Leaders Play on Both Sides of the Vulnerability Equation

Summit of Mount Rainier

That’s Mike on the far left, then me, Byrl, and Russ on the summit of Mt. Rainier. I won’t forget this climb. I ruptured my left Achilles tendon six months prior. I was in top shape despite my injury. My doctor cleared me to climb.

When I reached 11,000 feet, I experienced severe cramping in my left leg. I needed to gain another 500 feet to reach our base camp. That’s a painful memory. I plopped down in camp beaten. How could I risk the push to the summit at midnight (5 hours away) if that jeopardized my climbing partners?

Alpine climbing is safest when you’re part of an experienced team. Every climber has a role – a rope links us. I figured that I was benched but my climbing partners encouraged me to rest and not give up. We talked about the safety issues and developed contingencies. I hydrated. Those 3 guys inspired me. Those 3 guys encouraged me when I was at my weakest. Those 3 guys helped me rally. Those three guys led me.

We made the summit at sunrise. I never experienced the cramping again. I slogged up the mountain pain-free. This self-portrait – I hung my camera on my ice ax – isn’t about my second Mt. Rainier summit. This shot is about honoring that team and reminding me that sometimes I need help – that I’m not meant to walk alone in life.

Asking for help takes guts. Helping the vulnerable takes courage. Play on both sides of this equation.

That’s what real leaders do…

How Is Your Story Going to END?

Screen Shot 2016-10-26 at 5.42.50 PMThis is a guest post by my colleague and Vistage Chair, Will Kaigler. Will leads and facilitates a CEO peer group in Pittsburgh, PA:

As you have come to know, my Monday morning email is typically comprised of articles and quotes relating to business.  This week I am compelled to go in a different direction.


In many respects, last week was a good week.  Many good and positive things were achieved.  Then, Thursday evening, while eating dinner, my world was rocked.  At 5:03, I received a text from my son, Zane, that simply stated “Omg dad”.  The terseness, the choice of wording, even the lack of capital letters, made me uneasy.  His response to my equally terse “What?” response, however, knocked me on my ass (figuratively).  What he told me was that (and I am not going to use names here for obvious reasons) the father of one of his friends and neighbors had just committed suicide.

The background story is that his friend’s father had been a Pennsylvania State Trooper for 19 years.  It wasn’t just his job – it was part of who he was – his identity.  Well, last spring he was accused of a rather disturbing act.  Since then, he had been on unpaid leave awaiting trial.  The crime that he had been accused of was a misdemeanor crime, but it was disturbing and it was embarrassing.

I have no idea if he was guilty of what he had been accused of and it is not the point of today’s message.  What I can say is that what he was accused of was not in character for the man that I knew.  The neighbor who played wiffleball with all the kids in the neighborhood, the Dad who built a haunted house in the driveway so that all the “trick or treaters” could have a fun experience, the baseball coach who never missed a game that his son played or drove my son and all of his friends to Cedar Point for a great day.

Given a very difficult situation, he had a few options:

  1. If he was innocent, he could have fought on for his innocence
  2. If he was guilty, he could have taken the brave step to admit that he had made a mistake, accept the consequences and seek help to address the underlying issue, or
  3. He could run from the problem

WK What's your storyHe chose number 3 and, as a result, left a terrible void in his family, left his son without a father, and his wife a widow.

By now, you are likely asking, “This is a terrible story, but why are you writing about this?” – Good question!

I am compelled to write about this horrific story while it is still fresh because, while this is so sad for so many, perhaps the most tragic part is that while this 46-year-old man, Father, Husband, Neighbor, Police Officer could not change his past, he COULD have changed his future.  It did not have to end in tragedy, it did not have to end in eternal loss.

I hope that no one reading this email ever has to face a crisis like this.  That said, it is inescapable that we all face mini-crisis where we ask ourselves, “What am I doing and why and I doing it?”.  It is my belief that the “Why” in that question is the important part – so much so that if we remember the “Why,” the “What” will take care of itself.  This is true in our relationships – this is true in our businesses – this is true in LIFE.

So, as you start your week, remind yourself “why” you went into your business.  “Why” you surround yourself with those that are close to you, “why” the people in your life (professional and personal) need you and “why” you need them.  

None of us can change what happened last week, those chapters have been written, but we CAN change the next chapter and we CAN write the ending that we want as long as we face our problems head on and remember our “Why.”  

Start writing the ending that you want for your story, today…

About Will Kaigler:

“I help CEOs work ON their business – not IN their business!

WK PHOTO Will_Kaigler-HighI am building private advisory boards for CEOs, business owners & executives to help them step out of the trees and see the forest. One can only understand how lonely it feels to be the leader of an organization after having experienced it. As a CEO myself, there were many times that I would have given anything to have an advisor and peer, who I trusted, to confidentially challenge my decisions (or validate them). Imagine having 15 peers, all talented CEOs, who only have your interest at heart! No hidden agendas or conflicts of interest, and diverse experiences to draw from. The power of the group helps our member CEOs manage strategic issues with clarity and confidence. 

It’s magic…and it’s powerful!

If you’re a Pittsburgh-based CEO you’re lucky to have a Chair like Kaigler in your neck of the woods. To contact Will: 412.915.8680 or will.kaigler@vistagechair.com.

P.S. TEN REASONS to Test-drive a Seattle CEO Vistage Peer Group

Image top-10
Event Date 11/3, Bellevue Club

Vistage Executive Exchange

I invite you to an opportunity to experience a CEO peer advisory group in action and hear from a world-class speaker.

On Thursday, November 3, I’m hosting an invitation-only breakfast meeting to allow CEOs and business owners the opportunity test drive a Vistage group meeting. We’ll tackle a real issue that someone in the room is facing. Then, as a group of CEO peers, we’ll provide new perspectives, ideas, and solutions. This is a chance to see the real magic of a peer group meeting, which isn’t normally open to visitors. Test-driving the Vistage CEO peer group process is the best way to experience the power of peers.

Our guest speaker, Herb Meyer, will speak on how key trends in politics, economics and culture affect business leaders and their companies in today’s global market. Herb is credited with being the first senior U.S. Government official to forecast the Soviet Union’s collapse, for which he later was awarded the U.S. National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal. 

I know you’ll get a lot of value from the breakfast meeting, I hope you’ll be able to join us. Let me know if you have any questions, or reserve your seat at the table at www.vistage.com/seattleleaders.


Bellevue Club (Olympic Ballroom)
11200 SE 6th St
Bellevue, WA 98004

Take care,

Kevin McKeown, Vistage Chair
LinkedIn | Leadership Close UpTwitter

Image- Breakout-Session-at-the-Salt-Lake-City-All-City-150x150P.S. Here are 10 reasons why a business owner or chief executive should join a CEO peer group:

1. Safe Haven

Confidentiality allows each member to be totally open about issues. It provides a safe environment where a CEO can work through topics that he or she is unable to discuss with others directly associated with their business.

2. Solid Reasoning

When a CEO peer group is working on a challenge for one of their members, having diverse perspectives can pay huge dividends for the quality of the discussion and the depth of the exploration undertaken.

3. Real Feedback

When a peer member asks for unfiltered feedback, he or she gets just that. Truth can be hard to swallow sometimes, but it is good for business leaders to have their ideas challenged sometimes.

4. Guidance

The CEO peer group allows the executive to create their own personal guidance system. This steering committee of seasoned pros can be helpful when charting a course through difficult waters

5. Motivation

The element of accountability can be underestimated by members when they are new to a CEO peer group. Everyone, from time to time, can benefit from having a respected peer hold their feet to the fire.

6. Magnification

The power of a CEO peer group includes the ability to focus the collective awareness of many executives on one specific issue. The result is an intensity of thought capable of delivering much greater mental energy.

7. Illumination

An ever-present challenge for CEOs is to continue to discover information previously not known to them. When a member receives new information from the group, it is as if a light goes on for them and they can see clearer.

8. Molecular

The power a CEO peer group creates in its members a new structure for gathering fresh insights The groups not only help solve problems, they help members grow as a leader and as a person.

9. Explosive

Most businesses, even successful ones, can develop organizational inertia that is hard to overcome. A CEO peer group can give members “escape velocity” to free them from earth-bound issues (at least for half a day each month).

10. Insurance

The majority of new businesses fail. By sharing in the wisdom of others, the CEO can increase the chance of the firm to survive and thrive. By taking this one simple act, CEOs begin to turn the odds in their favor.

“Most executives who join a CEO peer group stay in the program,” says Franzi, who estimates the renewal rate to be 80%. “The reason they remain are as varied as the individual members. But the power of the process is undeniable.”

I look forward to seeing you Thursday, 11/3. If you can’t make 11/3 then let’s talk about opportunities to engage my CEO groups on 11/17 or 12/15. 

Suggested reading: 

Leading is BEING–Not Doing. What’s Your Reality?

Image Being YouLeadership is about BEING  not DOING.

Yep, putting your feet on your desk and looking out your window is leading. You must make time to pause reflectively. You must make time to contemplate. You must make time to go deep. You must maintain your awareness of self and the values (and the “intolerables”) that guide you.

Warren Bennis, the pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership studies, believes:

Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult.

Dee Ward Hock, the founder and former CEO of the Visa credit card association counsels:

Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time in leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers.

Pat Murray, a Vistage speaker of the year, declares:

To lead is to mobilize and guide the energy and talent of others in the pursuit of a worthwhile end.

What is your “worthwhile end?” According to Pat, finding time for “deep thought” ensures that you will take “reliable action.”

Whatever the definition, leading well is about BEING – not doing.

So, who are you? “What do you fear? What lies do you tell yourself? How do you embellish your truth and write your own fictions? What reality are you creating for yourself? Put your feet up and watch this powerful TedTalk to find out:

Related Reading from HBR:

Develop Your Own Personal CEO Guidance System

Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 4.01.40 PM“Build an army around you and develop your own ‘personal guidance system’ like some of the most famous CEOs in history.”

Why consider a CEO peer group? Growing your business isn’t easy. Richard Franzi:

“The whole effort of CEOs working together is more than the sum of those same CEOs working separately…. The power of a CEO peer group includes the ability to focus the collective awareness of many executives on one specific issue. The result is an intensity of thought capable of delivering much greater mental energy.” Check out Franzi’s short article: 10 Reasons To Join A CEO Peer Group.

Experience a Vistage CEO peer group for yourself this Thursday.

Our morning speaker is Pat Murray. He’s a nationally-recognized expert on the topic of high-performance leadership. Murray is leading a workshop on what makes the top 1-2 percent of the CEO ranks so exceptional. He’ll answer this powerful question: What separates the top 1-2% CEOs from everyone else?

Save this date:

  • What: Chief Executive Peer Group Meeting
  • When: Thursday, October 20. Breakfast 7:30 AM sharp. Speaker: 8 to 11 AM
  • Where: Escala (Theatre Room), 1920 4th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101
  • RSVP now (seating is limited)

I look forward to seeing you next Thursday. If you can’t make 10/20 then please get in touch with me about 11/17 and 12/15. 

Suggested reading: 

The CEO–Board Dynamic in Strategic Development and Oversight

Board Strategic Development & Oversight Stanford

Keep in mind:

  • One of the primary responsibilities of the board is to “ensure the strategic guidance of the company.” – OECD
  • Directors should “constructively challenge and help develop proposals on strategy.” –U.K. Corporate Governance Code
  • Directors consider strategic planning and oversight to be their most important responsibility. –NACD

How exactly does the board perform this function? Review the Stanford Business Strategy and Risk Oversight deck to find out.

World-class CEOs Work on (NOT in) the Business…

“Every minute that you spend working on tasks that can be delegated is a minute that you are not planning, strategizing and building the best business possible.”

Work On NOT In Screenshot Dabic

I adapted Bob Babic’s flipchart (below right) to illustrate what working on (NOT in) your business means.

Working ON your business is about:

  1. Knowing when to get out of your own way.
  2. Not being the hero; a team moves a company forward not a CEO.
  3. Knowing that you don’t have all the answers. Stop micromanaging. Stop trying to control everything.
  4. A willingness to build a team and hire talent that knows more than you (takes humility).
  5. Playing to your strengths. Do you know your strengths? Brandon Miller does…
  6. Delegating big responsibilities to the talent you hire. Stop doing. Start empowering.
  7. Stepping back from the day-to-day minutiae and into the BIG PICTURE (see visual below).
  8. Finding innovative ways to scale your business for profitable growth.
  9. Knowing your 3-5 most critical KPIs not a gazillion metrics.
  10. Spotting problems and delegating the “work out” or solution.
  11. Finding the whitespace to set goals and think about the future.
  12. Owning the vision, strategy, culture, and team-building.
  13. Making sure that the right resources (people and money) show up at the right time.
  14. Realizing you didn’t hire employees–these are the people that will make your vision a reality
  15. Building an empire unless you prefer the lifestyle business.

Vistage Value Bob Dabic

Thanks to Bob Dabic’s handwriting (see right) for inspiring this post. Bob is a Best Practice Chair and Lead Trainer for Vistage Worldwide. He is also a great guy and an exceptional mentor. Unfortunately for Seattle, Bob is based in Orange County, CA.

If you’re interested in learning more about membership and the selection process for joining one of my CEO peer groups, please text or call me: (206) 890-6858.

If I call you and you’re looking for an excuse to not talk, here are the Top 10 Reasons Why NOT to Join a CEO Peer Advisory Board. Building a leadership chair practice requires a sense of humor.

Related Reading

*A 2015 analysis revealed that companies who joined Vistage over the past five years grew at three times the rate of average U.S. companies.

Isolated? Hearing Echos? Find Your Decision-Making Sweet Spot

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 9.43.21 PMTo be a great decision-maker you must fine-tune your network. You must also carefully and continually engage in social explorationFrom the HBR article, Beyond the Echo Chamber:

“Decisions don’t happen in a vacuum; the best ones rarely come from deep pondering in isolation. They happen when people learn from and draw on the experiences of others. In this process, success depends greatly on the quality of social exploration—and on whether your information and sources of ideas are diverse and independent.”

…[T]he social networks of the star performers were more diverse than the networks of the middling performers. Star performers reach out to people from a broader set of work roles, so they understood the perspectives of customers, competitors, and managers. Because the stars could see the situation from a variety of viewpoints, they could develop better solutions to problems.

Decision-making Sweet Spot Kevin McKeown

If you want to make higher quality decisions and achieve 30% better results then:

  • Expose yourself to broad, diverse, independent sources of information (CEO peer group)
  • Matt Phillips © Artwork, Untitled (2010) Oil-on-Canvas 20"x14"

    Matt Phillips © 2010 Oil Canvas 20″ x 14″ (untitled)

    Learn from the success and failure of others (CEO peer group)

  • Draw upon collective wisdom of your group (CEO peer group)
  • But guard against the herd mentality (CEO peer group)
  • And make sure you avoid groupthink (CEO peer group)

I am not trying to sell you. Either you’re in a ready-state for a CEO peer group or you’re not. If you are then let’s get in touch for 10-minutes. Please text or call me: (206) 890-6858. That starts the mutual selection journey into one of my groups.

Living and Leading in the Perpetual Discomfort Zone…

Quote Make Yourself Uncomfortable

I love this quote from Francisco D’Souza, CEO of Cognizant Technology Solutions:

In business, the comfort zone has never been a good place to be. Companies that get too comfortable risk becoming irrelevant, obsolete—and extinct. This is particularly true in today’s business world where the forces of globalization; new social, mobile, analytical and cloud technologies; and fast-changing customer, employee and partner demands encroach on our comfort zones daily—making discomfort the new comfort zone.

Business leaders need to recognize that this perpetual assault on their comfort zone can create opportunities—to challenge established practices and win against complacent competition. Forget the common advice to “extend your comfort zone” (which always sounds to me like merely dipping a toe in the water). Winning enterprises must seek to perpetually live in their “discomfort zone”—by continually questioning conventional wisdom, reinventing work, and welcoming disruptive innovation.

How do enterprises, ecosystems, and employees function in the perpetual discomfort zone? D’Souza:

  1. Think fast and think forward. Intentionally establish new areas of discomfort.
  2. Compete on code and manage on meaning. Decode data surrounding customers, markets and products.
  3. Agility is the killer behavior. Develop the ability to maneuver through a perpetual discomfort zone.
  4. Banish “not invented here” and embrace “invented there.” Look outside the company walls for ideas .
  5. Erase boundaries between core and context. What’s core today may be context tomorrow.
  6. Challenge the comfort zone. Collaborate with peer group to find new solutions to critical work challenges.
  7. Never stop learning. How are you acquiring, refining and applying new knowledge for tomorrow?

If you’re going to bed feeling comfortable then you’re probably not pushing yourself or your company hard enough. I recommend that you read D’Souza’s post–Discomfort Is the New Comfort Zone–on LinkedIn’s Pulse.

May you sleep well in your new state of perpetual discomfort.