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Leadership Lessons from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on its 157th Anniversary

Posted on December 16, 2021 at 6:00 PM

On November 19, 1863, United States' President Abraham Lincoln addressed a crowd gathered to dedicate the cemetery for the soldiers killed at the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg four months earlier. At just 271 words, Lincoln's speech was much shorter than the two-hour, 13,000 word speech that the event's main speaker, former Governor and Senator Edward Everett, delivered before Lincoln. Lincoln's words that day stand as one of the greatest political speeches in world history. It continues to provide communications lessons for leaders today. Assessing each part of the speech shines a light on the brilliance behind it.


"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."


Even though his country was consumed by civil war, Lincoln starts by bringing his audience back to the founding of the United States and reminding his fellow Americans what they agreed upon then. In many ways, Lincoln is capturing the values and mission statement for the United States in one elegant sentence. To call attention to it, he even starts the sentence with a flourish - saying "four score and seven" instead of "eighty-seven."


LESSON -> Starting a speech by revisiting shared goals can be a useful approach for speakers today. Starting on a positive note also gets people people agreeing with you and may break them out of skepticism coming in.


"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this."


Lincoln uses the next part of his speech to connect his speech and his audience to those original principles. He is attempting to elevate the context of why they are gathered. It is not just about a battle in the war, or about the war itself. It is about those original principles that the war is being fought to hold up.


LESSON -> Recast issues in the context of your organization's values and mission. People still might disagree with your plan, but at least you will be reminding them of the goals and values you share.


"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."


Lincoln now brings an emotional note to his speech to connect with his audience on a deeper level. He links the ultimate sacrifice of the soldiers killed there to the purpose of the war that he outlined in the sentences above. Lincoln uses this last sentence to build a personal connection with with his audience by using "we" and saying that his words, even as President of the United States, do not compare to the sacrifice of the soldiers in the cemetery.


LESSON -> Speakers need to remember to focus not just on how they are delivering their message, but on how their recipients are receiving it. Speakers needs to build a personal connection with their audiences so their message is welcomed like a guest and not pushed away like an intruder.


"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."


Lincoln ends by tying the themes above into a clear call to action for his audience. He does not just want them to feel emotional or inspired, he wants them to act through "increased devotion to that cause." He connects his audience to the fallen soldiers they are memorializing by saying the soldier's "unfinished work" is now "the great task remaining before us." It is almost like he wants each member of the audience to see a baton being passed to them from a soldier resting in his grave. Lincoln closes on the highest, most aspirational note possible, by tying their task - the victory of the cause he leads - not just to American history, but to world history. Having no higher place to go, Lincoln stops there to let his words stand on their own and sink in for eternity.


LESSON -> Even if a leader is great at connecting and communication a message, their efforts will be futile if the audience does not do something with that message. Leaders need to leave their audience with a clear call to action - an understanding of one or two specific actions they can take to follow up on the message they just received.


I get chills reading these words so many years later. Lincoln's speech became timeless because he stripped it down the essential message he wanted to deliver and put it in the broadest context possible. It provides an aspirational roadmap for leaders today seeking to inspire others.

5 Leadership Lessons from the Chilean Miner Rescue in 2010

Posted on November 18, 2020 at 7:40 AM

Ten years ago, 33 miners were rescued after enduring 69 days trapped 700 meters (2300 feet) below ground after a cave-in of their copper-gold mine in Chile. The world waited for 17 days before the miners were able to communicate that they were still alive. The miners survived the ordeal through exceptional effort and leadership. Here are 5 leadership lessons from their experience.


1 - A Leader Steps Up - Luis Urzúa was the designated supervisor for the shift working at the time of the collapse. After the cave-in, the 54 year old Urzúa realized the seriousness of the situation and stepped up to provide the leadership he knew they would need. When the miners were finally rescued, one by one, Urzúa was the last one to be rescued, twenty hours after the first person was rescued. Urzúa led by example all the way to the end.


2 - Have a Plan - After the cave-in, Urzúa immediately gathered his men and started planning. He gathered their food and other resources to have a plan on allocating them. He sent out a scouting party to assess the situation and search for escape routes. By quickly organizing the men around a plan, Urzúa filled a potential leadership vacuum that could have led the group to devolve into chaos.


3 - Assign Roles - The men organized themselves into a team, each with distinct roles. One was the medic. One was the communications specialist. Others focused on providing spiritual and psychological support. By assigning roles, the team ensured that all the important tasks were covered and that people were not stepping all over each other. Each team member felt like they controlled something in their very difficult environment.


4 - Commit to Teamwork - The men knew that teamwork would be essential to their survival. One of the miners explained it this way after being rescued: "All 33 trapped miners, practicing a one-man, one-vote, worked together to maintain the mine, look for escape routes and keep up morale. We knew that if society broke down we would all be doomed. Each day a different person took a bad turn. Every time that happened, we worked as a team to try to keep the morale up."


5 - Have Backup Plans - Rescuers above-ground drilled down to reach and free the trapped miners. They drilled three separate holes using three different types of equipment and three different types of approaches. By doing so, they were managing the risk that any one approach would fail. That likely built confidence among the miners that rescuers were making the maximum effort to save them.


Extraordinary circumstances can bring out extraordinary examples of teamwork and leadership. Being stuck for three months in the dark below hundreds of feet of rock was an extraordinary experience for these 33 miners. Their lessons can help leaders and teams today in much more mundane circumstances.


Source: Facts and history referred in this article were gathered from Wikipedia.



5 Team Leadership Lessons from The Beatles

Posted on October 9, 2020 at 8:35 AM

October 9th, 2020 would have been John Lennon's 80th birthday. Lennon was one of the most successful music artists in human history. And he was taken away way too soon. He was also a founder of a band - The Beatles - that created billions of dollars of commercial success. The Beatles success arose from their talent as creative artists and performers. They were also successful because they were able to stay together as a highly-productive team for 10 years. While many fans wished they stayed together longer, The Beatles did produce an astounding 13 albums during that time. Here are 7 team leadership lessons from The Beatles.


1 - Found the Right Team - John Lennon was in a band and invited Paul McCartney. McCartney invited his friend George Harrison to join. Those three would peel off and become the Beatles in 1960. There were five other members of the Beatles in the first two years of the band. Some of those members left on their own, but the core three did not settle until they found what they were looking for. They dismissed drummer, Pete Best, so they could plug in Ringo Starr in 1962. The "Fab Four" was now complete and would stay together until the end of the bad in 1970.


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> Dismissing the weakest performers on a team is painful, but it can be essential for teams to reach their full potential.


2- Share Credit - John and Paul were the main songwriters at the beginning. They would collaborate on songs, with each taking the lead on some and playing a secondary role on others. Instead of quibbling over who would be listed as lead versus support on each song, they decided to just list themselves as co-writers on everything they did together. They even wanted to give everyone in the band a chance to be a singer, so they wrote songs that Ringo could since with his limited vocal range - e.g., Yellow Submarine.


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> The Beatles viewed themselves as a unit of equals who brought different, important skills to the team. That helped them stay together through 10 years of huge change, from anonymity in their late teens / early 20s to worldwide celebrity and marriage and fatherhood by 1970.


3 - Cross-Training - The Beatles learned new skills so they could complement and fill in for each other. In the early days when they lost their bassist, Paul dropped the guitar and learned bass to take over that role. George emerged as a songwriter to complement John and Paul. Harrison helped Ringo write a few songs too.


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> Learning the skills of other team members is valuable. It provides an ability for the team to keep working through absences. It also helps team members appreciate what other team members do.


4 - Looked for Best Practices - Even when they were on top of the world, The Beatles kept looking for inspiration from other bands and forms of music. The revolutionary album Pet Sounds by Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, for example, was said to have had a big impact on The Beatles. They also appreciated contemporaries like Bob Dylan, The Who, The Rolling Stones and others. They even found inspiration from classical music, adding orchestras to some of their later music.


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> Smart teams keep an eye on the competition to see what they need to do to stay on top.


5 - Embraced Change - Success can breed complacency. The Beatles did not let their success make them complacent. When their success got big, they decided to start making films too as a new way to cash in. When their fame got too big to do small arenas, they started playing outdoor stadiums. When they got too big for that, they became a studio-only band. When the music world evolved from catchy, teen-friendly tunes in the early 1960s to more socially-conscious music shaped by anti-war feelings in the late 1960s, The Beatles evolved there as well.


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> Smart teams learn to sense and adapt to changes in their environment so they do not get left behind.


The Beatles were more than just a band - they were a team that stayed together for a decade through remarkable change and success. They weren't just talented artists - they were great team members. Teams today in any field can learn from their experience as a a high-functioning team.

5 Leadership Lessons from President Eisenhower

Posted on September 16, 2020 at 8:45 PM

A new memorial opens this week in Washington DC to honor the memory of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States and the commanding general for the Allies in the European theater of World War II. There have been 45 presidents of the United States and Eisenhower will be just the fifth to be celebrated with a federal memorial or monument in Washington DC proper. Eisenhower joins an elite club - Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt - with that distinction.


Here are five lessons from Eisenhower's remarkable life and career that can help leaders in any area today.

1 - He Overcame Personal Tragedies - At about age 12, Eisenhower was involved in an accident that resulted in his four year old brother losing an eye. Eisenhower failed to notice his toddler brother reaching for a knife he had just used. Eisenhower felt remorse for the rest of his life. Eisenhower had to overcome an injury of his own as a high school freshman. He suffered a leg injury that became infected, and his doctor deemed it life-threatening and recommending amputation. Eisenhower refused and he recovered. Finally, as an adult, Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, lost their first son to Scarlett Fever at the age of three in 1921. Eisenhower would call his son's death "the most shattering moment of their lives, one that almost destroyed their marriage"


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> The resilience Eisenhower learned as a child and young father served him well as a general and president, where he had to overcome many crises.


2 - He Benefitted from a Great Peer Group - Eisenhower went to college at West Point (the United States Military Academy), graduating in 1915. His class is called "the class the stars fell on" because 59 of the 164 graduates (36 percent) that year ended up making the rank of general, more than any other class in West Point's history. Eisenhower graduated in the middle of his class. The success of his classmates probably spurred and encouraged Eisenhower to pursue success in his own career. Many of his classmates would end up reporting to him after he became a general.


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> Surround yourself with A-Team players. They will help you set high expectations for yourself. They will also give you a network of valuable allies to help you.


3 - He Was a Patient Late Bloomer - Eisenhower was disappointed that he had not had a chance, like many of his peers, to get combat experience in World War I, which was seen as a fast track to promotion. Because the US Army shrank after World War I, many officers in Eisenhower's peer group saw little chance for promotion. Eisenhower was "stuck" at the rank of Major for over 12 years. Eisenhower was limited to being a staffer to generals for many of these years, but some of the generals he served were legends - including Douglas McArthur, George Marshall, and John Pershing. The lessons he learned from these generals must have been valuable training for when he would become a general himself. His patience paid off. After he finally got promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1936, Eisenhower's trajectory was fast, making Colonel five years later, and then one-star general just months later on the eve of the US entry into World War II.


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> Focus less on the speed of your climb up the corporate ladder, and focus more on the lessons you can learn along the way that will help you when you get to the top.


4 - He Embraced Responsibility - Eisenhower made it very clear that he took all responsibility for the success or failure of the actions under his command. For example, he crafted the following statement to be released if the D-Day invasion of Normandy had been repulsed by the Germans - "Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone." Thankfully, he never had to issue that statement.


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> Leaders know they personally have the ultimate responsibility for the performance of their teams. They use that as a self-motivational tool to manage the risk of everything under their command. They provide air cover for their subordinates by taking responsibility for the strategies those subordinates were attempting to execute.


5 - He Kept Hobbies to Relax - Eisenhower made time to pursue his hobbies, even in his pressure-filled days as a general and president. As a young officer, he learned to fly a plane. His passion for golf in his later life was well-known, and he even had a putting green installed at the White House. He loved playing cards, especially bridge. He even played bridge as a stress outlet during the days leading up to the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Just before he ran for president, he picked up oil painting as a new hobby and used that to relax too. As a long-time smoker with numerous health problems, these relaxation outlets were probably encouraged by his doctors. He was smart enough to listen to their orders.


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> Carve out time to pursue things you enjoy outside of work. They will help you relax, offload stress, and stimulate creativity that can make you a better leader at work.


Eisenhower left a huge legacy as a soldier and president. Historians typically rank him as one of the best presidents in history. His path to that legacy provides valuable lessons for leaders today.

10 Elements of Executive Presence

Posted on August 18, 2020 at 3:45 PM

In my executive coaching practice, clients often ask me to help improve their "executive presence." It is hard to find a good definition of this elusive term. Some people say "you know it when you see it." I think a useful way to define "executive presence" is to reverse engineer what it is about people who seem to have it. I've had the opportunity to work with many senior executives that have had a great "executive presence." Here are the 10 unique things I have most often observed in them.


Humble Confidence - They project confidence, but in a humble way. They don’t talk about how qualified, experienced, or talented they are. They just demonstrate it with their performance. Their confidence comes from the preparation behind the scenes they do to be at their best at work each day.

Set Aspirational Example - People want to be like them and see them as a model for their career. People want to impress them. These executives view every interaction they have with people as a chance to either build or tarnish their personal brand, so they perform at their best in all interactions. That comes through to others who see a great example of what they want to be like.

Make it Look Fun - They smile and look like they are having fun at work, even when they are in stressful situations. They make it look like they are totally at ease in their job, and that projects competence. Like a duck, people only see their ease and enjoyment as they float through their job. They don't see all the hard work they do below the waterline that makes them good at their job.

Poise in Crisis - They NEVER get flustered in front of others. They may feel lots of stress, but they don’t show it to others. They have trained themself to do this. It’s almost like they are waiting for crises so they can demonstrate this. They know that it is their job as the leader to give others confidence in crises, so they set the example.

Speak Little, Say Much - They don’t talk the most in meetings. They let others talk and they carefully listen. When they do talk, it is well-thought out and shows they have listened and thought about the issues, often connecting the dots in a way that others have not. They carefully structure their communications to most effectively convey their insights and desires.

Set the Pace and Temperature - They speed people up when more action is needed. They slow things down when more caution is needed. They cools things down when things are getting heated, and turn up the heat when people are getting complacent. It's like they have a superpower of sensing where people's heads are and know when to do this just before others do. This superpower sense is really just the result of seeking feedback far and wide about how things are really going with their team.

Absorb Risk - When difficult decisions need to be made, they step up and make them and take personal responsibility. This "air cover" lets others get on with their work without worrying if they will be at risk of getting blamed for bad outcomes. They shoulder the stress so others don't have to.

Show Commitment - They show passion for the work their organization does. By showing their pride in their work, they make people in their organization proud of their jobs too. Their commitment makes the work that everyone does feel important.

Be Authentic - They mean what they say and say what they mean. People don’t feel like they are getting a sales job from them. They feel like they are hearing from the real person behind the big title. They don't hide behind the big office and other perqs of their office. They view themself as no better than anyone else.

Have a Style - They aren’t exactly the same as every other executive. They have some unique way of doing things that makes them interesting. People notice it. It could be an interesting phrase, gesture, way of speaking, way of dressing, or whatever. It makes them a memorable character. Some team members may even be even able to do an impression of the executive.

This is in not a scientifically-generated list. But, after working with many leaders in my career, ranging from big city mayors and federal agency heads to corporate CEOs and high-powered consultants, I have known it when I saw it. These are what I saw. I hope you find it helpful.

10 Year Review of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

Posted on July 21, 2020 at 9:10 AM

Today marked the tenth anniversary of President Obama signing the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, more commonly known as the Dodd-Frank Act in honor of its two authors, Senator Christopher Dodd and Representative Barney Frank. To mark the day, the Better Markets nonprofit advocacy group sponsored a virtual conference in partnership with George Washington University. The speakers at the virtual conference included former President Obama, former Senator Dodd, former Representative Frank, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and others. As a founding member and former Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that was created from Dodd-Frank, I was invited to participate in the virtual conference. Here were the highlights I recorded from the first few speakers.


President Obama shared these thoughts in his opening address:


  • The country was on the brink of another Great Depression when he was inaugurated. Banks were collapsing and credit was freezing up, resulting in businesses closing and jobs disappearing.
  • His administration was focused on addressing the crisis in the short term and preventing financial crises in the future by reforming Wall Street by removing excessively risky and predatory behavior from "too big to fail" banks.
  • Entrenched and well-funded opposition tried to block reform then and they are still working to undo the reform since. They have had some successes, but the Dodd-Frank Act remains largely intact.

John S. Reed - former Citicorp/Citigroup CEO from 1984-2000 who started at Citibank in 1965 - gave a personal history of the evolution of the financial services industry in the USA. It was a fascinating, sweeping, personal recount from someone who was an important player through several decades.


  • In the 1960s, banks were mostly regional not national. It was a slow and steady business. The focus was on satisfying customers and getting a reasonable return for doing so. The industry was not exciting nor exceptionally well-paid, but it was an honest business.
  • In the 1970s and 80s, innovation in banking included credit cards and ATMS.
  • The 1990s saw a big change when "greenmail" emerged and activist investors got aggressive in taking controlling stock stakes to exert influence on bank management to more aggressively increase returns to shareholders. This began a shift in bank management focus from customer satisfaction to shareholder return. Executive compensation started to grow too, as investors didn't care about it as long as shareholder returns grew.
  • Product complexity also increased in the 1990s, including with derivatives. In 1995, there was an important case that should have been a warning bell about the dangerous impact of predatory practices and product complexity by banks. Bankers Trust was recorded talking about the "rip off factor" of one of their derivative products that was profitable for the bank but a bad product for customers. A product like this would never have made it to market in the 1960s-70s.
  • Since the 1990s, the market and products got more complex. Mortgage backed securities emerged. Compensation started to increase rapidly too, turning banking into a very high paid industry.
  • The 1998 bailout of Long Term Capital Management should have been another warning for regulation, especially before the 2007-08 crash. It was a hedge fund that got too complex and got into trouble. The Fed had to come in to refinance and liquidate it. This should have been a warning shot that financial product complexity was getting too hard to regulate.
  • By the 1990s, major banks were getting very involved in trading. It was because large customers put a lot of pressure on banks to take them to market. Banking got pushed into the idea of breaking down regulations from the Glass-Steagall law. Banks started looking like investment banks. At Citibank, Reed even merged with Travelers to keep up. All major banks started big trading activities. Commercial banks "got way out over their skis" according to Reed. They didn't have the management in place to understand trading and how to manage traders. The splicing and dicing of loans into new complex financial products was very dangerous. You started to see 40 to 1 liquidity ratios.
  • Dodd Frank emerged after the 2008 meltdown to correct for these mistakes. Making banks have a "living will" is a worthwhile exercise because it forces managers at banks to think through how they would go through a bankruptcy. It forced them to take this type of planning seriously. Stress tests are important. The Volker Rule was very important because it addressed the fundamental conflict of interest banks had by trading for their own accounts while also trading for customers.

Dennis Kelleher of Better Markets summed up John Reed's history of the industry by saying that the Dodd-Frank Act was key to make sure the COVID-19 pandemic didn't trigger another financial meltdown.


Former Senator Chris Dodd and former Representative Barney Frank spoke next as part of a panel moderated by Stephanie Ruhle of NBC and MSNBC. Here were the key points they shared.


Former Senator Dodd shared these observations:


  • TARP came shortly before the 2008 election. He was in meeting where Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernacke said the world financial system would melt down if they did not approve a bailout. He realized he had to push the bailout through but it made him want to do reform too to make sure that never happened again.
  • By 2010, lots of public memories of the financial bust had faded. The Obama Administration had prioritized the Recovery Act and the Affordable Care Act as legislative priorities before reform of Wall Street. This allowed political opposition, fueled by lobbying dollars from the banks, to grow against the Dodd-Frank Act.
  • The Dodd-Frank Act was passed on a largely partisan vote, but all the regulators appointed by President George W. Bush supported the outlines of the bill.
  • Some ideas that made it into the bill came from Republicans. Half of the 60 amendments to the bill were Republican and ten passed. The bill also followed principles proposed by the G-20 that President George W. Bush had signed.
  • Senator Dodd remembered being disappointed at his first meeting with the Financial Services Roundtable after he took over the chair of the Senate Finance Committee. He thought they would maybe want to take the chance to educate him on the increasingly complex financial services products being released into the market. Instead they used the meeting to lobby him on two topics - the need to block a consumer financial protection agency and to block regulation of financial services executive compensation.

Former Representative Frank shared these insights:


  • The ban on abusive predatory mortgages was perhaps the biggest part of Dodd-Frank.
  • Community banks have enormous political power because they have connected people everywhere. Local bankers are important in their local communities, and that translates to big political power. That power got them exempted from being examined by the CFPB because they claimed it costs too much to comply with inspections.
  • The reputation of US banks being well regulated is a big reason why US financial securities and the US dollar are attractive to foreign investors. They feel it is safe here since it is well regulated.
  • Dodd-Frank basically prevented people and banks from incurring more debt than they can handle. There is a competitive race to get more leverage.
  • Regulating derivatives by putting them in exchanges where counterparts can deal in them pretty much took out a huge risk from the financial markets.
  • There is discussion now of how non-bank financial actors like private equity firms and hedge funds need to be regulated next. He said the financial risk is a lot less, but there may be reason to start looking at anti-trust regulation on things like their impact on depressing wages.

Those were the highlights I got out from the first part of the virtual conference. I found it to be quite insightful and wanted to share with other people who are interested in how to make financial markets in the United States work most effectively.



Famous Executives Who Had Executive Coaches

Posted on May 27, 2020 at 9:15 PM

If you have considered getting an executive coach, you would be in some good company. According to a 2013 survey by Stanford Graduate School of Business professors, 51 percent of senior executives reported they "receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches." Among those are some big names. Here are some of the most high-profile executives who have worked with a coach.

Steve Jobs, Co-founder and CEO of Apple - The late Steve Jobs had a reputation as being a demanding and difficult leader. He was also inquisitive. In a moment of self-reflection, he brought in executive coach John Mattone for an assessment and a couple of coaching sessions. You can read Mattone's description of those sessions on an article on LinkedIn. 

Marc Benioff, Founder, Chairman, CEO of - Benioff counts legendary coach Tony Robbins as a valued partner, with this endorsement: "Tony Robbins and his strategies and his tools have been at the core of our culture from the beginning. He has been one of the critical keys to's leadership in cloud computing and its growth into an over $6 billion company."

Brian C. Cornell, Chairman and CEO, Target Corporation - Cornell has worked with famed coach Marshall Goldsmith and endorsed him this way: "Marshall is an amazing coach who helped me become a better leader and a better person. He has a unique blend of intelligence, insight and practical steps to improve performance. As he says in his new book Triggers, there is a big difference between understanding and doing. We all understand what to do, but Marshall gives us the tools to actually change for the better."

Roger Enrico, CEO of Pepsi - The late Roger Enrico became the CEO of Pepsi in 1983 at the age of 38. He would stay with Pepsi until he retired in 2001. Like Steve Jobs, Enrico also got coaching from John Mattone. Enrico valued coaching so much he launched a program at Pepsi where he personally coached a group of nine proteges at a time in a structured, 18 month-long program he started and personally led.

Goldman Sachs - The Wall Street firm that has produced many distinguished alumni --including four recent US Secretaries of the Treasury -- values coaching so highly they have embedded it in their executive development. Here is a description from their website: "Our nomination-based leadership development programs provide vice presidents and managing directors with skills training, individual coaching and networking opportunities to help them to continue to grow in their careers. In addition, we offer our most senior leaders executive coaching, leadership acceleration initiatives and other training through Pine Street, our internal leadership academy." They explain further - "Through the years, Pine Street also moved in the direction of offering fewer, more experiential programs targeted at critical points in a partner’s career, with a strengthened focus on executive coaching and executive assessments."

Hiring an executive coach can be a worthwhile investment for executives of all types. A coach can be an independent sing board to pressure test ideas, brainstorm, and prepare for crucial conversations. A coach can provide feedback to help find blind spots to work on. A coach can also help a client set a self-development plan and keep them accountable for following it. For those seeking to continue climbing up the ladder, it can provide a valuable competitive edge over executives who insist on a "go it alone" approach. For executives content with where they are, coaching can be a great way to make work more enjoyable ... for themselves and everyone who works with them.

Executive Coaching in a COVID World - 5 Predictions

Posted on April 17, 2020 at 8:05 PM

Like all industries, the COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on the executive coaching industry. It will also shape the executive coaching industry in the future. As a strategy consultant turned executive coach, here are five trends I see emerging.


1 - Cutbacks in Spending - The pandemic has probably launched a serious recession and recessions mean organizations and individuals slash expenses. Coaching will take hits. Some existing coaching relationships will be cancelled or put on hold. New coaching engagements will come in slower. This will be the immediate, obvious effect.


2 - Validation of the Value of Coaching - Executives are in crisis management mode right now. COVID is accelerating the need for leadership, stress-management, decision-making, and creativity from executives. Executives who already have coaching relationships may find that coaching to be especially valuable during this crisis management. Having a coach as an independent sounding board to talk through those issues can be particularly helpful. Executives who are benefitting from coaching right now may become loyalists and evangelists for coaching in the future.


3 - New Needs for Coaching - Executives are going to be challenged even after the initial crisis-management phase of COVID ends. Leading teams is going to be a different challenge going forward, at least until there is a vaccine for COVID. How do executives work through the difficult decisions they need to make in the face of the recession? What conflicts will bubble up from communication breakdowns from teams who don't see each other in-person as much, if at all? What do employees, who feel scared and disconnected, need from their leaders these days? How do executives maintain their relationships with their bosses, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders in the new world? Coaches will be invaluable resources and sounding boards to executives to work through issues like these. Organizations and individuals who can afford an investment in coaching will likely see good returns on that investment.


4 - More Comfort with Virtual Coaching - Video communications channels like Zoom have exploded in use over the last months due to the social distancing required by COVID. Many executives who may have been slow adopters of video conferencing have been forced to become users. As they feel more comfortable with video-conferencing's ability to replace face to face meetings, these executives may start seeing other potential uses of video conferencing too. Executive coaching, which is often phone or video-conferencing based, may start getting on the radar of many executives who never thought about it before.


5 - Niches Become Even More Important - Coaching will likely migrate even more to virtual meetings over in-person meetings. Why meet in person when you can talk over the phone or video? Some coaching clients will realize they are not constrained to find a coach in their same city. They will search for expertise and fit over proximity. Why settle for choosing between coaches in your city when you can search for the exact right coach for you anywhere on the globe? Coaches who have mastered a deep, well-defined niche will benefit. Coaching customer niches can be vertical/industry-based (e.g., financial services executives), horizontal/profession-based (e.g., ex-consultants transitioned to corporate roles), or highly-specialized (e.g., doctors dealing with private equity suitors.) Coaches who have deep expertise in a niche can serve anyone in the world. Language and time zones will be the main barriers to overcome in global coaching relationships.


If you are a coach, it is time for some coaching. How is your coaching practice going to weather the current COVID storm? How can you thrive in the post-COVID world? What powerful questions would you ask if you were coaching yourself?

5 Private Equity Predictions in this Recession

Posted on March 26, 2020 at 2:25 PM


According to the Global Private Equity (PE) Report 2020 by Bain & Company, uninvested PE funds - "dry powder" - hit a record high of $2.5 trillion in December 2019. More than half of it sits in North America. What will happen with PE firms, and their massive reserves, during the coming recession in the United States? Here are five predictions based on my reading of the latest Bain report.


1 - PE Firms Planned for this Recession - Most PE general partners believed the economy had peaked (57%) or already entered recession (14%) when surveyed in December 2019. While PE firm leaders may not have foreseen the speed and cause of this Coronavirus recession, many had plans for when the recession hit. Those planners may be ready to act fast.


2 - Dry Powder to Target Distressed Companies - $830 billion of the $2.5 trillion in PE dry powder is targeted for buyouts, according to the Bain report. Many fundamentally healthy companies that were attractive targets before the Coronavirus will be suffering financial distress during this crisis. Those companies may become less expensive to acquire than they were just months ago. During the 2008-09 recession, for example, EBITDA (Earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization) multiples of deals that did go through shrank. With an investment horizon of several years instead of several months, PE firms may see attractive buying opportunities.


3 - Dry Powder to Reinvest into Existing Portfolios - Companies within PE firm's existing portfolios are also being hit financially by the Coronavirus impact. These portfolio companies may need cash infusions which may present opportunities to PE firms to increase equity or buy debt. The recession provides opportunities (or needs) to double down on their initial investments where they still see value.


4 - Consolidation to Largest Funds - In the last recession of 2008-09, about 1/4 of private equity funds stopped raising capital. This recession may prove to be similar, especially since the PE market has become crowded and competitive through the last several years. A reduction in PE firms would likely mean less competition for acquisitions, investors, and PE professionals.


5 - Funds Seek Extensions - In the last recession, both the number and average value of buyout deals dropped dramatically for two years before increasing again. PE firms could be left holding years of uncalled capital and may need to seek extensions this time around.


Every industry is being challenged by the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. The Private Equity industry is unique in that is has $2.5 trillion in capital waiting to be used at a time when many places need capital. It makes for an interesting year.



7 Best Books about Management Consulting

Posted on March 1, 2020 at 5:45 PM

There are about 700,000 management consultants in the USA, according to Statista. While from from the biggest industry, management consulting does cast a big shadow because of the impact, scrutiny, and alumni it generates. Since I started my business career as a management consultant with Bain & Co., I've read many books about the industry. Not only did these books make me a better consultant, they have made me a smarter client of consulting too.


Here are the seven books I recommend to anyone who is, or wants to be, a management consultant. These books are also useful for people who work with management consultants as a client, or with ex-consultants as colleagues.


1 - The Lords of Strategy by Walter Kiechel III - This book from 2010 gives a historical overview of how the strategy consulting industry grew in the powerhouse it is today. It reads more like a novel than a technical manual, especially as it tells the often intertwined stories of the founders of the traditional leaders in strategy firms - McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain. It tells the story of how some of the frameworks that MBA students learn today - e.g., the learning/experience curve, the growth-share/"cash cow" matrix, the Five Forces Model - emerged from people in the consulting world. If you are someone who finds insights from reading history, this is the book to read on the history of the consulting industry.


2 - The McKinsey Way by Ethan M. Rasiel - This 1999 book, along with its follow up book in 2001, The McKinsey Mind, offer insights into how the most famous strategy consulting firm works. It describes the process, and several of the frameworks, that McKinsey consultants are taught to use to crack big strategic problems for clients. These are especially useful if you are considering working with McKinsey, either as an employee or as a client.


3 - The Silent War: Inside the Global Business Battles Shaping America's Future by Ira Magaziner - This 1989 book introduced me to the idea of management consulting. As an economics student before then, I had thought mostly about business as economic theories and trade policies. This book showed me the power of individual corporate strategies in driving business value. The author, a former Rhodes Scholar, shares several case studies from his career as a management consultant. He writes them more as compelling human stories than as dry business cases. The book is old and the examples are dated, but I remember it decades later, which says something about it. Read an old review here.


4 - Turnaround by Mitt Romney - Before he was a governor, presidential nominee, and senator, Mitt Romney started his career as a consultant with Bain. In this 2004 book, Romney tells the story of how he led the effort to save the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, after scandal and financial mismanagement threatened to torpedo them. The story reads like a memoir, but the management lessons and techniques that Romney learned as a consultant are constant themes. From cost-cutting to finding new revenue to driving organizational change, Romney had to lead his team through it all. It is an insightful way to see how someone steeped in consulting actually used those lessons to successfully turn-around an organization as the leader. As a bonus, Romney shares many stories from his Bain days in the book as well.


5 - The Elegant Pitch by Mike Figliuolo - Full disclosure - the author and I are friends, co-authors, and colleagues, and we teach a course based on this book. That said, I would recommend this 2016 book anyway. It teaches a framework to communicate big ideas in a succinct and compelling way. The author is a McKinsey alum, but the framework is much the same that I learned, used, and taught at Bain. By applying the process described in the book, you can avoid the "analysis/paralysis" that many organizations have where meetings are strangled by 50-page slide decks that have no clear point and generate no decisions.


6 - Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni - While not exactly a book about consulting, the author is a former Bain consultant and his lessons come from the experience. Lencioni's books are written as fables, with each telling a fictional story designed to teach leadership lessons. This 2004 book was the first that introduced me to his whole series, which have been remarkably successful.


7 - The 10 Day MBA: A Step-By-Step Guide To Mastering The Skills Taught In America's Top Business Schools by Steven Silbiger - Not every consultant gets an MBA. This book is a good overview of what an MBA entails if you didn't go to business school. While it won't teach you everything an MBA learns, it will give you the overview so you know what you have missed. It gives you just enough content on the topics to enable you to at least understand a conversation about the topics. The 4th edition of this book came out in 2012.