Red Shoe Solutions Leadership Lessons Through the Lens of Laughter Sat, 16 Feb 2019 20:12:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Does Altruism’s Influence Honesty? Fri, 13 May 2016 17:50:58 +0000 As we are inundated with yet another story of “Moral Flexibility” it seems appropriate to reexamine the characteristics of our own cultures.  Let’s begin with nine simple questions.

Which of these characteristics exemplify your team?

  1. Altruisitic intent is No get out of Jail card for bad board behaviorStrong group cohesion

  2. Close personal connections

  3. Self-policing

  4. Robust privacy policy

  5. High organizational esteem

  6. Internal locus

  7. Flexible metrics

  8. Subjective operational assessment

  9. Altruistic Intentions


If your team exhibits these characteristics, you may have inadvertently created an ideal breeding ground for dishonest behavior according to Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University.  I have spent many hours agape, aghast, agog, appalled, astonished, astounded, awe-struck, awed, baffled, and befuddled, listening to his New York Times bestselling book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty.  In study after study Ariely uses his favorite “matrix task” of finding pairs of numbers that add up to ten while introducing alternative X factors to test our assumptions about cheating.

Rather than being a simple cost benefit analysis, it appears dishonesty is more like a contagious disease than a personal proclivity.  It has been our personal experience in almost twenty years of nonprofit management that those “Entitled to Lead” are the least inclined to improve.  This kind of overly optimistic self assessment, according to professor Ariely (whose TED talks have been watch 2.8 million times) is not an exception to predictable behavior but more the rule.  When comparing the many opportunities for undisclosed indiscretion, it is doing so for an altruistic cause that tops the scale for infectious rationalization literally doubling what he calls the “fudge factor“.

If you suspect your board meetings could use a little less fudge, here are ten factors that will add more proof to your team’s performance:

  1. Mix things up; add new team members disconnected personally and professionally.

  2. Start each meeting and include in each document a commitment to absolute honesty in all interactions.

  3. Introduce an external auditing influence to independently assess decision-making and budgeting compliance.

  4. Insist on transparency in all communications.  Create a centralized communications area where all significant correspondence is categorized, searchable and available to all stakeholders. (email is easy – it is not transparent)

  5. Benchmark your standards against peers within your industry as well as those “Positive Deviants” who, with the same resources, find ways to do things better.

  6. Remember who you are there to represent.  If you are a board member your first responsibility is to represent the members’ views and not your own.  If you represent a team or customers make sure you are both listening to and expressing their concerns.

  7. Define, monitor, display, share and live by well-defined metricsOpinions oscillate, metrics motivate.

  8.  Be wary of your illusions.  None of us is capable of understanding anything in its entirety.  We all view the world through the narrow slit of our own experience.  Use a systems based approach to ensuring all sides of all issues are considered in their entirety.

  9. Altruistic intentions are not a get-out-of-jail card for ill-advised actions.  Volunteer deliverables require the same accountability as those expected of paid staff members.

  10. Enlist experts.  The volunteer culture must be very careful not to direct activities, commit revenues or advise direction in areas where they lack specific expertise.  The infrequent market feedback inherent in most nonprofit environments must be balanced with expert analysis from independent resources.

If these ideas seem self-evident, maybe that is because professor Ariely is also the founder of the Center for Advanced Hindsight, which is to say that he specializes in the science of knowing what you already knew.  Now why didn’t I know that?  Oh and in the interest of full disclosure this message has not been approved by anyone of any importance and represents my limited understanding and absolute admiration for Dan’s rationally irrational research.


Personally I have found Ariely’s writings to be “Disturbingly Illuminating”.  Most importantly his peer-reviewed research influences the way we operate our business every day.  Understanding the gaps in our own awareness has helped us design systems to optimize the influence of all team members.

There is an incredible freedom in knowing we are both delusional and dishonest.  (Dr. Ariely’s second New York Times bestseller, The Honest Truth about Dishonesty)

When we no longer feel like we have to have all the answers we are open to new possibilities.  Instead of relying on the 100+ biases and heuristics that often provide shortcuts to misunderstanding we have a foundation for more meaning-full meetings.


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Energized by Inclusion Tue, 01 Mar 2016 19:38:40 +0000 Old school leaders aspire to the belief that
“he who holds the knowledge, holds the power

  The new paradigm is he who holds the knowledge,
and doesn’t share it, is probably guilty.

blank scoreboardWe would never consider a sporting event without goals, displaying confusing scoreboards or faceless time clocks.  Instead feedback is immediate, concise, compelling, and consistently understood by everyone both in the game and on the sidelines.

goal posts In contrast, many work environments are inundated with ambiguity.  Individual perceptions, dictate performance standards while personalities endlessly redefine the “rules of the game”.

Without clearly defined, quantifiable objectives, players (employees) revert to the safe zone instead of the end zone.
Goals are inadvertently designed to correspond to whatever reinforcement systems we have in place.

We have all hired that perfect employee, capable of transforming our organizations with enthusiasm and tenacity, only to see their dedication fade as the “realities of the job” set in.   This is the very law of all of nature.  The results you are getting are a direct result of the systems you have in place; whatever you reinforce you will receive.  Employees do not start out wanting to be average; we reward them for being average.

Put another way, whatever you place your attention on grows.

The systems we have are perfectly designed for the results we are getting.

The overwhelming benefit to all stakeholders is RETENTIONThe cost of replacing an employee is calculated to be more than 1 ½ times the annual salary, and it is estimated that it costs seven times as much to replace a customer is it does to retain one.

The American Management Association estimates that employee turnover costs can range from 25 percent to almost 200 percent of annual compensation depending on the job function and title.

All service organizations espouse their belief in empowering employees for exceptional levels of service but for most the proclamation is enough even for their “Star” performers.

HBR coverConsider these findings published in the May 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review titled How to Keep Your Top Talent by Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt concerning “High Potential” employees.

  1. One in four intends to leave company within the year.
  2. One in three admits to not putting all his effort into the job.
  3. One in five believes his or her personal aspirations are quite different from what the organization has planned.
  4. 4/10 have little confidence in their coworkers and even less confidence in the senior team.

The discretionary effort necessary for “star” service levels is 50% lower in highly disengaged employees, a group that has more than doubled from 8% in the first half of 2007 to 21% at the end of 2009.


Brain sliceDriven to Distraction is the title of a popular book about ADD, but even more prevalent in our society is ADT, Attention Deficit Trait, a term popularized by Dr. Edward Hallowell.  Its incidence has increased ten times in the last ten years.  Driven by information overload, ADT is a physiologic response to stress inhibiting our higher levels of cognition in favor of a reversion to “primal perception”.

This fight or flight state limits creativity, reducing possibilities and undermining performance.


The most prevalent cause of service breakdowns is not due to people but of process.  Extensive analysis of the service delivery systems of a major luxury hotel chain revealed that 80% of the service breakdowns were systemic in nature.

Ritz CarltonDespite these realities, most organizations never take the initiative to create a comprehensive system to identify the specific flaws in the service delivery process, and then engage front-line employees in a transparent process for service improvement.

Almost everyone collects feedback from customers and/or employees, but then does little to engage everyone in finding creative solutions.  The front line people closest to the service interaction often have the most clarity about the solution.

“The farther you are from the problem, the more delusional you are about the process.”


CiscoConsider Cisco Systems, which in 2007 set out in search of the next billion-dollar Cisco business not through a top down leadership initiative, but by “harnessing the wisdom of crowds” to generate ideas from 2,500 innovators in 104 countries.
Creativity is not defined by position, but inspired by opportunity.  Objective tests of creativity determine that 90% of five year olds are creative, and yet by the time we are twenty that number drops to 2%.  That creativity did not disappear; it is still there and only needs an opportunity to flourish.

Download the Free White Paper Energized by Inclusion



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Peer Powered Board Meetings Mon, 29 Feb 2016 20:18:27 +0000 The biggest threat to nonprofits is not declining membership, meeting attendance or sponsorship.
It is not limitations in volunteers, time or money, but a shortage of “Creative Democracy”.

group blameThere are few things more daunting than trying to run a CREATIVE board meeting.  Partisan politics, positioning, personal priorities and the occasional ego often bring progress to a standstill.  It is easy to get caught up in the illusion that these are people problems.

These are not problems of ill intentioned people,
but of under developed process.

We have systems for everything from managing our finances to marketing our services, even cleaning our toilets; but the most important system of all, a systemic way of thinking together as a group, is often left underdeveloped.  Roberts Rules, Carvers Policy Governance and all the Personality Styles Training’s in the world do little to help groups think more creatively together.

We can no longer afford to continue down the well-worn paths of the past or waste time managing the endless variations of personalities.  Cubic Thinking™ is a process to change Group Thinking into a system that is faster, more complete, more balanced, less personal and more inclusive.

The Benefits of a Bully Free Process

According to Plato the process of being “ruled by a group” is a democracy.  In reality most nonprofits are run by an oligarchy dominated by a few individuals who, through position, politics or personal power, drive discussion and define direction.  We need systems that include everyone, encourage exploration and inspire innovation.

Would you like to help your board (or any group) think more effectively, more creatively, more thoroughly and more democratically?

Cubic Thinking™: Creativity³ was designed after fifteen years of frustration working with our own boards, and observing the negative impact of personal agendas and back room politics on membership organizations around the country.

Cubic Thinking™ is powerful not just because of what it starts but because of what it stops.  Cubic Thinking™ dis-empowers those who would try and commandeer the system to pursue their own personal agendas.  It encourages conflicting ideas while reducing interpersonal conflict those ideas sometimes generate.  It does not eliminate the ego but engages it in the sense of play and exploration to integrate many opposing ideas to discover the ultimate best solution.

Take the fear and guesswork out of creativity, convert personal power to process power, and energize your entire team by engaging them in the process.

Effective board meetings have traditionally depended on Carver’s Governance Design and Roberts Rules of Order, but neither one is creative.   These are vertical styles of thinking designed to collect, sort and use the best information to improve on the past.

More than a set of tools and rules, Cubic Thinking™ is a way of thinking about thinking.

Here are just a few questions to help you decide if Cubic Thinking™    would be a useful tool for you.

  1. Some would say “we get along great”.  Should you?  Should we go along to get along?  Or should there be a system for creative discourse?

  2. Are you a model of efficiency proficient in Roberts Rules and Policy Governance?  Or are you efficient because it is always easiest to do what you have always done?

  3.  Do personalities override policies, are personal agendas allowed to steal away the few precious hours you have together?

  4.  Are creative ideas nourished and explored or quickly expunged by those who know?

  5.  Are all sides of an issue explored by everyone at the table, or do roles, alliances and fiefdoms lobby for their own acceptable outcomes without considering alternate possibilities?

  6.  Do members approach each meeting with an open mind to mutual discovery or with a mind to help others discover what they already know?

  7.  Do you give equal time to what you should stop doing as you do to what you start?

  8. Do you ever “wait it out” for a changing of the guard?

  9.  Do you spend more time trying to “line up the pieces” than producing an outcome?

  10.  Does the system occasionally become so unproductive that most real progress happens “back stage” only to be acted out once the meeting begins?

 “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”
Albert Einstein

Download the Free Cubic Thinking™: Creativity³ eBook and experience what it feels like to be part of a truly creative team.

Cubic Thinking: Creativity³


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Being an Affective Leader in an Emotional Economy Fri, 26 Feb 2016 21:38:09 +0000 7 steps you can take to make maximize the return on you most important investment.

Everything we perceive, “Our Reality” is first filtered through our emotions.  When we are nervous, angry, stressed, depressed we only have access to those possibilities.  Confronted with a threat we search our memories of previous experiences or similar situations.  This only compounds the problem, because we don’t just remember these situations we re-experience them thus amplifying the feeling we wished to assuage in the first place.  The greater the emotion, the more focused our attention and the narrower our possibilities.

Feeling beingsLogic and reasoning are vastly over-matched when competing for the center stage of our attention.  Long before we were thinking beings we were feeling beings and the more “tweaked” we get the more our primitive minds take control.  We are barraged daily with messages of fear.  The worst “News” about the economy, environment, war, healthcare and people are paraded in front of us as objective analysis and conscientious consideration.  There is nothing either objective or conscientious about it.  The “News” is simply designed to get your attention so they can sell advertising and the best way to do that is to appeal to your primal fears.  We are physiologically designed to notice and remember any imagined threat.  Unfortunately, we can imagine almost anything.  Many started this year wondering how they will get through it and if that is what we imagine, that is what we will create.

What if we were to imagine something different?  What if we were not trying to get through anything?  The through is all there is.  The through is life.  To get through a minute, day, week or year is to waste all of those moments and moments are all we have.  Children learn more, do more, and enjoy more because they live in the moment and then the next.  Successful, Happy people do the same thing.  It is not that they do not plan for the future, they do.  It is that they do not live for the future.  They also do not live in or worry about the past.  Nothing we can do, nothing we have ever done has changed the past.  Whether it is ten minutes ago or ten years ago it is gone.  There is no value in punishing yourself or others for anything we or they have done.  We all do the best we can do at the time.  None of us are our histories, UNLESS we choose to hang on to, remember, revisit, and relive them.

Being an Affective Leader means first taking responsibility for how you talk to you.

What stories do you tell yourself, about yourself, about others?  Are they stories of Love or Fear?  It is really very simple.  Whatever picture, whatever story you tell yourself, whatever you put your focus on, you will move in that direction.

We never move in the opposite direction of our attention.

Richard_BransonIf we picture scarcity we get scarcity.  If we look for abundance, we get abundance.  Richard Branson, the dyslexic, high school non-graduate, billionaire put it this way.  “I look for the good in everyone and everything”.  Easy to say when you are a billionaire.  The key is he is one because he said it, thought it, lived it, and acted on it, when he wasn’t.

The “Secret” has not been a secret for thousands of years.  “ thou hast believed,’ so be it done unto thee” The key in this emotional economy is not generating and executing a “to-do” list, but in first generating and executing a “to-feel” list.  Then using the energy of our desire to pull us instead of using the demands of what is required to push us.   Everything we communicate to ourselves and others has an affective component.  For years I have used the phrase “You become like whatever you think about most, you move in the direction of your currently dominant thought”.  To be more accurate it should say that we move in the direction of your currently dominant feeling.

Seven steps to make the most out of your Emotional Economy.

  1. Observe yourself:  don’t judge, just notice your inner conversations.  No one else put them there, you put them there.  Don’t try to change them deny them or ignore them just own them.
  1. Be honest:  Nothing can stop a man who is willing to be honest with himself about himself.
  1. Appreciate the lessons:  EVERYTHING happens to teach us something. Not about others, but about ourselves.  The great thing is the only person we ever need to or can change is ourselves.
  1. Forget the past:  Whether we pine for things we have lost or regret the things we have done both keep us from being present in the present.
  2. Forgive everyone and everything:  We are unforgiving only to the extent which we have chosen not to appreciate and learn from our lessons.
  3. Chose not to conform:  Don’t be a lemming.  Earl Nightingale said, “The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity.
  4. Prime your fun pump:  Watch, listen to, read, think things that tickle your funny bone.  Laughter calms the mind focuses attention, opens up our creativity and is the antidote to fear.

We are not thinking beings that have feelings; we are feeling beings that have thoughts. 



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Successful change is not the result of profound intention but sustained attention. Fri, 26 Feb 2016 17:46:16 +0000 Shon Watkins

Shon Watkins is our “Chief Imaginator” his responsibility is to convert complex ideas into irresistible illustrations.

We have all experienced the life-changing energy of learning something that we absolutely know will change our culture forever, only to have the message fade away drowned out by too much to do and too little time.


The solution is to create a system that is:

1. Quick

word blackboard

2. Easy

3. Instantly recognizable

4. Universally understandable

5. Consistently renewing

6. Tirelessly uplifting

7. Persistently memorable

8. Emotionally resonant

9. Purposely designed

10.Conveying a meaning-full message


The solution is found in pictures

In the world of communication words are hard work for our brains. Every time we read anything each letter is broken down into its component parts and distributed throughout our brains. Words drain our attentive resources by requiring the brain to analyze each shape before assembling them into a meaningful thought.

In contrast, images become so indelibly imprinted on our brains that you can be shown 2,560 photographs for just ten seconds each and three days later your recognition accuracy would likely be over 90%.

Not Intention but Attention

buzz boxInstead of books people don’t have time to read, training films too long to remember and handouts that remain stuck in drawers we use timed and targeted toolkits of video, audio and print lessons all supported by thought-provoking cards and posters. Immediately following live training we begin a process of providing consistent reinforcement through a targeted series of training materials. Each resource is designed to take just minutes to read, watch or listen to followed by specific action steps.

cave drawingOur visual systems for communications have evolved over millions of years, while the written word has only been around for about 5,000 years.

Today the power of pictures is even stronger. From July 2011 to July 2012 Pinterest’s weekly visits exploded from 1.27 million to 29 million while Instagram’s use has grown more than 200 times.

Images are not only powerful for encouraging positive behaviors, but also discouraging non- productive habits.

A combination of posters and cards of the image here serve to increase the awareness of those who may be unconsciously overbearing while at the same time making it socially unacceptable for those who deliberately bully others to pursue their own agendas.


Imagery changes the conversations

The most powerful lessons are of little value if they don’t become part of our cultural conversation. We are physiologically hardwired to notice, remember (and unfortunately) talk about bad news.

Discouraging Bad Behavior

dung-beetleHow would you discourage those who may have developed the unfortunate habit of sharing any bad news they can find with everyone who will listen? How about a Dung Beetle? This simple image not only makes us smile but creates a critical awareness of the way one person’s “bad day” can roll through an entire workplace.

When combining these images with video, audio and print lessons, this pungent pest can be a light-hearted deterrent to “gloomy gossips” and “malicious discontents” who rob the workplace of precious time, energy and enthusiasm.

This enlightening illustration is also an irresistible reminder
to be aware of the thoughts we roll around in our own minds.



Images inspired by your team

The most effective images are those inspired by conversations, direction, or challenges faced by team members.

Starting with a simple sketch created in response to something we have heard or seen, we let your team design or customize their own images.


  • Is there a character or illustration that represents the aspirations of your team?

  • Are you using imagery to communicate cultural character?

  • Are your change initiatives constantly benefiting from visual reinforcement?

Out of sight is out of mind.


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