≡ Menu


You’ve just hired Selma as your new controller. She has lunch in the staff room on Day 1 to quickly to get to know her new colleagues. She tells one of them that she’s excited to have found a company that develops and promotes their people. After all, she’s been told that by every leader who interviewed her so she believes it. In fact, it is what sold her on joining your company. Her new colleague George says, “Maybe that will be the case for you.  What I see is that they hire experts from the outside for every leadership position that comes up. You’re a case in point, in fact.”

This is how culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture is simply “the way we do things around here”—the way people think and act.  

Every company has a culture that works for them or against them.

In the story above, the leaders say they value developing internal talent. It’s written as one of their core values/ beliefs in the strategic plan and in the new employee handbook.  Last year, the CEO presented an employee engagement strategy telling staff that developing home grown talent is a cornerstone of their plan.  Sadly, in the speed of their frenzied business, the CEO and her team often contradict this belief. And while the senior team are slow to see the disconnect, their employees are quick to point out the contradiction. They even teach new employees on Day 1 how things really get done around here.

Companies are perfectly designed to get exactly the results they are getting.

When we look at a company through the lens of the culture change pyramid (the central concept of Change the Culture, Change the Game) we start to understand how much culture creates or hinders results.

This is how culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture is simply “the way we do things around here”—the way people think and act. | Chandler CoachesFrom the bottom up, we can see that:

Experiences drive Beliefs: “They say we believe is developing home grown talent but my experience is that they usually hire experts from the outside. Now I believe that we value experts over our own people.”

Beliefs drive Actions: I believe they will keep hiring externally so I am not going to push myself; I will be passed over for promotion anyway. I will do what’s necessary but not more. I’ll get a higher level job at a new company as soon as I get another year of experience here.”

Actions drive Results: “We missed our quarterly targets again. My boss is really stressed and he’s putting pressure on all of us. I don’t see how we’re going to turn things around. I am going to have to leave for sure…maybe earlier than I thought.”

A culture of accountability, combined with clear vision (the results we want), strategy (the actions we’ll take) and effective leadership (how we’ll walk the talk) are essential components to achieve big results.

“Either you manage culture or it manages you.”

 – Connors and Smith, Change the Culture, Change the Game


The choice is yours.



¹Peter Drucker, “father of modern management”, said it first. Mark Fields, recent CEO at Ford Motor Company, made it famous.

Imagine a workplace where all leaders respect their people, provide clear and consistent expectations, and encourage employees to be independent, intrinsically motivated critical thinkers. Such a workplace would look a lot like a Montessori school in fact.

I read this post on the 7 phrases Montessori teachers use because my daughter goes to a Montessori afterschool program. Right away my brain shifted from education to corporate leadership.

I wondered how these Montessori questions would work in a company instead of a school?

Extremely well is what I conclude.

I find it delightful that the philosophies of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and visionary of the early 1900s, are applicable in the 2017 corporate world.

Here’s how Montessori phrases (modified slightly for the world of work) can improve your leadership:

“I saw you working hard”.

Instead of saying “Good job”, we’d say “I noticed how strategic you were about choosing words that would speak to our team on the shop floor”. Instead of a pat on the back, our employees get specific feedback about the behaviours and outcomes we value.

“What do you think about your work?”

When an employee asks what we think of their work, they might be seeking our approval of them. Instead of encouraging them to outsource their approval to us, we’d ask curious questions to encourage them to self-reflect and share what they really think before we weigh in.

“Where could you look for that?”

I have seen leaders self-congratulate for solving an employee’s problem on the spot. This can be the right response in a crisis. Most times, it’s a habit: both learned helplessness by the employee and the leader’s need to feel worthwhile by being smart or in charge. Encouraging the employee to tap into their own resourcefulness can pay dividends in their growth. It can reduce future requests on us too.

“Which part would you like my help with?”

Less effective leaders are unconscious and often in a rush. They forget to slow down and ask questions. Effective leaders find out what will help an employee get through their problem while consciously resisting the urge to be the hero, a role that isn’t sustainable.

“In our company, we…”

This little phrase reminds the team of company rules and desired behaviours. “In our company, we tell our colleagues directly when we are frustrated with something they’ve done. We avoid gossiping to other people and creating drama.” The experiences your team has at your company drive their beliefs about how things get done, the actions they take and ultimately the results they achieve. The most effective leaders intentionally create and manage the company culture instead of being managed by it¹.

“Don’t disturb him; he’s concentrating.”

Most of us do our best thinking when we have a block of time to accomplish an important task. Reactive leaders interrupt their team with their own urgent needs and they don’t protect their team from outside distractions. Strong leaders clarify priorities and protect their time and their employees’ time and concentration to focus on what matters.

“Follow the employee.”

“Following your employee” means remembering that each person is unique with his/her own individual needs, passions and gifts. The most effective leaders observe their people and test their assumptions so they can work with their people instead of against them.

How about sharpening your leadership pencil the Montessori way?



¹ The idea of company experiences driving beliefs, actions and results comes from Change the Culture, Change the Game by Rogers Connors and Tom Smith.

My cousin Matt married his love Abby the weekend before last in Fredericton, New Brunswick. It was wonderful to witness their love and commitment in front of a large gathering of family and friends.

In the business world, we don’t often invest in trust as much as we need to. And we certainly don’t stand up in front of our company employees and promise to be true in good times and in bad. I believe our companies would be higher performing and more meaningful places to work if we as leaders became clear on what our people expect. | Chandler CoachesLike them, many of you have walked down an aisle and pledged to be true in good times and in bad. And what’s more, you’ve made this declaration in front of large groups of people, just as Matt and Abby did. (I have never done this…yet.)

You’ve been willing to make this declaration because you know that trust is the foundation of marriage. It’s the foundation of all our personal relationships. We don’t dispute this because we know what can happen when we break trust.

And yet, somehow in the business world, we don’t often invest in trust as much as we need to.

And we certainly don’t stand up in front of our company employees and promise to be true in good times and in bad. I believe our companies would be higher performing and more meaningful places to work if we as leaders became clear on what our people expect. We need to ask what our people’s implicit and explicit expectations are. And we need to be more intentional with our leadership promises and commitments.

Our vows could look something like this:

“I, Lisa Chandler, take you to be my team, to work with and nurture from this day forward.  I promise to set the right direction and create meaningful work¹.  I promise to do my best to engage you and hold us all accountable for the outcomes we want to create. I promise that the systems and processes we set up will help you do your work well. And I promise to keep growing and developing as a leader so that I keep pace, face complexity and uncertainty and lead effectively, in good times and in bad. I promise to consistently work to earn and keep your trust”.

Imagine what might be possible in our companies if our leaders made these public commitments AND did their very best to keep their promises. It is challenging work, yet vital.  

Trust is a good place to start.  As a concept, it is not as nebulous as it may seem.  It can be broken down into some core components: being competent, believable, reliable, connected, and vulnerable. If you’d like to assess your own trustworthiness, email me and I will send you a Trust Self-Assessment.

Effective leadership, like a strong marriage, requires a foundation of trust.  How about figuring out where you stand before you say “I do”?  It will be worth it.  Trust me ☺



¹ These commitments are inspired by “The Promises of Leadership” in Mastering Leadership by Bob Anderson and Bill Adams.

How $12,000 Turned Into $1,200,000

Leadership development is one of the highest levers a company has to improve business performance. There is a 38% probability that increasing leadership effectiveness will translate into higher business performance¹. Few other investments in companies can provide such lift potential. The following true story shows how one VP’s leadership development led directly to $1,200,000 in… Read the full post here

Got Commander’s Intent? A Key to Great Leadership

Ask any CEO if s/he recommends leading their company like a military general.  Most would say a resounding “No!’.  And yet, a well lead army is like a fine-tuned machine. Most of the companies we work with are not so finely tuned (yet). If a general tells a field commander precisely how to capture a… Read the full post here

Your (Life) Raft Could Sink You

A traveler was on an epic journey. The kind we have heard about in the writings of antiquity-- a hero’s journey of sorts. As he was traveling he encountered a river that was too deep and fast moving to cross without help. The dismayed traveler looked up and down the shore to find a bridge… Read the full post here

Leader: What’s Your Status?

I'm a rookie when it comes to improv theatre. Even as a rookie, though, I have already learned a ton. You might be surprised how much of it translates into how I coach and lead. I’ve written before about how the improvised leader is better than you think. In that post, I was focussed on… Read the full post here

Leadership Metrics – Game Changers for Improving Leadership/Business Effectiveness

What gets measured gets managed/done/improved. This business adage has been burned into the psyche of all business people worth their salt. There is a lot of truth to the saying. As business people, we are very comfortable measuring our performance in sales and production. We’re sophisticated enough to measure our return on investment (ROI) on… Read the full post here

Risking Your Identity to Grow

My colleague Tim Edris and I have the privilege of coaching a senior leadership team through a year-long program called Leader to Leader™ to increase their individual and collective leadership effectiveness. We know empirically that even small increases in overall leadership effectiveness can have a significant positive impact on the business. Many leaders say they… Read the full post here

Just Add Vulnerability

I have a love-hate relationship with math (probably because I am getting worse at it with each passing minute). I do love word formulas, though. They are nice and sticky, as in they are easy to remember and employ. Even my most conflict-averse clients have had success using this structure. Recently a client mustered up… Read the full post here

Feelings: Entertain Them All

The Guest House This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.  A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest… Read the full post here

Three Cheers for Scrooge

Ebenezer Scrooge (a well known character in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol--Summary here) was a miserable and miserly business owner who seemingly hated Christmas and people.  He’s known for his Bah! Humbug! response to his nephew’s Merry Christmas. In the novel, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited in his dreams by his deceased partner Jacob Marley.  Marley’s ghost… Read the full post here

Leaders: Step Into Your Truth

Fact: Many of the leaders I coach are scared to say what they really think to their people. They withhold facts¹: One of my direct reports is interviewing elsewhere. They withhold thoughts and opinions: I don’t support expanding into the US market right now. They withhold feelings: I feel anger that I was not consulted… Read the full post here