The Four Keys to Being a Trusted Leader

March 10th, 2014

Self-aggrandizement and even plain old greed has become standard fare in the executive cafeteria. And yet CEOs wonder why their employees and the public exhibit such a high degree of mistrust toward business and business leaders. The truth lies in the way many CEOs talk and behave.

Real leadership – the kind that inspires people to pull together and collectively achieve something great – can only be exercised when an executive is trusted. And trust arises when someone is seen acting selflessly. This may not sound like news – indeed the centuries-old concept of servant leadership is based on it. But if it also sounds vague and hard to apply to your own leadership setting, let’s break it down further. People in an organization perceive selflessness when a leader concerns him or herself with their safety; performs valuable service for them; and makes personal sacrifice for their benefit.

I still have the watch my grandfather received when he retired after 50+ years working for a trucking company as a staff accountant in western Pennsylvania. I wear it regularly. Today, of course, very few people make it to a ten or even five-year anniversary with a company – why did my grandfather stay 50? He appreciated the safety of that workplace – and despite what you might want to believe, safety is up to leaders to provide or deny. Safe is not cutting people as soon as there is a dip in the economy. Safe is not giving raises to a few executives while colleagues languish with small or non-existent increases. Safe is not producing extraordinary profits while failing to develop a clear career path and development plan for every employee. What safe is, is a place where people come to work not worried about whether they will have a job tomorrow, where compensation is fair, where employees feel that they have gotten a little bit better at their job every day, where they feel there is opportunity to advance and learn, and where their bosses treat them like they are important contributors to the betterment of the organization. Safe makes a great company.

If safety doesn’t fit well into our current performance-based business culture, then the notion of leader service fits even less. The executive mindset is to “win/perform.” Most executives that I work with love their company and want it to succeed, but very few of them think of themselves as being “in service” to those whose work must make that happen.

The service mindset is uniquely different from the performance mindset. It isn’t built by an external set of rules or process, but grows from a set of deep-rooted values that are lived minute-by-minute by leaders. One of the CEOs I work with used a visual device to signal the values he wanted to pervade the senior ranks. He inverted his Organization Chart, so that the larger group of names – the people directly serving customers – were displayed at the top of the chart. The Executive team including the CEO were shown below, signifying that their whole purpose in the organization was to support and serve that crucial, client-serving level. Not only did this help with executives’ priority-setting, it was motivating to everyone. People do better work for a CEO who they feel is working for them, too.

The idea of personal sacrifice in today’s business environment usually translates to giving up “work/life balance” by traveling a lot and working late – and certainly no one in the ranks who is doing that likes to see the boss putting in fewer hours. (Whether you believe it or not, people know when you aren’t “all in.”) But the sacrifices that matter most are the ones that involve sticking one’s neck out for a colleague or taking a stand that puts one’s political capital at risk. One CEO that I coach used to work for a mid-sized company that had been sold three times in less than two years. When the third purchaser began the integration process, the new owners wanted him to cut headcount by targeting the staff level making an average $45K/year. But the CEO suggested that the better path to profitability was to trim the executive team, and keep those lower-paid workers in place. The new owners saw the logic but took it in an unexpected direction by unceremoniously dismissing our hero. Not the best result, but he’ll be okay in the longer term. In fact, he’ll do better than ever. His sacrifice to keep others working earned him a waiting list of talent eager to work with him in his next organization.

Selflessness, Safety, Service, and Sacrifice. If finding great people to work with you is key (which it probably is) and you can’t do it all by yourself (which you can’t), then keep these concepts in the forefront of your mind. They will help you build an extraordinary team and produce winning results for your business – and when the time comes for you to retire (with a gold watch or not), you’ll be proud of how you led.

John Dame founded Dame Management Strategies in 2002 to work with CEOs and their executive teams.

New HBR Blog: Three Tips For Overcoming Your Blind Spots

October 4th, 2013

Please read my new blog on HBR and let me know your feedback!

Six Principles for Developing Humility as a Leader

September 11th, 2013

Check out the new blog that I wrote with Jeff Gedmin for Harvard Business Review about developing humility as a leader.

Dean Minuto to deliver the All New YESCALATE: Get to YES Faster.™ Workshop

January 14th, 2013

Who do you need a YES from? You (and your team) can get to YES Faster.™

When: Friday, February 15, 2013—Morning Workshop (with afternoon Coaching Session for first 20 Registrants)
Where: The Harrisburg Amphitheater, Holiday Inn East at 4751 Lindle Road

For full details please read this PDF. To register for the workshop click here.

Congratulations To The Class of 2012 PerformanceCEO Graduates!

October 1st, 2012

The graduates listed below completed an intense six month program where the group and program facilitator, John Dame with Dame Management Strategies, worked through key critical issues affecting their business.

Jen DelayeThe JDK Group
Anne Deeter GallaherDeeter Gallaher Group LLC
Susan PeraCornerstone Coffeehouse & Culinary Kitchen
Linda GoldsteinHarrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC
Jodi FrankKeystone Safety Supply LLC
Tina NixonYWCA of Greater Harrisburg


Apply for the 2013 PerformanceCEO Program

PerformanceCEO is designed for business owners, C-level executives and top level management.
If you are interested in more information or if you would like to apply, please click here.

Stimulate Your Thinking – Giving Feedback For Development Is Harder Than It Sounds

May 7th, 2012

By Tracy Scates 

Feedback is hard. In my experience, well-meaning, smart professionals responsible for developing others often fail in giving appropriate feedback. Why is it hard, and what can you do about it?

I became a student of feedback through trial and error-a lot of the latter.  Over time, I crafted a model to help myself stay out of trouble, help others do the same, and ultimately serve as a catalyst to help professionals advance their success, in their own terms. It has been a fun journey. In 2006 I designed, sold, and taught a course on “Giving and Receiving Feedback” through a social-benefit organization. Somewhat to my surprise, it was well attended! And, much to our delight, it was well received. Emboldened by success, I continued to practice, evolve the model, and share my findings with those that I feel would benefit directly and indirectly from giving feedback.

What circumstances warrant giving feedback?

While leading a seminar recently and after some grappling with feedback practice, I asked the group, “Why do we give feedback?” Quietly, one manager spoke, “To develop people,” to which was added, “to reward good behavior,” then, swiftly, “to help people change.”  After several seconds of silence I observed, “I didn’t hear anyone say ‘because we are expected to.'” The group nodded in confirmation.

On the other hand, have you ever found yourself saying, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me about that?!?” In this case the recipient of critical feedback might have feelings of  sabotage, sadness, embarrassment, and even resentment.  I trust that you would not like to provoke such feelings in another, so take the risk. A small bump to the system is preferred to the whack of a Mack truck traveling from the rear.

We managers must let our charges know that in order to help them advance, we will use real opportunities, or “teachable moments,” for this purpose. One way is through giving feedback. Meetings are great venues, as I am wont to say, “If we can be observed, then we are presenting.” One way to gauge the viability of a teachable moment is to witness how team members respond to the employee. Observe evidence of engagement, shock, agreement with, disagreement with, levity, and such. We must be mindful of our deductions based on evidence; bear in mind, too, that nonverbal behavior and tone of voice outweigh the words we use.

Why is giving feedback hard?
Giving feedback is hard because while we know that we need to do it and even agree, it is a challenge to know when and how. Furthermore, if our employee is conducting him or herself in a manner that doesn’t serve him or her or the team well, it somehow reflects upon, well, us, the managers. We may feel angry about that, and strong emotions can  trump critical thinking. Giving feedback is complex, more art than science, and precious few of us went to “Feedback Class” when we got our promotions. In development, including and especially our own, we begin with self awareness and the acknowledgement that in order to advance our own skills we must practice.

In advance of giving feedback, decide whether you ought to go forward at all:

  • Check your intentions. If giving feedback is for the benefit of the professional first and then her immediate team, continue to the next test.
  • Ask permission to share something with the professional in person. Seek to do this within 24 hours of the teachable moment or event. I feel that the best way to do this is immediately prior to giving the feedback. Time lags can cause a lot of stress, for both of you. If you receive a supportive response, proceed.

Prepare yourself

Once you have inspected your reasons for giving feedback, and immediately prior to sharing it, get yourself grounded. This is no easy task. I recommend learning and practicing The State of Ease by the Institute of HeartMath to achieve this state.

Feedback can result in damage if not done deftly, so take care! There is value in restraint as there is value in action.

After thanking the professional for meeting with you, set the context, share a brief bit of information about the particular scene, or situation to which you are referring.

Start by stating your observation of the professional’s behavior or actions. Be descriptive.

Then, say how the professional’s actions affected you and the team. Use emotional language. I recommend learning about and advancing your Emotional Intelligence (for this purpose, and with many benefits beyond feedback). Strive to link the behavior with an actual result or forecast a future potential outcome.

Offer a suggestion to the professional. Explain what the benefit would be if that fits with the situation. Avoid coercion. Expect that during the “suggestion” phase the person may not have the capacity for listening well; she may still be taking in and thinking about what you have just said. Emotions could amplify. Pay attention. Remain engaged, calm, and supportive.

Example A: Patricia, during our team meeting when you shared your concerns about the proposal, you really got my attention! I am happy that you had the courage to speak your mind, and did so while remaining respectful of the dissension at the table. I feel that we collaborated at a deep level and ultimately came up with the best decision. Patricia, please continue to share your ideas and feelings with our team!

Example B: James, during my presentation on the change initiative I saw you on your phone. I felt disregarded. When, instead of making a quick check, you continued to work on your phone, I became angry and embarrassed. I think that my emotions interfered with my ability to do a good job, and I fear that some of the attendees may not support this initiative as a result. In the future, James, please stay engaged. If you must conduct business on your phone or otherwise, take it outside of the room.

Encouraging improvements

I recommend experimenting with people who love you and will therefore help you to weather your mistakes. I also suggest that in giving feedback suggesting, encourage continued positive behavior. To paraphrase Karen Pryor in her book Don’t Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training, behavior that is rewarded continues.

Through small, perhaps undetected efforts, you can build strength, flexibility and ease in giving feedback. Done well, it has many benefits for the recipient, you, and the team.

Stimulate Your Thinking – Trend Watch: Redefining Leadership

April 23rd, 2012

It’s time to let go of the heroic leader.

The ability of any single individual – as heroic or skilled or dedicated as he or she may be – is no longer enough to meet the complex challenges we face today.

“With the decline of the value of the heroic leader comes the rise of collective leadership,” says Nick Petrie.

During a sabbatical year at Harvard, Petrie (now with CCL) undertook a wide-ranging study to explore what the future of leadership development will look like. One of the key trends he identified was the shift to collective leadership – what CCL describes as “interdependent leadership.”

In his paper Future Trends in Leadership Development, Petrie explains:

“The complexity of our environment increasingly calls for collaboration between various stakeholders who each hold a different aspect of the reality – and many of whom must themselves adapt and grow if the problem is to be solved. These groups (which often cross geographies, reporting lines and organizations) need to share information, create plans, influence each other and make decisions.”

If this trend has you thinking that we need to be sure managers have strong collaboration and influencing skills, you are missing a larger point, Petrie continues. “Individual competencies still matter. However, something more significant may be happening – the end of an era, dominated by individual leaders, and the beginning of another, which embraces networks of leadership.”


Making the shift seems to require us to redefine leadership. Many organizational theorists have begun to reframe leadership, getting away from leadership as a person or role, to leadership as a process. Leadership can be enacted by anyone; it is not tied to a position of authority in the hierarchy or any one individual. Leadership can be distributed throughout networks of people and across boundaries and geographies. Who the leader is becomes less important than what is needed in the system and how we can produce it.

If leadership is thought of as a shared process, rather than an individual skill set, senior executives must learn new ways to help leadership develop broadly and collectively in their organizations. Collaborative, networked leadership is more likely to flourish when certain “conditions” support it, including:

  • Open flows of information.
  • Flexible hierarchies.
  • Distributed resources.
  • Distributed decision-making.
  • Loosening of centralized controls.

To create these conditions, leadership development methods will have to address the collective mind-shift needed to enact leadership in a shared way. Leadership development practitioners will also need to create learning tools and strategies that mesh with the technology and social networking that has been rapidly flattening hierarchies and decentralizing control in recent years.

“We are still at the early stages of thinking about leadership development at a collective level,” says Petrie. “But I have no doubt that future generations will see networked, interdependent leadership as a natural phenomenon, the way of the world.”

Leading Via Direction, Alignment, Commitment

Interdependent leadership requires an evolution in leadership thought, according to CCL’s John McGuire and Charles Palus. The journey begins with an outcome-based definition of leadership. Leadership is a social process that creates three essential outcomes: shared direction, alignment and commitment (DAC).

“CCL has held DAC as its core definition of leadership for some time,” says Nick Petrie. “With this understanding, the distinction between who is a leader and who is a follower becomes less clear or relevant. Everyone will be both at different times.”

Want to learn more? Download Future Trends in Leadership Development, a CCL white paper by Nicholas Petrie. You can also follow Nick on his blog about learning, growing and performing

Stimulate Your Thinking – 6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers

April 9th, 2012

You’re the boss, but you still spend too much time on the day-to-day. Here’s how to become the strategic leader your company needs.

In the beginning, there was just you and your partners. You did every job. You coded, you met with investors, you emptied the trash and phoned in the midnight pizza. Now you have others to do all that and it’s time for you to “be strategic.”

Whatever that means.

If you find yourself resisting “being strategic,” because it sounds like a fast track to irrelevance, or vaguely like an excuse to slack off, you’re not alone. Every leader’s temptation is to deal with what’s directly in front, because it always seems more urgent and concrete. Unfortunately, if you do that, you put your company at risk. While you concentrate on steering around potholes, you’ll miss windfall opportunities, not to mention any signals that the road you’re on is leading off a cliff.

This is a tough job, make no mistake. “We need strategic leaders!” is a pretty constant refrain at every company, large and small. One reason the job is so tough: no one really understands what it entails. It’s hard to be a strategic leader if you don’t know what strategic leaders are supposed to do.

After two decades of advising organizations large and small, my colleagues and I have formed a clear idea of what’s required of you in this role. Adaptive strategic leaders – the kind who thrive in today’s uncertain environment – do six things well:


Most of the focus at most companies is on what’s directly ahead. The leaders lack “peripheral vision.” This can leave your company vulnerable to rivals who detect and act on ambiguous signals. To anticipate well, you must:

  • Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry
  • Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
  • Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better

Think Critically

“Conventional wisdom” opens you to fewer raised eyebrows and second guessing. But if you swallow every management fad, herdlike belief, and safe opinion at face value, your company loses all competitive advantage. Critical thinkers question everything. To master this skill you must force yourself to:

  • Reframe problems to get to the bottom of things, in terms of root causes
  • Challenge current beliefs and mindsets, including your own
  • Uncover hypocrisy, manipulation, and bias in organizational decisions


Ambiguity is unsettling. Faced with it, the temptation is to reach for a fast (and potentially wrongheaded) solution.  A good strategic leader holds steady, synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint. To get good at this, you have to:

  • Seek patterns in multiple sources of data
  • Encourage others to do the same
  • Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously


Many leaders fall prey to “analysis paralysis.” You have to develop processes and enforce them, so that you arrive at a “good enough” position. To do that well, you have to:

  • Carefully frame the decision to get to the crux of the matter
  • Balance speed, rigor, quality and agility. Leave perfection to higher powers
  • Take a stand even with incomplete information and amid diverse views


Total consensus is rare. A strategic leader must foster open dialogue, build trust and engage key stakeholders, especially when views diverge.  To pull that off, you need to:

  • Understand what drives other people’s agendas, including what remains hidden
  • Bring tough issues to the surface, even when it’s uncomfortable
  • Assess risk tolerance and follow through to build the necessary support


As your company grows, honest feedback is harder and harder to come by.  You have to do what you can to keep it coming. This is crucial because success and failure–especially failure–are valuable sources of organizational learning.  Here’s what you need to do:

  • Encourage and exemplify honest, rigorous debriefs to extract lessons
  • Shift course quickly if you realize you’re off track
  • Celebrate both success and (well-intentioned) failures that provide insight


Paul J. H. Schoemaker: Founder and Chairman, Decision Strategies Intl. Speaker, professor, and entrepreneur. Research Director, Mack Ctr for Technological Innovation at Wharton, where he teaches strategic decision-making. Latest book: Brilliant Mistakes

2012 Underwater Marathon: Benefiting the Eagle Fund

April 7th, 2012

One of my Vistage companies, HydroWorx, is putting on an Underwater Marathon in Heshey, PA at Troegs Brewery to help heal Special Forces Warriors. Most of my groups has gotten behind this cause and I thought you might consider it as well.

The healing for these soldiers is done by putting them thru intensive restorative rehabilitation and conditioning over and beyond the level they get from the U.S. military healthcare plan. This is all done via a non-profit foundation called the Eagle Fund and it takes these SEALS, Rangers, Recon warriors back to active duty status and helps heal their home life as well. All these guys want to do is serve and protect. This allows them to get back to that.

Here’s the website: and you can watch a brief video on the soldiers and the restorative program at the bottom of this post.

HydroWorx is hosting a Special Ops soldier and the Founder of the Eagle Fund, Alex Lincoln, in from Pensacola, FL for breakfast and lunch presentations on April 26 and 27 (Thurs and Fri) at HydroWorx offices in Middletown, PA and I would like you to consider coming to meet the soldier and Alex and hear their story.

It’s a casual presentation and Q & A times and free meals are from 7:30 am and 12 noon on either the 26th or the 27th —- you can pick one of the days.

So far they have raised $55,000 in company pledges and also from individual runners for the Sept. 9th event. It’s really gaining momentum and about 15 local businesses are helping out so far and many are Vistage companies.

Thanks for your consideration and interest and I hope to see you at HydroWorx’s offices on April 26th or 27th.

Stimulate Your Thinking – Stop Living In The Gray Zone

April 2nd, 2012

Why is it that between 25% and 50% of people report feeling overwhelmed or burned out at work?

It’s not just the number of hours we’re working, but also the fact that we spend too many continuous hours juggling too many things at the same time.

What we’ve lost, above all, are stopping points, finish lines and boundaries. Technology has blurred them beyond recognition. Wherever we go, our work follows us, on our digital devices, ever insistent and intrusive. It’s like an itch we can’t resist scratching, even though scratching invariably makes it worse.

Tell the truth: Do you answer email during conference calls (and sometimes even during calls with one other person)? Do you bring your laptop to meetings and then pretend you’re taking notes while you surf the net? Do you eat lunch at your desk? Do you make calls while you’re driving, and even send the occasional text, even though you know you shouldn’t?

The biggest cost – assuming you don’t crash – is to your productivity. In part, that’s a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you’re partially engaged in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one. In part, it’s because when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you’re increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25 per cent.

But most insidiously, it’s because if you’re always doing something, you’re relentlessly burning down your available reservoir of energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour.

I know this from my own experience. I get two to three times as much writing accomplished when I focus without interruption for a designated period of time and then take a real break, away from my desk. The best way for an organization to fuel higher productivity and more innovative thinking is to strongly encourage finite periods of absorbed focus, as well as shorter periods of real renewal.

If you’re a manager, here are three policies worth promoting:

1. Maintain meeting discipline. Schedule meetings for 45 minutes, rather than an hour or longer, so participants can stay focused, take time afterward to reflect on what’s been discussed, and recover before the next obligation. Start all meetings at a precise time, end at a precise time, and insist that all digital devices be turned off throughout the meeting.

2. Stop demanding or expecting instant responsiveness at every moment of the day. It forces your people into reactive mode, fractures their attention, and makes it difficult for them to sustain attention on their priorities. Let them turn off their email at certain times. If it’s urgent, you can call them – but that won’t happen very often.

3. Encourage renewal. Create at least one time during the day when you encourage your people to stop working and take a break. Offer a midafternoon class in yoga, or meditation, organize a group walk or workout, or consider creating a renewal room where people can relax, or take a nap.

It’s also up to individuals to set their own boundaries. Consider these three behaviors for yourself:

1. Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. If possible, work in a private space during this period, or with sound-reducing earphones. Finally, resist every impulse to distraction, knowing that you have a designated stopping point. The more absorbed you can get, the more productive you’ll be. When you’re done, take at least a few minutes to renew.

2. Establish regular, scheduled times to think more long term, creatively, or strategically. If you don’t, you’ll constantly succumb to the tyranny of the urgent. Also, find a different environment in which to do this activity – preferably one that’s relaxed and conducive to open-ended thinking.

3. Take real and regular vacations. Real means that when you’re off, you’re truly disconnecting from work. Regular means several times a year if possible, even if some are only two or three days added to a weekend. The research strongly suggests that you’ll be far healthier if you take all of your vacation time, and more productive overall.

A single principle lies at the heart of all these suggestions. When you’re engaged at work, fully engage, for defined periods of time. When you’re renewing, truly renew. Make waves. Stop living your life in the gray zone.