Context Is Decisive

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article | Context Is DecisiveContext is decisive. My mother always said that to me… Not really…. I learned this in a Landmark seminar. It rocked my world, my understanding of the world and what gives the world meaning. The instructor, wags his index finger and asks; “what is this?” “A finger”, we say. “Ok, if we are talking about anatomy, it is a finger, but what if we are talking about numbers? What is it?” “One”, we said smugly. “Well then”, the instructor said, also smugly. “If we are talking about direction, what is it?” “Then, it is up.” “Wow”, he says “this” indicating his finger, “just changed three times. It changed from anatomy, finger, to number one, to direction up. All we did was change the background conversation.” I sat stunned. What just happened? Silence enveloped the room.

For this blog, context: is the background conversation that gives meaning to the forefront conversation. As demonstrated above, context is decisive. The context defines how things show up and how they occur. This definition has changed what I pay attention to from what is happening in the foreground to what is happening in the background. Context has deepened my ability to understand my world and the meaning that people give to the world.

Here is an example. In my lifetime and certainly in the lifetime of my grandmother, the career opportunities available to women have dramatically expanded. We will agree that now being a pilot, doctor, president, soldier, astronaut, policewoman, scientist is all available for women as valid and viable career choices. This was not always so. What happened? What shifted in the last eighty years? Women existed. For the most part these careers existed. Yet the reality that my grandmother dealt with when she graduated as a sole female medical doctor in NY in the 1930s and the career reality for my niece in 2015, when half her graduating class of physicians were women are in stark contrast.

What are the implications of this for my Granddaughter Sienna who is 7? What is possible for her and her girlfriends now in 2021? What has occurred and what has allowed for this shift? I would argue for that to happen the context around what it means to be a woman with a professional career has altered. For my grandmother being a doctor and a woman was a unique occurrence, unexpected and exceptional. For my niece it was normal. For my granddaughter it is a birthright, which many will achieve and certainly is not dependent on gender.

I would suggest that what happened on 911 shifted the context of airplane hijackings. Before that time, we had numerous and significant hijackings. A plane would be taken over by hijackers, land some place and then haggling over the hostages would ensue. Freedom usually happened, sometimes rescue, sometimes tragedy and death. However, there was a pattern to it, and everyone played their part. 911 changed the context of hijackings. It was dramatic. Crashing airplanes full of passengers into buildings became the background of air travel and influenced everything that happened in the foreground of air travel.

As that context shifted, the rate of change was tsunami like. Almost immediately TSA formed. Security at the airport altered. Lines to wait in, metal detector screenings, pat downs all became the norm. Doors to the cockpits practically overnight became fortified. For the pilots to use the bathroom became a ritual complete with food carts. We all accepted these changes and delays and there were few questions. Why? Because the context around air travel had shifted and impacted everything around air travel. Why? Because context is decisive.

Now we have two examples, let us look at others. What about police beating black, Latino, and people of color? What about the murder of George Floyd? Has that incident changed the context in which police being physical with people occurs? Do they occur differently because since George Floyd the context has shifted? I would say yes. Certainly, for many the context has shifted from one of police meeting out justice to a context of people being murdered only because of the color of their skin.

How about the Pandemic? It started in Wuhan China and spread from there. An illness appeared among us that prior to this had not existed. That is a fact. For me, this Covid –19 Pandemic occurred in basically two contexts. One was that it is a big deal and we had to take real actions, masks, lock downs, quarantines to prevent many deaths and the breakdown of our medical and hospital systems. This context made shutting down of the world economy and keeping everyone home for months a rational decision. This context supported saving lives by keeping people masked, separated.

The second context in which this occurred for many is that Covid 19 was no big deal. Sort of like the flu. With this context people would gut it out, muddle through and the people who die are the people who die. I see this where I live in rural Michigan. Covid is no big deal. Residents say, “Covid is certainly not here. Covid is no biggie.” Just ask the butcher Dave…he never wore a mask. We muddle through and we do not see what all the fuss is about.

The large Urban School Systems and the Catholic School Systems generated very different contexts from which to deal with the pandemic. The Catholic context was that they would make it work with protocols, cohorts, and targeted quarantines. The context of the Public Schools is that we cannot be safe and do this other than by remote learning. Again, given the context, the impact on children and their learning was enormous.

What is the point? Well, the context that something occurs in like Covid determines what you do. Context is decisive. Here is the kicker. You get to choose the context. Things are happening for sure to you and the context that they happen in is up to you. Creating and choosing the context that the world occurs in for you is a big deal because it will shape your experience of what is happening to you. Remember the beginning of this article…finger, to direction, to number…. One can have very different things occurring all by shifting the background conversation.

I have created a context in my life that everything that happens and occurs to me supports and furthers my …life. That is the background conversation that I bring to all that happens in my life from flat tires to a new project to a new relationship to a breakup with a girlfriend. No matter what is happening, how it is feeling my generated background conversation or context is that it all furthers, (enhances my life) and it all supports me. It is useful in that nothing blocks me, and it allows me to always be supported and be contributed to no matter what is happening. Now for the juicy part. You the reader, yes you, take this opportunity to look at what is the context that you are experiencing. What is your background conversation that is giving meaning to the foreground? Is this meaning something you inherited or are you creating it to empower and enable yourself in the face of whatever you are dealing with and whatever matters to you? How are you coming out of the Pandemic and what is the context from which you are creating this new world? Look and let me know what you see and what alterations to the context that you are making. This is important work because, as my mother always said, not really, CONTEXT IS DECISIVE.

About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Bruce HodesBruce Hodes, President and Founder of CMI, is dedicated to helping companies grow. The focus of his work is developing work teams, business leaders and executives into powerful performers. Bruce has an MBA from Northwestern University and a Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work.

Your Bad Leaders Are Driving Away Good Employees

StrategyDriven Talent Management Article | Employee Retention | Management and LeadershipThese days, it’s hard to keep a good employee in your ranks. Messages across the web tell young workers that the only way to get ahead is to hop positions frequently, even as much as once per year. In the modern job market, frequent relocations seems to be how employees get the titles, responsibilities and perks they crave.

So, employees are already poised to leave — and they will flee your offices even faster if your leadership isn’t up to snuff. Here are a few ways bad leaders negatively impact your employee retention and what you can do to stop it.

Poor Communication

Good communication is the number-one requirement for a leader. After all, it’s impossible to lead if you don’t know how to use words to direct your workforce. Still, many poor communicators make it to leadership positions, and from there, they wreak all sorts of havoc. Poor communication can take many forms:

  • Over-inflated — using too much jargon, too many big words or overly convoluted sentence structure
  • Non-specific — failing to provide clear instructions or guidelines for a project or situation
  • Abrasive — communicating with aggressive language and/or with anger
  • Selfish — communicating only to seek personal benefits, ignoring others’ needs or desires
  • Wrong method — employing an inappropriate means of communication

Fortunately, communication is a skill like any other, which means it is possible to retrain these leaders to improve their performance. It might be wise to encourage leaders to develop their communication through advanced education, like an MBA program, or else through mentorship or coaching.


There is a fine line between healthy feedback and destructive criticism — and many leaders stray to the wrong side too often. Leaders are meant to coach, helping employees improve their skills and thus develop their careers. Bad leaders will nit-pick, taking every chance to degrade employees and make them feel ineffective and worthless.

Many employees become so downtrodden by the constant criticism that they do not report the bad behavior to HR or higher bosses, which means it is often difficult to identify overly critical leaders. If you receive any reports of an unsympathetic, judgmental leader, you should take them seriously and take steps to effect change.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to retrain leaders who develop this habit. Often, it is a clear and simple sign that someone is poorly suited to leadership and should be removed to a different role. However, you might also need to undo the damage of these leaders by being overly appreciative of employee contributions, perhaps even handing out employee awards to raise general self-esteem.

StrategyDriven Talent Management Article | Employee Retention | Your Bad Leaders Are Driving Away Good Employees | Office Politics | Business PoliticsOffice Politics

Office politics is an unavoidable power and social networking system that develops in any organization, big or small. The manipulation of office politics by some employees is inevitable — but that doesn’t mean it’s okay for leaders to take advantage of the political atmosphere of an office. An overly political office often breeds fear amongst the workforce; fear causes employees to resent their employer, which drives up staff turnover.

Leaders might try to leverage office politics to encourage employees to work harder — but there is a delicate balance between positive and negative outcomes from political maneuvering. Plus, office politics always comes with ethical concerns, which certainly won’t boost your brand perception. It’s much safer to discourage leaders from inciting a political atmosphere in your workplace.

Dirty Laundry

Work only amounts to so much of a person’s life, and while it’s fine (even encouraged!) to share a bit of your home life with your coworkers, no one should be divulging unseemly personal drama in the workplace. Dirty laundry, much like office politics, breeds discomfort amongst your workforce; a proliferation of dirty laundry encourages people to spread rumors, with can reduce interpersonal trust and send employees looking for less threatening work.

Leaders need to find a balance between humanizing themselves with personal details and airing dirty laundry. Human resources can help train leaders who struggle to set boundaries. It’s also wise to build a workplace culture that allows for personal bonds between workers, so information about anyone’s personal life doesn’t seem quite so salacious.

Fear, discomfort, distrust — these are things that bad leaders can breed amongst your workforce, virtually guaranteeing that no good employee stays for longer than a few months. Your business can’t grow unless your workforce is stable and capable, which means you might need to take steps to change your leadership, stat.

Following Leadership’s Qs

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article | Following Leadership’s Qs | Business Leadership | Steve CoughranWhat makes a good leader? If tasked with answering this question, some might devise a 10-page list of traits. Leaders need to be visionaries. They must be genuine, hardworking, respectful, and pragmatic. They should connect with employees. They should be story-tellers.

We hold leaders to a high standard, attaching a lengthy list of prerequisites to any governing role. Before starting as CFO, I repeatedly scanned through my leadership qualities, considering how I would present myself to my new colleagues. The night before my first day, a jumble of questions raced around my sleepless mind: “How will I balance openness with authority?” “How do I provide the appropriate amount of guidance to my team?” “How will I know if I am being effective?”

After serving in a variety of leadership roles over the last two decades, I still have a lot to learn. I have, however, worked to chip away at the long list of leadership traits by understanding the key areas where leaders must succeed. In my experience, the myriad of leadership characteristics can be boiled down to the Qs.

IQ (Intellectual Quotient): The first focus area is the most straight-forward. Of course, ascending the organizational ladder requires intellectual horsepower. Most leadership positions demand foresight, complex problem solving, and creativity, that of which requires sharp mental faculty.

Most leaders fulfill this first criterion. Unsurprisingly, cognitive ability is directly linked to job performance. Those with high IQs have dazzled their superiors with high-quality work and valuable insights, using brainpower as jet fuel to soar into top leadership spots. IQ is the first Q of leadership, as it gets your foot in the door.

EQ (Emotional Quotient): While earning my Master of Accounting, one of my colleagues shined as the star of our cohort. She was incredibly gifted with numbers. Following graduation, we both eagerly accepted offers to work in public accounting for Ernst and Young. After a short six months, however, she had moved on to another opportunity. Apparently, after bouncing around due to team conflicts, she had been asked to leave. Neither expertise nor credentials could outweigh the importance of EQ in a team environment.

IQ in isolation does not indicate strong leadership potential. In recent years, the power of EQ, the ability to read others’ emotions (including your own), has been exalted as a key trait in successful leaders. A study of UC Berkeley PhDs discovered that EQ was 40 times more powerful in predicting who achieved success in their fields than IQ (Developing Management Skills). Emotional competencies combined with strong cognitive abilities lays the foundation for an effective leader.

FQ (Financial Quotient): One of the most frequently overlooked requirements of a strong leader is financial intelligence. In a national Harvard study of U.S. managers, the average score on a simple financial literacy test was 38% (Harvard Business Review).

When elevated into leadership positions, it’s often assumed that people understand finance. However, I have encountered even senior leaders who have muddled along with very little knowledge of how to enact and measure value creation activities.

A company is a financial machine created to produce profit and cash flow, therefore leaders with decision-authority (and especially those with P&L responsibility) must understand how they make an impact on the bottom line. For today’s leaders, financial literacy is not an option. Strategy without finance is dead.

SQ (Strategy Quotient): Finally, even the brightest, most emotionally and financially-gifted leaders flounder without strategic direction. SQ is the bow that ties all the other leadership skills together. It puts the other Qs to work. Strategic leaders carve out structure without being rigid. They extend the abilities of the team and lead them into new, unpredictable territories by taking calculated risks. They’re aware of internal and external happenings. Overall, they see the big picture, and guide their team by sharing an inspired vision.

Follow the Qs of leadership to unlock the potential of your talent, maximize the impact of your organization, and escalate your bottom line.

About the Author

Steve Coughran is author of Outsizing: Strategies to Grow your Business, Profits, and Potential, CFO of an international billion-dollar company, and a management consultant. Steve has over two decades of experience driving business excellence. Known for his extensive research and writing on strategic growth and corporate financial management, he challenges conventional wisdom, earning the reputation of an “energetic trailblazer.” He is an expert on strategy and an acclaimed keynote speaker with over twenty years of experience driving corporate excellence.

For more information, please visit

3 Most Common Leadership Mistakes and How to Avoid Them in 2019

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article | 3 Most Common Leadership Mistakes and How to Avoid Them in 2019 | business leadershipIt is no news that being a leader requires quite a lot of perseverance and personal strength. For some people becoming a leader has been a meticulous decision and a result of many years of hard work, whereas some others might have got a leadership position without ever striving for it. The luck of the draw!

In both cases, the expectations are high and the stress is unavoidable. Not only should a leader outperform themselves and make sure all the objectives are met but they should also ensure their entire team feels happy and satisfied with work. Not an easy task to do!

Regardless of how many years of professional experience and personal training leaders possess, all of them tend to commit certain mistakes because they are all human beings. But what distinguishes a good leader from the rest is their ability to be able to recognize their mistakes and find solutions to avoid them when they get a second bite at the cherry.

For those leaders looking to improve their leadership qualities, we have compiled a list of 3 most common leadership mistakes and ways to avoid them in 2019.

Let’s take a closer look at each mistake.

#1. Not communicating the vision and the goals

Having a vision and setting clear goals is one thing, being able to communicate those to your employees is a completely different thing. Many leaders think that if they have a clear vision, that is more than enough for employees to succeed. While there is some truth to that, constantly communicating the vision and the goals is more than essential to guarantee a successful team work.

Leaders should remember that their employees have different personality types and they do not necessarily function in the same way. In order to ensure that the whole team is on the same page, leaders should remind them about the significance of the vision and how it translates into everyday tasks for each employee.

Sharing the vision, sticking to it and showing how every employee can contribute to that vision every day is key to creating a successful working environment based on common goals.

Top Tip: constant communication of the vision can be executed through monthly email reminders, oral reminders during meetings or via audiovisual support materials like TV screens around the office. Make sure every employee knows the vision and knows how to contribute to it.

#2. Poor delegating of tasks

Poor delegating of tasks is equally harmful as not delegating at all. Recent research has shown that leaders who skillfully delegate tasks achieve three-year growth rates that are 112% higher than those who don’t delegate at all or who do so poorly.

Delegating tasks will not only let a leader concentrate on more important tasks of strategic value to the company but will also empower employees because by doing even the smallest task employees feel like a valued member of a team, especially when those tasks correspond to their strengths.

Here is how to delegate tasks successfully:

  • Identify the tasks to delegate
  • Choose who to delegate the tasks to, based on their strengths
  • Be clear about the tasks to implement
  • Monitor progress and give continuous feedback for improvement
  • Be able to redelegate when something goes wrong
  • Show constant appreciation

It has been proven that employees who have a chance to use their strengths and character traits are on average 74% more engaged at work. Moreover, the mere fact of knowing each other’s strengths makes the team 12% more effective.

Top Tip: delegating tasks based on strength finder results will help leaders achieve maximum efficiency. Sharing each other’s strengths can be of huge help to team members who work together as well as for leaders who manage those teams.

#3. Failing to adjust to changes

In today’s ever-changing world the ability to adjust to changes is crucial to successful leadership: continuous tech developments, new customer relationship management practices, employee motivation roller-coasters, and much more.

One of the main differences between a leader and a manager is the aptitude to embrace change. Real leaders know that change leads to new ways of growth and accomplishment. While there is no perfect formula for managing change, the secret of succeeding is realizing that change is inevitable and that growth happens when things change.

Top Tip: learn to be flexible as a leader: listen to your employees, constantly follow the trends and keep an open eye on market developments. Remember to surround yourself with people who can complement you in areas where your strengths are not enough to help you with your weaknesses.

There is no special school for leadership that teaches how to be a true leader. It takes a lot of everyday practice and a great deal of flexibility to be able to adjust to people, places and different developments.

“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”
John Maxwell

About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Anatoli ChernyaevAnatoli Chernyaev is a content marketing manager born in Armenia and currently residing in France. He writes about various topics such as self-awareness, positive thinking, personal development, and career advice.

Do You Have The Right Leadership Qualities?

Are you planning to start a new business during the next few months? Would you like to make sure you have what it takes to succeed? Then take a minute or two to consider some of the information on this page and make sure you understand the most crucial leadership qualities you will require. If you don’t have them at the moment; now is the best time to improve your skills.

Communication skills

If you struggle to communicate with your employees or clients; you will never reach your full potential in the business world. Communication is vital, and you need to make sure you can explain your ideas and highlight concepts in a way that others grasp quickly.

Problem-solving skills

You are going to encounter many problems and stumbling blocks in the business world. Success lies in your ability to solve those issues and overcome anything that blocks your path. If you aren’t the best problem-solver right now; you need to work on that ability.

Project management skills

As an entrepreneur; it is vital that you plan working practices that ensure your employees become as productive as possible. Maybe you would benefit from taking a project management course or something similar before you push ahead?

Now you know about some of the most critical leadership qualifies for entrepreneurs; you can begin to improve your skills and make sure you get everything right with your new venture. Regardless of the nature of your business idea, the same rules will apply. Take a look at the infographic for more tips.

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