Rules To Shape Your StrategyAs business leaders we’re constantly shaping and re-shaping our strategies. We have to pay attention to the developments around the world in order for our companies to succeed because our strategies are intertwined with market forces that affect consumers and demand.

Mark Pollard wrote a theoretical blog post on how to shape strategies. He says, “The great thing about strategy-in-shapes is it makes your thinking look very deliberate, impossibly official, and crazy to mess with.”

The concepts he plays with the most are:

Strategy Rule No.1: Gather Information

First, bring together useful information about your brand, business objectives, products, competition, culture, and human behavior. Take a look at analytics, do keyword research and look for patterns, look at consumer reviews, and use qualitative research if available to you.

Strategy Rule No.2: Shape-Sprint

Pollard comes up with a few strategies based on the information he’s gathered. He says, “I tend to dig then sprint and let it all percolate…then repeat.” When putting strategies together he finds it useful to close the door and think, open it to share and debate, then close it to hone in.

Strategy Rule No.3: Rewrite Your Shapes and Collaborate

To shape a strong strategy, embrace strong, visual language. Pollard suggests taking your three favorite strategies and rewriting them 10 times each. Keep making them shorter and stronger, easy to understand. Bring your ideas to your team and collaborate with them. They may be able to offer you even better ideas to help execute your strategy.

Strategy Rule No.4: Get it Straight before Presenting

Pollard suggests taking the one or two strategies your team favors and writing stories around them. He says in the story, take someone on the journey you’ve just been on from the problem, to the twist, to the ‘what if we…?’, to the answer. This can help you put your thoughts together in a more direct way.

Determine the Shape of your Strategy

Set a clear direction for your company whether it’s cutting costs, expanding services, or improving infrastructure. If you have broad priorities, make clear guidelines your employees understand and can act upon.

According to this article on the HBR Blog Network by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt, successful companies shape their high-level strategies by relying on simple rules of thumb.

In shaping strategies, Sull and Eisenhardt offer four simple rules to follow:

  1. Align activities with corporate objectives
  2. Adapt to local circumstances
  3. Foster coordination
  4. Make better decisions

Sull poses three questions to break down complex strategies into actionable steps:

  1. What are the key drivers of value creation?
  2. What are the three to five critical challenges if we overcome would ensure economic value?
  3. What are the must-win battles?

Sull says to translate corporate objectives into a few straightforward guidelines that help employees make on-the-spot decisions and adapt to constantly shifting environments, while keeping the big picture in mind. He also says, “For a strategy to influence action it must be remembered. To be remembered it must be understood. To be understood it must be simple.”

What techniques do you use to shape your strategy?

Overcome Fear: How Scared Leaders Still LeadWe all have different thresholds of fear in the business world. For some it could be something as simple as asking others for help. For others it could be launching a new product, starting a new business, or finding the right candidate for an open position.

Whatever the situation, as business leaders we still need to lead our team even when we’re scared. We talked a few months ago about reframing fear to overcome it. However, fear can be paralyzing.

Kevin Eikenberry wrote an interesting blog post providing tips to take to lead when you are scared. He says, as leaders it’s alright to be scared, but we can’t remain scared. We still need to lead no matter what the situation is. We can’t stop and do nothing, we need to take action and keep business running as usual.

Overcome Fear: How Scared Leaders Still Lead

The View is Scary

As a leader you are the one out front looking at the future for not only yourself, but your team and company. It’s important to know sometimes the view will cause fear.

Acknowledge Emotions

Acknowledge the emotions of your team and of yourself. Be open and honest with them about your feelings and recognize they may have negative feelings too.

Plan and Take Action

Regroup and decide on the next step. Focus on what to do and stop making excuses. Also, don’t forget to bring your team with you. Eikenberry says to provide support and encouragement, and remember there is safety in numbers.

Get Feedback and Keep Moving Forward

Momentum and action help alleviate stress and fear. Eikenberry says momentum and action is usually the path to success and progress.

Just because you are a leader doesn’t mean you never get scared. As business leaders, it’s in our nature to overcome most fears, however sometimes we find ourselves in uncharted waters. Try these tips to get through it and continue to lead your team to success.

What other advice would you add?

Four Tips from CEOs to Master Time ManagementWe've all felt like we could use another hour or two in the work day. According to an eVoice survey of small business owners, time is viewed as the most valuable asset, considered more important than tangible resources such as computers or cell phones.

As a business leader it’s interesting to see what other CEOs do to manage their time.

The Wall Street Journal has been doing a video series called Lessons in Leadership to gain insights, management tips, and more from CEOs at large companies.

Four Tips from CEOs to Master Time Management

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, says people often get caught up in the day-to-day flow. Weiner adds, “If challenges keep coming up there is a natural tendency to solve one problem after another.”

To manage his time, he carves out time to think, as opposed to reacting constantly. During his thinking time, he thinks strategically, proactively, and long-term. He tries to strike a balance between what is urgent versus what is important.

Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, creates spreadsheets to budget time for the year. He allocates time for meetings, travel, and innovation. He even schedules his free time and his vacations. He says he wants to make sure he feels comfortable he has enough free time.

Kevin Roberts, former CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, says his secret to work-life harmony is to never back down or compromise. He also says not to do the stuff you don’t like, preferring instead to delegate.

Kenneth Chenault, CEO of AmEx, says he allots time for developing talent, managing business priorities, and meeting customers. He says business leaders need to spend a good amount of their time with customers because it keeps you externally focused. He sets a framework of how to manage his business, short-term, moderate-term and long-term issues.

You also need to set the pace of your organization and team; set the framework as Chenault would say.

Jay Steinfeld, founder and owner of, says as a business owner, you are called to be your organization’s timekeeper, to look at the bigger picture, and to set the pace for your team.

He wrote an article for Inc., offering a few tips on how to tell when you should speed things up or slow them down.

When to take it Slow:

  1. Strategic planning
  2. With criticism
  3. Making judgments before having all of the information
  4. Moving something to the top of your list
  5. When hiring
  6. With training

When to Speed it up:

  1. Dismissing non-performers and detractors
  2. Cutting projects when they’re not on the roadmap
  3. Offering specific feedback
  4. Correcting your course
  5. Admitting your own mistakes
  6. Promoting from within
  7. Trying and taking risks

As a business owner, you may be interrupted frequently and pulled in multiple directions. You can’t eliminate them, but you can decide on how much time you will spend on them. Everyone will find their own timing, but if you feel pressed for time, these tips might help you to stay on track.

What tips would you add? Do you use any tools to manage your time?

image credit: RLHyde 

Four Ways to Keep Employees on Track During the Holiday SeasonHolidays are a time of distraction for employees. They are often overloaded as they try to combine personal goals such as shopping, traveling, and family gatherings with work goals such as finishing all projects before the holiday break.

Amy Levin-Epstein of CBS News spoke with Allan Steinmetz, CEO and founder of Inward Strategic Consulting about how to keep your staff engaged and focused through the end of the year.

Offer a Flexible Schedule

Sometimes a little free time during a busy season is more valued than cash so during this time of year consider flexible scheduling. It allows employees to do their personal and work tasks with more ease, Levin-Epstein says.

Steinmetz suggests leaders offer once a week half-days for gift shopping, if you feel generous.

Plan Office Holiday Cheer

Organize a pot luck meal, Secret Santa events, or simple coffee and cake. It’s good for morale to acknowledge the season. To build your team together and build engagement through the New Year, bring them together.

Give Back                       

Steinmetz suggests leaders organize a team outing to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or shelter. Fit activities into your corporate schedule such as a can or toy drive. They can have a similar effect, and it doesn’t take away from the work day but it brings your team together.

And one more we’d like to add:

Avoid Launching New Projects

Most employees give all they have to finish what is on their plate by the time the end of the year rolls around. If you add new projects to their full plates, it can send people over the edge. Hold off on any new projects until after the first of the year, that way your employees return from their break refreshed and ready to go.

Business needs don’t stop just because it’s the holidays. As a leader it is difficult to balance the needs of the company and your employees. However, you need to make sure productivity flows throughout the year. Employ some or all of these methods to help maintain your employee productivity level during the holiday season.

Image credit: Artondra Hall 

What to Include in Your Year-End Business ChecklistBefore you ring in the New Year, now is the time to get your office in order and get your business in line to reach your goals.

“As leaders, we often move from one year to the next with little or no time spent reviewing the year just past from a purely leadership perspective,” says Inc. contributor, Les McKeown.

Year-End Checklist for Business Leaders

To help counter that, he offers a year end checklist for business leaders.

Understand and Manage the Narrative

McKeown says there are four narratives every business ends the year with:

  1. We blew it.
  2. We nailed it.
  3. Our customer service team let us down.
  4. The first three quarters sucked, but the fourth wasn't too bad.

As a leader, you need to know what narrative your team has taken and manage it. It isn't about manipulating what people think. Great leaders help them understand the importance of it.

Tie Up Loose Ends

The end of the year is the perfect time to tie up any loose ends. December is a busy month, so be sure to set aside time to address your obligations.

Reassess Activities

McKeown suggests leaders ask for nominations of less-than-useful activities from your team and get rid of those that yield no ongoing benefit. Look at outdated practices, policies that no longer work, routines that get in the way, or meetings that don’t have a purpose.


Take some time to think about anything you've lost as a team. It could be a sense of fun, energy, enthusiasm, or maybe you’re short on perspective. Whatever it is, find ways to replenish it because you don’t want to start a new year with something missing. “When you've identified which is missing or has run down to dangerously low levels, think through how to restock in the next 30 days,” says McKeown. It could be anything from a holiday retreat to a conference to rest.

Don’t Forget About Yourself

Take a look at how you have changed as a leader throughout the year. McKeown suggests leaders create two columns: A column of your defining characteristics at the start of the year and a column of your defining characteristics at the end of the year. Identify which characteristics helped your team and which caused trouble.

“When you've decided, ask your team members if they agree—you may be surprised by how differently they view which characteristics are your strong points and which are weaknesses,” McKeown says.

The end of the year is a time to step back from day-to-day operations and make time to cross a few items off your to-do list before the New Year starts. Great leaders know how to make sure their employees are happy and ready to move forward.

What is on your year-end checklist?

How to Deal With A Workplace ComplainerDid you know, constantly listening to a coworker complaining can actually undermine your work?

Listening to too much complaining is bad for your brain in multiple ways, according to Trevor Blake, author of Three Simple Steps: A Map To Success in Business and Life.

In Inc. magazine, Geoffrey James discussed how to turn workplace whiners into productive team members, and Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal also offered tips on what to do with a workplace whiner.

Unfortunately, there are many people who would rather complain than take action.

Following are six ways to handle workplace whiners:

Schedule a Conversation

Don’t let a known office complainer interrupt what you’re doing. Let them know you want to hear what they have to say, but you can’t give the matter attention while your mind is on your current task. This will limit the affect the complainer has on your productivity and also conveys a willingness to listen.

Change the Subject

If scheduling a conversation doesn’t work, try changing the subject. Ask the complainer what is going well. Try and get them to focus on the positive instead of the negative.

Set an Agenda

Ask the complainer if they need solutions or they just need to vent for a while. According to James, asking the question, “As we discuss this, do you want me to suggest solutions or do you just need to vent for a while?” will do three things:

Shellenbarger also advises to allot specific, limited amount of time in meetings for co-workers to air their complaints in a constructive context.


If you’re stuck listening you can do one of two things. Either imagine yourself in a peaceful setting you enjoy, or listen and communicate to the griper you’ve heard what they have to say. Don’t roll your eyes or check your email. Do nod your head. Complainers just want to be heard.

Ask a Question

Ask the complainer if they want your perspective. If they don’t want your perspective, that’s the end of the conversation. If they do want your perspective, phrase your advice from your own perspective by saying, “If I were in your situation, I would try…” If they start coming up with reasons it won’t work, all you have to do is let them know that is what YOU would do. Then end the conversation and get back to work.

Take Action

Getting distance between you and incessant grumblers may be the answer to your problem. Try moving your desk or workstation farther away, if you can. If you think it’s more of a serious problem, let their manager know. There may be mismatch between the complainer and their job. If that is the case, the only solution for both the complainer and the company is reassignment or termination.

Complaining can swiftly become incredibly annoying, so surround yourself with people who bring you up rather than break you down.

How do you deal with the office complainer?

Thanks to stock.xchng for the image

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Three Skills Every Leader NeedsThe traits that make up a good leader vary depending on the organization, team, or work environment. If you want to thrive in a management position, it’s important to recognize the qualities good leaders share.

There was an interesting Inc. article by Peter Gasca about his experience working with a CEO who didn’t have any experience in his industry. He had reservations about how her background and management style could lead his business.

The “higher-ups” brought in someone from the outside to run the company he worked for at the time. She was a female CPA named Kathy. A CPA running a construction company wasn’t something he expected, however as time wore on she led the company to growth and they became one of the top home builders in their area.

“Kathy was able to lead our team and achieve this success by having a set of skills that trumped any specific skill needed to build a home or develop a piece of property,” says Gasca.

She did a few things to motivate her team, and these are things any leader can easily put into practice.

Engage with Your Employees and Surroundings

Leaders value their time as well as that of others. They have structure to meetings and add substance to discussions.

In Gasca’s case, Kathy knew how to manage people. She had weekly manager meetings, and maneuvered around difficult constructions issues through engagement with the managers.

“She knew everyone's strengths and weaknesses, and she allocated "us" accordingly. Maybe more important, she did everything in a manner that was personable and often humorous, but never disrespectful or derogatory,” Gasca adds.

Leaders need to be available for their employees. Although Kathy was at the top of the organization, she made it a priority to spend time with everyone in the company.

Encourage Your Team

Yes, vision is important, but you have to encourage the people around you to believe in that vision. Kathy encouraged Gasca to stay at the company, without any promises, when he was recruited. She shared where he stood with the company and encouraged his growth and development.

“The ultimate encouragement came when she promoted me to director of purchasing,” he adds.

Demand Accountability

When your team has deliverables or tasks due, hold them accountable, but know you are accountable for things as well.

For example, Gasca and his team would wait for a phone call or visit to their desk if they hadn't met a deadline. If it was around the time of a manager meeting, they knew they were in the hot seat and had to accept responsibility for their missed deadlines.

Kathy “had a way to instill fear for missed deadlines, which always motivated us to get things done. She also took a great deal of responsibility herself, and we never wanted to let her down,” he says.

Successful leaders not only build their business, they lead people. No matter what size your business, you need to be a leader to whom they’ll commit. Kathy served her team and put them first. When you do this, you’ll receive their loyalty and hard work.

Do you think these traits trump all others? What traits do you look for in a leader? 

Seven Tips for Auto Industry Leaders to Earn RespectBeing a leader entails responsibility and respect plays an important role in being successful.

Some think they are entitled to respect because of their position or experience, but you need to earn it rather than demand or expect it.

If you have respect, your team will work harder and longer to help you reach your goals.

Kevin Daum of Inc. provides seven tips to help you be the leader who earns, not demands, respect:

Practice What You Preach

You will lack credibility if you say one thing and do another. Don’t be a hypocrite and practice what you preach. To earn respect, lead by example.

Be On Time

Keep all of your commitments. Being late shows a disregard for others. Time is valuable for successful people so take control of your calendar.


Let your team know the best way to reach you. We are overloaded with ways to communicate from social media, to email, to text so limit your channels and respond within 24 hours if you want to appear communication worthy.

Be Right - Be Comfortable Being Wrong

Do your homework and state well thought-out facts. When information is too scarce to know for sure, take it as a qualified risk. If you’re wrong, own up to it, smile, and be glad you learned something.

Mistakes Will Happen

The Inc. article says if you aren’t erring, you are not trying. It also suggests setting an example for how to shake off a failure and bounce back. Encourage people to experiment and be creative in a safe environment. Know mistakes happen to everyone, even the smartest leaders.

Show Respect and Earn Respect

Earning respect isn’t a one-way street. Whether your team was wrong or right, show them the same respect that you expect from them. You have to give respect to get it.

Help Those Around You

Use active listening skills and really hear what people are saying. If a team member is struggling, provide the support they need. However, be careful. According to Daum, respect is lost when the boss placates habitual troublemakers at the expense of the team’s success. A good business leader knows when to support weak players and when to cut them loose when they aren’t pulling their weight.

To be an effective leader, one needs to earn trust and respect. Respect is not something handed to you, but without it, it would be difficult to accomplish your goals.

How do you earn respect from your team?

Four Lessons from Common Leadership Mistakes“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” - Henry Ford.

Leaders of large and small organizations make mistakes. We learn from them, but wouldn't you rather learn from the mistakes of others? There’s less damage to our own organization, and if we are alert, we can avoid the same error ourselves down the road.

Contributor to Entrepreneur, Lewis Holmes, shares some lessons we can learn from common mistakes entrepreneurs make.

Don’t Chase All Opportunities

Some leaders get caught up in chasing profits, whatever profit it may be, but not every opportunity is right for your business. Holmes says it’s vital to set boundaries for the type of work and client you want.

Have an Exit Strategy

Holmes suggests you begin with the end in mind because it demonstrates to potential investors they’re investing in a business model, not an entrepreneur with a dream. Things can go wrong, so don’t let your optimism make you think otherwise. You may need someone else to step in one day and run your company. Steve Jobs and Apple is a great example of this.

Test Assumptions

Whether you have a new idea for a business venture or a product or a service, test all of your assumptions and ideas on paper. Before you decide to move forward know your costs, factor in the unexpected, and then decide if you should move forward.

You Can’t Handle Everything

You are one person and there are only so many hours in a day to get work done. You can’t handle everything so, to avoid burnout, delegate or outsource tasks that are better handled by others. Then keep track of the results.

Take each mistake as a valuable learning experience you can take with you for the rest of your career. As business leaders, it’s our job to learn from our mistakes and move forward.

What other common mistakes do leaders make?

Image courtesy of Stock.xchng

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