The Best Advice for Leaders

This post is a companion to the interview with Skip Prichard, CEO OCLC on  VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on December 19, 2017Nine Secrets to Creating a Successful Future. The blog was written by Skip. 

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever heard was from Jim Rohn. He said, “Work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”

That struck me as particularly odd at first, but this simple wisdom stuck with me and became a part of my thinking.

“Self-development is a higher duty than self-sacrifice.” –Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to work hard on your job. It will help you stand out, get noticed, and advance your career.

But, if you stop there, you’ll miss out. Working on yourself pays far better than a salary. When you work on your own personal development, you start an almost magical process. Your capabilities expand with each new skill and that sets you up for new opportunities that you likely can’t even imagine.

Take advantage of the magic of personal development, of working harder on yourself than on your job. You’ll be glad you did.

And, I must also mention that my upcoming book, The Book of Mistakes: 9 Secrets to Creating a Successful Future, will help you on the personal development journey. I share the nine personal development secrets that the most successful leaders employ.

About the author

Skip Prichard is an accomplished CEO, growth-oriented business leader, and keynote speaker. He is known for his track record of successful re-positioning companies and dramatically improving results while improving the corporate culture. He is a keynote speaker on topics ranging from leadership, personal development. growth strategies culture, corporate turnarounds, and the future of publishing. His views have been featured in print and broadcast media including the BBC, The New York Times, CNN, NPR, The Daily Beast, Harvard Business Review, Information Today, the Bookseller, Publishers Weekly, Christian Retailing, and the Library journal.

Click here to take advantage of pre-order bonuses, including 3 leadership e-books with every order.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

At C-Level #11: Creating a Vision and Sense of Urgency

Mike Sayre is a highly experienced and successful software, e-commerce, and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO, and Board Director. He is an Executive Leadership Development Coach at the Innovative Leadership Institute, a trusted partner inspiring and enabling perpetual innovation, evolution, and growth in leaders and their businesses. Mike was featured in Maureen Metcalf’s May 2017 Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview on VoiceAmerica entitled “7 Characteristics of Leadership 2020 In Practice: A CEO Story.”

In At C-Level #10-18, I write about three of the most successful transformations I’ve had the opportunity to lead in my career so far, following a seven-step transformation model similar to the Metcalf & Associates Innovative Leadership Transformation Model below. This blog is about the first step in the process.


Create a Vision & Sense of Urgency

“Starting with the end in mind” is important when beginning any new transformation. However, having a vision of what is at the end of a transformation is not enough. The vision must be so compelling to those leading the transformation and those in the organization being transformed that all involved are impassioned and feel an intense sense of urgency to make it happen.

Do you and your team have a vision you are passionately working toward in your organization? How urgently is everyone working toward that vision? What drives that urgency, or lack thereof?

Here is how the visions were created and the sense of urgency developed in the three transformations I outlined in At C-Level #10:

  • Large Manufacturing Company. Early in my career as a new financial analyst at a $2B heavy manufacturer with over 60 operations worldwide, I wanted to learn all I could about the business and the people in it. I visited plants and met with plant controllers and general managers, I asked lots of questions to better understand their businesses and their needs. The controllers were still using antiquated accounting systems and spreadsheets to produce their monthly financials and had little time for much else. The general managers were anxious to better understand the financial aspects of their operations and the potential new investments they were proposing to Corporate. They wanted more resources, but didn’t understand that they had the right resources in their controllers—they just weren’t using them very efficiently.

The vision became clear to me and I began sharing it with everyone who would listen. The controllers spending most of their time in their offices working on accounting and financial reporting needed to be upgraded to financial business partners in their business units. That vision resonated with both controllers and general managers and catapulted me into leading a significant organizational transformation that affected a large part of the corporation and, up to that point, was the largest transformation project in my career.

What are the challenges in your organization that would have the greatest positive impact if things were changed? Do you have ideas on what those changes should be? Will people see the urgency in making those needed changes?

  • Mid-Size Electronics Manufacturing Services Company. As a new CFO in this company, I led a financial turnaround of an unprofitable $25M company to a $15M profitable one. Three years of significant revenue growth later, we had become a $75M company. However, we were making about the same profits as we did at $15M! I was then promoted to my first CEO job to “fix” it. I immediately jumped into talking with people across the company to get a sense of the challenges we were facing. We were still trying to run a $75M company like we ran the $15M company. Overall people liked the company, but they were lacking general direction, goals, motivation, processes—and more than a little structure. There was a lot of work to be done, but toward what? …and where should we start?

Having never been a CEO, I employed a leadership development coach who made me go deep into myself and define my personal purpose in life, as well as my own personal vision, that I could very closely link to a vision for the company. After much soul-searching, I also wrote draft missions and general operating philosophies for the whole leadership team to help me refine so that all could buy in. Knowing what we were doing was not working, and, with a downturn looming, we could be in serious trouble again, a very high sense of urgency drove us to a vision that was essentially “to be the best in the world at what we do.” As vague as that vision was, being the best in the world (not the biggest) mostly meant we needed to be a vastly different company than we were, in everything from leadership to strategy to execution. It opened people’s minds to substantial change.

The vision was a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) and it drew people in. Do you have a BHAG that could energize your organization?

  • Global Internet Payments Company. As a management consultant in this business, I could see that the company was vastly underperforming despite having some great talent and a significant global business opportunity. The business had grown to processing over $200M in payment transactions per year in 200+ countries and was still operating as startup with the same culture it started with for most of its ten years in existence. The organization was operating in silos and simply just tossing their problems over the wall for other departments to fix, which never seemed to happen. People were no longer as happy working there as they once were. A significant cultural transformation was needed to get the company back to higher levels of profitability and prepare it for a possible sale. But what would that look like? And where should we start?

After a few months, I was hired as COO. I immediately drafted missions, visions, and operating guidelines for the executive team to further develop and adopt. We eventually dropped the idea of a stated vision and adopted a mission of “We help our Sellers sell more!” That mission really helped the leadership team focus every day, week, and month. But frankly, it was the combination of the mission, improvement in leadership (we brought in a leadership development coach for the entire leadership team) and the operating guidelines that drove the entire organizational transformation. While not stated, the vision was of a company providing the highest value to its clients (the sellers using its payment services), growing in its financial value, with everyone working in harmony toward those reaching the first two goals. We talked about these three things all the time.

If your vision is not stated, what might be the “behind the scenes” vision for the company? Could it be stated to rally the troops and reach it faster together? Do you talk about your mission and goals on a regular basis?

Key takeaways from these transformations

The larger, more complex and/or faster-evolving an organization’s environment is, the higher the need for a stated vision that everyone can rally around and work toward in transforming the organization to get it to the next level. Does your organization need a stated vision?

To develop a great vision, you must know yourself, your organization, and what will stir deep passion and a sense of urgency within you, as well as the people you will be leading on this journey. Involve the leadership team in the process and get out and talk to others in the organization who have been, or will be, key to the success of the business. If you don’t know where you are going, what path do you follow? How will you know when you’ve arrived?

You don’t have to be a top leader of a large organization to start a transformation. If you can create a vision that…

  • you and others are passionate about,
  • is well thought out,
  • leverages your area(s) of expertise,
  • is widely recognized in the organization,
  • is supported by your leaders, and
  • is believed to be an urgent need with a real return on investment (in other words, a priority),

…and you have the confidence to step up, then you will have the opportunity to lead it. Is there a transformation in your organization waiting for someone to step forward and lead?

And lastly, if there is no sense of urgency, progress will be slow, at best. There is urgency as in a challenge that must be overcome, and urgency as in a destination everyone can’t wait to get too. What drives the urgency of your organization’s progress today? Can you combine the urgency of the challenges you face along the way with the urgency of getting to your destination to speed that progress up?

In “At C-Level #12: Building Transformation Teams,” we’ll look at how the teams were built in these same three organizations and what the key takeaways are that you may need to think about in building your transformation leadership team.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

Thanks for following us! To learn more about transforming organizations and/or get help, visit us at

BS in Business: Why Biological Blindspots Matter in Business

This blog is a companion to an interview with Rebecca Heiss on Voice America airing on November 28, 2017, What You Don’t See Can Hurt You focusing on implicit bias! This blog was written by Rebecca Heiss.

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “what do biological blind spots and bias have to do with business?” In other words, “why should I care if I’m subconsciously a bit biased like everyone else?”

The short answer is that without awareness of your blind spots, you could be undermining your performance as well as the performance of your colleagues. When people first think about implicit bias, most default to a discussion around skin color, but your biological blind spots go far beyond black and white (and all of the other skin variations we leave out of the discussion).

Your brain has a pre-programmed bias for race, gender, age, class, thinking style… you name it!  Whatever the bias, your brain has categorized it and made associations that “fit,” based upon an archaic formula that still primes you to crave fats and sugars despite the insane abundance in the modern environment.

Our stone-aged brain and the biases it subconsciously creates which drive our behaviors is, to put it mildly, out of touch.

The result is that your team suffers from these micro-level inter-company level competitions ultimately hurting your ability to compete where you want to – on the bigger market. The worst part is, your team (and you personally) won’t even recognize that you are doing it.

Aside from team efficacy, productivity and collaborative efforts, one of the biggest risks to business is homogeneity. While the ability to create a homogeneous product may be beneficial, a lack of diversity on the  team doing the creating can be hugely detrimental to the health and sustainability of a business.

I like to make an analogy to the stability of an environment based on biodiversity. If you as a company are established like Ireland in 1845 and only have a single crop, you’ve made yourself extraordinarily vulnerable to any blind spot, or disease, wiping you off the face of the map. To avoid mass starvation in your company, plant some other crops. New perspectives.

Obviously, diversity can produce an influx of new ideas and approaches to problems, but more interesting to me is that the mere presence of a diverse work team creates an air of discomfort. Our brains were programmed to be happy with our ingroups – people who looked, acted, behaved and were essentially carbon copies of us. When you put people together who don’t fit that mold, our brains get….well….nervous.


Low level discomfort like this actually promotes better problem solving as tensions are discussed openly. A recent study demonstrates that homogeneous groups, are more confident in their decisions, even though they are more often wrong in their conclusions, while a diverse group’s members will feel less confident despite being more accurate in their conclusions.

Confirmation bias and squelching of new ideas in homogeneous groups produces a false “feel-good we are all in this together” perspective that can render disastrous outcomes.


Just like working out the muscles in our body, having those uncomfortable discussions that hurt our brains a bit is the only way we grow and the only we can can start to uncover our own BS.

About the Author

Dr. Rebecca Heiss is an expert in human behavior and physiology and the founder/ CEO of a measurable stress reduction company, Instinctive Cognition. Working in the speaking and consulting industry Rebecca has developed a passion for helping others overcome blind spots to become their best biological selves. After earning a PhD with research designated as “transformative” by the National Science Foundation, Rebecca went on to hold multiple appointments in academia, applying her research to solve practical problems in overcoming what she refers to as “biological ghosts”—subconscious behaviors that haunt modern life. Described as a creative thought leader, she was honored to deliver a TEDx on a portion of her work and has built her career on helping others break through their evolutionary ethical “blind spots.” Having conquered the business of biology, Dr. Heiss has turned her focus to revolutionizing the biology of business.

Authenticity and Reflection are Keys to Leadership Success

This blog is a collaboration between guest blogger, BirchReports and Maureen Metcalf, CEO Metcalf & Associates. It is a companion to the Voice America Interview Building Leadership Self-Awareness using Leadership Type with Belinda Gore.

Abraham Lincoln is known for the emancipation of slaves and preserving the Union during the Civil Was. However, did you know that before he entered politics and was elected president, he experienced two business venture failures and lost eight different elections? If not for his persistence, humility, and ability to learn from his mistakes, he would not have managed to continue after multiple defeats, and the America we know today may be entirely different.

What does this story tell us? It’s that self-awareness and self-confidence demand that you learn from everything you do and are the drivers pushing you forward in pursuit of your dreams. Self-awareness and self-confidence allow you to build on successes as well as turn failures into future successes. Humility is a result of being aware of your own foibles. When you can look honestly at your strengths as well as your weaknesses, you’re able to focus on the organization’s greater good rather than personal gain. It is vital in business where change is rapid and ongoing, and where what worked in the past often doesn’t work in the same way it once did. Your future success requires authenticity and your ability to learn from every interaction, and it largely depends on your capacity to build relationships with a broad range of people—whether you are an employee or an entrepreneur. Authenticity and relationships evolve from a sense of self—from self-awareness, self-confidence—and a healthy dose of humility. While self-confidence and humility can seem in opposition, they need to be balanced with finesse because they show up as two sides of the image you project.

We recommend using assessments to help leaders build self-awareness. Metcalf + Associates offers an Innovative Leadership assessment and a Resilience assessment. In addition, the Sofia Wellness Clinic offers a wide range of self-scoring tools to promote self-awareness and wellbeing.

In the Leader 2050 blog, we talked about competency model for leaders of the future, the details about specific behaviors associated with humility, authenticity, and self-awareness, and the importance of collaboration.

To initiate contact with like-minded individuals, you need to put yourself forward, out there—and this requires self-confidence.

So, the next question might be, how do you build your confidence? As with other skills, it does not develop overnight. Instead, you need to build it over time. Below are some things to remember in building self-confidence.

Confidence starts from within and with self-awareness. Confidence is anchored in how you see yourself. In many instances, lack of confidence is rooted in self-doubt. Inc magazine says that having a negative mindset may lead to self-sabotage because you are effectively telling yourself that you cannot accomplish a goal even before you start working toward it. To put it simply, you’re setting yourself up for failure. By developing a practice such as mindfulness, you will be able to increase your self-awareness and increase your capacity to replace self-sabotage with confident self-perception. The video, “Building Resilience: Six Steps to Managing Negative Thinking” is a tool to help you identify and effectively navigate self-destructive thinking when it occurs.

Another option to build self-awareness is a self-evaluation in which you explore the areas in which you lack confidence—and the reasons for your lack of self-assurance. Once you recognize the reasons, determine which ones you can address through mindfulness and managing your thinking. One of the recommendations in the video includes shifting from negative thinking to gratitude. By focusing on what is working and what you’re grateful for—a solid intellect, a well-prepared presentation, the love you feel from friends, family, and colleagues who support you—you will have a more positive outlook. Every time you start to have negative thoughts, use the process in this video to minimize the impact of negative thinking and to increase your self-confidence. This shift requires constant self-awareness and management of your thought process. It is astounding how a small change in mindset and thinking can contribute significantly to your ability to learn from every interaction rather than getting discouraged and losing confidence.

What is often perceived as confidence has to do with how other people perceive you. Networking Times published an anecdote about a woman who gained self-confidence by acting like a confident person. Eventually, she managed to be the same person inside as she appeared on the outside. Being able to act with confidence and manage inner conversations that undermine your image starts with self-awareness and self-management. The concept is not a new one. For years we’re heard about the value of role-playing. It is a process that can take a significant amount of inner work, particularly during those times when self-doubt ebbs and flows.

How can someone’s perception make another more confident? A great portion of what people consider confidence has to do with how you project yourself to others around you. Your appearance, body language, and tone of voice already give others an idea of how you are feeling and what you are thinking, even without listening to the words you are saying. If all three do not inspire trust, then it’s less likely that the person you are conversing with will not hear what you have to say—because you may be giving the message that you are not confident with an idea, service, or product that you are trying to get others to buy in to. In a nutshell, we project to each other. If I present myself as confident and capable, and you perceive me as such, it is mirrored back to me and gives me greater confidence.

As a leader, exhibiting low confidence may also decrease your employees’ self-assurance in their performance of tasks as well. In contrast, if you demonstrate appropriate self-confidence—holding your head high, sitting or standing straight, and speaking assertively instead of haltingly—you are more likely to catch the attention of other people, and you are also more likely to be heard. Self-confidence is an interesting topic when combined with professional humility. In the blog focusing on the Leadership 2050 competencies, we talk about the first competency being professional humility. Like many facets of leadership, it is imperative for leaders to find the best balance between appropriate humility and self-confidence. As we prove ourselves over the course of our careers, it is easier to be humble and self-confident because we already have a strong reputation—and because we have a better understanding of the mistakes we’ve made and can measure our growth over time. Entrepreneur provides some tips that you can follow to help you present yourself with confidence to other people.

Confidence requires preparation. Think about public speakers you hold in high regard. Chances are, you admire them for their confidence and for being knowledgeable about the topics they discuss. The thing is, these speakers did a lot of preparation, including intensive studying, to become well-informed about the subject they approach. It is hard to manage how we are going to feel (self-confident) in a stressful situation, and preparation is a great countermeasure to reduce the number of things that could potentially go wrong. It is tough to be confident when you are running late, get lost, spill coffee on yourself, or realize you don’t know as much about your topic or the audience as you should. Allowing appropriate time to prepare pays great dividends in bolstering confidence. Investing time in preparation will allow you to become more knowledgeable about the topics and people with whom you are talking.
Get Feedback. Lincoln was a man of integrity who used a journal for self-reflection and sought the opinions of others. If there are areas where you believe you may need to build skills to feel confident and perform well, seek feedback from your mentors or colleagues. Often, we build our skills before we feel confident. It takes skill to see ourselves the way others see us, so getting ongoing feedback allows us to calibrate our sense of self with how others see us. Accurate self-awareness is one of the most important skills in leadership because if we are unaware of how others see us, we miss important cues. Self-awareness, self-confidence, and humility are intertwined. As leaders, we need to continually practice and evolve these skills.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

Proven Path to Leadership Maturity and Effectiveness

This post is a companion to the Voice America interview featuring Mike Morrow-Fox talking about leadership maturity and vertical development to build the leadership qualities required to lead large complex organizations and those that aspire to make the greatest impact.

The following article was first published by Forbes Coaches Council in August 2016.

Future trends indicate complexity, accelerated change, and near-constant uncertainty in the coming years. These conditions will require significantly different leadership skills.

With these new demands for evolving leadership, is there a predictable path to develop leadership? If so, what does that path look like?

Leaders develop both “horizontally,” increasing their ability at their current level of operation, and “vertically,” increasing their level of complexity, emotional maturity, and opening to new awareness. Many researchers are now saying that “vertical development” is required to navigate the complexities leaders and their organizations face.

To answer what the vertical evolutionary path looks like, I reference the research of Dr. Cook-Greuter, who developed a Leadership Maturity Framework (LMF) and measurement of adult development as part of her doctoral dissertation at Harvard University. Dr. Cook-Greuter is now the Co-Founder with Beena Sharma of The Center for Leadership Maturity, a firm that facilitates vertical development in individuals, teams and organizations. The LMF is the basis of my work with vertical leadership development because it provides a model that is both grounded in research and practical to use in coaching and leadership development.

Vertical development does not mean that more developed people are “better” people, but rather, in many cases, are likely to be more effective in key leadership roles within large complex organizations. The following is a brief summary of the LMF describing the predictable developmental trajectory people navigate as they grow:

The Group-Centric Level

This level is about conforming and belonging. People at this level follow rules, norms and observe hierarchy. They conform to social expectations, work to group standards, seek membership and approval, and appreciate outward signs of status as a sign of approval. They attend to the welfare of their own group; those who are not like them are the “other,” and therefore outside their circle of concern. They avoid conflict, think in simple terms, and often speak in generalities. Feedback is taken as disapproval since their driving value is to gain approval and be included.

Example: This is the employee who looks to what the group is doing to determine his actions. He looks to meet the “expectations” set by the organization, fit into the culture, and do what everyone does. Belonging is his key to success; standing out or having a different opinion feels risky

The Skill-Centric Level

This focuses on comparing self to others and perfecting skills. Individuals at this level focus on being competent in their own area of interest and improving techniques and efficiency. They aspire to quality standards and are often heavily invested in their way as the only way of doing things. Decisions are made based on incontrovertible “facts.” Given their focus on problem-solving and detail, they can get caught in the weeds and not see the big picture necessary to effectively prioritize among competing demands. All consuming attention on being right can lead them to be critical of and competitive with others. They hear feedback about their work as criticism of them as a whole person.

Example: This is the employee who points out when others make mistakes and tries to correct them so they can meet the standards. Her development efforts focus on building expertise. She usually has a “better” opinion unless she is in the presence of a subject-matter expert.

The Self-Determining Level

This focuses on analyzing and achieving to effectively deliver results. Leaders at this level look toward longer-term goals and initiate rather than follow expectations. They value objectivity and scientific knowledge, seeking rational, proactive ways around problems. They often seek consensus — “agree to disagree” — and value mutuality and equality in relationships. They accept feedback to promote learning and success.

Example: This employee continually drives to meet organizational goals. He works both efficiently and effectively and is continually competing with himself and others to drive the best results. He has a five-year plan, is open to new learning, and is beginning to be more reflective.

The Self-Questioning Level

This level focuses on self in relationship and contextualizing his/her experience. Leaders at this level are concerned with the difference between reality and appearance and have an increased understanding of complexity and unintended effects of actions. They begin to question their own assumptions and views and realize the subjectivity of beliefs; and talk of interpretations rather than facts. They can play different roles in different contexts and begin to seek out and value feedback.

Example: This employee is continually inquiring, challenging assumptions, and aware of the limitations of conventional thinking. She focuses on creating an environment where everyone feels valued. She is committed to appreciating value in different perspectives.

The Self-Actualizing Level

This level is about integrating and transforming self and systems, and recognizing higher principles, complexity and interrelationships. People at this level are aware of the social construction of reality — not just rules and customs. They are problem finding, not just doing creative problem solving. They are aware of paradox and contradiction in self and systems and learn to have a deep appreciation of others. They demonstrate a sensitivity to systemic change and create “positive-sum” games.

Example: This person is continually evaluating the organization’s strategy against long-term industry trends as well as global economic conditions while embodying her values and using herself as an instrument of transformation. She is self-aware and firmly anchored in principles while having the ability to adapt based on context.

As we look to the changes leaders are facing in the near and long term, it is helpful to have a robust model for development that allows them to focus their development energy effectively. This framework, along with it, measurement instrument — the maturity assessment for professionals (MAP) — is the most robust I have seen, and I find it highly effective in supporting leaders.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the author Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Innovative Leadership Institute, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

The Power To Get Things Done (Whether You Like It Or Not)

This blog was written by Chris Cooper as a companion to the VoiceAmerica Interview between Chris Cooper and Maureen Metcalf on June 20, 2017 about Chris’ book, The Power To Get Things Done (Whether You Feel Like It Or Not).

So why is getting things done so important? Well it is to do with those good intentions that we have, the things we absolutely know we should be doing, for us to be more successful – but we struggle to get them done. It’s the things on your to-do list that you find so tedious and boring, that it’s sometimes almost enough to induce nausea! So, finishing a project, training for a marathon, making those weekly sales calls, preparing for an exam, losing weight or having a difficult conversation with someone. The ability to get the important things done, or not, can lead to business success or business failure. You get the gist!

We’ve seen countless people struggle and fail to do the very things that will bring them success – as quite often, they’d sooner be doing something else. Sounds familiar? That is why Chris and clinical psychologist Dr Steven Levinson wrote the book.

Well, if you’re one of the vast majority of people who often fail to do the things they know they should do, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT! The problem is caused mostly by the way the human brain is wired!

So, what are some of the takeaways from the book and interview?

  • A common question tends to be ‘aren’t some people really good at getting things done? Yes, there are people out there who are blessed with a built-in unstoppable determination – if they decide something needs to be done, nothing on this earth will stop them. But these people are exceptions. They’re the lucky outliers. They’re not at all like the rest of us.
  • Naturally, the question that follows, is ‘so is there hope for me’? Well the good news is, even if you don’t have built-in unstoppable determination, you can make yourself unstoppable!

You only need to make a very small change to make a big difference. You just have to start doing something deliberately that you normally – but incorrectly – expect to happen automatically. You can stop beating yourself up. And you can finally stop giving yourself those pep-talks – they don’t work. All you have to do is learn a simple strategy to turn all your good intentions into action.

  • So, what’s the strategy?

It’s deliberately putting yourself in situations that “force” you to do what you know you should do.

  • So, who uses this approach and what results do they get?

We interviewed many people from the world of business and sport who have used this to achieve amazing success. It appears that build many different ways to get themselves into action in such a way that they cannot wiggle out of it.

A great example, is former world champion rower, Mette Bloch, now a successful speaker and author, who always wanted to perform as a stand-up comedian. Instead of waiting for the day she had enough courage to move outside her comfort zone, to pursue her dream, she went ahead and booked a 1,635-seat conference hall, for her first performance. She then paid a non-refundable deposit of c$20,000.

By deliberately putting herself in this situation, she now had no choice, which is exactly what she wanted. She used the pain of squandering her own hard-earned money to “force” herself to follow through. Tickets sold out and the night was a big hit.

And one person we know, who heads up a marketing company, wanted to lose weight and this is what he did to make sure he did it. He wrote out a check for c$800 to a political party that he really disliked. He then gave the check to a trusted friend with instructions to post the check, unless he had lost at least 9.5 kilograms (so about 21 pounds) by weigh-in at the end of October.

He realized that if he didn’t lose the weight, the donation would be made in his company’s name, which would appear on a list of political supporters – for an organization he found totally repulsive How embarrassing would that be! Needless to say, he lost the weight.

In the words of Jack Canfield co-author of The Success Principles and the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul. ‘This book contains a ton of practical and easy-to-implement techniques and strategies for getting yourself to do whatever needs to be done’

It can be ordered from on-line book sellers such as Amazon.  For more information or to contact Chris Cooper go to

About the Author:

Chris Cooper is the founder of Chris Cooper Business Elevation and helps organisations, leader’s and teams to elevate their performance through consultancy, facilitation, training, coaching, interviewing and speaking. His Business Elevation Show on Voice America has reached 250 unique episodes. He is co-author of ‘The Power to Get Things Done (Whether You Feel Like It or Not)’ published by Penguin Random House USA and a Fellow of The Professional Speaking Association. Based in Leicestershire, England Chris and his team work on business projects in the UK and globally.

Avoiding Decision Disasters: Integrating the Gut and the Head

This guest blog was written as a companion to the VoiceAmerica Interview with Dr. Gleb Tsipursky on May 23, Tools for Avoiding Disastrous Decisions. In the interview and the blog, Gleb explores how we can balance intuition and data based decision making to arrive at the most effective business outcomes. He explores some common misconceptions and offers recommendations to avoid them.

Let’s say you’re interviewing a new applicant for a job and you feel something is off. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you’re a bit uncomfortable with this person. She says all the right things, her resume is great, she’d be a perfect hire for this job – except your gut tells you otherwise.

Should you go with your gut?

In such situations, your default reaction should be to be suspicious of your gut. Research shows that job candidate interviews are actually poor indicators of future job performance.

Unfortunately, most employers tend to trust their guts over their heads and give jobs to people they like and perceive as part of their in-group, rather than simply the most qualified applicant. In other situations, however, it actually does make sense to rely on gut instinct to make a decision.

Yet research on decision-making shows that most business leaders don’t know when to rely on their gut and when not to. While most studies have focused on executives and managers, research shows the same problem applies to doctors, therapists and other professionals.

This is the kind of challenge I encounter when I consult with companies on how to better handle workplace relationships. Research that I and others have conducted on decision-making offers some clues on when we should – and shouldn’t – listen to our gutsThe reactions of our gut are rooted in the more primitive, emotional and intuitive part of our brains that ensured survival in our ancestral environment. Tribal loyalty and immediate recognition of friend or foe were especially useful for thriving in that environment.

In modern society, however, our survival is much less at risk, and our gut is more likely to compel us to focus on the wrong information to make workplace and other decisions.

For example, is the job candidate mentioned above similar to you in race, gender, socioeconomic background? Even seemingly minor things like clothing choices, speaking style and gesturing can make a big difference in determining how you evaluate another person. According to research on nonverbal communication, we like people who mimic our tone, body movements and word choices. Our guts automatically identify those people as belonging to our tribe and being friendly to us, raising their status in our eyes.

This quick, automatic reaction of our emotions represents the autopilot system of thinking, one of the two systems of thinking in our brains. It makes good decisions most of the time but also regularly makes certain systematic thinking errors that scholars refer to as cognitive biases.

The other thinking system, known as the intentional system, is deliberate and reflective. It takes effort to turn on but it can catch and override the thinking errors committed by our autopilots. This way, we can address the systematic mistakes made by our brains in our workplace relationships and other areas of life.

Keep in mind that the autopilot and intentional systems are only simplifications of more complex processes, and that there is debate abouthow they work in the scientific community. However, for everyday life, this systems-level approach is very useful in helping us manage our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

In regard to tribal loyalty, our brains tend to fall for the thinking error known as the “halo effect,” which causes some characteristics we like and identify with to cast a positive “halo” on the rest of the person, and its opposite the “horns effect,” in which one or two negative traits change how we view the whole. Psychologists call this “anchoring,” meaning we judge this person through the anchor of our initial impressions.

Overriding the gut

Now let’s go back to our job interview example.

Say that the person went to the same college you did. You are more likely to hit it off. Yet, just because a person is similar to you does not mean she will do a good job. Likewise, just because someone is skilled at conveying friendliness does not mean she will do well at tasks that require technical skills rather than people skills.

The research is clear that our intuitions don’t always serve us well in making the best decisions (and, for a business person, bringing in the most profit). Scholars call intuition a troublesome decision tool that requires adjustments to function properly. Such reliance on intuition is especially harmful to workplace diversity and paves the path to bias in hiring, including in terms of race, disability, gender and sex.

Despite the numerous studies showing that structured interventions are needed to overcome bias in hiring, unfortunately business leaders and HR personnel tend to over-rely on unstructured interviews and other intuitive decision-making practices. Due to the autopilot system’s overconfidence bias, a tendency to evaluate our decision-making abilities as better than they are, leaders often go with their guts on hires and other business decisions rather than use analytical decision-making tools that have demonstrably better outcomes.

A good fix is to use your intentional system to override your tribal sensibilities to make a more rational, less biased choice that will more likely result in the best hire. You could note ways in which the applicant is different from you – and give them “positive points” for it – or create structured interviews with a set of standardized questions asked in the same order to every applicant.

So if your goal is to make the best decisions, avoid such emotional reasoning, a mental process in which you conclude that what you feel is true, regardless of the actual reality.

When your gut may be right

Let’s take a different situation. Say you’ve known someone in your work for many years, collaborated with her on a wide variety of projects and have an established relationship. You already have certain stable feelings about that person, so you have a good baseline.

Imagine yourself having a conversation with her about a potential collaboration. For some reason, you feel less comfortable than usual. It’s not you – you’re in a good mood, well-rested, feeling fine. You’re not sure why you’re not feeling good about the interaction since there’s nothing obviously wrong. What’s going on?

Most likely, your intuitions are picking up subtle cues about something being off. Perhaps that person is squinting and not looking you in the eye or smiling less than usual. Our guts are good at picking up such signals, as they are fine-tuned to pick up signs of being excluded from the tribe.

Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe that person is having a bad day or didn’t get enough sleep the night before. However, that person may also be trying to pull the wool over your eyes. When people lie, they behave in ways that are similar to other indicators of discomfort, anxiety and rejection, and it’s really hard to tell what’s causing these signals.

Overall, this is a good time to take your gut reaction into account and be more suspicious than usual.

The gut is vital in our decision-making to help us notice when something might be amiss. Yet in most situations when we face significant decisions about workplace relationships, we need to trust our head more than our gut in order to make the best decisions.

About the Author


Maximizing Team Interactions: Moving Beyond the Lowest Common Denominator’s Reign

Building Thriving TeamsThis blog is drawn from a paper published by Jim Ritchie-Dunham & Maureen Metcalf, Co-hosting: Creating Optimal Experience for Team Interactions, Integral Leadership Review, November 2016. Jim and Maureen also recorded a Voice America Interview airing on February 14, 2017.

Christopher, the CEO, walked into a planning session with the intent of getting his full team on the same page for how to move key initiatives forward for the upcoming year. His leaders were all in alignment on the core purpose of the organization and how to accomplish it. During the discussion, everyone gave unbiased input intended to move the organization forward irrespective of personal interest. Christopher was highly skilled at understanding the point of view of all participants and synthesizing the various points of view of his trusted leaders to create solutions everyone could support.

Does this scenario describe your normal business meetings? How is it different?

We would like to explore the idea that groups can leverage the skills of individuals across five key perspectives and create an environment in which each participant operates at his greatest level of contribution. We call this the alchemy of co-hosting, whereby the co-host, in conjunction with the participants, invokes a very different mindset and process for the team to function.

The Challenge

“Less than one-third of U.S. employees have been engaged in their jobs and workplaces [since 2000]. According to Gallup Daily tracking, 32% of employees in the U.S. are engaged — meaning they are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. Worldwide, only 13% of employees working for an organization are engaged.” – Gallup

Much of our work is done within teams comprised of many highly effective and highly compensated people. We have found that these teams often function at the level of the least common denominator. Many people, especially leaders, move from meeting to meeting all day, every day. They often do this with little awareness of the specific role they play in the meeting and the value they bring. This is the culture of many organizations. When asking a cohort of vibrancy community members what they experienced in these teams, they suggested that while the participants were generally strong employees with good skills, they were often disengaged and some actively disrupted the work or found ways to interfere with the meeting goals. In some cases, the participants did this as passive aggressive response, and in some worse cases, did it just for personal entertainment. So, what is the antidote to this high level of disengagement considering five key factors other than the highest rank present? How do we capture the highest level of input from each person to create a higher level “field” of operation than any individual would have access to by working alone?

The Approach

We look at five different perspectives or measures of intelligence, then explore how the art of co-hosting can leverage all five intelligences of the participants to create an environment that calls forth the greatest possible capacity in the group.

The five perspectives are:

  • Leadership maturity – describes how adults mature throughout their lifespan, attending to ever increasing levels of complexity in their thinking, emotions, and behaviors
  • State development – describes where people focus their attention ranging from what is immediately in front of them to what is abstract and spiritual
  • Years of experience
  • Skill to identify the perspectives in the room
  • Co-hosting skill – the ability to identify the perspectives in the room and create an environment and approach that leverages the maturity, state, and skills of the participants

It is interesting to note that each of these perspectives is important for an organization to create holistic solutions to the many complex challenges they face. For that reason, it is important to recognize each of these perspectives and be able to identify, recruit, and create environments that genuinely leverage the gifts of each.

By integrating the five perspectives individually, an effective co-host can create the “container” or space to leverage each to the participants’ greatest potential rather than the traditional lowest common denominator.


During this era of increased complexity and accelerated need for change, it is imperative that we identify methods and processes to help us navigate the challenges we face. Optimally, these methods and processes would create the greatest impact for all involved—creating an optimal experience for the individuals and a holistic solution for the organizations or groups involved.

We believe that the solution integrates a solid process that integrates five key perspectives and a presence of being within the co-host to create the desired outcome. Both elements are critical.

We have an opportunity to enhance the experience and the impact we have in trying to solve problems. By building the capacity to co-host and using this process, we increase the probability of solving our most complex problems and enjoying the process. Knowing that this is possible helps us regain hope that we as a society can resolve the mounting list of intractable problems we hear of every day on the news.


Jim Ritchie-Dunham is president of the Institute for Strategic Clarity, a global research nonprofit, president of Vibrancy Ins., LLC, a global consultancy and publisher, president of the private operating foundation the Academy for Self-Discovery Leadership, an adjunct faculty member in Harvard’s program in sustainability leadership, and Adjunct Professor of Business Economics in the ITAM Business School in Mexico City.

Jim authored Ecosynomics: The Science of Abundance (2014), co-authored Managing from Clarity: Identifying, Aligning and Leveraging Strategic Resources (2001), has written many articles on systemic strategy for academic and practitioner journals, and blogs regularly at

As a student of human agreements, Jim Ritchie-Dunham brings over 25 years of research and insights gleaned from working with groups of all make-ups.  Jim named Ecosynomics, the emerging social science of the agreements that guide human interactions. Ecosynomics provides a framework rooted in economics and the sciences of human agreements that begins with an initial assumption of abundance, not scarcity, and a wider view of the human being.

Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Innovative Leadership Institute

, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach, whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

Maureen has published several papers and articles and speaks regularly on innovative leadership, resilience, and organizational transformation. She is the author of the award-winning Innovative Leadership Workbook Series and the co-author of The Innovative Leadership Fieldbook, winner of an International Book Award for Best Business Reference Book. She is also a regular contributor to


At C-Level #3: How many bosses can a CEO have?

How many bosses can a CEO have?At C-Level #3 is the third blog of an eight-part series following a first time CEO’s educational journey in a very challenging business environment, and exploring global concepts in leadership theory and practice.  

At the end of each blog are reflection questions for readers to consider as they navigate their own leadership journey.

This guest post by Mike Sayre — experienced software, e-commerce and manufacturing services CEO, COO, CFO and Board Director—is based on his first-hand experiences as a fledging CEO. Its intent is to provide additional insight or ideas to those in, close to, aspiring to, or trying to understand the top leadership role in any organization. Mike was also featured in the October 4, 2016 Innovative Leadership, Co-creating Our Future interview with Maureen Metcalf on VoiceAmerica focusing on the importance of leader trustworthiness in driving organizational change.

As you know from my previous At C-Level posts, I was a first time CEO of a manufacturing services company lacking in leadership and focus, who created a leadership tool – further refined by the company’s leadership team – in the form of a “philosophy card” containing a company mission, vision and operating guidelines that aligned with my own personal mission, vision, and operating philosophies. “The card” was often referenced by the leadership team and employees, now referred to as “associates,” to keep everyone focused in the same direction and reduce a lot of first-level noise around decision-making processes.

However, the importance of “the card” extended far beyond the leadership team and even the company’s associates. When I took over the CEO responsibilities, I understood I reported directly to the board, who represented the shareholders of the company. But I quickly realized I also had additional responsibilities to serve several other groups, or “bosses,” as well!

Appropriately then, the company’s new mission statement needed to reflect all my new “bosses,” which I preferred to refer to as our company’s stakeholders. One of the goals of this rather lengthy mission statement (and lengthy mission statements are not traditionally recommended) was to get everyone in the company to think about their responsibilities from a more global perspective.

Here is “the card” with the company’s mission and vision statements (the operating guidelines were on the reverse side):



For now, let’s just look at the mission and to what the team referred to as the “stakeholder star” with its five points that represent the five key stakeholders in the company and our major responsibilities to them: shareholders, associates, customers, suppliers, and communities.

In strategic, and even many tactical, decision-making processes, the “stakeholder star” was used by the leadership team to make sure they thought through the effects any final decisions would have on all the stakeholders moving forward. Many decisions favored one or two groups over the others, but not without going through the thought processes of how everyone was going to be affected, and making informed and conscious decisions with that information in mind.

In addition to the mission statement being given to current, prospective, and new company associates on the philosophy card, it was also posted on the company’s website. We gave the philosophy card to shareholders, customers, suppliers, and other community leaders as well. It outwardly displayed the company’s commitments to all its stakeholders and was greatly appreciated and respected. When the company expanded into Europe and Asia, “the card” and the demonstration by the leadership of how the company lived by it were attractive to eventual partners and new associates.

It’s Important to remember that as a for-profit public company, my number one fiduciary responsibility as CEO was to maximize the shareholders’ return on the investment. Unless you own the company, the shareholders employ you.

However, many C-level leaders underestimate how important it is to have all of the stakeholders cooperating to achieve those desired returns. Many leaders focus on one or two stakeholders without considering the rest. Understanding why all your key stakeholder groups are involved and what their expectations are is very important.

In addition, it’s essential to communicate that decisions are consistent with your mission and vision, and how the decisions you make will eventually get the stakeholders what they want. Managing their expectations is key. Utilizing the stakeholder star helps you better understand and be able to convey the trade-offs between stakeholder groups. It is a delicate balance.

My first CEO leadership journey paralleled a model called Conscious Capitalism that is currently getting significant attention in leadership development circles. I did not know it at the time, but we put into practice what the Conscious Capitalism movement seeks to accomplish.

In Maureen Metcalf’s recent “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” interview with Thea Polancic, the founder and executive director of the Chicago Chapter of Conscious Capitalism, Inc., (interview link) Metcalf and Polancic discussed the four pillars of Conscious Capitalism:

  1. Conscious Leadership – leadership motivated by a purpose
  2. Stakeholder Orientation – leadership attending to the health of an “ecosystem” of stakeholders, constantly balancing competing needs and expectations
  3. Conscious Culture – cultural agreement throughout the organization to accomplish the organizational purpose or mission
  4. Higher Purpose – the business has a higher purpose in addition to making money: money and profits are required as the fuel that feeds the organization’s ability to deliver on its purpose

My journey developing clarity around my personal purpose, aligning the company mission, vision, and operating guidelines, creating “the card,” and building a purpose-driven culture –

including how the mission statement was used to instill a stakeholder orientation in the company – is an example of how Conscious Capitalism can be successfully implemented and work in an organization.

Prime examples of major companies practicing Conscious Capitalism today include Whole Foods Market, led by CEO John Mackey, and Southwest Airlines, led by former CEO Herb Kelleher and current CEO Gary Kelly (Southwest’s former CFO).

Reflection questions:

  • Who are the major stakeholders in your company?
  • If your business stopped operations today, who would be affected?
  • If a key stakeholder stopped supporting the company and/or ceased to exist, how would it affect your organization?
  • What do you think is your major responsibility to each of your major stakeholder groups? How do you consciously, or unconsciously, fulfill those responsibilities today? Are you fulfilling those responsibilities?

In At C-Level #4, Mike will discuss the company’s ambitious vision on “the card” and how achieving the vision was measured.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

Mike Sayre, executive advisor and organizational transformation practice lead, has been a successful CEO, COO, CFO and board director for multiple organizations in technology (cybersecurity, ecommerce payments processing and engineered computer products) and manufacturing (electronics and steel products). He shares his expertise with client boards and C-Level leaders, and advises, designs, plans, and oversees the implementation of successful strategies for turnarounds, growth, profitability and sustainability.

Mike brings 25+ years of organizational and business leadership and hands-on implementation experience to his clients.  His teams have achieved significant increases in growth, profitability and valuation, as well as shareholder, customer, supplier and employee engagement and satisfaction.

8 Kinds of Leadership Your Team Needs from You

Lead Inside the BoxThis blog is a guest post from Victor Prince, co-author of Lead Inside the Box – How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results. Victor and his co-author Mike Figliuolo present the Leadership Matrix, or “the box” for short. The premise is you need to evaluate the amount of output you get from a team member and compare that to the amount of time and energy you have to invest in them to get that output. We call that second piece “leadership capital.” The result of those comparisons is the Leadership Matrix. Victor discusses the book in a Voice America Interview Lead Inside the Box aired on 10/18/2016 then available for download on demand.

We hear the phrase “think outside the box” a lot. If “the box” is something that is stifling creativity, it sounds like something to avoid. But when “the box” is a framework that smart leaders use to get better results from their teams, it is something to embrace.

Within that matrix, we define behavioral-performance patterns that team members demonstrate from Slackers to Rising Stars and everything in between. The real insight lies in practical advice on how to lead those folks to improve their performance. By understanding the behaviors your team members demonstrate and how you invest (or don’t invest) your time and effort into them, you’ll get a clearer picture of the 8 archetypical performance patterns that can show up in the box. With that understanding, you can begin leading your team members differently, which will improve your team performance.

Those archetypes are as follows:

Exemplars (High Output, Low Input) can be categorized based upon their career aspirations. Some Exemplars want their great performance to provide them a stepping stone to larger roles and responsibilities. These are the “Rising Stars.”  Other Exemplars are content remaining in their current roles. They’re experts and they’re satisfied with delivering outstanding results without much interference from their boss. These individuals are the “Domain Masters.”

High Cost Producers (High Output, High Input) break into subtypes based on the kinds of costs they incur. Some get results but at the high cost of damaging team morale and destroying the goodwill you and your team have accrued with others. These individuals are the “Steamrollers.” High-Cost Producers who get results but require an inordinate amount of hand-holding from their leader to get them done are the “Squeaky Wheels.”

Detractors (Low Output, High Input) are defined by the root cause of their performance issues. Some don’t have the skills they need to do their job. These individuals are the “Square Pegs.” We call Detractors who have the skills to do the job but they lack the will to do it the “Slackers.

Passengers (Low Output, Low Input) subtypes are determined by the kind of output they produce. Some only work to get their paycheck. They expend the bare minimum amount of effort required to keep getting paid. These are the behaviors of your “Stowaways.” Other Passengers exert a great deal of energy but they focus on tasks they want to do, not tasks you need them to do. We refer to Passengers behaving this way as “Joyriders.”

Once you have identified the behavioral-performance patterns present on your team, you will see your team in a new light. (You can use our simple online quiz to assess your team using this framework.) Armed with these new insights, you can figure out the specific type of leadership each team member needs from you to improve their performance. By seeing your team as a portfolio, you can also figure out where you should invest less of your time in some parts so you can shift it to invest more in other parts. In short, you will learn to get better results out of your team by working smarter, not harder, as a leader.

To learn more about leading people in all eight performance patterns in the Leadership Matrix, visit or read our book, Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide their Teams to Exceptional Results.

About the Author:

Victor Prince: As the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Victor Prince helped build a new federal agency and led a division of hundreds of people. As a consultant with Bain & Company, he helped clients across the United States and Europe develop successful business strategies. Today, Victor is a consultant and speaker who teaches strategy and leadership skills to clients around the world.