Leadership – inspirations

Be the 988 – for Mental Health 911

“I want to let you know that we lost _______ yesterday. She apparently took her own life.”

“How is that possible, I was just talking with her last weekend at a picnic. She was great. I don’t understand. I never saw any indication.”

How close has the epidemic of suicide come to you and your family? We all know of celebrities such as Naomi Judd and Robin Williams that shock our consciences’. But there is distance between them and us.

Take a moment and think of suicide victims much closer to you. How many degrees of separation? A friend of a friend, a professional colleague, a veteran from your home town, nephew of colleague, a graduate from your school a few years ahead of you, or someone you knew and saw on a regular basis.

The ripple effects are devastating to individuals, families, organizations, and communities. If you had a tragedy in your organization, what actions do you wish you would have taken?

A Leader’s Responsibility
With all the unknowns there are some things we do know. Leaders can choose to have an impact on the several major protective factors for suicide:

Recommended Action
One problem solving technique I have found effective is; replacing the “After Action Review” with a “Before Action Review”. Rather than determining and fixing the causes after an event; predict the event and the causes and preemptively solve for them.

The essential question for suicide is:
“If we had a suicide in our organization, what measures should we have taken to prevent it?”

Address the issue using these four elements:

  1. Intended Results
    1. What are our intended results with this problem?
  2. Challenges:
    1. What challenges will we encounter that will block us from achieving those results? (Consider both internal and external challenges)
  3. Past Learnings:
    1. What have we learned individually and collectively about overcoming those challenges based on past experiences, research, and data.
  4. Commitments:
    1. What are we willing to commit to in order to succeed?

Resources and Data
There is no shortage of data and resources, here are few to consider:
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center is a great place to start.
Take a look at Gallup’s Study of Workplace Wellness. We all spend a lot of time at work which effects our wellbeing. How well are you leading your organization in the areas of wellbeing. Use data to inform your decisions.

The Society for Human Resource Managers (SHRM) can be of great assistance in your quest to destigmatize mental health for those you lead. This is a major factor particularly with Veterans and first responders. Allow the conversations and access to mental health care to become routine.

Is 988; the Suicide and Crisis Hotline as well known as 911?

For Veterans
Here are several organizations recommended to me by individuals with firsthand experience:
The Veteran Crisis Hotline; 988 press 1, Text 838255.
The Headstrong Project for veterans, service members, and family members.
Cohen Veteran Network for military mental health care that is available to all post-9/11 veterans, including National Guard and Reserves, and military family members.

Are you doing everything you can to promote mental health in your organization?

“What makes her think that her perspective is always correct? She needs to get out from behind her desk to gain some other perspectives.”

How many times have you had similar feelings? How often do you think others were saying this about you?

What can you do to open your aperture to see other’s point of view and gain perspective.

Our view of every situation is based on the seat we are sitting in. When you go to a stadium, concert, or theater where do you prefer to sit? What is causing you to make that choice?

You like the perspective.

What happens when you change seats? Your view of the performance changes. You see things differently. Maybe some things you never saw before.


When faced with a dilemma or choice – deliberately change your seat and gain different perspectives. Consider using the Perspective Wheel as a tool. I will give you two contexts where you may use it to assist with a decision. The first, an individual challenge and the second organizational.

Individual Challenge

Pick a dilemma you are individually dealing with. Accepting an offer in a career transition, where to move, the selection of a candidate for a position, taking on a new line of business are a few examples.

Use the wheel below. In the center, state the challenge. In each of the “pizza slices” identify different perspectives.

Individual Example

Accept a Director position in a new company that require a move to a new city. Possible perspectives: spouse, children, parents, in-laws, finances, work/life balance, career progression.

Be rigorous in first, choosing and second, analyzing each perspective. Notice the different perspectives; some are people, some are contexts. In choosing different perspectives think broadly. Use at least 8. Know that you are coming to this decision with biases. Looking at only 2-3 perspectives will likely support your biases rather than challenge them. Why? Because you are not thinking broadly enough, you are likely staying close to your comfort zone.

Analyze each perspective. Consider what it feels like to be inside each perspective. What are the positives, negatives, emotions, and feelings?


Info Graphic for Blog

Organizational Challenge

The Perspective Wheel can be useful in getting a team to understand the perspectives of stakeholders to build consensus and momentum. Let’s use the example of starting a new line of business.

Organizational Example

Start with the challenge in the middle and names individuals on the team in each slice. Externally add the stakeholders by randomly assigning them to a team member using cards. Have each team member develop and speak from the perspective of their assigned stakeholder. Speaking in the first person can have a powerful effect.

“My thoughts from the engineering perspective are the timeline and material are challenges …? 

It forces team members to feel what that stakeholder might feel. It can be useful to execute this process a couple of times.

Example of using the graphic

The essential question to be answered by the team is: How do these different perspectives affect our work and path forward?

Everyone’s perspective is their reality. Gaining more perspectives may remove biases, distortions, and blind spots for you.

What impact would it make on your operation if you had a greater appreciation for the perspectives of others?

Running a business unit for a large company or running your own business requires the same skills. You are responsible for leading and integrating all the cross functional parts of the business.

What do you think are the most important skills to be successful?

The leap to this level requires a broadening of your thinking, the ability to integrate functions, and deliberately set a culture.

This requires a myriad of skills not tested as a functional leader. We will evaluate the skills required by referring to the five areas of expertise as detailed in a previous blog post


Setting the example. All eyes are on you particularly your subordinates and those unfamiliar with you. Walk your talk.

Integration of all the functions. As a functional leader you had expertise, longevity, and credibility within your silo. How you develop expertise in the unfamiliar functions will be critical to your success and reputation. Breaking away from the area you are most comfortable will be a challenge. Think of this as becoming a student of all the functions.

Broadening your perspective. You own the strategic long-term view, while executing on short-term operational goals. Profit, market share, market conditions, workforce, and stakeholders are your responsibility. All requiring your time and capacity.

Delegation. Doing only what you can do and delegate the rest.


Financials. Probably your most important technical skill. As the business leader you must able to read and interpret your business financials.

Mastering the requisite expertise of each functional area. You are likely an expert in one area and familiar with several others. But what is the required expertise to make you a credible decisions-maker?

Team Building. This requires selecting, making personnel moves, and developing individuals and the team. All with the focus to best support the business.


This is the ability to apply the above technical skills in the context of the business.

Financials. Not just reading and understanding the data. You must interpret the long- and short-term implications and formulate plans to succeed in the current and predicted environment.

Team Building. Effectively operationalizing the team.

Delegation. You cannot do it all. The ability to provide clear expectations to your functional leaders will be the cornerstone of your success. Establishing roles, responsibilities, and limits of authority will provide boundaries for you and your leaders.

Ever experience a leader who tried to do it all? It sets up the leader and the team for burnout and frustration.


Deliberately set the culture. If you are not deliberate, a culture will develop. Set the principles for the culture, model it, and enforce it.


Integration of the strategic and operational. Your business exists for the long haul.  Long-term visions are achieved through the incremental short-term operational decisions.


Running your own business or a business unit of a larger organization can be very rewarding. However, it requires broadening your skill set. This broadening entails becoming a strategic thinker who understands their limitations and becomes comfortable allowing others to do their work.

You lead through your understanding of the strategic picture, the market conditions, and your ability to build and lead your team.

“Congratulations you have done an incredible job as a team leader and we are promoting you to lead the entire division. You are now responsible for the (HR/Engineering/Logistics/Marketing…) function of our enterprise.”

Functional leaders lead their area of expertise and are part of a team with the other functional leaders. They are experts in their lane and must work well with the leaders in other lanes. Some themes for leadership at this level, your work is more strategic, finances are involved, and communication is more complex.

Promotion to this level requires several new dimensions of leadership to master. Let’s look at each of the five areas of expertise required for this level of leadership. As detailed in a previous blog post.

Leadership Expertise
Success requires you to be a proficient communicator. The challenges; you are further removed from the line work, closer to the top leadership, and your teammates (other functional leaders) do not speak your functional language.

Hence, you need to develop the expertise to remain in touch with the line worker, communicate well with your peers, and understand the communication requirements of the organizational leaders.

Technical Expertise
The new technical areas requiring mastery are: planning, finances, and reporting. Strategy becomes more prevalent in your tasks. Understanding the planning process and how your functional area fits into the big picture allows you to provide value to the overall organization, and your functional area.

In the for-profit world, the top metrics are financial; return on investment, margin, profit, growth… Understanding the cost of running your functional area and how it contributes to revenue will be a primary measure of your capability.

Reporting is the formal communication of performance metrics. It is the official record of performance.

Tactical Expertise
Tactical expertise is the application of the technical expertise in the context of the business.

Hence, think about the application of three technical areas above in the day-to-day context of your business. Tactical expertise required at this level is mastering the implementation of the planning, financial, and reporting mechanisms. They are the levers of influence at your level and above.
Planning. Your utilization of the systems and participation in the process sets the standard of performance of your functional area. Clearly an area to be deeply involved.

Finances. Think of this as the lifeblood of the organization. The ability to understand the big picture of money flowing through the organization, makes you a valuable member of the team. Compare in your mind the impact of leaders at this level who are experts versus only familiar with the finances of the operation. The more you know the more you can influence operations.

Reporting, serves as the official record of performance for your functional area. Mastery of systems allows you to collect the correct data to tell your story.

Cultural Expertise
The team of functional leaders are all experts on their area with varying levels of familiarity with the other functional areas. Functional leaders also have a mindset of advocacy for their area.

Cultural expertise is the ability to 1) integrate into a culture and 2) when needed create, modify, and maintain a culture. Integration is a required first step. Understand the culture, the norms of behavior and how well you fit.

In determining fit, become a student who learns by listening and asking questions. Be a student of the other functional areas. Understand how you and your functional area fits and contribute to the whole.

Next become a teacher. Endeavor to make other members of the team as knowledgeable of your functional area as needed. This may fall into the category of modifying or maintaining the culture.

Business Expertise
Every business has a mission to deliver an impact and part of the impact is financial. At this level the expertise required to be successful is mastering:

– How your functional area impacts others ability to meet the financial mission
– How the other functional areas impact your area to meet the financial mission

Understanding the finances of your area and their impact on the whole makes you a valuable leader.

This transition can be challenging as the shift in thinking becomes more strategic and the interactions are more complex. Functional leaders will have responsibilities for areas they have little background and experience.

How are you preparing yourself or those you lead for this level of leadership?

“I need to accelerate my career; I just am not sure on how to approach it?”

If you ever said this to yourself, read on, this may help.

When working with clients on this topic I start with the following framework:

  1. Leadership – the ability to create a vision and lead a team to accomplish the vision
  2. Technical Expertise – the specific technical knowledge such as; finance, engineering, programing, marketing, etc. required for a position
  3. Tactical/Functional Expertise – the application of technical expertise in context. Such as accounting in a business context and programming to deliver to a customer.
  4. Business Knowledge – understanding the business fundamentals of the industry. Such as the business cycle, raising capital, cash flows, seasonal trends, hiring nuances, and supply chain.

Every position has the requirement for specific knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA’s) in each of the above areas. Therefore, begin your journey by documenting the specifics. What is required in each area to be a member of the c-suite, a vice president, an executive vice president, or a director?

Here is the overview of a client’s experience, we’ll call him Trevor, as he worked to accelerate his transition to the next level. He started his research by networking and having informational interviews to educate himself on the next level requirements. Here is what he learned.


He would be expected to lead an organization with up to 30 people with 4-6 direct reports. In his current role he was seen as a solid leader, leading project teams of 4-8 people for up to 4 months. He also learned about specific leadership education that would set him apart from his peers. The greatest revelation was the litany of specific achievements and experiences he needed to demonstrate.

Technical Expertise

His interviews revealed a bachelor’s degree is all he needed. Whew! That was a relief as he was thinking a two-year master’s program was a prerequisite. A masters would help but was not required.

Having grown up in the industry, he was confident he had a solid foundation of technical expertise. The more he talked the better he felt. It was clear, moving up would not happen without specific credentials and deep knowledge on the technical nuances of the industry. His credentials, certifications, and training were well respected. He was in good shape.

Tactical/Functional Expertise

This was a new one for him. The next level would have him taking projects from start to finish, applying his technical expertise in many different contexts. He had good experience, just not as broad as needed. An area of growth.

Business Knowledge

Trevor had led small teams with very little insight to the budgeting and revenue cycle. The deeper he dug the greater his anxiety around this area. Another area of growth.

“This research was a great experience and provided clarity on my path forward. I was able to hone in on the specifics I needed to work on. I took on the business knowledge as my top priority. I asked to be the lead on our annual budget process which also allowed me to increase my experience with leadership and functional expertise.”

Trevor developed a timeline for his progress. Several growth areas such as education and certifications had specific dates. Other areas had a general approach with the goal to take on opportunities as they came available. This gave him clarity on which opportunities to embrace and which to pass.

He also wrote a future resume, 14 months in the future, with all the skills and experiences needed for a promotion. The resume served as a focus and accountability tool for him to be ready to apply for the promotion in 14 months.

How could you apply this framework and benefit yourself or anyone on your team?

You need at least one follower, to be a leader.

Who was the  one individual you led who had the most impact on your leadership?

How did that individual make you a better leader? Analyzing how those you impacted your leadership is the purpose of this lesson. We will take the time to look at each stop on your journey and think about at least one subordinate who helped you as a leader.


Look at each stop on your journey and conduct a mental survey of those you led. Pick one who made an impact on you. Write what that impact was.

Some thoughts to consider from my experiences.

In my first positions as a 1st Lieutenant in the Marine Corps I had a Marine Staff Non-Commissioned Officer who made it his mission to help me grow. Though, I did not know that at the time, he had a significant impact.

I learned the value of technical expertise and training others senior to me.

Later in my career I was moved to lead a department of over 100 Marines in the maintenance department of an aviation squadron. This time I was smart enough to ask those experienced Marines for their assistance.

I learned to be comfortable not knowing all the answers, even though I was in charge. I also learned how to delegate and ask a lot of questions and still be accountable for the performance of the entire operation.

Same position different example. I had an individual who refused to comply with norms of the organization. I always felt I would be able to make a difference and get this individual to “get on board”. In the end, he never did, resulting in significant harm to the organization.

I learned not everyone wants what I want or wants to be led by me. I became more realistic and objective with what I was able to accomplish. I learned the lesson of holding individuals to the standards of the organization. If they don’t comply move them along. Creating exceptions is harmful to your credibility and the organization’s performance.

The goal of sharing my examples was to jog your memory of the impact individuals had on your leadership.  Your turn, what impact did those you lead have on your leadership?

“I learned so much when I worked for ACME Company. It gave me the leadership skills and background to succeed in a large corporate organization. Most importantly is showed me how each small part of the company is important.”

How has each organization you worked in impacted your leadership? That is the focus of lesson 4.

Todays Activity

Yes, organizations affect us. Each has its own personality and climate. Then within each organization there are the micro-climates of the individual departments, branches, and offices where we actually work. What impact did they have on your leadership?

Your Analysis

I recommend you take a two-tiered approach in your analysis, one at the large organization (macro) and the second at the level you held a position (micro). This analysis could be several layers, I recommend two.

Not sure where to start. For the macro analysis, think about the size and type of the organization. Such as public, private, government, startup, or small business. The mission, vision, and values of the organization may be helpful. 

For the micro analysis, again consider the mission of your team, size, what you had to accomplish and how you accomplished it.

Following the Macro and Micro analysis, document insights into how your leadership was impacted.



At this level describe the overall context of the organization, it may be something like this:

Large Health System: A 3000-person health care system in a large city, serving a diverse urban population. The hospital had a focus on policy, procedures, and keeping costs under control. There were a lot of quality controls in place and an excessive amount of supervision and justification of procedures.


What did you experience within your work unit?

As a nurse within the Emergency Room, I experienced a highly trained professional staff, dedicated to providing the best care possible. We were encouraged to further our professional development, and attended ongoing training monthly. We had a significant paperwork burden, which was handled by a very professional staff that was cross trained in every facet of our operation. We worked hard for the entirety of our 12-hour shifts and felt we made a positive difference, and were growing. 

Additionally, the department leadership embraced the administration and oversight as an important and integral part of our work. The result, the admin burdens did not seem arduous to our team as we were well trained and the same priority as patient care.

Leadership Insights:

How your leadership was impacted?

I learned that small departments in large organizations can be flexible and agile. Just because the “big organization” has a lot bureaucracy does not mean the small units need to act bureaucratic. I also learned to embrace 100% of the mission with equal enthusiasm, even the administration and oversight.

As a leader, I now emphasize acting small. I do that through continuous education, training and cross training of my teams. This creates synergy and trust among team members and is a hedge against limited resources and encourages flexibility.

I also learned is to push hard for the resources required to accomplish the mission and enthusiastically emphasize 100% of the mission. Even the tedious and seemingly mundane tasks.

Today I have a reputation of creating an energetic climate of continuous development for each individual and the team.

Learning Point:

At the conclusion of this exercise, you should have a feeling for how each organization you worked in contributed to your current leadership style.

As you examine your path, ask yourself the question: “What got me here?”

This question generates all kinds of answers such as character traits, the names of people, and lessons learned.  Here are some possible examples;

  • Tenacity and hard work, diligence
  • Sheer Luck, a well-executed plan
  • One very insightful mentor
  • The painful lesson of being fired
  • The chance I took taking on ________

Write your own list.




What does the list tell you?


Go back to the beginning of your journey when you were in your very first leadership position. Mentally take on the view as your former self. The excitement of your first position with all kinds of unknowns in front of you. Then the first leadership task assigned to you. Who was around you and what emotions were driving you then?

Now, write how your former self defined leadership at that time.


In your current role, think of all those around you and the daily emotions that drive you. What is your definition of leadership now?


What changed? How have you evolved over time and what were the forces acting on you? This may take a little time and reflection. I am not just talking about what changed in the definition, but what changed in your perception of what leadership is.

Leadership Considerations

There are so many considerations with leadership. How do you choose where to focus? My intent is to introduce broad areas that will spur further thought and exploration of details. Those details will hopefully reveal the nuances of your current leadership and how it was influenced by your journey. The four areas are: transactional leadership, transformational leadership, power/authority, and relationships.


These are the four areas that I believe help us define our own leadership. When we understand these four areas, we are able to assess and garner a view of our own leadership and the leadership of others.

  1. Transactional leadership: leadership through formal authority and position of responsibility in an organization. It relies on exchanges between leaders and followers. Leaders lead through transactions such as pay for work, rules, incentives, policy, and organizational structure.
  2. Transformational leadership: is a process where leaders and followers engage in a mutual process of ‘raising one another to higher levels of morality and motivation.’
  3. Power/Authority: where does the leader get his/her leader power and or authority
  4. Relationships: what type of relationships does the leader engage in?

Now you are ready to make a full assessment of your personal journey. Take each position and add some short comments or bullets about your leadership, addressing each of the four areas. Here is an example of a first leadership position.

Newly hired as an assistant production engineer for a hardware company. I had the responsibilities of managing 5 programmers and technicians in the production and functionality of the hardware and associated software developed by my team.

  1. Transactional Leadership – I spent most of my time in this area of leadership. I used the metrics of time cards, hours spent, budget, and schedule to get me through each week.
  2. Transformational leadership – I took some time to get to know my team and determine their technical capabilities. Knowing their technical capabilities was extremely important to me as it defined their production potential. It took a long time to build up personal rapport with each member. I was afraid to get close with anyone as I wanted to maintain my authority over them.
  3. Power/Authority: I felt my power and authority came from my position and ability to grant overtime and hold the team to a schedule.
  4. Relationships: My relationships with each team member were distant. I did not take the time to get to know anyone very well. As time went on, I became close with my senior program manager and scrum master. I came to realize how important she was to our team’s success. She also provided me valuable insights into my team.

This exercise will add to your depth and insight to your timeline. In the introduction you showed a chronological sequence of your journey. Now you added some important context to each stop along your path.

You are on a trip, that started a long time ago. As a matter of fact, it is hard to remember exactly when and how it started. The path traveled has shaped you. When asked about previous destinations it is fun, well sometimes, to reminisce about those places and the impact they made on you.

This exercise is designed for you to take the time to reminisce (analyze) about the stops on your leadership journey and understand their impact on your leadership. Maybe even assess how the lessons from those stops may assist you moving forward.

This program will help you do that. Look back at your past, take the lessons learned, and apply them to your future.

Two essential questions will guide your journey:
1. How has your leadership changed over your career?
2. How has the nature of leadership changed during your career?

This reflective exercise will focus on you and your leadership at every phase of your professional life. We will start with you. Then move to those that led you, then those you currently lead. Followed by how the organizations you worked in influenced your leadership. Finally, we’ll take a glance at how the leadership trends of the times influenced you.

For this exercise you will be documenting your leadership journey. Do this in whatever format works for you: computer, journal, notebook etc. Let’s get started.

The goal is to build a depiction of your leadership career. It can be visual, textual, or both.

Think of a timeline with the starting point as your first professional position. Then begin to consecutively add the professional positions you have held. The first position out of college, followed by your promotion, followed by your lateral move to a new division. A master’s degree led to the new title of program manager. Three years later a move to a new city and a new employer.

You are getting the story. Make whatever drawing works for you. A straight timeline, a big S, or multiple pages. The goal is to visually show your professional progress.

Now, consider the following questions and document the answers for each position:
1. How did you land the position?
2. How did you lead in the position?
3. How effective were you?

Be as objective as possible, particularly on question 3. Looking back at copies of performance reviews may be helpful.

Congratulations! You are off to a great start. You have created a high-level road map of your leadership journey. It shows where you started, stops along the way, and what you experienced at each stop.

Next we’ll take a closer look at what you learned at each stop.

Think about every person on your team. Who do you predict is the next to leave? What is informing your thinking?

Who do you want to be the next to leave? Who do you want to never leave?

What are you doing about it?

Everyone will leave their position at some time. As leaders, it behooves us to know when people are leaving and that the transition occurs on positive terms. Even for low performers that we move on.

The four types of transitions from organizations:

  1. Positive when everyone knows the terms of the exit
  2. Negative short fused due to poor performance or a negative event
  3. Negative long term due to poor performance
  4. The surprise departure, not predicted or expected

Positive departures are recognized many times with celebrations, lunches, or retirement dinners. The organization had time to plan the transition, unload responsibilities, and feel a degree of smoothness with the change. They create good feelings, continuity, and positive alumni.

Negative short fused departures are often tumultuous. Though not always negative. I am sure you felt joy and relief when that negative influence left the team. After the departure many leaders reflect on what took them so long to make the decision.

Negative long-term departures can be an energy depleting marathon. The longevity of the departure may result from the inability to fire someone. Government positions have this problem. Bosses reluctant to move someone along are also typical causes. These cases create performance plans, accountability plans, HR reviews, and lots of ongoing supervision. All to pressure the individual to self-select or build an airtight case for a firing.

The worst departures; surprises by high performers.  When faced with one of these cases, you ask yourself; ‘how did I not know that was going to happen?’  That is the crux of this article.

How can you ensure you are aware of every individual’s plan and eliminate this category entirely from your experience?

Know your people and how their current position fits into their long-term career plan.

The teammates on your team do not work for you. They are on a career path that is in their head and you are only along for part of the journey. Help them get what they need and want in their time with you.

Think about yourself in your current position. How long do you intend to be there and what are the milestones that will signal it’s time to exit?

The folks you are leading have the same mindset. “Once I meet these qualifications or milestones, I will be moving on to what is next.”

What actions do you need to start to understand what role you are playing in their career progression?  Simple, ask and make it a regular part of your interactions.

Most leaders surprised by departures; created the conditions to be shocked.