Leadership through Eyes of a Coach...Alan Booth

Monday, December 30, 2013



I am writing this because I have personally observed that the higher up an organization the greater avoidance of personal conflict. This is a real paradox.

What I have found is that the more managers look for conflict, the more they will understand their people...what motivated them, what frustrates them, etc.

As a kid, I was a conflict causer...making my father's life miserable. I learned as an adult that what I was doing us using conflict to get attention. And, wow, what attention I got!  So avoiding conflict make it worse!

The value of seeking out where conflict occurs include:

n  It gets people to talk what is on their mind [what managers need to better understand]

n  It opens the door to finding out why the conflict exists

n  Once discovered, conflict allows us to shift blaming to one of "ownership" of a situation

Why do we miss conflict or dissatisfaction?

1.    Because we don't pay attention to changes in facial expressions or posture, and

2.    We have been conditioned to avoid it.

A former CEO of GM approached conflict  this way, "I propose we postpone discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement". Go foster debate!

Monday, October 28, 2013


Why would a bright successful executive not pick up cues as to why he was disconnected from his staff?

When David Green introduced me to Ruppert, his new CEO, I suspected something was wrong. Ruppert asked me to interview his staff to get a sense of the difficulties he was encountering, saying it was all about THEM!

The result?

Every person reported a big disconnect with Ruppert because he had his own way of doing things but not interested in his staff's point of view.

So I conducted the "new manager assimilation" process where the leader tells his staff how he wants things to be done.  Separately, his staff comes to consensus on what they need from their leader to be successful...which is reported back to the leader to prepare a response.

Result: Ruppert had come from a much larger company that had a very well defined and different way of doing things. He knew no other way.

His staff told him essentially that he must learn to please never again refer to that previous company and how things are done there.

The lesson learned was to better engage your staff to genuinely "hear" what is on their mind.  That is leadership that works!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


"I know this might be a bit sensitive: Your team has observed a blind spot that is impacting the effectiveness of your leadership and causing lack of trust with your team.

I need to say this to many of my executive clients; people who are very confident but typically ignore feedback or do not seek it out.

Case in Point

Carol and Melissa are co-owners of a very successful and growing business. Melissa wants more money out the partnership being scared about her retirement savings.

Melissa is relentless and angry in finding ways to make more money at the firm.  No one wants to work for her. She angrily pushes to either fire their sales executive or reduce his compensation. With anger she is weak in negotiating!

As the friction increased I was brought in to cause "sanity" in this partnership by working with Melissa. We had a series of partner meetings so I could observe the dynamic.

But the solution was Carol's blind spot: never reacting or negotiating with Melissa enabled greater friction, volume and angry tones.  When she realized she was enabling Melissa's behavior this way, she found her voice and caused a much better relationship to occur and was successful in convincing Melissa of her only two options: either [1] be more collaborative or [2] have her partnership bought out.

Lesson: in dealing with conflict, first look at yourself as an enabler!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


My wife taught me that women want to be heard and understood by men, not to have their problems necessarily fixed.

With management teams I coach, I see this as the 80/20 rule: Listening 80% of most conversations and talking only 20%. This has direct implications on running a business.

Case in Point

Jim Lynch, a CEO client was observed stopping his lengthy conversation when the other party started to nod their head.  He thought that meant there was agreement for his request. But he was stressed out  because many on his staff "agreed" to do important things and did not follow up.

So I had the other person meet with Jim and I so I could use the "nod" to expose both of them to this misunderstanding.  It happened - I interrupted Jim to call attention to the nod - and he shot back: "Hold a minute, Alan, I am not done talking here."

He was able to reverse the ratio to about 30% talking and 70% Listening...in about two weeks!

With clients and customers, listening so they feel understood, builds trust and meaningful relationships. After that, we gain the power to influence, suggest better ways to do things relevant to their individual needs, etc.
This ratio has implications for selling your product or services to how well your board can appropriately give advice.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Is it clear to you how your 2013 bonus will be calculated or, how clear have you been with your staff on your method of calculation?

Is it clear what you have to do [ or your staff] to receive maximum bonus?

Improving Bonus Impact

1.    Have measurable expectations and goals tied to the bonus calculations

2.    Ask your people to drive the establishments of goals and expectations to create greater ownership and accountability

3.    Monthly, have your people review with you their progress in achieving established goals and expectations.  Ask what the barriers are to making further progress. Dialogue solutions.

There should be no surprises at bonus time as to how the award was determined!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


The CEO of a client took one of my messages and started a new thread to me and her colleague I was coaching. Just so happened that the message I had sent the CEO provided a summary on how to best engage that colleague.  Oops!

Beware of continuing threads that someone might actually go back and read in entirety!

The danger in this situation was that the colleague did not have the context and jumped to conclusions.  The context was a summary of  a conversation with the CEO on how to better engage her colleague. It had nothing to do with the colleague.

Incidentally, the colleague needs coaching around her tendency to jump to conclusions without investigating the facts.  Weak listener and one to monopolize conversations.

Lesson learned?  Talk to people live and never rely on digital communication when the subject matter is sensitive.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


The Problem
Most of us believe we are accurately aware of how our organization works and what needs to change. However, your people's "perception" of you, your strategy, goals and what is most important to grow your company is the "reality" you must get in touch with.
How to be better informed
"Walk the floor"!  Sandy Tungare, Founder and CEO of Think Systems was never in his office until 10:00 AM each day. He was in at 7:00 AM getting the lay of the land, challenges needing his help and following up F2F with people at all levels.
By 10:00 AM he had his day's agenda established through these conversations. It is amazing how people were inspired to talk with him about any problems or failures they were experiencing...because he immediately got help! That was his job!
He used to rely exclusively on his managers but realized they filter the "bad" news to him and accentuate the positive.  No surprises, please!
To really be in touch, we just have to dig deeper to really know our people. Build deeper trust so your people will be more forthright. And have the discipline to listen 80% of every conversation. Active listening builds trust! With trust comes the truth.

Monday, July 8, 2013


Avoiding or delaying resolution of conflict, enables  the counter party to continue the behaviors that are so annoying. By not confronting the other person, we are sending the message, "It is OK".

As the tension rises, the organization is distracted or discouraged and the executive involved begins to look weak for not addressing the conflict head-on.
Potential "helps":

n  When the conflict is occurring, state: "This is not working"

n  No response? Stand up to exit discussion, "Let's try this tomorrow morning at 8:00."

n  "I" statements stop defensiveness. "I need to find a way for us to get on the same page."

n  "Help me understand what is causing you to act this way?"  Active listen. Validate that you have heard what the other person is saying.

The sooner one confronts unacceptable behavior, the shorter it takes to resolve.  But be patient enough to give the other person time to buy-in and own their part of the relationship.

Monday, July 1, 2013


Fred B., a friend of mine, told me this morning that he is thinking about leaving a startup he has worked for the last three years.

Seems the Founder is struggling with getting his staff motivated, hearing their ideas on how to grow, or allowing people to question his business model.

The Founder has a strong need to be right.

He does not see how he stymies creating ideas, good problem solving, or how his lack of being inclusive ["our company"] impacts performance.

He can be helped.  My experience is creating a safe dialogue that will allow these people to understand why this need exists.  Then we can deal with how to change this practice.

It is worth it, especially when a company is at risk!



For those of you turned off by the word ENGAGEMENT, remember that the most important thing a manager needs to do is motivate her/his staff is developing a trusting relationship.

Not to "engage".  When I need to have greater trust with my wife, I don't ask her to "engage" with me.  She would think I am a consultant!

I call this relationship building [sometimes harder for men than women].

Here is an example from the Harvard Business Review, July 1, 2013


Don't stay away.  Even if she gives you a lot of freedom, resist the urge to take it. Gen on your manager's calendar regularly to communicate any issues you are facing and get her input.

Don't run down a checklist.  Assume she wants to focus on the most important things you are trying to do and how she can help. Focus on no more than three things in each meeting.

Clarify expectations early and often.  Check in regularly to make sure you fully understand her expectations.



Monday, June 24, 2013


As a manager, how well are your expectations understood by your employees?

At a recent manager's offsite retreat, I collaborated with one of the managers around how to develop "B" players to "A".  He did a great job around how we label people at times and in ways that are not constructive. How do we know if manager-employee goals are aligned?

So we took the risk and asked the managers at this meeting to write down the 3 most important things they wanted their employees [in attendance] to achieve by year's end.  We also asked these employees at the same time to write down the 3 most important things they understood their manager expected.

Voila! They pretty much matched. However, the group expressed that this was a very important exercise because it rarely happens throughout the year.  Yes, managers are best when they stay focused on top priorities and support their people to achieve goals ... through development, mentoring, coaching and simply having their people report on progress.

Managers left with the understanding that they need to encourage their people to report on their progress and to talk about barriers occurring or anticipated - not the other way around where the manager seeks to update progress.

Result? Each person better owns their goals and expectations.