ChangeAbility: Leadership 101/Avoiding Death by Meeting

The Newsletter of Redpoint Coaching
Volume 10, No. 2, March 2011


Want to know what changes you can make in your leadership style that will get you the most results? Or how some simple improvements in how you run your meetings can make a huge impact in their effectiveness? Read on.

Welcome to the March 2011 ChangeAbility Ezine, where our goal is to give you hands on tips and cool resources for growing your business and your leadership abilities.

We welcome your responses, comments, and questions at

Best Regards,

Lauren and Urs

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  1. Leadership 101: Get These Basics Right!

  2. 10 Ways to Avoid "Death by Meeting"

  3. Lauren and Urs' Personal Corner: The Most Fun I Had This Month Was...

  4. March's Featured Business: Whale Tale Pharmacy, Craig, Alaska


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1. Leadership 101: Get These Basics Right!

by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

Lauren and I absolutely love supporting our clients in getting better. If we could have it our way, our clients would work on their leadership skills all day, every day. Thing is, they have some other things to get done.

Within those resource constraints the question for us is always: which leadership skills, if applied correctly, will make the biggest difference for our clients? Which 20% of behavioral changes will get our clients 80% of the results?

Here are the three basic leadership skills we believe will get you a long way towards the famous 80% of the 80/20 rule:

  • Valuing being respected more than liked
  • Transition from ‘Doing’ to ‘Leading’
  • Owning and managing your own development

Valuing being respected more than being liked

One of my early bosses once told me: “Look Urs, my goal is for you to respect and like me. However, if I can only have one, I take the former.” Because I probably sometimes care more about what other people think about me than I should, this comment has really stuck with me.

To varying levels, we all have the need to be liked. Some of us need less external gratification, others need more. It’s important to understand your ‘default mode’:

  • Are you someone who tends to sacrifice business results in order to preserve a relationship? or
  • Do you tend to value business outcomes over the relationship?

Where do you sit on this continuum?

In our experience most leaders fall into the first category: they are leaders who have a strong need to be liked. This becomes a problem when you are fulfilling your need to be liked by comprising sound business decisions. In doing so, you might get a short term ‘like boost’ but in our experience, the same people whom you were trying to please might actually lose respect for you in the long run.

As a true leader:

  • You make the best decision for the organization;
  • You sit down with your people, look them in the eye and explain the business reason for making the hard decision; and
  • You show compassion for those negatively affected by your decision by listening, (really listening!) to their concerns and acknowledging them (including the accompanying feelings).

Transition from ‘Doing’ to ‘Leading’

For many bosses, but especially for founders, it is very comforting to be involved in the ‘doing’ of the day to day of the business. Some leaders I have worked with may be OK to let go of running the operations side of the business but find it very challenging to transition the deep and rich customer relationships they have built over the years.

No matter if it is operations or customer relationships: If you want to grow your business and scale it, you need to transition from doing to leading.

What do I mean by leading?

  • Setting goals for (and with) your people;
  • Getting out of their way so they can do the work they need to do; and
  • Holding them accountable for their results.

Setting goals for (and with) your people

Much has been written about good goal setting. Here is just one piece of advice in order to gain staff buy-in for goals:

  • Have your staff give input on your overall goals for the organization. Don’t just develop them by yourself in your corner office, then present them to staff and expect them to be jazzed about it. Really involve your staff in the development of company goals. Having said that, also be clear that you really want their input but that you will have the final say on what the final goals will be.
  • Once your organizational goals are defined ask your staff: What do you or your team need to achieve in order to get us there? Have them develop their own goals. Make yourself available to provide input and coaching. Having your staff develop their own goals will go miles towards buy-in.
  • Finalize all goals and publish them across the organization. Have everyone know what everyone else is working on. There is no better accountability tool! (Include progress towards the main goals in your staff meetings to help accountability, speed progress, and identify and solve obstacles.)

Get out of the way

Offer your insights, coaching, and resources along the way but don’t give into your urge to jump back in and get your hands dirty. Remember, micro management does not scale!

Don’t be afraid to defer to your team member when you get approached by a customer who wants you to personally take care of them. You need to develop your own wording but something along these lines might be a start: “Thanks Jeff for reaching out to me and thank you for doing business with us. Let me put you in touch with my team member, Sherry. She is very knowledgably in the area of xyz and will be a great resource for you.”

It is even better if you have previously brought your key team members along with you to meetings with clients, mentored their client development and relationship skills, and allowed them to develop their own relationships with clients along the way.

Use your co-workers or a coach as an accountability tool to avoid slipping back into old ‘Doing’ habits.

Holding them accountable for their results

One of the most powerful ways to start an accountability discussion is to have your staff self-assess their performance vis-a-vis the goals. If you have hired the right person she will be doing a lot of the work for you. Be sure to celebrate and acknowledge wins (“Lauren, this is a job really well done because of x, y z”) and don’t hesitate to be equally direct where you need to see improvements: “Urs, you know I really value your hard work and this simply is not good enough. In particular I need you to improve x, y, z”). Moving from Doing to Leading can be a very difficult transition to make. You need to redefine your role in the organization and change how you define your success. A good day is no longer about how much YOU did but about what your TEAM achieved.

Owning and managing your own leadership development

Hint: no one else will own and manage your leadership development if you won’t, so here is where micro management can work well for you.

To kick the process off, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • When was the last time you invited the people you work for and with to give you their honest feedback on how you are doing as a leader? What is holding you back from doing it in 2011? What are you afraid to hear?

How clear are you about the leadership skills needed to take your organization to the next level? Do you have them? If not, do you have the potential to acquire them? If yes, how will you go about it? (see below)

How much formal and informal work on your leadership skills have you done in 2010? What are you planning to do in 2011? (This may include: formal training, consciously taking on new stretch assignments on the job, coaching, mentoring, and participating in a peer group).

Reflect on your answers to the above questions and then answer the following simple question:

What one thing are you willing to commit to in 2011 to become a more effective leader to help you get the basics right?

We would love to read your response to this question. Send us a 10 pager or a one liner to: Your entry will go into the drawing for one Leadership style assessment valued at $100 and 5 Starbucks coffee cards. We will also publish all entries (anonymously, of course) over the course of the next few ChangeAbility ezines.


2. 10 Ways to Avoid “Death By Meeting”

by Lauren Owen, MBA

In our work as coaches to family and closely-held businesses, we’re always surprised at how few leaders use productive, regularly held staff meetings in their companies. We believe that they are missing a big opportunity to help them achieve bigger goals, resolve and even prevent unhealthy conflict, and promote good teamwork.

Here are some of the more common reasons (excuses) we hear when we ask our clients why they don’t hold regular staff meetings:


  • Meetings are boring!
  • We’re too busy putting out fires!
  • Nothing ever gets accomplished!
  • Nobody wants to come!
  • The last time we had one someone stormed out!
  • They’re too much work!

In short, we hear more about bad meeting experiences than good ones. While everyone has sat through their share of bad meetings (and, if we’re honest, we might even admit that we’ve led a few ourselves), we don’t often hear about what makes a good meeting.

Here are some of the elements that make for constructive meetings that people actually enjoy attending, versus dreading. They can prevent some of those “fires” mentioned earlier from forming. Most importantly, they help you build a stronger, more productive and professionally run company.

1. Sense of Purpose. Is there an agenda and has it been distributed beforehand? Suggestion: when you create your agenda, add three columns for each item: timeframe, name of the agenda item, and most importantly, what is the expected outcome. If you can’t think of an expected outcome for something you want to include, maybe you need to re-think whether it belongs on the agenda. When you put together an agenda, you can always have recurring items in place (such as financial and performance goals) for updates, then add new items and solicit items from your staff members beforehand. Be sure to leave time for discussions and issues that come up during the meeting.

2. Two-Way Flow. Is it a meeting, or do you just want to pass along information? If the discussion is only going to flow one way, that’s not a meeting! Do it another way (email, phone, or ?) Or, my personal favorite - are you calling a meeting of the whole team to discipline a few people without naming anyone specifically? Don’t do it! The guilty party(ies) will assume you’re talking about someone else and the non-guilty will be annoyed that their time is being wasted. Share your feedback directly with the individuals you need to give it to on a one-on-one meeting and don’t waste the others’ time.

In summary, use team meetings for debating and decision making on important issues instead of simply transferring information or disciplining individuals.

3. Good Drama. Not the door slamming, storming out of the room, shouting kind of drama, but the drama that results in people passionately debating their positions on a particular issue. Bad meetings lack this type of productive conflict. Patrick Lencioni, in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, names fear of any kind of conflict as one of the major dysfunctions of a team. It’s because without healthy conflict, people are afraid to share their opinions. When they can’t share their opinions, they can’t commit to an outcome and they avoid controversial topics. This, in turn, leads to environments where back-channel politics and personal attacks thrive. Ironically, lack of healthy conflict leads to the unhealthy kind. Good meetings have lively discussions and create a safe environment in which people are able to share their strong views.

4. Good leadership. Good leaders model good behavior and have good conflict management skills, which can often include letting sometimes “messy” discussions about uncomfortable topics run their course (see point #3 above). Good meeting leadership also includes setting and enforcing ground rules to create and maintain safe environments.

5. Balance. We’ve all been in meetings that drag on forever, with lots of discussions that are so far off the original topic that no one even remembers what it was. At the same time, we all know that some of the best ideas arise from impromptu discussions. The trick is to strike a good balance. One suggestion: assign one person (ideally more of your Type A personality) to serve as the “knocker.” The knocker is charged with actually rapping on the table when they sense the discussion is starting to go “off topic.” While your knocker doesn’t get to unilaterally stop the discussion, they do get to bring it to the group’s attention for a vote: should we carry on with topic, save it for later or drop it altogether?

6. Good Timing. Is your agenda neither too full and nor too light? It’s tempting to try to pile a million tasks and topics into a short time period. Or, as one of my colleague says, “avoid trying to put 10 lbs of #### in a one pound bag syndrome”. You run the risk of burning people out and losing valuable energy.

7. Participation. Everyone participates and talks, not just the leader. Don’t be afraid to directly solicit opinions from participants. As in “John, what do you think?” As the leader, do you dominate? Are you always first to give your opinion? It’s a sure fire way to dampen discussion. Hold back. Make them beg you for your opinion. Go for the question: “What do you think boss?” and answer only after others have weighed in.

Also, give people some time to respond. As we tell clients: “Let silence do the heavy lifting.” You are not hosting a radio show. You don’t need to fill every minute with your pearls of wisdom. It’s ok to have dead air. Sometimes people need time to form their thoughts before they commit to speak.

8. Accountability. Many people hate meetings because nothing gets resolved or acted upon. Are your action items tracked and brought forward to the next meeting? Are action items clearly articulated? Do you create SMART goals? (Specific, Measureable, Accountable, with a Timeline?) Assign someone to record not meeting minutes but these SMART action items. Then start your next meeting with a review of this list of action items for a status report. You’ll be surprised at how productive people can be when they know they’ll be held accountable in front of their peers. If they haven’t made progress, use this time to figure out why and help them remove obstacles.

9. Regularity. For example, weekly staff meetings should be just that. Get it scheduled for a regular time and day of the week. If you are not going to be in the office that day, assign a backup leader. Or, have meeting leaders rotate (either way it’s good for staff development.) If it ends up only taking 5 minutes to go through your regular agenda items (including an update of action items in progress), great! Dismiss everyone and send them on their way. Your team will love you for it.

10. Continuous Improvement. Do a “Plus/Delta” at the end of the meeting. Ask participants what worked (Pluses), and what could have been done better (Deltas).

Tools: agenda template and example

Tips for good meetings


3. Lauren and Urs' Personal Corner: The Most Fun I Had This Month Was...

Our new column is our effort to celebrate the simple joys of having fun. Remember fun? You know, “lively, joyous play or playfulness: amusement, sport, recreation, etc.?"

Urs - The most fun I had this month was...

skate skiing up a black diamond run at Crystal Mountain (WA). This year we decided to give one of our favorite places, the Methow Valley, a miss for our winter vacation and instead, spend a week at the downhill ski resort at Crystal Mountain, WA. While it was great for the kids to learn to ski, it was not so great for my cross country skiing (one of the few forms of exercise my knees can somewhat tolerate these days).

What to do? There is snow, I have skis, so why not really get the heart rate up and skate to the top of the lifts as a good end-of-the-day work out? All went well (and yes, it was already hard work) until I took a wrong turn and ended up going up a seriously steep black diamond couloirs. It was getting dark, the wind was hauling, it started to snow, my heart was racing, I had to stop several times to catch my breath, and if I had fallen I would have gone down a loooooong way. And the thing was: I was having fun. The situation was quite amusing. Here I am trying to skate up a black diamond slope on skinny skis which many people find challenging descending on downhill skis. I might have bad knees these days but HA! This I can still do! I was having a ball!

Lauren - The most fun I’ve had this month was...

Taking a Beginner Improvisation class at Seattle’s Unexpected Production with my teenage son, Andrew. We both had a blast and learned some new skills. It’s a great workout for your creative muscles. No one realized we were mother and son until the end of the class so I earned some “cool mom” bonus points.

Good improvisation is all about collaborative story telling and team work. Some lessons we took from our classes:

  1. "Offers" are story ideas that fellow cast mates make to others. Be clear when you make an offer. Vague or confusing offers make it hard to build a story.
  2. When telling a story, establish C.R.O.W. - Character, Relationship, Objective, and Where the scene is taking place - as quickly as possible.
  3. Don't count on props - let the audience use their imaginations and tell your story without them. Don't talk about doing something - just do it!
  4. When exiting a scene, try to do it in a positive manner.
  5. Be ready to receive - stay alert, take your hands out of your pockets and really listen so that you can pick up on your partner's offer.
  6. Commit to your character and to the story.
  7. You don't always have to be center stage - sometimes supporting the main story is the best thing you can do.

Note: many companies are finding that good improvisational skills help build good teamwork and innovation in the workplace. Find out more about corporate team building at Unexpected Productions.


March's Featured Business: Whale Tale Pharmacy, Craig, Alaska

Need advice on how to get the most our of your prescription medicine? Have a question about drug interactions? Want to borrow a book or CD? Play a game of checkers? You’ll find it all at Bill and Sarah Altland’s Whale Tail Pharmacy in Craig, Alaska. Pharmacists/owners Bill and Sarah’s passion is serving people in rural communities. And Craig fits the bill! With a population of 1,915, Craig is located on Prince of Wales Island off the coast of Alaska, a three hour ferry ride from Ketchikan and features some of the best sports fishing in the world. The Altlands are currently taking a one year leave of absence from the business to allow them to pursue their other passions of travel, medical relief mission work, and industry teaching and learning. Julie and Kevin McDonald, a young couple from Florida, share Bill and Sarah’s commitment to their community and are currently serving as the lead pharmacist and business manager, respectively, for the year. Learn more at


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ChangeAbility is a publication of Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching, which is run by Lauren Owen, MBA and Urs Koenig PhD, MBA.

Visit Redpoint's website:, or call: ++ 1 206 372 8626

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