The Art of the Self Scout

You have to know your tendencies to improve yourself, so learn the art of the self scout.


How often do you really stop and look in the mirror?

No, I don’t mean literally.  I mean figuratively.  How often do you look at your performance, your style, your language, your approach to life and assess it?

Such an assessment isn’t easy.  Most of us would rather watch the latest rerun of Modern Family than have a moment of self reflection.

But…You know what?  It’s the only way to get better.

In sports, the art of the self scout is practically sacrosanct. In most major sports, teams at higher levels of competition spend a lot of time scouting their own approaches to playing the game.  They treat themselves just as their competitors would. They break down their tendencies, their tells, their strengths, and their weaknesses.  They have to, because their competition will.

Might as well find the problems first.

At the most elite levels of American football–the sport I have the most intimate experience within–self scouting goes all the way to the individual level, and then even to the situational level.  So, players not only evaluate themselves on how they play; but also how they play while facing 3rd and long against Tampa 2 press coverage.

Professionals go deep into how they play the game.  They watch film of themselves, seek guidance from coaches (who in the elite ranks are as much counselors and performance monitors as they are true coaches), and they adjust.

Did you get that?  They adjust.  They fix their tendencies and gaps.  Either that, or they get exposed by competitors who find the gaps.

Deliberate self reflection–self scouting–is a useful mindset for professionals of all sorts.

Go ahead, fire yourself…

One of the best examples of self scouting leading to action comes from the earlier days of Intel Corporation.  Mired in a price war with non-U.S. memory chip makers, Intel leaders Andy Grove and Gordon Moore engaged in an interesting conversation.  As recounted by Andy Grove, it went like this:

I looked out the window at the Ferris wheel of the Great America amusement park revolving in the distance, then I turned back to Gordon and I asked, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?” Gordon answered without hesitation, “He would get us out of memories.” I stared at him, numb, then said, “Why shouldn’t you and I walk out the door, come back and do it ourselves?

They had the presence of mind and just enough ability to subvert their egos to step outside themselves and evaluate what they were doing…And change it.

How you do it

There are many ways to self scout.  You can ask for feedback from others on behaviors and performance.  You can look back at your body of work and critique it as if it were the other guy’s.  You can engage in the Andy Grove experiment and simply fire yourself.  Walk into your job one day as if you were new to it, and think about what you need to shake up first.

That last point might be the most powerful.  In my practice, when we talk about helping new executives get up to speed or digesting an acquisition, we use the tried and true (and maybe a bit trite) concept of the 100 day plan.  A 100 day plan is a way of galvanizing action against a vision of what needs to happen to quickly re-form and re-direct a role or company under new leadership.

The question I’ll ask you is this:  Why does it take turnover for a person to form a 100 day plan?  Why do you have to wait until the other guy has your role before you acknowledge the gaps in performance?

Why not self scout and close the gaps yourself?

Try it… Starting today, try forming your 100 day agenda as if you were new to your job.  I’m betting you’ll find something of value.



The Ends of Strategy Are What Count

A strategy is only a strategy if it survives a test of its logical ends.

As someone who meditates on strategy across sectors, I run across a lot of very natural misconceptions about the topic.

One of the most egregious, and most dangerous, is the confusion of actions with strategy.  An action–like running, standing, striking, speaking or otherwise–is not a strategy.  Most executives understand the difference; but some do not.

Some think that an action is a strategy. But, they forget a basic tenet of strategy.

Strategy is an argument.  It’s an idea. It’s a view to and end. Action forms the basis of execution–strategy’s greatest fulfillment–but is not a strategy in and of itself.

Which brings me to my point: Actions without testing of logical ends can never form the basis of an effective strategy.

For example, a strategy that is explicitly focused on achieving an end state of cost leadership is very much a viable one.  Commodity providers pursue such strategies all the time.  Such a strategy is internally consistent when logical ends testing says that being a cost leader is a sustainable position.  In markets where it applies (coal mining, not luxury goods) cost leadership, in other words, confers competitive advantage.

On the other hand, a strategy that is based only on an action (not an end state) like cost reduction is no strategy at all, unless its logical ends hold water.  A company cannot cut its way to prosperity unless the cutting confers competitive advantage.  The act of cutting costs in and of itself confers no competitive advantage at all, any more than the act of investing randomly does.  Yet, we see companies and executive teams whose “strategy” is implicitly focused on shrinking a cost base without achieving cost leadership.  Such a “strategy” fails the ends test.   It also fails the vision test.

The integrity of a strategy depends on its surviving a test of its long run sustainability.  Cost leadership, value leadership, design leadership, distinctive insights, distinctive talent, and any number of other things can confer sustainable competitive advantage when played out to their ends.  On the other hand, a “strategy” that merely harvests returns while delaying inevitable failure is only a strategy insofar as it benefits stakeholders of the soon-to-fail organization–it doesn’t benefit the organization itself.

Actions can be strategic, but they cannot be strategies. Strategies point to wins.  Actions?  Not so much.

Take a moment and play out your strategy.  Think about where it leads.

A Case of the Management Yips

Feeling off your game?  People letting you know that you are?  Maybe it’s time to change things up.

One of the great realities of any mental game is the potential for the mind to short circuit it.

In golf, the emergence of mental short circuits that lead otherwise great golfers to make awful mistakes is known as the yips.

Some believe that at this very moment, Tiger Woods is suffering from the yips.  Many aging professional athletes resort to intensive therapy to avoid the yips.

The yips, to put it bluntly, stink.

If you want to see how bad the yips can be, you need look no further than former major league catcher Mackey Sasser.

I’ll link to a fascinating video by ESPN as a part of its 30 for 30 shorts series that illustrates in gory detail the way Sasser’s mind was rewired through a specific traumatic impact.

Here’s a link to the video.

Sasser, a catcher for the New York Mets organization, lost the ability to smoothly toss the ball back to the pitcher.

His was a colossal case of the yips.

The question

Have you ever witnessed a manager who is off their game?  Perhaps they used to be an engaging and warm leader. But, after years of constant delivery and pressure, they have deteriorated into a shell of their former self.  Perhaps, like Mackey Sasser, they have undergone a severe psychological stress that helped surface severe issues that were hiding under their former leadership profile.

Is it possible to get a case of the yips in business?

I think so.  And here’s why:  Like any other mental pursuit, working with and leading people takes energy, focus, and drive.  No, I won’t say that the average manager needs the mental acuity of the average professional golfer.  Still, if the mind of a pro golfer–used to repeating actions with extreme precision for year after year–can be completely tripped by the yips; then so can a manager’s.

The manager can go from being a great listener to being a constant critic.  He might go from being a a thoughtful problem solver to being a problem finder and complainer.

He might go from developing people to driving them away.

Sure, it’s possible that our formerly effective manager has gone off the deep end.  Or, it’s possible he has a case of the management yips.

So what? 

I bring this up for one reason, and I’ll write more on this at another time.  When a leader loses his way, he has to make a change. In golf, many a case of the yips is dealt with by creating distance from prior habits.  For instance, right handed golfers often actually start to putt left handed.  In a sort of ironic twist, they jump so far out of their old system that they relieve the hitches and glitches that come with the yips.

So, if you are a manager who has perhaps gotten off your game even though your processes, habits, and disciplines haven’t changed, consider jumping out of your system.  Change things up.  Look for fresh air, do meetings standing up. Stop taking calls in your office.

You might have a case of the management yips.   And, like so many other pressure and stress induced bad behaviors, the only way out is through.

When Your Client Doesn’t Get It…

Blaming your client or customer for their confusion is a good way to get yourself fired.

Ever get into a situation where your audience (of any kind) just doesn’t seem to understand or get comfortable with your drift?

For those of you who follow my writing across platforms, you may have run across an article I wrote this summer titled “It’s Never the Audience’s Fault.”  Here’s a link to it.

Based on circulation, you had to look pretty hard to catch it.

The thesis:  The audience’s discomfort with your performance, as a rule, says a lot more about your performance than about the audience.  So, refrain from blaming them.  They have brains, too!

I had the privilege to witness an exceptionally good example of bad behavior on this topic recently. A consultant I happened to be near witnessed behavior from a client that just didn’t make sense to the consultant.  The consultant, an expert with decades of experience, kept receiving requests from the client for guidance on process and approach.

The client was uncomfortable, confused, needy, and absolutely un-versed in the consultant’s approach to business. The client was naive. This created a morass of nerves on the client side.  And, I could tell, wasn’t all that pleasant to the consultant, either.

So, what did the consultant do?

The consultant blamed the client.


In an exchange that was almost amusing if it weren’t terminal, the consultant referred in short form to the consultant’s expertise, the client’s lack of trust, and how the client’s communications and questions were driving cost and time.  To add a dessert topping to the interaction, the consultant proceeded to lecture the client on what “right” looks like for a professional services practice in terms of process and value.

What the consultant didn’t do was address the root issue:  The client’s discomfort.

The consultant sought to be understood instead of seeking to understand.  And, in the process, the consultant sapped any remaining client confidence that the consultant could actually deliver on a satisfactory experience.

The chemistry wasn’t there.

The consultant was fired–not for performance, but for lack of openness to the idea that the client’s discomfort just might be justified.

Professional services relationships provide a stage (and an economic stimulus for immediate feedback) for practicing leadership principles that matter.  This was a good example of one:

When your customer doesn’t get it, you have to look inwardly first.  It might not be their fault.

In Defense of Honesty

Drama is worthless except for those who profit from it.  Find your best, graceful, honest self…and bring it.

I’ll just start with this:  I tend toward an idealistic world view.  I believe in establishing and testing core principles and doing my best to live by them. I launched a firm based on that.  I’m not perfect, and I’ve been around the block enough to know that a principled world view is one that can be dangerous to one’s career and to one’s reputation–even when principles are otherwise “right.”

It’s a little acknowledged fact that, as a western culture, we applaud and crowd around feats of physical courage.  We love people who “put their life on the line” and laud them accordingly.   People who are physically courageous might face questions of why they take such risks, but such risks are appreciated.  We saw this recently with a few U.S. citizens who stopped what might have been a much worse shooting incident on a train in France.  We laud them, rightfully so.

On the other hand… Moral courage is actually a very lonely thing.  The courage to stand on principle in the face of really rotten circumstances, to give up power, prestige, or even (gag!) money to have the ability to sleep well at night is…to put it bluntly…tough.  Why?  Well, it usually has to do with a matter of reflection.  When we are morally courageous, we cause other people to reflect on their relative lack of courage.  It’s easy for an individual to look at a selfless feat of physical courage and say “oh, my, I don’t think I could ever do that” and still maintain a solid self image. Change the circumstances to one of moral courage, and people are suddenly confronted with their own foibles more directly.

For the average person, It might be hard to put one’s self in harm’s way to save someone from being shot or run over by a car, but it’s (conceptually) actually pretty easy to walk away from an unethical leader.  However, throw in a bunch of other people following the same unethical leader, good money, and good old inertia, and the person who opts out of such a circumstance has to foster a lot more courage (again, conceptually) than a person who saves the damsel in distress.

Wait, do you mean that it’s harder to be morally courageous than to be physically courageous?

Yes, of course.  If such weren’t the case, we would see a lot more instances of whistle blowers and conscientious objectors vs. physical heroes.  We would see fewer instances of closed ranks, cloistered leaders, and silent exits of key executives. Instead, whistle blowers and conscientious objectors know that they can be vilified, ostracized, and ultimately damaged by the very act of calling out issues.

On a more micro level–one that I hope affects us all vs. the more macro issues faced by whistle blowers–if we saw more flexing of moral courage, we would see a lot less drama in the average group endeavor.


Because the core of moral courage is honesty.  It’s bringing your best, honest self to bear on any situation.

Drama typically ensues in organizations when there is ambiguity, passivity, apathy, and manipulation.  Drama, true to the metaphor, comes as much from what is happening behind the scenes as on stage.  And, believe you me, there are predatory minds that relish the ability to foster drama and discord.  They thrive on it.

So, my point:  If we are to flex our moral courage, we have to start practicing some level of honesty.  Honesty with ourselves is where it has to start.  Have we examined ourselves, our lives, our professional approaches?  The average human mind (and ego) really doesn’t do that well.  And, make no mistake, we are, on average…average.

Honesty with others is the next step.  Have we offered up, in careful but clear terms, an honest appraisal of situations and the mindsets around us, or do we let drama stir?  Have we examined our relationships in this manner?  Have we been willing to say “no” to those who foster discord? Keep in mind that it is possible to be honest without being brutal.  Most corporate jerks I know are “honest” on some superficial level, but they are also absolutely brutal at it.

Honesty requires grace, and honesty without grace is brutality.

Some might wonder why “honesty” rises to the top of a blog that is ostensibly about leadership and strategy and organizations and transformation.  I’ll just put it this way:

If you can’t be honest with yourself and those around you, you can’t be an effective strategist.  Drama–and the dishonesty underpinning it–obfuscates.  It creates ambiguity.  It creates friction.  It creates frustration.

I’ll say it again:  I’m an idealist. That means, for instance, that I don’t mind being called naive while acting in defense of honesty.  I have found that defending an honest point of view helps the predators and pretenders to reveal themselves for who they are much faster than if I play along.  I sleep well at night.

Bring your best honest self to the situation, and see what happens.  You might not like the reaction, but I guarantee you will like the outcome.