Tag Archives: Leadership


While some still consider it a dirty word, selling is becoming a make-or-break skill.

The competition is too fierce.
The opportunities are too few.
And time is running out on personal brands that don’t include sales capability.

If you don’t consider yourself a sales person.
If the idea of selling doesn’t agree with you.
It may be time to think again.

Last month, I facilitated a session that brought together a dozen public and private organizations to discuss the future of business education. Held on behalf of Iowa State University, the session explored the question:

Has an operational and functional understanding of selling and the sales process become a business education requirement?

Iowa State is not the only institution of higher education exploring the question and educational providers are not alone in recognizing the rising importance of sales capabilities. As the author of “Everybody Sells”— a book that advances the thesis that organization-wide sales engagement is becoming increasingly important to organizational success — my opinion has long been registered.

The groundswell of interest in selling extends far beyond the logical advantages of possessing basic sales skills. The ability to articulate ideas, influence resource allocations and garner and maintain the support of other people is of undeniable practical and tactical value. However, one might reasonably associate similar outcomes to other areas of focus, including leadership, entrepreneurship and marketing.

No, it appears that the rising interest in sales skills represents some deeper movement, some more fundamental change. Moving from the one-on-one to team-on-team; rejecting form, function and price in favor of value realization—each incremental change has altered what sales excellence means and what sales performance requires.

The table stakes are rising. Sales success now requires the highest levels of product and service fluency, a deep understanding of client operations and the ability to harness and coordinate support from a broad range of internal and external resources. What better proving ground of tomorrow’s top executives?

If you’ve distanced yourself from the sales function because you still associate sales with manipulation, trickery, fast-talking or sleight-of-hand, you’ve missed a generation of maturity and development. And it may be time to join the club…

Selling matters—no matter who you are.

As always, I invite you to share your comments and experiences directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com.

Until next time. Stay connected.


Arguments, Discussions & What Bad Bosses Do…

“Any argument has two sides, and they’re usually married to each other.”

There are three basic ways to resolve differences among people; argue, discuss or declare. It’s likely that you’ve had experiences with each and every favor (sometimes unknowingly) one approach over another. What method you choose and when and where you choose to apply it speaks volumes about who you are and the nature of your personal relationships.

While most people outwardly view showing and telling as a high-risk, low-reward approach; few of us consciously choose to argue out our differences. Typically, an emotional response with little forethought, our ability to avoid arguments in favor of discussion, is a strong indicator of emotional maturity.

Being right doesn’t mean much, if you are the only one that thinks so ”.

Many of us prefer to view ourselves in the well-balanced light of the listener-learner that harnesses the power of the discussion to drive performance and enhance social bonds. However, just as emotions can move use into an argumentative danger zone, lack of consideration may cause us to overlook opportunities for productive discussion.

The big no-no for leaders comes with the short-fused use of declarations. At home, out of frustration, exhaustion and the sheer desire to make-it-stop, parents resort to declarations as means to summarily dismiss younger children. The approach loses much of its effectiveness on pre-teens, is entirely ineffective with teens and is a cautionary tale when applied to a spouse (DON’T DO IT).

So, why do some leaders feel they have the right to summarily dismiss the opinions of employees by declaring how it’s going to be? Sure, there are some cases where snap judgments need to be made and made now. But for those leaders that believe their hierarchical role, paygrade or other anointed power gives them the right to treat employees’ opinions with less respect than we would grade school-aged children, is simple unacceptable.

The bigger question is… why do we let leaders behave badly?

As always, I invite you to share your comments and experiences directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com

Until next time. Stay connected.


Company Killer: How to stop FUD before it’s too late!

Why Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt may be draining the life from your organization…

How was your day today?

Are you living the dream or playing out the clock?

Are the decisions your organization is making, spiritually uplifting or are you operating with a pit in your gut?

Our latest research indicates that many of today’s workers—folks that should be operating in career primetime—are too often finding themselves searching for 5 o’clock, ending the day so exhausted that they’re going bed at the same time as their children.

It’s not the work.

It’s not the latest crisis.

It’s not even the economy.

The cause?

F.U.D. Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.

  • That merger that made millions for the stockholders, meant that thousands weren’t sure how they’d fit in to the new organization.
  • That amazing new sales leader who promised to bring back the good old days, also wants to reorganize.
  • The bosses that think their emotional intelligence is off the chart, while they insult, dismiss or otherwise diminish their employees with the same ease as they shuffle file folders.
  • The HR policy that restricts the contributions of the most capable and most knowledgeable employees in favor of qualifications gained decades before.

It’s the not knowing.


It’s the wondering what’s next.


It’s the gut-wrenching thought that what you do isn’t so valuable any more.


As the saying goes, “if you want to make God laugh, make a plan.”

And of course, there are no guarantees in life but great leadership is becoming more and more about managing expectations (and thereby anxiety) about the future.

Leaders don’t need to coddle employees, who already understand that into each career some rain must fall…

Leaders MUST do everything in their power to minimize the FUD caused by what tomorrow will, or will not bring.

Fortune cookie sum-up?

Leaders need to respect their employees enough to give it to them straight, in as near real time as is possible, because in most cases it isn’t knowing the outcome it’s the not knowing what’s coming.

Until next time, I welcome your stories, comments and ideas directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com.

Stay connected,


Is Your Organization A Slinky, A Box Or Sacred Cow? Experiments In Leadership


On my office wall, where my degrees and other trinkets of achievement once hung, is a single framed picture. A gift from my mother; who knows, as only a mother can, what captures the imagination of her child. Beneath the glass is a reproduction of J.T. James’ nearly 70-year old patent, which depicts the use of a technological marvel we’ve all come to know as the Slinky

My interest in the Slinky stems from the work of Harvard trained scientist Donella (Dana) Meadows, who helped me see leadership in a whole new way.


  1. Perch a Slinky on your upturned palm.
  2. With the fingers of your free hand, grasp the Slinky from the top, partway down its coils.
  3. Now pull your bottom hand away quickly…
What happens? 
…the end of slinky drops and recoils like a bungee-cord, right?BUT what MADE the Slinky bungee up and down like that?
…if you think it all happened because you moved your hand, you’ve just made a critical leadership error!


Repeat the experiment, but this time replace the Slinky with the box it came in.

  1. Put the box in your upturned palm.
  2. Grasp the top of the box with the fingers of your free hand.
  3. Quickly remove your palm from under the box.
What happens?
…Nothing.THE POINT
The motion of the hands (your leadership efforts and your employee’s efforts to support you) mean little, if they don’t align with the nature of the system….

A Slinky’s got to be a Slinky and a Box has to act like a Box.

Organizational performance comes from the alignment of leaders and followers, working together in the right system.

How to get there?

  • Everything hinges on aligning leaders and employees, if you do that
  • You’ll earn the right to be wrong, because if you and your employees are aligned and you fail, you’ll receive rapid and unambiguous feedback, but
  • Leaders that act without employee alignment will never know, “Is it them or is it me?” and in all such cases, the answer is it’s you

Slinky or Box, so long as your system isn’t a Sacred Cow, you’ll have the opportunity to unleash the untapped leadership potential that exists in your organization right now!  

Wake up leaders, it’s time to lead!

And thanks for the picture mom…

Until next time, I welcome your stories, comments and ideas directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com

Stay connected,


Meadows, Donella H. (2008-12-03). Thinking in Systems: A Primer (Kindle Locations 178-190). Chelsea Green Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Chief Hugs Officer (Creating A World Of Success – Part 2)

How Dreams & Happiness are Becoming the New Business Imperatives

Dateline – Hiawatha, Iowa

Among the storefronts of an otherwise unremarkable strip mall, one door carries no sign and its windows display no products. Otherwise indistinguishable from the countless cookie-cutter replicas that dot America’s suburban commercial districts, what makes this mini-mall and this storefront different, is the very particular executive who’s working there. Sitting alone, seamlessly moving between the laptop keystrokes, tablet and smartphone taps and whiteboard scribbles, Jerry Akers is thinking, tinkering and working to create a different kind of company.

A decade ago, with a successful and financially rewarding career already behind him, Jerry’s unbridled energy and heartfelt desire to help others succeed, made him a poor candidate for retirement. So, Jerry and his wife Mickey left their corporate pasts behind and decided to operate a small local business. At least that’s how it started. Never having run a retail operation and with no prior cosmetology or franchise experience, Jerry became an owner-operator of a Great Clips franchise.

Today, Great Clips has become the world’s largest hair salon brand and Jerry has become one of its most successful franchisees. What sets Jerry apart can’t be found in a profit and loss statement, can’t be expressed in a spreadsheet and doesn’t show up in an earnings call. Jerry wants to help peopleparticularly the young stylists he and his wife are dedicating their lives to.

In a far-ranging interview, Jerry recounted his personal journey as a young executive; how he’d followed the teachings of Zig Zigler and John T. Molloy to learn everything from how to get what you want to dressing for success.

Three decades later, having moved from style to substance, Jerry embraces practical and tactical ideas and rejects things that “might sound good in a lab but doesn’t necessarily work in the real world”. Jerry humbly suggests that the business would continue to be successful without him, the Akers’ daughters now run the day-to-day operations and Jerry’s wife Mickey has assumed the role of Chief Hugs Officer – the one that makes sure every employee understands how valuable they are.

What’s Jerry’s role? Changing the lives of others.

Whether he’s working with one of his employees, or another franchisee or teaching basic business skills to young people, Jerry is driven to help others succeed.  “What I’ve found about myself, is that I really just love changing people’s lives…” Jerry shared. Helping other people is not only good for the soul, it’s good for business as well, “if you can impact the life of an employee and their family, they’ll never leave you.”

Akers’ philosophy is translating directly to operational performance including a cutting-edge recruiting program that not only helps cosmetology students learn the beauty business but also ensures Jerry’s business enjoys a steady stream of the best talent. In addition, he’s created a unique bonus and incentive program that gives employees control over the speed and trajectory of their careers and how much they earn.  All of which has not only contributed to making Akers’ operations profitable, but has also generated an off-the-charts long-term employee loyalty rate exceeding 70%.

Reflectively, Jerry pauses and sums up the secret to his success as simply, “We’re successful because our salons have gotten happier.” That happiness starts with the first question Jerry asks each new hire, What big dream do you have that working here can help you achieve?

Know any people-first business leaders that are redefining success in your world? Share your stories with me directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com.

Until next week,

Stay connected!


Now What? (…From the Vault)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the privilege to conduct as series of interviews with four amazing leaders. One woman and three men, each the senior-most executives of their respective organizations, offered honest appraisals of their lives, careers and the businesses they’ve built. Although the organizations they lead differ by industry, geography and size, they shared one common concern:

What made us successful in the past, will not make us successful in the future.

Now, what?

Across the board, these leaders saw the level of product and service value that once drove the economic engines of their organizations, steadily and irreversibly decline; resulting in everything from a reimagining of their product and service offerings, to increased reliance on inorganic growth and in one case, an exodus of the industry they’d served for a generation.

As I write this, my desk is overflowing with interview transcripts, the margins of each page filled with a scrawl of handwritten notes and questions. From those pages it has become abundantly clear that there is a new leadership challenge emerging; a concept that defies tradition, embraces the deeply human elements of business activity and holds the promise of great opportunity for those willing to embrace it.

The new leadership challenge seeks to answer the question, Now What?

Tomorrow’s leaders must be capable of sensing, absorbing and transforming oncoming change in a way that creates competitive advantage for the organization.

Bold vision and practical and tactical ideas, big and small, are fast becoming the currency of organizational and career success. The leaders I’ve interviewed agree: venturing into an uncertain future will require more leaders than ever before; but individuals hoping to fill these roles will be largely responsible for their own leadership development, which means doing the hard work of defining who you are, what you value and what you are capable of accomplishing.

In short, before your ideas will be considered, before you can effectively lead others, you must demonstrate both an understanding and control of yourself.

Next week, we’ll examine what you can do to prepare yourself to take advantage of these new leadership opportunities and springboard your career to the next level.

Until then, I’m reaching out to you to see what you think is important for leaders to consider and what skills you feel will be critical in the next generation of business leadership. As always, I welcome your comments at: jeff@jeffkaplan.com.


*Originally posted on October 23, 2015

Know Your Place: Soul-Crushing, Productivity-Wasting Leadership Mistakes…

If the rule in your office is ‘know your place’:


Leadership is about bringing out the potential of every employee!

One of the most common leadership mistakes is systematically restricting employee contributions because they fall outside of the employee’s job description.

Bob’s worked here since 2002, he was hired on as a Blackberry support specialist and now he can’t represent the team at a local event, because it’s not in his job description. Really?

Sure, people are hired to do specific jobs and yes there are labor laws that govern what we can and can’t ask of employees but why restrict the potential contributions of employees that are simply seeking opportunities to demonstrate their value and capabilities in new ways? Isn’t that an implicit promise of every job description?

Great leaders use job descriptions as developmental starting points.

Here are two ways leaders can help employees show their stuff:

Organizational memory and know-how: Work somewhere a while and you’ll develop firsthand knowledge of why things are the way they are and how things “REALLY” work. Solid leaders seek out ways to leverage all the skills and knowledge of their employees and help them showcase their institutional knowledge.

Think HUMAN not HIERARCHICAL: Managing relationships is critical to team success and great leaders aren’t relationship snobs. EVERYBODY knows someone that can help your organization, so never-ever reject an established relationship with an individual contributor in favor of trying to get two hierarchical equals to talk – it’s short sighted and insulting. Sure, that are any number of legitimate reasons you may not want someone to engage on behalf of your team but job description isn’t one of them.

Great leaders uplift, upskill, challenge and inspire.

Great leaders go the way of their people.

A quiet, largely invisible group of under-performers is not the calling card of a great leader.

As always, I welcome your comments directly at jeff@jeffkaplan.com.

Stay connected,


Leadership in 525,000 Words…

How You Can Take the Lead in Leadership

The longer the backstory, the worse the deal
Mark Cuban, Entrepreneur

If you can’t explain it,
If it’s too hard to put into words or
If it takes 30 minutes to blurt out your value proposition,
Chances are your ideas are undeveloped and
Being told no, maybe one of the nicest things someone else can do for you.

Brevity and clarity remain the surest test of well-reasoned ideas.

Case in point: My Bass Handbook of Leadership (the definitive leadership guide) is over 1,500 pages and my strategy book is over 1,200.

It’s not because leadership and strategy are complex (although they can be), it is because we simply haven’t developed a clear understanding of what we mean when we use the terms.

Many people and organizations spend too much time and too much money (an estimated $150 billion per year) to develop leadership skills and most organizations do not have a clear definition of leadership against which to measure and control one’s developmental progress.


Bring a cross section of folks from your organization together to define your organizational ideal of leadership by asking the question:

“What does leadership mean to THIS organization?”

If you snickered at the last suggestion because you don’t think you could pull it off…
Or you don’t think your organization would be interested…
Why not try to create a definition yourself and then ‘shop’ your idea around internally to see if others agree?

Either way, you’ll end up with a definition of leadership based on the specific needs of your organization and that’s probably a lot better model to focus on than the one you have now!

“I wrote you a long letter.
If I had time, I would have written you a short letter.”

While attributed to everyone from Mark Twain to Winston Churchill, the essential idea works within all your business dealings… develop a CLEAR point of view and share it in as few words as possible…

Until next week, this is Jeff Kaplan saying, “Stay Connected“….


Renegotiate Your Future

Lifetime employment is a thing of the past — it’s gone. So gone in fact, 20-somethings look at you funny when you even mention the concept.

Today, our ‘forever-and-ever‘ jobs have been replaced by “what have you done for me lately” or even worse, “…who are you and what do you do around here?”

Let’s face it, our professional self-worth is under assault. Our jobs, the thing we do for a third of our waking lives, can be phased out, outsourced or simply left out of the latest reorganization with the brush of an eraser.

Work is a big part of our lives and therefore who we are and if our jobs, our professional contributions, can be so easily brushed away, our self-respect can’t be far behind.

Sure, lifetime employment may not even be desirable by an evermore mobile, evermore virtual society, but what’s taken its place?

Our research indicates–not much.

The NEW DEAL of work-life feels more like a hippie love affair, “let’s not put chains on each other, let’s just hang out as long as it feels good.”

I say, enough is enough, it’s time to renegotiate our future and take charge of our own professional development. In a recent survey, readers gave us some interesting insights, making it clear that organizations have washed their hands of professional development.

Here’s an example. Nearly all respondents reported that they participate in an annual review process BUT 80% also indicated that their leadership development program had no connection to the feedback from their evaluation. In most cases, employees were simply left to pick and choose developmental activities based on interest. Worse yet, as I share these findings with executive leaders around the county, the facts are met with confirming nods.

So there it is… if we want to take charge of our futures,

If we want to insure against indiscriminate and sudden job loss,

If we desire something more from tomorrow than we got today…

Then, we need to create and control our own professional development!

Over the next weeks and months, I’ll be sharing how people across the world are doing just that–living lives that are richer, fuller and more rewarding–without the worry that tomorrow’s opportunities will pass them by.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions at Jeff@jeffkaplan.com

Until next week, STAY CONNECTED!


It’s a Puppy-Kicking World…

Dr. Clark Quinn “wants you to join him in a revolution to overthrow the crap that our once proud profession has come to.”

Writing to an audience of fellow Training and Development professionals, you might think Dr. Quinn speaks from the fringe, but he expressed his outrage in a book he co-published with the American Society of Training and Development – the profession’s governing body.

The assessment seems especially harsh in light of the fact that corporate training investment has posted double-digit increases since 2011, bringing the total annual cost to $130B worldwide.

This week, I am asking for your help to investigate professional development from the perspective of those it’s intended to benefit – you!

Our goal is to receive feedback from 1,000 professionals, so I’m not only asking you to complete the questionnaire, but to encourage others to do so as well.

The survey is anonymous, contains only 10 questions and will take you less than 5 minutesto complete end-to-end… so… pretty please!

As Quinn says, “it’s a puppy-kicking world out there” but with your help, we’ll get a glimpse into how everyday people view the leadership development efforts in their organizations and maybe learn a few things to make it better for all of us!

Click HERE to go to the survey!

Until next week, stay connected.

P.S.: No actual or figurative dog kicking occurred in the writing of this blog.