Sunday, November 9, 2014

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Question 5

Who are the people that I will engage the most?

In answering the first four questions, you likely came to realize that your ability to get anything done is dependent on your relationships. Your legacy and delivering your gift requires you to pay close attention to whom you engage and how you do it. Your success depends on engaging those people that will support, help, and contribute to it, as well as those that will benefit from your gift. It never ceases to captivate my attention when someone is intentional in not only who they choose to engage, rather they pay even more attention to how they do it. That is, how they treat and influence people with mutual respect.

There’s a great deal of advice available on how to network, with whom to network, and how to influence others to get what you want. No doubt, the market for such advice would not exist if there was not a tremendous interest and need for it. It covers all the possibilities from how to engage our families and friends, to building relationships in your community, to how to influence people we work and do business with. These include coworkers, bosses, peers, and customers (just to name a few). Of course, with the increased span of relationships offered through social media, the possibilities appear almost endless.

It may serve us best to first consider what our legacy will be and that not only is it important to identify whom to engage. It is just as important to recognize how to best engage them to build the trusting relationships necessary for trust, mutual respect, and true mutual benefit. After all, your legacy is defined by your relationships and it is through your relationships that you get things done.

One of the most difficult aspects of knowing whom to engage the most can be based on a number of factors. The most often identified themes of managing relationships are knowing who to say “yes” and “no” to and knowing how to ask for help when you need it most. One condition is certain, we have limited time and so we must be very aware of who we choose to engage with, as well as why and how. To help you in making decisions as to whom to engage and share your time with, I am offering four categories of people to engage with:

1.     People with Influence: This is often the first group we recognize and include people in positions that can effect access to resources and through their connections, influence others to provide assets and means allowing you to get things done. This includes connectivity to decision makers and those in positions of key influence.

2.     People Willing to Help. This includes not only the people that are willing to directly contribute by way of time and resources, this also encompasses those that are willing to share information, knowledge, feedback, and the know-how required to get things done. It’s great to have forthright mentors and coaches willing to give you what is often the most difficult thing to ask for… feedback. Let’s face it, it’s not always easy to find those willing to share their truth and give you candid observations and insights. Whether you perceive it as positive or negative, the person that gives you the gift of honesty is often the one you may want to engage more. When you find them, I suggest keeping them by engaging them often.

3.     People of Passion. There is a great deal of value in engaging people with the same passion for the gift you have to offer and love what you’re about. Quite simply, emotion is everything and whatever your purpose is, finding those with a shared passion and mission is invaluable. Commitment is about keeping promises. When so much of our conversation is about accountability, it may serve you better to find those committed to your purpose and not spend too much time with those not on board. Shared passion is a wonderful source of commitment and we naturally attract those who align with our true intention.

4.     People You Are in Service To. The recipients of your gift and those affected by your purpose are key to your success. Listen carefully to what they can offer you and in particular, what they have to say. Pay attention to what they think, feel and see, and you will benefit. They will often take on the role of being your best advocates and supporters, and actively engaging to help you create the greatest return for your time and energy, and theirs. That being said, keep in mind that to be able to give a gift, someone must be willing to receive it. It’s a matter of generosity and the influence you gain by your giving of it.

I’m certain that you can come up with other ideas and ways to define those with whom we can consider engaging. You are welcome to share them and to take part in the conversation ( The bottom line is that you don’t get anything done by yourself. This is a truth we all share. Globally, we are all part of an interdependent community, allowing us the opportunity to deliver our unique gift to the world and pursue our aspirations and dreams.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Questions 3 & 4

By Edgar Papke

This is the third installment in the five-part series focusing on the five questions leaders need to ask of themselves. Asking the five questions, and taking the time to answer them with consideration of your inner truth and intention, is a simple, yet very valuable gift to you. Giving yourself this gift is often the path to giving your gift to others and sharing it with the world.

The first two questions are “What is my gift?” and “What will be the key priorities of my focus?”  Having answered these, you’re ready to move on to the more strategic thinking the next two questions require of you. You’ll likely find yourself in the position of making some difficult decisions. The most powerful thing you have in your life is choice. The choice to do and say what you want. With this power comes great responsibility. The responsibility you have to yourself and how you focus your time and energy.

Question #3:  What will I start doing or do more of?

A common trait of truly great leaders is to know themselves better and improve. In connection with this trait leaders are often hard on themselves. They spend a great deal of time working to overcome their perceived weaknesses. Yet they get most of their meaningful results from leveraging their strengths.

Peter Drucker once wrote, “Do not try to change yourself – you are unlikely to succeed. Work the way you perform.” This reminds us of the power of our personal strengths and the importance of leveraging them. Take a look back and you’ll likely find that the majority of your significant accomplishments and successes are the result of applying your key talents and strengths.

When it comes to the activities you engage in, it’s never a bad idea to take an inventory of what you spend your time actually doing that delivers the best results and contributes most to reaching your goals. I suggest talking the time to create a list of what you spend most of your time doing and then identifying the strengths, talents and traits of behavior you most rely on and use. Once you’ve done so, you’ll be able to go back and identify what works best for you and what you may consider focusing doing more of. Pay attention to when you’re performing at your best and you’ll find a great deal of what you are truly capable of and the power of leaning into the few things you do exceptionally well. Don’t these for granted.

Whether it’s communicating and spending time in dialogue with others, solving complex problems, spending time with the important people in your life, engaging in learning activities, exercising, coaching others to develop technical and business skills, or taking the time necessary for self-reflection, you’ll likely find that your path to success has some distinct and repetitive elements well worth spending more of your time doing.

At the interpersonal level, explore how you interact with others and what your best behaviors of influence are. First and foremost, take an inventory of the aspects of communication and identify where your strengths lie. Among others, these can include listening and the art of inquiry, clearly and consistently communicating your vision and strategies, setting and clearly articulating expectations, and confronting conflict in a respectful and constructive manner. At an interpersonal level, your strengths are key assets to your influence and success and knowing what to lean into and do more of can often help you overcome your shortfalls.

When it comes to activities, it’s often too difficult to try to balance everything you engage. I suggest giving yourself time pursue your interests and passions, even if they are not business driven. What you learn about yourself, how you find fulfillment and happiness, and how you live to your fullest human potential will certainly pay dividends in your business pursuits. Doing a bucket list is often a good approach. An inventory of what you really want to do and accomplish will help you in sorting out the many options you have. From there, you can make more informed choices and what to start doing and doing more of.

Question #4: What will I stop doing or do less of?

 In my coaching and speaking to audiences, I often find myself reminding leaders that great strategic thinking and action isn’t just about doing more and adding more to our plates. Greatness doesn’t always come from responding to the question, “What else do I need to be doing?” Often the best strategic question to ask is, “What do I need to stop doing?”

In today’s world it’s relatively easy to get consumed in the variety of activities that compete for our attention. Let’s face it, it is all quite tempting: email, texting, surfing the Internet, watching YouTube videos, and variety of other technology-driven activities. That’s not to mention the many people that want your time and attention.

It’s easy to lose focus on how you best accomplish what you do and the importance of the more valuable activities you identified by answering question #2. Add to that the challenges of saying “no” and the natural tendency of wanting to take on every opportunity, we can often find ourselves using our time and energy in an ineffective manner.

As I’ve already mentioned, great execution and performance are not always the result of doing more. It’s often a matter of figuring out what to stop doing. Make a list of everything you’re engaged in, explore the value of each to your professional and life goals (you may try using a ranking method of 1 for the least important and valuable to 5 for the most important and essential activities), and you’ll quickly discover that there’s great value in finding what you can stop doing and spending your time on. It’s so very true: time is your most valuable resource you have to work with. It’s a shame to waste it or use it ineffectively or inefficiently.

At an interpersonal level… When it domes to confronting conflict, one of the greatest uses of time and energy is the avoidance of conflict. In most cases, it’s not only a matter of wasting time. It’s also a matter of loosing valuable leadership influence. In my experience coaching leaders, this is the single most difficult yet valuable change to focus on making. To stop avoiding conflict, or engaging in indirect conflict management such as coalition building and covert influence, may be the greatest accomplishment that leaders can achieve to stop engaging in behaviors and activities that get in the way of using their time better.

Looking Ahead: Once you’ve answered the first four questions, you are ready to explore the question that relates to the aspect of leadership through which you get everything done… your relationships with others. For many leaders, the fifth question is the most difficult to wrestle with. That being said, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For much of who and how you engage others, and what you get from your relationships will be a reflection of your responses and learning from the first four questions. Here’s top looking ahead to the challenge.

As always, you are welcomed to the conversation. Please email me ( with your questions, thoughts and comments, and to share your ideas. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Second Question

By Edgar Papke

This is the second installment in the five-part series focusing on the five questions leaders need to ask of themselves. If you read the first installment, you likely discovered the five questions I am suggesting you answer are not new. That being said, they withstand the test of time. While they are simple to ask, yet they are often hard to answer. You may already have discovered this truth. This is because when asked of yourself, you’ll find that they are powerful.

Asking the five questions, and taking the time to answer them with consideration of your inner truth and intention, is a simple, yet very valuable gift to you. Giving yourself this gift is often the path to giving your gift to others and sharing it with the world. As corny as it may sound, the first question is a gift that keeps giving. This is why we began with the question, “What is my gift?” 

I now invite you to turn your attention to the second question:

What will be the key priorities of my focus?

Needless to say, the complexities of life can be nothing short of daunting. We can be, and often are, overwhelmed with the amount of communication and activity that we engage in every day of our lives. For leaders, with an expectation of doing more than most, this often results in the anxiety and fear associated with trying to juggle multiple priorities. Taking the time to reflect on our priorities can be a challenge. So much so, that studies show that the change many leaders would make in how they use their time would be to spend more of it reflecting on what they are doing, how it impacts their lives and decision-making, and how to use their time that best aligns to manifesting their purpose and mission, and acting in alignment to their legacy as a leader.

When we think of all the analogies that go with how we think about managing our priorities, the two that come to mind most often are juggling and balancing. The third is the analogy of keeping multiple plates spinning. What these all have in common is a fear of failure. Don’t loose balance and fall or loose direction. Don’t let a ball drop, or have plates crashing to the ground. At any level, the fears of failing or losing control can cause a great deal of anxiety and stress, as well as hide the fact that perhaps you’re simply trying to take on too much. It’s not uncommon for leaders to do so as they strive to meet multiple commitments, keep promises, be competent, and make sure that the people and organizations around them are not feeling ignored.

I’m going to suggest that you confront the fear and let things fall. It’s hard to keep your eye on all the priorities you’re juggling and spinning. So, why not let them fall?  It’s when they come to rest and you see all the competing interests before you, that you can gain some clarity and better sense of what you’re pursuing. I don’t mean this in a literal sense, that you not keep your current commitments or follow through on the activities you’re presently engaged in. What I am suggesting is that you step back and list all your priorities and examine how you’re spending your time. Then, based on your answer to the first question, examine your perceived priorities and identify the key two or three that provide the biggest return for your time and energy. In other words, stop trying to keep adding more priorities to your life and work, and focus on doing what best supports reaching your goals and which align to the fulfillment of your mission and purpose, and manifesting and delivering your gift.

So much of what you actually get done depends on your ability to truly focus on the quality of your work, including how you manage your relationships. It’s fear and unproductive stress that can get in the way. I’m merely suggesting it’s good to stop now and then to examine and reset your priorities, re-identifying what matters most, before events force you to. As a leader, you likely already know that if you don’t take the initiative to do it, life will remind you to.

If you find that you have four, five or possibly more key priorities, I suggest looking at them again and assuring that they are the best use of your focus, time and efforts. In my experience working with high-performing leaders, those that focus on two or three typically perform the best. When goals are accomplished, then they reevaluate and find the next priority to focus on. This thinking applies to work and key relationships, as well as the personal goals you are pursuing.

Answering this second question will undoubtedly lead you to the next two, asking you to consider what you ought to spend more time doing, as well as what you may want to spend less time doing. Before you do, please take some time to reflect on your priorities, how they align to your gift, and how you can be more focused on them. If there’s ever an application of the “80/20 rule”, you’ll likely to find it in your answer.

If you haven’t taken the time to consider the first question, I suggest you stop here and go back to it… trust in the process. It is the foundation from which to begin exploring the four questions that follow. As always, you are welcomed to the conversation. Please email me ( with your questions, thoughts and comments, and to share your ideas. Thank you.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


By Edgar Papke

Self-evaluation is a powerful exercise to undertake on a regular basis. This holds true for anyone in a position of leadership. Even if you’re already stopping from time-to-time to do so, it’s likely you’re not stopping often enough to reflect on who you are as a leader and how well you’re intentionally aligned. To evaluate yourself effectively, you have to ask yourself the right questions.

I spend my time in a variety of conversations with leaders, as well as with those that are in service to them as consultants and coaches. Many of my conversations focus on exploring the key questions leaders need to ask themselves in evaluating who they are, where they are, how they got there, and what they need to focus on going forward. While a host of great questions repeatedly come up, there are five that I find to be consistently the most powerful and valuable for leaders to use in assessing their personal alignment.

I suggest you begin with these five questions. If need be, schedule time on your calendar to focus on them. You may want to record and further reflect on your responses and engage in conversation with the key people in your life. I’m certain you’ll find value in the feedback and insights you’ll gain from the conversations, as well as the quiet time you take to reflect.

In the process of answering the five questions, you may come up with additional ones to ask yourself. I suggest taking time to explore your thinking and emotions in the process. That being said, I will caution you to not add too many questions to your list. It’s often too easy to complicate things and wind up in a familiar place of adding too much to your plate. This is all too often a struggle for leaders. Remember, that keeping it simple is one of the more powerful trademarks of great leadership.

The first of the five questions of personal alignment leaders need to ask of themselves is:

1.         What is my gift?

Yes, you have a gift to offer. Every person has something to offer and contribute. Without it, you’d not likely to be in a position of influencing others and being a leader. You can frame your gift as your purpose, mission, or personal vision of what you contribute to the world and the lives of others. I suggest you give it any name you like. In the end, every person is a gift to the world. As a leader, you’re held to a higher standard in how you manifest it and the level the gift you have to offer serves others.

Your true influence as a leader emanates from what you offer the world. In spoken and unspoken terms, others expect you to make a contribution to their lives—else they wouldn’t be following you. While it may appear a bit cliché, I suggest beginning with defining your legacy. In simple terms, we all come into the world with nothing and we leave the same way. What we leave behind is our legacy. Your legacy is an expression of how people perceive the way you live, the contribution you’re making to the world, and how you treat the people you influence. Whether it’s through those close to you, or those observing your actions from afar, it’s always about your relationships and the trust you achieve by keeping your commitments and promises.

Great leaders give us gifts. By doing so, they remind us of what is possible. At any level, from a software development manager giving the gift of coaching for others to be more successful and reaching their goals, to Nelson Mandela’s gift of reminding us of the human capacity for compassion, forgiveness and personal freedom, all leaders have a gift to give the world. What is your gift and how will you live and act in alignment to it? The true meaning of leadership is to plant the seeds of possibility and inspire others to unleash their imagination. How aligned are you to what you believe and dream is possible?

The following are the other four questions leaders need to ask of themselves, each of which I’ll explore through the upcoming posts in this series:

2.         What are my key priorities to focus on?

3.         What will I start doing or do more of?

4.         What will I stop doing or do less of?

5.         Who are the people that I will engage the most?

I suggest beginning with the first question now. Explore and work toward your own personal clarity of your gift as a leader. Once you’ve done so, you’ll have a great foundation from which to begin exploring the four questions that follow. As always, you are invited to the conversation. Please email me ( with your questions, thoughts and comments. Thank you.

Friday, November 29, 2013


What are the traits of an organization’s or team’s culture that most influence the ability of its people to innovate? What separates leaders of innovation from their competition? All too often, we look to the physical environment for the answers, relying on providing unique workspaces, furnishings, engaging colors, fun play areas, and unique applications of technology. Yet among the factors of culture that contribute to, or inhibit innovation and creativity, none is more telling as communication. And of the behaviors that effect that communication, none is as powerful as listening.

Starting with the basic premise that business is the most advanced form of art we engage in as human beings, success depends on the creativity and innovation of the artists. This requires an environment in which they can freely be imaginative, inventive, and without the fear associated with the risk of being genuine and authentic.

This is an important aspect of organizational and team culture too often overlooked and far too frequently given lip service to. Think how often leaders encourage their employees, staffers, and team members to “think outside the box” and “take risk”, or express themselves openly only to ignore them when they do act expressively and creatively, or with unbridled imagination. One of the true keys to the successful innovation of any organization or team is the ability of its members to express their creative thoughts openly and without fear. This puts the act of listening square at the center of innovation itself. An unheard idea is an unheard opportunity.

There are a number of reasons listening is such a powerful force behind innovation. At the core, it begins with how artists relate to and are motivated by being listened to. In the end, all artists want to be heard, regardless of the form it takes. Much like painters want to talk through their brush and canvas, engineers display their creativity through fantastic displays of technology and design. At the core of this motivation is our desire to be paid attention to and the belief that we have something of value to offer. Beginning with early childhood, we live under the assumption that we will be paid attention to. Throughout our lives, we measure our self worth to how well we are heard.

Having our ideas heard and paid attention to are also powerful ways through which we allow ourselves to feel competent and contributing. Sure, at the end of the day, not every idea or suggestion is a good one. Yet, how will one know unless it is heard? Most often, an idea is a seed from which better ideas germinate and offers the opportunity for exploration and the resulting innovation. A new idea is the first flicker of light that may also present a challenge that stimulates additional thinking and discovery. Not to mention the times when a group of people find themselves in search of the next idea or struggling to move forward.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with a good number of innovative, high performing teams. They not only benefitted from struggling now and then. They all conveyed a sense of shared understanding that creativity is the building of one idea on another and was often the direct result of their shared struggle, until one person taking a risk sparked a desperately needed spark of invention. Not every idea is the winner. Creativity and innovation are continuous works in progress and can only come about as team members and their leaders truly listen to and hear one another. And often struggle together.

Innovation is the product of our desire to fulfill a higher need, pursue a calling, or simply to compete and win against our competition. It’s important to recognize the importance listening has in motivating one another to feel involved, to have a sense of competency and contribution, and to engage one another in the unbridled ability to take risk and unleash our individual and collective inhibited imaginations.

All the great leaders of innovative cultures that I have had the pleasure to work with over the past twenty-plus years all share a common trait. It is the ability to listen and invite others to continuously explore and discover new ways to think. They are all much more about inquiry and asking questions than telling and critiquing. They challenge not through demand, rather through constructive questioning and respectfully paying attention to what others have to say and the ideas they have to offer. They all demonstrate an ability to listen and encourage others to share their ideas. They also know it’s far better to be a listener that motivates innovation than being a poor listener that is forced to deal with team members that are angry at being ignored or unheard, and that play out their resentment and anger by channeling their creativity into waging destructive conflict, or choosing to not engage at all.

Monday, March 11, 2013


Among business leaders and students of organizations, there is a great deal of attention being paid to the idea of creating and leading cultures of innovation. In exploring this idea, we soon realize that the concepts surrounding what an innovation culture is, and how to create and lead a culture of innovation, are, in fact, not new. Throughout our history, innovation has always been a key driver of business and market competition, and therefore, of our organizations and teams. It is natural to us, as human beings, to strive to find new ways to do things and creatively engage in designing products and services that respond to markets and customers.  It’s also not new to us to engage in continuously advancing processes, methods, and activities, the result of which is to be more innovative and deliver new and more accomplished products and services that increase the level of competition. 

If the idea of innovation cultures is not new to us, what is it that makes creating and sustaining them so perplexing? One reason is that, when it comes to innovation, we typically first focus on the process of design. Even if we’re successful, having great processes and methods for innovation are only a part of the formula for success. What really keeps us challenged is the human aspect and how people come together to use the processes and systems that we intend to drive innovation. Processes and systems are, in the end, are always dependent on how well people apply them. At the forefront of the challenges leaders face in successfully creating and leading a culture of innovation are two key ingredients: people and the environment that fosters innovation.

For innovation to truly come to life requires an environment where people can come together that promotes, encourages and supports risk-taking, creativity, and imagination. This is not easy. For these to exist, leaders must take on the challenge of leveraging the human desire and motivation that result in the ingenuity they seek. In my experience, this requires the leveraging of four key elements that influence how people create and work in an environment of innovation: alignment, expertise, participation and choice. While there are other factors that may contribute to success, these four elements are aspects of human motivation that are key to the successful creation and sustainability of an innovation culture.

Alignment.    A simple and powerful force of any high performing culture is demonstrated through the reliability of its members to trust their understanding and alignment of the “what,” “why” and “how” things get done.

·       The “what” is the shared understanding of the goal and outcome of the group, team, or organization.

·       The “why” is the emotional driver that is found in the benefit of that outcome and provides purpose. This holds true regardless of whether it is a social benefit or merely the desire to beat the competition.

·       The “how” begins with the steps and the processes that people engage in and quickly finds its way into the norms of behavior that define its culture. Among these norms are planning, decision-making, role definition, communication, how conflict is managed, and the role of recognition and reward.

Alignment provides predictability. This powerful aspect of culture is often overlooked. Alignment provides consistency in how people, at an individual and group level, interpret how success is obtained. The more predictable the environment and its corresponding rules of behavior (which we also refer to as its norms), the more confident its members are. This is the confidence that comes from being free of the fear associated with the consequences of behaving and being outside the norms. Such confidence results in less wasted energy spent on worry and conflict, and an increased commitment to the shared outcome of the group. In other words, the greater the level of safety and confidence, the higher the level of performance.

Expertise.    Every creative endeavor has a baseline requirement of expertise and competency, a set of skills and knowledge that must be in place to attain success. Cultures that innovate typically accomplish this through two means. The first is to find and add individuals with specific knowledge and competencies. The second is to develop and train current members and provide them with higher levels of expertise and capability. Regardless of the approach, the intention of increasing expertise is to leverage an ever-increasing value of know-how and skills resulting in new insights and thinking, and that challenges people in the culture to continuously improve and become better—to raise their game. 

There is another aspect of expertise that is vital to recognize. When a team or organization raises its level of expertise, it typically results in higher levels of competition among its members. It is natural for us, as human beings, to compete with one another. In high-functioning groups, such competition results in the collaboration through which individuals challenge and push one another. This highlights the need to also develop interpersonal and team skills—competencies easily overlooked—that support the cooperative competition that results in innovation.

Participation.   It is said, and it has been well documented throughout history, that human beings are social animals. At some level, we all desire to participate, to feel included and be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are motivated by the desire to be connected, to have a sense of membership and the sense of self-value that we get when others ask us for our thoughts and ideas. Of great importance is that such participation can only fully manifest itself when people feel listened to. It’s one thing to ask someone for input. It’s another to listen to it. Even if the contribution isn’t used, it is vital for the continuation of participation that they are heard and responded to. Often when people don’t feel a part of, and not listened to, they withdraw and their contributions are never made. Not only does this potentially limit or undermine innovation, the resulting conflict can often manifest in the sabotage of collaboration and teamwork.

Participation is also fundamental to how we challenge ourselves, and one another. My simple definition of innovation is the building of one idea on another. Without multiple sources of idea generation that result from participation, innovation is limited. Great recipes for success rarely have but one ingredient. People feel wanted, connected and important when they are invited to participate. This is a key to any great culture of innovation.

Choice.   The word choice, in of itself, represents empowerment. It brings to mind of the power of autonomy, inventiveness, personal responsibility, and freedom. In an innovative culture, these ideas manifest in the ability of its members to express openly what they think, see and feel. Both powerful and simple, choice allows the members of organizations and teams to express their truth and to be authentic. Without such openness, innovation is never fully expressed or established.

There’s another aspect of choice and authenticity that is easy to inhibit. It is imagination. It’s hard to separate imagination and innovation, let alone to detach them from creativity.

When personal choice and the authenticity of individual expression are present in a culture, its members are more readily inspired and are more inventive. For an innovative culture to exist and succeed requires its people to be motivated to express not only their proven concepts and designs. It requires the freedom to, without fear of humiliation or rejection, to share their wildest and most radical ideas. It is only through the authenticity and openness that results from choice, that innovation is truly legitimized.