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The Story behind my New Book - The Camino Way: Lessons in Leadership from a Walk Across Spain

Posted on August 22, 2017 at 6:50 PM

I'd like to tell the story about my new book, The Camino Way: Lessons in Leadership from a Walk Across Spain (AMACOM, July 2017). I hike and bike long trails on vacations as a hobby, so the Camino de Santiago had been on my list for a while. When I finally got on the Camino, however, I realized it was unlike any other trail. My month-long experience walking the Camino taught me values and lessons that have made me a better person and leader. They helped me fix some sharp edges I had developed in my climb up my career ladder. I wrote blogs about those lessons when I got home. Those blogs went viral and snowballed into this book deal. I wrote this book so I could share those lessons with other people, especially those who may not be able to take a month off and walk across Spain. To augment my own Camino stories and lessons, I interviewed over 100 other pilgrims from 16 countries. Dozens of their wonderful stories and lessons made it into this book.

I hope you enjoy the book. Here are reviews from some other readers:

"The camino has spawned a multitude of books and blogs. Victor Prince has taken a novel approach. He has gathered reflections from a cross section of pilgrims and distilled this wisdom to provide lessons in leadership. Whether that leadership is in business or life in general, we could all benefit from the advice it contains.”

— John Brierley, author of A Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino de Santiago and other bestselling travel books

"On the back of the passport, which is used to get stamps as each stage of the walk is completed, (Prince) noticed seven simple reminders of things pilgrims should do while on the Camino, which he used as the framework for his book The Camino Way, since they applied to work as well.... You don't need to walk the Camino to take those lessons into your own life.

— Harvey Schachter, The Globe and Mail, Canada's largest newspaper

"Prince’s is both a highly engaging story and a remarkably effective way to communicate business lessons... In this first-person narrative, Prince recounts his adventure, but unlike the typical travel diary, The Camino Way brilliantly draws continuous connections between the Camino, which started as a religious pilgrimage hundreds of years ago, and contemporary business leadership."

— Foreword Reviews, an independent media company founded in 1998 to serve an audience of librarians, booksellers, book-loving consumers, publishers, agents, and other publishing professionals.

"Victor Prince’s follow up to Lead Inside the Box is a much different, but equally original, book on leadership. In The Camino Way, Victor shares lessons from an extraordinary experience that can help other leaders in their everyday work. I strongly recommend it."

— Robert J. Herbold, Chief Operating Officer (retired), Microsoft Corporation

"A thousand year old hiking trail across Spain is a uniquely interesting setting for a book on leadership. It's a great read with valuable lessons for anyone looking to become a better leader, professionally and personally.”

— Ethan Bernstein, Asst. Professor of Leadership & Organizational Behavior, Harvard Business School

"I'll probably never walk the Camino, but I feel like I did after reading this book. What a fresh take on leadership!"

— David K. Lenhardt, former President and CEO, PetSmart, Inc.

"Victor draws you in with the opportunity to walk the Camino vicariously with him - all the experiences and none of the blisters. This entertaining book is a combination of a travel guide and an invaluable set of lessons for success in life at home and at work."

— Dan Tangherlini, former Administrator of the US General Services Administration

“Rooted in history, yet highly relevant to today, Victor Prince takes readers on a journey of insight that can add value to all of our daily experiences."

— Suzanne Tager, Senior Director, Retail and Consumer Goods Practice, Bain & Company

"When reading this inspirational book, I couldn't help but think about a term I learned in Latin - Manus manum lavat - one hand washes another. As leaders we need to ensure we never forget about the people we rely on, our teams, our employees, our family, friends...our village. The Camino Way reminds us we are all on different journeys and every relationship matters."

— Lisa M. Buckingham, Chief Human Resources Officer of Lincoln Financial Group

"The Camino Way offers universal life and leadership lessons. After finishing, I couldn't decide which I wanted to do first: share the book with my senior team or buy a plane ticket and start my own journey."

— Scott Kubly, Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation

"Most people have two stacks of books by their bed: books they read for work, and books they read for pleasure. The Camino Way is the only book you’ll read this year that could make it to both stacks."

— Paul Smith, bestselling author of Lead with a Story and Sell with a Story

"The Camino Way takes you on a journey you will never forget. Awesome story telling that captures and sweeps you in while delivering great life and leadership lessons."

— Brigette Hyacinth, Founder and Director of the MBA Caribbean Organisation

"Through his journey, he guides us to apply his newfound perspective to the most meaningful aspects of our lives. In doing so, we become better leaders, better parents, and better people."

— Sally Tassani, President, The Strategy Forums

"If a 'Buen Camino' is not on your itinerary, this book will bring you as close to the life-changing power of the vaunted walk as possible. It’s like a MBA for the soul."

— Scott Mautz – author of Find the Fire: Ignite Your Inspiration & Make Work Exciting Again

Learn more about The Camino Way and get your own copy today! 

JFK at 100: The Two Techniques Behind JFK's Best Speeches

Posted on May 29, 2017 at 10:25 AM

May 29, 2017 marks the 100th birthday of President John F. Kennedy (JFK). While his assassination cut his presidency and life tragically short, his legacy lives on in many ways, including his speeches. JFK was able to connect with people by explaining complex issues in an easy-to-understand and memorable way. There were two rhetorical techniques he used frequently to do that. 

Technique #1: "Not This, But That"

JFK's simplest tool to define a complex issue was to first say what it was not. This also allowed him to create some of the most simple argument constructions so they could become memorable. Examples include (with underlines added to identify the technique):

"The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises-- it is a set of challenges." (Nomination Acceptance, 1960)

“We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom--symbolizing an end as well as a beginning--signifying renewal as well as change.” (Inauguration, 1961)

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” (Inauguration, 1961)

“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” (Inauguration, 1961)

"This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety. Nor is this a partisan issue. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue." (Civil Rights, 1963)

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard..." (Rice University 'Moon speech', 1962)

"What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children -- not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time." (American University 'Nuclear Test Ban' Speech, 1963)

Technique #2 - The Sacrificial Strawman

A more elaborate version of the “Not this but that” tactic had JFK building arguments against his own position just to tear them down so people had to settle for his answer. They key to identifying this technique is when JFK mentioned things like "they say" or "I've heard." Examples include (with underlines added to identify the technique):

“I know that there are those who want to turn everything over to the Government. I don't at all. I want the individuals to meet their responsibilities and I want the States to meet their responsibilities. But I think there is also a national responsibility... I don't believe in big government, but I believe in effective governmental action...” (First Presidential Debate with Nixon, 1960)

I hear it said that West Berlin is militarily untenable. And so was Bastogne. And so, in fact, was Stalingrad. Any dangerous spot is tenable if men--brave men--will make it so.” (Berlin Crisis, 1961)

"Some say that it is useless to speak of peace or world law or world disarmament, and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitudes, as individuals and as a Nation, for our attitude is as essential as theirs." (American University 'Nuclear Test Ban' Speech, 1963)

“First examine our attitude towards peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man.” (American University 'Nuclear Test Ban' Speech, 1963)

“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?” (Rice University 'Moon Speech', 1962)

There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say -- There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say, in Europe and elsewhere, we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.” (Berlin Wall, 1963)

This speech at the Berlin Wall in June 1963 was JFK's most rousing public speaking performance. He simplified the Cold War conflict by pointing to the Berlin Wall as the clearest example of the difference between the two sides. He also added the "Let them come to Berlin" chorus that sounded like a campaign call to action. JFK was hitting his rhetorical stride as he headed into his reelection year. It is unfortunate that he never got a chance to be reelected.

PS - Some may say that JFK’s success as an orator was due solely to the talent of his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen. To them I would say that Sorenson didn’t start working for JFK until 1953 and JFK’s first public speech in 1942 (when JFK was age 25 and Sorensen was age 14 in Nebraska) used these same techniques. Let them go to the JFK Presidential Library website to also review transcripts of his speeches.

5 Management Lessons from World War 1

Posted on April 6, 2017 at 8:50 AM

The United States formally entered the First World War 100 years ago today. Some of the lessons from that devastating war still offer insights to leaders today.

#1 - Update Strategy with Technology – Machine guns represented a game-changing technology that made the war much deadlier. Strategies and tactics built in the days of calvary charges and muskets failed in the face of withering machine gun fire. Innovation in military equipment – e.g., the armored tank as a weapon against entrenched machine gun defenses – emerged during the war, but could have helped end the bloody stalemate earlier if developed before the war.

Lesson #1 – Monitor emerging technologies and regularly update your strategies and tactics.

#2 - Have a Plan B – The German generals had an attack plan – the Schlieffen Plan- to quickly take Paris to defeat the French and win the war. When the attack stalled before reaching Paris, both sides dug in and the war fell into three years of the horrific stalemate of trench warfare.

Lesson #2 – If you don't have contingency plans, you don’t have a plan.

#3 - Prepare an All Hands Response – During the Battle of the Marne early in the war, the French commanders enlisted help from Paris taxis to transport troops to the front. While the impact of a few thousand taxis was relatively small compared to the massive scale of a battle with over a million soldiers, it did boost French morale, at least as the legend grew over time. (Photo from Wikipedia by El monty CC BY-SA 3.0)

Lesson #3 – Anticipate people who would be helpful to enlist in a crisis so you can mobilize them quickly if needed.

#4 - Understand Your Entanglements – The assassination of the Austrian archduke quickly expanded into a global war because of the alliances between countries. Countries found themselves at war not because they had a conflict with each other, but because their friends of friends did.

Lesson #4 - Understand the dependencies your suppliers, sellers and other partners have because their problems can quickly become your problems.

#5 - Protect Against Hackers - The German government sent a proposal to Mexico to encourage them to wage war against the United States to regain lost territory. After the British intercepted and decoded the message, they shared it with the US Government. The resulting outrage in the US to this intercepted message - called the Zimmerman Note - was one of the final reasons (along with Germany's submarine attacks on US ships) that convinced the US to declare war against Germany.

Lesson #5 - Build strong defenses against getting hacked and have a response plan for when you eventually do.

Unfortunately, perhaps the biggest lesson from 'The War to End All Wars' was said best by the historians Will and Ariel Durant: "War is one of the constants of history ... and has not diminished with civilization or democracy."

Lessons from the Top 5 Ranked Presidents

Posted on March 18, 2017 at 4:15 PM

The Presidents of the United States are ranked from time to time by historians, and four are always at the top - Washington, Lincoln and both Roosevelts. In the latest poll of historians just released by C-SPAN for the President's Day holiday, a newcomer has broken the top five - Eisenhower.

Each of the top-five ranked presidents had different leadership styles that still offer lessons to leaders today. Here is a quote from (or about) each president that captures an element of their leadership style, presented in order of rank by this latest C-SPAN poll.

#1 Abraham Lincoln (1861-65) - According to an 1883 biography of Lincoln: “If you want to find out what a man is to the bottom, give him power. Any man can stand adversity—only a great man can stand prosperity. It is the glory of Abraham Lincoln that he never abused power... When he had power he used it in mercy."* By exerting extraordinary powers in the name of civil wartime needs (e.g., suspending the writ of habeas corpus), Lincoln may have been the closest thing to a dictator the USA has ever had. Thankfully, Lincoln knew that great leaders wield power out of necessity, not out of desire. He was aware of the potential intoxicating and corrupting effects of power. Lincoln reminds us that good leaders view power as a useful, yet dangerous, tool that should be used for the public good, but never for personal gain.

#2 George Washington (1789-97) - Washington wrote in a 1790 letter: "My station is new... I walk on untrodden ground."** - As the first president, Washington was very sensitive to how his actions shaped the office he held. He knew that every time he bent a rule, he weakened it, and that every time he ceded authority, he made it harder for his successors to reclaim that authority. Washington reminds us that all leaders should think about how their actions will impact their successors' ability to do the job.

#3 Franklin Roosevelt - (1933-45) FDR's leadership style was as unique and confusing as it was effective. According to historian James MacGregor Burns, FDR led "by deliberately fostering among his aides a sense of competition and a clash of wills that led to disarray, heartbreak, and anger but also set off pulses of executive energy and sparks of handing out one job to several men and several jobs to one man, thus strengthening his own position as a court of appeals, as a depository of information, and as a tool of co-ordination; by ignoring or bypassing collective decision-making agencies, such as the Cabinet...and always by persuading, flattering, juggling, improvising, reshuffling, harmonizing, conciliating, manipulating."*** While FDR's leadership system looked chaotic, he must have been disciplined in fulfilling his duties as the center of the system, keeping it from spinning out of control.

#4 Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09) - "I took Panama and let Congress debate that while I went ahead and built the canal."**** - This brag by Roosevelt said much about his leadership style. At age 42, Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest person ever to serve as president. His death at age 60 made him one of the youngest retired presidents to die too. It was almost like he sensed he had a limited time in office and life and wanted to get the most out of that time. As president, that meant Roosevelt sometimes took risks by acting before he had formal authorization and funding when he believed his actions would eventually be judged to be right.

#5 Dwight Eisenhower (1953-61) - Eisenhower shared this quote in a 1957 speech: "I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything." ***** - Eisenhower served as a US Army officer for almost 40 years, starting as a West Point cadet and becoming the top Army general before entering politics to run for president. Eisenhower rose slowly through the Army ranks in a series of staff roles focused on planning, not combat. Those roles sharpened his managerial skills while also exposing him to various leadership styles of famous Army generals. When he rose to top leadership jobs himself, Eisenhower emphasized high-quality, behind-the-scenes planning over dramatic, personal leadership theatrics. While criticized as boring, Eisenhower's highly professional management style was also highly effective.

Sources / Notes:

* This quote is from an 1883 biography of Lincoln by Horatio Alger Jr.. ** From a letter Washington wrote. *** James MacGregor Burns (1970). The Soldier of Freedom: Roosevelt. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. 347–48. - **** Quoted from a speech Roosevelt made in California. ***** From a speech to the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference in Washington, D.C. (November 14, 1957), as cited in the Congressional Record.

7 Keys to Success in First 100 Days: Lessons from FDR

Posted on February 16, 2017 at 8:50 AM

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (FDR) accomplishments in his first 100 days set a bar against which every subsequent US president has been measured. It is an unfair bar in many ways, as the situation FDR inherited 84 years ago is much different than modern times. It’s also not clear FDR even intended 100 days to be a bar against which to measure his own administration. What is clear is that any new leader should consider focusing on the same seven principles FDR did in his first 100 days. 

1) Inspire confidence – FDR used his first act in office, his inaugural address, to instill confidence among Americans in his ability to do the job. He did that first by walking and standing for his speech despite the paralysis that normally confined him to a wheel chair. He also did that by the bold content and delivery of his speech. His famous line about “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” came early in that speech and showed he was not intimidated by the dire situation he was inheriting.

2) Set an agenda – FDR inherited countless problems, but he set an agenda of goals around just three simple themes - relief, recovery, and reform. The blizzard of new programs he launched in that first 100 days could be explained by tying them back to his simple agenda instead of to a long list. People naturally seek to have some organizing principle to take in complex information, and FDR provided one for them.

3) Launch your team – FDR swore his whole cabinet in as a group the same day he took his oath. He did that to avoid wasting any days at the start of his 100 days. The group swearing in may have also built a sense of shared focus and urgency among the new heads of departments more used to competing than cooperating.

4) Ensure accountability – FDR had a unique management style sometimes called the “hub and spoke,” with him in the center of everything. He wanted to delegate clear accountability for each of his goals. Instead of burying accountability layers down in an existing bureaucracy, he often created an entirely new organization focused on each program that would report directly to him. While this accountability approach may not have been efficient, it was what was effective for FDR’s leadership style.

5) Stop the bleeding – Every leader inherits something that is causing problems that get in the way of achieving other results. For FDR, that was the run on the banking system. He realized that he had to tackle that immediately even if it was a messy problem with no easy, painless solution. FDR did the most radical fix he could on his first full day in office by closing the banks for a ‘holiday’ to let them get liquidity back in order. By putting a tourniquet on that wound, he gave himself space to push the rest of his agenda.

6) Get quick wins – FDR had promised in his campaign to repeal the federal prohibition of alcohol sales in the US that had been around since 1920. He signed a bill in his first month that allowed some exemptions for weak beer and wine. Letting people drink alcohol legally again was not the most important thing facing the country, but FDR knew it would gain a lot of goodwill and confidence in his ability to deliver on his other goals.

7) Build stakeholder relationships – Like every president, FDR needed a productive relationship with Congress to pass the bills he needed to achieve his agenda. FDR realized that he also needed to build a direct link with the American people as well, particularly to increase the confidence in the banking system. FDR did this by taking advantage of radio to create that direct relationship with the American public through his “fireside chats.”

Even if you don't have natural leadership abilities like FDR, you can copy the underlying approach he took to make his first 100 days so historic.

7 Event Management Lessons from the 2009 Presidential Inauguration

Posted on January 8, 2017 at 9:40 AM

On January 20, 2017, the city of Washington DC will host the most sacred ceremony in the US democracy - the peaceful transition of power from onepresident to another. The last transition in 2009 attracted an estimated 1.8 million spectators from around the country. At about 3x the population of the city of Washington DC, it was the largest crowd in DC history, and probably the largest in US history. Through extraordinary preparation and heroic work by law enforcement, fire, EMS, transportation, National Guard and others, it turned out to be a shining moment for the city instead of a crowd management disaster. In my job working for DC Mayor Fenty, I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat for those preparations. Here are the 5 lessons in event management I learned from that experience.


Question Assumptions - DC hosts presidential inaugurations every year, so it has a tested roadmap on how to do it. For this one, however, we threw out the old assumptions about typical crowd size, which had reliably been between 250,000-500,000 every time. We saw the examples of the abnormally large crowds at other campaign events that season as a wake up call that the crowd size this time would be different. Whenever we took out a part of the existing plans, we questioned whether that would still work under a much larger assumed crowd size.

Test Rumors - We started hearing rumors that thousands of charter busses were going to be rented to bring people to the inauguration – or up to 10 times as many as usually come to a huge assembly on the Mall. If true, it was a major curve ball that would impact much of the rest of the planning. Before we changed everything, we sent a SurveyMonkey email out to all of the charter bus companies east of the Mississippi River to see if the rumors were true. Sure enough, thousands replied that they were coming and were planning on parking in their favorite shady spot right on the Mall that they use whenever they come. The rumors were true and we had a serious problem because the road closures and security zones made bus parking a different game this time.

Define Success - If we didn’t figure something out, tens of thousands of Americans who traveled many hours on a bus to personally witness, maybe with their kid hoisted on their shoulders, an event they never thought they would see in their lifetime, would have been stuck in a massive bus traffic jam, probably not even able to stop and see it on television. We didn’t know how we would get those folks to the event, but we knew failure was not an option. Success was getting each and every visitor safely to the event and back on their bus headed home. To achieve that, we would have to ask extraordinary efforts by a lot of folks, so we used that picture to help communicate the need.

Boil Down the Problem - Because the traditional way was off the table, we had to restart from square one. We broke down the big problem into the pieces we needed to solve. At its core we needed to find a solution that met three needs: 1) a space where every bus could stop to unload their customers, 2) that space needed to be next to a transportation option that would get people to the Mall, and 3) each bus would need to be at an exact pre-arranged point and time at the end of the event so its passengers could find their right bus. That last one was a tough one when you think about tens of thousands of people finding their exact bus out of hundreds of busses. People could easily hop on the wrong bus and end up in a very different place than they started from.

Brainstorm Solutions - Once we boiled it down to that, we were able to brainstorm a bunch of different ideas, including some pretty wild ones. Then we figured out the only way that would meet all three needs that was maybe the most radical – closing down hundreds of blocks of downtown DC streets to turn them into temporary bus parking lots within walking distance of the Mall. Instead of finding more subway trains, shuttle busses or other means of transport for the last mile to the event, the answer was much simpler - we had to have people transport themselves.


Ask for Help - Once we came up with the plan for the busses, we knew we couldn't get it done with the resources we had, since the local agencies were already maxed out taking care of all the other things to prepare for inauguration crowds. We ended up deploying the National Guard to close down the downtown streets to turn them into temporary bus parking lots. We then enlisted hundreds of citizen volunteers to stand in the dark cold wee hours of that morning to guide buses to their parking spots and give the passengers a map of where their bus was parked. It was a massive effort.

Coordinate Execution at the Top - To ensure all the preparations were coordinated and on track, the mayor held 10 CapStat sessions over the months on the topic of inauguration readiness. Each CapStat session was kind of like a Cabinet meeting with the heads of the relevant agencies around the same table looking at the key information the CapStat team of analysts gathered from them to track progress, and the mayor asking questions and giving orders. By having all the principals in one spot looking at the same data, problem-solving, decision-making and accountability were fast-tracked and avoided getting lost in normal bureaucratic communication channels.

From all this preparation, the story that day was about a successful and peaceful transition of presidential power, and not about bad things that can happen when massive crowds gather in confined spaces. We counted 3000+ buses that pre-registered to park in our temporary lots that day, representing 150,000 passengers, with more likely showing up un-registered. While there were hiccups elsewhere that day, not a single person who came in on a charter bus got turned away, got left behind or went on the wrong bus.

How Rescuing Greyhounds Made Me a Better COO

Posted on December 11, 2016 at 9:55 AM

I adopted two retired racing greyhounds several years ago. Despite their fierce racing image, greyhounds are gentle-natured and don’t need much exercise. Their ability to sleep all day has earned them the nickname “40 mph couch potatoes.” Because of their careers as racers, however, they do require unique care to adjust to life in a home. That experience transitioning them to a new life made me a better leader of people at work in 4 ways.


1) Assessing Needs – My first greyhound was fully grown when I got him. At four years old, he was a washed up world-class pro athlete who had competed in tracks around the country. What I didn’t realize by looking at him was how he lacked many skills any four month old puppy would have begun to master. Stairs, furniture, mirrors, vacuums and verbal commands were among the things alien to him. He didn’t even know how to sit. I learned to assume every experience would be a learning experience for him. Car rides, walking on a leash, darting squirrels, curious kids – I learned to ease him into every first time experience to ensure we didn’t have a big failure that could have been prevented by training.


LEADERSHIP LESSON – It’s the responsibility of adults reentering an environment to learn quickly. It’s the responsibility of their leaders to give them a safe learning environment.




2) Managing Risk – Because greyhounds are sight-hounds they can see things moving far off and will automatically run at them at full speed, even straight into car traffic. Rabbits, squirrels, and floating plastic bags are all stimuli. Since no amount of training could defeat that inbred trait and the consequences could be tragic, I had to invest in an expensive fence to feel safe letting them free in my yard. Indoors, they presented other risks of damage that were also likely to occur but with lesser consequences. If they went into an off limit room to relieve themselves, the results would be messy but not tragic. At first I invested in baby gates but realized they were as annoying to me as they were effective with them and I often put them aside. I then tested flimsy white tension curtain rods that I wouldn’t put aside but might still curb them. They worked great and now the dogs don’t even step over electric cords on the floor unless I tell them it is OK.


LEADERSHIP LESSON – Whenever I need to manage a risk at work, I will think carefully about whether I need a $5000 fence or if a $5 curtain rod will suffice.


3) Giving Attention – Because of the tough conditions they faced as racers, greyhounds are troopers as pets. They rarely bark, they aren’t food crazed, they sleep all day, and they can go for 12 plus hours between bathroom breaks. When I get busy, it is easy to neglect them for several hours at a time. I learned the hard way that, even if they aren’t crying out for physical relief, they still need regular attention from me. When I neglect them too long, bad things happen. Just because they don’t need me to let them out doesn’t mean they don’t need reassurance that I know they are there.


LEADERSHIP LESSON – Some team members generate great results without needing a lot of input from their managers. They are easy to neglect. If you neglect them long enough, bad things happen, like they take other job offers.


4) Finding Community – Because they grow up in a sealed environment in racing with only humans and other greyhounds, greyhounds are aloof with other dog breeds. When other dogs want to say hello on a walk, my greyhounds stand stoically through the sniffing. But when another greyhound crosses the street three blocks away, my greyhounds see with their sighthound eyes and get excited. The greyhounds drag their walkers to a meeting. The funny part is, that the meeting of the greyhounds lasts about 30 frantic seconds before they go back to their stoic selves, but the people walking the greyhounds connect much longer and talk about the unique experience rescuing greyhounds. Those interactions between greyhound walkers became so frequent in my neighborhood that we ended up forming a vibrant 60+ person community on Facebook. That Facebook group blossomed into an annual entry in our big neighborhood 4th of July Parade to increase awareness of greyhound adoption.


LEADERSHIP LESSON – Leading a greyhound transitioning from racing life to homelife is a unique challenge that only other greyhound adopters can understand. If you can connect with other greyhound adopters, you can help each other out. The same is probably true with other types of caregivers.


I’ve spent a lot of time and money getting training to make me a better leader at work. Rescuing two greyhounds has been the best training I ever got to learn the patience and empathy to help adults transition to a new career. Even though they haven’t been as “free” as I expected rescued dogs to be, the experience they have given me has been priceless.


->> Learn more about adopting retired racing greyhounds at



12 Best Practices of Elite Executive Assistants

Posted on November 19, 2016 at 8:30 AM

In my 20-plus year career from intern to COO, I’ve worked with dozens of executive assistants (EAs). They’ve all made me appreciate how important and difficult the EA job is. Here are the 12 best practices I learned from some exceptionally talented Executive Assistants I've been lucky to see in action.


I. Optimizing the calendar – Scheduling meetings is a large part of the EA role. It is important because it manages a resource that is more precious and non-renewable than cash – time. Here are three best practices in calendar management:


Incorporate External Patterns – Executive’s schedules are often bounded by fixed, external patterns they have to work around. Elite EAs learn to identify and incorporate patterns such as family obligations or the CEO's schedule into their boss' calendar.

Filter Requests – People often ask for a meeting when an email to, or return phone call from, the boss will suffice. Elite EAs learn to understand the underlying needs for meeting requests and figure out the best way to meet them. Sometimes a 45 meeting is required for a deep dive, sometimes a 15 minute meeting is enough. Sometimes an email, phone call or 'drop-by' would be a faster, more efficient way to get a decision.

Build in Space – Unmanaged, every single minute of an executive's schedule quickly gets overbooked. Elite EAs know when they need to leave some un-programmed time in their boss’ schedule. One trick to do this is to have meetings start at 15 minutes after the hour instead of on the hour to keep meetings to 45 minutes and to give the boss some time to transition from one meeting to another. (It also helps meetings start on time.)


II. Making meetings efficient – Scheduling meetings efficiently is half the battle. Ensuring those meeting slots are used efficiently is the other half. Every meeting is a significant investment of the time of people involved. Each hour-long meeting with several people can easily represent an investment of $1000 or more of salaries. Elite EA’s treat that investment even more carefully than they treat a $1000 order of office supplies. Here are three best practices in making meetings efficient.


Reconfirm Logistics – There is often a time gap between when a meeting is put on a calendar and when it happens. A meeting slot is wasted if people do not show up on time or if the meeting room is busy. Elite EAs confirm attendees and the room before every meeting.

Ensure Preparation – Even if all the attendees show up and the room is set, a meeting slot can still be wasted if the people in it are not prepared to discuss the issue at hand. Elite EAs gather an agenda (see example) and any material to be presented the day before so the executive can prepare the questions they need answered before the decisions they are being asked to make. Some also package these materials in a folder the executive can review the night before. (See example.)

Ensure Follow-Up – A meeting is only as productive as the results that occur after it. Elite EAs debrief their bosses to figure out what the follow-up expectations are from each meeting and send those out to all meeting attendees as notes and “action items.” (Elite EAs also remind people of those by inserting those action items into the agendas for any future meetings. See example.)


III. Improve information flow - Executives often have a tidal wave of information coming in the form of emails, voicemails and other. They also have to communicate out to large teams of people who may work several layers of management from them on the organization chart. Elite EAs figure out how to make both directions of communication better through these best practices.


Skim Inbound - The amount of emails and communication an executive gets multiplies with the number of people in the group they lead. 80 percent of incoming communications probably aren't critical, 20 percent probably are. Elite EAs work out arrangements where they filter inboxes to help their executives focus on what they need to see and deal appropriately with what they don't need to see.

Coordinate Outbound - Executives' organizations often have many different teams that have independent interactions with many different parts of the organization. In some cases, the executive may want advance notice before communications from their team go out. If those interactions look uncoordinated, the executive may want to consolidate messaging into scheduled channels. Elite EAs help their executives ensure communications are coordinated.

Build Institutional Knowledge - EAs have a unique vantage point to see all the information that comes in and goes out of an executive's office. Elite EAs learn how to help their boss capture and share that information to help the broader organization learn from it. Sometimes that means learning tools like PowerPoint to help the boss communicate out to the team. Sometimes that means posting information on the company intranet.


Be an ambassador. - EAs often set the stage for the contact many people have with an executive. They welcome people to meetings, answer phones, and arrange travel on behalf of their executive. EAs often determine the first impression people get of the executive. Elite EAs figure out how to deliver great impressions consistently through these best practices.


In Person Visitors - Two things often happen with meetings with executives - they are on the executive's turf and people arrive early. EAs make the crowd for the next meeting feel welcome. Elite EAs set the stage for visitors and give their executive real time intel on what the energy of their meeting is going in.

Phone Callers - It is easy to project a professional, ambassadorial attitude when you answer the phone. It is harder to arrange for the phone to be answered in that same way when you can't cover it personally. Elite EAs learn how to have an established coverage system where they can automatically have the calls routed to other trusted recipients.

The Organization - The EA is the ambassador to the administrative professional community in their executive's organization. Administrative professionals are key to ensuring the executive at the top of the organization is connected to all the corners of their organization. Even more importantly, elite EAs ensure the needs (e.g., training) and insights of all the administrative professionals in the organization are presented to the executive. Ambassadorship works both ways, after all.



Cutting Hospital Overtime by $3MM: A Consulting Case Study

Posted on October 20, 2016 at 11:25 AM

People often have a hard time understanding what I mean when I say I am a strategy consultant. The best way to describe the job can be by telling the story of one of my consulting projects.

My Hospital Client. One of the most rewarding engagements I’ve had as an independent management consultant was with a hospital in the Northeast region of the United States. The hospital had been under severe budget pressure for years due to excessive overtime costs. They brought me in to help figure out how they could cut those overtime costs.

The Hypothesis-Testing Process. I’d never worked for a hospital, so the expertise I was bringing wasn’t hospital management but a problem-solving method that has been proven over centuries – “hypothesis-testing.” I’d been introduced to the process in high school science. I learned how this process could be applied to business in the training “boot camp” I got when I joined a strategy consulting firm (Bain & Company) right after business school. (I teach this methodology to clients around the world today.)

The Problem Statement. I started my hospital case by clarifying with my client the problem I was going to solve. I did this with a simple one-page introduction with three parts.

  • Situation: A definition of the client and their normal situation. Example: Hospital X is a government-owned and funded hospital that has been successfully serving patients in the community for decades.
  • Complication: A definition of what has changed in their normal situation that is causing a problem. Example: Hospital X’s overtime costs have grown steadily and necessitated several supplemental budget requests from the government. Future budget supplements are unlikely, meaning the Hospital will have to cut costs in other critical areas to cover future unbudgeted overtime.
  • Question: A definition of the problem the consultant is being hired to solve that clearly outlines what success would look like. Example: What strategies can Hospital X management successfully and rapidly implement to substantially reduce overtime costs without negatively impacting patient care?

The Issue Tree. Next, I created a logical framework – an “issue tree” - to identify all the potential root causes of overtime and categorize them into distinct categories. I chose “Supply-Driven” versus “Demand-Driven” at the top of my framework to organize the potential causes. Potential overtime root causes in the “Supply” category would be things related to the supply of labor – e.g., ‘not enough staff.’ Potential causes in the “Demand” category would be drivers of the demand for labor – e.g., ‘number of patients increased.’ For each main category, I then added subcategories where they seemed logical. For example, I split the ‘not enough staff’ potential cause into subcategories of ‘not enough staff assigned’ vs. ‘enough staff assigned but not present.’

The Interview Guide. I translated that logical framework into an interview guide that I could use in the meetings I was to have with the top executives of the hospital. As I walked through the list of all the possible root causes of the overtime problem with each executive, I got a variety of information and opinions on where the biggest, fixable root causes were. After those meetings, I adjusted and added to my logic tree of potential root causes.

Prioritizing Potential Hypotheses. Now that I had a good list of all the hypothetical root causes, I prioritized them based on each’s probability of being the best answer to the problem. This is important because it takes work to get the data and do the analysis to test each hypothesis. To test them all would require an unacceptable amount of time and effort for both me and my client. I was going to test one hypothesis at a time so, hopefully, I would be able to guess which was the ‘winner’ in just one or a few tries. I was able to put the whole ‘Demand’ part of my logic tree at the bottom of the list because of the information I uncovered in the manager interviews. Their patient population was steady and very predictable, so overtime was not being driven by unforeseen surges in demand. The problem had to be related to ‘Supply’ - staffing.

Defining First Hypothesis to Test. Within the ‘Supply” side, I decided to start with an “Excessive sick leave is driving overtime and can be reduced” hypothesis for three main reasons.

  • First, staff calling in sick was a very logical source of overtime since those gaps are unplanned and have to get covered at the last minute, and overtime would be the most convenient solution.
  • Second, as I looked at the issue through the eyes of workers and not of management, I realized many of them probably viewed overtime not as a problem but as a good thing allowing them to boost their incomes. They had an incentive to get more overtime, and sick leave usage was the only lever I saw that was entirely in the workers’ control.
  • Third, when I asked managers for their ideas about the potential root causes, excessive sick leave rarely came up. When I asked specifically about it, it was clear they sensed it was an ‘HR policy issue’ they couldn't influence.

All together, these reasons, combined with my intuition built by working equally complex problems for many clients across many countries over many years, made me confident I had a strong hypothesis to test.

The Assertion Tree. Now that I had a hypothesis, I had to figure out the things – the “assertions” - that would have to be true for the hypothesis to be true. I settled on three assertions.

  • Sick leave is a large driver of overtime.
  • The amount of sick leave being incurred is excessive because of abuse of policy.
  • Policies and procedures can be implemented quickly to reduce abuses in sick leave usage.

If I could gather the right data, I could test whether these assertions and their overarching hypothesis were true. If the data came back and supported them, I had a winning hypothesis. If the data came back disproving them, I had to find a new hypothesis to test.

The Blank Deck. With a clear top hypothesis to test first, I focused my first data request from the hospital’s IT team clearly on that issue. I sketched out the charts that would show the data in the right format to prove or disprove each assertion, complete with the dates I wanted and the labels of the axes. By mapping out all the charts and slides in a “blank deck” before I had any data, I knew exactly what I needed to get. It would save time, for both me and my client, by avoiding gathering unneeded or “nice to have” data.

The Analysis. The raw data came back quickly and I analyzed it using Tableau software. As soon as Tableau rendered the first charts, I knew we had cracked the case with our first hypothesis. Specifically, here is what the data proved:

  • There was a strong correlation between sick leave and overtime on an overall level. When hospital-wide sick leave was high or low in a pay period, so was overtime.
  • The majority of sick leave came from a small group of staff members. This small group of heavy sick leave users used much more sick leave than their peers.
  • The majority of overtime also came from a small group of staff members. This small group of heavy overtime earners bumped up their annual salary by 50-150% through overtime.
  • There was a significant overlap between the small group of staff who were above average sick leave users and the small group that were above average overtime earners. This small group of people were working excess hours of overtime and taking excess sick leave, even in the same pay period.

Sharing Answer with Client. Once I had all my charts filled in and inserted in a PowerPoint slide deck, I showed my findings to the hospital CEO and his top deputies. They quickly understood the point. When I shuffled through charts of individuals getting overtime and sick leave in the same pay period, they quickly understood the potential. The head of HR responded by saying this practice was not only against their HR policy, but also explicitly banned in their agreement with the labor union. In other words, this solution should be quick and easy to implement. They just needed to convince their line managers to enforce existing policy.

Helping Client Implement. The CEO asked me to help him create the urgency in the line managers by presenting it to them at their next all-managers meeting. For that meeting, I didn’t change the slides, but I thought carefully about how I would present them. The CEO introduced me at that meeting by describing the urgency of the rampant overtime problem and how he had brought me in to help. Before I flipped a single slide on the screen, I walked around the auditorium and asked the dozens of front line managers what they thought the answer was. As each new idea came up, I wrote it down on a white board and thanked them. When the new ideas petered out, I said the following: “What if I told you that the answer is not any of these and is completely in your control?” I got skeptical but curious looks back. When I presented the findings, I made sure I flipped through every individual chart showing the people who took sick leave in the same pay period they earned overtime. I blanked out the private information but left enough publicly-available information in so these managers would know which staffers were on their team.

Being a Change Agent. I was being provocative and theatrical on purpose because figuring out the answers to tough problems is only half the job of a strategy consultant. The other half is doing whatever you can to empower your client to implement the answer. In this case, I figured the best way I could do that was to be a provocative change agent and directly challenge the front line managers with real examples of them not following policy (albeit not in a personal way). I wanted these skeptical managers to debate me on this solution because I had all the facts on my side. And with me in front driving the charge as the “bad cop,” the CEO was able to hang back and focus on finding the best way he could be the “good cop” to lead the implementation process after I left.

Following Up. That meeting was the last day I was formally involved in that project, but I did arrange to get a feed of updates every bi-weekly pay period on their overtime expense so I could track it. Sharing those data also gave me a chance to keep the CEO informed of progress and elicit any questions that may have arisen after I left.

The Result. The pay periods immediately after my presentation showed overtime reduced by 46%, or about $3 million a year, from their steady pattern the year before. When I looked back and added up the hours I spent on this project, I estimated it took me about 80 hours of my time.

To learn more about the training we offer in this problem-solving methodology, visit our Training page or contact us. 

8 Types of Leadership Your Team Needs from You

Posted on September 4, 2016 at 5:20 PM

We hear the phrase “think outside the box” a lot. If “the box” is something that is stifling creativity, it sounds like something to avoid. But when “the box” is a framework that smart leaders use to get better results from their teams, it is something to embrace.


In our new book Lead Inside the Box – How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results, my co-author Mike Figliuolo and I present the Leadership Matrix, or “the box” for short. The premise is you need to evaluate the amount of output you get from a team member and compare that to the amount of time and energy you have to invest in them to get that output. We call that second piece “leadership capital.” The result of those comparisons is the Leadership Matrix.


Within that matrix, we define behavioral-performance patterns that team members demonstrate from Slackers to Rising Stars and everything in between. The real insight lies in practical advice on how to lead those folks to improve their performance. By understanding the behaviors your team members demonstrate and how you invest (or don’t invest) your time and effort into them, you’ll get a clearer picture of the 8 archetypical performance patterns that can show up in the box. With that understanding, you can begin leading your team members differently, which will improve your team performance.


Those archetypes are as follows:


Exemplars (High Output, Low Input) can be categorized based upon their career aspirations. Some Exemplars want their great performance to provide them a stepping stone to larger roles and responsibilities. These are the “Rising Stars.” Other Exemplars are content remaining in their current roles. They’re experts and they’re satisfied with delivering outstanding results without much interference from their boss. These individuals are the “Domain Masters.”


High Cost Producers (High Output, High Input) break into subtypes based on the kinds of costs they incur. Some get results but at the high cost of damaging team morale and destroying the goodwill you and your team have accrued with others. These individuals are the “Steamrollers.” High-Cost Producers who get results but require an inordinate amount of hand-holding from their leader to get them done are the “Squeaky Wheels.”


Detractors (Low Output, High Input) are defined by the root cause of their performance issues. Some don’t have the skills they need to do their job. These individuals are the “Square Pegs.” We call Detractors who have the skills to do the job but they lack the will to do it the “Slackers."


Passengers (Low Output, Low Input) subtypes are determined by the kind of output they produce. Some only work to get their paycheck. They expend the bare minimum amount of effort required to keep getting paid. These are the behaviors of your “Stowaways.” Other Passengers exert a great deal of energy but they focus on tasks they want to do, not tasks you need them to do. We refer to Passengers behaving this way as “Joyriders.”


Once you have identified the behavioral-performance patterns present on your team, you will see your team in a new light. (You can use our simple online quiz to assess your team using this framework.) Armed with these new insights, you can figure out the specific type of leadership each team member needs from you to improve their performance. By seeing your team as a portfolio, you can also figure out where you should invest less of your time in some parts so you can shift it to invest more in other parts. In short, you will learn to get better results out of your team by working smarter, not harder, as a leader.


To learn more about leading people in all eight performance patterns in the Leadership Matrix, visit or read our book, Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide their Teams to Exceptional Results.