How am I doing? The CEO Survival Kit

Key Questions for all Executives

In Executive Coaching, I often work with newly appointed executives. The job is to help them ‘scope’ what they are going to do and overcome the inevitable speed bumps which occur during the entry process. Here’s a listing of actual questions discussed with a senior banking executive who was 3 months into his new job.  Even if you are not in a ‘new job’ could you answer these questions?

 #1: 100 Day Action Plan (Personal Effectiveness)

  • Did you have a formal plan to help you ‘think through’ the role? Did you follow it?
  • Are you ‘getting through’ all the issues? Are you avoiding any critical issues because they are distasteful, socially awkward or where you don’t feel competent?
  • Do you feel that you are making a difference? Too soon to make this judgment?
  • Do you have a ‘picture’ of what you wish to achieve in the next 2 years?

#2: Synchronisation Agenda (identifying/working with key stakeholders)

  • How much effort did you make in formalising a stakeholder map? Did it add value?
  • How well is this working (helping to build personal relationships)?
  • Do you have concerns at this point about particular stakeholders?

#3: Driving Strategy

  • Is the FOG clearing? (for you, for everyone else on your team).
  • Do you have an agreed ‘tomorrow’ with your team?
  • Are you spending enough time with external audiences e.g. consultants, industry groups, conferences etc. to really understand how the market is shaping up?

#4: Organisational Change

  • To what extent do you have a ‘worked out’ organisation change strategy?
  • What % of your time is spent trying to influence the work of others rather than being overly busy/doing yourself?
  • How visible are you in the business? How much time are you spending on the ‘leadership’ agenda? (face-to-face contact with the troops).  What ‘technology’ (e.g. social media) possibilities exist under this heading?

#5: Day Job: Meeting/Beating the Numbers

  • The current scorecard provides the data you need to ‘sleep easy’?
  • How well are you doing on Strategic Cost Control? Are the current targets being met?
  • Where are your concerns/what should you do?
  • Have you shifted your team from ‘beating budget’ to ‘beating competitors’?
  • If ‘execution is the new Mantra’ — are you getting there?

#6: Team Effectiveness

  • How well is you team working – as a team?
  • Do you have the managerial bench strength to run this organisation?
  • Do you need to Buy, Build, Borrow, Bounce, Bind any particular talent?
  • Management processes (meetings, budgeting arrangements etc.) are working well?
  • Everyone is crystal clear on their role?
  • You are creating growth opportunities for individuals? (not just piling on more work).
  • You know what they really want from their careers/are helping them with this?
  • Are you getting someone ready to do your job? Should you be?

#7: Building Organisation Capability

  • Are you building the infrastructure for ‘tomorrow’?
  • Are you happy with the IT plan? The HR plan?
  • Where are you on the critical processes (e.g. Selling, Customer Service)?
  • Are you spending enough time ‘getting the organisation ready for a new tomorrow’? (‘shovelling coal into the engine’ versus being ‘on the bridge’).
  • Where are you on Mission/Vision/Values. Any mileage in those concepts for you?

#8: Managing Boundaries

  • How well are you managing relationships with key accounts, politicians etc?
  • How well are you using the organisation’s Corporate Citizenship programme?
  • Have you impressed the institutional investors? How do you know?

#9: Work/Life Balance

  • How well are you doing under this heading? Is it a myth?
  • Can you do your job in reasonable hours?
  • Are you staying somewhat fit/healthy?
  • Do you feel happy/fulfilled in the new role?

So What? Is there any value in this listing of questions for you? While not every question will be relevant, I’m guessing that about 80% of the stuff listed will be relevant to most of us. Don’t be like the guy I met last week. When I asked him how his new job was going, he replied: “Only six more years of this shit and then I’m out.”  That’s not a job.  That’s a sentence!


PS Lighter Moment: From John McGlynn (does that man do any work at all?).

The mother-in-law arrives home from shopping to find her son-in-law Paddy in a steaming rage and hurriedly packing his suitcase.

“What happened Paddy?” she asks anxiously.

“I’ll tell you what happened. I sent an email to my wife – your daughter- telling her I was coming home today from my fishing trip. I get home… and guess what I found? Yes, my wife Jean, naked with Joe Murphy in our marital bed! This is unforgivable, the end of our marriage. I’m done. I’m leaving forever.”

“Ah now, calm down, calm down Paddy” says the mother-in-law.“There’s something very odd going on here. My daughter would never do such a thing! There must be a simple explanation. I’ll speak to her immediately and find out what happened.”

Moments later, the mother-in-law comes back with a big smile.

“Paddy. I told you there must be a simple explanation. She never got your E-mail!”

From Joe Bell: “Don’t know whether this is a scam or not.  Just got a text stating that I’d won €250 or 2 tickets to an Elvis Presley tribute night.   It said: “Press 1 for the money or 2 for the Show.”

Tip of the Week: Never do a runner from a Kenyan restauraunt!

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Executive Coaching | Leave a comment

Tour in the Sewer: Creating Significant Emotional Experiences

Rat-tling Home the Message!

We were running a training program in Antwerp with an engineering crew from a large pharmaceutical company.  The program covered leadership, emotional intelligence, team building and personal branding. Additional key strands involved solving 2 key business challenges, personal coaching and career insights from the company’s own leaders. All good stuff.  Question: could we do something more?

Rat-Light District: When working in cities, we like to get some ‘local flavour.’ Participants, having flown half way around the world, need to see something more than the inside of a training room. One suggestion –  to visit the (fully legal) red light district – got shot down pretty quickly. An organised ‘brothel-spotting’ trip is hardly a decision that any large public company with a diverse executive team wants to be associated with. While some participants might decide to go AWOL after hours, we couldn’t encourage it.

Underground Sewers: Turns out that there was a dramatic alternative. Some European cities e.g. Paris – have a working network of sewers that can be visited. We donned rubber boots along with a full protective clothing suit. Then took a 1.5 kilometre walk through an underground labyrinth of tunnels – guided by one man and his flashlight. It was slippy underfoot and we also had to avoid deep channels of ‘water.’ There were rats everywhere, running past our feet and along ledges at head height. Oh, did I mention that the place was also full of spiders? It was magnificent. A construction marvel which the engineers loved (for reporting balance: not everyone was crazy about the rats).

Boring Events: Let’s face it.  A lot of training is boring. Some weeks previously I was working in North America. The trainer in the room next door (paper-thin walls) was teaching leadership and empowerment. She started speaking (really loudly) at 9am. She paused to take a breadth about every 27 minutes. The only ‘empowerment’ was when the audience was asked if they agreed/disagreed with her (people who ‘disagreed’ got short shift). It was the most top-down day I’d witnessed since being in junior infants. The ‘Lecturer’ obviously didn’t understand irony i.e. the fact that the topic was empowerment. 

Experiential Learning: Learning by doing is hardly a new concept. A Chinese saying, thousands of years old, neatly captures this: ‘I hear & forget; I see & remember; I do & understand.’ You can’t lecture people into acquiring new skills. It’s boring. It’s disempowering. And it doesn’t work. Give participants the money for a holiday in Marbella. At least they might come back refreshed and with a suntan! To embed learning – you need to take participants beyond ‘hearing’. Doing something powerful and emotionally engaging works. If you can wrap some fun around this (like that sewer tour) this makes it truly memorable.

Mama Mia: On a previous mission in Sweden, I’d re-written the lyrics of 3 ABBA songs. One of the guys on the course was called Fernando – so that song choice was low hanging fruit. I bought 4 ABBA wigs and costumes from a dress-up shop opposite the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin and recruited one of the male participants (a great guitarist) and  two of the woman to sing. When the ‘band’ got changed and we emerged from the disabled toilet, it generate a lot of fun. We handed out the reworked lyrics and had a Karaoke session that’s was, arguably, more memorable than most of the stuff I’d been teaching. Creating strong team working across a global network was a key goal of the programme; so, that box was ticked.

Don’t just run training programmes for your people. Make your events memorable. Otherwise, those events (and you) will be soon forgotten.


PS Lighter Moments:

An Irish guy, Mick, drinks in his local pub. Every time he goes to the bar he buys 3 pints of Guinness, then he sits down, drinks them, and goes back for three more. One day, I asked him why he buys three at a time. He said:

“Well, it’s like this. Me brother Paddy is in Australia and my other brother Walt is over in New York. Years ago, we made a pact that no matter how far away from each other we are, we always buy a pint for the other two, so it’s like we’re drinking together.”

It was a touching story. Then I became concerned when, yesterday, I saw Mick in the pub getting only two pints of Guinness each time he went to the bar. So I asked him if his brothers were both okay.

“For sure,” he replied. “My brothers are fine, but I’m on antibiotics so I’m not drinking this week.”


Is this Gordon’s Pizza?GOOGLE:
No sir, it’s Google Pizza.CALLER:
I must have dialled a wrong number. Sorry.GOOGLE:
No sir, Google bought Gordon’s Pizza last month.CALLER:
OK. I would like to order a pizza.GOOGLE:
Do you want your usual, sir?CALLER:My usual? You know me?


According to our caller ID data sheet, the last 12 times you called you ordered an extra-large pizza with three cheeses,sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and meatballs on a thick crust.

OK! That’s what I want …


May I suggest that this time you order a pizza with ricotta, arugula, sun-dried tomatoes and olives on a  whole wheat gluten-free thin crust?

What? I detest vegetables!

Your cholesterol is not good, sir.

How the hell do you know!


Well, we cross-referenced your home phone number with your medical records.

We have the result of your blood tests for the last 7 years.


Okay, but I do not want your rotten vegetable pizza! I already take medication for my cholesterol.

GOOGLE: Excuse me sir, but you have not taken your medication regularly.

According to our database, you only purchased a box of 30 cholesterol tablets once, at Drug RX Network, 24 months ago.

I bought more from another drugstore.

That doesn’t show on your credit card statement.

I paid in cash.

But you did not withdraw enough cash according to your bank statement.

I have other sources of cash.

GOOGLE: That doesn’t show on your last tax return unless you bought them using an undeclared income source, which is against the law.


I’m sorry, sir, we use such information only with the sole intention of helping you.


Enough already! I’m sick to death of Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and all the others.I’m going to an island without internet, cable TV, where there is no cell phone service and no one to watch or spy on me.

I understand sir, but you need to renew your passport first. It expired 6 weeks ago…

Posted in Staff Engagement | Leave a comment

Moving On: When is the right time to leave your job?

Have the guts to make career decisions that suit you – not someone else!

From time to time I meet an executive who’s ended up in the wrong job. Sometimes, it’s a temporary blip and they just need to sit tight. The chessboard pieces move quickly; if they inhabit a disliked role for 12 or 18 months, over a career lifetime that’s no big deal. But, in some cases, the ‘misfit’ issue runs deeper. Punching in more time isn’t always the right solution.

Not-For-Profit: Over 20+ years, I’ve worked with a range of not-for-profit organizations. For a host of reasons (detailed in earlier blogs), this sector poses several unique managerial challenges. Helping staff to understand that ‘not-for-profit’ ≠ ‘we are for losses’ is often the starting point. In some cases, the CEO is the founder of the organization. In other cases, the CEO is attracted to the sector because they want to ‘give something back.’ But, being happy in a job requires more than a noble cause. One CEO described this prosaically: “Having a great mission doesn’t trump all the other shit I have to put up with.”

The Dilemma: Let’s assume that you are a senior executive in a not-for-profit organization. You have become publicly identified with the goals of the organization. You’ve spent a lot of time fundraising, selling the message externally in the media, and meeting clients to demonstrate your support. But you are ‘unfulfilled’ or secretly have a grá for some other line of work. Yet, you’ve become so identified with the organization that you feel stuck, almost as if your personality and your role have morphed into a single entity. I am personally aware of two founders of not-for-profit organizations who suffered breakdowns as a result of being caught in this specific dilemma (one recently went public in an autobiography which described months when she literally could not get out of bed). They both wanted to move on but felt trapped.

Medical Neighbours: It’s not exclusive to not-for-profits. Many years ago, I worked in a medium-sized country town. In a new housing development, people made a lot of effort to get to know their neighbours. 3 of the guys on the estate where I lived were Medical Doctors. When we’d meet, 2 of them would typically talk about patients, medicine and healthcare. The other one would invariably swing the conversation around to computers (his key interest). He plied me with questions about the computers in the pharmaceutical plant where I was worked (it was generally a short conversation – based on my lack of knowledge). At an earlier point that guy, the brightest boy in his class, got pushed into studying medicine and became a GP because of his family’s need to secure a high status occupation. As about 50% of a GP’s role is actually counseling, this intelligent but introverted, shy man, ended up in the wrong job with no obvious exit strategy. He should have moved on but he felt trapped.

Dublin Party: Roll the clock forward a number years. I’m at a party in Dublin, conducting a Bacardi Summit i.e. ‘solving the problems of the world at 2 am.’ A woman I’d never met before told me that her partner was hugely committed to a house renovation project in Co. Clare. Restoring its original features had become his life’s work. I was fascinated and somewhat envious. When she asked: “would you like to do something similar?” I made a range of excuses about why it wouldn’t work, pleading busyness (forgetting to mention the small matter of a complete absence of D.I.Y. skills). Then the lady said: “You don’t have your life sorted, do you?” In the cold light of day, that comment seems smart-assed, a put-down. But it was simply a question and a solid one at that. It’s a question we all need to answer. Do you have your life sorted? A couple of days after that party, I made a significant career changing decision.

The Fear: Many executives worry about leaving an organization where they’ve huge service on the clock or have made a strong personal commitment. They ask: “what will happen to the organization if I move on?” As pushback, I use the following metaphor: the impact of their resignation will be like taking their hand out of a bucket of water and looking back in to see the space left behind!

Suit Yourself: When it comes to deciding the best job, suit yourself. Do everyone a favour and chase down a role that you really want. For sure, the announcement that you are going will be a 5-minute conversation, a storm in a thimble. Then people will quickly revert to worrying about their own lives as you get on with yours. All other things being equal, the right time to leave your job is when you stop enjoying it.

The only thing you are trapped into is the mistaken belief that you don’t have a choice.


PS Lighter Notes: I was driving this morning when I saw an AA van parked up on the hard shoulder. The driver was sobbing uncontrollably and looked really miserable. I thought to myself ‘that guy’s heading for a breakdown.’ 

Mathematically Minded? Statistically, 6 out of 7 dwarves are not Happy.

Why do people leave their jobs?

Oil rig worker: “It was boring”

Refuse collector: “That job was rubbish”

Medical Doctor: “I’m sick of it”

Gastroenterologist: “Couldn’t stomach it”

Cardiologist: “My heart wasn’t in it”

Clairvoyant: “I couldn’t see any future in it”

Car mechanic: “I jacked up”

Meteorologist: “Too unpredictable, so I stormed out”

Paratrooper: “Got the push”

Optician: “Didn’t see eye to eye with clients”

Caged bird breeder: “Got caught with my hand in the Trill”

Historical Note: I used to be addicted to swimming, but I’ve been dry now for over 6 years!

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

Posted in Career Coaching | Leave a comment

Hold Onto The Bright Bits… the art of Eulogy Writing

Coping with Death is a skill that we all have to learn

While there are some life tasks that you don’t want to become proficient at, they are an unfortunate necessity. Cleaning blocked drains immediately springs to mind. Writing eulogies might be in the same ballpark.

Portugal Trip: Last year, on a short break to Portugal, a friend was particularly worried about his aging mother and her forthcoming demise. She’d been sick for some time and the doctors were close to ‘calling it a day.’ Playing golf over a weekend, we had plenty of spare time. Across two leisurely dinners, we constructed a really poignant eulogy – without telling anyone we were doing this: “I’d love to know my son was ‘well advanced’ on writing my eulogy” – said no one, ever! But just as the newspapers have draft eulogies for high-profile figures – he wanted to be prepared when the time came. Better than scribbling down hurried notes in the middle of 10,000 funeral arrangements. Co-ordinating his thoughts in advance – wasn’t just an exercise in time management. He wanted to reflect the love he felt for a wonderful woman and to capture her life in a short but memorable way.

Hail & Hearty: Now, almost 24 months later, I’m happy to report that his mother is ‘hail and hearty’, still bouncing around and looking after herself in her own home. A modern-day Lazarus. We’re still laughing about it. Following that experience, I considered setting up a new business. Perhaps name it: Ignore the Doctors: What do they Know? Here’s how it would work. Regardless of the diagnosis you’d received, I’d pen your eulogy – and it would practically guarantee another 2 years on the planet! There might be a big market for that service. What do you think?

Writing Task: So – how do you actually go about constructing a eulogy? Is it really possible to condense 80 years into 8 minutes? At some recent funerals I’ve attended – this ‘quick summary’ idea got lost in the mix. During one particular funeral, we almost had to request a sleeping bag to survive the long-winded monologue. At another funeral, the person completing the eulogy began by telling us the name of the deceased’s Primary School Teacher – along with a range of other, equally riveting, detail. In a freezing cold church, we were only clapping to keep our circulation going.

Good Points: People (understandably) want to relate all the deceased’s good points. But too much emphasis on achievements can come across like a pitch for a senior job. Listening to eulogies can feel like you are participating in a very large group interview. So, what’s the best way to write a eulogy?   Following my extensive ‘funeral attendance research’ the answer is – there’s probably no single best way.

Recent Losses: Just before Christmas (2017) my sister Mary died. Ten days later my brother Peter died. Both were in their 70’s and both had been ill for some time. While the deaths were expected, they were still terribly sad. Of the original gang of 10, there are now only ‘6 Green bottles’ standing on the Mooney wall. At Peter’s funeral – his son Anthony – read the following poem – written over the previous days:

Hold Onto The Bright Bits…
Seems like you went away a long time ago. But just recently you closed your big bright blue eyes. And decided to finally let go
You’re in peace. You’re at rest. Dad. When you were there, you were the best
You’ve been sick for so long and it’s been really unfair. But when you were there – you were there.
You’d love a sing-song and liked a pint of black and white.
You’d stay with me when I couldn’t sleep. When I was sick through the night.

You’d hop across the train tracks to head off to work. Your nickname was Blue Peter. When it came to double shifts there was nobody could beat ‘cha.
As kids we had the best. We got all we needed and more
You’d work like mad – but in your fifties your illness got bad
I’d love to know you without the illness. It makes me sad.

You were some man for the grub and a real gent. But we’re now glad – you went.
You’re up in heaven without any pain – we have relief. In this time of grief.

You came from such a good crew all your lovely sisters. Two Ninja brothers and Paul and Sean. They’ve always been there when things went wrong.

Ballyfermot has a hole in its Soul. Profits in Lamb’s curry shop have suffered
And your old mates on the road are missing the man who wore. A suit each day. The man who got up at 6 and drank two raw eggs Every morning and was fit as fiddle. Then ends up passing away – what a cruel riddle.

But we as family are going to hold onto the bright bits.
The bits where you loved and cared for us dearly.
The bits where you helped us with out homework after dinner.
The bits where you made our summers special

Bringing all of childhood friends to various fun places.
You’re the reason we all work hard
You’re the reason we don’t see life as too bad
You’re the reason we find humour in the darkest of places.
You’re the reason we always try to have smiles on our faces

There’s so many funny stories I’d like to share. There’s so much love you gave to show you cared. You were sick and early on we didn’t know it. But now it explains why you lost your drive. And the energy you once had left your Soul. But we will always remember the bright bits. You sprinkled through all of our lives.

I’ll never forget you pulling us up for work on Sunday. Convinced it was Monday
You’d say: “You’re going to lose that job ya bowsey.” I hadn’t the heart to tell you it was only Sunday.

So there you go. There’s no perfect way to write a Eulogy – unless, of course, you decide to write your own. Now, there’s a thought.


PS Lighter Notes: I will definitely have to send another note to John McGlynn and stop him sending me this ongoing sexist stream of humour. He just doesn’t listen and seems oblivious to the #MeToo campaign. Ah well, here goes anyway (you’d need a smile after that blog topic).

*STRICTLY FOR MEN ONLY* – All the women should ‘look away now’ before it’s too late! (better still, convert these jokes and use them against men).

*When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her.   Lee Majors

*I had some words with my wife, and she had some paragraphs with me. Bill Clinton

*Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes on Tuesdays, I go on Fridays. George W. Bush

*I don’t worry about terrorism. I was married for two years. Rudy Giuliani

*I’ve had bad luck with all my wives. The first two left me and the third one didn’t. Donald Trump

*The most effective way to remember your wife’s birthday is to forget it once. Kobe Bryant

*You know what I did before I got married? Anything I wanted to.
David Hasselhoff

*My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met. Alec Baldwin

*Marriage is the only war where one sleeps with the enemy. Tommy Lee

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


Posted in Positive Psychology | Leave a comment

Overcoming Anxiety: A Personal Triumph (not!)

Bring it On!

My brother Tony lives in Winnipeg – the Athlone of Canada. Despite the cold, he has a warm sense of humour – on the assumption that you are not overly sensitive. He recently said: “How is it that in every story you tell, you’re always the hero.” Ouch! So, just to prove him wrong here’s an anti-Hero story.

Meribel, France:  February 2018:  For a variety of reasons, we hadn’t gone skiing for a couple of years and had forgotten the level of fitness required (I love the concept of fitness). On this particular afternoon, we were high up the mountain. The blue-sky and soft snow conditions from early morning had morphed into an icy blizzard, making visibility difficult and traction on the skis virtually impossible. Think downhill cycling with no brakes and you’re getting close. Both of my daughters – Amie and Nicole – were snowboarding. Nicole, a reasonably good skier, was attempting to snowboard for the first time. In these particular conditions she was ‘all over the place’ with more falls than a Judo Tourament. By late afternoon, the light had started to fade and the snow began to pound down. With a 2-mile run to the base of the mountain, we were struggling. Some decisions had to be made.

Super Dad: Faced with these exact circumstances, ask yourself: “What would I do?” What I did was leave the two of them on the mountain, making it safely down myself. I then stood at the bottom, hoping they would survive! I know, I know. As an example of self-preservation it’s up there alongside the Captain of the Concordia abandoning ship (he was later imprisoned). While my conscience was marginally eased when they got down safely (Nicole courtesy of a ski lift), this one ranks as a low moment in parenting.

Managing Anxiety: Now I’m normally an OK Dad – not known for abandoning kids (even adult kids) on the side of mountains. To understand what happened we need to consider what’s often called our Lizard Brain and how this functions. Somewhere – back in the dark and distant past of human civilisation – humans were programmed with a fight/flight response. Faced with ‘imminent danger’ (e.g. a sabre-toothed tiger) we either stood and fought or ran away. As part of this involuntary response, our body floods with adrenaline, we get heart palpitations, sweaty palms and feel a powerful urge for action i.e. to do something. At the crucial moment I choose to bail off on the girls, only later fully realising the stupidly of that response (worst case scenario we could have walked down). Not exactly a proud moment. The girls thought it was hilarious and ribbed me mercilessly for days on end. How do I know about the physiology of the fight/flight response? Because it’s exactly the same ‘involuntary fear response’ that some people (including myself) get when flying.

Aberdeen Calling: About 6 months earlier, I had to fly to a work gig in Scotland. On the day in question, the small propeller aircraft practically guaranteed a roller coaster ride in the bad weather conditions. While I couldn’t think of any reasonable way to get out of this, it still took a huge effort to get on that stupid plane. So, what can you do? Resign yourself to holidaying in Leitrim forever? Jesus! Or try to overcome the fear. To date I’ve tried hypnosis and prescription drugs (Zanax). Through reading I’ve become a nerd on airline technology, attended fear of flying courses, consumed copious amounts of alcohol (I drink more on airplanes than anywhere else), and have tried several relaxation techniques. Sometimes it’s a combination of the above to get through long flights. So, lest there was ever any doubt about it, this note officially confirms that I’m no hero. But I refuse to completely give in to anxiety and let it dominate my life.  While fear can be an irrational pain-in-the butt, I’m still in charge.

I hope there’s something in this rant that’s useful to you. I’m feeling better already having given up on that Hero complex!


Ps Lighter Notes (staying with the theme)

 “You know the oxygen masks on airplanes? I don’t think there’s really any oxygen. I think they’re just to muffle the screams.” Rita Rudner

The only thing you have to fear is fear itself… and spiders (anon)

Pilots = the first to arrive at the scene of an aviation accident.

If you push the stick forward, the houses get bigger. If you pull the stick back, they get smaller. That is, unless you keep pulling the stick back – then they get bigger again.

Always try to keep the number of landings you make equal to the number of takeoffs.

“My fear of flying starts as soon as I buckle myself in and then the guy up front mumbles a few unintelligible words then before I know it I’m thrust into the back of my seat by acceleration that seems way too fast and the rest of the trip is an endless nightmare of turbulence, of near misses. And then the cabbie drops me off at the airport.” Dennis Miller

General Cynicism (an important part of the Monday Morning diet)

I started out with nothing & still have most of it left.

If I throw a stick, will you leave?

Whatever kind of look you were going for, you missed.

I’m trying to imagine you with a personality.

A cubicle is just a padded cell without a door.

You’re Just Jealous Because The Voices Are Talking To Me.



Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

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Making Your Promises Explicit: Taking a Leadership Oath:

Should Leaders take an Oath?

In the consulting world, I come across many different managers and styles of leadership. Some people are planful, understanding exactly what they are going to do and when they are going to do it. Others are more instinctual, sensing what needs to be done, gifted with an antennae that separates important Shark issues from unimportant Minnows. Some need the ‘trappings of office’ to feel secure and manage. It’s like the twin entrances to Pearse Street Police station in Dublin. One entrance has a police figure wearing a flat cap; the other entrance has a figure sporting officer’s headwear – reflecting the different entrances to the building (based on rank) in the police force 100 years ago.

Teaching Leadership: It follows that teaching people to lead poses a real dilemma. Should they be given part of an organization to manage and see how they get on? Or do you break Leadership down into easily digestible chunks and teach them the individual components – much like simple concepts in music are taught to a beginner with complexity added later in a sort-of layering process? We start with A,B,C. Then we learn to spell C-A-T. Eventually, we figure out how to spell catastrophe!

Conceptual Models: One way to teach is to provide ‘models’, which help people to conceptualise the leadership role. As they become more experienced, they can by-pass the model. Dr. Eddie Molloy used to express this as follows: “People learn to cycle holding onto the handlebars. But when they become good cyclists, they can let the handlebars go.” Learning to lead often follows this same basic pattern.

Beyond Techniques: Beyond techniques – Executive Coaches often get clients to conceptualise their job as something incredibly important. This is more than just building a toolkit of individual skills. We know that Doctors take an oath swearing to practice medicine ethically and honestly (widely believed to have been penned by Hippocrates). As organization leaders, should we hold ourselves to the same high standards? Ambrose Bierce suggested that: “Character is the diamond that scratches every other stone.” So, in addition to constructing the baseline skills, should we also focus on building leadership character? On a trip in the USA, I came across the following Leaders Oath.


I will do everything that I can to help my team and my team members succeed.

I will do everything I can to help the organization to which I belong achieve its goals.

I deal with people, with all of their human strengths and failings, and will treat them with respect and with care.

I will strive always to do what’s right, even when it is difficult.

I will not be ashamed or hesitant to say, “I don’t know” and then seek the answer.

When problems occur, as they will, I will strive to identify them early and deal with them immediately.

I’m a member of society and my actions and decisions spread ripples that affect others.

I know my work as a leader can always be improved through conscious and continuous personal development.

I pledge this because leadership is a sacred duty to the people who have entrusted me with their goals, their aspirations and their wellbeing.

So What? I know that this might be a bit OTT in an Irish context, but would a modified version (or even a discussion on this among the senior team), work in your organization? Of course you can always take the opposite approach i.e. just show up and see what happens! But that’s generally not a great recipe for success.


PS Reverse Mentoring: Just thought that you might be interested in a trend emerging in the UK and USA labeled ‘reverse mentoring.’ It’s a recognition that the older Grey Beards (like myself) are not as technology friendly as the so-called Digital Natives. To address this, some companies are ‘pairing up’ senior executives with younger employees who coach them on the use of a variety of technologies. L’Oriel’s HR Director, Leah Jones, stated: “Our digital-savvy Millennials who are nominated to be mentors also feel valued, recognized and empowered by being able to share their expertise with a senior leader and the wider business.”

 PS Lighter Note: EVER WONDER……

Why don’t you ever see the headline “Psychic Wins Lottery”?

Why is ‘abbreviated’ such a long word?

Why is it that doctors call what they do ‘practice’?

Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor, and dishwashing liquid made

with real lemons?

Why is the person who invests all your money called a broker?

Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

Why isn’t there mouse-flavored cat food?

Why didn’t Noah swat those two mosquitoes?

Why don’t sheep shrink when it rains?

Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport the terminal?

PPS The Blind Cowboy: From Larry Mc Givern…

An old, blind cowboy wanders into an all-girl biker bar by mistake. He finds his way to a bar stool and orders a shot of Jack Daniels. After sitting there for a while, he yells to the bartender,

“Hey, you wanna hear a blonde joke?”

The bar immediately falls absolutely silent. In a very deep, husky voice, the woman next to him says:

“Before you tell that joke, Cowboy, I think it’s only fair, given that you are blind, that you should know 5 things…

  1. The bartender is a blonde girl with a baseball bat.
  2. The bouncer is a blonde girl with a Billy-Club.
  3. I’m a 6-foot tall, 175-pound blonde woman with a black belt in karate.
  4. The woman sitting next to me is blonde and a weight lifter.
  5. The lady to your right is blonde and a professional wrestler.

“Now, think about it seriously, Cowboy … do you still wanna tell that

blonde joke?”

The blind cowboy thinks for a second, shakes his head and mutters,

“No … not if I’m gonna have to explain it five times”

From Amie – my daughter in Melbourne.

Son asks his father. “Dad, what’s an alcoholic?”

Dad Says: “You see those 4 trees? An alcoholic would see 8” 

Son Says:  “But Dad, I can only see 2”

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

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Resolving Executive Conflict: Finding a Path Forward

Resolving Conflict is a key Executive Skill

“When Elephants jostle, the grass gets hurt” Swahili proverb

The Organization Development consultant JK Galbraith suggested that organization life has many elements of ‘theatre’ as there’s always some drama underway. So, lets take the following as a given.  Even two people under one roof is normally a recipe for friction (technically referred to as ‘marriage’). So, when you bundle a bunch of people into a single organization there’s likely to be tension, friction and conflict.

Always Negative? Conflict isn’t always negative. You know from your own experience that debates can lead to alternative ideas, even superior solutions. Indeed, several organizations have attempted to harness the power of internal friction e.g. ‘Constructive Confrontation’ in Intel has been widely publicized and ‘Straight Talk’ in Pfizer plays a very similar role. Yet while conflict in these organizations is respected, it’s not a license to be a jerk and has to be kept within boundaries.

Conflict Downsides: While conflict around ideas can actually be a sign of organization health, Interpersonal conflict can be enormously destructive to individuals, damaging productivity and lowering confidence. So, while conflict is inevitable, combat isn’t! The executive role (i.e. your job) is to navigate a path between legitimate conflict – around ideas –  and destructive conflict – around personalities.

Colds versus Pneumonia: Like bacteria, the germ of conflict is all around us but a level of immunity helps us cope with this. That level of immunity depends on the respect given to alternative points of view. While we can live with debates and tolerate disputes, we have to draw the line when issues become derogatory.

Debate: “Should we build a plant in Ireland or Israel?”

Dispute: “It’s going to be Proper governance from now on”

Derogatory: “Finance: where ideas go to die”

Taking Stock: The typical organization response to conflict is to ignore or avoid it. “Hey, that’s not my job!” Ignoring it may be driven by a genuine belief that the conflict will resolve itself over time. This may even have a specific Irish cultural dimension e.g. ‘least said – soonest mended’. While avoidance (“Nothing to see here, move along”) can be a form of well intentioned peacemaking … it sometimes ignores a burning, resentment that’s never fully extinguished. Case Study: I worked with a financial services client on a strategy project. There was a ‘heavy spat’ between two executives. I knew one of the guys from college; after one meeting, I asked him about it: “I’ll tell you about that guy” he said. “During a pitch to my European boss he highlighted a math error in one of my slides. It was really embarrassing.” My response: “I can understand why you were annoyed. When did it happen?” “I’ll never forget it. 20th February 1995.” The Point: An ‘unresolved’ conflict had damaged their relationship for 20+ years. If you think that’s nuts, don’t get me started on 50+ year disputes in my own family that have never been resolved.

To understand avoidance, we need to acknowledge that behaviour has a psychological payoff. In the case of conflict, the normal payoff = anxiety avoidance. People simply don’t want to go there! In one client organization where conflict avoidance was really apparent, a client said: “Real conversations are about as welcome as a diagnosis of bowel cancer.” He was not alone…

Full-Blown Avoidance: I was involved in a case which I label ‘“The Hunch-Back of Ballsbridge.” It involved a small team of financial specialists (from memory, 7 women and 1 man). The man had a body odour problem which could be measured somewhere on the Richter Scale. Believe me, it was bad. The women, severely annoyed, decided to do something about it. They kicked off by discussing a variety of anti-perspirants and kept returning to that topic at every coffee break: “24-hour Sure is the best. You can run through the jungle and you don’t produce a drop of sweat.” When that didn’t work, they decided to ‘up-the-ante.’ One of the women had recently undertaken a major home renovation and the topic of conversation turned to Power Showers. “We installed a Mira. Jesus, a power shower first thing in the morning gets your day off to a flying start.” (I’m not sure if she added: ‘You’d feel like a new man’).  Of course, the guy with the BO problem was completely mystified by all of this and rationalized that it was some sort of ‘women’s thing’ (he was only recovering from the anti-perspiration fetish when this power shower stuff kicked off). At that time I was working with the company on an organization structure project. The MD called me aside and asked for help to resolve this. “What have you got in mind?” I asked. The MD had figured out a ‘perfect solution.’ In the new organization structure, there was to be a stand alone department. She wanted me to suggest that this guy be ‘promoted’ to look after this. The old building which housed their offices had a ‘Dutch Hip’ style roof which meant that they had an enlarged attic. She suggested that the new department could be relocated there. And then, quite incredibly, she told me that there was a fire escape from the roof which ran down the back of the building. Her suggestion: this ‘newly promoted’ manager could “come and go as he pleases” (presumably as long as he didn’t walk through the normal offices leaving a scent trail). I told her this was a ‘Hunch-back of Ballsbridge’ solution and it was ridiculous. She needed to confront the guy. Explain the problem. Tell him the impact it was having. Ask him to fix it. And, explain the consequences if he didn’t fix it. Very, very reluctantly, that’s exactly what she did (about a month later).

Huge Downside: The costs of conflict avoidance, while seldom measured, are very real. On the people side, damaged morale leads to absenteeism, labour turnover, stress and depression which all carry negative implications for productivity. Internally, there’s often collateral damage where chinks in the senior team become fissures lower down the organization. On the customers’ side, defections and poor word-of-mouth marketing damage your brand. So, while you might be ignoring this you are definitely not avoiding it. The negative costs of conflict pile up. And, while I’m at it, lets make a special mention of Not-For-Profits. My experience is that there’s an inverse relationship between the ‘nobility’ of an organizations mission and the amount of blood spilled on the carpet (I subsequently discovered that this actually has a name ‘Moral Licensing Theory’ – look it up). It’s in keeping with the famous Henry Kissinger quote about working in academia: “The tension is so high because the stakes are so low.”

Whoa! Halt: Some companies go outside and seek external help. The problem here is that the Cavalry come in all shapes & sizes, including cowboys – people who either don’t know what they are doing or have an ethics lapse. A common problem is process confusion – “Let’s just follow the legal model.”  The search for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ – using fair procedures doesn’t normally fix relationships and investigations often end up as allocations of blame. They are costly, time consuming and result in ‘divorce’ rather than relationship building. Of course, a fundamental question is whether the particular relationship is worth saving and merits the investment of time and effort that needs to go into ‘repairing’ this. Sometimes, it’s simply too late to intervene:

“Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall Humpty Dumpty had a big fall

All the Consultants And all the King’s men Couldn’t put Humpty together again…

Appreciative Inquiry: History is not always correctable. Going back over old ground (he said/she said) doesn’t always add value. An alternative approach is to help participants decide what this relationship will ‘look like’ in the future. In my experience, the market for positive reinforcement is never saturated. Valentines work by getting people to focus on what they like about the other person (of course, this has to be sincere), stopping them spending all of their time thinking about what they ‘don’t like.’ The following story reinforces this: When Yen Ho was appointed as tutor to the Duke of Wei, he went to Ch’u Po Yu for advice. “I have to deal with a man of depraved and murderous disposition …. How is one to deal with a man of this sort?” “I’m glad” said Ch’u Po Yu “that you asked this question. The first thing you must do is not to improve him, but to improve yourself.”

 Final Thoughts:

Don’t Ignore: Conflict doesn’t normally go away on it’s own.

Don’t Avoid: Even if your boss is the source of the problem … deal with it.

Men Only: Executive teams that are 100% ‘male and stale’ sometimes avoid emotional disputes. Don’t reinforce the stereotype (anyway, it’s not just men that avoid conflict).

Culture Change: Leadership teams can learn to harness conflict rather than be destroyed by it, incorporating best-practices from well managed companies.

When you chicken out on awkward discussions, you run away from the job you’ve been paid to do. If conflict is something that you need to address in the workplace, have the courage and skill to tackle this before it leads to dysfunctional outcomes. Knowing how to resolve conflict is a key executive skill – and offers benefits across all areas of your life. Take it on.


 Lighter Notes:

 Q: What’s a mediators’ favorite food?

A: Anything as long as it is processed correctly!

Q: What’s the difference between a mediator and an astronaut?

A: An astronaut sits on top of a controlled explosion but has some idea of the direction it’s headed.

Heaven Versus Hell: Hours after the end of the world, a border dispute emerged between heaven and hell. God, invited the Devil for a conversation to find a way to resolve the dispute. Satan proposed a soccer game between heaven and hell. God, always fair, said to the Devil: “The heat must be affecting your brain, the game would be so one sided. Don’t you know all the ‘good’ players go to heaven?”

The devil responded: “Yeah, but we’ve got all the refs!”

Farm Dispute: The Collins family owned a small farm in Canada, just yards away from the North Dakota border. For generations, their land had been the subject of a minor dispute between Canada and the United States. Mrs. Collins, who had just celebrated her 90th birthday, lived on the farm with her son and two grandchildren.

One day, her son rushed into her room with a letter in his hand. “Mom, I have some news,” he said. “The government has come to an agreement with the people in Washington. They’ve decided that our land is really part of the United States. We have the right to approve or disapprove of the agreement. What do you think?”

“What do I think?” his mother replied. “Jump at it! Call them immediately and tell them we accept. I don’t think I could stand another one of those Canadian winters!”

From Amie Mooney: I went to the zoo yesterday and saw a baguette in a cage. The zoo keeper told me it was bread in captivity!

Q: What did the drummer call his twin baby girls?

A: Anna 1, Anna 2.

 Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.

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