Guest post on Wendy Appel’s Enneagram site

I’m not much of an Enneagram fan.  The Myers-Briggs makes much more sense to me.  Wendy Appel is an Enneagram expert and a friend.   I’ve written about her Enneagram book and cards before and mentioned that I’d have never known I was a 5 without her help.  So when she asked me to write about being a 5, I had to dig deep.  Here’s what came out of my pen.


InsideOut Enneagram—A New Look at an Ancient System

I’ve never been able to relate to the Enneagram all that well.  It has always seemed complicated to me, inaccessible and just a little bit shaming.  I’ve read several books, and tried to decide what type I was, all to no avail.  Then a friend and colleague, Wendy Appel, published a deck of Enneagram typing cards and led me through a typing conversation using them.

Now I get it.  I really get it.  As in, how could I have missed such powerful information all these years?

I’m excited to tell you about a new book on the market.  Wendy’s book.  It goes with the cards she created.  Below is the info from her press kit.  If you’re looking for a practical guide on how to use the Enneagram, this book is the first I’ve seen that takes this on.  I can’t wait to get my copy.

InsideOut Enneagram: A Game-Changing guide for leaders by Wendy Appel presents a fresh perspective on the the centuries-old Enneagram System.

As Wendy states in the introduction to her book:

Wendy Appel, a seasoned leader herself, has traveled a diverse, complementary career path, working as a facilitator, a coach for teams and their leaders, a thought partner, a change management consultant, a public speaker, and a workshop leader. InsideOut is a culmination of twenty years of study and work with the Enneagram.

In her new book, she guides you–the leaders and members of society–to change the way you see and think. The Enneagram helps shine light on your natural strengths, your challenges, and the mostly unconscious habits of mind and desires that drive you and others. This book provides tools and shows you how to be the leader that others trust and someone they are inspired to follow.

The Enneagram is a dynamic system that reveals a lot about human nature. According to Wendy, exploring that system can be a life-changing experience.

“If you are ready, the Enneagram enables a journey through your inner landscape for powerful self-transformation. This does require a certain amount of courage. The result is enhanced emotional health, as well as the ability to respond to all circumstances with agility, balance and freedom,” she says.

Inner change leads to outer change—when your inner world transforms, the possibility opens for extraordinary shifts to occur in your organization, community and society.

InsideOut Enneagram is more than just a book about the Enneagram. It turns theory into practice with relevant case studies, exercises and reflections. I encourage you to read it for yourself, and to learn to create the life you desire by looking inside before you look out.

InsideOut Enneagram: The Game Changing Guide for Leaders by Wendy Appel launches March 29, 2012 and is available on Amazon.

The Executive Icebreaker

My favorite icebreakers for executives are:

1. Ask them to answer the question:  What accomplishment are they most proud of?  I pose the question, give them time to think, and then go around the circle listening to their answers  I summarize the themes I hear.  I love how their accomplishments are always impressive, and show clearly what they most value.  It has the effect of leveling the playing field even when what they share is very different.  Pride does that, I think.

2. Ask them what is the one thing they want to accomplish before they die/stop working/retire.  Same process as above, and the answers can be breath-taking.

What about you?  Are there any icebreakers you find work especially well with executives?  Share!

The tale of X

I first met X when she was underemployed. Well, not underemployed, exactly, but under-supported. X could organize the second coming while unconscious. She seemed to breathe a different atmosphere than others, slaying the dragon of obstructive and nonsensical insurance regulations like some kind of Jedi knight. While others slogged through complicated decisions line-by-line, getting ever more confused, X never lost her footing. She seemed to intuit the right answer in a flash. Then she would explain her reasoning to the rest of us in a single sentence, and we’d see the clear path of her reasoning. Agree or disagree, it made perfect sense.

X was chafing for a bigger field to play in, a place she could make a bigger difference. Her boss chose not to give her that chance.

X quit, choosing to believe in herself. She chose to believe that her skills and her vision belonged on a bigger playing field, and that she would find it. She had no idea where to look. It was hard to leave what she’d spend years creating.

She consulted, took an interim job, consulted some more. She stayed restless and dissatisfied, and questioned daily her decision to leave the safety of what she’d created for the vagaries of what she believed could be. In the middle of this, the recession hit hard with its high unemployment and dearth of opportunities. I felt a little bad for encouraging her to follow her star.

But X is a fighter.

Last night we had dinner together and she told me about her new gig, doing what she alone can do, fully supported and appropriately compensated. It’s huge, what she’s bitten off.

The story of X reminds me of Kenneth Atchity’s three rules of time management:

Don’t do anything that doesn’t need to be done.

Don’t do anything that someone else will do if you stop doing it.

Only do what only you can do.

X is the right one to get this done. I can’t wait for updates.

Ultimate Key to Motivating a Group

Last week, a client emailed me asking for help with facilitation skills. So, I went to thinking I could find some high quality training videos in a jiffy. Nope. I found a lot of folks slinging lingo and jousting with jargon, but I didn’t find anyone who could talk about facilitation without slipping into one of two traps:

1. Drowning me in a blizzard of meaningless buzzwords until the room started to spin. If I’d been near an open window, I’d have jumped. Gleefully.

2. Standing in the front of the room with a marker saying things like, “Yes! Action is doing something – very good!” followed by “That’s it! We need a process to do something. You’d be amazed at how many leaders do not understand the need for process.” It was like day care in hell.

I love facilitating meetings, and I was bored to distraction. I know many of the people in those videos love meeting facilitation and the magic of groups too. What is it that makes us so tongue-tied about this key leadership skill? Why do we either bury it in corpo-speak or find ourselves making ringing proclamations of the obvious. Either way, why do we sound like such nitwits?

Because facilitating a meeting is simple. It’s so simple, it doesn’t seem possible that all that power could come from something so simple. So, we over-complicate it with lofty talk or overstate it’s simplicity with an almost psychotic passion.

Wanting to comes first

The raison d’etre of every meeting to to motivate a group of individuals to join forces to get something done. To be come something more than a collection of individuals. It’s not convincing them. It’s not persuading them. It’s not leading them. It’s not making it happen, because motivating someone else isn’t possible. They must motivate themselves. Motivation comes from wanting to do something. Group motivation comes from individuals connecting with each other – igniting each other until they are a great, roaring bonfire. Without the “want to,” you’ve got nothing. In the case of many meetings, you’ve got quite a bit less than nothing as group members spend time getting over the barren wasteland of meeting after meeting without even a spark.

All of which means that meetings are about letting a group talk themselves into wanting to do what needs to be done. That’s best done by asking for their help figuring out how to do it, then getting out of the way while they ignite each other. You’d best be ignited first, either with excitement or frustration or doubt, it doesn’t much matter which. A group that catches fire turns all of those into fuel.

R is for Relevant – WIIFM?

My uncle owns a garage that specializes in tires. When I’m in town for a visit, I go to the garage and talk to him while he works. I watch him balance each tire before he mounts it. It’s mesmerizing to watch the tire wobble on the balancing machine, and to watch his hands notice the exact place the tire needs a small weight pounded into the rim. He’s been doing this so long (he’s 86), he’s a tire psychic. After he’s done, it’s satisfying to watch the way tire spins when it’s perfectly balanced. It doesn’t wobble. With one tiny push, it spins and floats. It’s light as a feather, a perpetual motion tire.

Putting a balanced tire on a car makes the whole car run better: The tires want to spin! With balanced tires, the car gets better mileage, and it’s more fun to drive.

Aligning the front end of the car distributes the load evenly. It feels like less weight. It handles more easily, and is more responsive to the driver. The tire appears light as a feather when it’s balanced, and the car seems to weight less when it’s aligned.

It’s these two things that add up to relevance: You balance each task before you add it to the mix. You make sure the task is aligned with the goals of the department and the company, and then you align them with the goals of the person doing the task. Same workload, but it’s easier to carry. Same tasks, but they seem to spin on their own. We’ve all worked like this: It’s fun.

Balancing the task

A task will spin on it’s own when nothing is bogging it down. When a task wobbles and threatens to lose momentum, we’re quick to point to the motivation, skills and even the character of the person doing the task. And, that is one element of balancing the task: Making sure the task fits the skills of the person doing it. But, the other elements can be far more important: Is the task properly budgeted for, adequately staffed, and has it’s impact been thought out? Is there someone in the organization who hates what this task or project and has the power to stop it? Is there another department or person who’s life will be made miserable if this task is completed? Anticipating these obstacles and planning for them eliminates the wobble. Being blind-sided by them wipes out momentum.

And, finally, if this task is done successfully, will the person be rewarded or punished for it? This one is worth lingering on: If I give you a difficult, gnarly project and you knock it out of the park, is giving you another tricky, difficult project a reward or a punishment? This is personal and can vary moment-to-moment. If you can’t answer that question for everyone who works for you, you’ll never be able to get a task to spin.


Aligning the task with the organization and the person: WIIFM.

Nothing gives a task wings like alignment. You’ve seen how people can work when they believe in something. You’ve experienced it yourself: When the task matches your talents and goals, it’s worth all the energy it takes. That’s how you know it’s aligned with the person doing it. Organizational alignment shows up in organizational commitment: People walk their talk, the project is funded, when people get wind of what you’re doing, they get involved and spend time with you. It’s easy to get appointments with stakeholders, and they help you. You can see the momentum build.

WIIFM – What’s in it for me? – is always operating, for the organization and each person in it. Fighting it doesn’t work for long. Joining it builds momentum. Which will you choose? Write and let me know – I’d love to hear about how you navigate this.

A is for achievable – finding the sweet spot

There is a relationship between how hard a goal is to achieve and how motivated we are to achieve it. If it’s too easy, we are barely engaged and may miss it through neglect. Even if we make the goal, it won’t be our best work. If it’s too hard, we give up in despair and may think less of the person who set the goal. Or, we may get frozen in anxiety and turn in a lackluster performance, which is discouraging. If that weren’t enough, finding the motivation zone varies from person to person and from moment to moment.

It sometimes seems that making a goal achievable is itself unachievable.

Which is why it’s so lucky that you can just ask. Oh sure – you can lock yourself up in your office and slave over your keyboard looking the the magic wording, the right balance between stretch goal and boredom, then present your perfect goal to your employee, team, partner, colleague.

Or, you can ask:

“How should we set the goal so it triggers your best performance?”

That’s it. Simple, easier than slaving alone in your office, engaging, fun. Remember: if you’re working harder than they are, stop it!

Don’t forget to set a follow-up date so you can stay in touch and make corrections as needed.

M is for Measurable…or is that Mindfulness?

Measurement is about paying attention to the right things at the right time. It’s not about enslaving yourself to meaningless numbers, and driving yourself mercilessly to achieve them. Unless, for your business, that is the right thing to be paying attention to. What you measure is what you and others will pay the most attention to and focus their efforts on. It’s what will grow and change about your business. Choosing what you will attend to shows others what you are committed to. Measurement is potent that way. Which is why some of us shy away from it: What if we choose the wrong thing to watch and people start acting in unexpected ways? Choosing what to measure and how to measure it is the tricky part.

WHAT TO MEASURE: Some Guidelines

Relax. If it’s worth doing – and it is – it’s worth doing badly. Just pick something, track it for a bit and see if it gets you the behavior and results you want. If it doesn’t, notice that and choose something else. If this is explicitly collaborative process – that is, you do it out loud – that’s even better. Then everyone sees that paying attention and making adjustments is normal, natural and everybody’s business.

Expect it to be awkward at first. Measuring makes performance public. This makes some of us squirm. We’ll adjust as long as the attention is fair, kind and has some connection with what matters, both to us and for the business. In fact, when you get this right, it’s like having the wind under your wings.

Some of what you pay attention to can shift over time. For a new business, a focus on cash flow is the right thing. Most new businesses find that their attention naturally goes here, because if cash flow isn’t primary, the business won’t make it to the next stage. For a more mature business, a focus on cash flow stunts growth rather than supports it. On a team, an exclusive focus on goals can lead to a lack of team behaviors. When you see team members undercutting each other, look at what you’re measuring and adjust it.

Some of what you measure will not shift over time. Your company values are on this list, as are the goals and performance measures that define your business. These two components make up your company’s identity. Measuring these is like checking your route you’re driving against the directions you got form mapquest: Are you still on track for your original destination? Are you still behaving according to the values you established for yourself? These two things can beat each other up – if you stop attending to one of them, that one will fall by the wayside.


You can count anything if you can see it and name it, the more specifically, the better. Most of us count money, and count how many activities we complete. That’s a good start. Even better is finding a way to count results, rather than just activities. Is your 90% on-time delivery rate (an easy to count activity) pleasing your customers (the trickier to count result). They key here is to look for the observable behavior and count that. What do customers do when they aren’t pleased? Two things: They complain and they use someone else. So, count customer compliments vs. complaints and count customers retained and customers lost. Make sure to ask them why they stay or go.

What about so-called “soft skills:” How do you count those? Remember: If you can see it and specify it, you can count it. Let’s take the example of “teamwork.” Everybody wants good teamwork. Trouble is, we often don’t specify what we mean by that. This is like saying “I want to business growth” without specifying what you mean (more business in the stores you have, or more stores; more students in the classes you offer, or more classes, and so on). If we do specify what we mean, we don’t get down to the level of observable behavior – what do people who are team players do? How often, and with what sort of result? If you’re stymied at this point, ask yourself how you know you lack teamwork? Chances are, it’s because of something you see or hear. Behaviors are what you see or hear, like a lack of asking for help or receiving it. Turn these around – state them in the positive – set a target, and start counting.

You may also see a lack of teamwork show up in your business results, often in poor customer service, as when one team member throws a customer concern over the wall and hopes that someone else will attend to it, but without making sure this happens. “Throwing it over the wall” and “dropping balls” are two ways lack of teamwork makes itself visible. Turn these around, set a target, and count start counting.

Make it easy and if at all possible, fun. If it’s too complicated, you won’t do it. Keep it simple, easy to do and small. If it’s handled lightly and with humor, you’ll increase willingness a hundred-fold.

Change it up. If you don’t, everyone will start phoning it in or gaming the measurements you’ve chosen.

What’s your experience with this? Your wisdom is welcome in the comments below.

S is for Specific.

“That was a great report!” vs.”I loved the way you used white space in that report and the pull quotes on the side were pure genius. Best of all though, was the content: Clear, concise and at exactly the right level of detail. The tone you used was also spot on: Casual and accessible without being condescending. Thank you for doing such a great job.”

“All weekly status reports must be completed in a timely manner.” vs.

“Weekly status reports are due by noon every Friday. Please email them to me using the attached format.”

“I want you to lead this project. You’ve shown such exemplary leadership, I know you’re up to it. Any questions?” vs.

“Biff, the plunger improvement project needs your skills. I’ve watched you pull together teams that were fighting and get them working together to come up with innovative approaches. The fly swatter improvement project you led was breath-taking. No one else would have thought to use the fly’s sense of smell against it like that. We need that kind of breakthrough thinking here. What questions do you have so far?”

Specific. It’s a matter of giving someone enough information to be successful rather than giving them a vague notion and shoving them off a cliff. When you follow-up, you find out how unclear you are. These too aspects of the SMART goals create an ideal communication loop.

And there’s a bonus: When you are specific, you find out exactly how much control you are willing to give up. Here’s the surprising part:

The more specifc you are, they less likely you are to micro-manage. I think we often believe that when we are vague, we are showing respect, and giving them plenty of room. There are 2 problems with this: 1) Being vague means you are asking someone to read your mind. This is not a management skill. 2) Being vague is what we do when we aren’t ready to give up control. In either case, the see-sawing begins: Vague directions and expressions of confidence alternate with intense micro-managing or doing it yourself. There are many, many flavors between giving someone absolute freedom and micro-managing them within an inch of their lives.

When you’re specific, it gives someone a more precise target to shoot for. It lets you know when to step in and when to butt out. When you are specific about what you want to see, what you liked, what you want done, you will be more comfortable leaving how it gets done to someone else. Conversely, when you are vague about what you want, your only recourse is to micro-manage. That’s because the specifcs you thought obvious aren’t. Not until you speak them. My advice: Do this in the beginning so your employees can spend their energy producing amazing work rather than trying to guess what’s in your head. The world is still waiting for a breakthrough plunger technology.

T is for time-bound: The key to SMART goals

SMART goals: No concept is more important to being an excellent manager of groups or individuals. SMART goals can set you free. They can set your employees free. They are the key to successful delegation. However, their misuse can lead to senseless micro-management, planning overkill and employee ennui. I thought I’d write a reliable guide to walking the fine line between using SMART goals to free you and your peeps, and rendering them listless with managerial overkill.

Over the years, a couple of the letters in the SMART acronym have taken on a life of their own. I’ll do what I can to trim them back a bit. Here are the versions I’ve come across:

S = specific

M=measurable, memorable

A=Achievable, actionable

R=relevant, realistic

T=timely, time-bound

I’m going to start with T. For one thing, it’s the easiest to do. Even more important though is this: It’s the key to managing energy, and managing energy is the key to performance. Without a deadline, even the most specific, measurable, important goal flops around like loose string on Itzak Perlman’s Stradivarius.

Nothing tightens up a team like a deadline. And, nothing ensures a deadline will be met like setting a follow-up date. That’s all it takes, really: Give a specific deadline, like “Saturday, 10:00am,” then set a follow-up date to check on progress: “Let’s talk on the phone in 3 days – how about 3:00 on Wednesday?”

You’ll be astonished at how quickly things start to move.

I can almost hear your objections: “But, Liz, isn’t that treating adults like children?” Or, “Why should I have to babysit my employees? They’re professionals. They know what to do – they should just do it.”

Except:  You don’t set follow-up dates for them. You set them for you. Setting and keeping follow-up dates are what allows you to manage a project without having to step in and do it yourself. Follow-up dates give you all the opportunities you need to manage well. Here’s what I mean:

  • Setting a follow-up date shows your commitment to the goal or task. Time spent is how you show people what’s important. When something is a high priority, you make time for it.
  • Setting a follow-up date shows your commitment to them. Time spent is how you show people that they are important to you.
  • Setting a follow up date gives you easy access to teachable moments. Regular contact makes this easier. The result is better alignment, early course correction and – best of all – the ability to express appreciation often.
  • Setting a follow-up date keeps you both current. Has there been change in the priority of this project? In relevant information?  Regular follow-up dates make it easy to pass this information along.

You see? All the critical tasks of a manager, there in easy, bite-sized pieces, built right into the fabric of your day. No inertia to break through, no big hill to climb to reach your goal. Follow-up dates enable you to tag on to the energy and momentum of the actual work while working your management agenda. They are a twofer.

But the primary reason you set a follow-up date may surprise you: It will give you instant feedback about how clear you were in the first place. And, take it from one who knows: You weren’t nearly as clear as you thought you were. You weren’t as comprehensive either. You may have forgotten some critical detail, or failed to think things through to a logical conclusion. Follow-up meetings show you this with painful clarity. It can be embarrassing to respond to questions that arise during a follow-up meeting, but it will be some of the best time you’ve ever spent.

Next week: S is for specific.

As always, I welcome your ideas, input and stories.