Emotional Intelligence Enables Great Leadership

The research is compelling.  Emotional intelligence is a powerful enabler to being a great leader.

This short video explores research by the Center for Creative Leadership, Multi-Health Systems, and Google which demonstrates the power of emotional intelligence (EQ) to strong leadership and employee engagement.

What’s your experience?

Ascendent is a certified to deliver the Hogan family of personality assessments, including EQ, as well the Multi-Health Systems EQ-i 2.0 assessments.  Maybe we should talk!

Developing executives – What’s the coaching business case?

A strong coaching business case for a leadership development  project keeps all parties motivated and driving toward success.

Virtually all of my coaching with business leaders is funded by their firms.  There are three parties to the agreement.  The leader has to deliver the effort to fully work on their development.  The stakeholder has to invest the resources to hire the coach and support the leader and their development effort.  The coach has to deliver a coaching process that is effective.

While the firm is investing in the individual, it is also wanting the coaching investment to result in some “return” to the company, reflected in improved business outcomes.

It helps leaders and their stakeholders to align quickly on the coaching goals if they think about the engagement as an investment and use investment language to describe the return.  For an example, if an executive successfully improves employee engagement on his team, research says that team firm will enjoy higher productivity, and up to 20% higher profitability.

I use a four phased “business case” approach to create the development plan.  The client and stakeholder see the outcome in their terms.   In the client’s mind, “I’ll get to know my team better and we’ll all work better together.”  In the stakeholder’s mind, “Sam’s coaching could increase the productivity of his team, maybe by as much as 20%.”

Here’s a description of my approach:

First Base: Name the development goal

Use assessments and stakeholder interviews to yield a list of potential objectives.  Narrow the list to frame a very short list of general development objectives and guesstimate the outcomes.    No more than five candidates should make it this far.  Through discussion, we narrow the list to one or two that have the most compelling outcomes.

I ask the client to “name” each finalist with a short phrase that is meaningful to them.  We discuss projected outcomes of the finalists and choose the one or two which have the most compelling outcomes.

Trap!  Clients typically want to go straight to problem solving.    It’s easier, more concrete, and it’s what everyone is clamoring for at the time.  It’s important to differentiate between helping a client solve a specific problem (you’re a consultant) and helping them develop into the person that can accomplish what is demanded by their role (you’re a coach).  Help them take the time to envision the future, by exploring who they need to be.

Second Base: Discover with the client “who” they will have to become, to achieve the outcomes they are hoping for.  

 What new skills, concepts, values and beliefs will they possess after the coaching engagement?  I help them explore the personal shifts that must occur for them to grow in the direction they’re seeking.

 Third Base:  Envision what behavior changes will be noticeable if the development is successful

Focusing on behaviors sets them up to measure the success of the coaching.  On their own, clients can ask their key relationships, mentors, and teammates what new behaviors they’re noticing.  In my practice, I ask my clients to come to each coaching session prepared to share the behavioral feedback they’re getting from others and noticing on their own.

Bonus!   By encouraging our clients to gather their own accountability data, we’re setting them up to ultimately transition to self-coaching.  They will be able to “pull” the coaching they need from managers and colleagues and measure if they’re making progress.

Home Base:  Ask, “So what?”   Refine the business impact.

If all goes well, what needles move?  How are things different?

The client will probably take a more personal view.  “I’ll be a stronger leader and a better boss, and I’ll be more promotable.”

The stakeholders will more likely focus on business metrics.  “They will be more productive, more profitable, and uncover best practices for the company.”


There’s no magic about where you start!  Just start…  Unlike baseball, you don’t have to run the bases in order, and you’re seldom done until you’ve visited each base a few times.   Desired outcomes can drive the naming of goals.  Goals drive the who’s… and the behaviors… behaviors drive outcomes and milestones…  milestones drive actions and accountability…

What’s important is that you explore all the bases.  Give yourself time to put it aside and come back to it with fresh eyes.

As you move through the coaching, refresh the business case continuously and validate your investment decision.

 Drop me a note if you’d like a copy of a Microsoft Word template I use to discuss and refine the business case and create an action plan for the next steps of the development plan.

The network’s down! Five ways to empower your teams with Commanders’ Intent.

What would your people do if they were suddenly cut off from all ability to contact you?  … or their other leadership and sources of information, perspective, and resources?

Empower them to flex to the situation by understanding “Commander’s Intent”

Students of military strategy often use the term, “the fog of war” to describe a situation where leaders and troops lose contact with their chain of command and must deal with the ensuing confusion.  In order to enable their people to continue to press forward and take initiative without immediate guidance, the military has developed a concept what they call “commander’s intent”.  Through training and reinforcement, they give soldiers a clear vision of the intended outcome which enables them to take the initiative and tap their natural creativity to drive toward that vision.

What’s the benefit?

Military leaders have long understood that combat is a messy thing! Lines of communication are broken. Anticipated resources don’t show up. Key people become unavailable. Unexpected constraints pop-up and become problems to solve. Their enemies (and our competitors!) are planning, too. They may throw something at us that we didn’t expect.

The notion of commander’s intent enables our teams to take independent and continuous actionThey can move at the speed of the situation, They do not need to continuously check back with senior leadership to gain approval to take the next action.

The solution space

Great leaders create a “solution space” by the rules and constraints they impose on their team. That solution space is bounded by what the team can’t do. In business, the most common boundaries might be created by legal considerations, marketing strategy, ethics, or company policy.  An example might be a policy that requires CEO approval to authorize an engagement that will lose money for the firm. Once the leader establishes the relevant and compelling constraints, what is left are the millions of other combinations of available actions, the “solution space”.  All those options are available to the team member if they understand the space and feel empowered to operate in in all of it.

If they understand the ultimate desired end state, and if they know clearly the boundaries of their solution space, and if (this is big!) we have given them the flexibility and encouragement to operate freely in that space, then they can use their own initiative and creativity to realize the outcomes envisioned in the commander’s intent.

Five Ways to establish your Commander’s Intent:

  1. Paint the picture” of the end state in very clear, high contrast, colorful terms. Use relevant personal examples and stories liberally. Your team should be able to repeat it back to you instantly and accurately.
  1. Invest the time and effort to be sure that everyone understands in the most concrete terms your organization’s strategic goals. That understanding becomes the anchor for everything you ask them to do.  Use every means available to be sure your team understands the vision in the context of their individual roles. Great venues to do this are “coffee talks”, articles in your employee newsletters or blogs, and specific reference to the strategy in the resolution of real-time business issues.  (Obviously, there are many others…  Talk about your visions and specific goals incessantly!
  1. When delegating, take the time it requires for your people to understand the desired outcome. How does that outcome fit into a broader strategy you have already clarified for them?  With good questions, test their level of understanding and how they might apply that understanding in a real-time way.
  1. Carefully challenge any constraints or boundaries on your team’s actions. Limit constraints to the minimum necessary.  Be thoughtful about the constraining effects of any constraints you apply.
  1. If you are a manager of managers, take advantage of your “bully pulpit” to model to your middle managers the encouragement of new frames of reference, and challenging unnecessary constraints. Enlist candid feedback from your entire team about how well you are doing.

How are your clients grading you on your authenticity?

blacksmith-700In a recurring theme in our current election cycle, both major candidates are suffering low poll scores with their levels of authenticity, trust and transparency.

In the early 1990’s, I remember there was a university professor and consultant that my company used quite a bit to put on visionary discussions of what was then was called client – server computing. The fellow was quite charming, an accomplished speaker, and delivered a 100% flawless presentation. The explanations were crisp, the jokes were funny, and he never missed a beat. Customers loved it!

That all sounded great, until I took a second customer to one of his sessions. It was then that I realized that the sessions were 100% scripted. Every word and every joke came out sounding exactly like the first time I had heard him. I suppose that if I had only had to hear him once, that wouldn’t have been a problem. But when I realized how completely rote it was, he dropped down several pegs in my estimation of him and how much he really understood the topic.  One theory: If he knew it that well, he would not have had to so meticulously script it and rehearse it. Second theory (and the one I think is true): He did know the material, but he valued the flawless performance of the “show” higher than his personal authenticity. In his defense, because these were one-time marketing events, the sales people attending with their clients were really the ones bearing the burden for the longer term relationship. Maybe he made the right choice as a showman, but very few clients would have stood for that in someone they wanted to consider an advisor.

I think that scientists and technologists often fall into the same trap. They feel that their role as an expert compels them to be correct at all times and for their “performance” to be “flawless”.

I’m thinking that the only way someone could accomplish both goals, would be to operate well within their margins of safety, to take no bold or outrageous positions, and therefore to deny their client the very best of their thinking. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of the concept of “flow” (Csikszentmihalyi 2013 – a great TED talk) describes the phenomenon as occurring when you are performing at the very limit of your capabilities. It seems to me that that it would be very difficult to be operating at the edge, if we were afraid of straying just over the edge, and making a mistake or an overstep.

Being married to an expectation of 100% correctness makes us less willing to risk our ideas and statements being scrutinized and found to be faulty. That in turn prevents us from being fully present, fully engaged, and fully authentic. Clients expect our full engagement. Unless we have a terrible track record for making really bad mistakes, they will forgive the occasional error, because they know they are getting our best efforts and every bit of our creativity.

Said another way, we have to let go of our desire for perfection to deliver our best game and be considered real and authentic.

Experienced consultants know that the best customer relationships are often forged in the heat of resolving a missed expectation. For sure, when a mistake happens, there is a short term loss of trust and credibility.   What rebuilds, and ultimately deepens, client trust, is how the consultant owns the situation, how they react to it, and how they resolve it.  (In most cases, there is plenty of blame to go around, and the client knows it.) The client learns that regardless of who made the mistake, the consultant will do whatever it takes and bring whatever resource is necessary to resolve the issue at hand.

Three tips to becoming more authentic:

Don’t confuse being smart or “right” with being trusted.

Give your clients your very best, maybe risking a mistake or overstep, but in the process earning their trust and loyalty.

Immediately own (or gracefully share) the inevitable mistakes and resolve them without excessive focus on whose fault it is.


In the words of Peter Block, “In the end, it is our authenticity, the way we manage ourselves, and our connection to our clients that is our methodology, our marketing strategy, and the fruit of our labor.” (Block 2011 )

Great Reads and Views:

Block, P. (2011 ). Flawless consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used. San Francisco, Pfeiffer, an imprint of Wiley.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013). Creativity, Innovation & Managing “Flow”. TED talk

Leaders, Flex to Your Teams

Isoflex_400Shelly was a senior sales executive, with over 30 years of selling experience in the energy segment. She valued her style as an activist leader, and her ability to leverage years of experience to help her teams beat their objectives.

She had recently taken a position as a global vice president of channel sales, responsible for expanding her company’s partner network.  Because her role was new and important, she had been able to recruit a “dream team” of sales and marketing pro’s with strong track records for building new business quickly.

But…  she was beginning to get disturbing feedback.  Her team had begun to quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, go around her, and complain about her overbearing style, and her limiting of their independence.  Six months after being hailed as the sales leader who would take her company to new levels, she was facing almost a complete rebellion from her team.

What was going on?

It’s no secret.  North Americans and Europeans prefer extroverts as their leaders.  While about half the general population have a natural preference for introversion, over 90% of leaders display extroverted behaviors in their leadership style. That implies that a very large proportion of introverted leaders are flexing outside of their natural behavior to meet the cultural bias for an extroverted style.

While the bias for extroverted leadership is clear, research is telling us that extroverted leaders often run into trouble leading teams of proactive and innovative people.

In a study published in the Harvard Business Review, Adam Grant, Francesca Gino, and David Hoffman discovered that in organizations where the employees tend to be more passive, extroverted managers excelled, generating about 15% higher than average profit.  (Adam M. Grant 2010)  In contrast, in organizations where the employees were more proactive and independent, extroverted managers didn’t fare as well, generating about 15% lower than average profit. 

Net-net, naturally introverted leaders who can flex to a more integrated style are more likely to succeed with highly proactive teams.

Why would that be?

First of all, natural introverts have more practice in being flexible with how they interact with others.  For most of their life, they have had to integrate extroverted behavior into their consulting and leadership style.  (Cain 2012)

Introverts tend to better listeners, and have less personal need to be perceived as the one with the answer.  As a result, they are more likely to accept and act on the ideas and recommendations from their teams.

Introverts tend to be more willing to take a little more time with their decisions, and wait for more information (including input from their team on the best way forward).

“Wait a minute!”, you might be protesting, “You’re saying that it’s always better to be an introverted leader, rather than an extroverted leader?”

No, that’s really not I’m saying.

I’m saying that research on personality type suggests that the most effective leaders are those who are aware of their natural preferences, and who can make an intentional decision to flex to a different behavior set, better suited to the situation in front of them.

A short aside:  There is no such thing as a 100% extrovert or a 100% introvert.  All of us have a mix of preferred behaviors which fall into both camps.  If the mix is more heavily weighted to introverted behaviors, we are called an introvert.  If the opposite is true, we are called an extrovert.  But we are always a mix of our preferences.

In Shelly’s case, her team wanted less direction and teaching (her natural extroverted behaviors), and more thoughtful discussion about their ideas and their recommendations for how they could achieve their goals.

Here are some tips for flexing to what your team wants and needs from you as a leader:

For leaders who are natural introverts:

Take advantage of your natural tendency toward individual dialogue to hear your people fully.

Give yourself enough time to reach a joint assessment of a situation and the optimum path forward.

When appropriate, flex to more assertive behavior when dealing with your senior leadership, sources of resources, and customers who you know expect that from you.

For leaders who are natural extroverts:

Be aware that your preference for independent thinking and directive communication will probably not be well received by independent thinkers.

Develop your effectiveness in having one-to-one conversations.  Ask open ended questions, actively listen to the answers, and provide enough feedback so that your teams have confidence that you understand and agree.

Be willing to make an intentional decision in the moment to flex to a less directive approach with proactive teams.  Give your proactive team members room to assert their ideas and opinions, and engage in a more collegial discussion with them, as compared to a more traditional manager-subordinate discussion.


Leadership success is less about being an extrovert or introvert than it is about being able to adapt to the behavior that is most effective in the situation, time frame, and team that you find yourself acting and leading in.

Success is about being able to flex smoothly to where you need to be.

Thanks for reading!  I’d love to get your help to continue the discussion with your comments.

End Notes:

Adam M. Grant, F. G., David A. Hofmann (2010) The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses. Harvard Business Review

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet:  the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York, Crown Publishers.



Five Months From Disaster to Distinction: Ten Markers of High Performing Teams

Train_wreck_at_Montparnasse_1895It was January of 1997 and I was the new commander of an Air Force deployable communications unit.  We were about five months away from a major evaluation of our operational capability.  I was still getting to know my team, our capabilities and our issues.

We were clearly not ready.  Had the evaluation occurred at that time, we would surely have failed. The implications of a failure were huge.  These evaluations were serious business, and our existence as a unit would have been seriously threatened if we failed.

Over the next several months we went from being woefully unprepared, to being conscious of our issues, to being very committed to a positive outcome, and to resolving our major deficits.  At the end of the evaluation, we had demonstrated that we were fully mission capable, and just shy of an exemplary rating.   We had passed by a substantial margin.

Thinking back to those 5 months, I watched things happen within our team that took us from being sure losers to very capable winners.

In this month’s post, we’ll I’ll review what research tells us about ten markers of highly effective teamsten things you can assess and improve as you work with your own teams.

I’ll use our near-catastrophe experience to list the ten markers and describe how they factored into our ultimate success.

1. The team understands and commits to its purpose

 Understanding our mission was easy.  These evaluations were crystal clear around the mission and performance standards.

Building the commitment to attack and overcome our myriad organizational issues was much more difficult and it didn’t happen over night.  Over a span of several months, focus, reinforcement, and some early successes helped us develop this and then take advantage of it.

2. Team members respect and trust each other

Most of my fondest memories come from this one.  As our confidence grew, people saw each other stepping up to challenges, and they took pride in each others’ stretch achievements.  90 pound females were throwing 200 pound males on their back and hauling them to medical care in emergency drills.  The more we stretched, the more confident all of us got.

3. No individual is more important than the team

As we gained confidence, there was less need for traditional military rank structure to drive decisions.  The command team had largely “checked their rank at the door”.  Communications within the team were direct and unfiltered. When external communication was necessary, we considered who we were communicating with, and we put the best person forward to handle that.

4. Leadership of the team shifts from time to time, as appropriate to drive results

Because we were making decisions at speed, we began asking the question, “Who on our team is closest to this issue?”  Their input became the first one we sought, and often the only one.  Some decisions did require more consideration and debate, but in most cases, the person most suited made the call and the rest of us moved on it.

5. Communications are frank and open, within as as well outside the team

One of our problems starting out was that there had some serious silos in place.  People were addressing their own organization’s goals first.  We broke down most of the misalignments between our sections’ goals and our unit goals.  People stopped protecting their turf and began figuring out ways to work together and get the job done.

6. The team focuses on and holds itself accountable to the targeted business results

Our leaders helped every one see the implications of failure and the reward of success down to the individual airman.  The downside was pretty scary and that provided plenty of motivation.

On balance, though, I think more people responded to their personal pride and their innate desire to succeed.  Once we began to move in a positive direction, that motivation fed on itself and the drive to ace this evaluation went through the roof.

 7. Everyone knows what is expected of them, and they carry their weight

The leadership function of a combat unit is executed by a small and dynamic team.  Roles must be clear, as there is no time for duplicated effort or unclear roles.  We defined our individual roles and expectation and practiced them at speed.

An interesting thing happened.  The one person best positioned organizationally to be our single point of communication with our remote elements had a devastating stutter.  We considered filling his role with another team member, but no one had the integrated view of our dispersed teams that he had.   He was the person we needed in that role and we all agreed he should play it.  He stepped up to the task, knowing that we as a team had affirmed that this role was his.  Much to our delight, under the pressure of the combat simulation, he completely lost the stutter and played the role flawlessly.  That was critical to our success!

 8. Disagreement is seen as positive, energizing

During our final field rehearsal, we had several days of continuous severe thunderstorms moving through our location.  We were constantly pulling our people out of the field for safety reasons, and moving them back to our quarters.  As disruptive as that was, it had the unintended consequence that we were able to use the down time to go over the last field situation, debug it, and rehearse it.  We had the urgency of our situation motivating us, but we also were feeling the team coming together.  We enjoyed the back and forth, even when it was contentious.  It gave us the chance to think and practice.  The team was gelling.

Our time sequestered waiting for the current storm cell to pass was the perfect stage for rehearsal.  We were getting fast and smooth.

9. Teams make decisions quickly and appropriately

The pressure of the combat situation would not permit us to over-analyze.  We got better at making the best possible decision quickly and then executing.  If it was wrong, we made a quick course correction.  Yet, most of our gut decisions were right, and we steadily gained confidence in our ability to make them.

 10.  Once a decision is made, the team falls in line behind it, and commits

 In the early going, we realized that after every meeting, there was a second (or, third, or fourth… ) meeting to discuss and reinterpret the decision.  We were wasting huge amounts of effort and creating serious confusion.  Because there was a lack of trust in some senior leaders, we couldn’t hold a course of action. After two or three of us noticed it and validated that this was consistent behavior by one leader, we made the difficult decision to pull him off the team.  Things settled down.


This experience was a great case study of the key elements of high performing teams.  More importantly to me personally, it was at the heart of the most satisfying professional year of my life.


Cease Fire: Part 3: Collaborate to create an integrated set of metrics

Cease-Fire-4Hi, this is Jim Cooper and welcome back to “It’s not just about the numbers!”

This is the third post in our series on increasing alignment between sales and marketing.  In part 1 of this series, Susan Tormollen and Jim laid out five initiatives that you could establish to tighten the alignment between sales and marketing:

I have lost my wing-man, as Susan is in the middle of a job change and a city change. But I’ll continue the series in a text copy of the dialogue Susan and I had as we were building this piece of the series.   Here goes:


Our second initiative involves the marketing and sales executives collaborating to create an integrated set of metrics

By bringing sales and marketing together to create metrics, it ensures both organizations are laser-focused on the same goals and marching to the same drummer. But, building these metrics requires three things:

1) agreement and alignment on the objectives, both short and long term, 2), a common language, and finally 3) shared service level agreements to be very clear what we will do for each other


The days of sales being only focused on short-term revenue goals and marketing being focused on long-term branding are gone, thank goodness. Yet, there are still many short term realities. The most immediate goal for both sides is the need for sales teams to meet quota. Looking longer term, sales and marketing must take the broader perspective, to map and support the full customer experience with our product or service.


Once the sales and marketing leaders are aligned, they can begin to develop the metrics needed to ensure that all objectives are aligned and metrics are in place for measuring success. Examples of shared metrics include: short term revenue growth; new logo goals, and lead generation,hand-over, and qualification metrics.


To ensure success, both teams need to use a consistent language for the sales process. When one team speaks of “opportunities”, the other team must know precisely what that means. For example, does everyone understand precisely what an MQL  (Marketing qualified lead) is? What criteria are required for that lead to become an SQL (Sales qualified lead)? What does “nurture” mean and who owns which parts of it?


Which brings us to Service Level Agreements, or SLAs. Sales and marketing must be precise in understanding the process in which leads, and feedback, go through the system. For example, marketing must get a lead into sales’ hand within 24 hours. Sales must follow up on the lead within 24 hours.

Along with an agreement of when and how hand-offs occur, building accountability and governance in to the process is essential for long-term success.

Susan, what do you think are the critical actions at this point?


Take the time to be very clear on roles and responsibilities. Beyond the metrics and agreements, sales and marketing must work together to clearly articulate each organization’s responsibilities and then build individual performance measurements based on these responsibilities.

Most importantly, sales and marketing executives must sit down to evaluate how both sides are performing against their performance and service level goals.

As we all know, performance objectives strongly influence behavior.


So here are the five questions we invite you consider and discuss, when creating an integrated set of metrics: [supporting images for each question]

  1. Have you identified which objectives should be shared between sales and marketing?
  2. Have you established a common language?
  3. Are SLAs in place?
  4. Do you need training materials and communications habits (e.g. coffee talks) to ensure new team members understand the common language, SLAs and processes?
  5. How will you drive acceptance and commitment?

That’s it for this post! We hope you’ll continue the discussion with responses to the post.

In our next post, we’ll explore the second strategic initiative, which deals with creating an integrated set of metrics for the strategic alliance between marketing and sales.

So this is Jim and Susan signing off, and reminding you, that…. It’s not just about the numbers!

Cease Fire! Part 2: Declare a strategic alliance between sales and marketing executives

In part 1 of this series, Susan Tormollen and Jim laid out five initiatives that you could establish to tighten the alignment between sales and marketing:

1. Declare a strategic alliance between sales and marketing executives
2. Create an integrated set of metrics to measure your degree of alignment
3. Show a united front to the organization on your business planning and budgeting
4. Use a consistent data set that tracks to both organization’s individual key performance indicators, as well as the integrated metrics for your partnership
5. Assign key team members from both teams to work together to win the battle in the market for new revenue

Click on the video below to listen to Susan and Jim discussing the first of those initiatives, establishing a highly visible partnership between sales and marketing executives to alert the entire sales and marketing team that both sides will either succeed together or fail together.

Thanks for watching!

Soft Skills Power the Challenger Sale

What are you doing with your sales teams to help them step up to increasing expectations from sophisticated executive buyers?

From my perspective, the worlds of selling, consulting, and coaching are converging in ways that are going to significantly improve the business outcomes we’re achieving and the human relationships on which these results are built.

These enhanced outcomes are enabled by the integration of knowledge and skills which are well known and deeply understood by the coaching community, who know how to use them and teach them.

This four minute video post is part two of a multipart series, “Is Solution Selling Dead?”

Read the Text of the Video:


Holding your own! Using Assertiveness to communicate with power and get your ideas heard.

Have you ever struggled to deal with a colleague or friend who is either aggressive or insistent that their approach is the only correct one? Did you consider either being passive, or maybe going over the top to be just as aggressive as they are? Modern research with over 4,800 individuals shows Assertiveness too be among the top five personal attributes most highly correlated to success in business and personal life. This program will make you aware of the habits and behaviors which foster strong communication and high levels of team work, and enhance your personal leadership brand. The program will also alert you to habits which inhibit others from really hearing you and supporting your critical ideas.

This is a link to a Slide Share version of the presentation I made to an HR.com webinar on Jan 22, 2014