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Let Freedom Ring!

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”
~ Colin Powell


My nephew, Geoff Germaine, is headed to the Army’s LDAC (Leadership Development and Assessment Course) today. And I am so proud of him!

From the time he was little he wanted to be in the military. When he was three I bought him a NASA flight suit and he wouldn’t take it off! His grandfather was in the Navy and great-grandfather was in the Army during WWII.

The Army is intentional about training up leaders in a way that instills pride, confidence, and competence. LDAC is a concentrated 29 days and it focuses on experiential learning, not simply theoretical. It got me thinking about the leadership training we provide our leaders in the corporate world.

I work primarily with leaders in technology, engineering, those “left-brained” focused industries. And what I have found is that in school and on the job they are given exponential opportunities to learn how to be technically proficient – with minimal, if any, training to be a leader.

So my job has been to come in and help these technically-proficient managers understand what it means to be a leader:

  • To move from being an individual contributor to the “go to” person for their team’s dreams and dramas.
  • To understand how to expand their emotional intelligence as that is what will help them succeed in management, much more than technical skill will.
  • To be able to communicate in a way that is clear, concise, and compelling rather than detail-laden.
  • To inspire and influence even when you don’t have the authority.
  • To know that a title does not give you power … only your team can do that for you.

And so much more!

I think there are 3 keys to early success for our next generation of leaders.

  1. Teach the importance of communication.
    We are a world of 7 billion people now. As a leader you must be able to communicate, influence, and collaborate effectively. It’s not enough merely being able to learn or know the facts and figures, but it’s understanding how to tell the stories around them that helps a leader’s success.
  2. Teach understanding of emotional intelligence.
    Once you get that first management titles, your emotional intelligence skills must immediately zoom past your technical skills. What does that look like for a leader? Being able to identify and manage your emotions in any given situation. Being able to respond in a way that encourages alignment and collaboration rather than defensive walls being built against you. Understanding your team members’ emotions and influencing them to manage the emotions in a way that is appropriate to the situation. Being able to solve problems using emotions appropriately rather than denying them or letting them take over the process. Seeking facts rather than relying on assumptions, and so much more.
  3. Create “fail forward” cultures.
    In the Army’s LDAC, each candidate is given an opportunity to lead, are then assessed on how they did, and given feedback on how they could have done it better, differently. They practice in safe situations that feel real so that when they are on the battlefield or in the boardroom they know how to lead effectively. Give our new hires an opportunity to practice their leadership in safe “fail forward” (from management guru John Maxwell) situations where they can learn before we need them to step up with confidence and competence.

Several companies I have worked at and now work with focus their leadership training just on those who are already leaders. And that is important – absolutely – to keep honing our leaders. And it is just as important to begin seeking out those who are potential leaders and giving those opportunities to lead before being given the title. We want them to succeed when they become our next wave of leaders. Let us give them the tools and skills now to prepare them for success. It helps them in the future, and it helps them now by being even stronger team members.

Good luck, Geoff. Thank you and with all the men and women in our military for stepping up and protecting our freedom.

For information on leadership, Hiring the Golden Unicorns, Emotional Intelligence & Negotiations, Strengthening your Inner Genius, or any of our programs, call us at 682.200.1412 or go to http://www.apexmastery.com/

Are You Ready for Some Help? Hire a VA!

When I meet successful people I ask 100 questions as to what they attribute their success to. It is usually the same: persistence, hard work and hiring good people.

~ Kiana Tom

I’ve been swamped at work and realized I need to give up some control and get some help – STAT!

Here’s what I did: I first made a list of everything I needed to do and should do in the next three to five days. Highlighted the things I really love doing – they’re my passion. Second, highlighted (different color) those things not highlighted yet that I believed only I could do. Third, highlighted anything else I wanted to do – I’m good at it and it’s revenue-generating. Fourth, everything that’s left over, outsource.

So, I began a search for a virtual assistant (VA). I found there are more things someone remote could do for me than I thought. And, it turns out, more than one VA can do as well. Here are the six areas I found that make the most sense for an entrepreneur to think about getting the help needed. You can start with one and build from there.

  • Virtual Assistant – a VA can help with:
    • Sales – automating the processes for follow up of all those business cards you’ve collected; data mining for potential clients and speaking engagements; connecting you to prospects on social media
    • email marketing & management – maintaining lists in email marketing software (i.e., MailChimp); creating and sending out newsletters; sending clients thank you’s, birthday and anniversary greetings; email and calendar management
    • File storage & organization – organizing file storage (i.e., Dropbox, Evernote); database building (updating email/contact lists on CRM – ACT, SalesForce)
    • Online research – researching trends and topics for blog posts and newsletters; researching competitors and the industry; research for best vendors (banks, credit card processing companies)
    • Administrative tasks – travel arrangements; online shopping; transcribing (voicemails, podcasts); recruiting for new team members needed; being the liaison and trainer for new team members; event planning; listen to webinars and write summaries; send your products to online buyers
  • Audio Visual Editor – an AV Editor can create your podcasts and videos; add intro’s and outro’s; create and update YouTube account; add videos into blogs
  • Bookkeeper – they can send client invoices; payroll; reconcile bank accounts and credit card statements in accounting system (QuickBooks, Xero); accounts receivable and accounts payable; tax preparation to turn over to accountant. Be diligent in watching the information. This is your company. Don’t rely so heavily on someone that you don’t pay attention. Get annual, quarterly, monthly reports. I check at least weekly and sometimes more often. I know my numbers – do you?
  • Graphic Designer – they can design all your social media buttons, banners, and social media sites; design your logo(s), infographics, landing and opt-in pages, and eBook covers
  • SEO Web Marketer/Web Designer – typically the same person can design your website and then do the analytics on it; create plugins for your payment gateway integration; site maintenance and security protection (especially if they host your site)
  • Social Media Marketing – this person can manage all your social media accounts (HootSuite, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter); ensures consistency by scheduling posts each day, for the week or month; promotes posts; accepts requests and thanks people for connecting; comment moderator

I have all six of these people now and we’re forming a well-oiled team. I am beginning to see that my time can be spent on things that matter to me and the business from a big picture standpoint. And my wonderful team spends time on the things that must be done to ensure the daily business is done well.

How have you been successful (or unsuccessful) at utilizing VA’s and other consultants on your team? Share with us!

For information on leadership, Hiring the Golden Unicorns, Emotional Intelligence & Negotiations, Strengthening your Inner Genius, or any of our programs, call us at 682.200.1412 or go to http://www.apexmastery.com/

Top 10 Ways for Setting Clear Expectations for Your Team

“Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership”.

~ Peter Drucker.


Too often, managers assume their teams can read their minds. Their teams think the leaders are trying to lead through mental telepathy.

Rather than setting and communicating clear expectations—the metrics against which we measure our progress—these leaders assume their employees know what to do and how to do it. What results is hesitation, indecision and uncertainty. Healthy teamwork, initiative and productivity go out the window.

Properly setting expectations for employees or team members is a vital aspect of quality workplaces, according to a huge study of managers undertaken in the 1990s by The Gallup Organization. Below are some tips on setting clear expectations that will set standards for excellence and results.

  1. Start with a vision of what you want the end result to look like. Not just what you want done, but the results you want to achieve when the project is completed. What does “done” look like?
  2. Discuss how you define “excellent performance”. Paint a complete picture. Refer to your performance review form. Don’t assume.
  3. Keep your focus on the desired outcomes, not on describing each and every step to follow. Your goal is to guide, not control. Letting individuals find their own route toward productive outcomes encourages them to use their strengths to their fullest potential. And they may actually come up with a better way than you thought of!
  4. Tie the mission of the department to each job. People want to know that their role, whether large or small, makes a difference. They like to feel as if their work has purpose. Let them know it does and how it does.
  5. Put the expectations in writing. The vast majority of us have faulty memories and tend to remember things the way we want to remember them. Writing it down gives consistency to the expectation and can be referred to later for clarification.
  6. Stay on the sideline. You may be tempted to run in and play the game for a subordinate, but if you do, no one will learn a thing. Don’t be an enabler. Let them develop into the team members and future leaders you want them to be.
  7. Give feedback—and often! The annual performance review is too late to let staff members know how they are meeting your expectations. Schedule informal reviews weekly (up to quarterly for larger departments). Feedback given along the way sounds more like coaching, not like punishment. And remember, Millennials crave/demand it!
  8. Ask for staff members’ feedback on how they think they are doing. The more two-way communication, the greater the clarity around the expectations. It also puts them in charge of their performance so they’re self-monitoring versus you playing performance police.
  9. Give positive reinforcement (and don’t mix negative and positive). Mention the thing you like and you’ll get more of it. Be specific and prompt.
  10. Don’t take it personally. When staff members don’t perform as you think they should have, look for solutions, not blame. See number 8. Ask them!

How have you been successful (or unsuccessful) at setting clear expectations for your team? Share with us!

For information on leadership, Hiring the Golden Unicorns, Emotional Intelligence & Negotiations, Strengthening your Inner Genius, or any of our programs, call us at 682.200.1412 or go to http://www.apexmastery.com/


Playing to Your Strengths – and Managing Your Weaknesses

We dream of having a clean house – but who dreams of actually doing the cleaning? We don’t have to dream about doing the work, because doing the work is always within our grasp; the dream, in this sense, is to attain the goal without the work.

~ Marcus Buckingham


How much have you spent on personal growth books, videos, training, speakers, and more to try to improve something you felt you weren’t good at in your business? Maybe it was marketing, sales, personnel management or public speaking. For most of us, trying to improve our weak areas in operating our business or managing our department is looked at as what is expected in leaders. Whatever the area, we feel as if we are required to do battle with what we don’t do well.

As it turns out, the majority of people around the world feel this way. In their groundbreaking book Now, Discover Your Strengths, authors Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton say that across all ages and cultures, people are more concerned about their weaknesses than their strengths. We believe that our weaknesses matter more in holding us back than our strengths matter in advancing us.

That’s nonsense, say the authors—widely held nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless. In their provocative theory, they suggest that the better strategy is to play to your strengths, building upon your core talents, and work around your weaknesses. You can work to add skills and knowledge to increase your performance in any area, but unless you are building upon one of your innate talents, your efforts won’t produce exceptional results—some results, yes, but not dramatic improvement. I believe working on your weaknesses gives you incremental growth and working on your strengths gives you exponential growth.

“Unless you have the necessary talent, your improvements will be modest,” write Buckingham and Clifton. “You will be diverting most of your energy toward damage control and very little toward real development.”

The expression “damage control” is their term for trying to minimize your weaknesses—the areas where your lack of talent actually get in the way of your performance. I believe you need to work on your weaknesses to the point where they are not a detriment to your career – and not much further!

“Managing Around” a Weakness

Instead of trying to overcome your weaknesses by brute force—and at the expense of putting the same energy into growing your strengths—they offer five strategies for what they call “managing around” a weakness:

  • Get a little better at it. In some cases, your weakness is only moderately impeding your peak performance in other areas. If so, then maybe damage control is the right solution.
  • Develop a support system. This is the proverbial string tied around the finger to remind you of something. Whether it is time management systems for those with a talent for adaptability but not discipline, or a scheduled walk in the park for disciplined folks who neglect self-care, you can often blunt the effects of your weaknesses through such structured inputs.
  • Study your prospects. If your skills tend toward the analytical and away from such talents as wooing clients or dealing directly with confrontation, then you may not want to spend a lot of time in sales. But when you do need to sell something—such as one of your ideas—approach the problem analytically. Rather than agonize over your lack of salesmanship, study your prospects, dig into what makes them tick and what ideas they’ve accepted in the past, and let your enthusiasm for your ideas do the talking.
  • Find a partner. This may be the best approach for small business people and “solo” practitioners. Go into partnership discussions with a clear-eyed understanding of the strengths you bring, and the strengths you need from your partner. Don’t be shy about your strengths—the whole point of this is to create a world in which you get to do what you are really good at. And be open-minded about what a partnership looks like. For some solo practitioners, an administrative or virtual assistant, a marketing consultant, or a bookkeeper could be all the partnering you need.
  • Just (Don’t) Do It. The last option, say Buckingham and Clifton, is just don’t do the things you are weak at. In a corporate setting you might get away with this, particularly if you are a high-performer in the areas of your strengths. If you’re a small business owner and your organizational chart tends to have “me” written in most every box, not doing something may not seem like much of a choice. But keep it as a goal and continue to work toward the day when you can contribute to your business exclusively from the place of your highest strengths.

What are your strengths? How have you “outsourced” your weaknesses to the benefit of your company or team? Share with us!

For information on leadership, Hiring the Golden Unicorns, Emotional Intelligence & Negotiations, Strengthening your Inner Genius, or any of our programs, call us at 682.200.1412 or go to http://www.apexmastery.com/

Hiring the Golden Unicorn Part 4: The Recruiting Process

“The key asset to a business – the only one that provides a sustainable and competitive advantage – is its employees, their skills and their dedication.” 

~ Robert Reich, Former US Labor Secretary.


To wrap up this four part series on hiring that person you can trust – your Golden Unicorn – let’s talk about putting all the pieces together into your Golden Unicorn Recruiting Process.

1. Clarity

In part one of this series we discussed how to find your key talent by first having a greater understanding of your personal and your business vision, mission, values, company structure, strengths and weaknesses. You must first understand yourself and what you really need before you can begin the process of finding the person who can fill those needs. I tell my clients consistently – clarity is the first key to success.

2. Components

In part two we discussed the components you need to think about when creating or filling the position, including the competencies, qualifications, and brain style needed for the position. In addition to all the factors listed in the post, another element you should calculate are the costs associated with hiring a new person. Think of the cost of recruiting, training, salary and benefits, workplace integration (buying their office equipment, supplies, bonding with the group, etc.). The “accepted” bottom line is that the “fully-baked” costs of an employee is 1.5 to 3 times their salary. This sounds like a lot! So, compare that higher cost with the cost of the pain you have by not having someone in that role.

3. Questions

In part three we talked about the interview itself and how to ask the questions that require them to show you their thinking process rather than pat answers. Your behavioral based questions are what are called Open-Ended Questions. It enables the person to choose how much and what to tell you. You should also have a few Closed-Ended Questions (those requiring a yes/no, right/wrong, black/white, decisive answers). You want a balance of these so you get a real sense of their thinking patterns and their ability to be decisive and concise as well. Also, be aware of which questions you CAN’T ask as well – nationality, religion, age, marital/family status, gender, etc. Here is an article from HRWorld on 30 Interview Questions You Can’t Ask that may give you some clarity.

4. Champion

Once you’ve developed your job related hiring process; focused on the skills, competencies and behaviors required to succeed; used a job description as your guide; prepared for each interview; used behavioral interviewing – please make sure you follow up by checking their references! This will finalize the hiring you’re your Champion, your Golden Unicorn.

If you haven’t attracted the right candidates using these steps, take a step back and see if you’re the problem. Jeff Haden, an Inc. Magazine Contributing Editor, wrote an article about the 5 Reasons Hiring Processes Never Attract the Best People (Like You). It’s about the obstacles you put in place that are off-putting to those Golden Unicorns.

So, now that you’re the solution (instead of the problem) you know what direction your company is going in; you know what type of talent you really need; you know what type of skills sets they need for the work; you know how much it will cost and have set a budgeting forecast; you have created a workable recruiting process to find the Golden Unicorns – the Ideal Candidates; then you have created your hiring plan.

What is the best part of your current attracting, interviewing, and hiring the right person for the job? Share with us!