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

Inspire. Influence. Build Rapport.

People don’t always see eye-to-eye with his politics, but when they speak of Bill Clinton, they usually agree on one thing. He has an immense talent for connecting with other people. Those who meet him often say, “He makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room.” And that skill has helped him inspire, influence others, and ultimately lead.

Some say he has “charm or charisma,” others that he’s “approachable,” but I say he knows how to “build rapport” like a champion.

Building rapport is the ability to quickly and meaningfully connect, communicate, and empathize with other people, whether you’re in a one-on-one conversation, meeting, or presentation. And it’s one of the most powerful skills you can master as a leader. It’s essential to building credibility, support, and collaboration. It helps you inspire your team to do their best work, enhance your client’s loyalty and commitment to your vision, perfect your pitch, and sway your investors or board to support your strategy and roadmap.

You may be thinking, “That’s easy. I already do that.” Yet most work interactions are marked by a lack of rapport. Think back to the last ineffective meeting or boring presentation you attended. Did people seem distracted? Did your colleagues talk over or past each other? Was the speaker not engaged with the audience? These are telltale signs of a lack of rapport.

Five Keys to Building Rapport

You can learn how to upgrade your ability to build rapport by practicing the following five key elements when you’re with others. Don’t try them all at once; implementing all five at the same time would be overwhelming. But if you practice them one by one, you’ll eventually be able to combine and master them:

  1. Hold people in positive regard: To connect with someone, or a room of people, think positively of them. For example, if you’re speaking to someone you don’t know, you can imagine, “What if I really liked this person?” See how that inspires you to tune into him, read her signals, and understand how you can have a positive connection.
  1. Don’t cut to the chase: My clients sometimes ask me, “Why should I waste time listening to everyone’s ideas, when I know the right answer?” Even though you might be tempted to jump to the finish line quickly or you know what the final decision “should” be, refrain from “cutting to the chase.” Be patient. You’re having a discussion for a reason, so respectfully involve the other person at his or her pace, not yours. That means walking through it together, not leaving the other person behind.
  1. Mirror your partner: One of the best ways to build rapport with people is to make sure they feel heard. To do this, ask them questions, listen to what they’re saying, and mirror their words back to them. Use your audience’s own language to reflect their point of view. For example, if someone says, “We’re back to the drawing board on the project, and wondering how to proceed,” you can mirror them by asking what’s on that “drawing board” at the moment, and what they feel they need to proceed rapidly.
  1. Show your vulnerability: You can’t connect with a person or group without sharing something of your imperfections, self-effacing humor, or sense of humility—a little humility goes a long way to connect with others. If you want to build a bond with someone, lower your “I’m strong” or “I’ve got this” shields. By showing yourself to have warts and all, you allow people to both empathize with you and accept that you have the capacity to empathize.
  1. Broaden your perspective: Practice spending a part of your attention in every discussion observing yourself with the other(s) in the room — as if you’re a drone hovering over the meeting.  Watch the impact you’re having on them in real time.  Even as you participate, try to assess: How am I coming across? Are people paying attention? Are we getting somewhere important in this conversation? I once coached the head of a large healthcare organization dealing with failing support from its Board and community leaders.  I asked him to try this practice. He told me it wasn’t helping—his executive team meetings were still ineffective. I asked him to try something different: “Whenever you meet with your executive team, tell them to imagine that your Board and community leaders are all in the room with you. How would their presence guide your agenda? What would they want you to talk about today, and why?” By shifting and broadening his perspective, a practice he proudly uses often, the organization was able to regain the support it needed to achieve its goals.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

These five strategies may strike you as a LOT to incorporate, particularly since you also need to cover the content of your conversation, discussion, or presentation. But remember, if you practice, eventually it will become second nature. Think back to when you learned how to drive—initially the steering wheel, instruments, and road all clamored for your attention, but eventually you could do it all without thinking. Just like driving, you’ll become a proficient rapport-builder over time.

Then you’ll notice how much more you’re accomplishing in collaboration with others. When an organizational leader can both build rapport and deliver results, you have an unbeatable leadership combo.


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

Lead More Effectively by Mastering Your Worry Monster

Whether you worry habitually or you think it’s keeping you sharp, becoming worry-free is way better!

Worry is a killer—over time it harms our health and emotional well-being. It doesn’t solve problems; nor does it make us better, faster, or more effective. Yet studies have shown that our capacity to worry has grown in tandem with our intelligence and the complexity of our lives. In short, that means we’re going to worry.

So what do effective leaders do to manage worry and be at relative peace?

They Recognize That Their Worry is Within Their Scope to Manage.

If you believe that worry “happens to” you and that you have little or no influence over it, you could be facing an ongoing problem. Worry only exists in your own mind: it’s the product of your beliefs, assumptions, and “story” about reality at any given time. And it’s become habitual over the years. Observe any baby and their carefree nature, and you’ll realize that chronic worry is not part of our “original equipment.”

When you recognize this, you’ll discover that you can edit those patterns, like a document or spreadsheet, with deliberate, sustained conscious efforts.


Stop Thinking it’s Helping—it’s Not

My worried clients tell me, “My worrying keeps me sharp,” and “If I don’t worry about it, no one will…”. If you think your worries keep you sharp, motivated, or productive, join the club-that’s a huge reason people hang on to worrying behaviors. And you’re wrong: the most productive, effective leaders realize that they didn’t get to where they are because of their worry, but despite it. They then decide that worry is simply more painful than it’s worth.

Start Your Worry Detector Each Morning, and When a Worry Crops Up, Catch it and “Give it the Day Off”

To manage worry, it’s important to catch it in the act and shine the light of awareness on it. For example, say before a big presentation, you find yourself thinking, “Oh, I’m worrying about presenting at that meeting.” You can then take a few deep breaths and address the worry directly: “I’m giving my worry the rest of the day off.” This usually does the trick, and repeated over time, it can help with your general pattern of worrying about topics like presenting, for instance.

Get to Know Your Own Pattern of Worrying and Doubt It

Our worry patterns are as unique as fingerprints—we tend to worry about certain types of things and not about others. Maybe you worry about your health, conflicts, or making mistakes. Pay attention and you’ll see your own patterns. The better you know them, the better you can manage them. The very fact that you worry about selective things is further proof that worrying is optional. Once you detect your pattern, keep an eye out for them, and manage them by giving them the day off.

Get Enough Rest—And If Unrested, Doubt Your Worries Even More

We all know that rest is important for health and well-being. Yet we live in a restless, hyper-connected 24/7 device-laden mode. Being less rested also amplifies worries—you may notice that you worry more when you’re tired. Because it’s impossible to avoid days when we lack rest, it’s good to remember that our worries are higher than normal during those times. When I’m not well-rested, I’ve learned to tell myself, “Oh, I’m worrying because I’m tired, so I’m calling a timeout to the worry until I rest.” Get your rest!

Develop Your Own Ways to Manage Your Worry

For some people, mindfulness meditation, exercise, or other zen-like activities help them the most in managing worry. For others, keeping track of worries in their journal is the key. Some even limit their worry to a specific block of time each week, and dismiss it at all other times. The point here is that peaceful people take worry-management seriously. Develop healthy anti-worry habits that fit your personality and style (but don’t worry too much about it!)

* * *

Effective leaders are calm and reassuring to their teams and organizations—and you simply can’t be that way until you manage your own worries. Try it: it’s healthy, life-sustaining, and good leadership to master your worry monster!


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 Become the Leader You Wish You Had

“What makes a great leader?”

As an executive coach, this is a question I’m asked constantly. My usual response used to be to answer the question with a question: “Think of a leader you hold in the highest regard — then tell me, what makes them great?”

But these aren’t usual times — and leaders held in the highest regard seem to be in short supply these days. In fact, our media is so saturated with examples of awful acts and statements by “leaders” that there are more examples of how not to lead than there are of how to lead others well.

So today, I take a different approach to the question — one that’s actually more empowering. Now, when one of my clients asks how to be a great leader, I’ll respond this way: “Describe the leader you wish you had — then tell me: What would you need to do to become that leader?”

Examples of effective leadership

As much as we may yearn for a magic potion, some kind of ideal, the truth is that there is no “perfect” set of leadership attributes. And there’s no shortage of opinions and research about what those skills and qualities are. Every expert has a model for leadership, and each has its own qualities and charms.

With that in mind, consider the following situations. Which ones look most like the leader you wish you had? And then take it one step further — and consider a list of your own, and how you would model that behavior yourself:

One who…

Remains the same leader as the day you met them — warts and all — no matter what?

Or who…

Solicits and takes feedback to heart — and continuously evolves and develops their own leadership skills?

One who…

Tells you what to do and how to do it — staying involved in every step of your work?

Or who…

Offers you context and a desired outcome — then leaves you alone with the responsibility (and authority) to do it your own way, and succeed … or learn from the experience accordingly?

One who…

Avoids conflict or debate and keeps things “friendly” and “consensus-oriented” right up until things inevitably go wrong as a result?

Or who…

Invites vibrant debate and constructive conflict — and opens the door to all voices, ideas, and views, regardless of “level”?

One who…

Keeps you in the background and takes it upon herself to “be” the face of your work?

Or who…

Highlights your accomplishments, and spotlights you — so you can present and be appreciated for your own work?

One who…

Would say you are lucky to work here — and views excellence as “average”?

Or who…

Notices, recognizes and encourages you — when you do well and when you need feedback, from colleagues, stakeholders, or clients?

One who…

Wants you to stay where you are — and get the most out of you because he knows you’re good at what you do?

Or who…

Encourages you to build supporters and sponsors inside and outside of your organization — and values your career growth and professional mobility?

One who…

Puts “getting stuff done” above all else?

Or who…

Prioritizes the learning and development of her people as equal to any specific task?

One who…

Seeks to assign blame when things go wrong — and transfers culpability to others?

Or who…

Takes personal responsibility for when something goes wrong — owns it and apologizes?

* * *

These are but a few examples — the “homework” for you is to create your own list!

Be the leader you wish you had: Follow the Golden Rule

Does every situation seem this unambiguously cut and dried? Doubtful. But that’s what makes the craft of leadership so important. Judgment, experience and a few bedrock principles.

If you think about it, the best leadership advice is the oldest: the Golden Rule. Work from that principle — of treating others as you wish to be treated — and before you know it, you will find you’re already there: the best leader you wish you had.


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

5 Leadership Goal-Setting Tips for Making 2018 a Success

Why set goals in these turbulent times?

You can’t underestimate the importance of organizational goals — especially in turbulent times. Goals set and measured are goals achieved and treasured. And achieving meaningful annual goals requires setting a high bar, well in advance. December is a great time to do that.

I know that after a long year, and during the home stretch to the holidays, it’s easy to get stuck in reactive mode, and to tell yourself you’ll think about goals “later.” Don’t! End-of-year/start-of-new-year goals and resolutions are just what the doctor ordered. They refocus us on the big picture, and reconnect us with our ideals. They energize us.

Case in point: Recently, I completed a series of CEO calls focused on goal-setting, as part of my executive coaching practice. The process was as illuminating as it was invigorating — so I wanted to share the exercises we went through together.

My hope is that they will help you make the most of the season: get out of our default-reactive mode… and raise the bar on your proactive goal-setting mode for 2018. Because, once in place, your short list of business goals and objectives will seriously increase your odds for success by helping you and your team focus on what’s really important — and tune out the rest.

Setting business goals: Make it real and keep it simple — and achievable

No matter what, or whom, you lead, the first rule in setting goals is to assume that your organization’s existence depends on them. (Because, in a very real way, it does.) The goals you pick will focus your department or organization on where to spend the vast majority of energy, attention, and efforts next year.

This exercise recognizes that your organization is a mosaic of people — and that its success and sense of cohesion are intimately tied to the hearts, minds, and actions of the professionals that choose to come to work every day. Your people.

So you’ll want to set aside some undisturbed time to reflect on what’s most important to you and your employees in the year ahead, and periodically, to revisit those goals. Be thorough and clear, and pick a short list — no more than five key goals for the year ahead.

Below you’ll find some tips on how to design your goal shortlist for the new year. As you read through them, keep in mind that some of these can take the form of one-on-one interactions, and some will be more appropriate for executive team discussion once you’ve gotten your initial responses.

5 steps to better business goals for 2018

1) Bottom-up and top-down. No one employee — including no leader — has all the answers. So you should not only identify your business goals, but ask the people reporting to you to do the same — and then ask them to repeat the exercise with their reports, and so on, throughout the organization. This will be essential data for setting goals that are credible and achievable.

2) Clean out your blind spots. Every organization has them — and so does every leader. Here again, you can and should draw on your colleagues and reports for help. The questions below are designed to help you and your employees find the blind spots that can lead your organization or group astray — so you can clean them out and chart a clear course forward:

  • What have we tried to achieve in 2017 that we must accomplish in 2018, and how will that be rewarding to you and your team?
  • In thinking about our outcomes (results, quality, customer engagement, etc.), what targets are we hitting — and which ones are we missing due to our own actions as executives?
  • What am I not hearing or dealing with as a leader that I need to address?
  • Is there anything I can do to get out of the way of — and, indeed, accelerate — our success?

3) Lessons learned this year… to incorporate into next year. The turn of the year offers a perfect opportunity for a business to evaluate its performance, and adjust course. Consider these questions:

  • What new lessons has 2017 taught us — and what lessons from 2017 and prior years have we yet to fully address? Are there endemic issues that need to be looked at?
  • How has our business ecosystem — market, products, customers, providers, partners, costs, competition or regulatory landscape — changed since last year? How well did our strategy track in response — or in leading those changes? And what do we need to adjust in 2018?
  • How have our SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) evolved in 2017 — and what should that mean for our goals in the new year?
  • What are the most relevant metrics for today? What do success, neutral, or failure look like in 2018? What should our measurable goals be going forward?

4) Make them relevant to your bigger picture. Once you’ve settled on your goals for 2018, ask yourself: how aligned are these goals — and our people — with our organization’s business plan and three-year strategic priorities? With its larger mission and vision? This is a good opportunity to check your direction before plunging into the new year.

5) Communicate! Decide the best way to package your goals, and then communicate them throughout your organization. How will you cascade these messages, and ensure everyone is crystal clear on the goals you’ve worked so hard to design?

When it comes to setting business goals, don’t settle for “doable”

The turn of the year offers a perfect opportunity to set your course for the next 12 months — and beyond. So don’t settle on “doable” for 2018. Use these tips to hone down and choose the right 3-5 goals that will have you feeling like you hit it out of the park where it really matters.


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

Simple Secrets for Networking Like a Champion

Networking can be more streamlined — and far more effective — than you think

How will you find your next job or role? Your next big deal or sale?

Chances are, the opportunity you seek will find its way to you through the agency of someone you know (your network), or someone they know (your expanded network).

That simple realization should open your eyes, and shift your priorities. After all, if the opportunity is only one or two degrees removed from you, the act of finding, targeting and interacting with the key people who can and will help you achieve it should be a critical, career-defining focus.

It isn’t something to be relegated to lead lists, or the “usual suspects” (the people who always come to mind).

Generate new networking ideas with this powerful, downloadable framework

So how do you zero in on the most strategic people without “boiling the ocean”? And how do you optimize your result given limited time?

Here’s a framework I created for just that purpose. The “recipe” rests on a simple algorithm — focused on two parameters, utility and probability. It was shared with me by Frank Ball at Georgetown. The framework builds out that algorithm into practical steps, and illustrates it with real-world examples.

The best part is that you can apply this framework to any goal that depends on influencing others, or getting them on board to help you reach it.

Most executives I coach on networking think they know who the most important people are… until I ask them to do this homework. When they do, they are typically surprised at the helpful things they discover. Try it out and see how well 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

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