TAG Consulting

The Leader’s Tone – More Important Than Words

August 18, 2017


For most of the last thirty years, I have made a hobby out of studying the life and leadership of Winston S. Churchill, Great Britain’s greatest Prime Minister and one of the outstanding leaders of world history.

It’s the sort of hobby you can never exhaust. His life covered so many of the important events in his country’s recent history and his character is endlessly fascinating.

I am making my way slowly (one a day) through a collection of Churchill’s speeches spanning his whole public career – from 1897-1963. The collection is edited by Churchill’s late grandson, who told the story of speaking at the 50th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and being approached afterward by a Polish woman:

“Mr. Churchill, I was a girl of just twelve, living in the Ghetto at the time of the Uprising as the Nazi storm-troopers were attacking us to take us to concentration camps. Whenever your grandfather broadcast over the BBC we would all crowd around the radio. I could not understand English but I knew that if my family and I were to have any hope of coming through this war, it depended entirely on this strong, unseen voice that I could not understand”.

Imagine that. A group of people, in the midst of unimaginable stress and pressure and fear, being buoyed and given hope by a voice speaking a language they could not even understand.

A “strong, unseen voice” which made all the difference, beyond the words the voice was speaking.

Words matter, but words aren’t always the point. The tone of the leader matters a great deal too.

Tone can communicate anger, bitterness, impatience, disappointment, disapproval, mockery, disrespect.

Or tone can communicate hope, optimism, belief, courage, encouragement, respect, love.

Even the exact same words spoken with different tone can convey vastly variant meanings.

Imagine “We’ve really got to up our game!” spoken to a team by a leader whose tone radiates spite, disappointment, superiority, and impatience.

The tone behind the words communicates this: “How did I get stuck with such a group of losers?” “Why can’t you people see that your underperformance is hurting me in the eyes of my boss?”.

Now imagine “We’ve really got to up our game!” spoken to a team by a leader whose tone radiates warmth, passion, humor, intelligence, and confidence.

The tone behind the words communicates this: “We’ve got a great opportunity here and we are just the people to take advantage of it”. “I am so honored to lead this group of folks and I can tell you I am going to do my dead level best to give you the kind of leadership you deserve so that we can accomplish great things together”.

Beyond the words, the tone of a leader is an indispensable part of the organizational culture-crafting process. Tone can demean, cut down, dis-spirit and dis-incent. Or tone can inspire, build up, in-spirit, and incentivize.

The tone of the leader can make or break the culture of the team.

We believe that every person has the innate desire to belong, to contribute, and to make a difference. And we believe that if you craft a culture where these desires are realized then your organization will thrive.

One of the key elemental building blocks of thriving culture is Connection – where people honor and respect one another and their individual contributions, all in the service of a common mission.

The leader’s tone can go a long way towards establishing a climate where Connection can thrive…or where people are led to cannibalize, jockey for position and power, one-up, and sabotage.

As a leader, what is your typical tone – beyond the words?

If we were to ask your direct reports and guarantee them confidentiality, how would they respond to that question?

What actions can you take this week to more closely monitor your tone and craft it to where you want it to be? What do you need to change and who can your key allies be in that effort?


Todd Hahn is a Culture Architect and Executive Advisor with TAG.

Culture Change Starts With…..Me

August 15, 2017

Leaders who are committed to crafting thriving organizational culture deal in change. It’s just part of the gig. And it’s one of the more challenging parts of leadership.

This makes it all the more important to get it right from the beginning. And the beginning is ME!

In the video below, which focuses on leadership coaching, TAG’s Shane Roberson, an experienced executive coach and Culture Architect, makes the point that “If you’re not looking for change in yourself, you’re not going to see it in others”.

All change begins with the leader being willing to change. So, that’s where the work of culture-crafting begins as well.

How TAG’s Leadership Coaching Can Help Your Team Win from TAG Consulting on Vimeo.

Cultivating A Culture of Focus

August 6, 2017

There is a simple tool we use in leadership coaching to help leaders define their personal focus. It is a series of these three questions:

1. What do you believe to be the world’s greatest need?

2. What do others say is the “one thing” for you?

3. If you had unlimited time or money, what would you do?

Wrestling with these questions often has a profound effect on the way a person views themself and their place in not only the workplace but the world as a whole.

More recently, we have found it beneficial to expand these questions to teams. We ask small groups of leaders who are on a team together to wrestle with these questions as a whole:

1. What do we believe to be the world’s greatest need?

2. What would others say is the “one thing” we are about as a team (or organization)?

3. If resources were no object, what would we accomplish together?

The answers themselves are important and can provide real direction for teams looking to focus and prioritize. But their ultimate value may lie in the fact that they speak to a certain kind of culture you are trying to craft – a culture which is committed to congruence around values, priorities, and shared passion. Thriving organizational cultures have this kind of congruence, but it doesn’t come automatically.

Sometimes asking the right questions is the way to start crafting that kind of powerful, focused culture.


Crafting A Culture To Handle Change

July 30, 2017


The work of crafting thriving organizational culture involves change – a lot of it. At the same time you are creating a culture of change you have to insure that your current culture can handle the change your are bringing! It’s a lot to think about. But you can lead in such a way that the needed change has its very best shot.

Transitions are almost always wrenching for an organization or a team within an organization, even when the result of the transition will be beneficial to all concerned. Leaders can make transitions worse by insensitivity or tone-deafness to the effect the music of the transition has on the ears of the team.

Organizational transitions of all kinds are navigated well when you work to shape your culture by these three practices:

  1. Gain credibility – leaders are even-handed and fair, and so make deposits of trust, which can be borrowed against when tough changes have to be instituted.
  2. Practice transparency – unless trade secrets which would compromise competitive advantage are at stake, default to sharing details about the conditions that shape transition decisions, the rationale for unpopular decisions, and the long-term effects on those in the organization.
  3. Demonstrate honor – in the case of terminations and layoffs, unless an employee was dismissed for ethical or legal reasons make every effort to honor those leaving, thank them for their contributions and point out their positive characteristics. This is the right thing to do for the one leaving and it engenders trust and loyalty among those staying!

Thriving Culture Starts From The Inside Out

July 21, 2017


For whatever reason, we have found jazz musicians a great resource to draw upon in our work in crafting thriving organizational culture.

One of the greatest was Charlie “Bird” Parker who made this memorable statement:

“If it ain’t in you, it can’t come out of your horn.”

Great organizational cultures have a common sense of purpose and mission that unites every stakeholder, regardless of their temperament, background, and individual responsibilities.

But they also have a bias for the particular – the unique combination of gifts, passion, life experience, competence, and talents in each individual.

This has to be more than a corporate slogan. It has to penetrate the every day interactions leaders and managers have with their team members.

I have to know what is in me. This is self-awareness, where it all begins. I can then trust myself.

Then – if you are my leader – you have to know what it is in me. And you have to trust that.

More than trust it – you have to nurture it, draw upon it, honor it, cultivate it.

That is, if you want to be the leader of an organization with a thriving culture.

Think of this rock-solid trust as the steel that reinforces the concrete of your organization’s mission.

I trust myself to do my best work with maximum discretionary effort because I trust you as my leader to honor me and give me the opportunity to shine.

Notice that all of this has to do with what is ‘inside’ me. It’s not – primarily – about skill sets or training. It starts inside.

But this isn’t “soft” stuff.

A culture that honors what is inside of each individual is a culture primed to get the very best each person has to give, in service of a common mission. And that leads to bottom line success, growth and productivity.

So, if you are a leader or a manager (or both!), here are two key questions:

  1. Do you know what is inside of you so well that what comes out of your “horn” is clear, focused, and excellent?
  2. Do you know what lies inside each of the members of your team – particularly your direct reports? And are you consciously and intentionally looking to cultivate and honor those things?


Listen Like A Bat

July 17, 2017

I am profoundly deaf in my left ear and have high-normal hearing in my right.

This is medical jargon to say I cannot hear at all with my left ear and I can with my right.

I am sure this seems like a weird way to start a conversation, and yet, this I often have to.

Even when I clearly hear a sound, unless I am looking at the source I have no idea from where that sound is coming. If I do not communicate my hearing loss during the relationship building phase, I run the risk of offending someone simply because I cannot hear him and he thinks that I am actively ignoring him.

This is where I find myself supremely jealous of the amazing gift that bats were given – echolocation.

Echolocation is the location of objects by reflected sound. While none of us at TAG are bats (or even vampires), we do practice and teach the principles of echolocation. You can “locate” your team’s engagement if you are intentionally listening to the responses you receive.

This is important because healthy organizations have thriving cultures characterized by listening – and hearing.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. Imagine yourself walking down the hall in your office and seeing a member of the team you lead.

Example 1
You (in a genuinely cheerful voice): Hi. How was your weekend?

Team Member (in an equally cheerful voice): It was great! Thanks for asking. How was yours?

Do you think this team member is engaged – with you; with your organization; with what she does at work each day?

What is the response that you are getting back telling you?

What if this is the way this person responds each day, to every interaction?

Example 2
You (in a genuinely cheerful voice): Hi. How was your weekend?

Team Member (in a distracted, hurried voice): It was fine.

What about now?

What is the response that you’re getting back telling you about the “location” of this team member’s engagement? Are they disengaged or in danger of becoming so?

By listening intentionally and then actively participating in further conversation, we have a better chance of reversing disengagement before it becomes a problem that impacts the entire organizational culture.

And finally, Example 3
You (grouchy and irritated): Hi, how are you?

Team Member: Uh… I’m fine… Thanks for asking?

Is this team member responding with fear or apprehension? What is the level of engagement based on this response?

We all have bad days. But, we also have the ability to get a reading on the level of engagement with our team. We can reduce miscommunication and disengagement through actively listening to what is being echoed back to us so we know when we should be having more intentional conversations to prevent eroding our organizational culture.

We may not have the gift of the bat, but we can (and should) certainly practice “engagement echolocation” with every communication.

Carrie Root is a Client Service Coordinator with TAG Consulting

Bring Your Saxophone To Work

July 10, 2017

When I was a kid, our family’s drive to the beach took us through the nondescript town of Hamlet, NC.

Hamlet is a modest hamlet (sorry), not known for much. But it has one huge claim to fame: it is the birthplace of the legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane.

There’s a historical marker by the side of the road marking the spot and for years I saw that in passing and wondered about John Coltrane.

I finally learned who he was in a course in college and a lifelong love affair with Coltrane’s music began. His music plumbs the depths of the soul, touching every conceivable emotion. His playing transcends the saxophone – listen long enough and you hear a voice. His work has influenced nearly every great jazz musician of the last seventy-five years.

Soon after his birth, Coltrane’s family moved to High Point, NC and the marker there notes the spot of his boyhood home.


I’ve always been struck by that Coltrane quote at the bottom:

“My music is the spiritual expression of what I am – my faith, my knowledge, my being”.

John Coltrane’s work was his music. But for him music was more than work.

It was a way of expressing his very being – his real self. It was a way of marking, claiming, and exploring his identity and in so doing enticing others to do the same. It was a meaningful work life, to say the least.

How many of us get to bring our whole self to work?

How many of us who are leaders are intentional about creating workplace culture where team members can bring all of who they are to work?

We believe that every human being has the innate desire to belong, to contribute, and to make a difference.

Thriving organizational cultures succeed because they provide a place for those desires to be expressed and lived out. That’s not to say that work is the sum of one’s life but rather that the most healthy organizations craft culture where people can bring all of themselves to the table and where the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

Work is a place where they belong, not just go.

Work is a place where they contribute, not just mark time.

Work is a place where they make a difference, not just cash a check.

What about your organization?

Is it a place where people can realize their innate desire to belong, contribute and make a difference?

Take some time to consider those questions and, as you do, enjoy this taste of Coltrane’s music:


Todd Hahn is a Culture Architect and Executive Advisor with TAG.

Sorry It’s So Ugly

July 3, 2017

Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) was standing in line behind me to board our flight to Washington D.C. We’ve shared this flight dozens of times, but we’ve never spoken, namely because he gets inundated with people “just wanting a moment”.

Senator Bennet is a fairly soft-spoken person in the interactions. He politely listens and keeps his responses short and to the point. I was however, struck by a phrase he used no less than three times in the span of about 5 minutes. Each time someone thanked him for his hard work, he thanked them and then said, “I am sorry it is so ugly.”

He was, of course, referring to the present culture of Washington, D.C.. As I stood and listened it was all I could do to keep from responding by saying “It is supposed to be ugly!” The entire system is built upon conflict. Over 200 years ago, our Founding Fathers built an adversarial system designed to keep government at bay. They crafted a culture of checks and balances which is a nice way of saying they pitted one branch of government against another. They put into place the need for debate, argument and voting.

I am unaware of any system in our world that uses such a system where the process isn’t contentious, isn’t arduous, isn’t ugly. Ideally, we may want a culture of efficiency, expediency or politeness, but that is not the “Legacy Culture” of our government.

In our work with both private and public clients, we seek to understand an organization’s Legacy Culture, or the culture that was crafted long ago by people no longer around (i.e. The Founding Fathers). Legacy Culture is often prominent and revered. It can be found in companies like Ford and G.E. It is this culture that can keep organizations grounded and on track.

But the Legacy Culture can also be the thing that hinders new ideas, innovation and change. In other words, Legacy Culture can be both good and bad. Knowing what it is, how it looks and what it smells like can be a catalyst for change and growth.

In work with two of our clients, Legacy Culture plays a very prominent role. In the early 1980’s the Air Traffic Controllers at the FAA went on strike in direct violation of federal law. As a result, President Reagan fired over 11,000 controllers! The ripple effect of this event still continues 30 years later. It has become a part of their legacy culture.

The biggest impact it has is that the FAA struggles with the mass retirement of the replacement workers. An entire workforce was hired all at the same time and most were the same age (in their mid-twenties). Today, they are rapidly reaching retirement age. This affects how the FAA does succession planning, training, and strategic planning. The Legacy Culture in this case is a heavy burden.

On the flip side, I have been serving as an Executive Advisor to a Senior Executive of a 35,000 person organization. She has been in her position for about a year and is following in the footsteps of a long-serving predecessor. She feels the weight of wanting to maintain the high standard of excellence and commitment that he did. She is wanting to ensure that her team is well led, cared for and challenged. While she is very competent and qualified, she has stepped into a higher level of influence and is wanting to develop her skills to rise to this new level. She understands the Legacy Culture she has inherited and wants to protect it.

I often hear people lament how broken our system has become. That it is far worse than in any time in our history. You need not search far to discover that is simply not the case. In today’s political culture it is not uncommon to hear our leaders referred to as “dishonest” … “an idiot” … “is universally an admitted failure, has no will, no courage, no executive capacity.” And while that may be true of today, all of these things were – literally – said about Abraham Lincoln!

In 1804 the sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr challenged the former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton to a duel. On a bluff in Weehawken, New Jersey, Vice President Burr shot and killed Hamilton. Now that is ugly.

What is the Legacy Culture of your organization? Is it helping? Or hurting?

Trevor J. Bron is a Culture Architect and Executive Advisor for TAG.