How Do You Create a High Performing Leadership Team?

How Do You Create a High Performing Leadership Team?

Your job as the leader is to set and enforce the standards of acceptable performance and to keep raising the bar.  A-Players don’t want to work with B or C players. They want to be surrounded by other A Players, so holding on to bad team members may result in you losing some of your A-Players. Remember, everyone wants A-Players, so your job is to recruit them, hold on to them and motivate them to do their best for your organization.  

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What is People-Centric Leadership?

People-centric Leadership doesn’t mean being soft or forgetting about profits.

It means thinking about the impact of your leadership on the people who work for you and behaving in a way that brings out the best in people and encourages them to do their best for you and your company.  

In my book, Inspire Accountability, I outline 7Cs that you need to think about when it comes to inspiring accountability in your team.  These 7Cs also provide a good framework for looking at your leadership effectiveness and whether or not you’re a People-Centric Leader.

Here are some questions you might ask yourself:

C1 - Culture

  1. Have you created an environment that it makes it safe for employees to question or challenge your orders/requests? 

  2. Can employees respectfully disagree with you and get you to reconsider your position?

  3. Have you solicited feedback from your employees regarding how they feel about having you as their boss and what they might like to see you do differently?

  4. Do you routinely use employee engagement surveys to solicit feedback from employees on how they feel about working for your company?


C2 - Clarity

  1. Do you ensure clarity by holding yourself responsible for the hearing of the listener? 

  2. Do you give your employees your full attention when they are in meetings with you or talking with you on the phone, or do you half listen while multitasking?

C3 - Capacity

  1. Do you check-in with employees regarding their existing workload when assigning new tasks?

  2. Do you help them prioritize their work?

  3. Do you set realistic time expectations or do you make everything seem urgent and important?

C4 - Competence

  1. Do you provide regular feedback and coaching on how they can improve their skills, perform better or move to the next level of the organization?

  2. Do you provide employees with opportunities for learning and growth?

  3. Do you encourage employees to take initiative and solve their own problems or do you jump in to solve problems for them?

C5 - Confidence

  1. Do you make it safe for people to fail as long as they learn from mistakes and don’t repeat them?

  2. Do you regularly catch people doing things right and provide positive feedback? 

  3. Do you help them understand and play to their strengths?


C6 - Commitment

  1. Do you demonstrate your caring by being sensitive to their workload and their work/life balance?

  2.  Do you quickly address employee grievances and complaints?   

  3. Are you aware of how your employees feel about themselves when they go home at night and do you make an effort to have them feel great about themselves and their accomplishments at work?

  4. Do you quickly remove under-performing employees so they don’t drag down the performance of others or negatively impact the performance of the company?

  5. Do you make work fun? Is there a person or team responsible for employee happiness?

  6.  If you left the company, would your employees follow you wherever you go if there was an opportunity for them to do so because of how they feel about you and their commitment to you as a leader?

  7.  Do you communicate the purpose of your organization and their role in executing that purpose so that their work has meaning for them?

 C7 - Compensation

  1.  Do you pay your employees at or above the going wage for their job so that they feel respected and treated fairly?

  2. Do you take people for granted and ask them to do things they were never hired to do without providing additional compensation?

Upcoming Scaling Up Workshop This Fall

I will be presenting a Scaling Up Business Growth workshop, September 24th, 2019 in Woburn, Mass.

I encourage you to attend! 

In this 1/2 day workshop, you’ll learn a few of the essentials of the Gazelles Scaling Up system that have worked for over 20,000 companies. I’ll teach best practices in the four critical decisions all businesses face:

  • People

  • Strategy

  • Execution

  • Cash

Tickets are discounted for groups of 3 or more - bring your team! 

Please visit the workshop’s Eventbrite page to purchase your seats.  Spots are filling up quickly.

I look forward to seeing you there.


Are You Walking Your Talk?

Whether you’re the CEO of your own company or a mid-level to senior executive in a large corporation, how you behave is more important than what you say.  Accountability begins with you. If you’re not accountable to yourself and your team, don’t expect your team to be accountable to you. Your behavior speaks much louder than words.  

Many business owners and executives come to me as an executive coach seeking to improve their performance as a leader. Once we agree on what they’re going to work on, part of my role is that of an accountability partner who can check in regularly to ensure that they’re doing what they said they’d do.

One of the issues that frequently arises is how they can improve the accountability and performance of their teams. My book, Inspire Accountability, out on April 9th on Amazon, provides a process of inquiry I call the 7Cs to identify why employees aren’t more accountable and what’s driving their behavior. These same 7Cs can provide a leader with guidance on why they may be having a hard time holding themselves accountable for their commitments to themselves and others and how they can improve their accountability.

This is the first of a series of on how you as a leader can apply the 7Cs to improve your accountability and become a more effective leader:


The 7Cs: Culture, Clarity, Capacity, Competence, Confidence, Commitment, Compensation.

C#1 - Culture – How does the culture of your company impact accountability?  I believe a culture that makes it safe for people to speak their mind and be vulnerable and honest with each other is essential to the creation of high-performance teams.  

Is it safe in your company for you, the leader, to be vulnerable? Can you say you don’t know how to do something or that you made a mistake or that you aren’t sure of the answer? Can you ask for help?  

If you’re not vulnerable, your team won’t feel safe being vulnerable with you and you won’t know when they can’t do something or don’t want to do something, or think your request is a bad idea. The more human and approachable you are, the easier it is for people to be real with you and share their thoughts and concerns. So, how does this impact your accountability? If you need to be strong and have all the answers, and you’re afraid to ask for help or say you aren’t sure of how to get something done, sooner or later you’ll find yourself unable to do something you’ve committed to and you won’t feel comfortable asking for help. You’ll maintain a strong external image and fail to accomplish the task on time or to the desired standard of excellence.

Part of a healthy culture is moving from no excuses to no surprises. What this means for you as a leader is that when you are experiencing difficulty accomplishing a task you committed to doing, you are better off sharing your challenges with your team so they are able to help you than keeping the challenge to yourself and then surprising them with your inability to accomplish the task you committed to doing. Just as you want your team to keep you informed of roadblocks and things that may interfere with the accomplishment of their tasks, you want to do the same for your team. Keep them in the loop so they know what you are wrestling with and how they can help.

Integrity is at the heart of leadership. When a leader walks his talk, others will follow his example. When a leader is a role model for the core values of a company, employees really believe those core values matter. And, when leaders think that everyone needs to be accountable except for them, they send the wrong message and don’t get the accountability they desire from their team.  Remember, your accountability is the key to their accountability.


What Makes Leaders Inspirational?

People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
— Maya Angelou

Dear Reader,

Here are three articles I’ve read this month that I think you’ll find useful for managing employees and millennials in the workplace. Each of these are consistent with many of the same leadership principles that appear in my book, Inspire Accountability.

Stay tuned! My book will be available this month for pre-order! You can access your free chapter, today.


Here are some qualities that I have observed that make leaders inspirational:

1) Effective listening skills
Unless you're listening to people, you'll never know what people really think. Too many leaders multi-task when people are talking and send the message that what they are saying isn’t important.  You control the conversation when you ask questions and powerful questions force people to think and share what they really know and why they think what they do. In my book, Inspire Accountability, I provide a lot of good questions that get to the heart of what is motivating people’s behavior.

2) Showing you care
How people feel about themselves is often influenced by how they are treated at work.  As a leader, you need to be sensitive to how you make people feel.  If you want people to care about you and the company, you have to demonstrate that you care about them - their learning, their career, their growth,  their development and their life outside of work, including their family and personal interests.

3) Being decisive
When you give an order or make a request, people must know you are not going to change your mind or forget what you requested. While it is ok to occasionally change your mind, you don’t want to appear indecisive or give orders that people begin to execute and then tell them to stop and do something else! 

4) Clear, unambiguous communication
Leaders need to be clear about standards, deadlines and metrics so people know how to stack-rank their priorities and whether you want something done quickly or perfectly. It’s also important for you to be clear about your priorities and what can wait. It helps to check in on their capacity to take on a new task and understand what else is on their plate before making a new request.  Some of the questions that will help you with this are in my book, Inspire Accountability,  in the chapter about Capacity.

How Approachable Are You as a Boss

Perhaps the most important factor in employee engagement is the employee's relationship with their immediate boss. I have observed many leaders over the years. There are many ways to be an effective leader, however some leadership behaviors have a much more positive impact on employee engagement than others. One of the hallmarks of exceptional leaders is that they are approachable and vulnerable, and they make it safe for their employees to share difficult issues and to challenge their decisions. When leaders are vulnerable and approachable, it creates more open and truthful communication with employees. It also promotes trust, which is the foundation for effective teamwork.

Here are a few questions that may help you think about your relationship with your employees and how that relationship colors their communication with you. If you are the leader of your company, you might ask your team to answer these questions to get some insight on how they experience working for you. If they are afraid to answer these questions, then you know the answer!

  1. Do you feel comfortable sharing your fears and doubts with me?

  2. Do you feel comfortable saying you don't know how to do something and asking me for guidance or advice?

  3. Do you feel comfortable trying to do new things with uncertain outcomes?

  4. Do you feel comfortable admitting failure to me?

  5. Do you feel comfortable sharing bad news with me or do you hide bad news for fear of rejection or an angry reaction?

  6. Do you feel comfortable challenging me or disagreeing with me about my position on an issue?


In my coaching work with clients in companies of all sizes, I often find executives afraid to tell the truth to their boss or to reveal any sign of weakness. Here is a story you may be able to relate to.

Sally is a VP in a large high tech company who has worked hard for years to get to her current position. She works for a hard-driving, larger than life SVP, who pushes himself and his team very hard and wants no excuses for not performing. She often disagrees with the decisions made by her boss, but she is afraid to confront him. On the one or two occasions when she questioned him in a team meeting, he publicly put her down and humiliated her. He never wants anyone to challenge his decisions or opinions, especially in public. His energy is so big and his anger is so close to the surface that the whole team has a motto of "Don't provoke the lion!" because if you do he roars! Sally and the rest of the team have learned to silently go along even when they are walking down the wrong road rather than upset the lion.

I’ve seen variations on this theme played our over and over again. How does it make your team feel when they can't share their concerns and offer their opinions? Does it make them feel valued and respected? How does this behavior block the flow of what could be useful and important communication? How does it impact their level of engagement with your company and their commitment to the goals of your company?

For those of you who have been reading my newsletters for the past few months, you may have observed a theme of the impact of leadership on employee engagement,  retention and accountability. In fact, one of the Seven C’s of my soon to be published book, Inspire Accountability, deals with Commitment & Caring which is highly correlated with employee engagement, and another C deals with creating a Culture that makes it safe for people to say what they think even if it means challenging authority. One of the most important factors in employee engagement is an employee's ability to have truthful and meaningful interactions with their boss. This is very difficult if you are not approachable!

If you resonate with this article, please share your stories with me.

Ken Estridge

Planning for a Successful 2019


For many individuals and organizations, being "ready" for 2019 means updating their version of what they hoped and planned to do in 2018. Oftentimes, New Year's Resolutions become wishful thinking that result in little or no change in your daily activities or the quality of your life. I would like to encourage you to look deeper and consider the lessons of 2018. The following exercise is designed to help you be thoughtful and deliberate about planning your personal and professional goals for 2019.

Schedule a Day for Yourself

Setting aside a day sounds simple, but it can be elusive to many of us, so be sure to book the day as if it were an important appointment or meeting (because it really is). Think of this time as an investment in your future, not a simple "to-do list" exercise. Be sure that you have the time to honestly work through the exercise. Now, turn off your phone and grab something to write on or turn on your computer.

The Four Directions:

1. Look back at your life both personally & professionally:

  • What worked well in the past year?

  • What didn't work well and why?

  • What surprised you?

  • Who or what disappointed you?

  • Who or what delighted you?

  • What/who did you pay attention to?

  • What/who did you neglect?

2. Look inward:

  • What activities gave you the greatest joy and satisfaction?

  • What activities or people gave you energy?

  • Who or what drained your energy?

  • Who or what are you most thankful for?

  • What activities were a bad use of your time that you wish you could've delegated or dropped?

  • If you could have cloned yourself, what would your other "you" have done?

  • What would have been the impact of doing the things you told yourself you were too busy to do?

  • What were your biggest mistakes?

  • What did you learn from making mistakes and how did you put that learning to use? Remember - mistakes are gifts in disguise; they can be our best teachers.

3. Look outward:

  • How did your world change during the past year?

  • What major events that were outside of your control affected the quality of your life?

  • What opportunities or challenges presented themselves?

  • How is your world likely to change over the next year?

  • What new opportunities or challenges are likely to emerge?

  • How has the economy and competitive landscape changed?

4. Look forward:

  • What do you want more of in your life?

  • What do you want less of?

  • Who do you want to spend more time with?

  • Who do you want to spend less time with?

  • What are the most important things you want to accomplish?

  • What do you need to learn in order to accomplish these things?

  • What is your single most important goal?

  • What is your action plan for realizing your goals?

  • What might get in the way of you realizing your goals?

  • What support do you need to accomplish your goals and move your life and work forward?


Healthy Habit: Reflection and Planning

After you've written up your answers, share them with a trusted friend, colleague, or family member. This will help you feel accountable to yourself and will provide some reality testing about your plan. If you are a business leader, be sure to share your goals with your team and confirm that you all agree about your top priorities. Re-read and think about your plan at least once a month. Reviewing your plan for 2019 will keep you clear about your intentions and will help keep you focused on what really matters as you move through challenging moments during the year. Ultimately, you will use your 2019 plan as a jumping off point for thinking about 2020.

If you would like a free sample coaching session, contact me.

Thanks for reading and best wishes for a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year.

Inspiring Accountability Through Inquiry - The 7C Methodology

The power balance between employer and employee has shifted in the US and across the industrialized world. Employment levels have peaked, and companies everywhere are finding it challenging to secure proficient workers, especially in major cities.  Previously, most organizations were accustomed to hiring from a position of power. Today, employees have that edge and they are less willing to make concessions. They know that work opportunities abound, and they don’t fear being left without employment. What’s more, social media, the internet, and the proliferating workplace-review websites now make it easy for employees to get the “inside scoop” on companies, to find out if they are good places to work. Millennials, who will comprise more than 50% of the workforce by 2020 and 75% by 2025, won’t stand for “or else” management. The days of command and control leadership - of “just do it because I said so” are over! Millennials are educated consumers who seek to retain the work/life balance they value so highly. They know their value in the marketplace, they know your competition, and they know what kind of wages and benefits they can command. Today, the burden is on you, the employer, to attract and retain your workforce. They want to be aligned with and inspired by the mission, vision and values of the organization they work for. And they want to be led by compassionate and caring managers who seek to understand what matters most to them and who are committed to satisfying their needs.


There are many reasons why what we term “non-accountability” has been expanding in the workplace, including an employee disengagement rate that according to the Gallup organization’s 2017 report, “State of the Global Workplace” has alarmingly hit the 85% mark, worldwide. Because of disengagement at work, employees of companies large and small, domestic and global are less likely to demonstrate full ownership of their responsibilities, and less likely to deliver hoped-for results to their bosses. Even senior-level employees in Fortune 500 companies, many of whom have been sent to me for executive coaching, disappoint their CEO’s.

Leaders and managers of people at all levels of the organization need to embrace a new paradigm when it comes to accountability. Leaders need to change their mindset from one of “holding people accountable” to “inspiring people to be accountable”. This requires an entirely new style of leadership and a different set of leadership skills. People behave the way they do for reasons that are internally logical to them (read Freakonomics) and that are consistent with their personal values and beliefs.  Unless we understand what is motivating an employee’s behavior, we cannot hope to change it. That means we must change our behavior as leaders. We must want to get inside their heads and understand why they do what they do. We must change our approach from a passive one of just making assumptions about why they behave the way they do (they’re incompetent, lazy, uncaring…) to a proactive one of understanding their truth behind why they do what they do. Leaders need to create a culture of open dialog and appreciative inquiry that makes it safe for employees to say what they think and feel and that enables managers to really understand what is driving an employee’s behavior.

In my soon to be published book, Inspire Accountability! The breakthrough workplace transformation for 21st century leaders in the Age of Millennials, I outline a 7C Methodology for appreciative inquiry. It provides a basis for managers to explore and understand why employees behave the way they do and what they need to do as managers to inspire different behavior from their employees.

Here is a brief overview of the 7C methodology:

The first C is Culture. Understanding why people behave the way they do starts with a culture that makes it safe for people to say what they think and feel and safe for them to respectfully challenge the requests of authority regarding acceptable standards of performance and deadlines. (For example:  Do you really need this done today, or can it wait until Friday?) In many large organizations where I have coached executives, it is frowned upon to ever challenge or question authority. When your boss says jump, you say how high!

The second C is Clarity. You can’t be too clear and just because you said something doesn’t mean that people truly heard and understood what you said or requested. As a leader you need to hold yourself responsible for the hearing of the listener and make all your goals as SMART as possible (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound).  If they aren’t smart, they lend themselves to mis-interpretation and faulty execution. (I thought you wanted it done quickly, not perfectly!)

The third C is Capacity. When managers ask an employee to do something, oftentimes everything seems urgent and important and employees are left wondering what to do first and what to delay, delegate or drop. As a manager you need to ask employees what else is on their to-do list before assigning a new task and help them assign priorities to tasks. You also need to engage them in a conversation about whether they have adequate resources to accomplish the desired task in the time requested vs. saying “I want no excuses, just get this done”. In the absence of this, you may say get this done by Friday and they may think, there is no way I have the time to get this done with everything else on my plate and no one to delegate things go.  At the minimum this causes stress and disengagement for the employee. It is also likely to cause rushed or faulty execution.

The forth C is Competence. Before you hire an employee, you review their resume and work history and satisfy yourself they have the skills to do the job you are hiring them to do. Then the needs of the job changes in real time and the things you expected them to do are no longer the things you are asking them to do. As a manager you need to know whether you are asking them to do something that is consistent with their skills, or if you are expecting them to do things they were never trained to do and never expected to have to do well. Effective management puts the burden of providing ongoing training for employees so that their skills grow to match the requirements of the tasks you expect them to complete on you as the manager. In the absence of this, you can’t blame the employee for a lack of skill. Blame yourself!

The fifth C is Confidence. Oftentimes people have the competence to perform a task, but they have never performed it before under the pressure of deadlines or when there is a high risk of failure and serious career consequences associated with failure. It’s up to you as a manager to make it safe for an employee to fail at a task as long as they learn from the experience and don’t repeat the same mistake twice. You also need to make it safe for them to ask for coaching or guidance on how to do something. Especially with Millennials, it is important to provide coaching and encouragement to build their confidence before assigning something they haven’t done before.

The sixth C is Commitment & Caring. I put these two together because if an employee isn’t committed to you, their boss, and/or to your company, they are unlikely to care about results. This is the hardest C to fix. When an employee first joins your company, they are excited to start a new job. If they have lost heart and no longer have affection for you as their boss or for the company, they are unlikely to do whatever it takes to get a task done well and on time. Your role as a leader is to demonstrate your caring for employees through your behavior as a manager.  You need to survey your employees frequently regarding their engagement with your company and what they would like to see changed at work. Furthermore, you need to respond to suggestions you receive in a timely fashion and make changes that are economically sound that improve work conditions or performance.

The seventh C is Compensation. Many organizations think that compensation is the most important motivational tool. The assumption has been that people work primarily for the money they earn and that they will do whatever they have to do to earn more money.  Today, this is no longer true for many workers, especially Millennials. They are no longer motivated by money alone. They desire to earn a good living, but they also want a reasonable work/life balance, opportunities for learning and growth, fun and social interaction at work, and respect and caring from their managers. When companies only look to tweak their compensation or benefit packages, they often miss the mark. As a leader, you need to align your compensation system with the rewards that matter most to your employees. It may be that they would prefer more time off or more flexible working hours to more pay.  Many people would take less money to be able to work from home.

In conclusion, to quote Stephen Covey – “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Your path to higher accountability starts with inquiry and only flourishes in a culture that permits an open and honest exchange of feeling and ideas.  The 7C’s provide you with a framework for appreciative inquiry. When you seek to find out why people do what they do, you can also learn how to inspire them to do what you would like them to do.

Two Quick Tips For Improving Your Executive Presence

Body Language

Appearance and body language matter more than what you say and how you say it. Studies of communication and human influence reveal that 55% of your influence is based on appearance and body language.  38% is based on how you deliver your message – this includes tone of voice, volume, pitch and pace.  7% is the spoken word. This explains why executives travel long distances for face to face meetings and why telephone communication is more powerful that e-mail. Yet most of the communication done by executives is by e-mail.

Everything Matters

Have you ever wondered why executives pay so much money for custom tailored suits, expensive watches and exotic leather briefcases? How you present yourself makes a powerful statement about who you are, how you see yourself and how you feel about yourself. We form judgments about all things visual. This includes the quality, fit, conditions, style and appropriateness of your clothes; your jewelry, watch, briefcase, portfolio, handbags, wallets, glasses, your hair, nails, hygiene, cosmetics and scent.  When it comes to appearance everything matters!