Leader's Compass Points

That Gut Feeling May Not Be Gas - It's Probably Your Brain Talking to You

Posted by Bob Mason on 9/24/16 3:45 PM

Even though I was new to tGut_Feeling.jpghe organization and not exactly a technical expert on the job itself, I knew we needed to take a specific action. I had a feeling; that famous gut feeling that we all get from time to time. At the time our organization was in the throes implementing Total Quality Management and we were all worshiping the ideas of W. Edwards Deming. One of Deming's precepts was that decisions should only be made when supported by data; gut feelings were to be suppressed. Since I knew any decision not accompanied by significant statistical data would be questioned, I hesitated and ignored my gut.

It turned out my gut was right. While the result wasn’t disastrous, had I made the call my gut told me was right, we would have avoided problems later in the day. Ever since then I've listened to those gut feelings. They've never let me down.

This doesn't mean leaders should disregard data or not carefully evaluate all available information, in favor of making decisions based on what might just be gas. Quite the contrary. Leaders should take whatever time is available to make decisions based on careful analysis of all available data. To do otherwise leads to knee-jerk reactions that cause more problems than they solve.

But, your gut is an important source of data too and should not be ignored. What we call a gut feeling, some call it intuition, is really information flowing from the subconscious mind. Deep in your brain there's a memory, or piece of knowledge which, while you may not consciously remember it, is providing information to help you make a decision. You may not be able to explain why you feel that a particular course of action is correct – you just know it is. While it may not be the stuff of spreadsheets and histograms, the information those gut feelings provide come from your experience, which is a pretty important source of data. Of course, like any other source of information, even gut feelings should be backed up with other sources of information when possible.

But that feeling should not be ignored.  

Even though I have no empirical data to prove this theory, I know it's right. I have a gut feeling.


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You Are Supposed to Answer Your Email; Immediately! (Really?)

Posted by Bob Mason on 9/18/16 7:18 AM

hands-coffee-smartphone-technology-medium.jpgAs I was finishing a conversation with a couple of my team members, my boss saw me, walked over and said, "You haven't answered your email."

I told him I hadn't been in the office for a while so I hadn't seen the email. He pointed to the Blackberry attached to my belt and asked if it hadn't notified me. When I told him I did not have it set to do that he was surprised and demanded I explain how I would know when there was a new email from him.  

My boss was a bit of a technophile and liked to fully use any available technology. He carried his Blackberry in his hand, constantly checking it for anything new and he thought his leadership team should do the same. He could not understand why I would not want to drop whatever I was doing and check out the latest email.  Fortunately, in those days only a few of the senior leadership had a Blackberry so we could not subject our teams to this nonsense. Today's technology makes it possible for a leader to stay constantly connected to the entire team and reach out to them any time of the day or night.

However, just because leaders can reach out at any time, doesn't mean they should. Leaders should give conscious thought to how they manage technology.

  1. Encourage your team to set certain times to answer emails, and not continually check it. Don't expect email to be a means of urgent communication. If it's that important, try the telephone, or better yet, use an old fashioned technique and actually go to the person who has the information you need and ask them.
  2. Text messaging is a great tool. If you want your spouse to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home, by all means send a text. And yes, it may be the only way to communicate with your kids. But, at work, consider texts the same as email.
  3. If possible, turn off that interoffice instant messaging system, or at least set it to "Do Not Disturb" when you need time to focus. Otherwise, just like with email, each time a message pops up on the computer screen your concentration is broken which costs you several minutes to re-focus. That time can quickly add up to hours’ worth of lost productivity. Resist the urge to use IM for socializing or trivial communications. Once you go down that path you invite the same in return.
  4. When your team members go home for the day, leave them alone. Yes, you can probably reach them in several ways but don't. Just because you've decided to sacrifice free time for the company, doesn't mean you should expect your team to do the same. That also applies when team members are on vacation. Your team will be much more productive if they have uninterrupted down time. Some European countries, and even Brazil, have passed or are exploring rules that would prohibit emails after hours. Companies are also starting to use technology to embrace this concept. In Germany, Volkswagen has programmed their servers to prevent delivering emails to employees after their normal work hours. If you have a global virtual team, be cognizant of time zones. If available on your email platform, set your email to delay delivery until you know your folks are at work.

Once you've set these policies, follow them yourself. When I was on a headquarters staff in the Air Force, the general I worked for decreed that he would not read emails after 6:00 PM so we were not to send any to him after that hour. We took this to apply equally and so made no effort to look at emails in the evening.


Apparently, his prohibition did not apply to emails he sent, a fact we learned the next morning.

Give your team a break. Technology is a wonderful thing and certainly does increase efficiency and productivity. But, when improperly used, it can have the opposite effect.  

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Congratulations to Our New Indianapolis Leadership Excellence Course Graduates

Posted by Steve Alltop on 9/16/16 2:31 PM

Indianapolis Leadership Excellence Course | 13 - 15 September 2016

Say "hello" to our newest graduates of the Leadership Excellence Course in Indianapolis. This energetic group were great at sharing experiences and helping each other become better leaders while learning new skills. The stage is set for some interesting coaching calls as they continue their 90-day leadership development experience. I'm looking forward to working with you all. 

- Steve

"Wonder Women" | Indianapolis | September 2016




Topics: Leadership Development

Coming Events

Posted by Steve Alltop and Bob Mason on 9/16/16 1:26 PM


Graduate looking for "What's next?" Consider the Advanced Leadership Course coming up in November. Haven't attended one of our courses yet? There's still opportunities this year. 

Click on the course titles below for details and enrollment.

Upcoming Open-Enrollment Events

Leadership Excellence Course Albuquerque October 18 - 20
Advanced Leadership Course Indianapolis  November 1-3
Leadership Excellence Course Indianapolis November 15 - 17
Leadership Excellence Course Denver December 6 - 8


"“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

Topics: Leadership Development

You’re the New Boss, Now What?

Posted by Steve Alltop on 9/11/16 3:07 PM

I was recently reminded of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the military change of command ceremony. The ceremonies I’ve attended almost always relate a version of the following:

Change_of_Command.jpgThe change of command ceremony is rooted in military history dating back to the 18th century during the reign of Frederick the Great of Prussia. At that time, organizational flags were developed with color arrangements and symbols unique to each particular unit. To this flag and its commander, the soldiers of the unit would dedicate their loyalty and trust.

When a change of command took place, the flag was passed to the individual assuming the command. This gesture was accomplished in front of the unit so that all could see and witness their new leader assuming his dutiful position. He who held the flag also held the soldier’s allegiance. This tradition has survived throughout military history.

The ceremony, and the festivities surrounding it, provides an opportunity for outgoing commanders to say farewell to their troops, but more importantly, it allows incoming commanders to begin to set the stage for their tour of command. Taking charge of a unit is no trivial task; after all, not only are you assuming responsibility for accomplishing the mission and goals of the unit, but as a leader you are also assuming responsibility for the people who accomplish them.

While civilian organizations typically don’t have formal “change of command” ceremonies, the task of “assuming command” is no less important. As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression and your first few weeks in the positon will be full of first impressions. First impressions also tend to be sticky in nature and therefore hard to overcome if they are negative. So, what are some things you can do to help make this a smooth transition? Here are a few tips:

Have and use a personal leadership philosophy. Your personal leadership philosophy, your Leader's Compass, answers many of the questions your new team will want to know about the new boss and is particularly useful for this situation. If you haven’t looked at it in a while, take the time to update it as necessary for your new situation. While the highlights probably haven’t changed much, your expectations and priorities may need some work. If you used your personal leadership philosophy to help get the job, then you are probably a step ahead here. If you need a refresher on how to present your philosophy, we’ve written several articles on that topic.

Begin to get to know your people...immediately! This obvious step often gets forgotten in the excitement of taking on a new mission and the desire to start to implement all of your great ideas. Whether you schedule individual meetings or hold informal mixers, don’t short-change this step. The temptation is to think that there will always be time for this “people stuff,” but the longer you put it off the more likely is the risk of earning the reputation of being standoffish or that the job is more important than your people. Don’t get me wrong, you do have a job to do, but taking the time upfront to build a motivated and engaged team will pay dividends in the long run.

Consider the possibility that one of your new reports wanted the job also. Ask your new boss if this is the case and who that might be. If there is someone on your team who came in second place, look for ways to leverage their strengths and show them that you value their contributions.  Watch for signs of resentment. If it gets out of hand, have the discussion sooner rather than later and ask directly if they can overcome their emotions and contribute to the team. I had this situation in my first command tour with the individual who was assigned as my second in command. Ultimately, we found a position for him elsewhere which turned out to be a win-win for all involved.

Learn the battlespace.  This tip makes me cringe, but knowing the politics of your new situation is unfortunately a necessity. If appropriate, schedule time to discuss the situation with the person you are replacing. Where are the pitfalls, who are the trouble-makers, what would they do differently if given the chance. Fore-warned is fore-armed. Get to know your new peers. What kind of culture are you inheriting? Making assumptions about your new team based on previous experience may be natural but can cause trouble.  For example, good-natured ribbing may have been acceptable with the folks you previously worked with, but until you find out if your new charges don’t have a tendency to take things too personally, you might want to hold off on the joking around.  

Learn your job. Even if you were THE subject matter expert in your field, I can guarantee that you have a lot to learn about your new position.  Ask questions, lots of questions.  Doing so not only reduces the amount of unknown unknowns, it also shows your people that you aren’t one of those unapproachable know-it-alls but rather that you are someone who values their experience and expertise. In fact, in the early stages of your new position you should make a point of over-communicating which includes that all important LISTENING. 

Taking over as the new boss doesn’t have to be traumatic; for you or your people. Following these tips as a minimum and communicating much more than normal should get you off on the right foot.

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Topics: Leadership Philosophy, Leader's Compass, Leadership tips, Leadership

Labor Day Tips to be an Even Better Team Member

Posted by Steve Alltop on 9/2/16 2:28 PM

LaborDay.jpgLabor Day is here and for many these days it has become that long weekend punctuating the end of summer. Of course, originally and officially, this day is reserved to celebrate the American worker. As leaders, we should celebrate those that work for us; after all, could we do anything without them? We’ve written plenty in this blog about the relationship between you and those you lead but I thought on this occasion I would focus on the other side of the equation and talk briefly about how to be the best employee you can be. Many of us are not only leaders, but also someone else’s direct report so stick with me, there is a lesson or two in here for you too.

Tips to be a great worker:

Take responsibility for yourself. No one owes you a job. Bear the responsibility of making yourself valuable enough that someone will want to hire you. Once hired, it is your responsibility to continue to be valuable for the organization that you work for.

Understand your roll and how you fit in to the bigger picture. This may be a paradigm shift for some but consider that you have been hired to fulfil a purpose. There are some workers who will sit around waiting to be told what to do. Being proactive in understanding your purpose and how you fit into it is a key step towards greatness. I’ve often counselled individuals desiring better communications with their boss to ask the question, “What do I do that helps you be successful?” Follow this up with “What can I do to help you be MORE successful?”

Be accountable: Stop playing the blame game when things don’t go well. “I didn’t get the report done on time because I was waiting on material from Susy in accounting.” Sound familiar? Does it really matter whose fault it is? Try this instead, “I missed the deadline for the report. I need to work with accounting to see if we can find a way to get their inputs quicker.” Notice the shift from “It’s someone else’s fault” to “Let’s find a solution and move forward.”

Don’t play the victim. Compare “Not my fault; if that truck driver had been doing the speed limit I wouldn’t have been late for work (again)...” with “Sorry I was late. I should leave for work 15 minutes earlier to allow for traffic. It won’t happen again.”

Contribute to something larger than yourself. It’s easy to get hung up on just getting the job done. But once you know how you fit into the bigger picture you often have the best perspective on how to achieve goals better or operate more efficiently. Speak up and present your ideas.

Support a positive culture. Refuse to go negative by not participating in office gossip, inter-office bashing, the rumor mill, and so forth. Negativity is both insidious and contagious and can quickly make work a dismal place to be. Don’t fall into the trap; instead, strive to be the voice of reason and positivity. You don’t have to be Pollyanna but make the effort and you will see results.  

While certainly not all-inclusive, these five things will make you a more valuable worker. Perhaps even someone worthy of having their own national holiday at the end of summer.

From all of us here at The Daedalus Group, have a great Labor Day!

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How to Make Your Employee Evaluation Process Less Painful and More Valuable

Posted by Bob Mason on 8/19/16 6:28 AM


The_Curve.jpg“Everyone can't be outstanding; therefore, employees should be evaluated such that they fit a normal distribution with some below average and some above average.” That's the philosophy I was taught early in my leadership career. The general belief was that, while it wasn't a perfect fit, ratings should resemble a bell shaped curve. Many companies still look at employees the same way, even suggesting that those who rank lowest on evaluations must go.

That's lazy leadership.

A recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly, "Ahead of the Curve: The Future of Performance Management," takes a deep dive into the issue of rating employees. They provide plenty of evidence that most current performance rating systems are flawed and accomplish nothing of any real value. Sometimes they are even harmful.

While many supervisors and managers would love to see evaluations go away, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. As the article's authors point out, there are times when evaluation is necessary; for instance, identifying the high potential supervisors and managers in the company. The article also highlights some companies who have created more useful evaluation systems, often concentrating on looking to the future rather than the past and using technology to capture more current information. No matter whether your company has reached evaluation enlightenment, or still cleaves to the old ways, evaluations can be very useful in another way: helping leaders see where they need to concentrate their efforts.

Here are a few approaches leaders should take to use evaluations as a valuable tool in developing your team members.

  1. Keep good records. Evaluations tend to fall prey to the law of recency. Simply put, a leader is much more likely to remember an event that occurred last week than one that occurred last month. This also avoids problems with what I call the law of "oh #%^@." Humans tend to be more likely to remember that time someone screwed up than the good things they've done. Regular coaching and a conscious effort to know your team members will also make evaluations easier.
  2. Remember, when you are evaluating your team members you are also evaluating yourself. Why does Jack consistently score low or have unfavorable comments? What have you done to remedy the problem? Yes, I know you can't fix everyone or solve all problems, but you should be able to satisfy yourself that you've done everything you can to help your team members excel. This may also help make the decision to let Jack go a little easier.
  3. Communicate. If you're concerned about a team member, let them know. Talk to them. Find out why there's a problem and help them find a solution.

I don't live in a leadership utopia and I know it isn't possible to make all team members the crème de la crème. But, effective leadership means doing everything you can to give them the opportunity to rise to that level. Effective leaders find that most, if not all, of their team members don't fit a standard distribution because they all tend to be excellent contributors. Isn’t that the way it should be?

Other posts from The Daedalus Group to help you become a more effective leader.

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Topics: Leadership Development

Calling All Graduates! Advanced Leadership Course Coming Back to Indianapolis

Posted by Steve Alltop on 8/18/16 9:37 AM


Course Dates: November 1 - 3, 2016

For a sustained leadership journey, professional networking with like-minded professionals, and six months of deeper follow-on coaching, this is an ideal experience. The course is worth 36 PDUs for PMPs like our other three-day courses, but as our graduates attest, this experience goes much deeper in sharing best practices and focuses on your continued leadership path.

So, take your leadership to the next level with the Advanced Leadership Course.  

Must be a graduate of the Leadership Excellence Course, Leadership Boot Camp,  or the PMI 5 Star Leadership Course for Project Managers to attend. 

Past graduates of either Steve's or Bob's classes get a $500 discount.  We're just that nice! Use promo code PASTGRAD when you enroll. An additional $100 discount is available but you must contact Steve Alltop for details.

Topics: Leadership Development

Are You Coachable?

Posted by Ed Ruggero on 8/12/16 10:41 PM

201607-Chamberlain.jpgThe pile of boulders called Little Round Top is one of the most visited spots on the Gettysburg battlefield. It was there on July 2, 1863 that a thirty-four year old professor of rhetoric and his volunteer soldiers defended the vulnerable left flank of the Federal Army against repeated rebel assaults. When the menace was greatest and the enemy threatened to crush his line, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain led his men in a sudden, surprise charge. The unexpected move, the momentum of the downhill rush and their bayonets broke the Confederate assault.

When I visit this section of the field during The Gettysburg Leadership Experience, group discussion turns to creativity. In a tight spot, Chamberlain— a citizen soldier who’d been in uniform for barely a year—came up with a solution that worked. How do we foster that kind of remarkable creativity on our own teams?

Recently one executive focused on another aspect of the story: in addition to being creative, Chamberlain had been coachable.

Chamberlain’s commander, up until a month before the battle, was a twenty-seven year old professional soldier named Adelbert Ames. Ames, an 1861 graduate of West Point, had already been promoted for his performance in battle by the time he met Chamberlain. The former professor, recognizing his own lack of training and experience, latched on to the much younger man to learn as much as he could about battle tactics and leadership. When Ames was promoted in May 1863, Chamberlain took command of the regiment; less than two months later came his test on the rocky slope of that hill.

Coachable leaders are, among other things:

Humble: I accept that I don’t know everything and, in fact, may be quite ignorant in some areas. I seek out smart people who can help.

Open-minded: It’s easy to dismiss new ideas as impractical or impossible. Coachable leaders are receptive to new ideas.

Listeners: Ever hear the expression, “Eighty-percent of people in any conversation are either talking or waiting to talk”? Waiting to talk is not the same as listening. To listen, I have to stop preparing my own remarks and actively seek to understand the other person’s position or explanation.

Willing to put ideas into action. My friend Scott Snook of the Harvard Business School prefaces his workshops by talking about the bookends of adult learning. Before any learning experience comes our attitude as we approach the session: “There are new ideas out there that are worth my attention.” On the other side of the learning is what we do with it. The coachable leader is willing to try new things.

Of course, just because an idea is new does not mean it’s good. Nevertheless, I should ask myself this question from time to time: when was the last time I moved out of my comfort zone and tried something new?

If it’s been a while since I stepped out of my usual way of doing things, it could be that I am not actively seeking new ideas. I need to read more, to network more, to educate myself and find a mentor—maybe even one who does not fit the typical profile of mentor. It could mean that I need to work on being coachable.

About the author: Ed Ruggero is the creator and facilitator of The Gettysburg Leadership Experience, in which participants visit the site of the Civil War battle to learn how to better lead modern organizations. Join him for lively discussions about what we can learn about leadership then that applies today. He offers open enrollment programs, or you can bring a group on dates that fit your schedule.

Reprinted with permission.

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Should You Let Them See You Sweat? Maybe A Little

Posted by Bob Mason on 8/6/16 2:55 PM

Sweat.jpgThere's an old Gillette razor commercial with famous personalities of the day encouraging us to "Never let them see you sweat." The premise was that successful people never let it appear that anything bothers them. The phrase has become part of our vocabulary and is often applied to leadership as well. But is it good advice?

As a commander in the Air Force there were several times when my squadrons saw me sweat. In one case, I had just completed a memorial service for a senior enlisted member who had died shortly before retirement. When a military member dies, there are many tasks that must be completed and the commander is responsible for most of them. It is emotionally challenging and by the end of the memorial service, which the commander traditionally leads, I was pretty well drained. After that service, I was speaking with my squadron's senior non-commissioned officer and mentioned that I was not keeping a very good detached demeanor. I definitely had "Let them see me sweat." He said that was good. The squadron didn't see me as less of a leader, rather they saw that I was human and cared about the team, but also continued to accomplish my leadership responsibilities.

Leaders are human and diminish their effectiveness when they try to be detached and emotionless. It's okay if your team sees that you're tired sometimes, or upset. At the same time though, they must also see that you don't let those feelings stop you from being the leader.

That doesn't mean the leader should be wishy washy and fail to make decisions. That will destroy your team's effectiveness and your credibility. When a decision has to be made, you must put all those feelings aside and act based on your own values, the information available, and the good of the mission and the team.

Of course there are times when it's best to keep your problems to yourself and not "let them see you sweat." I once had a boss who blamed my team for the mechanical failure of a very old piece of equipment. My boss and I had a tenuous relationship to begin with and my vigorous defense of my team made it even worse.  I didn't realize until years later when I was speaking to a former team member that our relationship had become something of a public feud and rumors had been swirling around the organization that my boss and I had come to blows over the issue. Nothing of the sort, but it was a great illustration of how not to deal with that kind of conflict. Allowing my personal conflict to become so visible to the team was a mistake.

You're human and it's okay to let your team see you sweat. Just make sure you also let them see that whatever is causing your discomfort doesn't stop you from being an effective leader. Acting like there's no problem is not as effective as recognizing and clearly addressing the problem.

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See how The Daedalus Group can help you become a more effective leader. Go to www.dleadershipgroup.com

Topics: Leading Teams