TPA5030 – The Third Opinion: How Successful Leaders Use Outside Insight To Create Superior Results By Saj-Nicole A. Joni, Ph.D. (A Book Summary, Part 5)

Chapter 7, “Early Leaders.” Again, if you’re a CEO or business owner don’t skip over this thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me. I’m not an early leader.” You’ve got early leaders on your team. Challenge yourself to become a better leader. Serve early leaders well.

Early leaders tend to be immersed in mastering the basics of their job responsibilities, understanding the dynamics of their organizations and demonstrating the capability to lead groups to deliver results. 

As they develop their outside insight resources, they have two primary things to consider: a) they have to learn to develop a few key advisory relationships (to begin to get regular doses of a third opinion) and b) they have to lay the groundwork for their long-term leadership circles.

For advisory relationships, the objectives are to find expertise, develop your capacity to apply critical thinking, break through real and perceived mental barriers and to accelerate your own development from the experiences of others. Developing these relationships should be done in the context of daily work in order to elevate your performance. It’s about making full use of the third opinion.

Improving Exponential Thinking

Companies reward those who deliver results. The ability to sort through information, form assumptions, test them, and then communicate an opinion and offer direction are critical leadership skills that are the foundation of expert thinking. Exponential thinking goes one level beyond. You look for hidden assumptions, attempt to disprove (instead of prove) hypotheses, actively seek out data points that don’t fit, and analyze trade-off and risk. The author provides an extensive series of questions designed to help early leaders improve their exponential thinking. The skills are difficult to develop alone. You need thinking partners.

Learning To Listen

It’s never too early to develop the habit of listening in order to learn from others. Again, the author provides a series of questions every early leader can ask themselves to improve this skill. It’s about learning to integrate multiple perspectives to improve your thinking. Feedback is critical in helping you close the gap between reality and your perceptions.

Ms. Joni mentions the various circles where thinking partners might be found for an early leader: corporate contacts, academics, trade associations (or trade shows), partners/alliances, job search contacts, alumni networks, and nonprofit activities/nonwork organizations.

Joni suggests seeking out thinking partners with a few people on specific issues. Keep it tight, narrow and focused. Be careful about advice, “Here’s what you should do,” and instead seek deeper conversations that broaden your perspective. She appropriately mentions that you should look to give as a thinking partner to somebody else. (Note: She doesn’t spend near enough time on this in my opinion. The book is mostly a what’s in it for me approach, but that’s understandable since she’s urging leaders to incorporate these things into their life – and it’s a hard sell to urge most people to improve with a different approach.) There’s a lot of learning to be accomplished when we’re helping others though and it’s good to be reminded of that fact. 

The chapter ends with a deep dive using her Star Of Complexity Map approach to developing the skill to apply insight that drives results. Illustrated with stories, Joni has many questions and diagrams to help the reader better understand her suggested approach. The word “complexity” is appropriate because I find this material worthwhile, but overly complex for my tastes. However, some leaders may find such an approach very helpful so give it a go.

Chapter 8 is entitled, “Key Leaders.” This chapter does for these leaders what chapter 7 did for early leaders. And chapter 9 is “Senior Leaders,” likewise giving advice on how senior leaders can seek and find their third opinion. There are distinct differences.

I’d summarize the major differences in two areas (there are others): safety/security and expert thinking. That is, we need a safe group of peers who have no vested interest in who we are (our role or job title has no impact on them), but who can be trusted. Peers with whom we can let our hair down and be vulnerable, and who will be that way with us. Reciprocal behavior in such a group is key. 

Key leaders would not be well served being surrounded by senior leaders. That’s not to say senior leaders can’t serve key leaders. They surely do (and should). But we need to be surrounded by a diverse group of people who can relate to and understand us – and others we can relate to, and understand. Admittedly, being intentional about this can grow increasingly more difficult the higher we climb the leadership ladder. Hence, the adage, “It’s lonely at the top.” But if we develop the skills to seek and find the third opinion early in our careers, we can be quite proficient later on as our career advances. 

Chapter 10 is the last chapter. It’s entitled, “Conclusion: Greater Than Gold.”

The chapter begins with a quote recorded by Herodotus, 5th Century B.C. –

Only if there is an alternative can you have a choice; make a decision for better or worse, and that will only be possible if an opposite opinion is expressed. It is like gold; you can’t tell whether gold is pure unless you strike it against another piece of gold.

Ultimately, this is all about human relationships. It’s about how you develop and exercise your fullest capacities when you are pushed and guided by others. David Ogilvy said, “If each leader surrounds themselves with people bigger than they are, we will have a company of giants; if each leader surrounds themselves with people smaller than they are, we will have a company of midgets.”

People who have a stake in your leadership (stop and consider the scope and scale of all these people) and who care about your leadership don’t want you to go it alone! You impact many people. People have a big stake in the success of their leaders. 

This is also true of family and friends of leaders. These people see and experience how isolating leadership can be…and the toll it can take in the personal lives of leaders. Every leader’s inner circle includes these people, but there is a limit to their expertise and perspective. 

Ms. Joni confesses that she began her research to improve the decision making capability of business leaders today. She found that it’s not limited to business though. It impacts every phase of a leader’s life. Exponential thinking isn’t restricted to business challenges. 

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into THE THIRD OPINION by Dr. Joni. I realize that leaders who find no value in diverse thinking or exponential thinking will likely never take a peak inside. But those folks clearly are not my audience. Grow Great dot com isn’t aimed for the comfortable leader uninterested in growth, improvement or transformation. And only the courageous leaders will be willing to go to the uncomfortable places required for growth. I hope you’re a leader seeking the appropriate and safe challenges that will propel your career, your business and your life forward. 

I’m fond of how Dr. Henry Cloud couches vulnerability. Finding safety and security in an inner circle is a major component of all this. Dr. Cloud uses the word “careless.” Not in the sense of behaving carelessly, but in the sense of not having to filter or self-edit. When you’re in a circle where you can speak freely because you know nothing you say will be used against you, then you’ve found a safe space. A safe relationship. A relationship where others have your back and you’ve got their back. A place where you’re both trying to grow, improve and transform. A place where you’re both working hard to grow great. That’s the point.

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TPA5029 – The Third Opinion: How Successful Leaders Use Outside Insight To Create Superior Results By Saj-Nicole A. Joni, Ph.D. (A Book Summary, Part 4)

Chapter 5 is entitled, Habit Of Focus. Buy and read the book. You’ll get value from reading the stories that illustrate Ms. Joni’s points. And you’ll be able to more deeply dive into the nuances of how the third opinion can improve your leadership (and decision-making). 

Let’s talk about the highlights of this chapter.

The hardest part of leadership is keeping a sustained focus on what’s essential, not just what’s urgent. What will give us the biggest advantage? Where are our competitive threats? Leaders face many questions.

Stephen Covey pointed out (in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) that if too much of your work is urgent, you’re not appropriately focused on what’s important. You’re just fighting fires. That resonates with most leaders. 

Mastering the habit of focus is the ability to move forward with important but non-urgent issues in a chaotic, high-pressure environment. Sustained focus on the non-urgent but important issues defines your unique contributions to your company and your ability to deliver value no one else can. Your ability to create value is what ultimately drives your career.

You’ve got to devote your unscheduled time to the most important issues – the ones that hold the most potential for high returns over time. This includes systematic reflection on your resources. Effective leaders need time for reflection and inquiry. 

You’re responsible for your focus. Others may define a part – perhaps a significant part – of your schedule, but not all of it. Be thoughtful about your focus. 

Framing Issues Clearly And Strategically Is The Work Of Leadership

First, you have to frame your agenda. This means setting context, time frame, scope, and viewpoint. Don’t do it alone. Work with your best thinkers and get input from your inner circle. Framing is inherently exponential. How you frame will guide what you see. Here are some key things to consider:

  • How narrow or broadly am I thinking about my challenges?
  • Would it be helpful to frame the key issues at several different levels?
  • What is my time frame for this issues and why?
  • Where does this issue fall in terms of importance and priority?
  • What mental models and assumptions do I have that could affect how I frame this issue?
  • What tools might I use to frame this issue and what are the limits of these tools?
  • What’s known and not known about this issue?

You also need a clear sense of what your overall leadership challenge looks like. With a sense of the whole you can develop a reasoned response. 

Focus Your Leadership Inquiry With The Star Of Complexity Map

Ms. Joni has developed a trademarked technique she calls the star map of complexity. It helps you map and prioritize the issues so you can focus your time, resources and thinking partners properly. This chapter includes a diagram of this tool and advice on how you can use it. The author walks the reader through an actual leadership situation with Andy, who is facing some leadership challenges. She uses the Star of Complexity Map to help him figure out and implement improved focus. The diagrams, illustrations, and details require the reader to pay close attention. This material just doesn’t translate to a summary like I’m providing. You have to see it and digest it. As you might imagine, it’s fairly complex. Thankfully, the author does provide a summary of the process though, which will give you a taste of what this tool is designed to accomplish.

Step 1 – Start your baseline Star Of Complexity Map by writing down your most important issues.

Step 2 – Test your initial baseline map for completeness by considering metrics, assets, human dynamics, external conditions, and organizational structure. Add or change as needed.

Step 3 – Complete the indices: Time Frame, Span, Interdependence, Stability, Criticality, Rate of Change.

Step 4 – Draw the three lenses: Lens 1: Leader – Expert/Exponential/Time/Emotional Energy, Lens 2: Internal Team – Expert/Exponential/Structural Trust, and Lens 3: External Network – Expert/Exponential/Structural Trust. For each lens, what can you see about the strengths and weaknesses of yourself, your team and your network?

Step 5 – With the star, the indices, and the lenses in hand, ask yourself the three Star Mapping Of Complexity questions: (a) What is most complex and challenging about your work? (b) What is most complex and challenging about your fit within that role? and (c) What is most complex and challenging about the way your role is influenced and shaped by others?

Step 6 – Draw conclusions about your focus on exponential inquiry and your time and resources to do so. Assess your current inquiry circles and how you have them deployed. Where do you most need second and third opinions?

Remember, Ms. Joni once served on the faculty of the applied mathematics department at M.I.T. It’s easy to see how she approaches these issues and fleshing out important details. While you may, or may not, be wired to approach issues in a similar way, don’t let the main point slide past you — how you spend your time on important, long-term strategic issues will define your leadership. That requires Habit Of Focus. 

Let’s move on to chapter 6 – The Life Cycle Of Your Inner Circle

How do these inner circle relationships progress through the stages of leadership: beginning with a first assignment as the head of a unit, to the stage of Key Leader, and finally achieving Senior Leadership at the top of an organization. You may or may not see direct application to your situation, but I’d urge you to still consider the path because it can help you better lead your people. Every CEO and business owners have direct reports who may experience these stages. Don’t dismiss it simply because you’re already at the top. The lessons are still valuable. 

Throughout the book the author continues to tell a variety of stories to illustrate the points. Again, we’ve not attempted to recite each of these. Instead, you’d be wise to read the book for yourself to take full advantage of the material. My hope is to spark your interest, give you an overview and provoke you to take some meaningful action to improve your leadership.

This chapter is story intensive as the stories illustrate the full life cycle of outside insight and the power it has to strengthen leadership at several levels. They also raise issues about how and when to best create, guide, and nurture your advisory networks and teams. 

By now you should clearly recognize the power of these relationships on your own leadership. Care and feeding these relationships isn’t accidental. You want to take full advantage of them. You’ll have to behave with intention. 

Most leaders don’t think about their advisory network in a systematic way. It happens by accident or out of basic networking but doesn’t go beyond having a friend to call if you want to chat. Or knowing people you can trade favors with. 

Developing leaders probably inherited their action team. They may have a limited scope to change it or shape it. But your advisory network is one you’re fully empowered to create, staff and use. Populate it with people you really click with, people of the highest caliber, people with whom you’re committed to working with. 

Understand what you’ve already got in place. And how it currently serves or fails you. As the author has said repeatedly, it’s never too early or too late to start. She offers some questions to ask yourself:

  • What kind of contacts and networks have I built, and how and when do I use them?
  • Are there teachers, mentors, friends, and activities that have been important in my development at some stage in my life?
  • How do I include my spouse or significant other, family members, and personal friends in my current inner circle?
  • When have I had a conversation or ongoing dialogue where I significantly changed my understanding or learned something I didn’t expect? What were the conditions and nature of the relationship that led to insight?
  • Are there critical areas of inquiry for me now where I find I have no thinking partner, or where the thinking partners I have are lacking in expertise, perspective, or appropriate structural trust?

Permit a bit of personal commentary. CEOs and business owners, more so than leaders at lower levels, often find it difficult to assemble an advisory board with enough diversity to provide exponential thinking – the ability to see the various sides of an issue. It’s understandable. For starters, there’s the issue of time. CEOs and business owners all lament, “I don’t have enough time.” Of course, rationally (and practically) they know they’ve got as much time as anybody else. That’s why that chapter on focus is so important. We make time for what we want.

Too many top-level leaders (number 1’s) don’t see the true value of the third opinion that’s available through an advisory group. For the person who has the final authority in a business or organization, forming an effective advisory group simply isn’t practical. It’s certainly not easy. That contributes to some leaders denying the power of it. But that’s a cop-out. Cowardly. 

We all gravitate toward people most like us. Rarely do we intentionally try to interact or connect with people very different from us. Examine your connections. Your closest companions and advisors are likely quite congruent with how you see the world. Yes, you can behave more intentionally and surround yourself with more diversity, but it’s not easy. Or comfortable. And the odds of you taking the time to do that are slim and none. CEOs and business owners have bigger fish to fry, but no fish provides greater benefit to the #1 in helping them grow, improve and transform. 

CEOs and business owners who aren’t properly challenged never grow. Eventually, their effectiveness will fail. Grow or die is a truth. Who you surround yourself with matters. It’s a major value proposition of paid advisory groups where some third party assembles a group of peers who can come together, learn more about each other, learn about each other’s business and without any other agenda push each other to be better – more effective. It’s a purposeful and intentional assembling of CEOs and business owners who can look around the room and realize, “Everybody here gets me.” That’s a critical component of these groups. It’s why you find it so difficult to talk about your issues with anybody who isn’t a CEO or owner. They can’t possibly understand – not fully – what you’re going through. It’s the power of The Peer Advantage. It’s also why I’m on a mission to build just two such virtual groups of business owners. Visit for details. 

In the next chapter, chapter 7, the author will talk about early leaders. Again, don’t pass over that if you’re the CEO or business owner. You’ve got early leaders in your organization. You’ll serve them well by learning how they can leverage the third opinion. 

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TPA5027 – The Third Opinion: How Successful Leaders Use Outside Insight To Create Superior Results By Saj-Nicole A. Joni, Ph.D. (A Book Summary, Part 2)

Today we’re continuing a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book, THE THIRD OPINION. Last time we discussed chapter 1. If you missed it, click here to go listen to it. It’s about 30-minutes long.

Chapter 2 is entitled, “The Three Habits.” Ms. Joni introduced us to these in the first chapter.

The book began with the story of a top leader facing a complex challenge and realizing he needed some help to think through the proper decision. But every time he thought about particular people he could easily disqualify them as fit for the job. He’s going to have to rely on the HABIT OF MIND to solve this problem. He needs a third opinion.

Throughout his career, he has incorporated some trusted outside advisors into his inner circle. Occasionally he’s had to rely on these people as a sounding board. They’re interested in helping him, but they’ve got no dog in the hunt so he trusted them. These aren’t relationships you can cultivate in a moment of crisis. You foster these relationships in anticipation of events where you need the help. This means you have to cultivate your HABIT OF RELATIONSHIP.

Finally, in addition to seeing that this issue needs to be addressed immediately, this leader needs to be able to push away the urgent things on his schedule today in order to deal with it. The ability to tackle many issues on your plate and still make time for surprises is what Ms. Joni calls the HABIT OF FOCUS. Leaders have to be able to distinguish between the essential and the urgent and how now much time to allow for each.

The story of our leader unfolds as he contacts 3 people who give him various levels (and degrees) of help – outside help. A third opinion if you please. His story sparks some questions we should be asking ourselves.

What kind of network have I built, and how and when do I use it?

Are there teachers, mentors, friends, and activities that have been particularly important in my development at some stage in my life?

How do I include my spouse or significant other, family members, and personal friends in my current leadership circles?

When have I had a conversation or ongoing dialogue where I significantly changed my understanding or learned something I did not expect? What were the conditions that led to the insight?

Are there critical areas for me now where I have no thinking partner, or where the thinking partners, or where the thinking partners I have are lacking expertise, perspective or appropriate structural trust?

That brings us to chapter 3, HABIT OF MIND.

The habit of mind means you’ve cultivated the ability to think and lead in a high-speed world of change and interdependencies. There are three facets to this habit of mind: mastery of three levels of thinking, curiosity, self-knowledge, and spotting great talent for your inquiry team.

Today’s leaders must be able to integrate old and new information, plan more flexibly and be ready to redefine the very way they understand their job, company, and market. To do this, leaders have to develop mastery in three basic types of thinking: application, expert, and exponential. Keep in mind, this is an integration of all three kinds of thinking that leaders will find their ability to successfully deliver results over time. 

Application Thinking: Mapping The Known Onto The Unknown

Application thinking is focused on planning and implementing well-understood methods in ways that provide replicable results. This helps leaders readily identify the characteristics of a problem, and with the benefit of experience and history, find a solution. Application thinking consumes the greatest share of most managers’ mental energy. 

Expert Thinking: Invoking Deep Understanding Of A Specific Subject

Expert thinking begins with people who have developed deep understanding and expertise in specific fields of knowledge. Expert thinking is brought to bear when challenges and issues are new or unique and don’t fit easily into a solution by a known method. In many cases, these issues have a highly technical component. Expert thinkers bring new perspectives to diagnosis and the technical know-how and problem-solving abilities to develop custom approaches. They also bring with them access to a network of related experts whose thinking may be brought to bear on various parts of the problem. Yes, expert thinking and application thinking are related.

Exponential Thinking: Exploring New Terrain With New Frameworks

As the author has already discussed, exponential thinking is the work of developing multidimensional framing that helps leaders see all sides of a complex issue. This is the most difficult kind of thinking to master so it deserves greater attention. Until you master this you won’t be able to take full advantage of the third opinion. 

The intent of application thinking is replicable results. The intent of expert thinking is innovation and customized solutions. The purpose of exponential thinking is to achieve insight. 

The starting point for exponential thinking curiosity about what is unknown and about unexplored relationships. This means the inherent nature of exponential thinking is the need to engage with others who bring different perspectives and who are capable of helping you explore issues outside of your awareness, mental models and current understanding.

Exponential thinking contains two key elements: first, expertise in one or more fields of knowledge, and second, the capacity to apply that expertise to explore interdependencies, make sense of multiple perspectives, unearth and validate assumptions, and envision possible futures in ways that yield new ideas and insights. 

Exponential thinking contributes to insight shifts that occur when problems are reframed and then explored at a higher level of context and complexity. 

The Six Steps For Exponential Thinking

One: Understand the mental models that guide your thinking

What are the mental models that govern your thinking? Your mental models are made up of assumptions about how your business works. They’re also made up of the fundamental assumptions you have about the world and your place in it.

Our mental models deeply impact how we make sense of things and how we choose to act. They develop from individual experience and from our cultural and intellectual heritages. The starting point for exponential thinking is to develop an awareness of our mental models and those of others.

Two: Develop your ability to discern patterns.

Our ability to see and recognize patterns is one of the fundamental human sense-making capabilities. As leaders, we need to look for patterns constantly and practice spotting them in different situations and in a variety of contexts. 

Three: Check and recheck for hidden assumptions.

Much of what we do each day is guided by assumptions we hold. A key part of exponential thinking is unearthing and examining our own assumptions and how they affect our thinking. Many tools can help you unearth assumptions about your business. For example, Six Sigma is a method that enables you to increase operational results and quality in sustainable ways. Part of the power is that it uses a structured approach to move from operational conjecture to measurable fact, revealing hidden assumptions. There are a variety of business building tools aiming to do the same thing in most areas of business operations. 

Four: Create varied scenarios of the future.

Exponential thinkers consider mental models, patterns, and assumptions, then use them to develop a portfolio of scenarios for the future. The exponential thinker has the ability and judgment to create multiple views of the future, compare one to another, determine their relative probabilities, and commit to a course of action that allows for the ability to switch if and when needed.

Five: Look for ways to broaden your line of sight.

Everyone is looking for ways to get more value from less. To develop the necessary habit of mind for successful leadership today means you have to think very carefully about how you get your information, its sources, and its sources’ sources. Information comes at us fast and furious. As a result, we don’t have time to parse the data and consider how reliable it may be. We risk making decisions on outdated, incomplete or distorted information.

Most information that reaches us has been filtered for perspective and spin. When they become too isolated, leaders lose their awareness of the strategies, norms, beliefs and agendas of anyone besides their own teams. That isolation can have a high cost. 

Winston Churchill was very aware of this problem. Knowing that his charisma and fame intimidated some staffers, he set up a completely different channel that didn’t report to him. It provided him a more pure channel of information.

Leaders have to question the source of information they get. Expert advisers in particular fields often have a “line of sight.” They have deep knowledge about a field and early access to information and events. They can spot trends long before they become apparent to a wider audience.

Leaders have their own lines of sight. They need to understand the limits of those. And they have to develop relationships with others to give them a portfolio of other lines of sight that are much broader than their own. 

Six: Invest in your ability to think in the gray space.

The higher you progress in your leadership, the more your role is to take your organization where it’s never gone before. You have to be the first to discover a new reality for yourself and your company. That means you push the boundaries of what is known, what’s acceptable, what’s comfortable, what’s legal, what’s practical. That leads you into the land of gray, where things aren’t clear.

What do you do when you face a decision that requires you to use judgment in the face of the unknown? Navigating the gray starts with improving your awareness of when and where you are in the gray areas. 

It’s about options. What are they? Each option has its own potential downside. None is the obvious choice. Which option is best for your team? Which downside can you best survive? Which one generates the most passion?

Curiosity And Self-Knowledge

Leaders today must have a realistic picture of themselves. It’s especially true as you develop thinking partners and pursue exponential thinking. You need an accurate picture of how you function best within your organization. 

Develop your curiosity. It’s hard to explore all the areas that strike your interest, but you have to make time to engage your natural curiosity. Curious leaders have a self-confidence that allows them to remain open and inquisitive. They’re deeply aware of context. And they regularly inquire into their own ignorance, looking for their blind spots and pushing the boundaries of their own knowledge. Curiosity needs guidance and sustenance. 

Understand Your Management Style

We all have natural preferences in how we work. You likely developed these early in your career.

Ask yourself:

  • How do I fill up my time?
  • How do I feel at the end of the day, when I’ve spent time with people or alone?
  • Which energizes me – meetings with others, or time alone?
  • What kind of environment do I prefer?
  • Do I need chaos and energy or quiet purposeful activity?

On page 48 of the hardcover version of the book, the author illustrates a chart you can use to help you discover your management style.

Be Aware Of Your Style Of Thinking With Others

Some leaders enjoy debating with colleagues who hold strongly opposing views — so they find potential flaws. Others prefer discourse, starting with an outlined situation and exploring all facets. Others are much more intuitive, preferring to listen to a discussion before following their gut instincts. Knowing yourself will help you know when to ask for a third opinion.

How Do You Process Information?

Some companies demand written briefs. Others may rely heavily on presentations. What works best for you? Do you learn visually or do you need a conversation to sort things out? It’s up to you to ensure you get your information in the format you can integrate best. You also have to work to develop your other capacities for processing information because sometimes you can’t control the way in which important information is presented to you.

Don’t Believe Your Own Hype

Personal marketing has become increasingly a larger part of professional life. Be careful. Your branding is important, but it’s antithetical to exponential thinking and the habit of mind. Don’t believe your own hype. 

Spotting Great Talent For Your Inquiry Team

Your awareness must extend to your team. Your styles, strengths, and capabilities are important. Knowing those things about your team is also important. 

Know The Difference Between Advisers And Thinking Partners

Clark Clifford makes a distinction that’s crucial to understanding what’s required in inner-circle inquiry for leaders today, exemplified in his years of service to two different U.S. Presidents:

The relationship I had with each man (Kennedy and Johnson) was quite different. When Kennedy called on me, it was usually to play a clearly defined role on a specific problem — from the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs to the Steel Crisis. Johnson, on the other hand, wanted my advice or observations on almost anything that might confront him…Johnson…asked me to participate in important national security meetings which otherwise involved only government officials, something Kennedy never did. In these meetings, I would say little unless asked to comment by the President — and even then I shared my views with him later, only in private.

His description captures the essential distinction between two important but different advisory roles: that of the adviser and that of the thinking partner. President Kennedy turned to Clifford mainly as an adviser, calling on him as an expert to engage primarily in expert thinking. Clifford proposed alternatives and solutions to Kennedy’s tough domestic and international political problems.

For Johnson, Clifford’s role took on quite different dimensions combining expert thinking with the broader realm of exponential thinking. He would ask Clifford to take on advisory assignments to read and research materials, report back on critical issues and help him find specific alternatives and solutions to tough problems. 

Distinguishing between these two roles will help you develop the advisory network that is most helpful to you and your leadership challenges. As you start thinking about it, you’ll likely see people who may be good advisory resources, but they’re not as talented in being thinking partners. These distinctions will help you figure out what kind of thinking needs to be done, and will help you clarify the range of resources you need on your inquiry team.

Emulate Those You Most Admire

To develop the habit of mind, it’s important to understand how other leaders develop themselves and their thinking. There is no one right way. 

Be curious. Study other leaders. Learn from them. 

Inner-circle conversations are private and confidential. Look for them. It’s a lifelong process of learning. 

You must develop exponential thinking. Keep your curiosity alive. Know yourself. Develop the ability to master the gray spaces. Learn and be inspired by other leaders so you can raise the bar on your own performance. This is the habit of mind of a successful leader

Next time we’ll talk about chapter 4, Habit of Relationship. I hope you’ll buy the book and dive into it more deeply. Mostly, I hope you’ll consider what you can do to elevate your own leadership and your life. It’s what I call the trifecta of business building: getting new customers, serving existing customers better and not going crazy in the process. My work focuses mostly on helping business owners and leaders accomplish that last one because it permeates every facet of a leader’s life – both professionally and personally. 

If you’re a small business owner interested in being part of a roundtable group of other small business owners from around the United States, then check out The Peer Advantage. I’m starting the process of building two groups of just 7 business owners to come together as thinking partners to help each other grow their business, their leadership and their lives. 

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TPA5026 – The Third Opinion: How Successful Leaders Use Outside Insight To Create Superior Results By Saj-Nicole A. Joni, Ph.D. (A Book Summary, Part 1)

Saj-Nicole A. Joni is the founder of Cambridge International Group, Ltd., a high-level advisory services firm. She has written three books dealing with the power of connection and collaboration, especially as it relates to C-level leadership. This book is the first of the three, published in 2004. The subtitle gives you the best summary of what you can find in this book. Ms. Joni does a good job of illustrating the points with terrific stories, which I won’t try to dive into too deeply here – because my goal is to spark your curiosity enough to want to read the book. I am hopeful that this series of summaries will give you enough substance to consider how you may be able to leverage connection and collaboration to improve your own leadership. 

Chapter 1

The book begins with the story of a corporate leader facing a complex challenge. Facing numerous questions, he finds himself alone in his office wondering not only what to do, but who to collaborate with so he can make the best decision. He wants to hash this out with somebody, but realizes as the company’s #1 — he’s got nobody. Every person he thought about got immediately excluded for a variety of reasons. Employees were excluded because they have self-interest to consider so they’re not prone to be as candid as he might like. There was no way he was going to talk with colleagues around the world who held equivalent positions as him. That would be a surefire way to let this challenge leak out to the public. Confidentiality was critical because his challenge involved protecting the reputation of the company. 

The requirements for leadership have changed through the years. Leaders from all over the globe face complex issues, uncertainty, and sensitivity. Speed has also changed the game as leaders realize precise thinking and judgment must now happen faster than ever. These changes have been incremental. 

Speed is a given – and it has changed more than just time. Increasingly businesses are having to operate all phases of their business in real-time or near real-time. Technology provides instant feedback. 

Expertise is fleeting. Most leadership careers require people to learn, function and lead in areas well beyond their educational background and experience. 

Learning to deal with trust issues in an environment of change is trickier than ever. Cooperation and competition are tricky waters of trust to navigate. At every level.

Cross-industry change and competition is the name of the game. The barrier to entry for many industries is rapidly getting lower. New forms of competition and opportunity abound. 

Maintaining a profit margin is increasingly a matter of complexity. Competition continues to pressure change. Companies can no longer pound out the same widgets year and year. Maintaining your profit margins is increasingly a matter of being able to outplay your competition in the complexity game.

Globalization is the norm in every business. To thrive you’ll have to do business in countries outside your own. The opportunities are larger, but so are the risks. 

Information and network complexity have increased. We’re all overwhelmed with information. Being able to see several moves ahead is critical.

Authority has given way to influence. Shared information and decision making are now everywhere because we’ve moved to an information-based world. Leaders must get their organizations and their partners’ organizations to work together by exerting influence instead of merely relying on authority. 

New technologies continuously disrupt markets. Relentless scientific innovation will continue to foster disruptive changes that will transform businesses in ways you can’t predict. 

Top talent is harder to come by. It’s a demographic issue. It’s also a supply-demand quandary. Winning organizations have to search harder and develop new ways to attract and keep good talent. 

Corporate ethics are under increased scrutiny. Privacy, executive compensation, governance, intellectual property and more have already become frequent headline topics. 

Security is now a strategic business issue. All the increased complexity in business have resulted in appropriate safety and security issues. 

All of these together have raised the bar for leadership today. There are 2 questions that business leaders must ask themselves as they navigate managing their organizations:

  1. What kind of leader do you have to be to deliver results and success today?
  2. What kind of team do you have to assemble to work with you in this new era?

Joni tells the story of a leader promoted to VP status. She dives into the new role. Working hard, filled with drive and putting in long hours. But she’s distrustful of others. Her boss has inserted a few people into her team in hopes of helping her perform at a higher level. But instead of listening to others, she has siloed herself because she incorrectly thinks it’s the path to her career success. Her boss believed in here. If he could just find a suitable mentor he felt that over a period of time he could influence the VP to step up her game. Her boss is having to consider this because she’s mistrustful of others. That has caused her to hit a leadership wall. 

Outside Thinking Partners Are Too Important To Be Left To Chance

Most leaders who experience the benefits of thinking partners never go back to leading without such a resource. Rather, they continue to look for and develop a broad advisory network throughout their careers. 

Today’s leaders need to start early and think systematically about the kind of team they want to assemble.

The Role Of A Key Leader Demands Rapid Assimilation And Growth

Key leaders – especially young, quickly promoted leaders – prove themselves at one level only to find they have to learn a whole new set of competencies at the next level. Leaders are facing greater complexity more quickly in their careers. They need to lead in areas where they’re not expert. They need expert input and a safe place to ask hard questions without constantly filtering for spin, self-interest and other agendas. 

What Kind Of Advice And Counsel Do Leaders Require Today?

People in high places have always been able to seek advice and counsel from the best and brightest. History proves it. One of the best illustrations of this may be Clark Clifford who served as an advisor to several U.S. Presidents, most notably John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. He was also an advisor to top corporate leaders. In his memoir, Counsel To The President, he described the vital importance of having well-placed and well-prepared outsiders in your inner circle:

Even if he ignores the advice, every President should ensure that he gets a third opinion from selection and seasoned private citizens he trusts. (The second opinion should come from Congressional leaders.) Though Cabinet members and senior White House aides often resent outside advisors, a President takes too many risks when he relies solely on his own staff and the federal bureaucracy for advice. Each has its own personal or institutional priorities to protect. An outside advisor can serve the role of a Doubting Thomas when the bureaucracies line up behind a single proposition or help the President reach a judgment when there is a dispute within government. They can give the President a different perspective on his own situation; they can be frank with him when White House aides are not.

The risks to the organization and the leader determined to go it alone are greater than ever. It’s not enough to have a brilliant team. There is plenty of historical proof of too many executives who didn’t see it coming, or if they did, they were unable to do anything about it in time. Leadership today demands outside thinking partners in addition to having a top-notch team of direct reports. 

Three years of research by the author has led to two insights that form the heart of this book:

Insight 1: Leadership today requires 3 new habits: habit of the mind, habit of relationship and habit of focus.

Insight 2: You can start developing the three habits and your advisory network at any time during your career.

One: Habit of mind

Leaders must master a new way of thinking. Joni calls this “exponential thinking.” It allows you to see all sides of a complex issue. Exponential thinking is best done with others. This kind of thinking plays an important role in decisions where there is high ambiguity, uncertainty and risk. 

Exponential thinking is required at all levels today, not just the C-suite. 

Two: Habit of relationship

Leaders today must assemble a new kind of leadership team, one that ensures they undertake the right kind of exploratory thinking. One that challenges perspectives.

Leaders need external thinking partners so they explore sensitive and edgy issues with high trust and external perspective. These are compartmentalized roles necessarily. A person can play different roles. For instance, one person might move from subject expert to thinking partner and sometimes to action team member at different times depending on the circumstances, expertise and interest. Your ability to get results in increasingly boundaryless organizations depends on how well you can orchestrate your network of important relationships. 

Three: Habit of focus

Leaders must have the skill and discipline to focus on the essential non-urgent issues. Leaders today face information overload and increased demands for speed. More and more daily work has become urgent. But just getting daily work isn’t what your leadership is about. Leaders must be able to create and execute strategies to carry out their leadership agendas. 

Mastery of the habit of focus is being able to function effectively in your high-pressure environment and make progress on the big, longer-term issues that need your attention. Your sustained focus on the non-urgent important issues is ultimately what will define your leadership. It’s what differentiates your unique contributions and ability to deliver value no one else can.

Insight 2 is that anybody can develop these three habits at any time. But it’s important to develop these habits in concert. Everybody will use each habit differently, but there are guidelines to help you focus on perfecting the various parts of each habit as your leadership progresses.

Where do today’s business leaders turn for outside insight to help them?

Each leader’s sources will be different. It’s probably a mixture of formal and informal networks. There’s a range of models for developing a properly balanced advisory network and they vary depending on your career level. Most likely you already have some sort of advisory network, though it may not be developed to its full potential or well-tuned to your current challenges. The author will dive more deeply into the practical steps in chapters 7, 8 and 9.

Important Inner-Circle Conversations

Inner-circle thinking partnership conversations are broad and typically fall into one or more of 4 basic categories.

One, the Visionary Conversation. The main purpose of this dialogue is to imagine the different futures that a person might create, and use that insight in the present. In this conversation, you and your thinking partners are considering world trends, sometimes long into the future. If this is the future you want to commit to creating (or to avoiding), what are the steps you should take now to influence those desired outcomes?

Two, the Sounding Board Conversation. This happens when you want to work with somebody who has the right expertise, wisdom and experience to take a 3rd opinion look at a new strategy or set of ideas. You and your thinking partner look together at the implicit assumptions involved in the course of action, check them against external reality and vet the decision in various ways – including legal, political, environmental implications. You want to ask the “what-and-why” questions. What if?

Three, the Big Picture Conversation. Here, a leader and the thinking partner step back and look at all the things going on, making sure that where you intend to go is aligned with all the moving parts required to get there. The purpose is to make sure nothing has been overlooked. 

Four, the “Expertise In Inquiry” Conversation. Here the leader is looking for more than an expert problem-solving conversation. You’re looking to develop your knowledge, but also to develop fundamental models and new ways of thinking. You need a thinking partner who is an expert, an expansive thinker and someone who can help you learn the new information in ways highly relevant to your current situation. 

Today, leaders must know their limitations. Then you must learn how to go out and find others who can take you the rest of the way.

Is this book about executive coaching? Yes and no. Executive coaches are one species within the thinking partner universe. Executive coaches typically work as thinking partners with their clients on issues in the areas of inter- and intra-personal dynamics, communications and organizational development. But they also often explore areas of personal leadership, thinking with leaders about their purpose and authenticity. 

What Do You Look For In Your Most Important Advisers And Thinking Partners?

Thinking partners are exponential thinks able to offer you new information and new perspectives. They help you explore existing mental models and challenge you to grow. The best thinking partners have an aptitude to see a problem at several different levels. 

The capabilities of your inner-circle thinking partners should reach well beyond categories of expertise, such as finance, product development and the like. Here’s what you look for:

  • the ability to see all sides of a complex issue (exponential thinking)
  • someone who asks great questions and listens closely – including for what isn’t said
  • someone who doesn’t offer advice
  • someone who has a reputation for integrity
  • someone who has high-quality expertise and experience relevant to the key issues you need to be resolved
  • a person who can provide a unique perspective
  • someone who has the ability to tailor content to challenges and questions at hand
  • someone who clicks with you intellectually as well as personally
  • someone who has an intuitive understanding of your strengths and meshes well with them
  • a person who possesses authentic curiosity and empathy
  • someone who is free from conflict of interest, both personal and structural
  • someone who reciprocates in choosing you

Who wouldn’t want people like that around them? It’s powerful, interesting, fun and safe. It’s also deeply satisfying to build and sustain those kinds of lifelong leadership relationships.

It’s Unique To You

Your inner-circle advisers and thinking partners are the most unique and personal part of your network and leadership team. There’s no substitute for the leadership work of seeking the third opinion and incorporating outside insight. There are no set formulas. How you develop and call on your network of relationships can and should reflect your style and what’s best about your leadership.

Next time we’ll summarize chapter 2: The Three Habits

P.S. Are you a small business owner in the United States interested in being surrounded by your own great thinking partners – people able to provide the third opinion for you? Click here to learn more.

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An Audio Book Summary: The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership by John C. Maxwell

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell (#21 The Law Of Legacy)

An Audio Book Summary: The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership by John C. Maxwell #5016 - GROW GREAT

First published in September 1998, The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership by John C. Maxwell put Maxwell at the forefront of leadership experts.

The book contains a variety of exercises that will help you not only plant the ideas firmly into your life, but they’ll help you improve your awareness and identify your needs. You’ll likely want to listen to each chapter more than once so you can fully grasp each law.

The Peer Advantage is all about leadership. The courage, conviction and drive to improve fuels the peer advantage. Leadership and personal growth aren’t for the faint of heart. The paradox is that vulnerability – the kind of vulnerability required to join a group of your peers so you can grow and transform your life – is the major requirement for anybody who will take full use of the peer advantage.

The pain of going it alone is an unnecessary pain. There is a better way – a more courageous path to higher success. Surround yourself with other business owners who want the same things you want – growth, improvement, transformation and success. They’ll lift you up and serve you. You’ll do the same for them.

If you’re interested in joining a small, intimate group of just 7 business owners from around the United States who come together via a video conferencing platform, then click here for details.

Now dive into this audio summary and get busy growing your leadership. Enjoy learning and performing each law –


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bula network podcast on itunesTo subscribe, please use the links below:

If you have a chance, please leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking Review on iTunes. It’ll help the show rank better in iTunes.

Thank you!

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