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Motivation / Inspiration : Book Summary: "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho

Posted by kevinb on 1/7/19 (137 reads)

When Kathleen O'Grady, Founder and CEO of Raleigh Coaching, suggested that I read this book, I could tell that she was excited for me to do so...and for good reason. Coelho's book was written 25 years ago and is just as relevant today.

The Alchemist is a story about a Spanish boy, Santiago, who loves his life as a shepherd and the time that it gives him to read books and to dream. From a young age, Santiago has wanted to travel, and shepherding takes him across the country and from village to village, selling his wool. However, he yearns for more; wanting to travel farther, to experience new things, and to "know the world."

In his pursuit, Santiago encounters many people who have a profound impact on him. For example, one day, he visits a Gypsy whom he hopes can interpret a reoccurring dream in which a child says to Santiago that he will find a hidden treasure if he travels to the Egyptian pyramids. The Gypsy has difficulty understanding his dream's meaning but says that Santiago must travel to the Eqyptian pyramids because there he will "find a treasure that will make (him) a rich man."

Organizational Excellence : The Power of Purpose

Posted by kevinb on 11/26/18 (215 reads)

Building a Strong Business Foundation

One of the most memorable experiences I had during my corporate years was doing consulting work with a non-profit organization as part of a management development program. My cohort was asked to bring our experience and skills to help a group of nonprofits more effectively achieve their mission.

What impressed me the most was the level of passion the volunteers demonstrated for the work they were doing. It was truly a labor of love. Although my colleagues and I had the resources that come with for-profit companies, we were envious of the level of enthusiasm and commitment that powered the efforts of the nonprofits. It was eye-opening.

And it made me reflect on whether a for-profit business could ever inspire the same level of passion and dedication. For a long time, I didn't think it was possible; but lately I've changed my mind. I think it is possible - through the power of purpose.

Understanding Purpose

The Oxford Dictionary defines "purpose" as "The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists". Purpose is related to, but distinct from, the other foundational elements of organization strategy like vision, mission and values.

You may be thinking, "Isn't the purpose of a business to make as much money as possible"? The answer is a resounding "NO". Profit is necessary to STAY in business, but it's NOT the reason a business exists.  

Organizational Excellence : Put Your (Six) Thinking Caps On

Posted by kevinb on 10/15/18 (2486 reads)

There are many methodologies to choose from to help us think differently, but one of my favorites is Six Thinking Hats. Developed by Edward de Bono, a pioneer in brain training and lateral thinking, Six Thinking Hats is a deceivingly simple and highly practical tool for enabling creativity, problem-solving and teamwork.

The basis of Six Thinking Hats is "parallel thinking", a term coined by de Bono. Unlike traditional adversarial thinking, which tends to be confrontational and seeks to prove or disprove a statement or hypothesis, "parallel thinking" describes a disciplined approach that follows several tracks in order to uncover all sides of a subject.

Although an individual can certainly use this technique on their own, it is most effective with groups. By deconstructing the thinking process and "wearing one hat at a time", all participants examine an issue from a series of perspectives. It is a highly cooperative method that opens up opportunities for thinking differently - the very definition of creativity!

Using the Six Thinking Hats

Like any effective problem-solving process, it is critical to begin with a clear statement of the issue at hand. And like any group process, it is important to identify the right participants, including the optimal number of people and which areas of expertise need to be represented.

Organizational Excellence : Creativity and Innovation in the Workplace

Posted by kevinb on 8/23/18 (534 reads)

A common discourse in the workplace these days is how to improve creativity and innovation, which can be central to an organization's performance and sustainability. As the knowledge-based, interconnected global marketplace continues to move ahead at warp speed, it will become increasingly critical to be competitive. This will require different approaches and strategies to address and solve problems. Creativity and innovation will provide the underpinning for action. Creativity is defined as the mental and social process (conscious or unconscious) of generating ideas and concepts, while innovation is the successful exploration of new ideas or the outcome of the creative process.

Common types of innovations relate to product, service, and organizational (procedural or process) and are typically market-led or market-push innovations. The others are technology-led, for which markets must be developed.

Here are some leadership practices that warrant consideration to foster creative and innovative core behaviors for your employees:

Leadership : Boosting Employee Commitment (Getting Beyond the 9-to-5)

Posted by kevinb on 8/7/18 (493 reads)

Let's get real. You want your people to be resourceful, show initiative, think for themselves, own their jobs, come up with solutions, and then implement them with little guidance from you once they've been trained.

You think you hired the right person with every hire. But once they've been with you for a few weeks, they turn into a 9 to 5'er. They put in their 8 hours, and then are looking to go home. They're friendly, do their responsibilities, but offer no creativity, and don't feel engaged enough to finish a project before leaving for the day.

What's the common element in all these instances? The staff are different. The tasks are different. What's common is you and the culture you've created.

You are the problem. This is where you need to do some serious soul searching, ask your staff some delicate questions, get some advice and guidance from an executive coach, and see what you can change.

Seven Questions to ask yourself and then your staff:

Personal Improvement : Simple Tools to Fight Stress

Posted by kevinb on 6/12/18 (658 reads)

Chris Kresser is a leader in health, nutrition, and integrative medicine; and recently named as one of the 100 most influential people in health and fitness. I love his article 5 Simple (But Powerful) Tools for Fighting Stress and want to share it with you here.

Chris writes that,"We may not be able to avoid stress, but we can influence how it affects us" and he identifies the four factors that drive our response to stress and simple-but effective-tools for changing how you experience it.

Most people living in the modern world experience continuous stress in the form of daily hassles, relationship troubles, problems at work, chronic illness, or other external life events.

Have you ever wondered why some people are devastated by this stress, while others are relatively unaffected? Or why some people thrive in high-pressure, driven work environments while others self-destruct?

The reason different people respond so differently to the same stressors is that our response to stress is largely defined by perception.

In other words, although there are certain events that virtually all people experience as stressful (such as the death of a loved one), it is our subjective perception of the event-and the meaning that we assign to it-that determines how we respond.

Say you've just had a fight with your partner. If you perceive it as a trivial, passing event with little significance, it is unlikely to trigger a significant stress response. However, if you see it as a sign that your relationship is doomed and will be a lifelong source of unhappiness (okay, I'm exaggerating to make a point!), you can bet that it will trigger a massive stress response.

4 key factors that determine how we respond to stress

Personal Improvement : Communicating with Impact

Posted by kevinb on 5/21/18 (579 reads)

The most effective organizations are those whose cultures emphasize building strong interpersonal relationships, whether internal or external. Doing that requires effective communication.

Communication is Key...

Communication is one of the most fundamental skills we possess as humans. We are social beings who live in an interdependent world. From the most basic survival instinct, like a baby letting her mother know she is hungry, to the complexity of corporate leaders mobilizing a global and diverse workforce, effective communication is the glue that holds us all together and moves us forward. defines communication as: "The imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing or signs". Simple, right? Or not. As we all know, this seemingly straight-forward definition belies a much greater level of complexity.

...and Fraught with Pitfalls

Even when we converse in our native language, misunderstandings and disconnects are common. We've all experienced painful "failures to communicate" with loved ones, friends, and co-workers where the message intended to be sent was NOT the message that was received.

Leadership : Deciding How to Decide

Posted by kevinb on 5/8/18 (754 reads)

There are many skills/capabilities and characteristics that a person needs in order to be an effective manager. To me, any such list should include that a manager:

 1. Consider the possibilities. Critical thinking skills are essential to turn things upside down and inside out to come up with the best possible scenario to solve problems. [Side Note: check out my book summary of "Now You're Thinking" to see how improving your critical thinking skills can "revolutionize your career and transform you life"]

 2. Be decisive. In order to get things done, someone has to make the final decision!

In terms of critical skills for managers, decision-making should always be at or near the top. A track record of good decisions leads to success for the organization and rewards for the manager. Too many poor decisions and that leader won't be a leader for long.

In the old-school view of management, the boss was the "decider". Whether the issue was big or small, strategic or tactical, the manager was the sole authority and was expected to make the judgment call. Inputs might be solicited prior to making big decisions, but that was about the extent of employee involvement.

However, today, a more decentralized, agile and team-based approach is required in our increasingly complex world, where change happens at light speed. Added to that is the impact of Millennials in the workforce who have high expectations for engagement and influence on the organization and, rightfully so, are forcing some changes in how managers make decisions.

Leadership : The High Cost of Poor Executive Hiring Decisions

Posted by kevinb on 4/25/18 (582 reads)

One of the services that I frequently provide is helping companies evaluate C-level job candidates, for positions such as CEO, CFO, COO, CTO, Chief HR Officer, GM, and heads of sales and marketing. Typically, the candidates have been identified and vetted by an executive recruiter or by some other source, and I evaluate "final" candidates or those who otherwise are being seriously considered for the position.

It's likely that you have all seen the statistics about the high rates of failure (or at least disappointment and underwhelm) regarding executive hires or promotions and the enormous cost (both in terms of "real" money and of negative impacts on the company) associated with poor hires and transitions. Executive hiring decisions can have an enormous positive or negative impact, especially on small-to-medium-sized companies, and, not to over-dramatize, but I have seen nearly make-or-break types of outcomes at the company-level.

On that point, Elena Botelho, Shoma Chatterjee and Kim R. Powell have recently published the following article entitled Seemingly ‘Safe' People Bets That Can Trip Up CEOs. It is an interesting and insightful article which identifies common traps executives fall into when selecting team members and some ways to overcome them.

Leadership : For Leaders, Relationships are Key at Work

Posted by kevinb on 4/10/18 (680 reads)

I deal with business owners, C-level leaders, and mid-level managers nearly every day, and a too-common challenge I see is that many view employees more as objects and as a means to an end than as people. More as tools to be directed, managed, and coordinated than resources and associates to be coached, mentored, and developed.

Don't get me wrong - these leaders and managers aren't ogres, but they often tend to "miss the boat" when it comes to promoting the ideas of benefiting others and helping employees achieve their potential.

Leaders are paid to get results, but those who are overly bottom-line oriented don't experience the satisfaction of the journey, and often limit others' sense of fulfillment. Those who focus primarily on functionality take the emotions out of business and underestimate the value of creating harmony and a sense of mission. Those who are too commanding don't emphasize the importance of teamwork and contributing to the success of the group. Those who are overly structured and controlling place constraints on employees' opportunities to explore new ideas and experiment with new methods.

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