Follow Up…it makes a difference by Jim Johnson

I attended a meeting this morning where a manager (not one of my direct reports) shared a frustration with a staff member of his.  This employee would often “forget” to get something done – sometimes something fairly important.  This manager asked for suggestions that would help him coach more effectively.  A few suggestions were floated around:  “You need to find out why they forget these things.”  “Maybe they’re not clear on what you want.”  etc.

I had a suggestion but kept quiet in the meeting.  I’m not sure why I did.  I was a guest of this group.  Perhaps I didn’t want to impose my thoughts where they might not have been welcome.  I also could have left it there.

But I didn’t.

I later called the manager.  In fact, we just finished chatting.  I shared some specific ideas he could use today to move this forgetful employee towards improvement.  We already have some great coaching tools and technology he could use today.  We had a very good talk, and he ended our conversation by thanking me for my “insights” into management.

I’ve not interacted with this young man before.  I enjoyed our talk.  I could hear the passion in his voice.  I could sense his wanting this employee to grow beyond this stage of forgetfulness.  I appreciated his desire to help others grow and develop.  I wouldn’t mind having this leader on my team!

I would have missed all of this had I not acted and followed up with him.

This post is simply an encouragement to act on intuition.  As a leader, you have experience to offer others.  Act.  Get involved.  Follow up.  It’s worth it.


Conquer! by Jim Johnson


Last week my family and I were in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One of the many activities we experienced was ziplining.  It was a first for every single one of our family members.

As we were preparing to head up to the zipline course, my wife and I talked about the concern we had for our youngest – my son, Karsten.  He has had a history of being afraid of trying something new – especially things that would challenge him directly.

But to our surprise, when it came time to head out on the course, Karsten stepped up to be first in line. He jumped off the first platform and flew down the zipline without any problems at all. Throughout the entire experience,  he was excited. I think he knew that he was actively conquering a fear.

I learned a lot from my 8 year old son that day. There are lots of times in life when we face new challenges and new experiences. But instead of standing petrified on a platform, many times it’s just better to jump and trust the mechanisms that you have in place and just go with it.

I told my son that he was a role model for me that day. He just smiled.

Truth be told, I think I was the one who was the most afraid of the experience. But I conquered my fear, jumped off the platform, and zipped to a new adventure.


Do you have a “Mother, may I?” Culture? by Jim Johnson

mother may I


I recently heard John Stossel make the following statement concerning government:  “when we have a “mother, may I” government, innovation and creativity dies.”  He went on to say that when people are over-burdened with regulations, fewer and fewer people will fight the current to find a better way to do business.  This got me thinking…

Do you have a “Mother, may I?” culture at your company?

  • The staff is petrified to act in the best interest of your customers because they may “get in trouble” for acting first instead of asking first.
  • Your team comes to you constantly throughout the day to get permission to act, get involved, decide on ____________.
  • You have employees who’ve been in their positions for years and they have not generated a new idea, initiative, suggestion, etc.
  • Your team waits for you – the manager, VP, CEO – to decide what to do next.  Until then, nobody moves.

In 2008, I spoke at a national credit union conference at Disney World.  One of the keynote speakers was the former CEO of Mountain America Credit Union (Utah).  In his early days, he once observed teller interactions with members in the lobby of the main branch.  He stated that at almost every interaction, the tellers excused themselves, walked over to their manager’s office and then returned and finished the transaction.  After several interactions, he walked over to one of the tellers and asked why they continued to seek out the manager.  He was told that the manager had to approve almost anything a teller did.  He soon found out that this was happening all over the credit union.

“We had created a sluggish, ineffective bureaucracy here. I set out to change it.”  He did.  The credit union’s assets more than doubled under this man’s leadership in about 12 years.  They acquired several smaller credit unions.  Their business now spans 4 states.

So here’s the question for you:  How do you change from a company of “Mother, may I?” to one that empowers its staff to think, innovate, create, and serve your customers?

I’d love to read your thoughts.  Please share them!

Lead by Telling or Lead by Questioning by Jim Johnson

We’ve all had “that boss” who would dictate directions from afar.  We would be fearful of taking any action on most anything for fear that we were heading in a direction that they would not like.  So, we sat on our hands waiting for our orders.

Leading by telling is not an effective or efficient way to get things done.

One of the things I’ve tried to get better at is to lead by questioning.  This leadership tactic has required me to roll up my sleeves and spend time with my team leaders.  I’ve worked hard to build trusting relationships with them so they aren’t afraid to disagree with me, challenge me or question me.  I’ve had to make it safe to do this with me – the “ownness” is on me.

Just the other day, I sat down with one of my first-year leaders to talk about some results I needed to see improved.  I had been using a report that, I thought, demonstrated the need for improvement in a sales area.  I asked her a lot of questions about the performance of her team and how she managed them in this particular area.   She began questioning where this report came from, who showed it to me, and was it the same report that the lending department actually used.  Since someone in lending gave me the report, I had assumed (oops) that the report was valid.  It was not.  I was able to find the right report and we both got on the same page right away.   But I only learned this when this leader questioned me on it.  We then created a better tracking mechanism that she can use with her team to predict their performance by month’s end.  It was a very good use of our time.

In this interaction, there were a lot of questions and clarifications being used – and this was healthy.  We got to the heart of the matter.  I worked hard not to simply tell this manager to “fix it”, but we talked through the issue and found the resolution that we both needed.

In her post “If You’re Always Giving Order, You’re Not a Great Leader”, Jessica Stillman shares the following:

“Think about a leader and chances are your first image is of someone giving orders — maybe it’s the quarterback in a huddle outlining the next play for his teammates, maybe it’s an army officer coolly  barking commands in the heat of combat. But chances are, when many of us think of leadership, we picture a person telling others what to do.

After all, that’s the essence of leadership, right?

Wrong, says Christine Comaford, an executive coach and author of SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together who recently participated in a series of interviews on the website of fellow author Keith Ferrazzi. In the course of a long exchange about leadership, she tells the story of an executive she was coaching who couldn’t stop telling his employees how to do day-to-day things.”

She goes on to say that when a leader asks more questions vs. telling the employee what to do, good things happen:

  • The employee learns that they do have responsibilities (and the abilities) to get things done on their own.
  • The leader cannot create an environment where the staff will not act unless they get permission.  Nothing will get done this way.
  • The leader and the employee will both learn more with this method.

“The great leaders are like the best conductors –

they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players.” –Blaine Lee

Leadership Resources to Review by Jim Johnson

Looking for a good resource for your leadership development?  Visit this site:

Dr. Cramer is one of the authors of an incredible book, Change the Way You See Everything.  

On this site you can sign up for emails, visit her blog, find out where she will be speaking, etc.  Dr. Cramer and her writing are great resources.  Do yourself a favor and invest some time reviewing her work.


Personal Brand – Perceptions of Others by Jim Johnson

personal brand

In this last post on Personal Brand, I want to address the most difficult circle for many (most?) of us – the perceptions that others have of us. In marketing terms, let’s call this our “Market”.

Do you remember the old Burger Chef fast food chain? Growing up, we called it the “Barf-n-Choke”. Can you tell what our perception of Burger Chef was? Does it exist today? Not here in NE Indiana. The Market decided what it thought of Burger Chef with its feet – they left.

As you consider how to strengthen your personal brand, you are forced to seriously consider the perceptions others have of you. This area is the most difficult for me. Part of me wants to act like Clint Eastwood in “High Plains Drifter” and just jump on my horse and ride – and occasionally shoot bad guys. But if I’m serious about my personal brand, I have to pay attention to this area of my life. So, I’m dismounting…

As I see it, perceptions can come from 3 primary groups of people: Haters, the Herd, and Helpers. Let me explain what I mean.


I know this term seems harsh, but I wanted another “H” word. But you already get the drift of what I’m going to say about them. These are people who judge first and don’t ask questions. They are a small group of people who delight when someone fails. They don’t see the good in others. They put others down in an attempt to lift themselves up.

Secret: Whatever a “hater” throws your way, find the truth quickly in what they are saying, use that to strengthen yourself, then avoid/ignore them. Don’t get caught up in senseless arguments with them. They revel in this. If need be, agree to disagree. Don’t waste personal energy obsessing with trying to convince them to change their opinion.

For some folks, they place a large price tag on cutting others down and have a very, very tiny price tag on love and cooperation. Don’t let them put that big, ugly price tag on you. You’re worth more than that!

Another secret: If you find yourself feeling hurt over and over again by a “hater”, you have a choice in how you handle this. A counselor friend of mine once told me this – you can do one of three things:

  1. Rehearse It – play those hurtful “tapes” over and over in your mind. It will only further damage your confidence and self-worth. Don’t do it!
  2. Nurse It – have a perpetual pity party. Don’t you just love to be around a person like this? No? Then don’t be that person. Say what my older sister says…”I’m over it!”
  3. Reverse It – OK, so something bad happened. Maybe you played a part in it or not. Let it go and move on. Learn from it. Become better for it. “Repent” from it (yeah, I wrote repent = to turn around, do a 180 and walk away from something).


This is the largest group of people you encounter every day. It’s the barista at your favorite coffee shop. It’s the co-workers you pass on the way to your office. It’s the other parents at your daughter’s dance studio or son’s baseball team. It’s folks you attend church with. It’s your neighbors. It’s your vendors.

Do you know what general impression they have of you? Here’s another question to ask yourself:

What do you want people to think about you 5 minutes after you’ve left their presence?

This question comes to the core of an idea that author Peter Bregman wrote about in his book, 18 Minutes. In one of the chapters, he writes that too often that we have an event happen in our lives (i.e. interaction with someone). “It” happens and we then react to it – good or bad. Bregman encourages us to change the order of this, or as Covey wrote, “keep the end in mind.”


How do you want an interaction to end? Think about what this person who just dumped something on you will think about you 5 minutes after you’ve walked away? Now respond. That can make a difference, right?

You want to keep moving your Herd towards the next group…


Helpers are those folks in our lives who we trust. They can know us best. They will be fearlessly honest with us – yes, love hurts sometimes. They hold us accountable. They don’t judge…they critique. They build up. They expect the best from themselves and those around them.

In marketing terms, Helpers are our Net Promoters. We need more Helpers in our lives.

Some key points as we conclude:

  • Think of your Herd and Helpers as “buyers” of your personal brand. You need buyers. Concentrate most of your emotional energy on them. Learn from them. Become better because of them.
  • Don’t believe all of your good or bad press!
  • Truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

How’s your personal brand looking these days? Are people “buying” you? Are you proud of your brand? Need to strengthen it? Try focusing on the 3 circles and see what happens.

I hope you sell-out…to a better, improved you!

Thanks for visiting and reading! I appreciate it! JJ


Personal Brand – Who I think I am by Jim Johnson

personal brand

Let’s get into the first circle and look at the sometimes uncomfortable idea of “who I think I am.”  If you were a brand (and you are), this would be your brand promise, dream, potential.  I could easily title this circle “who I wish to become.”  What experiences did you have to get you to where you are today?  I’m not going to turn this into some cheap pseudo-counseling session.  I’m not licensed (or that patient). 

How do you get to know the real you? 

  1. Appropriate, healthy self-talk.  There are plenty of articles and books written on this subject.  What we tell ourselves can make or break a day at the office, a relationship with our spouse and kids, as well as what we can or cannot accomplish.  Want a healthier you (on the inside)?  Be sure to feed your mind positive ideas and directions to you!  Too many times, we beat ourselves up well before anyone else.
  2.  Journal.  Take time weekly (daily?) to journal your thoughts and experiences.  This is a conversation with yourself.          What may have been a bad interaction shows up in a new light when you’re journaling about it later.  Perspective is a wonder thing, and journaling can provide a good dose of it.
  3. Have a trusted friend/advisor/mentor.  Find someone you can be honest with and who will be honest with you.  Spend enough time with them so they get to know the real you.  Allow them to ask you the difficult questions.  If they begin to manipulate the relationship, dump them.  You need someone who you can confide in as well as who will not baby you. 

 Do you want to be more friendly at work?  How much do you smile and make eye contact with co-workers?  Do you eat lunch with co-workers or do you hunker down in your office alone? 

 Do you wish you could be more innovative on the job?  Read.  Listen.  Interact.  Innovation and creativity isn’t granted by some fairy god-manager.  Exposure to new ideas will expand your mind and your world. 

 Do you want to be known as a giver, encourager, builder of people, achiever?  Are you doing anything today that would result in this in your life? 

 If you want to know who you are, you have to take the responsibility to develop you.  Don’t wait for your HR department to do it.  Don’t wait on your boss.  YOU need to develop YOU.  Some simple things to get you on the road to development:

  • Read:  articles, magazines, white papers, phone/tablet apps.  I find great value in Flipboard and Zite.  I expose myself to all kinds of new ideas daily through these free apps. 
  • Learn:  take advantage of seminars, conventions, others in your company.  Learn something new every week.  Journal about it (that will help reinforce it into your life).
  • Share:  share what you are learning.  Share articles and books.  Share what you’ve learned from someone else. 

The next post will focus on what I say and do – your personal brand in action. 

 Thanks for reading this today! 


Show Them, Grow Them by Jim Johnson


Do you have a new manager to train? Did they get promoted and then left to figure things out for themselves? I hope not.

Here’s a simple process to work through with them. This will develop your new managers into effective leaders and decision-makers:

1. You do, they observe – you discuss together

For a new activity (i.e. report pulling/analyzing, writing reviews, etc.), it is important that you set the standard. For the major “firsts”, you need to show your new manager how to do it. Explain your expectations. Show them how to find and analyze reports that they will need to manage from. Are they taking notes? They should. Tell them that this is what they will be doing…without you.

Let them ask questions. Ask them questions. Make sure you know what they know.

2. You do together – you discuss together

Now work on a projects, reports, etc. together. Don’t hog the work. Give them the reins and you’ll quickly learn what they now know and what they still need help with. This part of the process should have plenty of dialogue. Listen, watch, ask, involve, challenge, encourage.

3. They do, you observe – you discuss together

It’s time for them to fly solo – under your watchful eye. It’s time for them to prove that they understand and can demonstrate what they’ve learned. Do they understand the story behind the numbers? This will answer that question. Again, resist the urge to butt in. If they fail, they’ll learn. Most likely, they will not make a mistake that cannot be fixed. You should be making notes of your observations so your coaching sessions will have more meaning.

4. They do

This new manager will have more confidence and courage as they stretch their wings. Observe from a distance. Again, mistakes will be made. That’s ok. Don’t “rescue” them. The learning continues.

When you stepped into your first leadership role, hopefully you were not on your own. If you were, change that legacy and create a new one. If you were mentored early on, pass that on to this new leader. They will appreciate it and you will be developing a new leader who will develop and grow an effective team which will lead to your department’s and company’s success.

If I were the CEO…by Jim Johnson


So you’ve been in your leadership role for a while now. You think you’re ready for the next step. You even dream about your next promotion. You find yourself sometimes thinking, “Why did that decision get made? I would do things differently.”

Here’s a challenge – put yourself in the TOP role at your company. What would YOU do if you were the CEO? Yeah, dream a little! Actually, take out a piece of paper and start jotting down notes what you would do if you were in charge. Take 5 minutes right now and bullet point some thoughts down.

(I’ll wait….)

Let me ask some questions now that you’ve made some initial “decisions”:

* How would your dream decisions move your company forward?
* How does what you wrote down positively impact the bottom line?
* How much of what you wrote was a personal commentary on your boss or your boss’s boss?
* How does what you wrote align with your company’s mission?
* How would you convince other leaders to follow you and your vision?
* How would you communicate your vision to the Board of Directors and/or shareholders?

I’ve heard the lunch conversations. I’ve been involved in a few myself over the years. A lot of employees SAY they know what THEY would do if they were in charge. But when truly faced with that responsibility, it becomes far more daunting, doesn’t it? Why?

– We typically see life and work through our own experiences. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that we haven’t had the experiences, training, or exposure necessary. What we learn and apply at work is critical to demonstrate that we are ready for the next step.

– We see other people work and think it’s easy. The good ones make it look easy (i.e. Michael Jordan). But when faced with new responsibilities, that work becomes a bit more scary. It takes hard work to be an effective CEO. It takes a lot of hard work to get to that point in your career.

– CEO’s have to work well with others. They are surrounded by leaders of leaders. Many senior manager meetings are ego-fests. Those can be treacherous waters to navigate. Effective CEO’s have to know when to step in, when to keep quiet, when to allow a decision to be discovered by another, and when to say, “this is the direction we’re going.”

But I still think this little exercise is worth the time. It will show you how much you truly understand about your company, how it makes money, how it spends money, and how your customer-base likes doing business with you. You may expose some of your own weaknesses – and that’s very valuable!

And hopefully along the way, you’ll gain a better appreciation of your CEO and what she/he faces on a daily basis. Determine you will be a team member who will make their job just a bit easier.

Own your results. Own your attitude. Own your commitment. Start by being the CEO of YOU.

Inspiring Stories on those who FOCUSED by Catherine Pratt


Francis O’Dea – You’ve probably never heard of Francis O’Dea but if you live in Canada, you’re probably very familiar with the coffee house company, “Second Cup”.

Francis grew up in Toronto, was sexually abused at age 13 and around that time starting drinking. Life quickly went downhill and before long he was homeless. He had to beg for change in order to survive. For 6 months he lived on the streets with no clue as to what he wanted to do or how to get out of his current situation. Happily, today Francis O’Dea is a multi-millionaire. As he says, “One year I was broke, the next year I was a millionaire.”

He changed his life by focusing on what he wanted. He got a job and slowly started to turn his life around.

4 years later he opened a little coffee shop and called it “Second Cup”. Second Cup is now one of the largest Coffee Shop chains in Canada.

Wayne Gretzky – Wayne Gretzky has been quoted as saying, “It’s kind of ironic when I broke in at 17, I was told I was too small, too slow and I wouldn’t make the NHL.” He’s now recognized as one of the greatest hockey players ever.

George Lucas – George Lucas spent four years shipping the script for Star Wars around to the various studios and racking up numerous rejections in the process. If he’d let his negative inner voice get to him he would never have ended up having the highest grossing film of all time.

Einstein – was considered an “unteachable” fool by his early teachers.

Michael Jordan – was cut from his high school basketball team. Michael Jordan quote, “I’ve failed over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”

Bob Parsons – founder and CEO of If you read his blog posting you’ll see that he overcame a lot in pursuit of his dream. He definitely was not an overnight success and experienced a lot of failure on the way. But, he kept his vision in his mind at all times and says, “I spent very little time looking back or feeling sorry for myself.” Another awesome quote from the article is, “Quitting is easy. The easiest thing to do in the world is to quit and give up on your dreams (and quite frankly, that’s what all the non-risk takers want you to do).”

Beethoven – Beethoven’s music teacher told him he was a hopeless composer.

Colonel Sanders (creator of Kentucky Fried Chicken) – was told “No” by over a thousand restaurants for more than a year while he lived in his car trying to sell his chicken recipe.

Read more inspiring stories about people who refused to take “no” for the answer, then got focused, and then succeeded: