Stephanie Mead and Steven Stowell on “The Art of Strategic Leadership”: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

mead-1Stephanie S. Mead, MBA, is the co-author of five books, including The Art of Strategic Leadership: How Leaders at All Levels Prepare Themselves, Their Teams, and Organizations for the Future, and has also published many shorter works on the topics of strategy, leadership, teamwork, and facilitating the work of teams. Stephanie is the Executive Vice President of the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness (CMOE) and has two decades of experience in operations management, leadership-development curriculum design, and organization-development consulting.

During her career with CMOE, she has designed complete leadership curriculums—including programs for supervisors, mid-level managers, and senior leaders—for some of the world’s leading organizations. Stephanie’s experience includes diagnosing training and development needs and creating customized learning programs. She has developed specialized learning experiences, blended learning programs, and executive-coaching programs aimed at maximizing human and organization performance and has also worked with national and international organizations diagnosing training and development needs and formulating solutions. Stephanie received her undergraduate degree in Business and Organization Behavior from Brigham Young University and her MBA from Westminster College.

stowell-1Steven J. Stowell is the Founder and President of the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness (CMOE). Steve specializes in facilitation, training, and consulting with senior- and executive-leadership teams to help them develop the skills required to transform organizations into high-performance, strategically minded, team-oriented entities. Steve also spends time coaching leaders and executives on a one-on-one basis to help them further develop skills that will allow them to maximize their level of performance.

Steve earned his Ph.D. in Organization Behavior from the University of Utah and has served on the faculty at Oklahoma State University and the University of Utah. He has over 40 years of experience designing and delivering workshops and customized learning experiences covering dozens of leadership and management topics for some of the world’s largest companies. Steve and Stephanie have co-authored five books: The Art of Strategic Leadership (Wiley, 2016), Strategy Is Everyone’s Job (CMOE Press, 2013), The Team Approach (CMOE Press, 2nd ed. 2012), Ahead of the Curve (CMOE Press, 2005), and Leading Groups to Solutions (CMOE Press, 2002). In addition to the books listed above, Steve has also co-authored three other books: Win-Win Partnerships (CMOE Press, 1996), TeamWork (CMOE Press, 1994), and The Coach (CMOE Press, 1987; 2nd ed. 1998) as well as numerous articles.

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Who has had the greatest influence on your personal and professional growth? How so?

Mead: As I think about my personal growth, I can’t say that there is any one person who has had the greatest influence on me. Instead, I believe the most impactful growth has come from the influence of the collection of leaders I have had the privilege of working with over the years. As part of our training and consulting practice, I’ve had the opportunity to witness these real leaders in action, working in the trenches every day and that has really influenced who I am, my perspective on leadership, and how I personally lead my team. You can learn so much from leaders of all types who are doing their best to get results, overcome challenges, and lead their teams in the best way they know how. I recognize that I’m really fortunate to be in a situation where I have access to leaders from around the world, and these relationships have given me a unique perspective about the real issues leaders face, guided my professional work, and inspired me to be the best I can be in all aspects of my life.

As far as my professional growth is concerned, my colleague and co-author, Steve Stowell, has had the greatest impact on my professional development by far. Steve is a thought leader in the field of leadership and employee and organization development. His pioneering work in the field of business coaching is what originally got me interested in this type of work. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to be guided and taught by such a leader in this field. As we have worked together over the years, I have learned more than I ever could have imagined from his vast knowledge and experience.

Stowell: I had the good fortune early on during my formal education and training to have a mentor who is recognized globally as the “father of motivation,” Fredrick Herzberg. I was extremely intrigued with his research and principles that can unleash the commitment and engagement of people in the workplace. Herzberg truly inspired me and has had a significant impact on my personal and professional growth. I still believe to this day that it is the nature of the work itself, or the way a job is designed, that taps into people’s desire and willingness to go the extra mile. Money, status, incentives, benefits, supervision, and perks are nice, and they clearly play a role in people’s motivation. But in the end, it comes down to how challenging and interesting the task is and how much autonomy a person has that enhances his or her passion to perform at an extraordinary level. The groundbreaking work from Dr. Herzberg is what sparked my interest in management and organization effectiveness and continues to drive it today.

Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Years ago, we began to see how crucial it is for leaders and others in the organization to become more proactive in their work, and that was the beginning of CMOE’s Applied Strategic Thinking® program; other strategy-focused concepts and programs have followed suit. We came to the realization that being a top technical performer and doing well with today’s tasks are only part of a leader’s responsibilities, even though emphasis is usually placed on being effective with their operational tasks. Achieving immediate goals and executing current job responsibilities is certainly very important, but there is another piece of the work that leaders frequently ignore or overlook. This stems from people’s tendency to think that strategy is someone else’s job. In actuality, strategy can’t just be from the top down, but needs to also occur from the bottom up. What this means is that being proactive and thinking strategically needs to be part of everyone’s job.

No matter where they are in the organization, everyone has to be willing and able to think beyond today and understand how they can contribute to the organization’s strategy and direction. Organizations want people to adapt to changing environments, unlock their value, and help the business become more competitive. We see a lot of organizations who have this idea built into their leadership competencies, but there continues to be an increasing need for people to learn how to think, act, and lead more strategically. That is one of the key areas where we are trying to make a difference. We recognize that there are a lot of concepts, writers, and resources available on corporate and business strategy, but our focus is unique because, in our work, we are targeting leaders at all levels.

Stowell: I grew up in a family that didn’t have much, but despite the difficult circumstances, I believed in myself. I knew that if I wanted to achieve my full potential in life, I would have to work hard and come up with the resources that would allow me to do so. This taught me that if I wanted to get to a better place, I needed to take personal responsibility for myself. I quickly learned that I would need to plan, prepare, take action, adapt, and take some risks.

I believe strongly in Thomas Edison’s quote, “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and common sense.” I discovered that improving my situation would require hard work and long hours at a real job. I worked in mom-and-pop organizations like restaurants, filling stations, and with building-maintenance crews. I worked in factories making automobile fan belts and I spent even more time at Boise Cascade’s corrugated-box plant. I also worked for government agencies and a large global energy company. In each of these places, I was both intrigued and sometimes dismayed by the leaders and co-workers I encountered. It was interesting to observe how some leaders went about motivating people, engaging them and getting people to do their best work.

Other leaders were disliked, and some were even despised. I noticed that some teams were well-organized, creative, and prepared for any eventuality, while others were not. This was fascinating to me. At this same time, I began to explore various university programs and that was when I discovered that an entire field of study is devoted to organization behavior and effectiveness. Early on in my undergraduate work, I came to the realization that this would be my life’s work. Initially, I thought my path would involve teaching at a university. But as I got started working with organizations, I knew that my path would be helping leaders and businesses develop and improve by being an independent instructor, mentor, and facilitator. I have thrived on the variety of stimulating assignments and learning opportunities that come from each project I work on and each organization I work with.

As I look back on my career, and the literally thousands of projects I’ve worked on in over 35 countries and with over 400 different companies, I never would have imagined how exciting and rewarding my line of work would be. I can’t envision a future where I’m not doing something to help people figure out a direction and discover how to realize their dreams.

To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Mead: For me, my formal education gave me a fundamental understanding of how organizations and markets work and the dynamics of an ever-changing business world. This broad view has given me the perspective needed to really grasp what leaders experience on a day-to-day basis and the challenge of fulfilling expectations and meeting the demands of stakeholders, customers, and employees. In addition, my education provided the foundation I needed to be successful in the Organizational Development field. Now, my work with CMOE gives me access to businesses in all kinds of industries which provides a unique but realistic picture of business, leadership, and strategy in action and on the front lines of work.

Stowell: My formal education has played a significant role in my professional accomplishments. Because of my intense interest in organization effectiveness, leadership, and the success of regular working people, I was able to focus my formal education on subjects that would affect the lives of people around the world. I was always looking for university professors to mentor me and for courses that addressed topics like managing change, organization policies, conflict management, effective coaching and feedback, and creating strategic direction. The chairman of my Ph.D. committee helped steer me into practical and exciting projects. He was instrumental in connecting me with people who were proactive, strategically minded, and interested in making leaders and organizations better. This gave me the opportunity to learn from many people and build on my formal education.

What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Mead: I wish I had really understood that leadership is an ongoing development journey and not something you quickly master. Looking back, my impression of leadership was that if you understood the fundamental principles of management and treated your team members with respect and could inspire them to follow you, then you had everything figured out. But for me, I’ve had to hone and expand my skills over time. In theory, leadership principles seem straightforward, but putting them into practice with real people in real situations is a whole different ball game. I feel that I’ve grown tremendously in my own abilities, but like most people, I have more work to do. I look forward to continuing my own learning journey and I hope that my efforts will leave a lasting leadership legacy in some way.

Stowell: This is a great question. It is pretty simple in my mind: find a way to differentiate yourself and make a unique contribution. I like to say, “Find a need, fill a need.” Businesses hire people to solve problems. You have to be a problem solver to succeed in life—and not only a solver of today’s problems, but also of tomorrow’s potential problems. You have to think big and take risks. You have to gather facts and information, trust your instincts and intuition, and advocate for your ideas, opinions, and insights by finding your voice and speaking up.

It really comes down to balancing facts and analysis with your intuition and opinions. Differentiating yourself and making a unique contribution sometimes means taking a contrarian position on issues. I have learned that you don’t have to be a negative, harsh, or disagreeable person to disagree with key decisions, programs, or solutions. You can put forward a contrasting perspective with a calm and matter-of-fact tone. People are more likely to collaborate with you when you can assert a point of view without becoming aggressive or combative. If you want to be creative and innovative at work, there will be times where you have to push the envelope and say things that could make the bearers of the status quo feel uncomfortable. People will be more likely follow you, listen to your opinion, and respect you as a person and leader when you have the courage to speak your mind with a tone and word choice that is not intended to hurt or put down the beliefs and feelings of others.

I have noticed and tried to emulate people who have important things to contribute, but also have the ability to build collaborative solutions and search for the best answer to complex business dilemmas. Exciting things happen when you are both assertive and inclusive. I hope that people entering the workforce or leadership understand that shared ownership for new ideas and direction increases drastically when you think in win-win terms.

Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond.

From Lao-Tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Mead: My first reaction to this quote is something that we share with the leaders that we work with: strategy is a team sport. I think for a leader to be successful with any strategic initiative or long-term plan, there is great value in taking full advantage of the talents and diverse knowledge and perspective of the people around them.

Unfortunately, that knowledge and point of view often goes untapped. Strategy can’t take place in a silo, and it is difficult to be successful if you don’t have the cooperation and support of the people you work with. I find that people are much more likely to support short- and long-term goals, objectives, and strategies if they have some involvement in either defining what those are, or in the execution of those plans, or both. Because of this, leaders have a choice to make. They can take the approach of “strategy shared,” which is a vision for the future defined by the leader and driven down through the team, or they can go with a “shared strategy,” where the ideas are shaped collaboratively and team members are encouraged to provide input and take ownership for the journey into the future. In either case, leaders need to capture the hearts and minds of their team members, draw out their diverse talents, and unleash the passion and ability to perform at the top of their game that lies within each of them.

Stowell: First of all, rarely does one person have all the right answers to big business problems. It takes the combined wisdom of people and their willingness to pool their experience and judgment to produce good solutions and viable new ideas to the challenges organizations face. When it comes to planning, we must generously listen to others. As the saying goes, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” We will never recognize our blind spots and see the world clearly unless we trust those around us to challenge our thinking, help us see things we may not see, and work with us to build a plan that takes the organization to a better place. Leaders have to keep in mind that successfully executing a plan of action requires the support and commitment of everyone.

If people feel ownership for a strategy, they will be more engaged when it comes to implementing it. The people around you want to help shape the future. Participating in the strategic-planning process and executing on the strategic plan that they helped create is a very motivating experience. World-class leaders aren’t concerned about receiving the recognition for making smart moves. Instead, they are willing to share the limelight and rewards for creating a better future.

Far too many leaders believe strategy formulation is only for the elite members of the organization, high up in the hierarchy. I believe that everyone has something to contribute. In other words, I think that strategy is both a bottom-up and a top-down process. There are some things that only those deep inside the organization know. For example, the front-line salespeople probably know more about what the customer thinks and needs than the senior executives do. The great strategic thinkers I know listen to those who are close to the action and readily seek out their opinions. I heard this somewhere and I like the message: “Rarely does the revolution start with the monarchy.” It is true in modern organizations that if you want to start a strategic transformation or just refresh the current strategy, you need to get people behind you. Some people say that the mathematical formula for change is N/3, meaning that if you want to succeed with new initiatives, you need to gain the support of at least a third of your people before you start the journey. If you have them championing the cause and supporting your plan, they will coach and influence the rest of their colleagues to join the battle.

Michael Porter: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

Mead: I agree with Michael Porter that being strategic is as much about deciding what not to do as it is about choosing what to do. Leaders and teams can always find strategic opportunities that they might pursue, but it is important to keep in mind that you can’t take on every strategic opportunity or fix every issue. Ultimately, you have to be smart and you have to make tough choices about which opportunities you want to go after in order to shape the future you desire.

Because we can’t do it all, strategic leaders have to be good at making tradeoffs. We simply can’t address every single challenge or chase every single strategic opportunity. We encourage the leaders and teams we work with to discover and focus on the strategic opportunities that are most critical to their future success. Instead of trying to focus on everything at once, we guide people in selecting strategic targets that will support the organization’s overarching strategy. In reality (and after closer inspection), some of the things that may seem like good opportunities to them initially won’t be game-changers in the long run and simply aren’t worth pursuing.

Stowell: I like Michael Porter’s work a lot. He has some important things to say about strategy when you look at it from an industry-level perspective. In my opinion, strategy is all about choices and tradeoffs. You can’t be all things to all people. Strategy requires that you focus your efforts and invest where you can make the most improvements and improve your position in the industry. If you want to be competitive and get a leg up on your rivals, you must not only decide what to do—which is clearly very important—but what not to do. This is where it takes some discipline. One very smart executive I work with often says, “I have to say ‘no’ to a lot of good ideas all the time. We have a clear strategy that provides a decision filter for us as a set of ‘bumper guards’ when we have to decide what strategies to bet on. I have to make sure we focus our energy and resources inside the ‘bumper guards.’”

Now, this is a leader of a Fortune 25 company, but he knows that even they don’t have unlimited resources. It is clear to me that when an organization chooses to turn left, they can’t also simultaneously choose to turn right. Organizations poised for taking on the future put a directional stake in the ground and try to create some continuity for their chosen strategy. I have had a lot of executives tell me they have a problem with appetite control. They want to go after every shiny object they see. They recognize that if they don’t choose the right things to do, it will ultimately put a strain on resources, frustrate people, and confuse customers because no one will know what you stand for and what you are going after. It takes a lot of discipline to avoid being seduced by all the good ideas that come along. You have to be clear, analyze opportunities, and choose wisely in order to win in the long run.

Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

Stowell: The products organizations create have a lifecycle. Everything an organization creates eventually calcifies, ages, and goes away. Even its activities and practices have a useful lifecycle because organizations are constantly evolving. Working through this lifecycle and sustaining the long-term growth and viability of the business is difficult. Leaders have their work cut out for them. They have to be continually thinking about ways to reinvent the organization. It could even mean cannibalizing their own products to spark necessary change so they don’t find themselves behind the curve.

I believe in the concept of “creative destruction” because new ideas last for only a short time, so you have to force strategic change. Once others replicate your ideas, you lose your competitive advantage and you’ll be looking for a new one. If you are not continually challenging conventional wisdom and pushing for fresh thinking, you will become irrelevant and cliché. Strategic leaders have to take some risks. For a lot of leaders, risk-taking doesn’t come naturally, and operating in new or different ways can create a lot of anxiety and discomfort. Some studies that suggest people are 2.5 times more risk-averse than risk-prone. People tend to get very comfortable and content with their old practices, business models, and strategies. Courageous leaders see the hidden danger in today’s success and understand that when people become content, they expose the business to predators, imitators, substitutes, or the next big idea.

Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd…’”

Stowell: I agree with the notion that you can’t see the end from the beginning. In other words, there are few “Eureka” moments in life that will propel your business or your function forward. Great ideas are often the product of a lot of hard work—as well as some setbacks, failures, and sometimes, accidental discoveries that catch our attention and cause us to pause. Mistakes, strange and unexpected occurrences, and unintentional outcomes allow us to find the silver lining and work them to our advantage. Strategic people have a knack for exploring and mining these events and spotting potential opportunities rather than dismissing them as undesirable distractions. I applaud people who set out on a journey of discovery that is big, audacious, and well-funded. They have helped to advance society greatly. But for many of us, our journey of discovery may be a small experiment, or trying something new for the fun of it, or a serendipitous moment that will produce something new or unusual.

On the surface, it may seem like a waste of time to stop, reflect, and consider the odd result and whether it may hold some hidden value worthy of exploitation or further investigation. But really good strategic thinkers don’t write off a mistake quickly. They play with these oddities, explore them more, and talk to others before moving on. It’s like having their own “skunkworks” program going on all the time. They look at the organization’s white space, discover the needs that no one is responsible for, and find ways to apply their discoveries.

Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

Mead: Effective execution is so critical for leaders and teams because taking action is the bridge that connects the present with the future and makes a team’s vision a reality. However, having a clearly defined strategic direction doesn’t mean that success is going to show up on your doorstep, although it is an important step forward. A majority of strategy failures are attributed not to bad strategies, but to bad execution. I think one of the primary reasons this occurs is because strategy and execution are often treated as separate activities rather than an integrated and interrelated process. A strategic plan should be created alongside a plan for execution, and both should remain flexible to accommodate changing needs and conditions. Additionally, in order to make real progress, leaders and team members must have the right behaviors and mindset. It is the combination of actions, behaviors, and processes that makes a strategy come to life and produce value-added outcomes.

What that means for leaders is that they have to make sure to follow through. They also need to ensure that their team knows how to contribute, which isn’t always easy to do. Because leaders are surrounded by urgent priorities and distractions, it can be difficult to manage daily responsibilities, let alone try to carve out time to focus on strategic priorities. But it is critical for them to help others understand what they are expected to execute on, and to integrate new behaviors and processes that will lead to the successful execution of plans. In our practice, we encourage leaders to start small and launch an early offensive as they integrate strategic thought and action with meeting operational expectations. Talking about it regularly and working on it consistently gives them the traction they need to take bigger steps forward.

Stowell: While I couldn’t agree more with the premise that good vision and strategy formulation have to be supported by execution and hard work, I also believe that without robust foresight, clarity of direction, and imagination on the front end of strategy work, you are more likely to miss the target or desired future state. In my experience, I have seen many managers and leaders who get trapped into becoming doers, and years ago, I started calling this trap the “task magnet.” Many leaders get impatient, shift into the “doing” mode and march onward before the vision is clearly defined, understood, and accepted by the organization’s members. When I get asked about my favorite part of strategy, it is a little bit like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. Each child has positive attributes and talents, and with strategy, each phase has important attributes and different roles to play in the entire process. I see strategy as a system of interconnected parts. Each one has a vital role to play: environmental scanning, intelligence gathering and analysis, strategy and vision formulation, planning, execution, and review and evaluation. If you skip over any part, the whole strategy comes unstable. You really need to do your due diligence in each facet of strategy. Like Edison, I believe that to achieve long-term, sustained growth, you have to roll up your sleeves, put in the effort, and make the investment required to transform your own organization and extend the lifecycle of the business.

Who is a leader (from the past or present) that you respect and why?

Stowell: Several years ago, we were asked to help build the first Leadership Institute for FedEx. Fred Smith, the founder and still-current CEO said, “The only way we will succeed in a very competitive industry is if we can get every leader to focus on doing the right thing and less on doing things right.” For me, that was a wakeup call. I believe that many leaders get caught up in the pursuit of perfection with everything they do and fail to evaluate activities and the real value they produce. These activities get in the way of developing new, game-changing activities that will help position you for the future. Too many things add waste to the business and consume resources. Strategically minded leaders are always asking themselves what behaviors, actions, and practices add value that stakeholders really care about and customers are willing to pay for. I love to come across managers who have the presence of mind to intentionally divide their time and resources between the required activities to achieve results today while they simultaneously shape the future. To do this, you have to be lean in the way you think and operate. We refer to it as “hunting the beast.” The beast symbolizes the things that are trivial and will rob you of your resources and energy. The result is that you underperform strategically as well as operationally. Forward-looking leaders recognize the clutter and see the beasts and activities that really don’t require much attention or precision. These perfectionistic tendencies are counterproductive to the long-term health and wellbeing of our team and business.

Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Here’s my question—How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?

Mead: Without a doubt, change can cause a lot of discomfort, especially for people who tend to be change-averse by nature. Many leaders can’t seem to overcome resistance—their own or from others—and they settle for “good enough” because they know how difficult instituting change can be. The problem with resisting change to avoid discomfort is that it limits our growth and ability to help our teams and organizations improve, evolve, and adapt. If you want to be relevant in the future, you have no choice but to change and evolve. Leaders have a responsibility to build and support a culture where breaking down ingrained habits and old standards is recognized as an important part of rebuilding and creating a stronger, more successful organization. They not only see the need for change, they work hard to identify and manage resistance in order to push the needed change forward.

Whether you are a leader or not, I think you have to pay attention to thought patterns and processes so you start to recognize when resistance is emerging, either in yourself or in others. Recognizing resistance is the first step towards managing it. You can also coach yourself and others to get out of the routine and try new things that will encourage you and them to work outside your comfort zones and look at the change as an opportunity to grow. As you do so, you begin to discover that change—especially innovative change—can be a benefit, and over time, you learn to be less resistant.

Stowell: Resistance is a phenomenon that we have encountered frequently in our work with team leaders and something we have devoted a great of thought to over the years. Early on in my career, I would find myself becoming frustrated with people (and leaders, especially) who resisted change when the change offered a clear and compelling benefit for them and their business.

Eventually, it dawned on me that resistance is really a common, natural, and normal phase that we all go through when we have to manage some of the harsh realities of leading an organization through change, strategic adjustments, or any disruption to “business as usual.” It not only applies to organizations and leaders, but to individuals. We all have to be self-aware and manage the resistance we may feel even if we know that certain actions will be beneficial and helpful. For example, I feel resistance when I need to schedule a checkup with my doctor. I know the procedures he wants to perform will be helpful in the long run, but in the back of my mind there is some competing fear and some questions that nag at me: How long will it take? How much will it hurt? How long will my recovery be? How much will it cost? When these things gain the upper hand in my mind, I might say to myself, “Why not wait until next year? After all, that knee problem isn’t that bad. Besides, having surgery will really mess up my ski season.” We know it’s irrational, crazy thinking, and yet the fear of the unknown makes us believe that the current state is somehow acceptable and that we can put off or deny the action we’ll inevitably need to take.

In life, we have a fundamental choice. If we don’t change, we will be changed by someone or something. If we don’t actively steward our future, even with its inherent risks, unknowns, and uncertainties, someone or something will change us. When we do little to improve our situation in life or take on change that will help ensure the long-term, sustained success of our organizations, we virtually guarantee that the things we fear most will unfold.

Many of the good and positive things we aspire to achieve have two sides: On the one hand, they promise a better future, but going through the learning curve, making mistakes, and struggling to change our behavior and thought process can be uncomfortable and painful. These behaviors and practices have probably served us well in the past, but we have to have the awareness and presence of mind to recognize that they won’t in the future. I believe that resistance is fundamentally unavoidable, but I firmly believe it can be managed.

What was CMOE’s original mission when it was founded in 1978? To what extent (if any) has that mission since changed? Please explain.

Mead: Our original focus was creating partnerships in the workplace through business coaching and feedback. Steve was an early pioneer of leadership coaching and completed one of the first business-coaching studies, which was the foundation of our Coaching Skills and Coaching TIPS2™ Models and workshops. No other coaching-training courses are backed by as much research as these two programs. Over time, our clients began asking for programs that were equally effective, used the same design methodology, and complemented our work in the coaching field. Because of this we strengthened our capacity to create custom-designed programs and curriculum that help organizations transform in a variety of areas.

Part of that work resulted in the development of a high level of expertise in the area of strategic thinking at all levels of the business and the demand for consulting support for leadership teams who need to transform and grow. In essence, the mission of our organization is very much the same as it was when we started, but we are now able to fulfill our mission and help organizations with a broader range of products and services than we ever have before.

In your opinion, what is the single most significant difference between CMOE and other professional associations?

Stowell: I believe it is our ability to be nimble and flexible in responding to the unique needs and expectations of each of our clients. As part of that firm commitment, we work hard to provide customized solutions and programs. We have an in-house design team that focuses solely on collaborating with clients who are seeking tailored solutions. Our philosophy is that to truly be a partner of choice for our clients, we have to be consistently responsive and reliable. This is why we make ourselves available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Because of these core philosophies, we have been able to form strong relationships and enjoy long-term, collaborative partnerships with a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, as well as smaller organizations, around the world. We’ve found that companies are often introduced to CMOE through one workshop, product, or service and eventually utilize other products and services that we offer because of our ability—and willingness—to ensure that our programs tie into and support a variety of issues they are facing.

In your opinion, what will be the single greatest opportunity for CMOE in (let’s say) the next 3-5 years? What specifically must be done to take full advantage of that opportunity?

Mead: The opportunity we see is helping organizations be proactive about building strong leadership capability at all levels of the business. In particular, we find that there is a growing need in organizations to develop leaders at the supervisor or frontline-leader level. These leaders need support in developing the critical competencies that drive the modern organization and workforce and understanding how to build strong relationships with a diverse workforce.

Many companies are beginning to recognize that when leadership is weak at these levels, it has an impact on the entire organization. It is very difficult to retain and engage employees, build the right kind of culture, and be positioned for long-term success. In addition, there are some critical leadership competencies that will help them build relationships with employees from across generations and leverage talent in a way that optimizes bottom-line performance.

Another real challenge organizations face is finding leadership-development solutions that match up with time constraints and the resources required for developing front-line leaders. For us to take advantage of this opportunity and the growing need for our clients, we will have to help organizations see that putting a development program in place for front-line leaders is possible and can be accomplished through a variety of flexible approaches, and that there can be a very real ROI. We need to help companies see that when they invest in leaders at every level, it benefits the entire organization in the short and long run.

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Stephanie and Steve cordially invite you to check out these websites:


CMOE website link

The Art of Strategic Leadership website link

CMOE Blog link

Stephanie’s LinkedIn link

Steve‘s LinkedIn link

Stephanie’s Twitter link

Steve’s Twitter link

Stephanie’s Amazon author link

Steve’s Amazon author link

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  1. David Boone Jr on October 29, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    I’m very excited to have heard of this work and look forward to reading the book. I had the pleasure to work with Steve Stowell at the FedEx Leadership Institute many years ago and the lessons learned there have proven invaluable in my career. In this interview, the authors demonstrate both the insightfulness and tone of those who have clearly seen the mountaintop and are ready to prepare others to not only get there, but lead the way as well.

    • bobmorris on October 30, 2016 at 6:31 am

      I will soon post Part 2 so please jeep keep an eye out for it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about Steve and his work.

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  3. Leadership Content Roundup – November | CMOE on November 8, 2018 at 4:23 pm

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