Smart Boss

The Blog

Laser-focused and timely distillations of what's working now in leadership.

Leaders build bridges


As a leader, the smartest thing you can -- and probably should -- do is see your co-workers as good people who are not the same as you. You can challenge yourself to build a bridge of understanding with each one of them -- and how you do that is likely to be different with each one of them.

Once upon a time, I worked at Mattel, and they gave me the chance to be the Product Manager for a new toy line. That meant that my small team and I had to do ALL these things:


  1. Get Designers to produce prototypes of the dolls and toys in the line.
  2. Get Market Researchers to do a limited test of the prototypes, to see if kids liked them.
  3. Get Broadcasters to develop TV commercials for the line.
  4. Get Public Relations people to write good things about this new line.
  5. Manage the relationship with Hallmark Cards, whose designers had come up with the sketches that formed the basis of the line.
  6. Get Manufacturing to gear up to make the products (with 15 or so different items in the line).
  7. Get Advertising to buy time in the right media to get the message out to people.
  8. Work with an outside animation company that was developing a TV special based on the main character. I had script approval.
  9. Get Packaging to work on boxes for the product that were gorgeous and highlighted the beauty of the products.
  10. Go out and meet with Retailers who had to buy the product to put on their shelves all over the USA to make the line mega-profitable. (I went out on the road with our company salespeople to do this.)


Now, were all these people excited to work with me? Oh no! They were BUSY. They were working on OTHER THINGS. My new product had no track record – I couldn’t say, “This product line sold $X last year, you had better get to work on it!” because there WAS no “last year.”

And there wouldn’t be a “next year” unless we had BIG success THIS year.

I had to get their attention and get them WANTING to work with me.

And “getting their attention” looked different for each of those 10 types of people listed above. For example, we had to keep in mind that an average Manufacturing guy cares mostly about the manufacturing plant running smoothly. He doesn’t particularly like new stuff because that’s where mistakes get made. He probably prefers to manufacture the old stuff that he and his team understand and can produce efficiently. Compare that to motivating a Designer who thinks she’s an artist and says, “It’s more fun to work on Barbie. She sold a quarter of a million dollars last year!”

Rainbow Brite

I managed to work with ALL those people, and we had the most successful launch year of any doll in the history of dolls. Rainbow Brite sold $150,000,000 at retail in its first year on the market. It was the most successful launch year of any doll in the history of dolls – despite being up against what we would call a “Coke and Pepsi-type competitor” -- the Cabbage Patch Kids!

And that success came about because we were successful in building bridges with lots of people, not least of whom were the little girls aged three to eight and their parents and other relatives who bought our products.

What bridges do you need to build – or to reinforce – to create extraordinary success for your business? Too often I see leaders work with their favorite associates over and over again while other “links in the chain” get no attention at all. This isn’t advice to focus on your weaknesses; I do believe in working to your strengths. But when stakeholders hold aspects of your future success in their hands, they generally don’t become more engaged with you due to your lack of engaging with them!
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Is this your Year of Yes?

I’ve just finished reading Shonda Rhimes’s book. You know her: she’s the first woman to both create and executive-produce an entire night of television (Thursdays on ABC: Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder).

She has 3 children at home and 3 hit television shows. And, back in 2013, she was doing a lot of what busy women often tell me they struggle to do: she was saying NO. A lot.

The book is about her decision to do exactly the opposite – rather than working on saying NO, this TV mogul and amazingly accomplished and successful woman made a decision to say YES to everything that scared her. For a year.

The most interesting aspect of this story, for me, is that Ms. Rhimes identifies herself as an introvert. I know so many people who tell me that they’re introverted – and that’s why they don’t want to move forward with their businesses, their careers, their lives. They’re stuck, they admit, but they can’t be otherwise because their introverted nature will stop them from trying something new.

Not this lady. She’s a living example of … just DOING what her fear told her not to do.

One of her scary activities was delivering the Commencement Address at her alma mater, Dartmouth. She titles her speech “Dreams are for Losers,” and, after talking about how very frightened she is to deliver this address, she proceeds to tell the graduating students, “…When people give these kinds of speeches … they tell you: Follow your dreams. Listen to your spirit. Find your inner voice and make it sing. Dream and don’t stop dreaming until your dream comes true.”

Here’s the stinger: “I think that’s crap. I think a lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people…are busy doing. Lesson one: ditch the dream. Be a doer, not a dreamer.”

And a second major take away from that talk: there’s no real work/life balance. “Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life… You never feel 100 percent okay, you never get your sea legs, you are always a little nauseous. Something is always missing… That is the trade-off. Anyone who tells you they are doing it all perfectly is a liar.”

Food for thought. Worth a read.

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Is your coaching any good?


These days, many organizations are in love with "coaching." Senior executives are expected to regularly coach their direct reports, who are in turn expected to be good coaches to lower-level directors and managers, while managers coach supervisors and supervisors, presumably, coach front-line employees.

With all the coaching that's going on, I'd expect much better results than I'm seeing.

Most bosses are adequate-to-poor coaches. They need their direct reports to get the work done, so the "coaching" is mostly checking-in to be sure that, in fact, most projects are moving forward -- and, if they're not moving forward fast enough, "coaching" is about WHEN each job will get done. If projects are far behind schedule, the "coaching" discussion is about who else can help.

A lot of today's so-called coaching comes from the old-school "command and control" approach to management. As Ron Rael wrote in the November 2015 CGMA magazine, “command and control” is an approach in which "...the leader dictates the rules and tasks while adhering to a strict chain of command. Employees are not allowed to question these 'orders'..."

Of course, there are times when a leader does need to dictate what’s needed. But coaching should involve a more personal connection with employees that is guided by a plan for helping each subordinate to grow in ways that the employee agrees will be helpful . It's individualized and oriented toward improved overall performance -- not just getting work done on time.

So can we agree that a lot of what passes for coaching isn't coaching by that definition at all -- it's admonishing people to get on the stick? In Rael's words, "Coaching is not managing ... you are using knowledge and insight to help employees come into their own wisdom.”

How can you begin to actually be a good coach?


  • Not just about a person's ability to get some portion of the work assigned to your team DONE, but about the coachee's development as a leader.


  • Understand what the coachee wants to accomplish -- where he or she would like to improve -- and develop a plan for working with him or her to achieve those improvements.


  • Understand how challenging situations play in your coachee's mind -- not just in your own mind. This requires that you put aside your own beliefs long enough to understand how this situation looks through your coachee's eyes.


  • Request information on approaches your coachee has tried -- or has considered trying – to fix problems he currently faces. And ask him to "talk you through" how each might -- or how each did -- work out. Many people continue to use approaches they’ve used in the past, no matter how seldom they’ve experienced positive results.


  • Some people may not know what they would like to improve. Try offering suggestions about ways you see that improvement may be possible, and check whether the potential coachee agrees that he would like to work on those things.


  • Offer "best practices" in areas where your coachee would like to improve, and ask whether such approaches seem appropriate to your coachee. Then help her think through how to implement the best practice that seems to fit -- or to come up with an idea of her own to address troubling situations.


  • Once your coachee has agreed to try an approach, and has done so, ask what lessons have been learned, list those, and ask how those lessons can be applied to other challenging circumstances. Remember that doing something a new way once does NOT mean a new habit has been established!
The bottom line is that if coaching is done properly, your coachee feels he has been given something of value -- that he has been SEEN, that you care about him personally, and that you have helped him to improve in aspects of his professional behavior. Though that sort of coaching happens relatively infrequently, it is something that employees greatly value, and it is a reason to stay with a company, even when other employers' job offers arrive.

Remember that keeping talented employees in whom you have made significant investments is often the biggest single key to your company’s improved financial results!
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Leaders: Do you have a plan for ALL your direct reports?

I’m surprised that many managers, directors, and even some VPs, COOs and CEOs are not developing the people who report to them.

Let me be clear: if you are a LEADER, it is your job to develop the people who report to you.

This means that you need to figure out enough about each of these people to be able to work effectively with them to develop a plan to maximize their strengths, and, if their weaknesses are critical, to address their weaknesses in such a way that at least they won’t undermine their future success!

It’s your job to get the people who report to you prepared to move UP in your organization – either into your job, or into another job that will be a better fit for them.

If you don’t do this, who will take your job when you are promoted, or when you want to move on to another challenge or into retirement?

I’m seeing a lot of people in positions of responsibility who aren’t doing one darned thing about developing their direct reports beyond writing periodic performance appraisals. If performance appraisal time is the only time your direct reports really learn how you feel about their contributions, don’t be too surprised that their performance is disappointing!

And if you don’t understand what each one of your direct reports wants out of his or her career and the particular job he holds right now – what he wants to learn more about, what she’s concerned about or wants to get better at doing, what he feels great about and wants more of – you are not on the road to success as a leader.

What is taking up executives’ time … if not developing their direct reports?


  • Meetings. Wall to wall, back to back, too many meetings that don’t have real agendas and last too long. Try conducting them standing up.
  • Email. If you think you’re going to “finish” it, think again. Most people are spending too much time behind their screens, and too little time talking with humans.
  • Your personal “book of business.” If you’re in a business in which you are both a leader of people AND a person who has your own group of clients, I’m betting that, when you have a spare moment, you work on your personal clients, not on motivating and growing your direct reports.
  • Your short attention span, and maybe even your focus on yourself. Some people’s response to too much information, too much to do, too much of everything is to narrow their focus to … themselves. Such people should not be leaders. You know who you are.


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What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I just landed $300K in funding from the Department of Homeland Security's Human Factors Group – historically a very difficult customer. The customer actually gave me $75K more than what I'd asked for. Since then, I have developed a trusted advisor position with this PM. She asks my opinion on program ideas and continues to send money almost without my asking for it. I attribute this success directly … specifically to the coaching I have been getting from Lenann.”

Dr. Ann Speed
Cognitive Psychologist, Sandia National Laboratories

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Observing the positive effects of Lenann's executive coaching with a colleague, I reached out. I was impressed after our first conversation with how well she listened -- not just to the concept I was trying to convey, but also the words I chose to describe situations. As she reflected those words back to me with insightful questioning, I began to fundamentally understand myself better and what communication tools were needed to be more effective in management and leadership. What reinforced my learnings from our sessions further were the reflections and readings after our sessions. As Lenann heard about my interest in analytics she provided me with a very detailed overview of specific degree programs that were exactly what I was interested in pursuing. This again is evidence of how carefully and deliberately Lenann listens and invests in her clients. Furthermore, dedicated to her clients, Lenann was extremely responsive and always available. I have benefitted immensely from my time with Lenann and recommend her highly for anyone who finds themselves wondering how they can grow or improve themselves professionally. I use the tools and techniques I developed with Lenann's assistance regularly. My only regret is that I could have met Lenann sooner!”

Dr. Irene Krokos
Senior Regional Medical Director, Molina Healthcare (a Fortune 500 company)

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann, you’ve been a GREAT help!  Thanks for reminding me of so many important points for my work introducing new, bleeding-edge technologies to senior banking officials.  During my days as Managing Director, Head Trader and Head of Structured Trading for a leading global securities firm, my challenge was introducing new technologies internally; now that I am introducing them to organizations of which I am not an employee, the challenges are different, and I am happy to let you know that, just today, I have been asked to represent to some high-level banking contacts the technology of a Canadian firm whose work is exemplary!  I appreciate your Executive Coaching, communications and meeting strategy advice, and specifically your advice on communications with my newest client that enabled me to secure this monthly-retainer-plus-success-fee arrangement.”

Gary W.
Gary W., Ph.D. and Senior Technology Professional, London, U.K.

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“My partners share my high evaluation of your program and recognition of your skills. Thank you for the excellent program to help our leaders.”

Igor Rodin
(Former) Vice Chairman, Deloitte Central Europe

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Closed 5 deals last week!! Thanks, Lenann, for your support, guidance and belief. The Game On Sales Coaching program we are doing with you keeps me sharp on the follow ups, value estimation and most importantly the closing rates!”

Jase P. Choenni
Head of Sales & Marketing, TMF GROUP BRAZIL

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Thanks so much for the quick follow-up to our meeting today.  I was extremely pleased and excited to see how well your work was received.  It was a beautiful thing!  Yes, I believe your calculations are correct as to the additional revenue my team has committed to bringing in!  I am thrilled that we did this, and feel we’re all excited about achieving our goals for growing our business.  I do think my change in how I am approaching leading our business went over well – I am glad I was able to vocalize that, so now I have to do it.  It was good for me to put that goal out there!”

Karen Cooper
Owner, MedCare Senior Insurance Solutions

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I was amazed at how perceptive Lenann is about issues (both personal and professional) that were impediments to my reaching sales goals. She helped me to understand that selling is first understanding the client's frame of reference, positioning through powerful, provocative statements, and a process of gaining agreement to next steps. Lenann demonstrated specifically how this is done in both verbal and written communications. In our consulting session, she distilled all the latest research and what's working in today's environment. What she taught me should become basic to my approach with all prospective clients. Lenann is brilliant, enthusiastic, and above all, very personable. The experience of working with Lenann was surprisingly pleasant, and gave me the confidence that I could also improve my selling abilities by following her recommendations. She is truly inspirational. I look forward to continuing my work with Lenann.”

Wealth Management Professional, Major Financial Institution

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“The Coaching I received from Lenann was invaluable to me. My takeaways included: Learning how to understand your client as opposed to 'knowing your client' – this has made me a far better listener and more empathetic to my clients' REAL needs; Being the 'trusted advisor' as opposed to a service provider – I had an interesting experience that I would like to share with you. I was asked by a potential client to assist with a matter that I knew we did not have the 'firepower' to assist them with. In the profession, it is unheard of to admit that your competitors are ahead of you but I tried it with the client and it worked. Today, he FIRST talks to me about any assistance that he may need and does not even ask for competitor bids; Handling difficult clients. Lenann has been a great help in honing my skills in this area. I have found myself more prepared to 'walk the road' during the client's time of difficulty than before. In my business, we are supposed to be transaction-oriented since we deal with clients on a project-by-project basis. However, where I have invested the time to deal with a client's unhappiness instead of handing the matter over to my colleagues, to my surprise, the client has 'come around' to even admitting that his/her organization was the place where the fault lies – that is a major 'coup' for us since it is very seldom that a client does that. We have managed to build a sustainable business (revenues and earnings is way up on last years' and, most importantly, we have built an impressive team) under fairly trying circumstances – Lenann has played a role in enabling me to do this.”

Neven Hendricks
(Former) Partner Deloitte, United Arab Emirates

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I can’t wait to start having meetings with our techs about the daily Sales Tips you’ve been creating and sending me daily. I really like today’s in particular because I think our techs might believe that sales is a nasty word. This will help me get the dialogue started and hopefully help them see it in a more positive light! Again, thank you!”

Rhonda Stewart
Rhonda Stewart, Owner, RotoRooter, Victorville, California

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Here are some key things I learned from working with Lenann: 1. I like the concept of a “Challenger Salesperson.” The more interesting, engaging and informative we can be in a useful way to the client, the better. 2. I don’t spend as much time selling as I think I do. 3. The way people do business continues to change and evolve – and I have to keep my selling skills current to keep up with those changes. 4. Treat others the way they want to be treated (not necessarily how I would want to be treated if I were them). A big company we haven’t done meaningful business with in about 5 years is about to come back in a very meaningful and multi-million dollar way…”

Russ Conser
Key Account Manager, Oberthur Technologies

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann, you've been great, as always. You put me in the right direction every time we speak - you tell me to focus on the right stuff and 'build it right.' Thanks!”

Scott Price
Regional Director - Americas, Custom House Fund Services, Chicago

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann has been my coach for over 8 years now. The coaching conversations we have are worthwhile because they give me the opportunity to speak freely and honestly about the leadership challenges I am facing without fear of retaliation or negative thoughts from superiors within my organization. Her advice has often put me back on track to achieve my goals and career ambitions. The focus and accountability she provides has been extremely valuable for my success and advancement. Another unique aspect of Lenann’s coaching for me has been the female role model perspective. There are very few women throughout my career who have advanced their careers as far as Lenann has. The respect I have for her as a role model and as a professional businesswoman with a family has given me hope that I can do it all, too!”

Tina Sampson
(Former) Vice President Sales and Marketing, Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I am glad that, in addition to our Sales Training, I chose to have you sit down, one-to-one, with four of our key people. The observations you sent me about each of them are perfect and helpful, especially in cases and/or aspects which I could not put in words before, but had a feeling about.

Two of the professionals with whom you spoke continue to develop well, they are thoughtful, have considered the feedback received, and learned from it. Both have sold new engagements for us, and they are going out to sell more and more. It is nice to see how their level of confidence has increased!

Thank you again for helping me in this matter.”

Julia Varga
(Former) Managing Director, TMF Group, Hungary

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“The coaching I had with Lenann is paying off in SPADES. I’m pulling in money for other people, now. Recently I spent two hours with a prospective funder (who approached me), and followed Lenann’s selling approach (i.e., we took NO slides to the meeting and let the customer talk 95% of the time, only talking to ask questions – not to tell the customer anything about what we do). At the end of that time, I said, ‘What’s the next step?’, and the customer replied, ‘How do we send you money?’ You have to know how to conduct a conversation to make that happen – it’s 95% listening (literally!), 4% asking questions, and only 1% discussion about your content and capabilities.”

Dr. Ann Speed
PMTS, Sandia National Laboratories

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann is a very accomplished and experienced Coach, who builds her advice and coaching based on her own Executive experience. She understands the daily pressure of high level executives and through her advice is an excellent catalyst for increased productivity of her client – ultimately to the benefit of the company. She provides real value for the money, and I would any day again participate in a coaching program with Lenann given the chance.”

Claus Vorreiter Jensen
Chief Commercial Officer, Svendborg Brakes, Denmark

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann, your influence has been so positive for my career! I will never forget you. I keep close to my heart people that contribute to my growth, and you have definitely been part of my growth professionally. I hope we can always keep in touch.”

Elena Montiel
(Former) Executive of Global Business Development, TMF USA, Inc., Miami

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann was terrific! After her ‘Trust and Respect in the Workplace’ learning experience, we had the most absolute pleasant best day at work in a very long time!”

Ellen Diamond
Mark Diamond's Jewelers, Albuquerque

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Thank you for your Sales and Closing Skills Class and follow-up program for our global team. I appreciate your response to my request for your thoughts on the

  • Selling Strengths you observed on our team
  • Selling Weaknesses you observed on our team
  • Leadership Strengths you observed on our team
  • Leadership Weaknesses you observed on our team
  • Implications of all of the above for the future of our firm, and recommendations.

I found your 5-page analysis to be succinct and immediately useful and I’ve applied the lessons there. Very valuable input!”

Koen van Weezel
(Former) Group Director, Global Sales & Marketing, TMF Group, The Netherlands

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“My prospect chose to invest $2 million today – and I say ‘Thank YOU a million, Lenann!’ I couldn’t have done it without your good sales coaching yesterday! This was especially sweet because the client had expressed an interest in a discounted up-front fee, had access to plenty of managers who don't charge those fees, and yet when I took the approach you recommended, the fee wasn’t a problem. I could not have gotten that result without your guidance, Lenann.”

Wealth Management Professional, Major Global Financial Institution

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann is absolutely the best there is! I've heard Zig Ziglar, Tom Hopkins, all the gurus, but I felt 'Yeah, I've heard all this before.' Lenann changes people's lives – the way they work, think and are motivated. She makes a very real, and quite incredible, difference!”

Patti Roland
(Former) Vice President Sales & Marketing, Stonebridge Homes

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“My Executive Coaching experience with Lenann has helped me considerably. My judgment of the value of Lenann’s Coaching can best be seen in the fact that I have encouraged other members of my staff to work with her, and they have. I have seen improvement in them as well! I particularly appreciate all the ‘homework’ Lenann had me complete to get me to look at my leadership behaviors, and see ways in which I can improve. I find myself sharing materials Lenann gives me with members of my senior staff, so the learning is shared in our organization. Lenann is always the first person I mention when others ask about Coaching.”

Patty Kehoe
CEO, Molina Healthcare of NM (a Fortune 500 company)

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“Lenann, I am proud to say that our volume is up – this is very, very positive. And the growth is interesting; there are no signs of slowing down in the trend of huge sales increases we have seen. The key executive whom you are coaching is making strong progress! Thank you for the monthly Coaching Report you provide – it is an extremely useful, clear picture of where we are.
Looking forward to continuing to work with you”

Roberto Schianchi
Chief Executive Officer, ZOBELE HOLDING S.P.A

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I enjoyed Sales Coaching with Lenann so much! Lenann is very good at assessing the situation -- with a couple of simple questions she gets to the bottom of things. The one-on-one nature of Lenann’s Coaching means there’s no way you can hide (as can happen in a classroom). I was continually intrigued by Lenann’s questions and constant feedback on performance…”

Wouter Plantenga
Senior VP, Head of International Structuring Americas, TMF USA, Inc., New York

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“(Lenann’s) coaching activities are very thorough, and are a part of a modern approach which makes a lot of sense. Our sales team had a great performance in this month, and I am convinced that Lenann’s (coaching) had a big influence on this result.”

Thierry Montfort
(Former) President and CEO, Heel USA

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I feel very good about the coaching that you provided to a professional on our team. Your coaching made a critical difference. His performance was much improved after his session with you. In fact, it contributed substantially to our success last year. Thank you!”

Dr. Will Swearingen
Executive Director, TechLink

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I attribute, easily, $10 MILLION in sales directly to learning with, and coaching from, Lenann.”

Mark Walton
(Former) Partner and Global Head of Operations Consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers, London

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“I worked with Lenann about 5 years ago. Just this month, I once again applied what she taught me, and closed 4 of 5 proposals – over $300,000! Lenann Gardner is a combination of blazing intelligence and electrifying enthusiasm!”

Pat Davis
Vice President and Director of Consulting Services, Marketing Insights Practice, KantarHealth

What other Smart Bosses are saying

“The demands on consultants these days are immense and it's so easy to end up in a 'feast or famine' situation. When you're working an engagement with a client, it can become all encompassing. I am happy to serve as a reference for Lenann McGookey Gardner, who helped me with a Coaching program. Lenann has a very engaging personality, a person never to be forgotten. I consider the materials Lenann provided to be very useful. Most of all, Lenann's advice and tips are straightforward and readily implementable when you're engaged in demanding client engagements.”

John Corr
Director AlixPartners (A global firm of senior business and consulting professionals), Somerset, United Kingdom

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