BLOG: Extraordinary Leadership and High Functioning Teams

Culture & Engagement: The Mirror Has Two Faces

Posted by Rebecca Dannenfelser on Wed, Oct 26, 2016

3 Key Elements the Best Cultures Have in Common


Need help in assessing and strengthening your organization's culture and engagement?
Try a free consultation with Clearwater Consulting.

Improve employee engagement and retention with action planning

Tags: corporate culture, employee engagement

Are these some of the reasons you give no feedback to your staff or peers or manager?

Posted by Andrea Hopke on Wed, Oct 19, 2016



Are these some of the reasons you give no feedback to your staff or peers or manager? If so, you’re one of many. 

  • We think because we avoid a challenging conversation we won’t negatively impact our engagement scores. (The reverse is true.)

  • We believe that when the person is smart, they’ll figure out what they need to do. (They won’t.)

  • We assume that because we understand something needs to happen, it’s clear to everyone else, so no need to give them feedback. (We all are really good at projecting!)

Based on research from 15Five in 2014, there is a direct correlation between employees NOT receiving feedback and their NEGATIVE engagement.

What are you doing to encourage conversation beyond the perennial review? What have you been meaning to say - positive or negative - to that new hire that you just haven’t gotten around to yet? What is your culture’s norm around conflict or disagreement, and is that keeping you from having candid, air-clearing and catalytic conversations for the good?

Great Feedback Approach: Use Feedforward

Feedback can become Feedforward, a wonderful term invented by Marshall Goldsmith to highlight the hope of the future: things you can do next time to strengthen the performance, the delivery, the report, the team management. The act is one of positive forward momentum, versus negative review of the past.

For more ideas about seeking, giving and receiving feedback, see our Seek Feedback blog.


assess your feedback skills

Tags: 360 Feedback for Leaders, employee engagement, Feedback

Culture & Engagement: Does Your Corporate Culture Need Changing?

Posted by Rebecca Dannenfelser on Fri, Oct 14, 2016


Have you ever tried to change a corporate culture?  According to research, 50% of organizations are grappling with the issue of how to create a culture that attracts talent and makes them want to stay!  (Source: Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2016)

This is not easy to do and it requires heavy lifting. Today’s Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) is the one usually asked to partner with the CEO and Senior Leadership Team to make this happen. Most of the time, an engagement survey is the #1 tool used to measure how people feel about their culture and to give CHROs a baseline for the needed changes.

Tell us what tool you use to understand the culture of your company. Take this 1-question survey below and we will share the results with you here in our blog and on social media in a short while.

Click here to open the survey. 

  All survey responses are anonymous. 

Tags: corporate culture

Highly Engaged HR Professionals at NAAAHR 2016 National Conference

Posted by Conni Todd on Mon, Oct 10, 2016

Earlier this month, Clearwater Consulting Group had the honor of presenting at the 2016 National Association of African Americans in Human Resources (NAAAHR) Conference held in Atlanta, GA.  In attendance were over 400 HR business professionals, from emerging leaders to CHROs, all seeking to share knowledge and networking opportunities with colleagues from across the country. 

NAAAHR_attending.jpgLeft to right: Dr. Shelton Goode (Director of Diversity and Inclusion - OshKosh Corp.); NAAAHR member; Tia Buckham-White (Clearwater Consulting Group); and Nat Alston (one of the NAAAHR Founders). 

NAAAHR is clearly committed to providing senior and emerging HR leaders relevant programming that will positively impact their ability to thrive in their roles with special consideration to the innate impact of race regarding their road to success and their responsibility for influencing successful outcomes within their organizations. In this age of Glassdoor reviews, six degrees of LinkedIn separation, and at times, the lack of a level playing field, NAAAHR is committed to preparing these leaders to address the challenges of today and exceed expectations in business. We were honored to be a part of the conference. 

The topic of our interactive session at NAAAHR was “The HR Business Partner Imperative: Becoming a Trusted Advisor” and the session was co-presented by myself and one of our valued clients, Crystal Williams, CHRO & SVP Global Human Resources at FLEETCOR. Those attending the session were highly engaged as Crystal candidly shared her journey to become a trusted advisor for her CEO.

During our session we had interesting discussions regarding the current state of HR at various organizations and strategy tips to transition HR teams into a trusted advisor role. The discussions covered these important factors: 

  • 4 levels of internal or external client relationships
  • Progression of these relationships
  • Understanding relationship capital
  • How to put the "trust quotient" into action

Although I would love to take credit for facilitating a great experience, I found it fascinating that this high level of engagement not only existed in our session, but throughout the NAAAHR conference which had a variety of break-out sessions with timely subject matter. If you are an African American in HR, we highly recommend NAAAHR for your consideration. Take a look at

Are you committed to transitioning your HR team to the role of trusted advisor?  

Contact us for information about a strategy session to help your team accomplish it. Sessions include:

  • An outside perspective – from an experienced team of highly skilled executives who have worked in industries and companies just like yours
  • A Safe Zone – no politics or judgment or emotion!
  • Best practice tips - ideas focused on assessing and unpacking the particular challenges within your organization

Tags: action planning, organizational change, HR Strategy

Making Room for Leadership Creativity

Posted by Andrea Hopke on Thu, Sep 22, 2016

When you want your leadership team to come together and creatively identify solutions to the challenges you are facing, how do you set them and yourself up for success? How do you make room for leadership creativity?

Here’s our secret - why our clients love us. Imagine this:
  • a comfortable room with overstuffed chairs, a grey couch

  • a kitchen nearby for snacks or lunch or end of day drinks

  • a view of the city

  • a large, blank (very important) white board and lots of dry erase markers (that are new)

  • great questions and active listening

This is the physical and experiential canvas, the space into which we invite clients to spend some time identifying challenges, exploring opportunities.

We are allies in this collaborative venture. We are in this with them. Together we map out on the white board the issues, ideas to resolve, the what and the how to go about it, collaborating with them to co-create solutions to their greatest challenges.

We truly listen to their observations and concerns; we reframe to give them a new view or lens through which to observe the issue; we facilitate dialog that both encourages new ideas and challenges their existing lens. Watch below to hear from one of our clients about how our approach worked for them.

Leadership Creativity Assessment

  • Are you creating a physical space that encourages comfort, the ability to relax into new ideas; do you need to change the venue for those creativity sessions?

  • Are you facilitating dialog with a visual focus - a whiteboard or flip chart - so that everyone starts to see a similar “map” of the issue and the possibilities? This is key. We hold so much in our minds that remains unstated and assumed; if we can share a picture of what we are exploring together it moves the conversation to a whole new level.

  • Are you helping them understand the assumptions we all cart into these discussions - the paradigm that defines the prevailing opinion and challenging those views in a way that opens the aperture on the camera lens so to speak? Some common assumptions you may run into are:
    • oh, we tried that already
    • they’ll never give us budget for it
    • we don’t have the resources
    • so-and-so just doesn’t appreciate our work

  •  And at the end of the session (which, we’re sorry, but needs to be longer than 30 minutes or even an hour), are you and the group summarizing the insights, the takeaways and the timeframes for practical application?

Yes, it’s about process - moving a group through defining the goal of the conversation, the reality of the situation, the ideas or options, and then what’s next. But, even more, it’s more about the tools and the way you use them. 

The couch (the space). The whiteboard (or flip chart). The probing questions. The artful listening. The commitment to act.


Tags: leadership secrets, leadership creativity

Workshop at NAAAHR Oct. 1 - The HR Business Partner Imperative: Become a Trusted Advisor

Posted by Conni Todd on Tue, Sep 13, 2016

Conni Todd, Senior Partner at Clearwater Consulting Group, will be presenting a session on October 1 at the 2016 NAAAHR National Conference in Atlanta, GA. Crystal Williams, CHRO at FLEETCOR, will be co-presenter at the session to be held at The Hilton Atlanta Hotel 3:15pm-4:30pm.

The HR Business Partner Imperative: Become a Trusted Advisor

Did you know only 42% of global companies report that the impact of HR on organizational success is weak? Leaders across the board are challenging HR to move beyond the perspective that limits HR with just responsibilities for payroll, recruiting, and performance systems to a place where HR serves as a trusted advisor for solving complex business issues, brought in on the front side as a key partner. This workshop is designed to build the case for why HR leaders need to stop babysitting and start bringing more innovative solutions to the forefront to solve complex business issues.

The learning objectives for this workshop are:

• Understand the current context for how HR is viewed and why the change is needed
• Learn more about what a real trusted advisor looks like and what it doesn't look like
• Accelerate faster into the role of a trusted advisor while improving relationships and learning how to leverage candor and conflict to gain greater traction

Presenters: Conni Todd & Crystal Williams

Conni_Todd_02.jpgConni Todd is Senior Partner at Clearwater Consulting Group, a leadership development firm that works with companies to solve people problems that solve real business challenges. Conni and Clearwater have been working along side the team at FLEETCOR for over 3 years, creating unique solutions and training options that move the business forward faster as the company continues its rapid expansion plan.

Crystal Williams is CHRO at FLEETCOR, the marketplace leader in payment solutions. She has been instrumental in leading the charge to create a unified culture at FLEETCOR whereby all leaders can thrive and grow against the backdrop of an accelerated acquisition strategy with over 60 companies assimilated into the company over the past 10 years! 

3 Keys to Reinvigorating Your Work and Your Life

Posted by Andrea Hopke on Thu, Jul 14, 2016

It’s vacation time! Hopefully you are taking one and feeling reinvigorated when you return. What else can you do to keep yourself and your company refreshed, rejuvenated and invigorated? Here are our keys:
1. Take a new view 
Physically, this is as simple as moving to a different seat, desk, room, venue. Do what it takes to turn around and take a different view. Or to take a new mental view and play devil’s advocate on a topic with a colleague - ask them to switch “sides” with you and have fun poking holes in your previously held beliefs or suggestions. (Note: this takes courage and the ability to get out of your comfort zone.) 
2. Get exposed to a lot of new ideas in a short period of time
Attend a conference whether it is in your field or not or carve out an hour to read as many different articles online as possible about a topic that intrigues you, and then go talk to someone about them
3. Pick a passion
Identify a topic, challenge, love, field, idea, or anything that energizes you, and dedicate some time to it. Our secret this year was doing it as a group. 
Every year as a company we make the commitment to grow and develop ourselves personally and professionally, much as we encourage our clients to do the same. We have the same possible excuses NOT to do so as you do: we are heads down on projects, there’s no way we can leave the office for a day, much less a week; we can read about it later; maybe one of us should go and tell the rest. You name it, we’ve said it; same as you. But every year we sign up, we go, we learn, we share. And we are are completely energized, jazzed, thrilled, and renewed.
So far, this year has been particularly robust with development opportunities, including:
1. Take a new view: In March we moved to larger space!!! And that provided a lot of new views and discussions and the opportunity to create new collaborative space that inspires not only us, but our clients, too.
2. This May we were exposed to myriad new technology and ideas for talent development at the spectacular ATD (Association for Talent Development) conference this summer in Denver. We got to see Simon Sinek and Brene Brown in person.
3. And we have so many passions it’s hard to pick, but we did. Since we are all dedicated to the practice of appreciating diverse perspectives and experiences, it was a natural fit for us to dedicate ourselves to a 4-day immersion on Inter-Cultural Intelligence, a program born overseas and brought to the US by Knowledgeworkx. Experiential, insightful, exploratory. A remarkable experience for each of us as individuals and for us as a company. 
Talk about extremes:  
  • with ATD we were surrounded by 10,000+ of our closest allies in talent development for 4 days in Denver, attending up to 5 workshops a day plus keynotes, meeting fascinating people from around the globe, hearing personal and professional stories that inspired and enlightened
  • with ICI we were off the grid for 4 intense days with 20 other people from around the globe, absorbed in the experience and discussions about a topic of great interest and need for all of us: opening our eyes to inter-cultural intelligence
More on the content of the ICI program in a future blog.  For now, say hello to a passionate group of global leaders from the Atlanta program March, 2016:  
 Photo courtesy of KnowledgeWorkx Newsletter
So, what’s your secret for getting out of your own way and staying refreshed, energized, passionate about your work and your life?

Invite Clearwater Consulting to speak at your event.

Tags: work life balance

5 Ways To Help Your Employees and Future Leaders Improve Their Executive Presence

Posted by Andrea Hopke on Tue, Jul 12, 2016


Executive Presence is frequently talked about in the business world. It’s meant to describe those employees who have the “right stuff” for promotion into leadership roles and positions. While many might believe they possess the proper leadership competencies and personality traits to move up, their boss and peers might not have the same perspective.

Do your employees and future leaders understand Executive Presence? Are they often frustrated when getting passed over for new projects or promotions? Do they know how other team members and managers perceive them? These are questions that HR professionals must help them address as part of their organization's Leadership Development programs.

What is Executive Presence?

First, let's understand exactly what Executive Presence means. Executive Presence is the ability to project leadership, technical, communication and behavioral skills combined with confidence, remaining cool under pressure, poise, assertiveness and appearance. It’s not just having the right professional job experience; it’s exuding your abilities through your demeanor, influence, and business results. You’re sending the “right” signals to others so they perceive you as a leader.

5 Ways to Help Your Employees and Future Leaders Develop Executive Presence

  1. Help Them Assess Their Current Status
    Do they create a positive impression? Are they able to engage and influence others? Does their appearance and communication reflect a commitment to being remarkable? Be honest about it. The only way for them to get better is to have them look at their executive presence and realistically rate themselves to see what areas they need improvement. Use this free short assessment to get started.

  2. Help Them Develop Their Vision of Career Success
    Where do they want to take their career? They'’ll never get there if they don’t have a destination or goal. Help them develop their vision with the GROW model. 
    1. Goal: Begin with a destination. What job title or role do they aspire to? What would they feel if you achieved it?
    2. Reality Check: Take stock of the situation. Is this role realistic? How has their past job experience prepared them for this new vision?
    3. Options: Brainstorm possibilities. Brainstorm as many ideas as they can that would support their advancement to this role. What actions can they take to move forward?
    4. What’s Next? Move the action forward. What is one specific action they can take immediately to be ready for their new role? How committed are they to making this a priority?

  3. Assess Their Leadership Brand. Have them think of the top 6 to 8 words that best describe themselves. Are they known for being kind, direct, creative, focused, calm or passionate? How are they misperceived or misunderstood? Which single brand characteristic could they focus on to improve?

  4. Help Them Build Confidence by Seeking FeedForward. Confidence is built through greater self-awareness and truth talk. Unfortunately many people view feedback as “bad” and fear hearing what they are doing “wrong”. Teach them to seek FeedForward by picking one behavior they want to change or improve. Have the employee describe this behavior to a colleague and ask him/her for two suggestions for the future that will help them improve it. Have them listen to these suggestions and thank the colleague for the ideas. Have the employee refrain from commenting on what the colleague said or getting defensive about their suggestions.

  5. Help them Develop Integrity. Do they value honesty, directness, ambition, creativity, courage, facts, or a supportive atmosphere? Have them rank their top 10 values in order of importance from 1 to 10 and think of a time when their values were tested. Did they deviate from their values under pressure? What would they do differently if they could do it over again?

Once they begin to focus on developing their Executive Presence, they will find their voice as a leader. Their boss and peers will stand up and take notice when they do.


Tags: leadership development, leadership coaching, Executive Presence

Leadership Development and the Foreign Concept of Seeking Feedback

Posted by Conni Todd on Wed, Jun 22, 2016

cc_360_degree_feedback_programsIt is our experience from working with hundreds of leaders that the opportunity to actually seek feedback is a foreign concept. So much so that to really stand out today, a leader needs to learn to take charge of his/her own career and become more proactive in seeking feedback that is future oriented and given consistently.

What does a leader do to enhance his/her chances for growing and developing inside an organization? For many, this notion of leadership development means waiting for the annual or mid-year review process to see how the boss is feeling about their performance.

Accentuating the negative is easy to do. As human beings, our brains are wired for finding fault with performance and the feedback delivered tends to focus on what happened in the past. “This report is filled with errors and you need to do a better job proofing” may leave one feeling awful about their work and anxious about turning in future assignments. When this negativity bias is combined with a boss or leader’s desire to avoid actually giving the feedback to a direct report in the first place, we find leaders who lack a true understanding of how their boss feels about their performance at all (80% of the population is conflict or bad news avoidant).

The opportunity for making adjustments or leveraging strengths is harder to do when we don’t know how our boss feels about us or, if all we ever hear is what we did wrong. In the workplace, this approach rarely results in improved performance without negative consequence to relationships and culture. 

According to Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, if the intent of feedback is positive behavior change then “the focus should be on a positive future, not a failed past.” Being proactive by asking for feedback takes Goldsmith’s theory to a new level; seeking Feedforward is the differentiator
 that separates leaders who are extraordinary from those who are just ordinary!  

Why does developing the skill of actually seeking feedforward move you from ordinary to extraordinary?

  • It sets you apart from peers as someone who really wants to hear what you need to do to improve
  • It makes it easy for your boss to give you feedforward (very few leaders look forward to giving feedback on performance)
  • It allows you to set the boundaries for how feedforward is shared with you

There are 2 important steps to collecting feedforward:

  1. Ask directly for what the boss liked about the way you handled the situation (meeting, presentation, sales call, assignment, etc.)
  2. Ask the boss specifically what you can do to improve future presentations (sales calls, meetings, etc.) 

 “When you think of giving feedbacktry giving feedforward...focus on the promise of the future rather than the mistakes of the past”

--Dr. Marshall Goldsmith,

World’s Most Influential Leadership Thinker

Feedback is a gift when delivered in a feedforward fashion. You can receive such a gift simply by asking for it. Do so and embrace your road to extraordinary leadership. Let us know how it goes.

assess your feedback skills


Tags: definition of leadership, leadership development, 360 Feedback for Leaders

7 Bad Leaders Who Can Ruin Your Company's Reputation

Posted by Rebecca Dannenfelser on Wed, Jun 01, 2016

cc_difficult_conversations_004.jpgWhile our firm has the luxury of working with some really terrific companies around helping develop their leaders for the future, not every company understands the need to be congruent on what they say they want in their leaders' behaviors AND what they actually get in behavior. We are always amazed by the notion that some companies prioritize a leader's results over bad leadership behavior without even considering how this could affect the company's reputation in the long run.

We see this time and time again in the following illustrated examples:

  1. Leaders with 360 feedbeek results where direct reports fear reprisal or backlash for telling the truth, so they sugarcoat their real feelings about the leader's performance and impact 

  2. Team leaders who only think "I" instead of "we" and undermine the growth and development of the talent on the team by focusing only their own accomplishments

  3. Leaders who only know how to direct or tell their people what to do, not empower or problem solve dilemmas with future impact, treating their people like order takers, or even worse, like sheep

  4. Boorish leaders on a power trip who talk badly about direct reports who are not in the meeting

  5. Leaders who blame others instead of stepping up and taking responsibility

  6. Leaders who want to control every aspect of their functional area

  7. Leaders who bully or intimidate based on their power base
The impact this bad behavior has on your company is often hard to measure. You may fool yourself into thinking that as long as the results are good, everything is okay and that is the problem. Somewhere in your organization, right now, there is a person who reports to one of these difficult leaders and they are thinking:
  • Why do we even have a leadership competency model if we are not going to use it?

  • What is management thinking by tolerating, and even celebrating, this leader as a high potential?

  • How do I get out of here? It is time to look for a new job because they just don't care.

  • Why should I stay late to finish this project when my leader doesn't care about me?

We know that people do not leave companies -  they leave bad bosses. But you can bet when they are out in the community or have landed at another company and are asked about their employment at your company, they will talk about that bad boss and they will also show their anger and disappointment with your company.
 What are you doing to develop your leaders so that their behavior and their results are in alignment? Your company's reputation just might depend on your answer to this question.

  prepare for a difficult conversation in the workplace

Tags: leadership development, leadership coaching