How to develop the skills of innovative leaders

I attended a private school until the eighth grade. The only students were my brother and myself because we lived on a remote cattle ranch in Wyoming. The nearest town was 90 minutes, one-way, on a dirt road.

There were no other kids to play with, so I played with trucks and dolls when I was young. As I got older, I spent time with animals. I talked to them and treated them as friends -- indeed, the only ones I had!

When we role-play, we imagine ourselves in different situations. One week, I would be a veterinarian and patch up all sorts of ills that befall animals on a ranch. Or a John Wayne character who packed a gun and brought justice to the wild west.

I always imagined myself to be someone whom I aspired to become like when I grew up. At that age, my hero was someone very real to me. My imagination gave me permission to walk in the shoes of my hero, if only for a few moments.

Research tells us that children who have a good imagination grow up to be more creative as adults. Imaginative and creative people also tend to be more innovative as well.

Innovation is the secret sauce that can accelerate a company’s profits and growth beyond its competitors. In a recent study, innovation was ranked a long-term challenge for driving business growth. It is a key talent needed at all levels of leadership, starting with the CEO.

Despite its importance, innovation is a difficult quality to cultivate in both leaders and organizations.

As a leader, what if you feel you’re not innovative? You may need to fake it until you make it, but it is possible to create a mindset that will allow you to develop your creativity. Oscar Hammerstein wrote that by whistling a happy tune, “when I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well.”

Creating an innovative mindset takes work and may require some retraining, but anyone can innovate if they develop these core competencies:

1. Seek out innovative environments

Our environment plays a major part in developing our innovative characteristics. We can’t change the circumstances of our upbringing, but we do have a choice in the kinds of people with whom we associate and surround ourselves.

We tend to take on the same characteristics as the people we spend the most time with, so be picky! It’s fine to spend time with school chums and old acquaintances, but we need to challenge ourselves to develop new friends who will truly nourish our desire to be the person we want to be.

Likewise, spend time with colleagues who possess high levels of innovative traits.

Tip: Create a learning environment or community that generates new knowledge and perspectives. This type of networking will expose you to different perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

2. Observe and be curious

Innovative leaders score high in curiosity. They desire to know more and take the initiative to learn new information. They keep their skills and knowledge current to give them a competitive edge.

Innovative leaders are mentally tough because they believe they will prevail in their circumstances, rather than hope their circumstances will change. If an obstacle pops up, they react with curiosity as they investigate the endless possibilities before them.

Innovative leaders see possibilities everywhere and constantly add new information as they learn more. They are curious about other people and come up with many of their own innovative ideas as they observe others.

Tip: Become an investigator who looks at an obstacle or roadblock from many perspectives. Curiosity and observation are two important traits in innovative people. Look for the possibilties in your situation, not the dead end.

3. Pinpoint self-fulfilling prophecies

We all have self-limiting beliefs about ourselves that often lead to self-fulfilling prophecies about what we can and cannot do in life. We can place limitations around ourselves when we predict the outcome of a situation. We change our behavior so that the prediction comes true.

If you think you’re going to fail a job interview, that belief may lead to behavior that ensures you do, indeed, fail the job interview.

Tip: The self-fulfilling prophecy can work in the opposite direction as well. Stay positive and rein in self-limiting beliefs that can sabotage your performance.

4. Shake things up

The same study cited above also revealed that innovative leaders scored 25% higher than non-innovative counterparts in managing risk.

Risk ignites innovation because it moves us out of our comfort zone. Risk does not cohabitate with complacency because embracing risk is experimenting with the unknown. We try new experiences, take things apart, and test new ideas.

Innovation requires us to make something out of nothing. It requires the grit to keep working at something until you find a solution.

When you shake things up and embrace risk, one of two things will happen: You will succeed at meeting your goal, or you will succeed in getting an education.

Tip: Seek out new experiences that will stimulate your thinking and avoid the mundane. Habits are the killer of innovation.

5. Seize opportunities

Innovative leaders take risks, and when they do, they seize opportunities. Because they are also careful observers, they change direction when the advantage becomes apparent.

Innovative leaders can anticipate potential obstacles and are not surprised when they pop up. They are prepared for them and are able to pivot and move forward, without losing valuable momentum.

Tip: Rather than accept the learning opportunities when they occur, intentionally broaden activities in strategic areas. Be proactive in moving into those areas where you want to expand.

6. Avoid phony at all costs

Aristotle once wrote, “Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a certain way.” That is the source of the "fake it until you make it" mantra.

While you can fake it until you make it when you start out, there is an important caveat: Don’t expect it to take you all the way to the top.

Innovation is a mindset. As such, you work to create a mindset that seeks ways to move around obstacles. If you are a talented individual, you can fake your way through the learning process until it becomes a genuine skill you own.

Tip: If you do not have the talent, desire, or confidence to take your career to the next level, no amount of faking it will help. You risk being seen as an imposter.


LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. Quy is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.


4 mindsets needed for a better talent pipeline

As leaders face the most volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous business conditions ever, one thing is clear: Talent is an organization’s most powerful and sustainable competitive advantage.

As a result, improving the talent pipeline by attracting, developing and retaining the best possible employees is among a leader’s most fundamental priorities.

It’s an unfortunate reality, however, that the pipes we’re most familiar with -- the plumbing that delivers water to our homes -- operate differently than organizational talent pipelines. Whereas water begins flowing upon demand, great employees don’t rush into the building as soon as a key position becomes available.

This means that leaders must continuously have talent on their minds and in their day-to-day behaviors. Best-in-class organizations report that that their leaders share four key mindsets that help to keep pipelines well-populated with top talent.

Mindset No. 1: I am in the best possible position to source new talent

Attracting top talent can no longer be an activity that’s delegated to HR. Local leaders are the ones closest to the needs -- and closest to those who might be best suited to meet those needs. As a result, leaders at all levels must begin expanding their job descriptions to include being a talent scout.

Talents scouts are perpetually on the lookout for prospective new employees. Wherever they go and whatever they do, they look at things through the lens of “How can I make connections that will support our needs today and into the future?” Whether it’s at a conference, reading a business journal or standing in line at the coffee shop, talent scouts recognize possibilities where others don’t. And they cultivate relationships, even if there’s not an immediate need to be filled.

These leaders are also creative in terms of where they seek out talent. Rather than mining the same tired sources as their competitors, they look in novel places and identify those who aren’t necessarily the “usual suspects.” And when they do that, they contribute powerfully to a rich and sustainable talent pipeline.

Mindset No. 2: My actions contribute directly to the employment brand we project in the marketplace

Given the instantaneous and ubiquitous nature of information today, prospective candidates can learn a lot about an organization before ever agreeing to an interview. Increasingly, leaders are coming to appreciate that the company’s employment brand may be as important as the brand reflected to customers. And that brand is the cumulative effect of the culture, behaviors and policies that affect employees.

Leaders who want to support a positive employment brand must ask themselves:

  • How do prospective candidates and employees currently perceive the organization… and how well is this perception serving us?
  • How do I contribute to the organization’s reputation?
  • What does my social media footprint say about me and about the organization by extension?
  • What steps am I taking to deliver on the promises we make to prospective and new employees so they’ll stick around, become optimally engaged and be able to share their talents to the greatest extent possible?

Building an effective employment brand -- one that will attract the best and the brightest -- demands attention on the part of all leaders. It begins with cultivating the right impressions in the marketplace, and those impressions must also come to life and create a congruent experience for people who choose to join the organization.

Mindset No. 3: It’s my job to anticipate and understand talent needs and gaps -- not just in my department or group but throughout the organization   

Effective leaders are constantly scanning the environment to understand how changing business conditions will affect the work of their group. They look at economic, environmental, demographic, political and other factors to plan for the future. Highly effective leaders also use this information to anticipate and begin taking early steps toward attracting the talent that will be needed for that new future. They recruit and hire today with tomorrow in mind. But taking care of one’s own part of the business is no longer enough.

In the past, talent was frequently treated as a local or departmental resource. Siloed organizations led to fiefdoms, territoriality and, too often, the loss of key contributors to the competition. Given today’s highly interconnected organizations and competitive employment environment, talent must be recognized as an enterprise-wide resource.

Leaders who think more broadly and abundantly about talent understand that we’re all in this together. They see the value of building awareness of the talent needs, not just in their department or group but across the organization. What’s happening elsewhere may be an indicator of challenges to come.  So they anticipate and monitor their own gaps and needs while also doing the same at an organizational level. In this way, they are better poised to learn, respond, and share insights and resources to benefit the organization as a whole.

Mindset No. 4: I have a responsibility to help continuously improve organizational processes to support the talent pipeline

It’s frequently said that it takes a village to educate a child. It also takes a village to ensure that an organization can attract the retain the talent it needs to thrive. While HR may own some of the processes, leaders can provide the in-the-trenches perspectives, and these perspectives can inform improvements of the organization’s competitive advantage. So, “if you see something, say something.”

  • Are competitors offering new benefits that are luring candidates and employees away?
  • Are unnecessarily protracted verification processes causing your best candidates to accept other offers?
  • Are opportunities for advancement not sufficiently transparent to capture the imagination of prospective employees?

Your visibility to these sorts of things is the first step in addressing issues that may be compromising your organization’s ability to attract the talent it needs.

Regardless the nature of your business, people are the key to driving results. And leaders must play a central role in attracting, recruiting and ultimately hiring the people required to ensure a free-flowing talent pipeline.


Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

Strategy by metaphor

Each month, When Growth Stalls examines why businesses and brands struggle and how they can overcome their obstacles and resume growth. Steve McKee is the president of McKee Wallwork + Co., an advertising agency that specializes in working with stalled, stuck and stale brands. The company was recognized by Advertising Age as 2015 Southwest Small Agency of the Year. McKee is also the author of “When Growth Stalls” and “Power Branding.”

SmartBrief offers more than 200 newsletters, including SmartBrief on Leadership and newsletters for small businesses and marketers and advertisers.

If I said that the next 700 words contain the Uber of business advice, would you believe me? Probably not. It’s a big claim. And these days, a common one.

Forbes’ Daniel Newman writes, “[T]he Uber chapter in tech history has probably inspired far more copy-cat businesses than any other in recent memory, with Uber-inspired laundry and food delivery, hair styling, and even flat-tire service.” A quick Google search turns up references to the Uber of rental services, the Uber of tutoring and even the Uber of bathrooms. (Not sure I want to know more about that one.)

Despite its overuse, however, there’s good reason people (including me) are uber-referencing Uber. Metaphors work. Sometimes even more that we realize.

For instance, I was in a strategy session where the talk was all about supply chains. We were seeking a different way of understanding our client’s business when it dawned on us that “supply chain” itself had become so ubiquitous we failed to recognize that it’s already a metaphor. The simple exercise of revisiting it unlocked a breakthrough new idea.

In another case we were struggling with the positioning for a company that was respected but (there’s no other way to say it) boring. One direction felt particularly correct, but nobody was very excited about it.

After an awkward, pregnant pause someone said, “You know, we’re not the kind of company you want to date, but we are the kind you want to marry.” The tone of the room transformed as the perception of the positioning shifted, and it was adopted with enthusiasm (and I’m happy to report has been proven a winner).

And then there was the tech startup for which we were raising seed capital from existing industry players. The closing statement in the pitch presentation was, “You all are bookstores. This idea is Amazon. The only question is whether or not you want to own it.” As you might suspect, we raised a lot of money.

Metaphors work for the simple reason that they make the unfamiliar familiar. In brand strategy, for example, there’s a standard approach by which one first determines a brand’s “frame of reference” and then identifies its “point of difference.” Usually the frame of reference is a category of similar products or services -- insurance belongs with insurance, soft drinks with soft drinks, and industrial machinery with industrial machinery. This approach works well when you’re trying to differentiate a brand within an existing framework.

But when the task is bigger than that -- such as the need to reposition or even resurrect a company -- it can be helpful to examine different frames of reference using the power of metaphor.

“How would we sell our insurance in the soft drink aisle?” “What would we call our soft drink if it was an industrial machine?“ How would we position our industrial machine if it was insurance?” These examples are a bit far-fetched, but then again perhaps not. You never know where a helpful parallel will arise.

A good metaphor helps you pour the confusion you’re facing into a container you can examine and see if anything settles out. It can be used to understand a challenge, frame an opportunity, define a market or identify a new direction. It’s a fruitful way to generate strategic options you may not have thought of before, even if some of them are nonsensical.

Creativity is often simply the combination of two previously unrelated ideas, so it can indeed be enlightening to ask, “How could we apply the Uber model to our industry?” Or “Could we develop a pricing platform like Amazon Prime?” Or “How would Apple package our product?” The possibilities are limited only by the comparisons you can conceive, which is why metaphors can be such a helpful tool.

You have to have a sense of adventure and be willing to go down a variety of different avenues, some of which may be dead ends. But it’s also kind of fun. It may feel odd at first, but strategy-by-metaphor is a vehicle that can take you wherever you need to go. Kinda like an Uber.

Why forethought matters when establishing your advisory board

The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Read previous SmartBrief posts by YEC.

If you enjoy this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter for entrepreneurs.

Q. What is one thing to always keep in mind when initially setting up a stellar advisory board for your business?

1. Determine what the advisory board is

For It seems obvious, but sometimes we do things because we look for ways to fill our time. Determine what you’re hoping to get out of setting up an advisory board. Understand why you’re seeking help, and how the board will serve you on your journey. -- Ismael Wrixen, FE International

2. Seek a mix of experience

Pick people that you want to spend time with. You want to make sure the two of you get along great, and that you value that person’s opinion and experience. Make sure to have a mix of advisers, too. Ideally, not everyone will have similar backgrounds, and try to diversify the experience that they have so that when you need something or have a question, then you have a great person to go to. -- Jayna Cooke, EVENTup

3. Ensure there's diversity and inclusion

Our biggest priority when setting up an advisory board is diversity. Diversity in gender, race, experience, expertise and industry, for instance. We are intentional about including all areas of expertise that we may need to call upon at some point during our entrepreneurial journey and make sure to bring on advisers who will continuously challenge our work with their knowledge on a particular subject. -- Matt Hunckler, Powderkeg

4. Find people who really care

What you want in an adviser is someone who actually cares deeply about what you are doing. I've seen so many founders bring on advisers who seemed like a great fit, but what makes the difference between a good adviser and an incredible one is someone who is hugely passionate about what you are doing. Always look for passion in addition to skill set. -- Beth Doane, Main & Rose

5. Seek council, not advice

Everyone is eager to give you their advice. However, council comes from those who have deep industry experience and have been in your shoes before. Finding advisers who can give you council should be your aim. Remember, the important quality in an adviser is that they are excited about your business and wants to help you. Having a stellar adviser that never answers your calls does you no good. -- Arian Radmand, TurnGram

6. Make sure they truly get what you're trying to accomplish

It's important to find those who can advise you on what you are doing truly get what you are trying to do, and how your products or services are assisting a particular audience. This is critical to get the best connections and strategic recommendations. -- John Rampton, Calendar

7. Find advisers who can open doors

The right advisory board can not only give you great advice, but also put you in contact with industry players who can make moves that benefit your company. Find people with industry experience and a network you can leverage to grow your business. -- Vik Patel, Future Hosting

8. Choose members who can listen

Way too often, advisory members are involved in companies as a way of stroking their ego. Being selected as an adviser intrinsically comes with a sense of empowerment, which might indicate that the knowledge and experience is one-directional. Advisers will often impart their opinion on the company's activities without truly listening to its unique challenges. Choose advisers who can listen. -- Diego Orjuela, Cables & Sensors

9. Have a spot for key positions

Just like building an athletic team you want to make sure you have the right players on the field. You want to make sure you have a marketing, legal, strategy and finance executive on your advisory board. That way you are analyzing your business from a 360-degree scope -- Anthony Davani, The Davani Group Inc.

10. Study their rrack Record

Look for those that have a track record of running their own businesses successfully or investing in and growing companies that have succeeded. These are the masterminds you want to have on your board to get you to the same place. -- Murray Newlands, Sighted

11. Have their equity vest over time

The time of the best advisers is very limited and extremely valuable. To keep your advisers motivated to continue to add value to your company over time, give them a piece of your company's equity pie, but on a vesting schedule. The vesting schedule will help hold them accountable if they are rockstars in the first few months, but do not add as much value to your company down the road. -- Doug Bend, Bend Law Group, PC

12. Don't forget that trust Is earned

Advisers should be mentors and peers that are trustworthy and will steer your business in the right direction, and not just in "their" right direction. They should be objective, insightful and continue guiding you through your journey in a way that allows you to achieve your goals. But trust should be earned, and not assumed. Ensure your board has earned their place at the table. -- Blair Thomas, eMerchantBroker

3 ideas to help drive change in your company

According to a Deloitte Consulting study, 88% of executives state that to build an “organization of the future,” they must transform their business practices. Transformation requires extensive change, which is difficult. Or is it?

In the Harvard Business Review article "Stop Using the Excuse that Organizational Change is Hard," organizational psychologist Nick Tasler writes that we’ve come to believe the trope that “change is difficult.” Tasler observes that many change initiatives do actually achieve success, but negative biases “can create a toxic self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Perhaps changes isn’t as difficult as we think it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are legitimate barriers to transformation, both personal and organizational. Consider these three factors to help you sort out your change management challenges.

Outdated change-management philosophies

Many change-management practices are rooted in philosophies that are nearly three decades old. The problem is, many of them don’t take into account today’s business realities. Many change management systems are aimed at helping organizations maneuver through a specific, large-scale change rather than dealing with myriad micro-changes that leaders and their employees continually experience. Many of the models are linear and process-oriented, with the framework of grief or loss as their conceptual underpinning.

“Modern change management theory is based on a model of destruction, whereas the change management theory that I have found actually works for individuals and organizations is based on a model of creation,” writes Dana Theus of InPower Coaching. Theus advocates for leaders to see change as an act of creation, and invite people into the change process earlier.

New York Times-bestselling author Cy Wakeman believes it’s time to move past the “stages of grief” philosophy common in many change management models. In her latest book, "No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results," Wakeman writes, “Although change can indeed be a challenge, I don’t see how it make sense to grieve the natural and inevitable changes required to make a business successful in the same way as we would a death.”

Reframing the change-management conversation

Traditional change-management models that are based on loss and driven by a select few at the top of the organization tend to frame employees as helpless casualties. When a small cadre of leaders assume the majority of responsibility for managing change, it “generates negative energy and passive participants,” writes Theus.  

Wakeman concurs: "When people are allowed to remain passive it breeds contempt,” which makes employees even less likely to engage in the change.

Wakeman advocates a shift in the way we talk about coping with change. Calling change management “so 1990s,” she suggests that we move from “managing change” to developing “business readiness” in employees. In the former, leaders bear the burden of softening the blow of the changes from employees. The latter helps develop a change-ready workforce.

“To be relevant in the future, leaders need to leave change management theories in the past and focus instead on ‘readiness’ by developing employees’ future potential on a daily basis,” writes Wakeman. “Effective leaders help people understand that change is inevitable, necessary and neutral.”

Leaders can do this through daily “downloads” of easy-to-digest information that create a workforce that’s ready for what’s next. They don’t shield people from reality, or invest excessive amounts of time with work arounds so that people will be more comfortable with the change.

Resilience as a key competency for change readiness

The key to being ready for whatever your workday brings is resilience.

Dean Becker is managing director of Adaptiv Learning, a company that provides resilience training. Becker has studied resilience for nearly two decades. Resilience is about “bouncing back” says Becker. Beyond that, it’s also about staying focused when there is ambiguity or oncoming change in your work situation. Speaking at the WorkHuman conference, Becker defined resilience as “the intelligent deployment of limited resources.”

“Most of us have wasted precious time and resources trying to solve problems over which we have little or no control,” says Becker.

Leaders and employees alike need to learn to put their resources where they’re likely to do the most good. But we’re often tripped up by what Becker terms our “habitual patterns of thought” -- some of which lead to unproductive thinking. This dwelling in what “should” happen, or what’s “not fair” leads to what Wakeman calls “emotional waste”: mentally wasteful thought processes or unproductive behavior that keeps leaders or their teams from delivering the highest level of results.

Both Becker and Wakeman say that we can learn to redirect these unproductive thought patterns. Wakeman encourages leaders to give brief, targeted feedback, then encourage employees to reflect on their past actions and focus on the reality of their current situation.

Becker adds, “We all have habitual patterns of thought -- about ourselves, our world, our future -- that can interfere with our ability to accurately assess problems and find solutions.” With practice retraining our thinking, we can make better choices, he says.

Moving through change is a challenge but one worth attempting. As Tasler observes, “Change is hard in the same way that it’s hard to finish a marathon. Yes, it requires significant effort. But the fact that it requires effort doesn’t negate the fact that most people who commit to a change initiative will eventually succeed.”

Think about the changes you’ll ask of your team over the course of the next few months. How can you rethink your change management practices to help your team become more change-ready?


Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook community The People Equation and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

Understanding the executive search process

Dennis C. MillerThis post is an adapted excerpt from “A Guide to Recruiting Your Next CEO,” by Dennis C. Miller, which you can buy here. The book helps nonprofit executive search committees identify ideal candidates for their organization and learn which questions to ask so that the new hire is a perfect fit. Miller has written three other books related to nonprofit governance as well as an autobiography. 

If you enjoy this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have newsletters for HR executives and nonprofit board members, all free to sign up.


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

Your organization’s CEO just announced that she is resigning or retiring from her position. Now what? You relied on her for so much, from human resource management to fundraising. Now what do you do?

Before you embark on this tremendous responsibility, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who on our executive team or board has extensive experience with chief executive recruitment?
  • Who has the knowledge and insight to identify the required skills and experience the new CEO will need to be effective in this role?
  • How likely are we to recruit and persuade candidates who are happy in their current positions to leave their organizations to work for us?
  • Who will do the actual work of recruiting, screening and performing initial reviews of candidates?
  • What will the ultimate cost be for taking on this task internally, compared with the cost of retaining a search rm?
  • Can we use the search process as an opportunity to become a better organization?

As an experienced executive search recruiter for the nonprofit sector, I admit that I am biased against any attempt to recruit your next chief executive on your own. My observation has been that boards who take on the CEO recruitment challenge without professional help are apt to limit their search to applicants who are actively seeking new employment.

While it is, of course, possible to find a qualified CEO this way, you are still working with an incomplete picture of the executive talent available to you. A professional search consultant will expand your candidate pool to include highly motivated, high-performing executives who are not currently in the market for a new position.

The biggest reason given by boards to conduct their search themselves is to avoid the fee for engaging a retained search rm. Retainer search consultants charge a percentage of the chief executive’s base salary, usually in the range of 20% to 30%. If your CEO’s salary is $200,000 and your search fee is 25%, your expense for conducting the search will be $50,000. However, when you find a successful match, the amortization of this fee over the course of your next chief executive officer’s tenure in your organization could be $5,000 per year if they remain in their job for a period of 10 years.

I will be the first to say that executive recruiters are not always perfect and they do occasionally misinterpret the quality of a match between CEO and organization. However, unless an experienced executive recruiter serves on your board, it can be a costlier endeavor in the long run to recruit your next CEO on your own. In fact, most organizations seriously underestimate the time and energy that will be required by the board to conduct a search. Combine that with the risk that a poor match will require a repeat search within a year (which most search firms will take on at no additional charge). Your organization will suffer as board and staff energy are funneled away from core activities such as programming, public relations and fundraising. And make no mistake: Major individual and institutional donors will become concerned when your organization is operating for an extended period without a chief executive.

Once you have made your decision to perform the search either internally or hire an experienced search firm, I recommend the following process for searching for your next chief executive officer:

  1. Identify the strategic challenges the new CEO will be faced with in your organization along with the skills and experience needed to effectively address them. What is your desired future direction? What specific strategic goals and implementation plan needs to be developed to achieve the new vision?
  2. Conduct an objective, in-depth assessment of your organization and board governance to determine your strengths and any areas in need of improvement related to best operating and governance practices.
  3. Develop a comprehensive customized position and ideal candidate profile for the CEO. This profile will include the specific competencies and experiences you are seeking in your next CEO.
  4. Conduct a targeted search into organizations and sectors that align with your organization to identify executives with the relevant skill sets and qualifications required by your organization.
  5. Develop a list of qualified prospects for consideration.
  6. Approach potential candidates to test their interest in the new position, communicate the strengths of your organization, and persuade strong candidates to consider the new opportunity.
  7. Organize a board-level search committee to screen candidates and schedule interviews.
  8. Present the most qualified candidates to meet with the search committee after conducting in-depth interviews and reference checks.
  9. Select the most qualified candidate and o er them the position.
  10. Negotiate a compensation package and other related benefits.
  11. Notify all candidates who applied and interviewed for the position and thank them for applying.
  12. Provide a plan for onboarding and ongoing support for your new CEO.

Developing the Ideal Position Profile

It is amazing to me how many times I have asked members of the senior team and board to describe the experiences, qualifications and knowledge they wish to have in their next chief executive and they answer, “We want someone just like our current CEO.”

Now, I will agree that is a nice endorsement of your current CEO. I am glad to know he or she is well-respected and admired by your organization. But the challenges and opportunities that confronted your former CEO may be very different from those facing your organization today and in the coming years.

Wouldn’t it be better to identify the strategic challenges ahead and the new leadership skill sets needed by your next chief executive officer to meet them?

If you would like to see a sample position profile for a new CEO, there is one on my website.

Teach your team how to disrupt

Disruption is keeping executives awake at night: How to handle market curve balls that come out of nowhere? How to plan for the future when your product, service or supply chain is obsolete today? How to allocate resources, train, and develop people for jobs you can’t even imagine yet?

People smarter than I have declared there’s no silver bullet for dealing with disruption. But, as you break down silos, adopt agile innovation strategies, employ enterprise risk management or business continuity management, and seize the white space, consider what research is proving may be the bronze bullet for dealing with disruption: proactive self leaders, those who have the mindset and skill set to get what they need to succeed.

Consider these recent findings:

  • The essential factor for the success of an organizational initiative is the proactive behavior of self leaders.
  • Employees with proactive self leadership skills are more likely to accept responsibility, take initiative, generate ideas, problem solve, job craft, ask for feedback, hold themselves accountable, execute strategy, understand their needs, and ask for help when appropriate.
  • Proactive behavior is teachable.

If you want innovation and agility, enlist the individual contributors on the front lines of the battlefield. But focusing on training individual contributors requires a shift in priorities -- from a single focus on leadership training to a broadened approach that includes developing the folks on the other side of the equation.

Here are three ways to begin teaching your individual contributors the skills of proactive self leadership.

1. Set goals together.

Communicate what the organization needs to operate at an elevated level, and then collaborate on how the individual can best contribute. Help individuals to accept responsibility for the quality of their goals by teaching them how to…

  • Seek clarity if a goal isn’t specific, measurable, time-bound or trackable.
  • Negotiate if a goal isn’t attainable, relevant or fair.
  • Reframe if a goal isn’t optimally motivated to them.

You may be surprised to discover when people see what’s needed for the organization to succeed and are asked what part they want to play, they set and commit to higher goals than if you hand them their marching orders.

2. Diagnose their own level of development.

A primary role of a leader is to develop their direct reports. That means being able to diagnose an individual’s competence and commitment related to their goal. All leaders should be encouraged to do just that. But, the best person to evaluate their level of competence and commitment toward an outcome is the person themselves.

Expand your leadership training to teach individuals how to acknowledge their own skill and ability to complete a task or goal. Teach them how to gauge their own confidence and motivation to achieve the goal.

Partnering takes two equals sharing their insights. It’s hard to be agile when one side of the partnership is lacking the ability to effectively contribute.

3. Initiate proactive conversation.

Teach individual contributors to use the powerful “I need” statement to get just-in-time leadership.

Research shows that feedback is far more effective when asked for. People are more likely to take action on problems they’ve helped solve. Take the guesswork out of what an individual contributor needs to succeed by encouraging proactive conversations asking for direction and support. Imagine an employee who manages up: “I understand what’s expected of me, but since I’m new to this goal, I need more direction on how to do it and an action plan for how to proceed.”

There may be no silver bullet for dealing with disruption and constant change, but transforming individual contributors into proactive self leaders may be the bronze bullet that gives everyone a better fighting chance.


Susan Fowler is the co-author of the newly revised "Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager" with Ken Blanchard and Laurence Hawkins, and lead developer of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Self Leadership product line. She is also the author of the bestseller "Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does." Fowler is a senior consulting partner at The Ken Blanchard Cos. and a professor in the Master of Science in Executive Leadership Program at the University of San Diego.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

Considering a redesign of your business? Avoid these mistakes

When faced with myriad and entrenched challenges, redesigning a business or function is often a necessary step for many companies. Understanding when to commence this process and how to go about it is even more crucial, because according to a 2016 Robert Half Management Resources survey, 46% of redesigns fail during the execution phase.

Here's the good news: Implementation errors are often just a matter of leaders not knowing what options are available to them.

Sidestepping struggles: When a propensity to act and operational thinking become inhibitors to effective prganization design

Right out of the gate, a massive inhibitor to effective organization design work is taking a hyperfocused view or falling back to “operational thinking.” C-suite executives tend to compartmentalize their company's divisions and think of patches of work: strategic business unit, marketing, supply chain, etc. They often lose the plot and focus instead on customers and what truly adds value, leaving human resources to worry about people and culture. The consequence of this is more fragmentation.

Another error is thinking that organization redesign is the same as changing reporting relationships and organization charts -- or confusing it with levels and spans of control. As today's businesses thrive on integrated value streams and communities, businesses must be realistic about the scope of a redesign and the effort it takes to implement it. While those comparatively cosmetic changes may result in cost reduction and be quicker to enact, they do little to change the comprehensive structure of a company.

An organization redesign is one of largest business transformations a leader could implement, so it’s important to remember that a good redesign is a process. It must be managed step-by-step — from the initial planning all the way through implementation and the critical stabilization period that follows.

For example, OTM has completed redesigns in as fast as 32 days for a global business function, but it was the single priority of the executive team, staff and business. OTM also redesigned a 5,000-person business spread across three countries and 12 sites in four months. An executive stated that together we made more progress in one month than the company had in the previous two years.

Lastly, companies often make a final error by not engaging their people in every phase. Staff and leadership must share one outlook, and not collaborating with employees appropriately — and, more importantly, not including them in the design processcan result in failure.

Avoiding these mistakes is a priority. But what should you be doing?

  1. Refrain from overdesigning. Organization redesign works best when a leader leaves some "white space" where employees can inject their own expertise into the blueprints. A good rule of thumb is to design only about 75% of the plan. Overly detailed plans are, in practice, brittle and difficult to implement. Instead, white space allows for flexibility and adaptability.
  2. Ensure your team members are an integral part of the process. Your employees' opinions matter, and by including their perspectives, you leverage one of your greatest resources: the "wisdom of the crowd." An inclusive process encourages retention, productivity and, hopefully, enthusiastic acceptance of the new design, because when those who have to implement the solution own it, that leads to a collective commitment to its success.
  3. Ensure adjustments are holistic. Management mechanisms should match any organization redesign. Managers in all areas of the business, from HR to manufacturing, must be clear that a change in one part of the organization can have a significant impact elsewhere. A key aspect of redesigns is “work transfer” — i.e., carefully orchestrating new roles and duties — and having clear mechanisms for smooth work transfer makes all of the difference in effective redesign.

Redesign is often vital to thriving in a continually evolving marketplace. But it's helpful only when it's done well. Fortunately, it's entirely possible to steer clear of a narrowly focused, unrealistic, and overly top-down approach. By building ample flexibility, inclusiveness, and the right management mechanisms into your plan, you will launch a successful redesign that will benefit everyone.


Mark LaScola is founder and managing principal of ON THE MARK. In business for 27 years, OTM is a global leader in collaborative organization design and business transformation. LaScola’s passion for collaborative business transformation sits at the heart of OTM, supported by pragmatism, systems thinking, and belief in people. Find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

The necessity of consistency

Each month, When Growth Stalls examines why businesses and brands struggle and how they can overcome their obstacles and resume growth. Steve McKee is the president of McKee Wallwork + Co., an advertising agency that specializes in working with stalled, stuck and stale brands. The company was recognized by Advertising Age as 2015 Southwest Small Agency of the Year. McKee is also the author of “When Growth Stalls” and “Power Branding.”

SmartBrief offers more than 200 newsletters, including SmartBrief on Leadership and newsletters for small businesses and marketers and advertisers.

The necessity of consistency

At the risk of triggering an unpleasant high school flashback, here’s a pop quiz. Take two minutes and see if you can conjure up the current slogans of the following 10 brands (no Googling allowed):

  1. Pampers
  2. Gillette
  3. L’Oreal
  4. Chevrolet
  5. Louis Vuitton
  6. Ford
  7. Coca-Cola
  8. Amazon
  9. Sony
  10. AT&T

How’d you do? The answers are at the bottom of this article, but if you’re like most people you probably already know you failed. Badly. Unlike in 11th grade, however, flunking this quiz is perfectly OK. In fact, if you knew more than a handful of these brands’ slogans you’re watching too much TV.

Whenever we conduct this exercise with clients, most get only one or two correct, and many none at all. The point? These are 10 of the biggest advertising spenders in the world and we don’t know their slogans. That’s their problem, not ours, but it’s also instructive. It never ceases to amaze me how the principles of branding mirror the principles of human engagement.

In advertising as in life, what you say isn’t as important as what you do. As "Power Branding" Principle No. 32 puts it, “A slogan is the ribbon around the package, not the prize inside.”

Consistent branding

While we may be unfamiliar with these brands’ taglines, we’re well-aware of the brands themselves and have a good sense of where they stand, for good or ill. Their actions communicate more than their advertising.

Beyond that, trust takes time to develop. A generation ago, “A diamond is forever,” “Just do it,” “We try harder,” “Where’s the beef?” and “We bring good things to life” had room to take root for DeBeers, Nike, Avis, Wendy’s and GE.

Today, we live in an instant infotainment environment in which we’ve all been burned by fake news and false promises. Good reputations are difficult to develop and, given the fact that now everyone’s a publisher, even harder to maintain. 

Together, these dynamics underscore the importance of consistency. Whether you’re building a reputation for your brand, your company, or your career, a snappy turn of phrase won’t cut it. It’s important that you be “true” not only from top to bottom but over the course of time. No company, no brand, and no leader is infallible, but unless your focus is on what Eugene Peterson called “a long obedience in the same direction” you’re likely to trip yourself up.

Consistency is as essential as it is unexciting, and the lack of it is a hallmark of struggling organizations. One of the reasons slogans perform poorly in advertising-awareness testing is that brands tend to change their campaigns long before they’re fully exposed to the marketplace. And, in our research among Inc. 500 companies, we found that frequent campaign changeovers correlated highly with stalled growth.

It may be redundant but it bears repeating: When you start over, you’re starting over. Whether it’s the result of boredom, turnover in the C-suite, or any one of a dozen other reasons, changing for change’s sake is often ill-advised, not to mention expensive. Hypocrisy is even worse.

Legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow once said, “Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions.”  That statement is truer than ever. Taglines come and go, but an honest brand (or leader) must stand the test of time. People pay far less attention to what you say than what you do.


Answer key: Pampers -- Love Sleep and Play; Gillette -- The best a man can get; L’Oreal -- Because you're worth it; Chevrolet -- Find New Roads; Louis Vuitton -- L.V the Truth; Ford -- Go Further; Coca-Cola -- Taste the Feeling; Amazon -- Earth's most customer-centric company; Sony -- Be Moved; AT&T -- Mobilizing your world,

Consider a framework approach to link employee productivity and business performance

We live in a golden age for business where we are awash in technology yet still cannot seem to reliably manage projects. Even boosting productivity seems to be an incredible challenge.

The link between employee productivity to company performance remains elusive to many companies. It is common for companies to increase investment in boosting productivity but not see the return in the form of company performance. Most managers do attempt to take planning and leadership seriously, but these efforts are not paying off.

One solution-focused methodology exists, however, in the form of a framework that can help companies align their employee’s productivity to company performance. Robert Kaplan of Harvard Business School developed a strategic planning and management system called The Balanced Scorecard. The framework was developed to manage strategy rather than just capture a snapshot of it.

The Balanced Scorecard overview

The Balanced Scorecard is a strategic planning and management system that is used by companies to accomplish four critical objectives for every business: vision communication, operations alignment with strategy, project prioritization, and company performance relative to strategic goals.

The system accomplishes a lot by connecting the big-picture strategy of an organization with the day-to-day work of employees. This system identifies mission, vision, core values, focus areas, operational objectives, KPI measures, targets and initiatives.

The BSC is based on four “perspectives”: financial, stakeholder, internal and organizational capacity. In this article, we will be focusing on the internal perspective, which examines the productivity of employees, incentives, key processes and general efficiency.

Preparing the link: Total alignment

While the framework itself can produce strong insights and a management system for executives, the BSC will not work well until it is integrated across the organization. It is a management system and can be scaled down from companywide management to the level of team management. With a total alignment of performance and productivity management an organization can gain: a common “language” for agency managers; same page understanding for interpreting measurement results; and an integrated picture of the agency overall.

If you are in upper management, make sure that any discussions of the BSC that are being considered also have managers at all levels use the framework as a medium of discussing business performance with each other.

Productivity KPI links to performance

After an extensive process with the BSC, you will eventually have to identify key performance indicators to track productivity and progress towards achieving optimal company performance. Below are a few you can use to track productivity for both remote and on-site employees.

  • Tasks completed. Employee monitoring is typically thought of as a means to improving productivity, but when employers put it to practice, it is usually only in the context of time tracking or computer activity. While these two data points provide a lot of useful data, they do not provide insight into tracking the progress of achieving the mission of your business. Instead, tracking tasks can provide insights on individual performance and how it ties closely to business goals. Paired with time tracking, you will have enough data to alter processes in a meaningful way for employees.
  • Benchmarking with revenue per employee (total revenue/FTE). The next metric is a financial one that can provide a companywide measurement of performance of the average employee. This metric can be good for benchmarking individual contributions against others in the team and progress towards company strategic goals. Revenue per employee is a measure of total revenue divided by the number of full-time-equivalent employees in the organization.
  • Passive time tracking. If you’re attempting to boost productivity, then the last thing you want is more paperwork for your employees. In this case it would be a timesheet every week. Fortunately, technology allows for passive time tracking. On an employee level, this simply means one click of a button to start the timer while they’re working. As a manager, passive time tracking can provide data in the form of background screenshots, application usage, idle time versus active time, and customized indicators.

Together, passive time tracking, task measurement and financial benchmarking can provide complete data sets for productivity analysis. Scale this up even further to link to the BSC, and you will be able to have a comprehensive profile to benchmark employee productivity levels to company performance.


Isaac Kohen started out in quantitative finance by programming trading algorithms at a major hedge fund. His time spent in the financial world and exposure to highly sensitive information triggered his curiosity for IT security. He worked as an IT security consultant for several years where he spearheaded efforts to secure the IT infrastructure of companies with masses of confidential data. He decided to focus on algorithms targeting user behavior to find outliers within the companies he consulted with to help detect insider threats, founding his company, Teramind. Kohen is CEO and also leads product development, with a strong focus on productivity and efficiency in developing the product. He has years of experience increasing productivity in remote teams. Kohen can be reached at


If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. Every Monday, the newsletter highlights ways to be more productive without working longer hours.