From Leisure Back to Leader

August is here, the last month of summer.  In the next few weeks, kids will be back in school, we’ll all be cleaning that last bit of sand out of our cars or suitcases, and we’ll be settling back into our more regular routines.  For many, while the beginning of summer brings longer days, vacations, barbecues, and a more laid back vibe, the end of summer is a time of renewed focus, shifting from much-deserved leisure activities back to business and academic productivity.  We transition from a slower pace to being more in charge of our schedules and performance again.  As summer wraps up and a sense of productivity sets in, how are you going to approach your rejuvenated focus on your leadership presence?

Leadership presents itself across a number of areas in life. Individuals are leaders at work, perhaps as managers or executives.  Mothers, fathers, and others are leaders within in their families.  We can all be leaders of our own lives by taking accountability for our lives’ paths and how we engage in, and experience, the world.

Leadership can be broken down in a number of ways.  For the purposes of this blog post, let’s discuss leadership in two parts; one being each person’s own way of showing up for herself and authentically presenting herself to the world, the other being the strategic steps each person takes to lead.  In essence, the concepts are “being” a leader and behaving as one.  

1. “Being” a leader.  Authentic presentation of one’s clearest, most interpersonally connected, and inspired self is leadership.  When a person is in this space, fully connected with herself, and proceeding without judgment of herself or others, she leads through inspiration and influence.  Others see and sense her clarity, confidence, and grace, and they want some of it.  In short, she is leading by example, just by being her true self.

2. Behaving as a leader.  The second part of leadership involves knowledge, skill, and strategy.  Many leaders are subject matter experts who grew into their leadership positions by excelling at what they do as a job function.  Most of them haven’t been trained or educated specifically as leaders.  For example, if asked what their leadership structure and processes are, they likely aren’t sure how to answer.  Most don’t realize an important first step of behaving as a leader is to have a structure filled with standard operating procedures directly created for the purpose of leading.

High levels of emotional intelligence (EQ) and a competent understanding of group development and dynamics are also crucial skills to acquire and improve upon.  Simply put, EQ is the combination of (a) one’s level of self-awareness and ability to effectively present oneself, (2) her understanding of individuals, groups, and how they function together, and (3) where and how she fits into the picture and can most effectively function there.

Although a number of individuals inherently present with high EQ, emotional intelligence can be learned.  It is important for leaders to recognize that while they are bringing to each circumstance their own perspectives, emotions, experiences, and styles of presenting and receiving communication, everyone else they are interacting with is bringing theirs.  

Synthesizing the discussion provided above, effective leadership is best achieved by obtaining and employing the appropriate skills, knowledge, and strategy as informed by education, practice, and one’s clear understanding of her true self.  

So how are you going to approach leadership going into this next season?


Change Is Hard - 3 Mistakes That Can Make It Harder

Over the years, I have seen a serious up-tick in management dialogue around the people aspects of change, the number of professionals exclusively focused on change and the resources/tools available to help organizations manage it. And yet, research continues to show at least two-thirds of change initiatives are failing to deliver the value they promise (Sources: Bain & Company, Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey, etc.).

Why? Change is hard. It is inherently people intensive and people naturally resist change. In our practice, we get a front row seat to the planning and execution of dozens of critical, enterprisewide, change initiatives every year. Time and again, we find organizations falling prey to these three avoidable pitfalls that can cause a lot of pain and dilute the potency of even the craftiest of business initiatives.

  1. Putting Project Planning Before Change Planning
  2. Turning Leaders into Followers
  3. Executing Amidst Anger & Fear

1. Putting Project Planning Before Change Planning

I can't even count the number of times we have been asked to help develop a change management plan for a project that already has a lead, a project manager and a project plan - as if these weren't critical outcomes of a well-articulated change strategy! Project team leadership, management and membership should be chosen thoughtfully and in accordance with who be impacted by the change, who will need to own it and who will maintain the finished product. And, just as important, what is the balance of personalities on the team? Are there any doubting Thomas'? A project team full of highly motivated, high potential champions who are bought in from the beginning is likely to underestimate the change impacts at every turn. Whereas having some team members who challenge everything is likely to help uncover some hidden barriers to implementation. Essentially, clarifying the right change management strategy for each effort (ahead of creating a project plan), allows the leadership team to ensure the strategy penetrates every project decision - whereas, layering it on afterwards can make the change plan feel like additive fluff and force leaders to decide between extending deadlines or rejecting good ideas.

2. Turning Leaders into Followers

In large companies, project teams and change management experts frequently and mistakenly take on the burden of leading execution - rather than keeping this responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the management team. Project teams who lead implementations tend to leverage forums that leaders provide (like time during a staff meeting), but not the leaders themselves. Quite often, the leaders actually prefer it this way - there is less for them to learn and they have a clear place to defer questions (and blame). However, when project teams know the management team will lead the change, they involve these leaders more frequently, the leaders themselves ask more questions, make more suggestions and take more ownership. We suggest involving leaders from the beginning, assessing change impacts, developing the change plan and playing a leadership role in execution. Any other approach puts them in the passenger seat when you desperately need them to drive!

3. Executing Amidst Anger & Fear

The field of psychology is clear on the predictable impact of change upon the human psyche - it is not much different than processing the death of a loved one (first denial, then anger, followed by bargaining, depression and acceptance). The business community seems to have accepted this information as true but it doesn't seem to be taking tangible action based on it. At PerSynergy Consulting, we believe one critical way to integrate this information into change planning is to expose the target audience to key changes (in meaningful ways) well ahead of the need for coordinated action. Doing so provides time for employees to visualize the future, understand their place in it and go through the associated emotional curve. Project workshops, test sandboxes (in the case of technology changes) and group scenario planning are all good ways to do this - even when negative people impacts like staff reductions are expected (no - especially when they are expected). It is better to be managing these predictable emotions prior to the need for action than during.


While there is nothing new about any of this advice, organizations side step it daily. They do so for a variety of reasons which sound justifiable at the time (costs, timing, etc.). Unfortunately, not heeding it, ensures your implementation will take place without the right level of change planning or leaders needed and amidst a dangerous cocktail of emotions, none of which is conducive to coordinating complex action across the enterprise.

Ed Tyson is a Marine Corps veteran, former strategy executive and co-founder of PerSynergy Consulting ( - a boutique consulting firm focused on strategy development and execution; individual, team and organizational development; and performance improvement.  

Desperately Seeking Synergy?

The key to what lies before us is unlocking what stands between us.

Despite the fact most teams already possess the answers to the challenges they face, they struggle to talk about the right issues, fight for the right things and make the tough decisions. Somehow, instead of multiplying their collective capabilities, they divide them and their results are average at best.

When faced with these circumstances, industrious leaders tighten their belts and lean in. They get into the minutia, resolve disagreements, make decisions, and performance manage problem individuals. They don't stop until productivity improves. Unfortunately, any gains are difficult to sustain without considerable individual effort, leaving synergy far from grasp.

Another approach is to consider team interventions that inspire better membershipversus require more leadership. Group development research (and probably your own personal experience) has found that new or immature teams require a lot from their leaders to perform. They avoid conflict. They yearn for safety. They demand structure. They want someone in charge to make the decisions. The reverse is true of highly evolved teams. They welcome conflict, have a high tolerance for risk, prefer change over the status quo and are not dependent on the leader for decision-making. It’s clear the difference between immature and mature teams lies mainly in membership behaviors. I find these basic facts are not in debate – the struggle for leaders is getting the change to occur when it does not occur on its own.

I like tackling this paradox with a dash of conflict. Conflict constructs teams. It raises engagement, tests commitment and builds ownership. If you don’t have it, get some. Start with broad questions to the team and probe until you find and resolve disagreements. What is our work? Why do we do it? How should we do it? Then, get specific. Explore past failures to uncover lessons for the future. Discuss looming decisions. Ensure different perspectives are raised. Celebrate bold thinking. Still no conflict, encourage members to challenge proposals, even if they support them. Incite debate.

If you’re already suffering from an abundance of conflict, dig in. Don’t feed into the conflict du jour; but, do talk about the conflict. Ask penetrating questions. Why do we fight about the wrong things? Why aren’t our disagreements making us stronger? Should we change the way we raise and resolve issues? How can we encourage debate but keep from spending too much time on it? What can we do differently to be more successful?

Immerse the team in the right questions and resist the urge to provide answers. Your goal is to get results with breakthroughs in membership, not leadership.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!


Edward E. Tyson is a Marine Corps veteran, former strategy executive and co-founder of PerSynergy Consulting - a boutique consulting firm focused on strategy development and execution; individual, team and organizational development; and performance improvement.


Is Your Structure Undermining Your Strategy?

If your organizational structure has outlasted your last few strategic shifts, chances are it's hampering success.

We all instinctively know the game is won by the teams who match the right plays with the right number of players, occupying the right positions and wielding the right skills. And yet, how often do we wait months, and maybe even years, to adapt our structures to our strategies?

In my practice, it is not uncommon for me to work with change savvy clients who, nonetheless, are attempting to implement radically different strategies (than they held just two or three years ago) with the same (or just incrementally different) organizational structures. Absent intervention, these companies run the risk of falling prey to some very common and very serious pitfalls such as...

  • Failing to signal the significance of the change to your executive, management and line staff;
  • Neglecting to disrupt powerful vestiges of the past, allowing those comfortable with, and incentivized by, yesterday's model to outnumber or overpower those who will prosper by successful change;
  • Continuing to make precious people investments in the wrong areas, resulting in wasted cash and too few of the skills needed for success; 
  • Demanding new types of organizational gymnastics out of inflexible silos incapable of complex, interdisciplinary collaboration; and,
  • Chasing new customers and dollars with old tactics.

The Point
If your marketplace is evolving, don't just change your strategy and jump to execution. Allow your new organizational design to be one of the first ways your new strategy takes shape in the eyes of your employees.

As soon as your new strategy comes into focus, begin reexamining your existing structure. Align your people investments to the needs of the new strategy by dialing back the capabilities which are no longer key to success; fortifying weaker, but now critical functions; reformulating departments that need to work together differently; and, creating new muscles where none exist.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!


Edward E. Tyson is a Marine Corps veteran, former strategy executive and co-founder of PerSynergy Consulting - a boutique consulting firm focused on strategy development and execution; individual, team and organizational development; and performance improvement.