Hello Leader,

This KEY is about two extraordinary encounters. It’s my way of encouraging you to spend quality time, have meaningful conversations and give thanks this Thanksgiving.

We welcome your comments. Please forward this Key to friends, family and associates.


Aviv Shahar

Also, visit our blog to find out about:

Your Greatest Asset
Leading In Tough Times
On video, in their own words…

Extraordinary Encounters At 32,000+

Being raised in Israel, Thanksgiving was not part of my upbringing. We discovered and made this giving of thanks a family tradition when we came to the US. Whether you live in the US and celebrate Thanksgiving or not, you can create your own ceremony of giving thanks. We sit around the table and tell stories about special things that happened to us this year and what we choose to give thanks for. In these times of anxiety and uncertainty, appreciating all that is good and the blessings of your life can strengthen and reassure you that better days are ahead.
Here are two stories I’m going tell around the Thanksgiving dinner about special conversations I had this November. Returning home from a strategy summit in Houston I discovered the man sitting next to me was an astronaut and a senior engineer in NASA. Nicholas generously opened his laptop and showed me a beautiful image of the Earth. It was an image he captured two years earlier on his shuttle mission. He pointed out how thin the atmosphere was. We have all seen images of the planet since the Apollo mission, but it was even more accessible and acute to be looking at this picture with someone who had seen with his own eyes, from space, the fragility of Earth.

Earlier that day he consulted the engineers working on Orion, the new space program that will replace the retired shuttle fleet. His consulting was in the dual capacity of an astronaut and a Human Factor Engineer (with specialization in the interface of humans and robotics).

Understanding the principles that govern a person’s domain of mastery has always fascinated me. My next question to Nicholas was, “What are the governing principles of effective human interface with robotics?”

Taking a moment to think he framed his response: consistency, compatibility, simplicity, and, number four, enabling new mental models.

Consistency is critical because the logic you apply in designing a system must be consistently followed, right through from beginning to end, so as not to confuse the user.

Compatibility is needed because the design must match well and be user friendly. The application and usage of tools and functionalities should be easily accessed to be utilized in real time for every situation and need.

Simplicity is vital because when you deal with complex things you must not complicate them. There is a difference between ‘complex’ and ‘complicated’. Simplified process helps you manage complex systems.

Finally a system needs to enable new mental models to open possibilities and permissions for greater versatility, scope and functionality.

It took a couple of hours after getting back home to realize the gift Nicholas had shared with me. The core principles of all domains are connected. For example, by understanding climate systems you can gain new insights into the dynamics of organizational life. By understanding a cell in the human body you get clues to the greater universe. The principles Nicholas framed as key for effective human interface with robotics were absolutely essential for leadership interface too:

  1. As a leader, you must be consistent. Consistency makes you a reliable leader in the eyes of your people. They learn to understand your message, are prepared to trust you and are ready to support and work together towards your vision.
  2. You are expected to frame a strategy compatible to changing needs and environments. Your communication must be well-suited and relevant to all stakeholders. To create alliances and foster collaboration with diverse people you must be an adaptive leader, ready to attune the style and method of your engagement.
  3. Your leadership message has to focus on what matters most. It needs to be simple. People look to you for help in sense-making that leads to action. To be a meaning-making leader you must offer a simple bridge from vision to action.
  4. Finally, by being consistent, compatible and keeping things simple you create a platform for effective leadership. With this platform you can help your people reframe reality and open new possibilities. Reframing leaders enable and give birth to new mental models. They allow us to change ourselves and refashion the world.

A conversation that matters is connective. It makes you appreciate the wisdom and brilliance of another person and opens the door to new insights. This was the gift of my conversation with Nicholas.

A couple of days later I was heading to Boston for the Adaptive Leadership workshop. This time, “sister serendipity” had me sitting next to a distinguished diplomat. Crispin Tickell was the British ambassador to the UN in 1987-1990 and consulted heads of state throughout the world. At 78, he is witty and sharp, with tremendous insight and broad knowledge of current affairs. He is deeply involved in climate and sustainability issues, runs seminars and think-tanks in Oxford, and is active on numerous geopolitical and global fronts. We touched the big geopolitical, economic and planetary questions. And I bet you can guess the question I pursued through the conversation. That’s right: “What are the key principles that guide effective diplomacy?”

Sir Crispin developed his answer through anecdotes and stories and offered the following five principles:

  1. Trust
  2. Knowledge
  3. Mutual interest
  4. Engagement
  5. Timing

First, the involved parties have to build trust. Without initial trust in the other party’s good intention to solve problems, the conversation cannot begin. You must have initial trust to eventually build a deeper trust.

Second, you need to bring comprehensive knowledge of the issues to the table. Knowledge is essential to build credibility. And credibility builds deeper trust. Without in-depth knowledge there cannot be substantive discussion that generates real, practical and pragmatic solutions.

Third, the parties need to appreciate each other’s interests. They have to think not just in terms of win-win but in terms of “we” together (as an executive in our workshop this week called it, “we-we”), a “we” that answers the interest of all parties involved.

Fourth, the parties need to develop an ongoing engagement. The secret of effective functioning of the Security Council at the time was that the ambassadors for the five permanent Council members held monthly meetings at Crispin Tickell’s apartment. The ongoing engagement developed trust, comprehensive understanding of issues and appreciation of each other’s interests. At crisis points, the reservoir of goodwill their engagement provided became extremely valuable.

And finally, timing is everything in diplomacy. It’s not enough to have the right solution; the right solution has to appear at the right time.

Since my conversation with Nicholas was still fresh, I did not have to wait to appreciate the gift Sir Crispin shared with me. As leaders, our work begins by building trust. It continues by demonstrating knowledge and competence. We then have to appreciate the interests of all people involved which leads to the readiness to be fully engaged. We can then create solutions and deliver on time what’s needed and what we are called to do.

These are two extraordinary encounters in the last 10 days. True, sometimes it’s easier to have them at 32,000 feet with people you’ve never met before. But they can happen at any height, anywhere, if you make the space and if you listen and are attuned to what’s happening around you.

Now it’s your turn. Turn the Key. Give thanks to all that is good and blesses your life. Pay attention to the person sitting next to you. They may be carrying a gift for you, if you can recognize and cherish it for what it is. Share with me your stories and their teachable messages. I hope in a future Key to share with you stories sent my way.

© Aviv Shahar

Your Greatest Asset

What is your greatest asset? Who holds the key to your organization’s future?
It was a late Friday when the phone rang. I recognized the voice immediately. We had worked with Pete earlier in the year. Pete enjoyed our collaboration, it delivered exceptional results and helped his team coalesce and accelerate growth. He was a diligent and successful executive, known for getting things done and for his commitment to his people. He sounded concerned and urgent.

Pete: “Some of our best managers are exhausted, worn out. I am afraid we are going to lose a few great people.”

Me: “What’s going on? Why do you feel that you are going to lose good people?”

Pete: “I don’t know. I am not even sure who might be leaving. It’s been tough. They have all been working very hard. I just get the sense of burn out. Frankly, I cannot afford to lose my top managers.”

Pete continued and we explored together what was going on. We focused on the struggle of the leadership team in the challenging business environment.

Me: “How can I help?”

Pete: “If you can help us create a strategy that will retain our key people; encourage a sense of renewal and fresh commitment and find a way to help us re-energize full engagement of our team it would be huge. It will help us achieve our numbers. Not only will we save a lot of money on searching and replacing key managers, it will keep our talent here rather than with our competitors. It takes 12 to 18 months to replace an exceptional performer. That is if you are lucky.”

Pete asked that we design an effective talent retention and development program. He wanted to make sure his top people, the managers with exceptional talent get the best there is – a powerful development program with high energy and a fun experience. “We need to develop our vision, build the strength of our culture, cultivate impactful leadership and help our people in their personal growth.”

“And you want the ribs and the thirteen layer chocolate cake too?” We had a good laugh and agreed on next steps. A few weeks later we met with a top talent group to begin to learn and practice the Emerald Keys.

The ROI was phenomenal. Pete had successfully rallied his teams to exceed their objectives. Managers coached each other and improved retention throughout the organization. In tough times many executives freeze. Pete realized that uncertain environment presented opportunities. He made a critical decision to invest in his people and got his return. A new momentum was created. His teams moved to execute the strategy with energy and focus. Accelerated growth followed.

In times of challenge, your greatest and most essential assets are your top talent. These high potentials help you bounce back from setbacks and produce breakthrough ideas and innovations. They deliver results, make the impossible possible, and create your organization’s future. As a leader there is no greater return on investment than developing your top talent and nurturing new leaders. The ROI comes in huge multiples. Happy and energized managers produce fully engaged teams, attract great clients and accelerate your business growth.

What is the leader’s blind spot?

It is taking your high performers and top talents for granted. Assuming they will always be there – assuming they will always deliver for you and that you do not need to invest back in them. It is the biggest mistake executives make and eventually regret.

Our Top Talent and High Potential programs are customized to your unique organization. Call or email us to find out about a customized Talent Development program for your teams!

The Emerald Keys are a set of principles and core beliefs tested and proven by exceptionally successful people. Through the study and practice of these keys you find your sweet spot, realize your greater capacities and attract to yourself the inner harmonies of success in life and at work.

© Aviv Shahar