Three questions on my mind today [new post]

It’s been over a month since I’ve shared a podcast episode or blog post. How are you doing? What questions are on your mind?

Here are three questions that I’ve been wrestling/playing with in different domains of my life:

Executive coaching. How can I support and challenge leaders to practice new conversations on the job?

For the past fifteen years, my work has been guided by a simple premise: all the leadership wisdom in the world matters little unless it shows up in how leaders speak and listen on the job.

How do you know you are a better leader? By shifting the conversations you have and quality of presence you bring to them.

The challenge is how to do this in organizations that devalue preparation, reflection, and feedback (three phases of what I call the “on-the-job practice cycle,” the fourth phase being action); with bosses who rarely had role models for this themselves; and in a culture that squeezes out the inner life.

It’s a big hairy challenge!

Here’s one experiment I’ve been inviting leaders to try:

  • Designate a specific meeting each day as a practice field. Mark it on your calendar.
  • Start that meeting by quickly grounding in the body.
  • Look for opportunities in that meeting to practice specific words, body movement, and breath.
  • Ask a trusted colleague to give you feedback shortly after the meeting about the specific actions you want them to observe. Ideally, ask them in advance so they are prepared.
  • Briefly reflect in writing after the meeting—or at the next brief break—about what happened and what you can learn from it.

What can I do to increase the frequency and quality of this practice? What visual, auditory or kinesthetic cues could help? Is there an iPhone app for this?

Organizational consulting. In working with an entire organization, where do my interventions have the greatest impact?

During my first ten professional years, I exclusively consulted. During the second ten years, I did mostly one-on-one executive coaching. The past few years have seen a mix of the two. I’ve worked with entire leadership teams, advised executives and HR about system-wide succession planning and leadership development, shadow coached teams in action, and simply hung around waiting for people to pull me over for a question or request.

I think of these less as services than as experiments in having impact.

Where is my time best spent—and who gets to decide this? How do I assess requests coming my way, and what guides me in making counteroffers and new offers? Since I have to make a living and like being respected, how do money and public identity play into all of this?

Public Calling. In the age of DJT (my abbreviation for the current U.S. president’s name), how might I redirect my energy toward a better global future?

I’ve made no secret of my opinion of the current President and the grave threat he brings each day he remains in office. A lot of my writing and podcasting has been devoted to this topic. And for years, I’ve felt dedicated to promoting clean energy, slowing global warming, and supporting community resilience. Yet with a few notable exceptions, these commitments have shown up more in my public voice than in my day-to-day client work, and my public participation itself has been sporadic and, by my assessment, of negligible impact.

So, looking at the next six months—and, beyond that, the next few years—what’s possible? How might these commitments find expression in my coaching and consulting? If I were to invest more time on my public voice, what forms might this take? How about a daily podcast devoted to high-quality interviews on topics of broad public interest (likely at the intersection of politics and leadership) to attract listeners and sponsors?

These are three questions on my mind today.

Next week: questions about three other domains: friendship, parenting, and presence


Episode 43: Steve Drotter On Managing Managers & The Leadership Pipeline [The Amiel Show]

We talk a lot on the podcast about stages of development within adults–why they matter and what you find while transitioning to a new stage.

But what about levels within organizations? What new capacities does each call for? What happens when you’re not doing the work of that level–or haven’t developed the inner and outer capacities to do it well?

To explore these questions, I turned to one of the world’s top experts on succession planning: Steve Drotter. When I say “top,” I mean it. Steve has advised half of the Fortune 10 on CEO succession and decades ago helped build GE’s famous succession planning machine.

And then he wrote a book with Ram Charan.

In 2001, Steve partnered with Charan and Jim Noel on The Leadership Pipeline.  It filled a massive void in succession planning by defining six key leadership passages in organizations. And it sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

But that’s not all. In 2011, Steve wrote The Performance Pipeline, which identifies the work to be done at each level of leadership.

Recently, Steve and I chatted for an hour about these two books and how they are reshaping our view of leadership and organizational success. We explore:

  • How is managing managers dramatically different from managing individual contributors?
  • Why do function managers often feel like they aren’t accomplishing much?
  • What makes it important for business managers to bring together multifunctional teams?
  • Why is being a group manager less fun than you might think?
  • What are CEOs truly responsible for?

Leadership PipelineSteve DrotterPerformance Pipeline


  • 8:00 Steve’s work with John Reed at Citibank on succession planning
  • 12:30  Your first job out of school—learning time discipline and adopting company values
  • 15:30 #1: First line manager = 100% change in the work requirements
  • 18:00 #2: Manager of managers, another major transition
  • 32:00 The first question to ask when work isn’t getting done (as manager of managers)
  • 33:00 #3: Function manager—the first strategic layer
  • 42:15 #4: Business manager—ask how the business makes money
  • 43:45 #5: Group manager—connect all the businesses to the enterprise
  • 47:00 #6: CEO—setting enterprise direction, attending to culture
  • 54:30 The sweet spot with the pipeline model: $100M-$5B companies
  • 57:00 Coaching leaders using the pipeline framework
  • 1:04:00 Steve’s transition from top HR executive to external consultant

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“I can name ten Fortune 100 companies without high enough expectations for managers of managers”

–Stephen Drotter  Tweet this quote

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