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“Successful people practice deliberately, remaining conscious to the learning process, and continuously checking in with themselves to ensure their growth.”

Eric Kaufmann coaches leaders to get home early without sorcery, magic or selling their soul. His diverse and varied life is a commitment to understanding and teaching leadership wisdom. The crucible of his journey is shaped by 15 years of leadership consulting, management at Fortune 100 firms, degrees in business and psychology, a quarter century of Zen practice, living in Israel and South Africa, and working as a certified hypnotherapist and Scuba Diving instructor.

Eric is President of Sagatica, an executive strategy, facilitation and coaching firm. Sagatica is for senior business executives in mid-market companies seeking to optimize untapped organization potential. The firm is an internationally recognized leadership growth facilitator that blends a strategic approach with Zen practice so you can consistently accelerate results!


BusinessInterviews.com: Can you expand on why you believe that success hinges on the principle of deliberate practice?

Eric: The New York Times published an article about deliberate practice, marking it as the most accurate determinant of mastery in any given field. What these “masters” have in common is not high IQ, good genes, or happy childhoods. Rather, they have rigorously practiced their craft for hours upon hours, taking effort not to allow their practice to become unconscious and automatic.

Successful people practice deliberately, remaining conscious to the learning process, and continuously checking in with themselves to ensure their growth. This is deliberate practice.

While it’s tempting to look at successful people and assume they’ve always had talents that set them apart, the truth is that such an assumption is erroneous. In general, those who’ve attained mastery in their fields have spent years – the research points to 10,000 hours – perfecting their skills. Benjamin Franklin, for example, taught himself to write by routinely converting popular stories into prose, and then converting these poems back into stories, to compare his writing skills with those he admired. That kind of practice took real grit, and shaped him into one of the most famous authors in American history.

In our fast-paced, technology-driven culture of instant gratification, it’s common to forget that hard, conscious work – deliberate practice – done over a period of years, is generally the greatest determining factor for achievement and success.

BusinessInterviews.com: What are some of the most common areas that you see senior executives get stuck?

Eric: Commonly, senior executives falter because of outdated mindsets. It’s rare that they lack competence; they’ve worked hard and earned their roles. Rather, because success makes us rely on our past, senior leaders rely on thinking that was successful, but is now outdated. These outdated mindsets become blind spots which, by definition, are invisible to us. Consider these three common blind spots.

Functional championing: A CMO, CFO, or COO typically “grew up” professionally in that function – marketing, finance, ops. Now, being the function head, they are tempted to lead, promote, and protect their function. Unfortunately, that isn’t their real job. Senior execs are not paid to champion their function, they are paid to steward the entire organization. They have to learn to think horizontally rather than vertically; they are there to ensure that their function serves the good of the enterprise, not fight for their fiefdom of marketing or finance or ops.

Atlas syndrome: Atlas was a mythological Greek titan who carried the world upon his shoulders. Senior execs are competent, smart, energetic leaders who know a lot and have done a lot. Many execs are faster and better than their direct reports. This mastery can be inspiring to their people. This mastery can also be a powerful lure to “just do it.” Rather than delegate, coach, develop, and hold accountable, some execs choose to get the work done themselves. Like Atlas, they take on the burden of the work product. Unlike Atlas, they slowly get crushed under the weight of the work and run the risk of burnout, stress, and resentment.

The role of a senior exec is to get results that feed the org strategy and mission. The net value of the exec is not their individual contribution, but their ability to get results through and with people. Sharing and dividing the work load among the team is not a luxury, it’s an imperative.

Value-add condition: Stan (marketing director) begins to excitedly share, “I’ve mapped out the demographic trends in our western territory, and have prepared a two year plan to address the changes.” Elaine (CMO) replies with sincerity, “The keynote presenter at last week’s conference made me think about our changing market. Let me tell you my thoughts real quick.”

What just happened? Elaine was compelled to add value to Stan rather than listen and acknowledge. Senior execs do this over and over. They believe they’re improving and teaching. In fact, they are perpetuating two issues: 1. Dependence – their direct reports will decrease critical thinking if their ideas are critiqued and minimized, and 2. Disengagement – Stan, over time, will become less emotionally committed as Elaine continues to one up him.

Rather than immediately improving on your staff’s contribution, listen, ask questions, and coach them to think more broadly.

BusinessInterviews.com: What advice would you give to a manager who is about to lead their team through the uncertainty of a merger?

Eric: Managers and teams are justifiably concerned about the uncertainty of mergers. Margaret Hefferman, of CBS News wrote on April 24, 2012 that, “Depending on whose research you choose to rely on, mergers have a failure rate of anywhere between 50 and 85 percent. One KPMG study found that 83 percent of these deals hadn’t boosted shareholder returns, while a separate study by A.T. Kearney concluded that total returns on M&A were negative.”

When leading your team through a merger, in addition to committing whole heartedly to success, practice these points.

• Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Or, put differently, it’s about the people. Companies merge for many reasons, to maximize complimentary IP, complete distribution channels, leverage real estate or financing access, etc. While strategic value is the imperative for the merger, it only works when people work together. Focus on the culture. Never take your eyes off the process of blending people’s expectations, behaviors, norms, language, and symbols.

• Communicate, communicate, communicate! Managers are constantly talking with other managers about what should happen, has happened, and will happen. They need each other to get things done. Because you are in consistent communication with peers – you talk about it at work, at home, via email and text – you (falsely) think that everyone knows as much as you. Not so. Every manager I’ve asked tells me he’s communicating consistently with staff. Every staff member I’ve asked wished he had more information and greater communication. As a manager, when you start feeling like you’re over communicating, then you are approaching the right levels of communication.

• Nurture trust. Trusting my manager at work has nothing to do with having her watch my kids, or sharing my bank account number. I trust my manager when the answer to the following questions is “yes!” The question is, “do I believe you have my best interest at heart?” Mergers cause uncertainty, and that challenges safety and security. In order for team members to be engaged and committed, they have to feel some form of safety. If that safety is threatened by the merger, then it must be compensated with trust. Managers who are trustworthy achieve remarkable results even in the most challenging times.

• Grant autonomy. Last night I returned home from Hawaii. I shared the five hour flight with six toddlers strewn about in the seats around me. Can you guess the three words I heard a thousand times during those five hours? “No. Me. Mine.” Human beings are wired for autonomy, the desire to have control over our actions and environment. Uncertainty challenges our ability to feel in charge. As a manager, find the niches for granting autonomy, it helps people feel in control. Can they have a say in arranging a schedule, determining their working space, making priorities, etc. Remember, people protect what they build.

BusinessInterviews.com: What inspired you to develop a mobile learning platform that will help support your clients?

Eric: We live much of our lives glaring into glowing screens – phones, tablets, and computers. My team is hired to help leaders make better decision and accelerate results. Our strategy consulting, team performance improvement and executive coaching are designed to guide smart, competent leaders to learn and grow. Learning takes deliberate practice – purposeful repetition with meaningful feedback. These days, we can use technology to augment the learning process.

Our mobile learning platform isn’t just a newsfeed for pushing out information. Rather, it is a personalized tool for teaching, reminding, reinforcing, measuring, and giving timely feedback. This platform allows us to both deepen and accelerate our in-person experiences with clients.

The ultimate proof of learning is changed behavior. We can ensure the changed behavior by tapping the glowing screens to accelerate deliberate practice.

BusinessInterviews.com: Why do you think that it’s important to optimize both the heart and mind of the leaders you work with?

Eric: John Maxwell wrote that, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Professional success is far more than being rational and strategic; it requires courage and human connection. The mind is one source of power, and the heart is the complementary source. Over the past 15 years of coaching and consulting I have found that senior exec teams are remarkably skilled at financial analysis, logistical predictions, and strategic calculations. When they get stuck, as individuals or as teams, it usually has to do with complex concoctions of fears, hopes, emotions, and relationships. These are matters of emotion and psychology.

The heart is the center of two distinctive features of effective leaders, courage and compassion. Courage comes from Latin, cor – heart. It takes courage to leave the comfort zone, to take leaps of faith, and to venture forth in pursuit of novel ideas and innovation. It also takes courage to grow and learn, and to let go of outdated ideas, projects, and plans. Compassion in the workplace is expressed basic kindness and as empathy for people’s struggles. Yes, we live in a competitive world, but we don’t have to crush the competition in order to win.

Leaders who cultivate the virtues of courage and compassion resonate with staff and drive engagement – emotional commitment. More than creating engagement, cultivating the heart empowers leaders to make better decisions. Fear, disappointment, or anger can cloud judgment. In these times, rational processes aren’t enough. Those leaders who understand their hearts know how to include emotional challenges into their overall process and keep the conversations and actions results focused.

BusinessInterviews.com: Do you think that anyone with the right tools can become an effective leader?

Eric: Scanning the thousands of hours consulting and coaching leaders, I have come to the conclusion that different situations and conditions call forth different leadership contributions. An entrepreneur with passion and vision may be a terrific leader in their start-up, but not be able to adjust her style when the company has stabilized and is now growth focused. An emergency may bring out the best in a person whom others didn’t regard as a leader, but now are willing to follow because of demonstrated virtues.

There are countless tools to use for effective leadership. Underlying all of them are four critical virtues. These virtues are focus, courage, grit, and faith.

Focus answers the question, “what am I creating?” Effective leaders are purposeful about their direction, their values, and their vision for themselves, their team, and their organization. You can only lead toward something, not away from something.

Courage answers the question, “what am I avoiding?” Every leader will face something scary – possible failure, loss of respect, financial strain, humiliation. Being fearless is not an option; fear is biological. What effective leaders do is walk toward what they would rather walk away from.

Grit answers the question, “what am I sustaining?” At some point we all run out enthusiasm; we feel burnt out, disheartened, exhausted. This is when grit – passion and perseverance toward a goal – is what we draw on to keep going. Leaders without grit are guaranteed to fail. Gritty leaders succeed.

Faith answers the question, “what am I yielding?” Every effective leader is a man/woman of his/her time. Marshall Goldsmith wrote What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, in which he demonstrated the need to evolve. Effective leaders take leaps of faith, they outgrow and yield outdated ideas, relationships, and tactics.

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