on positional power rather than leadership skills to get things done. People do the work to avoid pain or get someone off their back. Relies on curiosity and shared learning rather than positional power. Builds the power of the team or work group. People do the work because they want to contribute.
What it looks like from the outside Grinding out the work. Defensive response to questions. Energized teams. Questions are welcome. People get noticed for their ability to move projects forward.
What happens when problems arise Blame. Workers may feel the need to protect each other. May demonstrate skill in employing delay and avoidance techniques. May attempt to focus attention away from current performance and dwell instead on perceived “wrongs” done to them. Problems are seen as challenges; opportunities to stretch and demonstrate growth. Problems are not desirable but they’re not avoided as the team knows no one is going to get killed. Highly responsive teams learn to declare problems openly and prioritize them for solutioning according to potential group benefit.
© Susan Wright-Boucher 2010-2013

One Final Tip and One Caveat

  • Asking questions is the most powerful method for creating change and growing your business. Think of open-ended questions that invite curiosity and encourage partnered thinking.
  • Unfortunately, not everyone is coachable. You may encounter one or two people in your career who rely on guile and cunning, which can escalate into bullying, covert insubordination or possibly victim behaviour — all in an attempt to maintain the status quo. You and your organization will have to decide how to deal with that should you ever encounter it as this situation will prevent the team from progressing toward its goals.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy My Best Coaching Questions. They’re tried and true, gathered over the last five years.

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Level 5 Leadership — Are We There Yet?

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsWhen I first read Jim Collins’ description of a level 5 leader in Good to Great, I wondered if I could ever develop my skills to that point. If you’ve not read the book, basically he is describing a selfless and highly motivated leadership style that is present in the companies that have bucked all economic trends to surpass and outlast their peers. In his words:

Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce results. They will sell the mills or fire their brother, if that’s what it takes to make the company great.

In Servant Leadership: Cutting Through the Hype, I wrote:

Charismatic leaders are able to produce extraordinary results – but the level 5 leader produces extraordinary results that are sustainable beyond his/her direct involvement.  A level 5 leader builds greatness into the organization that continues after the leader’s departure.  For a level 5 leader the achievement is not about them – it’s about maximizing the performance of the organization.

They are driven – not by ego – but by a burning desire to create a bigger future. Because they can’t live with mediocrity, they lead their teams in such a way that performance is delivered, not hoped for.  The biggest differentiator for these leaders is they take full responsibility for failures yet turn all mention of credit to the people who actually get the work done. People want to work with these leaders because they know they’ll be surrounded by concrete, measurable success. As a result, their division or company is held up as an example for others to strive toward.

This reminds me of a statement made by an astute management consultant, Gerry Faust, during a strategy session: “You want to create a culture of high performance such that it’s a great place to work for high performers and an atrocious place to work for poor performers.”

I’ll never forget that statement. And I’ll keep asking: Are we there yet? Am I there yet?

Surviving The New Job

Great recruiters are like hurdle racers

Hurdle racerChanging jobs at the leadership level is tough territory. Part of the challenge is that new people see the work environment through a different lens than those who have been around a while. Fresh eyes may bring new ideas but they can’t fathom the awards, the wins, and the battle scars that make up the proud past.

That’s the situation I found myself in a year ago. After working with the same company for more than a decade, I was navigating the uncharted waters of a new organization. That may sound a bit overly dramatic… It isn’t. The success rate for people in their first new job after a long stint with the same employer is abysmal. Good thing I’m stubborn.

I’m also thorough. Never one to do things halfway, I jumped right in and enthusiastically made every mistake known to man within the first six months. Fortunately, each of these “opportunities for improvement” were sufficiently packed with learning that they need never be repeated.

What I find most amusing about this transition is the qualities that helped me succeed in the past – namely adaptability and resilience – actually tripped me up and lengthened the painful period I now lovingly refer to as “the gangly teenager days”.  The more I forced myself to adapt and fit in, the stiffer I appeared. I do believe there was a period of three months where the deer-in-headlights expression never left my face. Hopefully, there will be some kind of karmic payoff for those weeks of facial paralysis. After all, my heart was in the right place. I’m thinking that something like less wrinkles around the eyes would be reasonable compensation.

Lest you think I am able to magically rise above every difficulty all on my own, I have to point out there were times my mentor pulled me out of the fire, brushed the ashes off my singed butt, and said ‘never mind’. Don’t underestimate the value of having a mentor. You need a safe place to talk about your screw ups and your successes so that you’re always driving the business forward.

As I round the corner and make my way toward the twelve month mark, what has my attention is alignment and playing a bigger game with the awesome people I get to work with (AC, JT, RA, ST – you know who you are). They say life is a series of finish lines. I can see the next one — it says in big bold letters: This team is a force to be reckoned with.

For readers considering a career change, make sure you’re ready for a hurdle race. I recommend spinach and multivitamins.

Zooming versus Micromanagement

Boardroom table

Boardroom tableSomewhere, somehow, we got the idea that leaders shouldn’t bother with the finer points of running a business; that staying high level is the mark of true leadership. That’s dangerous thinking that can slow down the development of a business unit.

When I interview management candidates, I like to have them describe their leadership style. The reason I do this is to see if their thinking has graduated beyond clichés and into the realm where they truly understand their gifts and the personal development cycle that was necessary to get them where they are today. I’ve noticed there are certain clichés that, when offered, often represent the full and total understanding of the person in front of me. In other words, they’re stumped to come up with any kind of example or deeper conversation on the subject. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – it just underscores that they are at the beginning of their leadership journey rather than a seasoned manager.

“I have an open door policy” can be an example of one of those statements. Another common one is “I hire good people and let them do their thing.” But the one that bothers me – and this is the only one that does – is this line: “I’m not a micromanager.” The reason it bothers me is that the word micromanagement is not well understood, therefore it’s easy to misuse.

Attention To Detail Is Not Micromanaging
Great leaders have the ability to toggle their attention between high level and detail according to business needs. It’s a skill that requires flexibility and a keen understanding of how everyday tasks impact the longer-term vision. If something doesn’t look right, it’s the leader’s job to dig in and understand what’s happening. You’ll have to decide each time if this is an opportunity to delegate, or something you should handle personally.

Here’s what I wrote in “Zooming For Effective Leaders“:

I think part of the problem is that it’s not sexy to wallow through the muck of a gnarly problem. It’s messy and it can be frustrating. Some call that management hell – I call it being midway to a solution.

What Is Zooming?
Zooming is a highly desirable leadership trait where the leader consciously steps away from higher level activities to “zoom” or deep dive into detail to assess a situation or satisfy curiosity. These leaders see things that others miss — and this comes from their unique ability to connect the day-to-day minutiae with how well or how quickly the team will achieve big picture goals. And for that reason, their teams are often among the higher performers in the company.

So the next time you’re curious about why something is the way it is — an invoice looks odd, fulfillment time seems too long, or you’re overhearing comments not in line with the usual banter — dig in. Share with your team what you learn.

And don’t ever let anyone use “I don’t know” as a get-out-of-jail-free card.