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Jensen Consulting Blog


January 17, 2013
Written By: Russell Jensen


We did things a bit differently at one of our Executive Roundtable sessions in December. Joe Heffernan, president of First American Wealth Management, gave a fascinating presentation on “What in the World is Going On?”. Joe brings a passion for history and an interest in economics that helps his clients protect and grow their assets. He led our group of executives through an interesting discussion of the most significant transitions shaping the world, past and present, and the likely impact they’ll have on our future.

Joe used an acronym that resonated with the group, VUCA, which stands for– Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Our group agreed that the world is becoming increasingly complex requiring deeper strategic thinking in business, education and other sectors, and talked about how uncertainty and complexity were impacting their ability to make decisions and compete.

We’ve walked along side our clients as they have experienced the VUCA phenomenon over the past few years. Many of our clients fit the broad “mid-market” definition, and it’s been interesting to watch them learn and adjust to a world with more volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. In general I’d say we’ve seen our clients, by and large, shifting from defense to offense over the past year. After allowing VUCA to shelve long term planning and making significant strategic bets, it seems most of our clients are back in the game. They’ve kept their powder dry long enough, and in spite of VUCA are again thinking and acting with a longer-term focus. The difference we see now is a much stronger and broader emphasis on understanding and managing risk. Leaders are also attending more closely to world events that will impact their business and industry, to be better prepared to respond quickly to significant changes.

So Happy VUCA Year! You might want to make some different resolutions this year. 

September 12, 2012
Written By: Pete Petersen

Occasionally I find a great editorial that genuinely gets me excited; one of those that I forward to 35-40 people that might share my enthusiasm. Yesterday was the day; a New York Times article written by Thomas Friedman.

In a nutshell Friedman said that the phrase currently used by President Obama and first minted by Bill Clinton in 1992 — that if you just “work hard and play by the rules” you should expect that the American system will deliver you a decent life and a chance for your children to have a better one ... is out of date. The truth, he says is that if you want a decent job that will lead to a decent life today you have to work harder, regularly reinvent yourself, obtain at least some form of postsecondary education, make sure that you’re engaged in lifelong learning and play by the rules. The reason, Friedman goes on to say, is that the world of 1992 is gone. Technology and globalization are wiping out lower-skilled jobs faster, while steadily raising the skill level required for new jobs. More than ever now, lifelong learning is the key to getting into, and staying in, the middle class.

I thought to myself ... Friedman is spot on. Workers, students and our children do need to do more to compete in the future. Then I began to think: am I reinventing myself, am I continuing to learn, am I working harder and am I adapting to the changing marketplace? I didn’t like all my answers.  Do we hit a point in our careers that we think are exempt from challenging personal growth? Where as leaders we think that reinvention and personal development is only for the people that work for us or the other person?

I think that may often be the case but the reality is that just “working hard and playing by the rules" is outdated for all of us.

September 6, 2012
Written By: Jensen Consulting

Over the years, Jensen Consulting has worked closely with business leaders to provide access to meaningful leadership development opportunities. This fall we will offer two exciting programs for senior level executives who are looking for ways to enhance their leadership performance.    

Executive Roundtables

The Executive Roundtables are a group of peers who are willing to help each other solve the big problems and leverage the opportunities in this complex and challenging business environment.  
During the past 15 years, we've facilitated hundreds of Roundtable sessions with more than 130 executives from a diverse group of industries. Generally, Roundtable clients ...  

  • Don't stand still. Many have led their business through significant growth and/or to a position of industry leadership. A number have moved on to larger roles or larger businesses and many have encouraged protégés and colleagues to join a Roundtable.  

  • Are committed to organizational success.  

  • Listen to the feedback from their peers, and go back to their businesses and implement many of the ideas they get.  

  • Provide one another with genuine, meaningful, constructive feedback. They challenge one another's thinking, perspective and performance in a way that just doesn't happen anywhere else.  

  • Hold one another accountable - and they appreciate it.  

  • Our clients place a high value on the long term, high trust relationships they build with peers.

Sounding interesting? There is limited availability for upcoming Roundtable sessions. For more information, contact Russell Jensen at 515-875-4824.

Leadership Through People Skills (LTPS)
This new Jensen Consulting program is being offered in partnership with Psychological Associates, a highly regarded leadership development firm in St. Louis. Our colleague Dr. Michelle Clark will lead this impressive program that focuses on interpersonal leadership skills; understanding one's own style and behavior to read and analyze the behavior of others, and improving one's abilities to communicate, coach, collaborate and resolve conflict as a leader.
The Leadership Through People Skills program is intended for managers and senior executives.Participants work in small groups of four, which means we can accommodate up to four or five people from any one organization. We also work to match participants up with others at their same level in each small group.
For more information, contact Russell Jensen at 515.875.4824.

July 2, 2012
Written By: Russell Jensen

For many years, we’ve looked to the work of the Jim Collins to initiate conversations about leadership.  So, when Collins and Gino Wickman, author of the book Traction, recently came to Des Moines to speak at the ABI conference, it made sense for us to host a group of two dozen Jensen Consulting Executive Roundtable clients and guests.

Following the Collins session, this diverse group of business owners and leaders from across Iowa met over lunch to debrief and talk about key learnings from the morning.  To get the ball rolling, we asked the group two discussion questions: “What ideas resonated with you from this morning?” and “What are you going to make happen on Monday as a result of this morning?” Three clear themes emerged, one was expected, and the other two were a bit more surprising.

What resonated with leaders?

The theme of discipline is woven into almost all of Collins’ work over the years in various ways, and this theme clearly resonated with our group of leaders. A number them talked about the concepts of the 20-mile march (the unfailing commitment to advance 20 miles each day toward your goal regardless of conditions, no more, no less), the need to balance innovation with strong discipline, the importance of implementing a “stop doing” list, and discipline in general. This didn’t surprise me much. Most of our clients over the years have a clear understanding of the key drivers in their business, but often struggle with discipline and focus.

On a more personal level, the concept of servant leadership, and Collins’ message about the importance of deep personal relationships, clearly resonated with people. One leader said he was going to rethink his perspective on what it means for him to leave a legacy, refocusing on contribution versus personal gain. Much of our discussion was driven by Collins’ very personal story about the value of relationships and the importance of “who luck.” “Who luck” is the understanding that the most important people in your life often arrive by luck, and you need to capitalize on that luck to benefit from those relationships. Several executives spoke candidly about the power of this lesson and their need to reflect on their “who luck” and reevaluate where they invest their time and energy.

What are these leaders going to make happen?

Discipline, discipline, discipline. While the discussion around servant leadership and the value of relationships was powerful and will likely drive personal changes, when we asked our leaders what actions they planned to take as a result of the morning there was a very clear theme -- implement more discipline in their business and their personal lives in various ways. In fact, several determined that they would be implementing a “stop doing” list as an action they would take Monday.  (And, just in case you’re wondering, we’ll check in to see how that list is going.)

A few other observations and thoughts from our participants:

  • “We need to dial down the innovation noise a bit and crank up the discipline.”
  • “Collins’ to do list was great. His stop doing list idea was better.”
  • “As a CFO it is scary sometimes to use all your gunpowder even when you know it is time to fire the cannons. This was great.”
  • “We will revisit our core values and implement regular and formal brutal facts reviews.”
  • “My (college age) kids lives will change because of today. We’re going to sit down and talk about their personal Hedgehogs.”


From my perspective the day was invaluable not only for our clients but for me personally. There was very little Wickman or Collins said that our group of business executives didn’t already know. Wickman shared his tried, true and trademarked system for getting things done. Collins reinforced his big ideas with data validated by research, and with his own moving personal stories. The real value was that both gave our group of successful executives reason to pause, reevaluate what they were doing and why, and refocus their time and activity to better align with their personal and business priorities. Our group of Iowa executives finished Friday with a sense of anticipation and purpose for Monday.



June 11, 2012
Written By: Russell Jensen

I spent a weekend last year with an old acquaintance, now new friend, in Washington, D.C. When I last saw him almost 30 years ago he was the goofy friend of my youngest brother-in-law.  Chris went on to get a degree in nuclear engineering and is now a captain in the United States Navy, serving at the Pentagon.  He served on four nuclear submarines, and commanded the USS West Virginia before being assigned to his present post.

Chris told me he occasionally has the honor of speaking to a class of submarine officers as part of their training, and when he does he always encourages them to “drive it like you stole it.”  He laughed when he saw the confused look on my face and explained.  “A United States nuclear submarine is an incredible thing; powerful, sophisticated, intimidating. Don’t waste all that beautiful power and capability by driving it like you’re taking your grandmother to church. Push it to perform like it was made to perform.”

That comment echoed in my head all the way home.  Only I wasn’t thinking about submarines.  I was thinking about people.  I was thinking about how very different corporate cultures can be, and about how few companies really tap into the talent pool they employ.  I was thinking about a comment a client relayed to me that went something like this: “People with ideas don’t last very long at companies that have all the answers.”  I was thinking about how some client companies are ghost towns at 4:30 p.m. while others have a steady trickle of people in and out at all hours.  I was thinking about a young professional I know in her first career position, who is thriving and taking on more and more challenging work because the VP goes around her stifling boss to give her more demanding opportunities.

So my question to you, leader, is “how do you drive?”  When you look at your people do you see them as incredible?  Powerful, sophisticated, capable of much more than you let them do now?  Or do you let them operate at 25 miles per hour?  Or worse, do you insist on it?  What percentage of their full potential are you getting?  50%  Less?  What percentage of YOUR potential is the organization getting?

People are, in fact, incredible things.  And people need to be pushed, pulled, stretched and challenged to grow into their full potential.  All people.  Champions need to be challenged to achieve more than they have before.  Leaders need to be tested to grow and perform better than they have before.  Team members need to be stretched, encouraged and challenged.  Isn’t that, in part, how you yourself have grown?

A final note – The weekend we spent together in Washington D.C. was the 10th anniversary of September 11. Captain Anklam is retiring from the Navy in June. Thanks for a powerful and special weekend Chris, as well as for your dedicated service to our nation.


Here are four tips from Captain Chris Anklam, head of Information Dominance for the U.S. Navy, on applying the “drive it like you stole” it philosophy to people.

  1.  Encourage initiative and creativity. Make sure you have safety nets available. Make it okay to take risks, calculated risks; with a consideration of what the possible gain will be by accepting that risk.
  2. Assign new folks a "Sea Daddy". Get your experienced "salty dogs" to take the youngsters under their wing and train them.
  3. Obviously, reward good behavior. Giving a man or woman Friday off because he or she has been working hard can go as far as giving them a medal or an award. Medals and awards are nice too. When you reward your person, make it as public as possible. I include the family whenever possible. Another thing I did was to write a letter to parents and spouses when my people reached a significant submarine career milestone. The phone calls that those proud parents made to their young sailors are PRICELESS. 
  4. Set a good example. Bust your own butt and challenge your team to keep up. Don't do their work for them; but communicate the standard that if you're not improving, there's a good chance you're getting worse.




September 30, 2011
Written By: Russell Jensen

This blog was originally a guest opinion in the Des Moines Business Record on September 30.

Paralysis is rarely a winning strategy. And with all of the economic and political uncertainty of the past summer, it’s hard to be decisive right now, isn’t it? Businesses had just found their footing in this new business climate dictated by the 2008 recession when the one-two punch landed, and it is tempting to take a defensive stance of “let’s wait and see.”

But really, it’s mostly just noise. As loud and relentless as this noise is, it is largely market-driven, outside our control. The good news? The businesses we work with are performing better, and the leaders are less fearful than in 2008. The bad news? It’s hard to be bold and have confidence in this environment.

How do I know this? We’ve been trusted advisers to senior executives from across Central Iowa for more than 17 years, and we’re not hearing the same concerns we did three years ago. Of course, the 24/7 “the world is ending” news cycle does often give us pause, but the business leaders in our executive roundtables see opportunity ahead, because this time around they are ready.

Your business can move ahead with confidence by adopting these three strategies.

1. Commit to core business focus and execution. Now is the time to be really good at your core business. Sloppy, inconsistent execution brings a harsh penalty. If your natural gifts as a leader don’t lend themselves to operational excellence, put the right person in that critical role and set him or her up to succeed.

2. Pour your energy into the one change initiative that will have the greatest impact on bottom-line success and competitive positioning. The leaders we work with rely on an outside-in perspective gained from their boards of directors, a non-industry-specific peer group or trusted mentors to help them identify these critical leverage points. For a number of our clients, this has meant reinventing their sales/growth model, understanding their customers’ changing needs or reconfiguring their senior talent mix.

3. Invest in your own growth. Savvy, successful business leaders realize they must step up their game as leader and coach to lead change and improve organization performance in an environment more challenging and complex than ever before. If you were to pick out the one person in the company who, with a noticeable improvement in effectiveness, would have the biggest impact on organizational performance, who would it be? Leadership assessment, coaching, peer groups, mentors and executive education all provide an outside perspective and challenge an executive’s thinking.

Now is the time to be confident, focused and bold; are you ready? Run a quick system diagnostic. Spend some time with a trusted peer or a blank notepad thinking about these strategies and see if that gets you moving forward.


September 19, 2011
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

Imagine you are jogging through the park and in front of you a stranger crashes his bike. You instinctively and instantaneously flinch in sympathy because at a gut level you understand what that person is experiencing.

Have you ever worked with someone who was so negative that it took tremendous energy to maintain your own calmness when in the same room with him or her, even if you weren’t directly interacting?

We all know that emotions can be contagious. Here is one explanation for why that might be the case. In the early 1990s, neuroscientists discovered a brain function that revolutionized thinking about learning, empathy and reading other people’s intentions. This new discovery was that there are certain neurons, called mirror neurons that go into action both when a person performs and action, and fire in the exact same manner when a person observes someone else perform that action.

Before this discovery, the common wisdom was that our understanding of other’s intentions and feelings was a conscious process of logic and generalization. The discovery of mirror neurons suggests that our understanding of others’ actions, thoughts, and feelings happens on a much more biological and obligatory level than we’d believed. Mirror neurons appear to let us “simulate” not just other people’s actions, but the intentions and emotions behind those actions.

In a New York Times article on mirror neurons, an Italian neuroscientist, Dr. Rizzolatti, said, "We are exquisitely social creatures. Our survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others. Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking."

Others have articulated the function of mirror neurons very thoroughly, and I’d encourage you to watch this PBS video: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/mirror-neurons.html, or read this article: http://www.sfn.org/index.aspx?pagename=brainBriefings_MirrorNeurons.

 So why write about this on a business blog?  There are clear workplace applications.

Accounting for mirror neurons, the feelings you bring to work set the tone for other’s emotions even more than you know. With every action, you are consistently broadcasting your feelings and intentions to those around you. Others take in all the nuances offered by your behavior, and in many instances, automatically mirror your feelings

Mirror neurons act automatically and without our conscious control. This means that we respond internally to other people’s actions and emotions whether we want to or not. Alternatively, insight comes only with intentional focus and motivation. Thus, it is highly likely that:

1) we impact others more than we are aware of; and,

2) others impact us without knowing it.

 Here is an exercise I sometimes use when coaching leaders. Quickly read the next sentence and fill in the blank:

“Why are people always so _________________________?”

Now take that thought and insert it in this sentence: “Why am I always so ____________________?”

Surprised?  This simple exercise demonstrates the emotions you may be conscious of, but think about the thoughts and feelings that you are NOT consciously aware of.  What are others perceiving about your thoughts and feelings that you aren’t aware of?  What is the typical reaction you elicit from others? If it isn’t what you expected, what is going on in you that others are mirroring back?

In the end, the idea behind mirror neurons isn’t all that far off from mom’s advice of treat others as you’d want to be treated.  If your attitude is positive and forward-thinking, you will likely see that reflected in the people around you.  Likewise, if it is the opposite that’s what you’ll see. 

So what are you seeing?  If it’s not what you expected, the good news is that you can work to change it.



Blakeslee, Sandra. (2006, January 10)  Cells that Read Minds.  The New York Times.

Lametti, Daniel. (2009, June 6) How Mirror Neurons Let Us Interact with Others.  Scientific American.


July 22, 2011
Written By: Russell Jensen

A senior executive confided to me yesterday that she was pulled aside by a peer this week.  “You’re doing it wrong,” he told her.  In a five-minute conversation he constructively and respectfully said:

  1. Remember when you pulled me aside a few months ago and gave me some tough love feedback?  That helped me more than you know.  Please let me return the favor.
  2. You bring talent and savvy critical to our success.  We can’t do this without you.  We need you to be successful and we want you to win.
  3. You are not being successful with our CEO.
  4. Change your style with him.  Rather than responding the way you do when he challenges you, try this …
  5. The rest of us on the team are on your side.  Let us help.  Here is how you can let us help …
  6. Use me as a sounding board whenever you like.
  7. I will continue to give you feedback.

 Is that great stuff or what? 

I have three immediate reactions for you.  First, this is what high performing leaders do.  They are player coaches.  They worry less about line authority and personal scorecards and more about what it takes for everyone to win.  Second, this is what a high performing team looks and acts like.  And, good news, this is teachable.  Finally, you too, valued reader, are probably doing it wrong.  Chances are high there is someone on your team or in your organization who could benefit from some honest, honorable straight talk about a blind spot or self-defeating behavior that is preventing them from contributing the way they should and the way you need them to.

More good news: you can just about use the real conversation above as the script for your own conversation.

  1. I think you could use some help.  And I think I can help.
  2. You bring talent and savvy critical to our success.  We can’t do this without you.  We need you to be successful and we want you to win.
  3. This (particular thing) is getting in the way and preventing you from being successful.
  4. Here are some suggestions for getting better results in this particular area …
  5. The rest of us on the team are on your side.  Let us help.  Here is how you can let us help …
  6. Use me as a sounding board whenever you like.
  7. I will continue to give you feedback.

 Any questions?  Now go, do.


July 11, 2011
Written By: Russell Jensen

I just hate those times when I am so utterly, totally, obviously, hilariously wrong.  And if this were a Facebook post I would have ten comments from family and friends in no time flat saying something like “you mean there are times you aren’t?”  Ugh.


My son Max wanted to grow up to play baseball for the Atlanta Braves like his hero Chipper Jones.  He wore number 10 like Chipper.  He wore his uniform pants and socks like Chipper.  He was often the first one on the team to get his uniform dirty, like Chipper.  But few people are blessed with that kind of athletic ability.  Now a college sophomore, he instead wants to change his major to Non-Profit Management and work in a non-profit.  I, of course, have been trying to talk him out of it.*  

* If you’re in a hurry you can leave now, because the rest of this post will play out exactly like you expect it to!  

Yes, I’m proud of him.  Serving others through church, community activities and philanthropy is important to our family.  We try to put our time and treasure where our values are, and have generally done a pretty good job of living those values.  But as a concerned father I’ve been encouraging him to not change his major, which I see as narrowing his options later.  After all, those non-profits won’t turn you away if you have a good, old fashioned business degree, will they?  

A recent Roundtable conversation caused me to realize what a dope I’ve been.  A room full of CEOs and senior execs was calling out one member on his passion.  The gist of the conversation was that if he wasn’t passionate about what he was doing and about leading the business through the challenges ahead, he needed to figure out what he was passionate about and leave to go do that.  There was no sugar coating, and the feedback was unanimous.  I loved it; how invigorating and affirming to hear talented, successful business leaders say that without passion all you’re doing is going through the motions. 

And then I remembered my not-so-sage advice to my son.  He has discovered his passion, he wants to pursue it, and I’m trying to talk him out of it.  Ugh.  

I’ll close with this.  How is your passion meter?  Are you just going through the motions?  Is it time for you to find a friend, mentor or colleague and challenge one another on your passion and commitment?  Give it some thought, this is important.   And Max, you were right all along.  Change your major.  Go change the world.  You’ll do great things.  Love, Dad.

June 10, 2011
Written By: Russell Jensen

If you have been stopping by this blog for some time you know how much I love leading our executive Roundtables.  Over the past 16 years I’ve led approximately 360 Roundtable discussions, and so far it hasn’t once felt like Groundhog Day.  And with all those discussions logged in my head, somehow a recent Roundtable might have been the most amazing of them all.  It was a powerful day.

A seasoned executive (we’ll call him Buddy) checked his ego at the door, got naked in front of the group (figuratively, thank goodness), and asked his peers for some direct, uncomfortable and challenging feedback.  His industry is in a period of turbulence, the business is facing a crisis they have seen coming but have not adequately prepared for.  His partners are restive and are considering selecting a new managing partner.  Buddy plans to walk into the next partner meeting, make a case for radical, painful change, chart a vision for the future, tell the group what he needs to win, and ask to run the business.

He recently test drove all this with his peer group.  He asked his peers to bring their A game, and they did.  The feedback he heard was encouraging, insightful, and at times challenging.

  • Don’t do anything until you are clear about your vision and what you will need to achieve it.
  • Crisp up your message.  Don’t get stuck in the details.
  • You need to be all in on this, 100% committed or don’t start.  Better to be shown the door after that meeting than be set up to fail later.
  • Your partners need you to step up and lead them.
  • You most likely don’t have the team in place you will need. Make that a priority.
  • Be prepared for a season of long hours and heavy lifting.

Oh, how I wish I had a strong, confidential, committed peer group like this earlier in my career.  I can think of three specific moments in my career when a peer group would have been invaluable to my growth and performance as an executive.  One was defining my role as the youngest and newest member of the senior leadership team. Another was stepping up and redefining my role with my CEO.  The third was when I leading a major change initiative in my business unit.  And leading it badly.

So kudos to Buddy for going all in with his Roundtable and asking for their best.  And kudos to them for giving it to him.  And while I’m jealous that Buddy and the group have something this valuable to lean on, I’m even more grateful that I get to be part of making that happen for them.

April 15, 2011
Written By: Russell Jensen

This was another Roundtable week, the second week of the month when we facilitate three different Executive Roundtable group sessions.  As we wrapped each of the discussions this week we asked our clients how recent world events (the Arab Spring, the disasters in Japan, rising fuel, food and commodity prices) are impacting their business.  In hindsight we should have asked this question at the beginning of the day; people had a lot to say.

  • One client has had people and operations in Japan, Australia and New Zealand impacted by the natural disasters in those countries.  All their people are safe, but their operations in those countries have been disrupted.  They also cancelled sales events in Egypt and Libya for obvious reasons and are exploring different strategies for those markets going forward.
  • Another client has been unable to find employees willing to travel to Cairo for a project that has already been sold.  Product is packed and waiting to ship and the invoice is aging.

  • A manufacturing client tied to the auto industry is unable to get specific information from a key supplier in Japan.  “Situation does not warrant optimism” is about the best they have so far.  The client has implemented a discretionary spending freeze and is reassigning employees to try to stay ahead of what they expect to be a difficult period.
  • Our insurance industry clients are monitoring their investment portfolios carefully.
  • Our clients in the agricultural and food industries tell us that consumer food prices will continue to rise.  Grocery stores have been absorbing some of the price increases so far and we can’t expect that to last.
  • Fuel prices are hitting some of our clients hard and they are struggling with how to manage costs and what strategies to use to pass along some of those costs to customers.  Our clients are also concerned about the impact rising fuel costs will have on their customers spending decisions.

As one of our client CEOs said to his group, “It’s hard to be bold right now.”

So one learning here is this – do you and your key people adequately understand the impact recent world events are having on your industry, your business and your customers’ businesses?  Are you doing any scenario planning to anticipate their responses?  And what are the opportunities that will present themselves to you?

January 21, 2011
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

When it comes to an entry level job (think 22 year old right out of college, or an 18 year old high school grad), overall intelligence is the best predictor of job success. In an entry-level job, being smart can compensate for a range of other characteristics. However, the further you progress in your career, the more above average intelligence becomes a table stake to be in the game.  The more your career progresses, the less it differentiates you. In other words, “what got you here won’t get you there.”

Once you have reached a point in your career where intelligence or technical skill no longer differentiates you, emotional intelligence becomes an increasingly important differentiator.

A 2005 study by the Center for Creative Leadership studied leaders who had progressed to manager level and then had involuntarily stalled or been demoted/fired. These were the key derailers that were identified as contributing:

  • Inability to change or adapt during a transition
  • Problems with interpersonal relationships
  • Failure to build and lead a team
  • Failure to meet business objectives

At least three of these are directly related to emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence has four facets:

  • Your own awareness of your emotions and reactions
  • Your ability to accurately identify other peoples emotions and perspectives
  • Your ability to manage/contain your own emotions in times of stress
  • Your ability to use awareness and self-management to build productive relationships

 The good news about emotional intelligence is that much more so than general intelligence/ability, emotional intelligence can be developed. For example, think of a recent difficult situation or conversation you encountered. Imagine yourself from one or two decades earlier in your career encountering the same situation. Hopefully, your response in this moment was more thoughtful, self-aware, and productive than your reaction might have been earlier in your life. That difference is an example of how emotional intelligence tends to develop naturally as we age.

 But what if you don’t have a decade to tackle those internal challenges that might derail your career? In my experience, executives who are serious about coaching are often able to develop a decade worth of emotional intelligence in 18 months. 

 Additionally, leaders who have a productive relationship with his/her spouse, often find they get top notch coaching from the spouse. Emotional intelligence is often about working around blind spots in our own awareness of self or others. There is a great deal of overlap between the blind spots in our personal life and our professional life. Often spouses are well positioned to identify when a relationship has encountered a blind spot, and (hopefully) diplomatically point it out.  This accurate mirroring of our behavior is one of the most powerful ways to increase our emotional intelligence, should be chose to listen to it.

Other suggestions: 360 evaluations, reading books on the people aspects of leadership, observation of people who are highly effective in working with others, and asking regularly for feedback (and listening to it non-defensively so people tell us the truth).



January 7, 2011
Written By: Russell Jensen

I love Rosabeth Moss Kanter.  Or, be more accurately, I love her perspective and the way she challenges my thinking with her writing.  I read her article “Powerlessness Corrupts” in the July/August 2010 issue of Harvard Business Review over the holidays, and then found myself mentally toggling between it and the conversation I recently had with a client about empowerment.
Kanter asserts that powerlessness can have a destructive impact on organizations, and she observes that it is alive today, undermining the ability of businesses to execute on strategy at a time when many need to make rapid change.  Some of her key points are:
  • The “middle ranks” experience this frequently as their workload increases but their power and influence don’t.
  • A scarcity mentality breeds infighting and defensive behavior, which her research found more often in companies that “lost” in a prior recession.
  • Powerlessness is contagious, and is spread by managers who limit sharing important information and who foster a culture of blame.
Pay attention here, because it gets really interesting when Kanter describes the retaliatory and sabotaging behavior powerlessness begets; failing to act (pocket vetoes), defensive pessimism, learned helplessness and passive aggression.  We’ve all seen those behaviors at times, and they are destructive.  I can think of three clients right this minute who would say these words describe their culture at times.
Now think about this in the context of your business, which may be picking up some steam again after having survived some downsizing, a shift to playing defense and aggressively controlling cost and risk, may now be refocusing on growth strategies.   Perhaps over the past couple of years you’ve asked your people to do more with less, to stretch their roles to cross old boundaries, to work more creatively.  Perhaps you’ve worked hard to “empower” your leadership team and have pushed them to do the same with their people. 
Have your good intentions backfired?  Take a clear eyed look at the way things really work in your organization.  Are you seeing evidence of an empowered workforce, or are you seeing any of these warning signs of powerlessness corrupting your culture?
Veto Power.  Without thinking very hard you can identify one or two key people who become bottlenecks when they don't support something.  “Pocket vetoes” are all about power and rob energy from important change initiatives.
Buzz Killers.  Tangible changes in energy and mood depending on whether certain key executives are in or out.
We Don’t Fight Anymore.   It doesn’t take much to table a new idea.  “We tried that before” kills the discussion rather than revs up the debate.
Why Am I Doing This?  Work is more successfully delegated up as opposed to delegated down.
Yes, I Mean No.  Decisions made in meetings are frequently un-made in hallways after the meetings.  (See Veto Power)
Ready, Aim, Blame!  No energy goes into problem solving until the yelling and finger pointing have run their course. 
If you see yourself or your organization in any of these warning signs tune in next week and we’ll talk about some strategies for breaking out of the powerlessness trap.
Reference: Rosabeth Moss Kanter, "Powerlessness Corrupts,"  Harvard Business Review, July-August 2010.

December 17, 2010
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

Managing change is one of the top challenges in any organization. Many people within organizations feel great skepticism regarding change as a result of having experienced change initiatives that encountered organizational inertia, resistance, or unwillingness to address true barriers. When this happens, we often proclaim:

  • It has always been this way.
  • The problem is out of our control.
  •  Unless the _________________(e.g. government, CEO, corporate office) does ________________ (e.g. increases funding), this problem cannot be fixed.
  • This problem is too big, too complex, too entrenched to tackle.

The concept of positive deviance is a change management strategy that does not involve significant hoopla, implementation of the “management theory of the month,” or significant outside expertise.  The idea behind positive deviance is to turn members of your own organization into scientists who identify solutions that already are present and amplify them.

Think of a dilemma within your organization, one that is longstanding and seemingly intractable. Ask yourself: “Are there any places within your organization that suffer under the same constraints and yet are successful?” 

An example of the positive deviance strategy is Save the Children’s attempts to address malnutrition in a poverty-stricken third world country. Save the Children had experts on a variety of topics related to malnutrition (nutrition, farming, sociology, physiological development), yet the expertise did not provide a workable solution to the problem. All members of the community were affected by:

  • Inadequate food
  • Inadequate sanitation
  •  Political turmoil
  • Lack of medical care

Save the Children asked the question, “In this community where starvation and child mortality are rampant, are there any exceptions? Are there any children or families who are plagued by the same conditions and yet the children thrive?”

Interviews were held within the community with mothers and this question was explored. “Are there any exceptions, are there any children or families that do not suffer the same ravages of malnutrition and high mortality?” Exceptions were identified, and this group of women were asked to investigate what made the difference.  They found these differences in families where children thrived:

  • Children were fed multiple small meals throughout the day instead of 2-3 larger meals.
  • Additional protein was accessed through foraging and was added to the child’s diet.
  • Children were fed normally even when they were ill with diarrhea, when the standard practice was to limit food when children were ill.
  • Parents bypassed the tribal hierarchy and sought medical attention based on their own judgment.

With the support of the community members who had identified these differences, these success strategies were implemented, and the malnutrition and mortality rate declined significantly. Because the “solution” was untapped wisdom that was already contained within the community, and the implementation was shared peer to peer, it bypassed the typical resistance to expert authorities imposing external solutions.

According to Richard Pascale and Jerry Sternin in the Harvard Business Review, this “positive deviance” approach has been used successfully by companies such as Hewlet Packard and Goldman Sacs to indentify internal solutions to intractable problems. In their HBR article, Pascale and Sternin identify a six step process:

Step 1: Make the group the guru

Step 2: Reframe through facts

Step 3: Make it safe to learn

Step 4: Make the problem concrete

Step 5: Leverage social proof

Step 6: Confound the immune defense response

If your organization is experiencing an organization sticking point, one that is crucial to its success, and one that requires changes in behaviors and attitudes, you might ask yourself and your organization: “Are there any places within your organization that suffer under the same constraints and yet are successful?”

If you have some unrecognized, positive deviants, learn from them!



Reference: Richard Tanner Pascale and Jerry Sternin. "Your Company’s Secret Change Agents." Harvard Business Review. May 2005



December 3, 2010
Written By: Jensen Consulting Admin

Last week Michelle Clark talked about finding personal time during the holidays, and spending your time catching up with your reading is a good first step.  If the stack of books on your desk is too daunting, here are a few articles to get you started:

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are leaders
In a recent issue of Leadership Wired, John Maxwell suggests the primary difference between a good leader and a great one is the commitment to continual personal growth.  A good chance to reflect on how you work on personal growth. 

You are the biggest obstacle to change
It is true.  As leaders we often get in the way of meaningful change because we don’t truly understand the psychology behind it.  This McKinsey Quarterly article offers up the belief that it takes a lot more than common sense to build an effective change initiative.  The authors argue change happens when leaders embrace the seemingly irrational to be successful. 

Looking for more about how to effectively create change?  Check out the book Switch, which we did a deep dive into with our Executive Roundtables.   We also talked about it a couple of weeks ago in this blog entry.

Stop the bus! I want to get off!
We talk about getting the right people on the bus (and even in the right seats), but what happens when someone valuable wants to leave?  This Fast Company blog reprints a Harvard Business Review article that provides an overview of ways to manage your talent without giving away the house.  Practical thoughts as we look at an improving economic environment.

Again, these articles are from sources that we frequently read.  What out there has caught your eye?  Leave your suggestions in the comment section.

November 25, 2010
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

The holiday season is beginning. Although our mental picture is one of relaxed connecting with family, the reality is often a feeling of exhaustion and over work. Here are some tips you might use in your approach to work/life balance. 

Reduce extracurricular commitments
To attain work/life balance, people can first reduce the number of extracurricular activities in which they or their children participate. Overbooked schedules lead to chaotic, frantic lifestyles. Each time you're asked to volunteer or join a committee, think about how doing so will affect your family or social life, or both. 

Turn off the technology
Try to leave your work at the office so you are both mentally and physically present when you're with your family and friends. It's important to unwind and relax after work by setting aside a time to turn off all cell phones and enjoy as many television-free dinners as possible. 

Realize having it all at once is probably unrealistic
It is crucial to accept the idea you can't have it all at once. If you try, you will have a lifestyle full of stress and exhaustion. People can have it all—personal gratification, financial success and an enjoyable social life, for example—but not all at once. You have to prioritize your needs and devote time to each goal accordingly. 

Minimize materialism
To stop the vicious cycle of overworking and over consuming, minimize materialism. When you want more, you worry about payments, work overtime and live more chaotic, stressful lives. By desiring and acquiring less, people tend to be more satisfied and grateful for what they have. Make a list of the things in life for which you're grateful and the aspects of your life that are going well. It's natural for people to ignore what they have and focus instead on what they are missing out on. Practicing appreciation of what you do have will help your work/life balance. 

The process of achieving work-life balance can take months, but by making gradual changes, you'll greatly reduce the amount of stress and exhaustion in your social lives and family.


November 12, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

In a June blog entry  we urged you to run out and buy a copy of the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.

The book is a quick and engaging read – the authors are good storytellers; they have interesting, compelling examples; and, time after time they make the reader say “aha, I wish I could see things differently.”  But more importantly, they have written a book that presents a very different kind of change model, one that appears to have an excellent chance of actually working.   

So, we distributed about 40 copies of the book and the online companion resources to our clients and used our three Executive Roundtable sessions in November to  talk through their real world change challenges using the Switch model.

The brothers Heath assert that people have both a rational side (the Rider) and an emotional side (the Elephant), and that need to be engaged to make any meaningful, lasting change.  The classic illustration for this is that while we know we should eat healthier and/or lose those extra ten pounds, we still reach for the potato chips or the donut instead of the broccoli.   Further, they tell us you’ve got to clear the way (the Path) for people to successfully change.  Their Switch model looks like this:

1.  DIRECT the Rider

  • Follow the Bright Spots - success stories wherever you can find them

  • Script the Critical Moves – think small and specific vs big picture

  • Point to the Destination – what appears to be resistance is often a lack of clarity

2.  MOTIVATE the Elephant

  • Find the Feeling – knowing something isn’t enough to cause change 

  • Shrink the Change – break down the change until it no longer spooks the Elephant

  • Grow Your People – this is about identity and a growth mindset

3.  SHAPE the Path

  • Tweak the Environment – when the situation changes, behavior changes

  • Build Habits – when behavior is habitual it is “free” and doesn’t stress the Rider

  • Rally the Herd – behavior is contagious

One of our Roundtable clients is in the business of saving kids.  He and his team run the largest youth emergency services program and shelter in the state.  When he stepped into his current role in 2008 they were faced with three enormous challenges:

  • The number of kids needing service was skyrocketing

  • The magnitude and complexity of mental health and behavioral issues in that population was increasing dramatically

  • Neither the programming nor the people were equipped to adequately meet those challenges

It was fascinating to hear about his change strategy, successes and lessons learned in the context of the Switch model.  Here are some of them, and how they might fit into this model.

  1. Kids are more open to therapy and change when they have a roof over their heads, a meal in their bellies and they feel safe.  Mental health staff are more open to change when they feel safe and appreciated.  (Find the Bright Spots)

  2. We must become accredited by xx date (Script the Critical Moves)

  3. Repeating and reinforcing the three mission critical goals.   (Point to the Destination)

  4. We’ll revamp these procedures for this unit by xx date (rather than focusing on the larger accreditation change).  (Shrink the Change)

  5. Physically redesigning specific units for specific populations to enable the staff to manage the more difficult behavioral issues of that population.  (Tweak the Environment)

Overall, the conversations among the Roundtables were engaging and thoughtful.  Many mentioned on the way out the door that this conversation had given them much to think about.  An example:  another client has just moved into the COO role of a large services business.  He has an ambitious change agenda and is eager to apply the concepts in Switch to the task at hand.  We’ll check back in a few months to learn more about his strategies for getting those Riders and Elephants moving down the right Path.

If you’ve used the strategies presented in Switch, I encourage you to share your experiences in the comments below.


November 5, 2010
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

In July/August 2010, The Atlantic Monthly declared, “The End of Men.” The premise of the article was: “what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?” These are some of the statistics quoted in the article:

  • For every two men who earn a college degree in 2010, three women will.
  • Women, along with 50% of medical and law degrees, now earn 60% of master’s degrees.
  • There are now more female managers than male.
  • 75% of those who lost jobs during the recent recession were men.
These changes obviously position women to increase their career opportunities and income. In my observation, the biggest changes in gender roles at the individual level have not resulted from markedly changed political beliefs, but instead, from purely practical family-based choices. When a family’s stability relied primarily on the income of the “man of the house,” his career was prioritized. As women’s jobs become equal or more important to the family’s stability, both men and women share in managing family responsibilities at work.
As women progress from no outside employment to employment that is secondary to that of her spouse to careers that are at the core of the family’s financial stability, the choices both partners make regarding work/life balance are altered.
The percent of families with two working parents is higher in Iowa than any other state in the US. The answer to the question: “Who stays home when junior is ill, or who leaves work because an aging parent needs care?” is usually either the person who makes less money, or the person with more job flexibility. In other words, the answer to this question is very different when he is a physician and she is a secretary versus when she is a physician and he is an IT professional.
This means that even if your workforce is primarily male, 10 years from now, there is a very high likelihood that the spouses of your employees have careers that equal or exceed your employee’s jobs. As a result, the expectation of family flexibility will likely increase.
Generational differences and “entitlement” are often the topic of workplace sessions that I lead. I wonder if any of these conversations are impacted by the different family obligations brought about by truly equal careers?
In a recent family business discussion, the patriarch of the family recently told me that his kids, “just don’t have the work-ethic that I did.” His children had a different take on that subject. “We may come to work at 8:45 a.m. and leave for a school play in the middle of the day, but dad doesn’t see us from 10 p.m. until midnight replying to emails, reviewing financial statements, and updating spreadsheets.” We work then because it gives us both time for family and time to meet the needs of the business.
As you reflect on the statistics above, what changes do you envision in your business landscape, and are you ready for them?

October 22, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

In the past month I’ve had conversations with about 60 CEOs and senior executives from businesses ranging from mature multinationals and multi-generation family businesses to start ups to innovative non-profits and seemingly everything in between.  (Yes, it’s been a fun month!)  Here are some of the concerns expressed by a surprising number of them:


  • Our culture is stale and resists change. 
  • Our roster is filled with “C” players.
  • Innovation has been a company priority for three years, but we still can’t innovate our way out of a paper bag right now.
  • Two tough years have brought right sizing and reorganization.  There is growing discontent in our workforce.  Some of our best next gen players are leaving, or worse, shutting down.
  • Direction is clear, goals are good, operating plan is good.  Execution is not good.  Never has been.
  • We get no leadership from mid-management.  None.  Why don’t they get it?
  • We have no depth at all below our senior team.


So, dear reader, my question to you is this; where do you start?  Where do you look first to address these issues?


Leaders, the truth is that YOU are the single greatest lever for change in your organization.  Everything starts with you.  You set the tempo, you determine or enable the culture, and you send the messages, both intended and unintended, that people remember.  It is very possible that the single most effective leadership development investment your business could make right now is in … you.


Meaningful leadership development is first and foremost about you, not just about your senior team or your high potentials.  Every leader needs to invest a portion of her/his time into understanding who they are as a leader and how they can become more effective.  Here is a quick self-check to help you think about your personal leadership development.  Rate these on a five point scale from “Not So Much” to “Feeling Pretty Good.”


  1. I have a high level of awareness of my personal leadership style, strengths and weaknesses
  2. I set clear and appropriately demanding expectations for people
  3. I consistently tell the truth with compassion, even when it is uncomfortable or hard
  4. I utilize multiple strategies to gain outside perspective on my decisions and my business
  5. I am able to maintain a healthy balance between driving for results and investing in relationships
  6. I invite feedback and constructive criticism
  7. I confront reality and make the hard decisions


If you have more than one or two of these that you aren’t feeling pretty good about, consider working with someone to map out a personal development plan.  Because the truth is, you’re the lever for change.


October 4, 2010
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

A few weeks ago, Russell and I had the opportunity to present our thoughts on succession planning as a keynote address to the clients of a large law firm.  We focused on not how to create a succession plan.  Rather, we looked at why many companies don’t address this critical piece of long range planning.

Consider that …

  • 67% of organizations do not currently have any formal succession planning process (Cutting Edge Information)
  • Only 24% of organizations are confident in their ability to staff leadership positions during the next five years (Watson-Wyatt)
  • Only 10% of family owned businesses survive transition to the third generation.

There are many apparently rational and understandable reasons companies give for having delayed succession planning (time, money, business needs tactical attention, and inability to find successors).  What we have learned over time is that underneath these explanations there are more complicated personal reasons. Succession planning requires difficult conversations and a depth of self-assessment that makes most of us uncomfortable.

In the businesses we’ve assisted, Russell and I have identified the five most common real obstacles:

  • Telling the truth. Succession planning requires thorough assessment and hard conversations about performance and potential with current employees.
  • Confronting your own truth.  Succession planning requires the organization’s leader to think about retirement, aging, and mortality.
  • Letting go. Developing next generation leaders requires that current leaders share power. This may require the leader to change life-long patterns.
  • Learning to coach: Grooming successors requires organizational leaders to be both boss and coach.
  • Founder syndrome. Many business founders have these characteristics that impede transition to the next generation: high overlap of personal identity and work, lack of outside interests, highly controlling of decisions, difficulty letting go, and can’t imagine life after leaving the business.

Why are these barriers? Each is a tough discussion or major change.  Many of them ask the leader to do the very opposite of what made him or her a successful leader.  Most of them are difficult for others to push the organization’s leadership to pay attention to if they resist. Let’s look at two examples where the conversation on the surface encounters barriers from the unspoken realities that are underneath the surface.

Scenario #1: Tell the truth

Have you ever worked in an organization that consistently avoided having the really hard conversations with employees and leaders? Many organizations give lip-service to accountability but don’t enact it consistently. If this organization begins succession planning and an assessment of internal talent:

On the surface

  • Meeting after meeting that is uncomfortable but yields little progress
  • Disagreement about how to measure performance
  • Many strong opinions about selecting the right process
  • People express being busy and this task is “too much”
  • A complicated process is created that still avoids really pinpointing performance accountability

Under the surface

  • One or more leaders in the process are the very people who should be the recipient of difficult feedback but it hasn’t occurred.
  • Lack of faith that the leaders who will need to give difficult feedback will actually give it.
  • Strong feelings about how uncomfortable it will be to begin giving difficult feedback.
  • Competence fears about ability to have difficult conversations.
  • Discomfort in imagining staff reaction to increased accountability. 

Scenario #2: Confronting your own truth

Succession discussions often occur as the current CEO ages. Most of us, including CEOs generally prefer not to think of the changes aging and mortality will have on our own lives.


On the surface

  • CEO may state his/her awareness of the need for building bench strength.
  • CEO may express skepticism regarding the readiness of next generation leaders and consistently identify problems with choices made by possible successors.
  • The leader may agree to begin to pull back, yet resist it by subtly retaining control.

Under the surface

  • The leader may have these thoughts or fears that are often unspoken barriers that stop the change occurring:
  • As I watch others my age that have retired, many of them have lost their mental quickness. I don’t want that to happen to me.
  • In my business I am respected and valued. I have no idea what I’d do in retirement that would bring this type of respect.
  • I don’t know if my relationship with my spouse will survive so much forced togetherness.

What business psychologists know is that when an organization is having a conversation on the surface but avoiding the real conversation that is below the surface, productive process rarely occurs. There are strategies to get around the barriers that we’ll address in a future blog, but for now ask yourself why your company doesn’t have a succession plan.  Is it really that you don’t have the time and resource to devote to it?  Or, are you getting in the way of planning for a future without you in it?


September 17, 2010
Written By: Pete Petersen

Our Executive Roundtable groups started meetings again last week after our summer break. Prior to resuming we met one on one with most of the Roundtable members to gather their feedback on the value of the Roundtables to them as business leaders. One consistent feedback theme that surfaced was that being part of the executive peer groups helped them maintain perspective on their business and their leadership skills. 

It is very easy to lose your perspective as a business leader. It leads to decision paralysis, poor choices and misguided strategy. Trust me; I’ve been there and done that plenty of times in my career. 

Here’s how it happens:

  1. You become totally absorbed doing the business of your business; managing, organizing, analyzing and problem solving. 

  2. You talk to the same people on your team about the same issues over and over again.

  3. You shun customer visits and outside business activities so you can concentrate on the business.

  4. Discussions outside the business are limited to industry peers who are facing many of your same issues.

  5. You begin to think your business is “unique and complex”. No one from the outside could really understand your issues particularly someone who is outside your industry,

  6. You become convinced that the only way to run the business is your way.

The reality is that:

  1. There are many ways to solve operating and strategy issues. At the Roundtables last week I heard 30+ well thought out individual slants on critical issues that executives were facing. 

  2. Some of the most insightful and fresh approaches come from leaders who don’t know an industry or a particular business well.

  3. You can talk to your own people too much. After a while you all see the issues and solutions through the same lens; everything becomes groupthink. One of our clients puts it this way, “we are smoking our own stuff”.

  4. There are lots of smart business leaders out there who are great money makers, brilliant strategists and terrific opportunists. Unfortunately you can’t meet them holing up in your office.

  5. Your business is not as unique and complex as you may think. On of my bosses once told me, “don’t tell me you have a complex business. Microsoft is a complex business and you are not running Microsoft.” Sometimes just listening to other business leaders discuss their issues and successes helps you see your business in a simpler light.

  6. There are many leaders that have dealt with the same set of issues you are grappling with today. You are not alone and your problems are not insurmountable.

Our Roundtables are a terrific opportunity for senior level leaders to step away from their business a half day per month, interact with savvy, smart leaders and maintain their perspective. 

One of the Roundtable executives sent the following to us after a recent very robust discussion at their business. “I was a little surprised at the group’s complete and utter dislike of the growth concept.  I think they were right on the money, but it is interesting how an idea can be so popular inside our company and when you hear it from the group’s perspective it sounds terrible.  It is good for me to have both perspectives.”

September 10, 2010
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

This summer I completed my second RAGBRAI, the annual bike ride across Iowa. 


The range of riders on RAGBRAI is startling. Bikers range from elite athletes with $10,000 bikes and shaved legs (men too!) to armchair athletes with beer bellies and bikes from the 1980s.  During the ride, it struck me that in some ways the range of riders on RAGBRAI is much like a large workplace. On RAGBRAI, and in your workplace, there are the stars and those that are “average;, people who are motivated to win vs. motivated to do a job, people who have every resource to succeed and those who succeed in spite of few resources. 


As I rode with a former colleague, the impact of resources was clear, let me describe our experiences in two different ways. 


First, looking only at performance, here are the facts:

  • I departed earlier each morning. I rode faster. I arrived in the overnight town earlier every day. 
  • She left later than I did each morning. She rode slower. She arrived in the overnight town later than I every day.

Given these facts, ask yourself: which person you would ask to be on your bike team? Also ask yourself: If you had $2000 in development funds, whom would you invest in? 


Now let me describe our experiences looking more broadly.

  • I own a $2000 road bike that weighs less than 20 lbs. She owns a $350 hybrid bike that weighs 40+ lbs.
  • I grew up in a biking family. My dad did “hill training” with me when I was still in grade school. She learned it all on her own.
  • Our goal was the same, to push ourselves and enjoy the week. My commitment to and focus on RAGBRAI was a 4 on a 10-point scale. Her commitment and focus was a 9. 
  • I trained 550 miles prior to RAGBRAI. She trained 1200 miles.
  • RAGBRAI was one week of vacation for me. I had 3 or 4 other weeks of vacation this year. RAGBRAI was her sole vacation in 2010.
  • My “success” was visible and reinforcing for me as I passed the masses pushing hard up a hill.  She persisted in the face of being passed by others thousands of times over the course of each day.
  • I went on RAGBRAI with a charter service who set up my tent and took it down every morning. She needed to save money so she managed her own camping arrangements. By the time she got on her bike each day, she’d already had an hour of hassles.
  • Because I left early each day, I avoided the worst of the heat and the wind. Because she managed her own camping arrangements, she left later each day. Winds tend to increase over the course of the day, so the last two hours of her ride was often into a wind I didn’t face.

Now, ask yourself those questions again: “which person you would ask to be on your bike team? Also ask yourself: If you had $2000 in development funds, whom would you invest in?


When it comes to bottom line performance, it is clear that I had the edge. However, I’m not certain that $2000 invested in my biking would have any noticeable impact on my performance. Invest that $2000 in my colleague and you’d see results -- increase her speed, create opportunities for her to feel successful, and perhaps lead her to persist in biking when otherwise she might not


Professional development activities and funds are a finite resource. Companies often have to make difficult decisions about how to identify and develop people who are key to an organization’s bench strength. 


One reasonable approach to allocating scarce resources is to identify top performers and invest in them. However, have you ever asked yourself who in your organization trained 1200 miles, competed on a $350 bike, and looks average, but would zoom to the front of the crowd with a new bike?


You just might be surprised.


August 27, 2010
Written By: Eileen Wixted, Guest Blogger

“I just want to get my life back .” 

These words were heard around the world just seconds after leaving the lips of BP Chief Executive Officer, Tony Hayward.  Whether Mr. Hayward’s comments were intentional, or the result of his exhausting schedule managing the Deepwater Horizon crisis, is not known. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. In today’s age of instant communication where a random thought can define your leadership ability – managing your communication risk is a business necessity.
Most senior executives will never have to manage an actual oil spill. But there are multiple “oil spills” that have the potential to impact your credibility, career or company’s brand. One of the biggest pitfalls in assessing communication risk is being too optimistic. We call this syndrome: fatal optimism. The leak isn’t that big, the clean-up will go more quickly, customers will be more forgiving. 
Not true.
Set expectations and be realistic. Challenge your senior team’s assumptions. How do you know the security breach is limited to only one-thousand customers? Be vigilant about asking questions. 
All too often we want to believe the best, it makes us feel better. But in business, just as in real life the best case scenario is not always reality.
What you don’t know will hurt you. 
In all business issues there is a category of information we simply do not know. The current salmonella outbreak and massive recall of eggs is a good example of new details adding problems to the credibility of the farm owner, regulators, and food industry as a whole. 
The farm owner has been characterized as a habitual offender – why has he been able to stay in business? Why have new tougher food safety regulations not been implemented? All too frequently, the more you learn the worst it gets.
This means as a senior leader you must lead the communication efforts. You must be vigilante about developing a few core messages and communicating to multiple audiences in real time. In today’s age of instant communication you must exercise message and medium discipline. 
Your career may count on it.
If you would like to learn more about how to manage your communication risk join us for “What’s Your Oil Spill” an informative workshop on crisis communication for senior leaders. The program will be held on September 10, 2010 at Glen Oaks Country Club, West Des Moines, Iowa. We are slated to begin at 7:30 a.m. and wrapped up by 11:30 a.m.    If you have questions please feel free to email me Eileen Wixted at ewixted@wpntworld.com.

August 13, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

Author Seth Godin, in his newest book Linchpin, uses a small, inexpensive piece of hardware as a way of describing key contributors who make themselves essential to the operation of their business. A linchpin is a small, cheap metal clip that literally keeps the wheel from falling off the wagon, and Godin aptly uses that to describe those individuals whom others rely on to make things happen.

I reference this because I’d like to introduce you to a linchpin, Master Sgt. Eric Crownhart. After 23 years Eric is retiring from the Air Force, and I was privileged to attend his retirement ceremony recently. Although I’ve known him his entire life, it was eye opening for me to come to know him differently through the comments of his peers and superiors.
Eric enlisted in the Air Force after college. Always a behind the scenes kind of guy, he spent much of his career ensuring the maintenance and flight readiness of various air units around the world. He and his teams enabled successful missions in many of the places you read about in the paper. The colonel who presided over the retirement ceremony walked us all through a brief summary of Eric’s performance evaluations over the years to help us appreciate his contributions. Now think about that for minute. How excited would you be to have someone publicly review excerpts from your reviews throughout your career? The colonel highlighted three consistent themes that appeared every time Eric took on a new assignment.
First, at every new stop he shook the unit up. Within 12 months key performance metrics improved noticeably. Second, he brought in best practices and new processes. So those key performance metrics would be sustainable after he left. And third, he brought innovation and initiative. Sgt. Crownhart would look at something that wasn’t working as smoothly as it could have and, rather than gripe or ignore it, took on the task of changing it.
He brought these strengths with him to his last assignment, which was a major career change. He served in the Emergency Actions Cell of the United States Transportation Command.  US TRANSCOM is a joint command which moves people and operational assets of all US Military branches to wherever they need to go. In the Emergency Action Cell, Eric and his team responded to military “contingencies” as well as emergency relief efforts. His unit put the people and equipment in place to free a ship captain taken hostage off the coast of Somalia, responded to the major natural disasters that make headlines, and support military and executive branch operations daily. And sure enough, even though Eric and his team responded to almost 500 contingencies in his time there, he still managed to help create a new database to streamline worldwide emergency contact procedures.
So to Sgt. Crownhart and all the linchpins out there, thank you for making things happen.

July 30, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

Attention business leaders! Here are three little questions that can help you be more effective in your role immediately. 

When a subordinate comes to you with an idea or a request for action, run the “three question drill.” I promise you’ll be happy with the results. 
1.       What are your objectives? 
2.       How will we know if you are successful? 
3.       What do you need from me to be successful?
Now these really are three simple, fairly obvious questions, and many of you likely use these questions often, but it is surprising how frequently smart, successful business leaders forget. Don’t just ask the questions, insist on clear, intelligent, substantive answers to each before acting. The benefits of consistently running this drill with your key people are many and significant.
  • Your people will develop and use critical thinking skills.
  •  You will force clear, objective analysis and decision making.
  • You will reinforce a culture that fosters clear, direct accountability in a positive way.
  • You will empower your people by always asking what they need from you to support them.
  • You will build a culture that focuses on clear objectives, measurable outcomes, and accountability.
  • And, you may very well discover that you are less inclined to jump in and rescue or micro-manage.
Any questions?

July 9, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

Ian Davis, McKinsey & Company’s former managing director, recently used Forbes as a forum to offer transition advice to a newly appointed CEO, which I read with great interest. You can read his full letter here, and it is well worth your time: http://www.forbes.com/2010/06/21/new-ceo-transition-advice-leadership-managing-mckinsey.html?partner=email. Here is a quick summary of Davis’ ten key points.

  1. Context is critical. Learn quickly and look through the eyes of important constituencies and stakeholders.
  2. Set your own timeline and specific transition goals.
  3. Establish your priorities and understand expectations.
  4. Control your agenda; be ruthless in managing your time.
  5. Construct your team, and build key relationships, early.
  6. Build a strong, respect-based peer relationship with your board and your board chair.
  7. Your personal assistant and support infrastructure are critical early decisions.
  8. Develop a clear transition communications strategy.
  9. Find a way to get honest, balanced feedback and information. This often means going around your direct reports and using outsiders.
  10. Establish appropriate personal ground rules so you aren’t on duty 24/7, except for when you have to be on duty 24/7.
This letter caught my interest, in part, because over the past year we’ve had a number of friends and clients who have exited and entered a CEO role. I continue to value and appreciate the trust of these leaders, and here are some nuggets from our discussions that supplement and reinforce Mr. Davis’ advice.
  • Identifying WHO you need to build relationships with to be effective, both internally and externally, is every bit as important as identifying WHAT you need to get done.
  • “I wish I would have moved faster on the people issues.” – Two recently former CEOs.
  • Real change, as in new agenda, new direction, new culture change, happens in uncomfortable, high stakes, one-on-one conversations. If you aren’t comfortable with conflict you need to make that piece of your leadership development work a top priority.
  •  As CEO your voice carries louder and further than you imagine. And your actions drown out your voice. Be very thoughtful about what you say and what you do.
  • “The last time I knew for certain what people really thought was the day before I was named CEO” - A current CEO. Davis’ point about finding a way to get honest, balanced feedback is right on the money.
  • Your ability to lead and effect change starts, and often stops, with your own personal credibility. Remember that you are not bullet proof, invisible or invincible.
If this topic interests you, I can highly recommend four resources we’ve used personally and with our clients.
Authentic Leadership, Bill George
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni
Crucial Conversations, Patterson et al
The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins

July 1, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

When my friend Valerie asked me to come along on a church youth group mission trip as a chaperone I declined. Fortunately she heard my “no” as “yes.” So there I was last week, along with several other overmatched adults and twenty energized junior high kids, working our tails off on three service projects in Kansas City. And darned if those kids didn’t remind me of some important leadership lessons.

People want to be part of something important, something bigger than they are. Every day our youth leader and the leaders at our work locations did a great job of helping the kids understand how their work would support that organization, and how that would make a difference in people’s lives. Every minute of every day our kids knew their seemingly small contributions were adding up to big, difference making results.
Message matters. Repeating the message matters. Every morning and every evening for four days we heard two clear messages. First, if you want to be a leader you must serve others. Second, encourage one another.   We reinforced those messages at times throughout the day. By days three and four the kids were living those messages and reinforcing them with each other. Amazing how powerful this is, yet repeating a clear message is something that business leaders struggle with every day.
Set people up to be successful. Match skills and gifts to roles. Our kids did this naturally. As we worked in teams I would see the kids helping one another and even changing roles with one another to help their teammates be successful. With a clear understanding of the work to be done, of the importance of the work, and with a shared value around serving one another, it was eye opening to me how easily teams of 8th and 9th graders matched themselves and their teammates to roles that leveraged their gifts and maximized the performance of the team.
People respond to leading by example. Leaders set the tone in so many ways. Remember that old adage about your actions speaking so loudly that I can’t hear your words? It’s true. What are your actions telling your people about priorities, focus, work ethic, values, results and relationships?
Leadership in many ways really is about serving those who get the work done. One of our long time clients draws their org chart as an upside down pyramid. Their executive team is called the BLT, the Bottom Leadership Team, because they serve the people above them on the chart. Those people are their direct supports, not direct reports. If you think about your role as serving those key people reporting to you does it change how you might approach your day?
Encouragement is gold. Genuine, sincere encouragement goes a long way toward washing away fear and mistrust. It emboldens people to stretch and risk failing. It creates a positive “emotional account balance” that provides cushion for future mistakes and misunderstandings. And it makes work a whole lot more enjoyable.
High performing teams are powerful. We lead client leadership teams through workshops using the Five Dysfunctions of a Team model. Those sessions can become important inflection points in the performance of those teams. I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it was to watch a team of junior high kids display the five components of a highly functional team; building trust, mastering conflict, achieving commitment, embracing accountability and focusing on results.
And as I think about, perhaps the first lesson I learned was that “no” isn’t always the right answer.

June 18, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen


This post started with a conversation Pete and I had about a client the other day. This person is a senior exec team member of a business we’re working with. High potential guy, perhaps CEO material, but with some patterns of behavior that undermine his performance and his credibility. As we brainstormed ways we could offer to help Pete declared, “What he really needs is a boss!” That prompted one of the best 10 minute discussions I’ve had in the past year.

 Have you ever had a boss who managed to get more out of you than you though you had? That man or woman who helped you to perform at your best more often than any other leader/manager you’ve worked for? And … are you that boss?
I have been asking clients these questions over the past few weeks, and this morning I had this conversation with a large group of leaders from a client company. Here are some things I’ve learned from my questions:
  • Almost half the people I’ve talked with have never had “that boss.” Think about that for a minute.
  • About a third of the people who spoke with me cited a high school or college coach as “that boss.”
  • The remainder, about 10 percent, have had neither. They have never experienced being challenged/supported to do more than they thought they could, and have never had a role model to show them how to do that for others.
  • When I asked people to describe “that boss” these are the common themes:

    • Accessible and helpful – I am important to him/her
    • Positive and encouraging vs. negative or threatening
    • Paints a picture of what I/we can be
    • Demands my/our best
    • Coaches and delivers constructive feedback
    • Walks the talk about both values and performance
    • Authentic and genuine
Are you that boss? You can be. Here are three simple strategies to help you get more out of your people more often. First, schedule regular one-on-ones with your direct reports. Give yourselves time to go deep on an issue or two, so block out at least 90 minutes and have a standing general agenda. That agenda might include their burning issues, your burning issues, a review of their annual and long term goals, their progress developing their people, and their own development. Don’t expect to cover every category every time. Second, ask your people what they need from you to perform at their best more often. Are you clear about your expectations? Are you setting the bar high enough? Are you giving them enough autonomy? Enough authority? Enough feedback? Enough pizza? Finally, pay attention to your own development needs as a leader. We all hit plateaus, so think hard about what challenges and support you need to continue your own growth.
Be that boss your people need, so they can be that boss for their people.


June 11, 2010
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

As a coach for leaders and leadership teams, I have the pleasure of watching and assisting intelligent, successful people tackle big issues. During this process, I am often reminded that the tools that assist each of us to be successful and make changes come from those things that are best about us.

One of the benefits of being a business psychologist, is I get to pick and chose from the best of business leadership strategies and the best of psychological strategies. One of the tools that straddles that line is Solution Focused Therapy. It has tools that we can use in focusing on our successes and the future in order to ramp up our changes. One of the tools is “the miracle question.”
Today, I’m going to focus on the miracle question. Think about an important change you are trying to accomplish. Imagine that tonight as you sleep, a miracle happens. Overnight, all of your internal barriers to that change evaporate, and you awake fully embodying the change. Because you were asleep, neither you nor the people around you know that the change has occurred. Now imagine yourself waking in the morning. As you go through your day, what are the ways in which you notice that the change has occurred?
For one of my coaching clients who was interested in maintaining a calmer and more optimistic attitude at work (and thus create better working relationships), the answers were:
  • When the alarm went off at 5 a.m., I’d be headed to exercise instead of immediately turning on my computer to work.
  • When I looked around my house, I’d be pleased that it was orderly instead of seeing clutter everywhere and being overwhelmed.
  • When one of my subordinates came to give me bad news about a deadline, I’d notice I didn’t feel angry at the person and had patience to work on problem-solving.
  • Because I felt calm, I’d notice I wasn’t wasting time on unproductive strategies I use to relieve stress: shopping online, griping with co-workers, and spending time on low-priority items.
Now, the follow-up question is: “When was the last time that you felt even a little bit of this miracle?” It’s important that the answer to this question is tied to a specific time, with concrete details. For my client, the answer was:
“I felt a little bit of that miracle six months ago. During that period, I was working on a project at work that tapped into my very best skill set, and I also was going to the gym five days a week because I’d paid a big fee for a personal training package.”
As a result of this, the client took these immediate steps:
1.       Reviewed her workload. She found that as a result of some organizational changes, her workload had shifted to a much higher ratio of tasks that were “energy vampires” than those that brought energy in. She strategized about how to delegate and renegotiate to bring balance back.
2.       She reflected on the importance of exercise. As she reflected, she came to clarity that her management of work and life was best at the times she was the most active. She also identified that because she was money conscious, paying in advance for personal training motivated her to follow-through.
3.       She began to pay attention to the unproductive strategies she had identified. When she caught herself doing more on-line shopping, griping with co-workers, or wasting time on mundane tasks, that was her prompt that she had encountered an “energy vampire” and needed to act proactively to deal directly with it by either delegating, asking for help, or gritting her teeth and getting it done.
So what's going on in your life that the Miracle Question would help you approach differently?
Miller, W.R. & Rollnick, S. (2002). Motivational Interviewing, Second Edition: Preparing People for Change. The Guilford Press; Second Edition.

June 5, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

John Wooden, the legendary Hall of Fame basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins, passed away June 4, 2010 at the age of 99. Wooden led the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships, including seven in a row. He was married to his high school sweetheart Nell for 53 years before she passed away 25 years ago. He has written her a love letter every day since. Coach Wooden is the author of many books on basketball, mentoring, leadership and life, most famously “Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks For a Better Life.”

Dear Coach Wooden,
Goodbye and God Bless. And thank you. Your life has been an incredible example of the enormous impact we can have on others. Leadership matters every day, on every level.
We never met, but I’m one of many, many people whose lives you’ve touched, and I just want to send you a brief thank you note. We were introduced by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar back in 1969. He was Lew Alcindor when I was growing up in Wisconsin, and I never actually met him either. He played for the Milwaukee Bucks after leaving UCLA, and my interest in him led me to learn about you. I became a fan of you and the Bruins. Loved their style of play, loved the team work, and loved their commitment to one another and to you.
Over the years I think I’ve read just about every article written about you. Some time ago I realized that my appreciation for you had practically nothing to do with your success as a basketball coach, but rather for your wisdom about people, life and faith. Many of the tribute articles being published today upon your passing note your passion for excellence, your loyalty, your grace, your humility and your wisdom. They call you the greatest basketball coach ever, and a better man than coach.
Looking back on it, you’ve touched me in a number of ways over the years. Your best known book, “Pyramid of Success,” has been helpful to me in my role as an executive coach. Many of your famous quotes over the years influenced me as I learned to redefine my perspective as a youth sports coach from “winning matters most” to “builder of young men.” Actually, I still think of you as I work with my executive coaching clients now, reminding myself to coach “both of them," the unique, talented, successful executive they are today, and the even better executive and leader they aspire to become. We’ve used your books in a church men’s group as we work to become better husbands, fathers and men. And your 78 year love affair with Nell humbles and inspires me as I strive to love and serve my own wife better each day.
I don’t collect autographs, but I’ve accumulated a few over the years, mostly by accident or happenstance. Almost all of them have been passed along to my son or my nephew. The only one that is important to me is on the cover of “Coach Wooden One-On-One: Inspiring Conversations on Purpose, Passion and the Pursuit of Success." I think maybe it’s time to dust that off and read it again.
Thanks Coach. Glad you’re finally home. Say hi to Nell for me.

June 4, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

Walk your fingers on over to www.hbr.org and get yourself a copy of the June 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Then click over to Amazon and acquire “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath. I’d prefer that you read the rest of this blog entry first, but if you have to go now I’ll wait patiently for you to return.

I spent some time traveling over the past week, which gives me the chance to catch up on my reading. I like to scan several issues of HBR and flag articles that resonate with me and may bring value to clients. The June issue is a gold mine. C.K. Prahalad’s article “Why Is It So Hard to Tackle the Obvious?” is one of many that got my attention.
In one brief page Prahalad cuts to the heart of why companies fail to successfully make change; business ideologies (think corporate culture) create orthodoxies that color perception and lead to inertia. Sacred cows aren’t challenged. Emerging competitors can change faster than established incumbents. Even when established incumbents tackle the obvious, they often don’t get enough traction to pull off major change. 
Prahalad offers two insights that warranted highlighting while the passenger in seat 16C dropped her seatback on to my knees at 30,000 feet. First, when tackling a major change initiative “the forgetting curve is sometimes more important than the learning curve.” We often give lip service to the need for a stop-doing list, but it never gets much attention. Second, he advises companies to change IT systems because they usually represent old business models. As you have probably experienced for yourself, IT system conversions do, indeed, force companies to think differently about processes and information.
In “Switch” Chip and Dan Heath do a brilliant job of helping us understand the forces in our heads and our hearts that derail our attempts to change. They offer a clever and memorable way of thinking about change and provide a clear model for “making a switch.” More on “Switch” later, but for now I’ll leave you with this; this is the first business book that has made me reach for the highlighter since Good to Great.
OK, you have your summer reading assignment now. Class will reconvene in a few weeks.

May 7, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

You can’t tell by looking at me, but I’m trying to huff and puff at the YMCA several mornings a week. One of the side benefits of that routine has been getting to know Scott, a wise old gentleman who also works out there. Our conversations are usually about church and volunteer work, but recently when I greeted him with “good morning” he stopped me dead in my tracks. “What are you learning?” What am I learning? I had an immediate negative reaction to the question. All I wanted to do was get my workout over with and get to work.

Scott gave me all the time I needed to think before I answered. (Another lesson.) I knew I couldn’t get away with a fast, flip comment and escape to the evil elliptical machine. What am I learning? In hindsight that awkward thirty seconds of thinking might have been the best part of my week. We had an interesting and enjoyable conversation and I went on my way. But I haven’t stopped thinking about his question since. 
So several days later, here is my answer. In recent weeks I’ve been learning …
  • about taking risks, from one client who is good at it and one who is not.
  • about holding people accountable, and about how to do a better job of helping clients learn to more effectively hold people accountable. And about how I need to press the issue more firmly.
  • from one of my colleagues about continually improving what we do.
  • about the importance of staying in closer touch with our clients.
  • about strength and courage from two people I’ve known a long time.
So what are you learning? It's okay, take a minute, I can wait. You can let me know at jensen@rjensenconsulting.com.

April 30, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

I recently spent a rainy Saturday morning in a room at Drake University with about 20 other people. Collectively we serve as the National Advisory Council (NAC) for the Donald V. Adams Leadership Institute, part of Drake’s Center for Leadership. This is a big deal for me; Don played an important role in shaping me as a leader and coach and he is someone I admire deeply. This is a responsibility I take seriously and cheerfully.

Anyway, this is a room full of “big”. Big intellects. Big titles. Big pocket books. Big passion for serving Drake. (OK, I’m batting .250). This group is supporting an active student leadership program while also forging some big, challenging, next step change. We only meet in person once a year, and we have a just short time together to work through an agenda filled with big issues. 
I like to think I know a little bit about leadership, and if ever a group and a setting cried out for a driving, forceful, task oriented leadership style to herd us cats, march us through our agenda, and get things done before, during and after the annual meeting, this is it. Right?
Wrong. Let me introduce you to Bob Young of Neenah, Wisconsin. Bob is a 1970 graduate of Drake, recently retired and actively pursuing his volunteer responsibilities. Bob also teaches me about leadership one Saturday morning each year. Bob is kind, thoughtful, soft spoken and very encouraging. When he speaks there is always a compliment, a thank you or word of encouragement prefacing any larger point. Bob’s style is not driving or forceful, but as I walked to my car following the meeting I was laughing at myself replaying in my mind how effectively he led our meeting. Here’s what I was thinking about:
  • We were never more than five minutes off our agenda
  • Every person around the table had a voice and felt listened to
  • The group made the big decisions that needed to be made
  • The entire group owned every decision; nothing was forced
  • In spite of the number of high achievers in the room, no single ego overshadowed the discussion
  • Bob made sure many people around the table had their moment in the spotlight and did his best to avoid it himself.
Here are three lessons I learned from Bob this year.
  1. He was clear about what the meeting was really about. It was not about checking off agenda items and hammering through decisions. It was about enabling the NAC to lead and support an ambitious change initiative. That wasn’t going to happen if the players in the room didn’t own it and feel valued.
  2. He knew how things really worked. The staff at Drake need to implement the change and run the operation, but they also need to help shape the vision and direction of the Center for Leadership. This isn’t a Board / Staff relationship so much as an interdependent partnership requiring a high level of mutual trust and respect. He treated it as such.
  3. He knew who he was. The Adams Institute teaches Don’s six personal values of leadership: take responsibility, be honest and dependable, be persistent, preserve your options, never stop learning and love unconditionally. Bob was just living those.
I’m looking forward to my next lesson on a Saturday morning in April 2011.

April 24, 2010
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

If a situation arose in which you absolutely had to double your income in the next 12 months, what would be your best strategy in accomplishing this? Twelve months is too short to get an additional degree. In one year, a promotion is unlikely to accomplish this drastic of a change. What if you began spending time on an on-going basis with people who make twice as much money as you do?

There is a specific type of networking that is most likely to lead to career or business transformation. This type of networking is bridging social capital. Social capital comes from who you know, not what you know. There are two main types of social capital: bonding and bridging. Bonding social capital constitutes close-knit ties among similar individuals or groups. These strong ties provide support within the bonded group, who often have similar resources, but often are barriers to relationships outside the close-knit group. Bridging social capital constitutes links between heterogeneous individuals or groups, often across socioeconomic lines. People attain higher status by becoming connected with others who have social resources such as power, status, wealth, or networks (Lin, 1990). The quantity of social capital a person possesses depends on the size of the network connections one can mobilize and the amount of resource each person in that network possesses. This is bridging social capital.
Why is creating bridging social capital so hard? Each socioeconomic strata has its own language and motivators. When you cross socioeconomic class lines, it is easy to break the rules without realizing it, and breaking these rules can be awkward. Here is an example: A young, fast track employee was invited to play golf with his CEO at the local country club. In the clubhouse, he conversed with a group of teens dressed for golf and commented that the teens were industrious to be working as caddies to pay for college. These were trust-fund children of affluent families who were playing golf for both fun and networking, and for whom paying for college was not a worry. When this comment was made, it was obvious to the rest of the group that the fast-track employee’s observation was inaccurate.
What are the most effective ways of building bridging social capital?
  • Marry well
  • Serve on Board of Directors
  • Attend charity events
  • Find mentors
  • Use your investigative skills to learn the different “rules” across class lines
Lin, Nan. 1990. “Social Resources and Social Mobility: A Structural Theory of Status Attainment.” Pp. 247-271 in Social Mobility and Social Structure, Ronald L. Breiger, ed. New York: Cambridge University Press.

April 16, 2010
Written By: Jensen Consulting

A few weeks ago, we sent out postcards talking about our Executive Assessment Center

The newest addition to the Jensen Consulting team, Dr. Michelle Clark, leads the evaluations, simulations, interviews and psychological and cognitive testing used to help our clients solve important people decisions.  As a business psychologist, Michelle is uniquely qualified to gather and interpret the information necessary to help you answer questions such as:
  • Which of three qualified candidates will be the best performer in your organization?
  • How do you save a talented performer from his/her blind spots?
  • Are the right executives in the right roles?
  • Who are the next generation leaders in your company?
Our Executive Assessment Center is the only one of its kind in Iowa.  From start to finish, we’ll work with you to determine the appropriate assessments for your situation, conduct the tests and evaluations , as well as interpret the results. 


March 19, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

Some of the most memorable Executive Roundtable discussions we’ve had over the last few years have been case studies. Not the academic case studies you might pick out of a management journal, but living, breathing case studies of past clients, with the names and details changed to protect the innocent.

We tackled a couple last week, courtesy of a talented colleague. The discussion began with basic descriptive information of two owner managed businesses, and an overview from the consultant’s perspective regarding the following:
  • Competitive advantages
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Owner issues
  • Management issues
  • Use of financial reports and other metrics
The groups then spent some time exploring a key challenge each business is facing, and how they might think differently about their options. 
Even before we got to the discussions, the third party assessment of each business was clearly of great interest to our Roundtable clients. It was easy to see that each of them was thinking “what would an independent outsider say about my business?” Great question.
Experienced leaders know that gathering the leadership team to conduct a SWOT analysis is useful and important, but the analysis is also colored by the insider perspective the team brings to bear.  An outside/in look at your business by someone who can bring a range of experience and a truly independent point of view is invaluable. Find a way to build that in to your game. Sources of this perspective can come from peer groups such as our Roundtables, YPO, or similar programs, as well as trusted industry peers, business advisors and mentors. 
Throughout the years, I have witnessed and facilitated numerous outside/in conversations that have been productive to both the outside and inside parties. There is little doubt that this type of perspective can send you towards a dialogue that will provide clarity and a dialogue that will go a long way in strengthening your strategic planning and decision making processes.
So how are you going to get started?


March 5, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

This morning I asked a client how his energy has been over the last few weeks. We’ve learned that his energy level is a good barometer for him. When his energy is high he is fully engaged and is at his best more often. When his energy is low things aren’t going so well and he needs to identify what is getting in the way of his, and his company’s, success and tackle it. 

In my experience good leaders almost always have a fairly high level of self awareness. They know their style, their strengths and their stumbling blocks, and they have a sense for the early warning signals that tell them when it is time for a course correction.
So what are your personal “leading indicators”? Here are some to consider monitoring to help you operate at your best more often:
  • Energy – You saw this one coming, didn’t you?
  • Interpersonal conflict – Is the frequency and degree of interpersonal conflict higher or lower than when you are at your best?
  • Personal productivity – Are you getting things done or are you just generating activity?
  • Focus – Are you spending the right amount of time on the right issues?
  • Communication – Are communication gaps and surprises popping up?
  • Your desk – For some executives it is as simple as noticing the condition of their desktop in the morning and in the evening.
Spend a little time compiling your personal “leading indicators” list, and touch base with yourself weekly to see how you are doing. And, if you’d like, let me know if it makes a difference for you.

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