Leadership through Eyes of a Coach...Alan Booth

Monday, November 23, 2009


Based on the 146 responses to my LinkedIn question to corporate managers I surveyed on October 8, 2009, I have only one suggesion: managers would greatly benefit from asking a similar question of their people.

The question: What one thing do you need from your manager (not currently getting) to be more effective at your job?


87% Greater Engagement
.......[44%] More time to be mentored, coached, solve problems, strategize
.......[25%] Regulary feedback
.......[18%] Recognition - "It matters more than $$$ sometimes"
13 % Clear expections and goals - greater focus on priorities

This is really not new information. However, it certainly reinforces the need for leaders to make time for what their people need to be successful!

Having that dialogue can be challenging - doing it as part of one's leadership style takes time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Being present enough in conversation to pick up subtle cues from the other person is one of the most difficult skills of leadership.

Take the case of my CEO client, George and his COO Stan. George is an outgoing, passionate leader who expects his staff to be inspired to action when he speaks. Stan is a “thinker” type who is deliberate and patient when dealing with his staff or his manager, George.

Stan feels George has his own agenda and rarely listens to his ideas that he offers to improve the business, develop more effective strategies or deal with the crisis of the day.

In observing Stan and George in one of their weekly meetings, I notice that after a reasonable period of Stan listening to George, he begins to nod his head; which in turn, causes George to wind down his monologue of enthusiastic pep talking.

George’s complaint about Stan (that caused me to be engaged) is his agreement to act on specific ideas but never to follow through to completion.

So I decided to ask Stan about why he is agreeing to George’s passionate request to do things and never act. The response: “I do not always agree with George…in fact, I usually disagree because he never listens to me and my ideas.”

I then realized that the nodding of the head from Stan is a learned behavior that causes George to stop talking, preaching and pep-talking.

By helping George to occasionally take a breath and actively engage Stan on his ideas, things did get done (last year they achieved a 12% increase in revenues).

This all happened when George understood what the head nodding was all about. A simple cue that directly impacted achieving business goals!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


This entry is not about money! It is about how we communicate.

I just asked 10 of my clients how often they hold back giving an annual increase and/or bonus to people who are not meeting their manager's expectations and not producing at a higher level to justify an increase.

The answer: increases in salary or bonus are generally held back only when an employee or manager is nearing a termination decision for whatever reason, hoping that this act will motivate voluntary severance.

So we have "trained" people to expect raises when a company's profits grow and even a bonus has become expected.

Worse is the obvious conflict we are causing with these underperforming "B" players is when we do give them an increase in compensation, we are communicating a very clear message that your performance/output is OK.

So the motivation to changing performance does not change and staffing costs increase.

I asked executives what they feel are better options. They reply: [1] replace these people with those who perform better, [2] tolerate their level of performance, [3] reward them less than the previous payout.

What about not giving them an annual increase (especially if they are up to a market level benchmark) and no bonus? Most of my contacts said this would cause more grief than it is worth.
But every single person I have talked to in the past 8 years about this dilemma (118 in one study) 98% admit that they could improve the clarity of measurable expectations for their people...expectations that one could manage to...and compensate according to measurable success!

Why doe this not happen? "We are too busy." So how long does it take to have this dialogue to establish expectations? In my experience, no more than 2 meetings of about 2 hours each maximum per year. Oh! Both the manager and his/her reports should spend some time preparing for these meetings. Add another hour per year.

The result: pay for performance on an individual basis.

So again, why don't we make the time to have the very basic and critical discussion about expectations of our people? Why don't we have a performance management system that impacts performance?

My guess: lack of knowledge of how to do it and changing the leadership culture of manageing to expectations.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Here it is only June 30, 2009 and I am back writing again about pride, this time because of Bernie Madoff.

From the New York Times: "...Mr. Madoff had apologized for the harm he inflicted on the clients who had trusted him, his employees and his family. He blamed his pride, which would not allow him to admit his failures as a money manager."

As leaders we all have to maintain our reputation that got us to where we are. But the paradox of being humble and human enough to admit mistakes or not being at the level we want to be (self criticism is powerful stuff) raises the positive value of how others see us...not the opposite.

So I ask my leader friends, what have you been humble about lately? Or, what mistakes have you admitted and asked help from peers or even your staff? What were the reactions from others?

I'll start.

Not long ago I provided feedback to a CEO that was a result of personal interviews of his staff. I provided literal quotes that represented the overall group's sense of what it is like working for this person. The mistake? Moving too fast and not taking one key issue at a time which caused unproductive defensiveness. I will be humble about this during our next meeting even though I risk being "disengaged".

You see, I will fight hard to not let my pride poke its ugly head. That pride would eliminate the trust I need to rebuild to have a meaningful relationship.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Just had lunch with Brad Miller, Chairman of Perimeter Internetworking http://www.perimeterusa.com/ and discussed the dilemma of what to do with "B" players who one inherits through acquisition or the job outgrows them.

One challenge is the expectation of an annual increase when one does not increase their output; thus effectively reducing company margin.

But we do need steady people who are OK in the role they play and do not expect significant changes; the example offered by Brad is the accounts payable clerk.

I always give people the benefit of the doubt that in the right job they can be challenged to give more, increase their value through change in role, skill development and inspiring leadership. Is this easy? NO.

But I can not agree to just accept "B" players as they are. We just need to work harder at learning how to better fit people and engage them to become "A" players as a minimal expectation for employment.

Monday, June 22, 2009


  • I told a friend this weekend that “I help executives deal with pride.”

    At first he thought I was dealing with people who did not take pride in their organization or their people who did not take pride in their work.


    I was referring to those executives whose ego gets in the way of hearing their people express what they think is important for the success of their organization. Worse are those who listen but their pride distorts their understanding…or their pride reverts to anger or frustration.

    This is not to diminish the genuine pride an executive should have in building a strong enterprise that continues to grow in this recession of 2009. It is when pride gets in the way that we need to address the implications.

    For example:
  • Employees not having their ideas acted on because leadership needing to be the generator of new approaches to the business.
  • Executives who are "too busy" because they are reluctant to delegate decision-making with trust
  • Organizations that have low trust of executives because their engagment with the organization is primarily "telling" but less genuine listening
  • Employees who really do not understand what is expected of them.

    Managers and employees ask, “If we do not know where we are going, how can we be expected to perform in ways to get us there?”

    This is truly a challenge I encounter in the beginning of every coaching and consulting assignment: where are we going and how will we know when we arrive? Pride (too much of it) causes lack of clear communication; “Only I know what is happening”.

    How does a coach help the issue of pride? With lots of praise and admiration balanced with small does of reality (feedback). One beginning approach is the question, “What is it like working for (executive)?”

    It is amazing how this begins to encourage an individual to verbalize some of the “truths” that have been previously ignored.

    Example: after a 1.5 hour meeting where the CEO passionately talked 98% of the time, I asked what he thought it was like sitting as a staff member. At first he talked about his entertaining passion and the exciting news he was announcing; but the comments changed when I asked him why, when he asked a question, no one answered!

    “Maybe I should involve my staff better!” This does not diminish pride…it just puts it into better balance with other people’s needs as contributing employees.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


There really is only one most important leadership skill. Listening.

It is that ability that measurably differentiates great leaders and mangers from the not so great. Great listening inspires people to action, influences people more effectively, prevents conflict and is the one factor that is most powerful in dealing with change.

Maybe you caught the April 2009 New York Times interview of James J. Schiro, C.E.O. of Zurich Financial Services where he was asked: What is the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned?

A. It’s the ability to listen, and to make people understand that you are listening to them. Make them feel that they are making a contribution, and then you make a decision. I don’t think any one individual is so brilliant that they know all of the answers. So you’ve got to have a sense of inclusiveness.

My experience?

No matter the title or role of a leader, my clients typically do an exceptional job hearing and frequently listen to the point of listening; i.e. taking the time to understand others. The critical leadership skill; however, is having people feel they are understood!

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Most of you who are or have been my clients rarely call me a coach but usually refer to me as a consultant.

I have figured out why that is; a “coach” could be misinterpreted to mean “As your leader, I have a significant enough challenge to have to engage this coach-guy. Almost like admitting one is seeing a therapist. Ouch!

But the bigger problem for me is how to inform people what I do, rather HOW do I help leaders achieve key goals they struggle with? So what is the word for the skills of being a consultant, coach, advisor, trainer, mentor…using all in a typical day with a client?

My newly found colleague, Sue Melone of BoldTrek, Inc. says she just tries not to use the wordcoach.

I guess I am back to talking only to the challenges I help resolve: getting greater focus on the most critical business imperatives, getting others to aligned to those imperatives and increasing the effectiveness of engaging with one’s organization that people work with an owner mindset.