TW Leadership Profile: David Cavazos, City Manager of Santa Ana, CA

Written by Basilio Ramirez. Posted in Leadership, Organizational Development

Is it possible to inherit the leadership traits needed to manage a city from your parents? David Cavazos believes so. “I learned confidence from my father,” says David, “and self-reliance from my mother.” And those two traits have brought him a long way. With almost three decades of public management experience, David’s journey has had pit stops at Carnegie Mellon University, starting as an intern for the city of Phoenix, Arizona, and then becoming its City Manager. After a few years leading there, he is now the City Manager for the city of Santa Ana, California since 2013. “I encourage a team approach to problem solving,” he says, “and believe that solutions are achieved by working together.” As I walked out of the meeting a younger man walked me to the elevator and asked if there was anything else they could do for me. Curious. Especially, because I had visited the same offices years before Mr. Cavazos was its City Manager and found a team in dire need of a leader.

Mr. Cavazos’ approach illustrates the common trait found amongst leaders, namely, they are preoccupied with how to move a group of people towards a united goal. While achievers single-mindedly focus on accomplishments and try to drive their teams to help them arrive at the destination, leaders try to find ways to maximize the strengths of the team and minimize its weaknesses. Leaders still have goals like Achievers, it is just that leaders like Mr. Cavazos are fascinated with how to get the whole team across the finish line.

This may seem like a very subtle shift in perspective but it makes all the difference in the world. The consultant team at TurningWest are experts at helping high Achievers learn the people and process skills to become great leaders. We shorten the learning curve by introducing the insights, techniques, and tools that our clients need to help them become great leaders. Then, while they are honing those skills in their unique leadership setting, we guide them through the inevitable detours and obstacles that arise. Achievers can take the “trial and error” approach to becoming leaders but will suffer much collateral damage due to their mistakes. Or, they can engage a professional navigator to accelerate their acquisition of leadership skills and thus propel their career forward.




The Dangers of Leading a Turnaround

Written by Dr Steven Goodwin. Posted in Leadership

Samuari StatueThere is an old Samurai tradition that admonishes warriors that, before battle, they must “accept their own death.” Only in this acceptance can they be fully present for the battle. Accepting the reality that one might die makes that warrior fearless and thus more likely to survive. The same is true for the would-be turnaround leader.

Lest you think I am making an unequal comparison, let me remind of you of Machiavelli who said in The Prince, “And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

Of course, turnaround leaders are not likely to actually die, but they may experience the death of their careers. Yes, being a turnaround leader is that dangerous to one’s career, which is why so few willingly accept such assignments. It is also why so many careers have been either damaged or destroyed as a result.

All that being said however, I personally am still drawn to turnaround leadership. It has been my life’s work to rebuild worthy organizations that have stumbled, but which have enormous potential to return to greatness and thereby significantly make this a better world. I have spent years researching the nature of turnarounds and their leaders to try to understand, to find patterns, insights, and resources to launch more turnaround leaders. In all this one truth shines through everything: turnaround leadership is dangerous and should not be undertaken lightly.

My advice to you who lead: carefully, even prayerfully, assess whether you are up to the task of being a turnaround leader. If you are, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, in a position where you are called upon to lead a turnaround, my singular advice to you is to seek out an expert coach in this field. Leading a turnaround is unlike any other successful leadership endeavor. And . . . it is far more dangerous!

Vision Fueling

Written by Dr Steven Goodwin. Posted in Leadership

Vision is central to leadership. Without it, a leader cannot motivate, empower, or unite people towards a common goal.

Vision has a clear unity, however, vision is more than one monolithic picture of a preferred future. Granted, vision is a supraordinate goal that everyone can agree upon, however, there are often many smaller visions that make up the larger picture. For example, the vision of the research and development department will point that unit’s way forward towards propelling the organization to its stated future. So too will the customer service department team and the facilities team and executive management each have their own subordinate visions. Put each of these together and you have a beautiful mosaic that inspires each respective unit or team to pull their way forward into the selected future destination.

This reality points to an essential leadership skill that I like to call “vision fueling.” While it is certainly the role of the leader to cast vision for the organization, it is, concomitantly, necessary for the leader to “fuel” the visions of each subordinate leader in the organization. Vision fueling, by this definition, means to do whatever the executive or senior leader can to add energy, enthusiasm, and resources to help other leaders within the organization accomplish their component visions.

Great leaders listen for subordinate visions as they authentically arise from their colleague leaders. They actively work to shape those subordinate visions until they fit the larger vision of the organization. They work to ensure that constituent visions are seen as essential and necessary components of the whole. The best leaders then make it their job to listen for obstacles that their subordinate leaders face so that these challenges can be surmounted, thus accelerating the pace towards the desired vision.

This is vision fueling and when done well, then the organization becomes an electrifying place to work. Leaders are drawn to such environments as they intuit that this will be a place to harness passion to labor. It is this skill that motivates team members with rewards far beyond the paycheck.

So dear leaders, where in your organization can you fuel the visions of your colleagues? What obstacles can you eliminate to speed up the pace of change? Can you identify and articulate the sub-visions of your leaders and can you advocate for them as requisite component pieces of the larger puzzle that is your overall vision?

If you can perform these leadership tasks, then you are a master at vision fueling!

Use Powerful “Ledes” to Tell More Captivating Stories

Written by Dr Steven Goodwin. Posted in Leadership

“Almost as soon as she started her Comedy Central series, the comedian Amy Schumer thought up a sketch: What if there was a single day on which an aging actress’s desirability evaporates?” (New York Times 7.8.15).

“One night, when her face turned puffy and painful from what she thought was a sinus infection, Jessica DeVisser briefly considered going to an urgent care clinic, but then decided to try something ‘kind of sci-fi.'” (New York Times 7.11.15).

Did the lines above grab your attention? Did they entice you to want to read the rest of the story? Of course they did! You want to know what comedian Amy Schumer did with her idea and what ‘sic-fi’ thing Jessica DeVisser did instead going to the urgent care clinic. That is precisely the reason these opening lines were crafted as they were and why they were opening paragraphs of articles in the New York Times.

This attention getting journalistic technique is called a “lede.” And before you write to tell me I misspelled that word, let me assure you this spelling is intentional. Journalists spell it ‘l-e-d-e’ to distinguish it from its cousin ‘lead’ (which can be read as ‘led’ as in your pencil lead). The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a lede “the introductory section of a news story that is intended to entice the reader to read the full story.”

Storytelling is essential to running a successful organization. You need to regularly telling compelling stories that rivet your readers and draw them into the mission of your nonprofit. Businesses need to craft the story of how they transform their clients’ lives so they can sell more products and services. Writing a great lede is essential in both endeavors.

So here is how to write a lede that captures attention and compels readers to read on:

  • Write your story and then edit it to optimal succinctness;
  • Now, find the heart of your story and capture it in one sentence;
  • In this age of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), be sure to use Keywords in your lede that will help online search engines find your piece;
  • Step back and ask yourself, “Does that sentence entice readers to want to know more?”

In this age of short attention spans and even shorter writing styles, you have precious little available ink to draw in your audience. Writing better ledes is one simple way to tell more powerful stories in fewer words.

Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Written by Reggie Thomas. Posted in Leadership

By Dr. Reggie Thomas, Senior Consultant, TurningWest, Inc.

What do you think is the most important characteristic of leadership, second to character and credibility? I believe it is possessing relational competency. Dr. Daniel Goleman is the leading expert in the field of emotional intelligence and he contends that only 25% of our success as a leader has to do with our IQ. He further asserts that 75% of our success has to do with how well we manage our relationships.

Conversation, Laughter

Emotional intelligence has four components of competence. They are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. As a leader, one has to navigate through the complex issues of working with people. Relationship management is a key characteristic of succeeding as a leader. This is important because as leader, one has to collaborate with people, manage conflict, deal with difficult people, and navigate through diversity, which includes personality differences and varying opinions. The leader has to skillfully handle people. This means that he/she has to control his/her emotions, and not be governed by others’ emotional reactions.

Managing relationships is the most visible tool in leadership because it involves persuasion, conflict management, and collaboration with others. Working with people can be tricky because people are “emotional” beings, and can be sensitive, and in some cases difficult. The leader must learn skills for managing the complexities of relationships. Relating to others in an emotionally intelligent manner is not acting disingenuously or manipulatively. Goleman believes that emotionally intelligent leaders lead out of authenticity by acting from their genuine feelings. Managing relationships is not about being friendly, although warmth and friendliness are essential to excelling in relationship management. Relationship management is friendliness with a purpose. That means that leaders must influence people and move them in the right direction. Emotional intelligence is the key to inspiring others, developing people, leading change, managing conflict, and promoting teamwork and collaboration. To excel at these, the leader must be in control of his/her own emotions and serve as a guide in highly charged emotional situations.

Leaders often allow their emotions to hijack them. Emotional hijacking occurs when the leader allows emotions to overwhelm them in the heat of the moment. It is important to learn the skill of not reacting to emotionally charged situations. Instead it is imperative to pause, reflect, and evaluate how to properly respond to people in a rational manner. When a leader loses his/her cool, that means the emotional brain hijacks the rational brain; thus causing the leader to respond in an inappropriate way. When the leader is emotionally hijacked, he essentially is hijacking his credibility and influence. So if credibility is the most important characteristic of leadership, then leaders must conduct themselves in a way that will not hijack their credibility and leadership influence.

Strategic Planning for Leadership

Written by Dr Steven Goodwin. Posted in Leadership

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  • Meeting, 2 People
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Strategic Planning for Leadership

Strategic planning is all the rage. Turn the page on your favorite business or professional journal and you are likely to come across a reference to strategic planning, if not discover a full-blown article on the subject. Some will tout the merits of strategic planning with the implicit demand that every top-flight organization will, of course, have one, while in the next journal another author argues that strategic plans are rarely followed and therefore are not worth the time and energy to produce.

They are both right. Strategic plans can be produce revolutionary transformation in your organization both by aligning your team by virtue of a concerted process and by producing a universal game plan. Strategic plans also tend to sit on the shelf once completed and never see the light of day.
If you wish to ensure that your strategic planning effort achieves that level of transformative power you aspire to while at the same time minimizing the chances that your plan goes unused, then build into it a “strategic plan for leadership development.” Let me explain what I mean.

The overwhelming presumption about leadership in Western culture is that leadership is just something that one either has or does not have. Organizations operationalize this assumption both in their hiring process, as they seek the magical, fully formed leader, or when they simply demand their current managers “just step up.” Both perpetuate the myth of the born leader. Instead, we know that leadership is an acquired skill, one that must be as carefully studied, practiced, and mastered as any other human skill. Thus, your strategic plan should not fail to contain an intentional plan for how you will develop the leadership capacity and mastery to achieve its vision for mission. No matter your strategy, a new level of leadership will be required. Why not then weave into the very fabric of the plan itself a well-crafted plan to grow your leaders?

In this way, at the conclusion of your strategic planning, you will have both a Strategy and a clear Plan to get there!


Watch Your Language

Written by Dr Steven Goodwin. Posted in Leadership

Conversation, Laughter, Small

Language is one of the primary tools of culture. Language is not solely a product of our minds; it also acts upon us, shaping our thinking and our behavior. It is therefore one of the primary tools used by leaders to not only direct their teams and subordinates, but also to shape the organizational culture in which their work is performed. The language used by leaders conveys so much more than instructions on what needs doing and how to do it. It values, emotion, purpose, urgency, morality, relationship, and so much, much more.

Given the significance of language to the function of leadership, it therefore behooves leaders to “watch your language.” Here I do not mean the use of foul language, though such inarticulate speech has no place in polite or, for that matter, any other kind of company. Rather, I mean that leaders do well to be constantly aware that the language they use shapes the culture of the organization just a surely and steadily as the Colorado River continues to carve the Grand Canyon.

First, leaders need pay attention to their own language. Never describe someone as a “problem employee” or as a “difficult person.” This language will drive you to treat another human being as you would a logistical problem. This devalues them; it dehumanizes them. It may seem like pure semantics to change this phrase around to say “an employee who is causing me problems,” but there is more at stake than semantics. Language used in this way will change the way you confront the issue. ‘People First” language, that is, language that puts the human being first in the clause followed by the modifier, forces you to think about the other as another human being. This formulation of your words will drive you to empathetically approach the other person. It will remind you to invite that person to help you solve your problem with their actions or behavior. A small change makes a big difference.

In addition to paying attention to their own language use, great leaders also listen carefully to the language used around them. Language casually used by co-workers and subordinates can signal a myriad of undercurrents in the organization. For example, when work units start to describe themselves as “second floor” people as opposed to workers on other floors, you can take this as a clue that a silo might have formed. Every time such language is used the mental walls of the silo are fortified. Or, as another example, pay particular attention to pronouns. The pronouns used in workplace conversation can indicate the mental division of the world into “us” and “them.” When you hear such language used, you know that you need to do more to lead and manage with your language so that everyone is rowing in the same direction. Work consciously to substitute entire team language or refer to the organization’s values, mission, and vision as the goal. In this way, you will be constructing an aligned culture that will always out-produce a diffused or confused culture.

So this week at work, keep a log of the language you use and the language you hear around you. Then, over a cup of coffee late on Friday afternoon, take some time to analyze what all these words and conversations have to signal about your organization.

Who Me? Change?

Written by Dr Steven Goodwin. Posted in Leadership

There are many pitfalls along the way to leading a successful change initiative. There is the failure to build a “sufficiently powerful guiding coalition” (Kotter, Leading Change), or failing to prepare for inevitable resistance. One could make the common error of pulling up short of the change goals thereby teaching the organization that ‘we don’t finish projects around here.’ Or, you could make the catastrophic mistake of failing to gauge the extent to which the organizational culture must be transformed before it will accept new patterns.

Much has been written on these common errors made by reformers, leaving one of the most devastating errors untouched: failing to change oneself.

Decades ago when I was a young leader, a Church of the Nazarene pastor taught me what has become for me a leadership axiom: “If you want your people to change,” Pastor Waller taught me, “they have to see you learning twice as much.” I must admit his conferred wisdom baffled me for some time. It took a few more years of my own experience in leadership before I began to fully grasp his point. Leadership is, after all is said and done, primarily influence. I learned through leading my own change initiatives that my primary weapon to enlist the hearts and minds of my team was my own personal influence of leading by example.

Change has a cost. It requires people to think differently, adjust their habits, confront their basic assumptions, leave behind the status quo, and perhaps most painfully of all, grow. Those you lead will not make these sacrifices without seeing you undergo the same transformation, and more so. Your willingness to be transparent, to lead out of your humanity, becomes the key to conducting an effective change project in your organization.

One of my earliest lessons in this leadership axiom came amidst a large scale change initiative I was leading. Just as the project got underway, I received my annual performance evaluation which stated that I needed to grow my listening skills. I was crushed. I believed that I had excellent listening skills having undertaken intentional and concerted efforts in years prior to bolster these skills. Nevertheless, I ordered a self-administered ‘Listening Skills Inventory’ and learned that of the five fundamentals to listening, I scored high in 3 of the 5. The two areas where I scored low were ‘Appreciative Listening’ and ‘Empathic Listening’, which were the two primary criticisms by my Board. After taking the exam and learning about my strengths and weaknesses, I went back to the Board as well as to the whole organization to discuss my self-learning. In sharing my struggles and describing my personal growth plan, I ended up not only introducing new language and learning to the organization about what comprises authentic listening, but I garnered widespread respect for my openness. My slightly bruised ego became a huge deposit into my leadership bank account from which I could draw upon in leading the current change endeavor. Thank you Pastor Waller, now I get what you were talking about!

So, next time you are called upon to lead change, give considerable thought to what you personally need to learn and how you can lead change by example.