TAG Consulting

Change Leadership From An Olympic Champion

August 8, 2016

David March SwimMac

This week the eyes of the world are on Rio, where athletes from around the world are competing in the Olympic Games. The U.S. women’s swim team is coached by David Marsh – who just might be the greatest coach of any sport ever.

No exaggeration.

Twelve national championships as men’s and women’s swimming coach at Auburn University. Eight time national coach of the year. Coach of more than fifty Olympians, and counting. Head Elite Coach and CEO of the US Olympic Committee Center of Excellence with SwimMAC Carolina.

We’re honored to know David Marsh personally and we got to interview him at length for our book The Secret Sauce: Creating A Winning Culture, by Kevin Graham Ford and James P. Osterhaus.

Katie Meili made the team for the Olympics in Rio in the breaststroke after being the longest of long shots. She gave Coach Marsh the lion’s share of the credit for her rapid rise. “He knew how to reach each of us in the way we needed to be reached”, she told Charlotte magazine.

When he took over at Auburn in 1990, he was only thirty years old and inherited a team that was, by any measure, terrible. The previous year, the team had scored no points (as in “zero”) at the Southeastern Conference championship meet. It’s tough to do that.

In the book, we tell the story of how Coach Marsh was able to turn Auburn into a perennial national championship contender and we hope you will read the story at length there – it’s inspiring and instructive!

At Auburn, Coach Marsh had to change a culture, entirely, from the bottom up. He accomplished this by living into a lifelong slogan – “A Culture of Excellence is a Culture of Struggle”.

Internal change is like that. It’s a struggle. External change is often forced upon us. Internal change is just as necessary, but we initiate it ourselves, often in the face of resistance. A winning culture-crafter has to be willing to lead the charge when it comes to internal disruption.

Coach Marsh highlighted for us a number of lessons he learned about leading internal disruption as you craft a winning culture.

Here are five:

1. Start with a simple change – but make sure it is a change related to values, behaviors, or attitudes. At Auburn, this was teaching his swimmers how to shake hands and look people in the eye and how to place a towel around their necks.

2. Make sure your rules have teeth. At one point, Marsh kicked all of his swimmers off of the team when they resisted some necessary changes. There was a path back, but Marsh insured that his important rules would be followed and honored.

3. Experiment and take smart risks. It goes without saying that firing his whole team was a tremendous personal risk for Coach Marsh. Leaders who are orchestrating internal disruption have to demonstrate that they are willing to place themselves on the line for the greater good.

4. Foster accountability, not bureaucracy. A few smart rules, yes, but not top down command and control management. Increase accountability and decrease bureaucracy. Accountability reinforces values while bureaucracy decreases independent judgment and ownership. You’re after a culture of high accountability and very low bureaucracy.

5. Find your own solutions. Don’t be quick to copy others. Too often, when leading internal disruption, leaders look for external solutions. But the real answers are organic, “in the room” as we like to say. Learn all you can from industry leaders but own the fact that change starts from the inside out. How about you?

Is it time for you to lead a cultural transformation through internal disruption? Are you confident in your ability to run the risks personally while leading others to risk themselves? Do your people sense a culture of accountability, free of all unnecessary bureaucracy?

To read more about Coach Marsh’s story and about our research into crafting winning and healthy organizational cultures, check out The Secret Sauce book here.

For a video introduction to The Secret Sauce, invest three minutes here.

And if your team is ready to take the transformation of your organization to a new level, take a look at how we can help you here!


Photo cred: queens.edu/Charlotte Magazine

The 8 Things Great Team Leaders Do

July 24, 2016

team people

Being a team leader is a lot of work, right?

Well, yes. But not in the way we often imagine.

The real work of a team leader is making sure that he or she sets the team up to actually do the work.

This requires both strength of purpose and a willingness to hold one’s ego in check. The leader has to bear the anxiety of the team while managing his own anxiety. She has to provide all of the resources the team needs to do its job. And the leader has to make sure that all of the stakeholders involved are having the right conversations especially when those conversations involve competing values and priorities.

And all the while the leader is leveraging the talents and passions of the individual team members.

When we think about all the work a team leader must do, we define eight priority tasks which every team leader must be accountable for:

  1. Build rapport and create a safe environment for everyone. Team members don’t have to be best friends but they must hold mutual respect and be able to communicate clearly and honestly.
  2. Define reality by distinguishing between tactical, strategic, and truly Transformational issues.
  3. Engage the real issues, not the peripheral ones.
  4. Reframe seemingly unsolvable problems into ones that can be solved.
  5. Manage personal baggage, fears, ego, and anxiety.
  6. Make sure that any conflict that arises is about competing values alone, and not about personalities, side issues, or warring egos.
  7. Initiate change at a rate that can be tolerated.
  8. Mobilize the team to do the work themselves by providing the needed resources and asking the right questions.

If this list sounds challenging, it’s because it is!

But it’s not impossible. And it is thrilling when it all comes together.

At TAG we are committed to teams and leaders of teams. From leadership coaching to help you navigate tough decisions and conflicts, to workshops which will reveal and highlight the talents of your team members and how they come together, to cutting edge facilitation and learning for all levels of teams in your organization, we are here to help your organization move from good to great.

Find out more here – and lead with passion and purpose!

Leaders – Always “Put On The Button”

July 14, 2016


TAG Senior Partner Jim Osterhaus has been a psychologist for decades and has coached hundreds of leaders and executives through his work at TAG. In today’s guest blog he tells the story of one of his most memorable encounters with a leader at a personal crossroads.

One of the most compelling interviews I ever had was with a man from Central Africa named Raphael. He was a tall, distinguished looking man in his mid-thirties who sought me out at an international conference in Amsterdam (I was part of a counseling/consulting group assembled for the conference).

I had an hour with each person to find out who they were, why they had come to see me, and offer some suggestions as to a way forward – a rather daunting task.

After exchanging pleasantries, I found out that Raphael had just become the “head man” of his region, an hereditary post that had been passed to him with the death of his father. His grandfather and great grandfather had also been head men.

I asked what a head man’s responsibilities were, and found out that he was basically the chief – the head magistrate and county executive all rolled into one. When I asked what the problem was, Raphael stated “I just can’t do the job.”

Further probing revealed that Raphael had been told by the region’s elders that he was too young and inexperienced for the job. This had led to a tentativeness on Raphael’s part which only confirmed to the elders that he couldn’t do the job. We call this a recursive pattern –  elders’ concerns leading to Raphael’s tentativeness, which confirmed the elders’ beliefs.

The community now was stuck, with a head man in a hereditary position he simply had to accept, but who was tentative and ineffective. Stuck leader; stuck followers!

I asked Raphael what was the symbol of his authority. He told me it was a button he was supposed to wear. I asked where the button was. He said, “It’s home in a drawer. I’ve never worn it.”

My intervention was to focus Raphael’s attention, remind him of his father, grandfather, and great grandfather. Then I told him to look at me.

“Raphael”, I told him. “You must go home and put on the button, and never take it off. You are the head man.”  He nodded his agreement, knowing exactly what I meant.

Often leaders come into new positions and because of a variety of reasons refuse to put on the ‘button’ of authority. Instead, they act tentatively.

This often happens when a person is elevated above his peers to be their supervisor. That new supervisor wants to still be ‘one of the group,’ and thus is unable to fully embrace the new authority. This leads to ambivalence on the part of those s/he leads, which causes those led to doubt the competence of the manager.

This creates a repeating pattern similar to the one that Raphael faced – tentative manager creates doubting followers, leading to more manager tentativeness. In these situations, I usually relate my story of Raphael, and tell the tentative manager that they must “put on the button,” and embrace their authority.

This does not mean that they have a demeanor of “I’m always right.” It does mean they begin to develop a settled confidence that they have the necessary internal tools and external resources (beginning with personnel) to tackle the issues resident in their jobs.

Jim’s counsel to Raphael is a great example of the difference a leadership or executive coach can make in the life of a leader. At just the right moment, the right question, the right piece of counsel can be the difference between a stalled career and one which goes on to new heights of service and success.

TAG has a deep bench of experienced, passionate, and skilled executive and leadership coaches. Click here to find out more and see if you are ready to take the next step in your own development as a leader!

Management Mistakes You Don’t Have To Make (Part 3)

July 5, 2016

Mature business woman overwhelmed with frustration, pulling her hair.  Isolated on white.

We’ve been taking a look at a number of common management mistakes we see repeatedly and that, unchecked, can become career- and organization-killers. But the good news is that you don’t have to make them at all! We finish our series today…

To read Part 1, click here.

To read Part 2, click here.

Remaining reactive. In this rapidly changing world, organizational life tends to be rapid fire with demands for decisions and performance occurring at all levels of the organization all the time. The seduction to be drawn into the tactical is ever apparent. Often people have been elevated into management positions precisely because of the technical expertise (which usually has zero correlation to the skill set needed to manage effectively). So the new manager is comfortable with the technical aspects of the job (which now should have diminished considerably), and uncomfortable with the management aspects (which has a great deal to do with ongoing relationships). The tendency for all of us is to default to our comfort zone, and avoid activities that increase anxiety. When a technical issue arises, often the manager, rather than defer the issue to a technical subordinate who is now tasked with handling it, will herself jump into the technical (where she is most comfortable) and begin fixing it.

Under- or over-managing. There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to managing people. Some people, especially new hires, need a great deal of initial oversight as they integrate into their new jobs and ‘learn the ropes.’ Seasoned people who have been at their jobs for a long time should require little oversight to accomplish their tasks adequately (If this is not the case, then accountability and proper ‘fit’ in the job become the issue for the manager). We have found that often managers, usually due to their own insecurity, will micromanage those who need little or no management. This behavior is not only not useful, more often than not it slows down and distracts the persons whom the manager hopes to improve. If the micromanaging manager is open to it, s/he needs to explore the basis of the insecurities that drive her/him to micromanage. Often the origin is in the need to be in control or the striving for an excellent product (If I allow you to manage yourself, probably the product produced won’t be up to specs).

Failing to plan for succession. Baby boomer managers are retiring in huge numbers. In many industries, succession planning has been relegated to the back burner, and as these retiring managers walk out the door, an enormous amount of intellectual property and experience walks out the door with them. Succession planning is a part of talent management within an organization. Talent management entails selection, onboarding, development, and the identification of potential leaders among employees. As managers descend into the weeds (see points above) attending to the technical aspects over against the people management aspects of their jobs, succession planning usually gets lost in the shuffle. Then, when managers prepare to leave their positions (retiring, or taking new positions), there are no appropriate candidates to backfill. Talent management is central to the management functions. And succession planning is a key aspect of talent management. Organizations who ignore this will do so to their own peril.

Blame-shifting. In some organizations, blame-shifting rises to the level of an art form, no one taking responsibility for the actions and decisions they generate. Accepting responsibility, and in some cases asking for forgiveness to put things right, requires courage. Courage often is in short supply in the management ranks. Jim Collins, in his seminal work Good to Great, discusses the Level 5 leader who, in an ongoing profile of humility does two things: 1. When there is praise for an action or decision made, the leader ‘looks out the window,’ crediting everyone else involved in the decision while ignoring her own contribution. 2. When there is blame for something that goes wrong, the level 5 leader looks in the mirror, accepting the blame for whatever the mishap.

Failing to take time off and away. Leisure is not an activity. It’s an attitude of mind. It involves stepping out of the ‘rat race’ and finding a sanctuary (a place of refuge and safety). We live in a world where we are bombarded with information. We carry cell phones and smart pads that are at work 24/7. The temptation to never shut off, to never power down is always present. So many people feel that if they shut off all devices so that they can just relax and possibly reflect, they’ll somehow be cut out of the loop and lose their place with friends, business associates, etc. What we end up with is a life with no margins, a never-ending cycle of distractions to which we give continuous partial attention. This is a recipe for burnout and relationship breakdown on the home front.

Management Mistakes You Don’t Have To Make (Part 1)

June 23, 2016


At TAG, we wake up every day committed to helping leaders and organizations perform at a higher level, in ways that lead to productivity, employee and team engagement, and success as measured by a chosen mission.

Because we are strengths-based in our thinking, we spend more time focusing on what’s going right in an organization – or with a leader – than what is going wrong. But combine decades of experience and you’ll see some common mistakes managers make that can be organization- and career-killers unless they’re addressed. We’ll take a look at a number of those mistakes we have seen again and again – and that YOU don’t have to make!

Lacking self-awareness.  Like the general population, managers tend to have little self-awareness, all the while thinking that they know themselves perfectly well. But study after study continues to confirm the fact that our minds generally are very unreliable. And this is especially true when it comes to knowing ourselves and analyzing our own behavior.

A question we like to ask is “What is it like to be on the receiving end of you”? Many leaders have no clue as to their own ‘wiring’ and how their behavior is perceived by those around them. That’s why in our consulting practice, we take a great deal of time to assess people and organizations, to get a handle on how people are wired, and how they go about ‘doing life.’

Managing and leadership generally has many behavioral facets: how I deal with superiors, with peers, with subordinates. How I communicate both verbally and non-verbally. What activities energize. Which drain and deplete. One of the most interesting facets of leading is the decision-making process. Most managers will tell you that they make decisions logically and reasonably, my desires conform to the plan, and then I execute the plan. But studies indicate quite the opposite. Your desires decide what you want. Your logical brain crafts an explanation, and you execute.

Mistaking ‘care’ for affirmation. A manager has taken a new position in a new city in the non-profit organization in which she has worked successfully for some time. This is a significant promotion which carries with it a great deal of responsibility and a team of eight direct reports. After she has been in this new position for six months, one of her direct reports levels the charge on her that she “doesn’t care.”

Sue, our manager in question, is a brilliant woman who has always made significant demands on herself, always expecting the highest performance, and needing little if any outside encouragement or motivation. All of her motivation is internal. This profile has translated into superior performance, and has led to one promotion after another.

Now with the charge of ‘not caring,’ she is baffled, and wonders if she is doing the wrong thing by her team. When asked about some of the history of her new team, as best she understands it, she explains that they have been led by managers who were very empathetic, constantly asking reports about their current personal situations. Accountability was another matter. Yes, there were the usual number of high performers. But mediocrity and poor performance went unchallenged.

Now Sue has entered this organization with high standards and a very specific vision (endorsed by leadership) as to where she wants to take the organization, and the performance needed by everyone to achieve.

Sue needs to have her situation reframed, so that she can refocus on what is actually going on, and what she now needs to do. She has become semi-paralyzed with the ‘not caring’ charge. But is that charge valid? Does she in fact need to alter her behavior?

The reframe is the fact that this is the organizational system pushing back on her higher standards, and need for accountability. She definitely is not the empathetic person delving into the personal lives of her reports. She is the high-achieving manager with a definite program that requires particular performance goals. And now the system is reacting and pushing back on her, attempting to alter her behavior (as she is trying to alter the behavior of her people) and become more in line with what the system has experienced down through its existence.

Caring has to do with nurture. It is a valid characteristic, when used at the right time in the proper context. But it often competes with another value: challenge – the value that sets goals and expectations of performance to reach those goals. Proper parenting is a mixture of nurture and challenge. When one of these values is emphasized too strongly over the other, difficulties will begin to emerge for the children.

As a first step for Sue, clear performance standards and metrics need to be established for each position. This first element is unfortunately lacking time and again across the organizational spectrum. When there is unclear performance standards, expectations become fuzzy (what am I to do, at what intensity, over what period of time?).

As people are clear on what is expected of them, it becomes clear what represents superior, average, or subpar performance. As people perform in expected to above expected levels, the manager can then affirm them. These people will then feel appreciated for the work they are doing, and understand clearly how they are contributing to the successful completion of the mission.

Failing to hold people accountable. This builds on the point made above. First, people need clear expectations. Then they need periodic feedback (accountability) as to how they are measuring up to the expectations. What often happens is two fold: 1) no precise performance standards are ever laid down specifically tailored to each position, and 2) no periodic performance reviews are scheduled wherein employees are evaluated on the specifically tailored performance standards. Evaluations, when they are conducted, are general and subjective, and therefore of no practical use in helping employees understand how their performance fits into the overall mission of the organization. These evaluations are useless in assisting employees to understand how they are performing with a view toward making modifications for improvement.

Failing to provide due diligence in hiring. Turnover in the workforce is the largest bottom line killer across the organizational spectrum. Yet in spite of these grim figures, managers time and again make the same mistakes when it comes to hiring.

Research has shown that most decisions about new hires is made in the first twenty seconds of the interview. Because of this, most hiring is subjective. If the potential hire is attractive and likable, then she is hired. If not, she is not. Often only a cursory consideration of skills and ‘fit’ is performed.

IDMatch©  – developed by TAG  – first takes care to first establish clearly what the position involves and what specific behaviors will be expected. Then candidates are carefully screened as to ‘fit’ for the composite of the behaviors.

Inability to confront a dysfunctional situation, allowing it to grow into an organizational nightmare. The CFO of a large organization (let’s call him Mike) is conflict averse, as is one of his direct reports (Joe), the director of a budgeting office. Joe has a peer (Bill) who also reports to Mike.

Bill is very ambitious, and has found ways, due to reorganization and lack of clarity around specific office functions, to syphon off more and more responsibilities away from Joe’s organization, which have historically been Joe’s to perform. Mike has refused to address the situation, and draw clear boundaries as to who is responsible for what. Joe refuses to address the situation, not wanting to ‘rock the boat’ and cause unpleasantness within the organization. Bill is therefore given free rein to do pretty much what he pleases by way of appropriating more responsibilities into his organization.

When Joe’s direct reports complain that they don’t know who they now actually should report to, and who is actually setting policy for their work, Joe chides them and tells them to ‘play nice.’ Needless to say no one is happy, and morale plummets.

When managers are conflict avoidant, critical issues that need to be addressed are allowed to grow and then fester. This creates ‘elephants in the room,’ where everyone knows there’s a problem, but no one is willing to address the situation. From this, work arounds are created (“We do need to somehow get things done!”).

In other words, no one is talking and everyone is either in denial or furious at the high level of denial in others!

Do you recognize any of those mistakes in your own career? Stay tuned and we’ll survey a few more and then talk about how to avoid these mistakes you don’t have to make!

Image cred: aresprism.com

A Trust Inventory For Leaders

March 31, 2016

inventory (1)
Trust is the foundation of all relationships. It is critical to business relationships, contracts between entities, marriages, friendships, even agreements between nations. Without trust, it would be impossible to have any social functioning whatsoever.

Both our research and our experience bears out the fact that trust is the essential ingredient for effective leadership.

Here’s a six question trust inventory which you might use at any time to take stock of your own personal trustworthiness and the trustworthiness of your organization.

1. Would the people who work for me say I walk my talk?
2. Am I clear on my own personal values and do I live them out?
3. Are others clear on my personal values?
4. Do the products and services we offer the marketplace match up to what we say are our core values?
5. When we say things like ‘our biggest asset is our employees’ do we actually behave as if that is true?
6. Is the way we treat customers, clients, and vendors congruent with what we say we believe as an organization?

These questions can be both a barometer and an action plan. You can answer them directly or with your team – both are beneficial!

We ask these sorts of questions with our leadership and executive coaching clients all of the time; having a trusted advisor is essential to personal growth and success.

To find out more about TAG’s leadership coaching opportunities, click here.

Five Ways To Create A Risk-Taking Culture

March 29, 2016

Our work with clients as well as our research has taught us that organizations that have a high tolerance for risk have the healthiest cultures and are usually the most successful in terms of results.

What we have discovered is that it’s not enough just to tolerate risk. To use a baseball metaphor, great organizations actively seek out risks and instead of hoping for a single encourage their team members to swing for the fences!


Now, this doesn’t mean that great organizations will roll the dice without a reasonable chance of being successful or without doing their due diligence. But it does mean that their appetite for risk is such that their less successful competitors tend to look at them and think “What are they thinking? That will never work!”

Here are five ways you can increase your tolerance for risk and encourage a culture of experimentation:

1. Start by taking a number of small risks rather than one big one. If you’re not sure that your culture (or your own stomach!) can take an enterprise-gambling risk, take a few smaller ones that will ‘hurt’ a bit if they don’t pay off but won’t threaten the organization’s viability. Over time, you will learn more about your core competencies, your own appetite for risk, and where an educated gamble might pay off for your organization.

2. Support the natural risk-takers on your team.
When you assign a risky project or experiment, make sure you clear some things off the plate of those responsible so that they can focus. When their plans appear to be faltering, support them verbally and supply any needed resources. Praise them in front of other team members and tell their stories.

3. Build risk-taking into your compensation and rewards system.
Nothing communicates a culture of experimentation more than honoring successful risks and even praising and rewarding worthy risks that may not have yet panned out.

4. Make sure that the risks you take are around issues you and your team care deeply about.
It’s one thing to take a flier. It’s quite another to take a risk that, if it pays off, will advance your organization’s mission or live out the values you hold together.

5. Make sure that you build in ways to glean lessons from your experiments.
Have the whole team debrief a risk-taking project, both midstream and at its conclusion. The goal of this public debrief is not to scapegoat or shift blame when a risk has not paid off. It’s to tell the story of the adventure of the experiment, honor those who put themselves on the line, and craft takeaways for what you can do better next time. It’s important for a healthy culture to be a learning organization – all the more important that you learn from your experiments so you can consolidate gains and avoid future pitfalls.

How about you? What have been your most fruitful risks? Where can you initiate some new experiments in your personal life or in your organization?

3 Ways To Welcome The Elephant In The Room

March 24, 2016

One of the most reliable signs of a healthy organization is that elephants in the room are welcomed, even invited to meetings.

You know what we mean – elephants in the room are those issues that are just “too sensitive” to be discussed, that threaten to cause pain or discomfort, that promise to surface the need for change which will be difficult to lead or absorb.

Here’s the thing about elephants, though. They are used to being able to go pretty much wherever they want to, without a lot of concern for your feelings or plans. They make a lot of mess and noise, crush the furniture, and ultimately demand the attention of everyone.


You can only ignore the elephant in the room for so long. And if you do choose to ignore the elephant, your followers will call your credibility into question.

Welcoming elephants into private conversations is important but it is essential to craft a culture where the elephant is welcomed into public meetings. Part of the art of leading a meeting is knowing how to say hi to the elephant and making sure everyone acknowledges your elephant guest.

So, how do you do that?

Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky remind us helpfully that in any organization there are actually four meetings taking place at once:

-The actual meeting itself.
-The informal meeting before the meeting in the hallway or breakroom or cubicle or office.
-The conversation going on inside the head of each participant in the meeting while the actual meeting is going on.
-The informal meetings after the meeting at the coffee machine or hallway or over text or email.

The latter three meetings are where the unacknowledged elephant rears his head (or his trunk, as the case may be). As you lead the public meeting it’s important to balance the reality of the three other meetings in your mind.

Here’s how you prepare yourself to lead public meetings where the elephant is welcomed.

1. Remind yourself of the consequences of ignoring the elephant. Trust will leak. People will bite their tongues when you really need their input. You’ll miss the chance to respond to crucial external and internal challenges that can lead to crises.

2. Acknowledge the elephant by name. Simple, but important. Everyone already knows the elephant’s name – so eliminate the tension and anxiety in the room by saying the name out loud.

3. Routinely ask questions designed to surface the elephant. “Is there something we are missing here?” “Is there something we aren’t saying?” “Are there aspects of this issue that haven’t been brought to the surface yet?” “Is anyone here biting their tongue to keep from saying something that needs to be said?”. Questions such as these grant permission and freedom to name the elephant.

Elephants are big and scary and potentially destructive. But they respond unusually well to hospitality and acknowledgment. And your confidence in leading your team – and their trust in you – increases as you show you are courageous enough to acknowledge the elephant and encourage others to as well.

At TAG, we believe that the answers to your organization’s challenges are already in the meeting room! By helping you to reframe, refocus, and reimagine your organization’s opportunities and challenges we serve as trusted advisors who can help name and tame your elephants! Find out more here.