Responsible Leadership: How Hard Should You Push Your People?
Posted on Monday, Jul 27, 2015 by Michael Canic

(This is the 2nd in a series of blogs about John Race, mountain guide and co-owner of Northwest Mountain School, who recently led two of my nephews and me up Mt. Baker in Washington State.)

If the client’s goal is to summit a mountain, the guide often has to push him, even if the client doesn’t like it. Yet how hard should the guide push?

Assess: Know your people
Starting at the trailhead John begins to quickly evaluate his clients. There are three questions he wants answered: First, how capable are they in terms of fitness and skill. Second, are they aware of their capabilities? (John will often know their capabilities better than they will.) Third, how much discomfort are they willing to tolerate and for how long? Often, that will determine whether they can summit.

Monitor: Stay close to your people
John pays close attention to how his clients are performing over time. He wants to know who is struggling and why. He’ll ask them questions to track their physical and emotional states. He’s gauging if and when he should intervene, and to what extent.

Act: Push the right buttons at the right times
It’s the final push to the summit and it’s steep. The client doesn’t think he can go on. The fatigue and discomfort are simply too much. This is the moment of truth. John pauses and allows everyone to catch their breath. He then sets more immediate goals that the client is likely to buy into. “We can make it up to that ridge.” “You can go for another 20 minutes.” Many times, setting and achieving a series of smaller goals gets the client to the summit.

If he doesn’t push hard enough, the client may not achieve his goal despite having the capability. If he pushes too hard, the client may shut down or meltdown. This is when the assessing and monitoring pays off so John can make the best possible decision.

You’re a leader. Know your people, stay close to them, and be prepared to push them … hard. But not too hard.

Next week: Responsible Leadership: Beware of Goals

Your thoughts?


Responsible Leadership: Where to Start
Posted on Monday, Jul 20, 2015 by Michael Canic

Leadership entails responsibility. Some leadership roles more than others.

I recently took two of my nephews on their first mountaineering trip. I hired a guide for our climb up Mt. Baker because I wanted them to learn the skills and practices of safe climbing in a potentially dangerous environment.

John Race, internationally certified guide and co-owner of Northwest Mountain School, was more than up to the task. Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of the insights gleaned from John about leadership as a mountain guide. This week, the starting point: Trust as the foundation for responsible leadership.

Trust Trumps Obedience

On the mountain, the guide is ultimately in charge. That’s how it should be in a hazardous environment. Yet John finds that effective leadership is based more on building trust than demanding obedience. He wants his clients to trust that he is looking after their best interests and that he will help them achieve their goals.

So how does he build trust? 1) By communicating the why behind his decisions, not just the what. He wants them to understand his thinking and he wants to develop their thinking. 2) By soliciting their suggestions and being open to them. Which conveys a sense of respect and partnership. 3) By remaining firm on those things he feels are essential to safety and to achieving their goals. He wants them to know that he won’t compromise his responsibility to their safety and success.

Responsible leadership starts with relationship. And relationship starts with trust.

Next week: Responsible Leadership: How Hard to Push Your People

Your thoughts?


How to Develop Your People
Posted on Monday, Jul 13, 2015 by Michael Canic

Cameron McCormick is the only coach Jordan Spieth has ever had. Spieth, of course, is the hottest golfer on the planet having won the last two major tournaments: the Masters and the U.S. Open. (And he’s still just 21.)

When McCormick decided to become a coach he wrote to 75 top golf coaches asking to meet with them. Twenty-five replied. What he learned might surprise you.

While you might think being a golf coach is all about understanding swing mechanics and reading course layouts and conditions, there’s a lot more. What McCormick learned is how important the coach-player relationship is, and how having a deep understanding of an athlete’s motivation and psychology is essential to developing them.

So ask yourself: How often do I, as a leader, focus on the technical side of performance while undervaluing the psychological side of performance?

If you want to develop your people so they fulfill their potential, focus on both.

Your thoughts?


Business Lessons from a Rock Star
Posted on Monday, Jul 6, 2015 by Michael Canic

Sammy Hagar rocks. As the former lead singer of Van Halen – at one time the biggest rock band in the world – Hagar knows success.

But he’s never taken it for granted.

“Truthfully, I never felt secure about my music. I always thought, boy, as big as you are today, you may be history tomorrow. I’ve seen this happen time and time again.”

Lesson 1: Never Get Complacent

Early in his music career he began to invest in businesses. He opened Cabo Wabo, a restaurant bar in Cabo San Lucas, because he thought people would gravitate to a tequila bar. And he started making his own tequila when he stumbled onto the best he had ever tasted and realized most people hadn’t experienced tequila that good.

When his current wife took him to see Jimmy Buffett – not exactly Van Halen-style rock – Hagar realized he could create a lifestyle for his fans much like Buffett had done for his.

“We beach all day, eat tacos for dinner, drink tequila. I get onstage and play. That’s it.

Lesson 2: Opportunities are everywhere – if you’re open to seeing them

Hagar hired an executive from foodservice operator HMS Host to oversee his airport-based Sammy’s Beach Bar & Grill restaurants. And when he sold his tequila company to Campari (for over $90 million!) and started a Maui-based rum company, he brought in a Seagram’s executive to run it.


“My strategy for running companies successfully is to find the right guy.”

Lesson 3: Find the right people

When his mother advised him as a boy that, “If you’re going to be in the music business, then you have to save your money and invest it properly because all those guys end up alcoholics, drug addicts and broke,” Sammy paid attention.

Like I said, Sammy rocks.

Your thoughts?


This is More Important than Mindshare
Posted on Monday, Jun 29, 2015 by Michael Canic

You want to build top-of-mind awareness for your company, products and services. You want customers knowing about you and thinking of you when their time-of-need comes. You want to build mindshare.

Stop. There’s something more important.

It’s Heartshare. How customers feel about your company, products and services. And just as important, how they feel about themselves when they engage you.

When the time comes to buy, 50% of the decision making process is emotional. This, according to research involving over 30,000 people conducted by Level 5.

Don’t focus simply on building mindshare. Build heartshare. Appeal to what’s meaningful to them. What do they value? What do they care about? What is essential to who they are? Connect with the answers to those questions and now you’re building something more deep-rooted and enduring than mindshare.

You’re building heartshare.

Your thoughts?


What Personal Trainers Know About Change
Posted on Monday, Jun 22, 2015 by Michael Canic

Do you remember Brad Pitt in the movie, Troy? How about Chris Hemsworth in Thor? How did those guys get to be so muscular?

Duffy Gaver is a personal trainer who transforms celebrities’ physiques. And it’s serious business. He has no interest in toning muscles (whatever that means); he doesn’t rely on new-age nutritional products … he has a very simple philosophy. And it applies to organizations as well as it does to individuals.

Discomfort is where all of the change takes place.

Read that again and let it resonate.

There can be no change without discomfort. Embrace it. Anticipate and embrace the discomfort that is necessary for positive change. It’s what success should feel like.

Your thoughts?


Manage by Asking Questions
Posted on Monday, Jun 15, 2015 by Michael Canic

Ever heard of Brian Grazer?

Neither had I. Yet this Hollywood producer – with movies such as Splash, Apollo 13, and A Beautiful Mind to his credit – gets the most from the directors, actors and behind-the-scenes people he works with through a management style that is as undervalued as it is effective.

He asks questions.

Asking questions creates engagement. Let’s say you have a movie that’s in trouble. You ask the executive responsible what her plan is. You’re doing two things just by asking the question: You’re making it clear that she should have a plan, and you’re making it clear that she is in charge of that plan. The question itself implies both the responsibility for the problem and the authority to come up with the solution. If you work with talented people who want to do the work they are doing, they’ll step up.

Curiosity at work isn’t a matter of style. It’s much more powerful than that. If you’re the boss and you manage by asking questions, you’re laying the foundation for the culture of your company. You’re letting people know that the boss is willing to listen.

Questions create the space for all kinds of ideas and the sparks to come up with those ideas. It’s about understanding how complicated the modern business world is. Most modern problems don’t have a right answer. They have all kinds of answers, many of them wonderful.

Engagement. Curiosity. Creating space and sparks. Isn’t that refreshing?

What questions should you be asking your people?

Your thoughts?


What True Commitment Looks Like
Posted on Monday, Jun 8, 2015 by Michael Canic

How committed are you to winning? To executing your plans? To achieving your goals?

I’ve asked the winning question to thousands of organizational leaders and the overwhelming response is “100%.” They’re totally committed.

Are they?

All of us limit ourselves with false ceilings. We underestimate what we are capable of and what true commitment looks like.

Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson are elite rock climbers who recently completed what one magazine dubbed, “The Climb of the Century.” They free-climbed the seemingly impossible Dawn Wall, a massive rock face on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. To us mortals, the wall appears to have about as many foot-and-handholds as a 3,000-foot plate of glass. Yet Caldwell and Jorgeson climbed it … and it took nineteen days! (

Now that’s commitment.

Or so you might think. The real commitment was actually in the years they spent dangling from ropes and studying the wall with magnifying lenses to find the holds that might make an ascent possible. It was in the years of practice, sequencing the moves that made up each of the 32 pitches. And it was in the years they spent on logistics and strategy, determining how fast to climb – or not, where to pre-stash supplies on the wall, and how they might receive supplies. This wasn’t just nineteen days; this was a seven-year project.

Now that’s commitment.

You’re an organizational leader. Maybe you don’t have to be as committed as a Caldwell or Jorgeson. But ask yourself if you are as committed as you should be.

Your thoughts?



Should My Business Always be Growing?
Posted on Monday, Jun 1, 2015 by Michael Canic

A commonly held assumption is that continuous growth should be the goal of every business. Yet a recent article on, Lessons from the Private Equity Playbook, makes the case for shrinking your business – in the short term – as a means to greater growth in the long term.

When a private equity (PE) firm acquires a business the first thing it often does is to eliminate business units, stores, product lines, and/or people that are thought to add little or no value. Short-term revenue is sacrificed. Why? To consolidate focus and resources in areas with higher potential for both revenue and profit growth.

How do PE-backed companies perform? A article reported that in all but one of the past six quarters, revenue growth for PE-backed, mid-market companies exceeded that of their non-PE counterparts by at least 24%. And the article reported that in 2014 mid-market companies backed by PE firms grew jobs by 6.2% compared to 4.5% for companies not backed by PE firms.

So, sometimes you have to shrink to grow. And if your company isn’t backed by a PE firm, you might want to act as if you were.

Your thoughts?


Cultivate This … It’s More Powerful Than Discipline
Posted on Monday, May 25, 2015 by Michael Canic

Being disciplined is a trait I admire. Many would say I’m very disciplined, but I don’t think I’m disciplined nearly enough (something, apparently, that many disciplined people say!).

So I was intrigued when a friend told me about a book she was reading, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. The simplified premise, as you might guess, is that one’s power lies in the ability to cultivate positive habits.

Which got me thinking about the relationship between habit and discipline.

Discipline implies making a conscious decision and then applying one’s will to follow-through on that decision. Going to the gym. Turning down that piece of chocolate cake.

Yet when something becomes a habit, there is no decision to be made and, as a result, no will that needs to be applied. The issue of choice doesn’t enter the picture. My friend, who I consider to be very disciplined, says that running every day – something she has done for many years – is simply a habit, not a result of iron-willed discipline.

Now, we often talk about successful organizations being disciplined. Are they disciplined or is it they’ve cultivated good habits? And should we place more focus on building such habits?

Still, it’s not to say that discipline plays no role in success. After all, how do you think individuals and organizations build good habits?!

Your thoughts?



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Responsible Leadership: How Hard Should You Push Your People?
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