Feelings as a Strategic Advantage

I have a deep personal interest in the Vietnam war.  People I knew died there.  Lessons can be learned from studying it.


Recently I watched “The Vietman War”, an excellent, honest, raw, and unvarnished documentary of the Viet Nam war by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.  The documentary examines the leadership mistakes that led to one of the greatest tragedies in our history.


Secretary of State Robert McNamara, a former Ford executive, used measurements and data to strategize the direction of the war.  The one measure he missed was the feelings of the people. Each time the data showed to bomb and destroy the Viet Nam farmer’s homes to eradicate the Viet Cong. What the data did not measure is the emotional reaction of the people for this strategy.


A poignant and painful lesson for any leader is to “remember feelings.”


If McNamara had thought about the feelings of the people, he and the other leaders would have realized the more they destroyed the hamlets the angrier  people became. Their anger created an openness to the promises of the Viet Cong. McNamara’s strategy ballooned instead of decreasing the number of men and women joining the Viet Cong.


The lesson is to ask “What will be the feelings of the people this strategy will impact? Will those feelings help or hinder the achievement of the strategy?” The answer may make the difference between success and failure.

The Top Six Time Management Tools for Executives

As an executive, managing your time properly is one of the most challenging issues you face.  After all, time is a precious commodity.  Once it’s spent, it’s gone!

Time famine  or not having enough time challenges even the most seasoned executive. We all feel overwhelmed whenever there are more tasks than hours.  Most executives complain that they don’t know where the time goes. It’s a vicious cycle: you can’t manage your time because you have no time for time management! In order to save time, you need manage your time.

The solution is to use time management tools to accomplish more in less time. Following are six time management tools that have proven to be successful:

Tool #1-Separate the Vital Few from the Trivial Many

Before you take any steps to change your habits, first you need to have a solid understanding about where you should be spending your time.  What are your most vital tasks?  Think about the following questions:

  • What actions have the most impact for your company?
  • What are the action items that will have the biggest impact on your career?
  • Which daily tasks contribute to the bottom line?
  • Which tasks can you put on a “do not do task” list?

As you write your answers decide the trivial  tasks that siphon away your time versus the vital tasks that make a difference.

Tool #2-Delegate, Delegate, Delegate!

Let’s face it: you can’t be everything to everyone.  Nor should you have to be!  You were hired to your executive position for a reason, because there is something valuable that you, and you alone, bring to the table.

Ask yourself before taking on a task “could this task be done by someone else on my team?”  What is it that you need to do, that only you can do?  Do that!  Everything else, delegate!  Delegating to your team, provides an opportunity for them to grow and develop.

Tool #3-Quick 10 Minute Roundup

Make a habit of meeting with your assistant every morning for 10 minutes to go over the priorities for the day.  This way you’ll be on the same page and they can keep you up to speed on the projects you’re overseeing.

At the end of each week, do a quick 10 minute wrap up.  Make sure that tasks were completed or that issues are addressed and get your mind prepared for the next week

Tool #4-The Ongoing Six

Make a list of the six most important tasks that you’ll need to work on tomorrow.  These tasks should fall under the umbrella of “If I get these done, I’m making the biggest contribution to the company and my career.”

The next morning, those are the tasks you need to work on first.  When you review at the end of the day, check off the tasks you were able to finish and add more so that you constantly have six on your list.  It takes a lot of energy to keep mental track of tasks and due dates.  Don’t hold on to those, write them down.

Tool #5-Make An Appointment With Yourself!

As an executive you’re working constantly, your mind is going 24/7, filled with work tasks, deadlines,  meetings, lunches.  When do you have time for personal thinking and reflection?

Well, make time!  This is time to work on your own “to do” items that are important but not urgent. These are the tasks and projects that are important to you, your team, and especially your boss that continually are postponed.

Experiment with time and place! Some executives make an appointment with themselves before work at Starbucks others may use 1 or 2 lunches during the week. Find what works for you!

Tool #6-Audit Time Expenditures

Ever felt like you’ve been sitting in meetings all day but getting nothing done?  Time to audit your meeting schedule!  Meetings are notorious for eating up time and productivity.

Take a look at your quarterly meeting schedule.  Decide which meetings you want to be at and which you can delegate to someone on your team.  Meetings that include other executive or your boss should be definite for you to attend.  What is the purpose of the meeting?  If decisions are being made, important information to be shared, or political reasons, keep it on your schedule.

However, if many people are invited or the purpose of the meeting is to review the status of project, consider sending a member of your team. Ask the person attending for a summary report after the meeting.  Also, attending meetings provides the opportunity for team members to interact with other executives.

Periodically do a time audit.  On your calendar, keep track of down what happened during the those invisible time wasters: long phone calls, interruptions, being asked to do projects that aren’t appropriate.

The Path to The Bottom Line

Start now! Implement these six tools and you will see how time famine begins to lessen while your productivity begins to expand.

Continued Success!



Using the First 100 Days to Set Up New Executives for Success

When an executive comes into a new role, it can be overwhelming. It’s like starting a new school. Rules change, expectations change, and previous successes might no longer matter. There could be similarities or overlap between the old and the new, but in general, it’s an entirely novel experience.

That’s why an executive’s first 100 days are so important. You might have heard the term “first 100 days” thrown around a lot lately, especially with the recent administration change in our government. It’s when the incoming executive sets the tone for the tenure of their position. It’s the time where a little bit of planning can go a long way to accelerate, or derail, their success.

Taking the time to plan out your first 100 days can lay the groundwork for building the right relationships, building the right team, creating a productive culture, and successfully navigating corporate politics.

How to Set Yourself Up for Success in the First 100 Days

When starting a new position, it’s best to take a good, honest look at yourself. Where have you come from and what are you bringing into your new role? When you start from a place of honest evaluation, you’ll find yourself in a much better position to get where you want to go.

Review your strengths

The first place to start when taking stock, is by reviewing what your strengths are. What are you already good at and how can you use those strengths to continue to get better? Really understanding what assets you bring to the table will go a long way towards a smooth transition in your new role.

See through someone else’s eyes

Coming into a new role, how do others see you? Are you aware of what your reputation has been up to this point? Do you want to continue to be perceived as such going forward? A new role is like an empty box waiting to be filled. At the beginning you have the chance to create a new executive brand. How do you want people to perceive you?

Align with your boss’s strategic goals

Are your goals lined up with those of your CEO or Board of Directors? Do you know what their strategic initiatives are? How will your results be measured? What are your KPI, and what is the time frame? An important part of being successful is knowing what is expected of you, how you’re being measured, and in what time frame. You can then adjust your timing accordingly.

Build the Best Team

Once you know what you want your brand to be, what you’ll be expected to achieve, and how you’re going to be measured, the next step is to decide what kind of team you want to build.

Putting together the right team goes beyond skill set. You’ll want to make sure you have a team of people who will do justice to your brand and who can help you achieve your new strategic objectives.

Some things you want pay attention to are chemistry, culture, and communication.

Chemistry. What kind of people will be a good fit for your new executive brand? What kind of people do you work well with? Do the people currently in place on your team reflect that? If not, what kind of changes do you want to make?

Culture. What kind of corporate culture do you want to create? Is it strict and disciplined? Independent? What type of culture have you thrived in before and how will you create that for your team?

Communication. With a team in place, how do you plan to communicate to everyone in your team and across the company? How will you find out what people are thinking? How do you plan to be consistent with your communication strategy and policies?

Happy Onboarding

Moving into a new executive position can be exciting and overwhelming. But your transition will be easier if you take the time to reflect and plan.

Start by taking stock of what you’re bringing into the position. Then, decide if you want to make changes going forward and how you’re going to do that. Build your team based on the type of culture you want to promote and make sure to have a consistent communication strategy in place.

Keep the first 100 days in mind and set yourself up for success!

How a Tough Bully “Won the War” By Showing His “Softer Side”

The Bullying Management Style

I recently coached a highly technically competent executive who had been playing the role of “the bully” . His role, in which he took great pride, was to provide tough feedback to employees. He would constantly yell, use foul language, and publically criticize poor performers.

When a new senior executive team came onboard, they wanted a culture of accountability and collaboration. The cultural transformation resulted in my client being identified as a potential liability for the company. His manner of communicating no longer fit the bill. In addition to receiving complaints from many of the staff, he was not willing to take input of any kind. He felt that he had been successful with his bullying strategy that he didn’t see why he should change.

Despite having the technical competency that was needed, the new executive team was frustrated and ready to demote him. That’s when the CEO reached out to me to see if there was a way to alleviate this problem.

As an executive turn-around expert and behavioral/executive coach, I listened to the scenario as explained by the CEO. I interviewed the new executive team, my client’s peers and direct reports. They provided candid and painful feedback.

Profile of a Bully

From the very first meeting, I could see that he had all the mannerisms of a bully. I discovered that he was a Vietnam Veteran who did not like to expose any vulnerability. A large man, he held himself aloft, chest thrust out and shoulders back, military – style with a loud, booming voice that intimidated others. Aggression had helped him to survive in the past and he was comfortable using it to keep others in check. This was a scenario that I had seen before and I recognized what needed to be done.

Over several coaching sessions I built trust by asking questions and acknowledging that he was intimidating but I was not intimidated. I explained that, with his permission, I could teach him new strategies that would help him to get along with others and thus, be more effective. I told him that I was there to preserve his role in the company rather than expedite his departure.

Help Others Rather than Criticize

I then gave him some tough feedback sharing the results of my interviews with his staff, peers, and the senior executive team members. I told him that others found him intimidating, that the company felt he was untrainable, and many of his peers didn’t want to work with him because he publically talked negative about others.

I met with him every week, for six months to help him identify behaviors that were working against him. I also began coaching him better ways of coping with problems including the technique of trying to help others, rather than criticizing or threatening them.

Ask Questions and Listen

I also taught him that if he didn’t agree with something another executive said, it would be more helpful to ask questions and listen to others instead of being hostile and verbally aggressive. By doing this, I told him that he would build strength and thus, gain respect from his peers and members of the senior executive team.

Although becoming more collaborative and less intimidating, he experienced a “regression effect” returning to his old behavior. I had previously warned him that under stress, he would “ say the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time and get the wrong result.”

Healing Setbacks

After this incident, I coached him on how to heal that situation by approaching the person whom he had offended and apologizing. By making him accountable for his behavior, he became more considerate of others. The regression effect experience had actually galvanized his learning and development as an executive.

After six months of weekly coaching, I conducted follow up interviews with the same participants as the initial interviews. I learned that everyone was extremely pleased with the behavioral improvements he had made. He now listened to others, was approachable in the workplace, and admitted when he was wrong.

The Result – A Valued Executive

What he had learned was that he didn’t have to come across as the bully. Instead of leading with his strong, military persona, he collaborated with others, and became a highly valued corporate executive.

The result was my client achieved the same corporate goals without bullying and intimidation. In the end, this soldier “won the war” by courageously showing his “softer side.”

For the executives who are too costly to lose but too difficult to keep, The Heller Group helps break the blockage that is costing companies time and money by facilitating change within organizations, leading to:

• Increased productivity
• Innovative thinking
• Increased executive team performance
• Aligned leadership and staff
• Improved employee morale
• Higher retention
• Smoother transitions.

Bruce Heller, Ph.D. has worked with some of the top companies in technology, entertainment, pharmaceutical & medical device companies, manufacturing, scientists and engineers bringing them a proven set of strategies that resolve issues and help them get back to being effective and productive executives.

Moving Forward – Stay Close to the Wind

I have been a passionate boater since junior high school. My first boat was an 8-foot sloop with one sail. Every weekend, I would go to Marina del Rey, carry the boat to a slip, raise the sail, and head out.

As I got older, I discovered power boats. You turn on the engine and go. No need to work hard pulling up the sails to go 5 miles per hour. Just turn the engine on and I could travel at 30 mph.

Yet recently, my passion for sailing has resurfaced. I have had the honor of sailing with my friend Bill on his 42 foot Catalina sailboat. I discovered the magic of quiet and the challenge of “staying close to the wind” to move the boat forward. Yet, to “stay close to the wind” you need to constantly watch the wind, trim the sails, and work the winches. The result is moving forward.

To stay on course requires continuous adjustment to the changing direction and velocity of the wind.  All of us have an ongoing opportunity to “stay close to the wind” or to continue adjusting our behavior, thinking, and perspective so we continue to move towards the accomplishment of important goals.

Staying close to the wind takes effort.

Keeping the momentum to reach a goal takes effort.

In physics, a fundamental principle is “a body at rest will stay at rest and a body in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.” Staying close to the wind requires that you stay in motion.

So, how do you “stay close to the wind” and continue forward momentum? Here are five tactics to help you.

  1. Make a Decision. Erik Erickson was a deep thinker on adult life stages. He believed each stage of life involves a crisis. A person must decide to resolve the crisis or not. One crisis is called “generativity versus stagnation.” This decision is between “staying stuck” or “making your mark.” The decision is yours.
  2. Stop to Start. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I challenge you to discipline yourself to stop. Like parentheses in the middle of a sentence, you need to find quiet space between the urgencies of your life. During that time, think about ways you can “trim the sails” of your life. Ask yourself “What is holding me back and what can I do about it? And the most difficult question is “What do I want?”
  3. Fail Often. To move forward you need to fail. If you are not failing you are not really trying. Staying safe is stagnation. Like sailing, if you are not open to trim the sails to a point the boat begins to “luff” or slow down. Then you are not truly pushing as close to the wind as possible.
  4. The Extra 30Minutes. Whenever you are about to stop or quit, take an additional 30 minutes and keep working. Yes, keep working. You will be amazed at how the momentum of your life continues.
  5. The Power of Incubation. Plan your day the day before. Put into your schedule your tasks, daily goals, and appointments. Allow incubation to occur through the night. This means that when sleeping your unconscious mind will be “trimming” your priorities and even providing you new ideas.


“Staying close to the wind” means understanding the currents that keep your business or career on course.