The Leadership Workout

Whether you’re into the gym, yoga, running or just walking the dog—you try to keep yourself fit, so why not work out your leadership “muscles” too?

While coaching executives and aspiring leaders over a decade and a half, I’ve put together this workout of 15 quick exercises that can help you strengthen your leadership skills no matter what situation you and your organization may be facing.

For each of the following exercise, take a look in the mirror and reflect on:

a) How you handle it now
b) What’s working and not working
c) How you want to enhance your approach going forward

Then practice:

1. Spread your vision, strategy, roadmap and your “why”: Make sure everyone responsible for your organization’s success understands your vision and strategy, knows the roadmap to get there, and “gets” why and for whom the world will be better if your vision is achieved. If your people are vague on any of these elements, they won’t be able and/or inspired to do their best work.

2. Appreciate collaboration: Value and reward your people’s excellence when they deliver results and when they collaborate with colleagues and “have each others’ backs.” Expecting and rewarding both results and relationships make a more sustainable organization.

3. Accelerate new ideas: Measure, monitor, and decrease the amount of resistance in your organization to implementing a good idea. Diminish the amount of time, number of steps, or non-value-added activity it takes to execute new projects. This “drag coefficient” exists in all organizations of two or more people, and lessening it is an ongoing way to maintain a strong flow of good leadership.

4. Delegate authority: Delegating with context and clear expectations makes you and your team scalable. If you’re a founder, perfectionist or do-it-yourselfer, you may need to work extra hard to guide others to do their best for you, rather than do things “your way” (or worse) yourself.

5. Weed out chronic underperformers: Give all reasonable feedback, candor, and support to your people to help them succeed. With that, when someone continues to underperform, help them move on. Hanging on for too long is a common and avoidable leadership error.

6. Be accountable: Modest failures are inevitable, particularly when innovating. It’s important not to hide from them or shift blame, but to claim and transcend them, and to encourage the same from your team.

7. Encourage innovation: Innovation isn’t in a book, method, process, or workshop. It’s in your imagination, as well as your courage to challenge the status quo. Push yourself and your team to do, build, or be something novel.

8. Build for sustainability: Making positive (and not negative) impact on people, communities, economies, and natural resources is a sustainable way to lead.

9. Reduce avoidance: Noticing what you’re avoiding or when you’re procrastinating is an underused source of self-correcting leadership. Periodically make a list of these things, and look for a pattern. (And don’t put it off!) You will likely encounter an important insight.

10. Create a culture of candor: Candid feedback given and received is the breakfast of champions. Be candid with others, and ask the same for yourself. Honesty is the key ingredient for sustaining success when things are going well, and the fuel for change when things are in trouble.

11. Open your mind by opening your ears
: Positional authority—like that of a leader—can shut people down, and make them less likely to share ideas and suggestions. Give people permission to share their thoughts and questions. In fact, the most junior people, who are often the ones doing the actual work, can often see most clearly things that need change. Make it easy for them to connect to you.

12. Monitor yourself and read the room: Launch your self-observer drone in every interaction and meeting, and keep an eye on how you are coming across. Tailor your communication to your audience, and monitor your “transmit-to-receive” ratio. In other words, how much are you talking versus listening? It’s good to follow the 80/20 rule–80 percent asking or listening and 20 percent talking. Even if you are at 50/50, you’re talking too much to lead effectively.

13. Move the timeline to the productive future: Shift unproductive conversations into the future so that they can lead to useful solutions. “This is an important discussion, and what are we going to do moving forward?” is a great way to turn a frustrating go-nowhere discussion into a valuable outcome.

14. Carve out you-time: If your calendar is booked morning until evening every day, and you don’t have process time to yourself, then you’re not leading effectively and sustainably. I ask my clients to block a few hours a few times a week, or 30 minutes per day, during which they’re not returning emails, texting, or doing phone calls. Simply sit and think, and maybe make a few notes.

15. Identify and retain the “keepers:” People on your team who “care” are worth their weight in gold. Hire and retain employees who are fired up and care deeply about their own work. Diligence and willingness to learn are harder to find, and, when absent, more valuable than experience and credentials.

As you consider these 15 sets of leadership “muscles,” think about your own team, enterprise, and leadership approach. What could use some additional workouts this week? This month? This year?


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

Leadership Challenge: Launch Your Drone!

Observing and adjusting in real time the impact you’re having on other builds influence, rapport, and engagement. Put simply, if you worked for a leader who would be attentive to impacting others in positive ways versus someone who was unaware of their impact on others, which one would you rather follow?

I work on this with almost every tenured executive and young leader I coach because it’s a great tool, one that many leaders with strong followership use effectively.

As one client put it, “Oh, so you want me to launch the drone!” Yes, exactly.

How it’s done: “Launch the drone”

Try this: Lift a part of your attention—say 10%—above each live conversation you have for the next month or so.

Like a drone, you float it just above your heads, watching yourself and watching how the other person is (or people are) responding: zoom in on what they’re “saying” both verbally and non-verbally including words, tone, body language, and expressions. Then adjust what you’re saying and not saying, and how you’re expressing yourself, in real time to steer toward what is needed here to have the most powerful and effective conversation.

So for July’s leadership challenge, I’m asking you to launch your how-I’m-impacting-others-assessment-and-adjustment drone. In each meeting 1 on 1 or in a group, monitor your impact on the other(s)—what do you notice? What adjustments do you need to make to have the impact that moves people into what’s needed for their good, and the best for the organization, your team, the communities you impact, and others.

Let me know what you discover!


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

Leader Challenge: Test Your Blind Spot

Are you game to try something new in terms of how you lead this month?

Try this: ask a single blind-spot clean-up question of each of your direct reports over the next 30 days. For example, “What do I need to pay more attention to when it comes to your workload?” For other blind-spot clean-up questions, take a look at sample questions here.

Remember — when you get their answers, don’t react or explain or defend or rationalize. Just take it, say “thanks,” and think about it.

And, don’t forget to let me know how it works for you!


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

How to Deliver a Tough Message Well

A sharp message and tone-—used sparingly, privately, and deliberately—-is a necessary and powerful leadership tool. If, as a manager or leader, you haven’t yet found a “sharp edge” that suits you, you’re probably overly nice or overly harsh. Both can cause problems for you and your team.

Early in my career, I was the recipient of some incredibly effective constructive criticism, and I’ll never forget it.

I was then a corporate executive. At one point, I was managing a multimillion-dollar project that had hit some major stumbling blocks. One evening, Chuck, who founded the company and was its CEO, happened to get on the elevator I was on. It was just the two of us. He was an icon in the industry, in part for being “nice.” After a pause, he looked me in the eye and said, “I hear your project has some issues.” He paused, and I nodded. Then he added, “We both know too many people who left this company the fast way when they over-promised and under-delivered. I’d hate to lose someone as promising as you that same way.” Pause. Wow. “Make it work, and let me know what you need.” Silence. “Thanks, Chuck.” Super long pause. Ding. Off I went.

It worked. While it was hard to hear, I took it as “fuel” to get my project back on track. The message was effective because it was sharp, authentic, and he offered not only consequences but also support. It was neither mean nor rude. It was clear.

These days I work with many executive clients who have yet to master their sharper edge. It’s actually a rampant problem. They’ve gotten feedback that either they’re “too mean” or they “need to be liked.” As their coach, I’ve discovered three tactics that help improve both styles:

1. Use toughness sparingly. In the example, Chuck wasn’t prodding or micromanaging me. He left a sharp sting, but it only needed to be delivered once. It’s 18 years later and I still remember it verbatim.

2. Deliver the tough message privately. No one else was on the elevator. It was NOT in front of my team, his team, or anyone else. It was one-on-one, which is the way I recommend my clients deliver critical or even tough messages. Praise in public; punish in private, as the saying goes.

3. Be thoughtful and deliberate—and not reactive. Critical or sharp-edged messages delivered in the heat of the moment are always a mistake. Chuck had clearly thought about his sharp edge and was good at using it. If you’re offering criticism, you owe it to the recipient to carefully consider your words.

Find your tough but fair (and non-reactive) self. Use it with authenticity; offer consequences, and support, as needed; and deliver criticism sparingly, privately, and deliberately. Once you’ve honed your sharp edge, it will help you cut to the heart of the matter with clarity and empathy.


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

What Every Awesome Leader Should Ask Their People

Asking better questions makes better leaders.

There are questions we could ask the people who work for us that we simply don’t think to ask.

For example, when was the last time you asked someone on your team, “Is there anything you’ve tried telling me that I don’t seem open to hearing?”

Ask your people excellent questions about things that are not readily visible to you—what’s in your blind spots–and listen (and DO NOT debate them!) more than you talk. Applaud their honesty, and they will say what you need to lead, rather than what you want to hear.

If you’re an exceptional leader, you may already ask many or all of these.  You may read through them and not find some of them very useful. It’s up to you to pick the ones that fit you, your team, and your organization.

Ask, then listen carefully to what you hear, without judgment or defense—if you feel embarrassed, surprised, or startled, I suggest you follow the 48-hour timeout rule.  Put it aside and come back to it fresh a day or two later.  Again, just don’t debate what they are telling you because if you do, they will conclude you’re not serious about getting the feedback.

  1. What energizes you the most about your work these days?
  2. What stresses you out or do you find draining, about your work?
  3. What should I know about your workload that we haven’t discussed (or that I may not understand)?
  4. Where are we hitting and missing the target on opportunities to improve our results?
  5. Where are we over-investing and under-investing (time/money/energy/resources)?
  6. What’s one thing you and I can each do to work together better?
  7. What do you not want to tell me, that really needs to be said?
  8. How would you like your colleagues to describe what it’s like to work with you?
  9. What are you finding hard to understand or address about the feedback I give you?
  10. What do I not seem to be noticing or paying enough attention to that I should focus on?
  11. Is there anything I’m doing — or not doing — that’s dampening your motivation or enthusiasm?
  12. What can I do to help you more than I have with your career / professional growth?
  13. Where am I overconfident or hearing what I want to hear more than what I need to know?
  14. Where am I / where are you holding on to something or someone for too long?
  15. How could I build more engagement/commitment from our most valued people?
  16. What do we need to stop doing that’s wasteful?
  17. Is there anything you’ve tried saying to me that I’m dismissing?
  18. Where do we as an organization tend to repeat the same behavior and wish for a different result?
  19. What will give you the greatest satisfaction to achieve in the year ahead?
  20. What am I not asking you that I really should ask?

* * *

Bottom line: questions expand possibilities, and leadership is about turning possibilities into realities. If you’re doing more telling than asking/listening as a leader, then you’re missing what you need to know to lead effectively.


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

10 Essentials of Extraordinary Leadership

Many executives who are good managers ask me how they can raise their game and take their leadership from good to great. As a member of the leadership team at Charles Schwab for almost a decade, then as an executive coach for nearly 15 years, I’ve made it my life’s work to observe, understand, and advance high-quality leadership.

I’ve watched people become good leaders and proudly witnessed them evolve into great ones. “Good” leaders can run a successful business, manage business details, and deliver good results. Extraordinary leaders go beyond the numbers and results. They’re able to inspire, transform, and lead an organization that can change their industry, if not the world. As one retiring CEO client told me, “I wish I had realized earlier that what meant the most to me was not the quarterly results, but the impact I had on my team’s careers and lives.”

You can lead in a transformational way by taking on these ten practices.  I’m not suggesting you try them all at once, but take a look at how you do each of them now, and therefore which one(s) need right-now priority focus:

1. Inspire. People want to feel like they’re making a difference. In fact, recent studies show that the majority of millennials prefer a job with meaning and purpose over one with a high salary. Show your team a vision, mission, and roadmap that they can care deeply about and use language that inspires them to do their best work. I once asked the CEO of a medical device-maker to stop using the word “customers” and replace it with “lives.” The company then shifted its goal from having “happy customers” to helping people lead “healthier lives.” The switch energized and inspired the staff. Try asking your people, “Do you find our mission both clear and inspiring? What can I do to make it more of both?”

2. Good is more effective than perfect. As Voltaire said, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Great leaders ratchet back their perfectionism to a more reasonable standard. One of my clients had a tendency to do her staff’s work for them. When challenged she said, “If I want something done ‘right’, I need to do it myself.” Our coaching work then turned to her lack of scalability as a leader—since she was spending so much time trying to do everything perfectly herself, she was unable to delegate and manage others so that the organization could grow. Notice how “good” is a more effective standard than perfect and guide others to do well; you’ll not only lead more effectively, you’ll create a more empowered, engaged team.

3. Have a smart dive compass. Find a healthy balance between your need to be “informed” versus “involved.” Almost every leader I coach is working on this—how to know when to be hands off versus hands-on, how to keep this consistent, and how to respond rather than react. Take an inventory of what you’re involved in and see if you can decrease your involvement. Refrain from diving into things that are merely fun, interesting, or in crisis. Do the same for tasks you’re staying out of, and see if you need to spend more time on those. Ask your staff for input: “What am I paying too much or not enough attention to? Where am I diving in myself when I should instead put the right people on the job?”

4. Ask your staff to think like owners. Allow them to try, fail, learn, and succeed on their own. When they come to you for solutions, ask them questions that help them find their own answers, even when telling them would be faster—questions like “If you owned this place, what would you do?” Reward and applaud them as owner-thinkers, and thus effective, independent leaders.

5. Make a clean break with your chronic underperformer(s). Leadership means letting go of someone who’s no longer an effective contributor after you’ve given him or her support and every reasonable opportunity to change. It’s important to ultimately recognize that the apple tree is only going to produce apples, no matter how much you wish it could make an orange. Keeping the wrong person, or keeping someone in the wrong role, causes pain to both that person and the organization. (See also, Why (and how) to Let Problem Employees Go)

6. Take responsibility for failure. Great leaders own inevitable errors and failures, even though fear or stress would tempt them to distance themselves from them. Don’t hide from what’s embarrassing, difficult, or ugly. Everyone makes mistakes, and disavowing this truth simply distances you from being a compelling, engaging leader. That’s because we connect with each other based on our shared imperfections; pretending they’re not there only makes us seem distant, dishonest, or arrogant. On the flip side, owning a mistake and then transcending it often leads to greater followership, because people relate better to leaders who are just like them—fallible. The next time something on your watch goes awry, practice “owning it” even if it feels awkward, and track the resulting outcomes.

7. Innovate. Leadership in innovation means bringing your creativity, a fresh perspective, and a flash of courage to what may seem ordinary or unchangeable. You can’t find true innovation in a method, process, book, or workshop. Rather, it’s a mirror of your imagination, your creative child channeled into the adult world. As one client mentioned, “I was stuck on a product idea until my 4-year-old started playing with the plastic prototype. She asked me why it didn’t roll around like a ball, and that was the aha moment we’d been waiting for.” Get in touch with the power of possibilities. Make sure you have time every week to be in your creative space–whether that’s listening to music, doing something artistic, or playing with your own kids.

8. Create a culture of candor. Great leaders ask for feedback, create a culture of candor, and use all that honesty and humility to evolve as a leader. Try this question from time to time: “What do I need to know that people may be reluctant to tell me, even difficult for me to hear, but constructive for me to know and work on?”

9. Be a world-class listener. Leadership means asking and listening, rather than “telling.” It’s trusting that the people who know what’s needed in your organization are often the ones actually doing the work, rather than the people in the c-suite. (And often they’re your customers.) Monitor your transmit-to-receive ratio every day for a few weeks. What do you notice? Are you creating airtime for others, or dominating it?

10. Mind your impact. Extraordinary leaders make positive impact, and diminish negative repercussions, on individuals, communities, natural resources, and economic and political ecosystems. Your achievements as a leader will ultimately be measured by that impact. As one CEO told me late in his tenure, “Looking back, I wish I had realized early on that what truly had meaning for me was the impact I had on others, not on how well we did in any particular quarter or year.” Ask yourself, “Where am I or my organization making unwanted impact? And what are we willing to do about it?” (See also, “What’s Your Leadership Impact?”)


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

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