Every leader is building a culture, by default or design. Whether you’re a teacher in a classroom, a parent of a family, a director of a department, a coach of a team, or a CEO of a company, you automatically get the job of creating a “culture” for the space you’re in. Like it or not, it goes with the territory.

In fact, I believe it’s the number one job of the leader.

I spoke to two leaders recently. One, was the senior leader of a fast-growing school who was caught off-guard with the growth he experienced. Enrollment was climbing and he had to hire staff and faculty to fill the needed spots. I supposed it was a good problem to have, but it’s one we dare not enter without wise counsel. He confessed to me he’d made some decisions quickly—as speed became more important than accuracy. He now had some team members he wished he had not hired.

The other leader was someone who was launching a new department in a university and wanted to be careful as she made tough decisions. Like the leader above, she was growing fast, but intuitively knew she needed to pause and process her decisions. She didn’t want to make a wrong move she’d regret later.

The following thoughts are what I shared with her, as we discussed this important topic of enhancing the culture you want as a leader:

Four Ideas to Enhance Your Culture:

1. Don’t be afraid to start slow and small—but be intentional.

Last month, I interviewed a potential new staff member for our team. Holly and Chris had already screened him for skills—my single job was to ensure he fit our culture. As you bring people on, hire slow and fire fast. Be sure no one comes on that you don’t feel will fit and enhance the culture you want.

2. It’s often better to go without…than to choose a wrong person.

As much as I want to grow fast, I have found it’s better to “want what you don’t have…than to have what you don’t want.” (I think this is also true when looking for a spouse!) We’re still adding to our team to go pursue the markets we want to reach, but we are going without until we can find and afford the right person.

3. Know who you are and what you stand for, before growing too much.

Take the time, (just as Chick-Fil-A founder Truett Cathy did) to solidify your “brand.” Truett had one store for ten years before adding another store. He wanted to ensure his “recipe” was right for both his chicken and his core values. Nail down your values, your brand personality, your vision, and what differentiates you—before you choose to expand.

4. You have to go slow in order to go fast.

I learned this one from Gene Smith, the Director of Athletics at Ohio State University. He has a sign to this effect on the wall in his office. It simply means every big decision a leader must make, he or she must slow down and ensure the choice aligns with the values and the vision of the team. If so, this decision will accelerate growth and success later.

In short…Know what you want. Start small. Stay focused. Clarify the win.


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The Fall Starter Kit will help you:

  • Guide unprepared adolescents and kids to productive adulthood.
  • Employ team member strengths and work with their weaknesses on the job.
  • Understand the generation following Millennials: Generation Z.
  • Determine what leader development method best fits your students.
  • Engage young adults at the heart level and foster life-change.

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Today, I’m excited to share with you a conversation with Geoff Goodman, President of Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt. Having held other executive positions for Bruster’s Ice Cream and Cici’s Pizza, Geoff has a whole new stance on how to manage and lead the next generation. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation.

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Tim Elmore: With Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt being on college campuses and in communities, certainly you want to generate profits and grow the organization; but I love the fact that you have a heart for the next generation. You’re a dad, and you care about the young people that are working at Orange Leaf. How does that play out in your leadership?

Geoff Goodman: I believe businesses that focus on making a difference, make dollars in the long run. One of my particular passions is being a leader to young people to help them get a start in their career path. I was fortunate to have great mentors who gave great advice—some solicited and some not. I have developed a real passion towards investing in young people. Should they so choose to engage with us, it allows them to gain value beyond simply working for a paycheck.

Tim: Absolutely, that’s one of the things I like about you, Geoff. You understand that in today’s corporate world there are new challenges. I’m hearing from managers and executives who are mourning over the turnover rates—these kids don’t stay any place very long. Set the stage for your theories and the innovative ways you are approaching these young employees.

Geoff: So many companies focus on preventing turnover. It’s talked about in such a negative light. I flipped the equation in the way that I looked at it. We are now trying to increase turnover at our stores. I have embraced the fact that our workforce is transitory. We know that our young employees aren’t going to work for us for more than three years. We’ve chosen to see their time with us as an opportunity to become known as “America’s best first job.”

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Tim: I love that you are striving be “America’s best first job.” In this approach, what are some of the practical ways you invest in these first job team members?

Geoff: We endeavor to build relationships with them, which opens up our ability to influence them during the course of their work experience. We also offer course material to them where they learn: how to dress for success, how to interview, how to write a resume, how to create a LinkedIn profile, how to read a PNL statement, etc. What we are trying to do is make them more employable—through mentorship, or some form of coaching.

Tim: Absolutely. What you’ve just described creates a contagious culture. So I have one last question. What advice would you give to a Baby Boomer or Gen X manager who leads young people about how to lead them well?

Geoff: We didn’t grow up the way this generation did. Trying to change their mentality just isn’t going work, but we can attempt to understand them. For example: many managers try taking the phones out of the young people’s hands. Compared to when we grew up, that’s like taking our wallet when we got to work. So, since it’s really not an option to take away their phone, give them a productive way to use it. We are developing an app where young people can access the course work we offer. That’s just one example that shows the difference between changing and embracing Millennials.

Tim: The thought that went across my mind as you were saying this is, these young people are learning just in time, not just in case. They often sit in a classroom and think they will hardly ever use what they learn. Learning and experiencing are very different. I love that you have a laboratory for showing, not instructing, and that you let them try it out for themselves.

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The Fall Starter Kit will help you:

  • Guide unprepared adolescents and kids to productive adulthood.
  • Employ team member strengths and work with their weaknesses on the job.
  • Understand the generation following Millennials: Generation Z.
  • Determine what leader development method best fits your students.
  • Engage young adults at the heart level and foster life-change.

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Today’s post is a guest article by Randy Gavvitt. I hope you enjoy it. 

Although the concept of community is at the core of what creates a High Performance Team, it is also one of the twelve best practices to unlock organizational performance, as well.

When we see the word community, it may bring to mind rows of houses with white picket fences. However, what makes a neighborhood is not the homes, rather it is the neighbors … those we live with.

One of the differentiators between a good team and a great team is the decision to pursue genuine community. The same truth applies to organizations. The concept may feel soft, but don’t underestimate what it can do for your work environment. Many organizations are equal when it comes to talent and skills. However, the most talented don’t always win. Whether in sports or business, many squander their potential because they miss the power and competitive advantage of community.

Many historical examples of genuine community can be found in the military. Countless men and women have laid down their lives for countries and causes. However, a deeper look often shows, they really sacrificed for the friend by their side in the trench. There is, truly, power when a group decides to lock arms and pursue something great together. Does this idea characterize your culture?

High Performance Organizations create an atmosphere of caring. Not just about the work but also about each other. They think “we first, not me first.” Such a mindset is evidenced as they celebrate together, overcome setbacks, push and challenge one another, and even grieve when necessary. The way they care for each other creates a sense of togetherness that leads to more individual engagement and greater team results. If you truly want to build a great organization, choose to invest time on the task of building community. Remember, when a team comes together, they set themselves apart.


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  • Guide unprepared adolescents and kids to productive adulthood.
  • Employ team member strengths and work with their weaknesses on the job.
  • Understand the generation following Millennials: Generation Z.
  • Determine what leader development method best fits your students.
  • Engage young adults at the heart level and foster life-change.

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One of the most fascinating studies I’ve read in the last decade was conducted by University of Pennsylvania researchers, Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman. Just over ten years ago they performed a longitudinal study on two groups of adolescents to measure self-discipline in the students. Results came from self-report, parent report, teacher report and monetary choice questionnaires, given in their fall semester. The results of these studies on student self-discipline accurately predicted their final grades, class attendance, standardized test scores—and even selection into a competitive high school program the following spring.

In the second round, questions on study habits and IQ were added. The results were profound and unmistakable. Self-discipline accounted for more than twice as much impact as IQ did in grades, test scores, school selection, school attendance, hours spent doing homework, hours spent watching television, (inversely) and the time of day students began doing homework.

In short, school performance had far more to do with the soft skill of self-discipline than the students IQ.

These findings illustrate a major reason for students falling short of their intellectual potential: their failure to exercise self-discipline.

I know. I know. You’re probably thinking, “Duh!” right?

Examining the hypotheses these researchers validated, it became clear that both parents and teachers must get beyond measuring mere “hard skills” or intellectual growth if we expect our students to emerge as healthy adults. The hypotheses were:

  • Self-discipline in the fall will predict academic performance in the spring.
  • Self-discipline will account for more academic variance than will I.Q.
  • Self-discipline will predict final GPA, controlling for I.Q and first-marking period GPA.

Four Steps to Cultivate Self-Discipline and Willpower

photo credit: CB101515 via photopin (license)

photo credit: CB101515 via photopin (license)

There is nothing more common than finding students who are loaded with potential, intellectually or athletically, yet who end up severely under-performing. So how do we cultivate willpower and self-discipline in them?

I know of no “magic wand” to build willpower. However, as I’ve worked with university students over the decades, I’ve chosen to gamify the development of self-discipline this way:

  1. Do it if you hate it.

Years ago, I was teaching college students and we decided to build self-discipline into our routines. One competition we chose was: “Do it if you hate it.” We all chose one activity that we absolutely loathed (such as cleaning the dorm room, taking out the trash, reading a textbook, etc.) and purposefully made it a daily act. We found when we did this, it not only became amusing, but we harnessed our lazy dispositions. The contest became an aid in becoming more self-controlled and in enhancing our willpower. Every one of us grew stronger in our self-discipline—performing the very activity we naturally ran from in the past. Our “willpower” muscle also got stronger.

  1. Accountability builds resiliency.

Another lesson we learned was the power of emotional support. Each of us paired up with a “buddy” for accountability. Every pair was aware of the discipline goals the other had set for himself/herself. While the accountability was friendly, knowing we’d be asked about our habits enabled us to better stick to our standards. Another lesson we learned was this: all partners were paired with someone who could read his or her “BS” statements. In short, they could read whether their counterpart was lying or exaggerating. This produced results. I have said it before: we all do better when we are watched, and we all do better when we are encouraged.

  1. Talk about career report cards.

I have little doubt that everyone figures out the “report card” for each life station in which they find themselves. Students know their report card is all about exams and grades. Unfortunately, they learn enough to pass, but often fail to realize that once they graduate, their employer has a different scorecard. It’s about communication, teamwork, selling, profit and loss, and emotional intelligence. I believe educators and parents must begin early to talk about the differences between school report cards and life’s report cards. Be careful—the goal is not to de-incentivize kids to perform in school. They just need to begin growing soft skills their future supervisor will expect them to have in adulthood.

  1. Leverage your imagination.

Try visualizing what you want and then relax and allow your brain to rest. As I’ve stated, our brains work much like a muscle. If you work out consistently, you will build muscle mass. But if you work out too many times a day, you will damage your muscles. We call this practice “reps and rest.” We must work our willpower, and then rest it with another act. We can do the same thing to keep unwanted temptations at bay. The 19th century author Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote: “Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that cursed thing will come to mind every minute.” So, how do you beat this reality? Try substituting by thinking about a black bear or a brown bear.

Finally, help students recognize they must cultivate willpower one step at a time. What’s the phrase? “You eat an elephant one bite at a time.” Help them to celebrate minor victories en route to building self-discipline. Then…watch their grades go up.


Fall Starter Kit: 5 Simple Tools
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The Fall Starter Kit will help you:

  • Guide unprepared adolescents and kids to productive adulthood.
  • Employ team member strengths and work with their weaknesses on the job.
  • Understand the generation following Millennials: Generation Z.
  • Determine what leader development method best fits your students.
  • Engage young adults at the heart level and foster life-change.

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After 37 years of my career—I’ve drawn two conclusions about coaching:

  1. My ego can blind me from accurate self-evaluation.
  1. The best test to evaluate my coaching is to ask the recipients of it.

Most of the athletic coaches I meet each year are good people. But pause and consider these three statements:

  • You coach at a high level (in part) because you are competitive.
  • Our competitive nature can be enlarged by our strong egos.
  • Our egos are the greatest source of personal blind spots.

This means, a person who assumes he or she is a great coach may not be at all.

photo credit: The Walk via photopin (license)

photo credit: The Walk via photopin (license)

Want proof?

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, from the Harvard Business Review, recently reviewed the research on coaching in the business world. They report:

“We examined data on 3,761 leaders who assessed their own coaching skills and had the courage, afterward, to have others give them assessments as well. We analyzed those who overrated their coaching skills and compared the results with those who’d underrated.

“What we found: 24% of the leaders in our sample had overrated their skills. Just as many adults believe they are far above average in their driving skills or in possessing common sense, this group believed they were above-average coaches.”

Zinger and Folkman were curious about the effect of this overrating. They write:

On average, those who underrate their skills are above average in their overall coaching effectiveness (reaching the 57th percentile). Those who overrate themselves, however, are significantly below average, reaching only the 32nd percentile. This phenomenon was described by two Cornell psychologists, David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who observed that for any given skill, incompetent people fail to recognize their own deficiencies and dont recognize the skill in others. The lower an individual is on any scale of measurement, the more out-of-touch they tend to become.

In other words:

  • If you felt you were better than average you were most likely to be below average; actually in the bottom third.
  • If you felt you were below average, you were most likely to be above average; actually in the top half.

I believe that athletic coaches can learn some lessons from business coaches.

My Challenge to Coaches Everywhere

I’d like to invite you to take a challenge that I’ve taken with students. Knowing that my perspective can be skewed by my own blind spots, I’ve asked the students under my leadership to evaluate my skills. To keep the assessment objective, I add:

  • Remember, I am looking for your honest feedback based on how well I helped us (and you individually) reach our goals— not on how easy or fun I was.
  • Please be specific if you have criticism, so I can actually improve. The more vague you are, the less chance you have of getting an improved coach.
  • If you offer constructive criticism, please try to also provide any suggestions on how I can improve or overcome my weakness.

This 360 Degree feedback has been the most difficult but wonderful guidance on how well I’m leading my students. ‘Twas the best of times, ‘twas the worst of times.” But I wouldn’t trade it in for anything. Why? Because I tend to grow in two circumstances:

  • Watching someone who’s better than me.
  • Inviting honest feedback on my performance.

Our current team, at Growing Leaders, consistently practices this 360 Degree feedback. One of our members just spoke to our team on a particular topic, and when he finished every team member offered both positive comments on “what really worked well” from his talk and “what he could do to make it better.” He was elated to receive the comments—and is already on his way to getting better.

So, my question for you is simple: who says you’re a good coach?

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