Being a Strategic Leader Is About Asking the Right Questions

If you asked the world’s most successful business leaders what it means to “be strategic,” how many different answers do you think you’d get? Consider this number: 115,800,000. It’s the number of unique links returned when I searched online for “strategic leadership.”…

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Tribal Leadership: The Key To Building Great Teams

Have you ever wondered about internal organization dynamics and why some groups of people (who aren’t on the same team) are more successful than others? Why different “tribes” inside the organization seem to be at war with one another lowering performance in increasing politics? Why certain gro…

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How to Hack Your Brain for Insane Focus and Productivity, According to Harvard Research

The science-backed tips to destroy distractions and stay productive in the digital age. Studies indicate that most of us have incredibly short attention spans (in fact, some have found that we have shorter attention spans than goldfish), and it’s only getting worse….

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In a Difficult Conversation, Listen More Than You Talk

When Jared walked into a meeting to discuss a new marketing approach for a product, the conversation didn’t play out well. Five minutes into the dialogue, the product manager, Françoise, started interrupting him with questions he was planning to address later in the pitch….

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10 Quotes to Get Your Day Started

I love quotes…and motivational quote and a cup of coffee are a good way to start the day.  Here are 10 great quotes to get your day started.


1.  “Action is the foundational key to all success.” –-Pablo Picasso

2.  “If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”–David Allen

3.  “Productivity is being able to do things that you were never able to do before.”–Franz Kafka

4.  “Ordinary people think merely of spending time, great people think of using it.”–Arthur Schopenhauer

5.  “It is not enough to be busy…. The question is: What are we busy about?”–Henry David Thoreau

6.  “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”–Walt Disney

7.  “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” –-Dwight D. Eisenhower

8.  “Remember that failure is an event, not a person.”–Zig Ziglar

9.  “If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”–Thomas Edison

10 “You only have to do a very few things right in your life so long as you don’t do too many things wrong.”–Warren Buffett

Presentation Zen

PresenationZenThis book reaffirmed what I believe from a design perspective.  Simplicity, simplicity. The book itself is beautiful, just what you would expect from a book on design. Gorgeous pictures and lots of white space. 


Living in the world of corporate IT, there is a constant push to put complex diagrams and a exhaustive text on each and every slide.  Garr confirms my belief that if your whole message is on your slides, then there is no need for a presentation or even you.  You can simply hand out your slides or provide a CD of the slides to the attendees – no meeting or presentation session needed. This is of course what many of us do at the IT conferences we attend.  Just pick up the CD and locate the presentation you missed, and review the slides.  Most of the time you’ve gotten the whole message in 10 minutes, why bother attending a sleep inducing 60 minute presentation.  


Garr’s book is full of wonderful suggestions and tips for creating presentations that support you as a presenter ensuring people are listening to you, and not just reading your slides. Knowing that it is difficult to process both verbal and written information at the same time, Garr suggest that you keep the content on your slides to a minimum in order for your audience to listen to you.  He’s taken Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint to a new level. [The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.  — Read more: “How to Change the World: The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint“]


I have seen many presentations given by folks who are not comfortable in front an audience and their presentation is their crutch.  With all their content on the slides they don’t have to remember the message or the flow, they allow the presentation to guide them.  PowerPoint has allowed our talented professionals to neglect the art of public speaking.  Although Garr’s book is primarily about the design of slides, he is suggesting you lean on your story and speaking skills, and only use your slides to support your message. Even going as far as to say you should be able to do your presentation without your slides.  Wow.  This is quite the radical concept in the world of corporate IT introverts.  This is always impressive when it happens. 


The most common objection to the “less-is-more” approach is that there is no take-away.  Garr’s suggestion that I am a huge fan of is to create a separate hand-out.  Oh my word, an actual document! Not a “slidument” the ever so awkward combination of slides and document.  In my career I have written many documents to accompany my presentations, mostly due the process by which I work.  I am a writer, so I often write out my message first then create the slides to support it.   The concept of a separate hand-out allows you to provide more support and back up data.  Of course this requires additional work and assumes the presenter truly knows their topic.


The artist in me detests the lack of unity in most presentations that use a mix-match of clip-art.  Bad clip art is worse than no images.  And please, please no cheesey animations.  The best use of animation I have seen is when it is used to build a slide as you talk to the points.  But no sound effects, not swooshing and swirling objects, it is very distracting and so juvenile. The book also turned me on to a great site,  Love the site, a wonderful source for low cost photos and artwork to compliment your presentation. 


Garr also suggest that when you are planning your presentation, you start with analog brainstorming; pen and paper.  Another concept that I fully support.  Designing your presentation before outlining or “storyboarding” your message is very difficult.  The concept of storyboarding has really enhanced my slide presentation process. Like before, I start with an outline, which can then be developed into a hand-out.  I storyboard the presentation.  This allows me to consider each of the main points of the presentation, hopefully less than 10, and then developing 1-2 slides for each main point.  This keeps the number of slides to a minimum.    Only after I have the outline and the analog storyboard do I open up PowerPoint.  The storyboard along with my new friends at iStockphoto allows me to create a beautiful presentation that compliments my message. [check out my presentation planning worksheet]


The book also provides a few great tips regarding the art of presenting.  There are definitely more books out there on this topic. [“Presenting to Win” by Jerry Weissman, and “The Articulate Executive” by Granville Toogood] Garr’s tips are important and further drive home the concept that the audience should be looking at you and not reading your slides. A few great ones are;

  • keep the lights on during your presentation – let them see you,
  • and invest in a wireless remote – so you can move out from behind the podium.

The book has created a mini-movement with me and a few colleagues, we keep our presentations as Zen as possible.  There are also the knowing glances as we see those overcrowded slides in other presentations. There’s a bit of competition to find the best photo to accompany the message.  Thanks Garr for adding a bit of creative spirit to my work day!


An absolute must-read for anyone creating presentations, join the movement and commit to never do a presentation with content overkill!


For extra inspiration, check out the Presentation Zen blog.



Healthy Relationships – Building Rapport  

Having healthy relationships with co-workers can increase job satisfaction and help boost morale in the office.  Here are ten ways to build rapport with co-workers.


  1. Show empathy.  Demonstrate you understand how the other person feels and can see things from their point of view.
  2. Openly share when you agree with the other person, and say why.
  3. Ask open questions.  Open questions require more than a yes or no answer.
  4. Use feedback to reflect and clarify back to the other person what you think they have said.  This gives opportunity for any misunderstandings to be rectified quickly.
  5. Find links between common experiences. Talk about things that refer back to what the other person has said.
  6. Let go of stereotypes and any preconceived ideas you may have about the person. Be non-judgmental towards the other person.
  7. Admit when have made a mistake or you don’t know the answer.  Acknowledging mistakes will help to build trust.
  8. When you disagree with someone, give the reason first then say you disagree.
  9. Use the other person’s name early in the conversation. This will help you remember their name and it shows you hear them.
  10. Smile!

The Art of Delegation

New managers struggle frequently with delegating tasks.


As former contributors, it is difficult to step up and manage the contributions.   It is likely that they have been promoted to a management role because of their superior skills, which means they are most like better at doing the job than their staff.  New managers are apt to choose to do the task rather than delegate.  It is good to remember. . .

You can’t manage if you are doing.

Five Tip for Delegating

1) Tell people what you expect them to do.

On a regular basis, tell employees what your goals are and your standards for performance.  People need goals.  There isn’t any human activity without them.  Don’t assume that they know what you want.  Tell them as specifically as possible.

2) Make the work valuable.

When you can, assign people to the kinds of work they like and can do well-work that they regard as valuable to them.  Give them work that enables them to achieve their personal goals, such as growth, advancement, self-esteem, professional recognition, and status.

3) Make the work doable.

Increase employee’s confidence that they can do what you expect by training, coaching, mentoring, listening, scheduling, and iding resources.

4) Give feed back.

When employees try to do what you expect, give them feedback on how well they are doing.  Positive feedback tells them what they need to continue doing; criticism helps them to correct mistakes.

5) Reward successful performance.

When employees have done what you asked them to do, reward them with both monetary and non-monetary recognition.

Dealing with People Challenges


What do you do when you have someone on your team who is not pulling their weight or creating challenges?

How do you address these issues in a way that will be perceived in a positive light and will inspire change?

It happens to all of us, people challenges consume a great deal of time for managers and project managers.  How you handle them is important.  Your first reaction or impulse is most often not the most effective one.  Telling someone what they have done wrong or how they are not measuring up is often not the most effective way to get them to change their behavior.  And if it does work, it may have side-effects that are even more unpleasant than the initial offending behavior.

The first take a good look at the issue.   Typically, the symptom is what you will see, but it is not the true issue.  You want to address the true issue.  Which means you may have to ask about the behavior before suggesting the changed behavior.

Let’s look at this scenario. . .

Mark is the owner of a company that develops mobile apps. He has several teams working for him; a development team, a marketing group, and a sales team.  The development team is the largest group and on a different floor than Mark’s office. The development team is on a tight timeline to deliver the next release.  Mark meets with the leaders of each of managers, including the development manager, Eric, each week.  He trusts them and things are progressing.

One morning Mark decides to stop by to see Eric in development before going to his office.  It is 8 am and Eric, the manager, is the only person in the development group in the office.   Mark speaks with Eric and continues on with his morning.  But he is angry.  How can the team be working hard if there is no one in the office at 8 am?  Don’t they know how important it is to meet this deadline?  After chatting with his colleagues and fuming over the issue for a few hours, he calls Eric to his office.  Mark tells Eric that he wants to establish a new policy; everyone must be in the office by 8 am.

Problem solved, right?  No, unfortunately because Mark was only looking at a symptom, he was seeing a problem where none existed.  He was mandating an 8 am start time, thinking he would get more working hours out of the team if they started earlier.

The Symptom     =          No developers are at the office at 8 am.

The Goal               =          Ensure that the developers are putting in the necessary
hours to get the work done.  Get the most from his staff.

Mark needed to let go of the symptom that infuriated him earlier in the day and focus on his goal.  Then start asking questions.  Find out why folks were not coming into the office in the early morning.

  • Was this just an anomaly? Or did this happen every day?
  • How late was the development staff at the office?
  • Did folks work at home as well?
  • Were there reasons why individuals needed special hours?

In just asking a few questions he would have found that the development team traditionally rolled into the office between 9 and 11 am.  Which sounds like a lacks environment.  Keep asking questions and he would find that they often worked until 10 or 11 pm.   There was another factor; the testing team started work at 4 pm. Many of the developers needed to interact with this group and had started coming in later in the morning so they could stay until 6 or 7 pm – allowing them to work with the testers for a few hours.  All of this was good stuff – but Mark didn’t see it.

By creating this new mandate, he created a more unpleasant side-effect.  The team was offended that he did not know about how committed they already were and how many hours they were putting in each day.  In response to his mandate, the development staff began leaving the office promptly at 5 pm each day.   Although Mark did resolve the symptom; the whole development team was in the office at 8 am each day.  He didn’t get what he wanted.  Not only did he reduce the hours his team was putting in on the project, he also insulted his team, which also had an impact on the team’s morale.

Be sure you are achieving what you want – look deeper than the symptoms on the surface.

When you are ready to address the issue, take the time to set up the right environment.

  • Clear your mind & let go of your anger
    Even if you are sure they are sabotaging your project, or simply being mean. Clear your mind of the negative thoughts.  Going into the conversation with a preconceived notion of why they are behaving in such a way will mean you won’t be able to listen to them.

If you are angry or upset about what they have done or if you are angry about something else, take some time to let that go first.

  • Pull them aside
    You may need to schedule one-on-one time, or simply take them aside. But whatever you do, don’t address a problem in front of others.  This is a bullying tactic.  You are possibly embarrassing them or you may find that others don’t share your view.  Either way addressing something in public is never a good plan.
  • Know what you want to be different
    Even though you don’t know “why” they are causing issues; you should know what you want them to change and be prepared to be flexible.

The Talk

Start by telling them that you have something important to discuss. Approach the issue with the appropriate level of seriousness.   Be prepared to give them some positive feedback first.  Let them know that you are having this conversation because you value their contribution.  Give them a couple of compliments.  Be specific.  The conversation can’t be all negative – they won’t hear you.  Now, talk about their behavior.  What you saw, what you experienced, and what you know to be true.  Don’t make assumptions and use “I’ statements.

“I noticed you were late yesterday.”


“You were late yesterday.”


“I have not received your status report this week.”


“You never turn in your status reports.”

And then listen.   Ask them how they see the situation.  Let them know how their behavior impacts the project or the organization.  Ask how they can improve or change the situation.   This should be a discussion, not an edict from you.  Come up with a joint plan to correct the issue and determine if you need to follow up later.  If follow-up is needed, schedule that now.

“Let’s check in next Tuesday to see how you are doing.”

This way you can keep your conversation private.  Don’t publicly refer to this discussion.  This should remain a private discussion between you and the staff person you are trying to coach.   Scheduling a follow up discussion will also let them know you expect a change and that you intend to follow up.

When dealing with people challenges, be sure you are addressing the real issue not the symptom and take the time to consider how you approach the issue.   You want to achieve your goal with a minimum of side-effects.