news2use | March 2021

After the many comments last month about the Abraham Lincoln story, I could not resist the temptation to share one of Lincoln favorite stories about the freedom fighter and revolutionary war veteran, Ethan Allen.


It was right after the revolutionary war and Ethan Allen went to London to set up new working relationships with the King of England and his government.


He was invited to the townhouse of a great English Lord. Dinner was served, drinks flowed freely and as time passed, Mr. Allen needed to visit the WC, or water closet as Lincoln called it.


Upon entering the WC, Allen discovered that the only decoration was a portrait of George Washington. Ethan Allen did what he went to do and returned to the drawing room.


His host and the others were disappointed when Allen did not mention Washington’s portrait in the bathroom. Finally, his Lordship could not resist and asked Mr. Allen if he had noticed Washington’s portrait. Allen said that he had, and his host probed further and asked if it seemed appropriately located.


“Indeed, it did,” Allen replied.


His host was astounded, “Appropriate you say, Washington’s portrait in a water closet?”


“Yes,” said Mr. Allen, “Where it will do good service. The whole world knows that nothing will make an Englishman shit quicker that the sight of George Washington”.


Ethan Allan saw Washington’s portrait in the WC, but he did not see it as an insult. He saw it as an inspiration.


Whether the story as told is true or not is beside the point. It reminds us that there are multiple meanings (and opportunities) to the creative and innovative mind.


In this issue, we will look at the problem with small rocks, creating strategic strengths in your team, and the importance of executive guardrails.


Enjoy your March news2suse!




“Relevant & pragmatic ideas, tools and insights to play at your best.”

For You

Have you ever led a presentation, asking for more resources or a bigger investment from the executive team and came away empty handed? If so, you are not alone.

I have sat in on many management meetings where people came in to present their project, their needs and their aspirations for more resources and were swiftly, or in some cases, not so swiftly, turned down.

All too often the presenters, with legitimate needs, were talking about small rocks.

Try this and you will get a feel for what I am talking about. Pick up one or two small rocks, the size of a small diamond. Put them in your shoe and walk around a bit. Now, even with those rocks in your shoe, you can wiggle and waggle and find a spot where the rocks are not so painful; it is not ideal, but you can keep on walking.

Now take those two little stones out and replace them with two much larger stones, try two stones about half the size of a golf ball. Regardless of how agile you are with your toes; you are not going to find a place that feels comfortable walking around. It is just too painful. You must do something, like removing the stones or getting much bigger shoes.

Now, back to the executive team presentations. All too often, people present for more resources based on their needs, at the team or department level. This is like a small rock in an executive’s shoe. He or she hears your pain, maybe even feels for you, but they do not see the bigger pain points and think if you just work a bit harder, or a bit differently, you will make it work.

The next time you go to the executive team asking for more of something, stress the big rocks, meaning the consequences or the implications of your problem or deficiency and what it will cost other departments, your brand, or your customer experiences. Executives now have a big rock in their shoe and feel the pain and will be more willing to do something about it.

Keep this in mind, small rocks, and big rocks. One we can tolerate and keep walking, the larger rocks, we cannot.

For You & Your Team

How strategic is your team? Are you as strategic as your top management and stakeholders expect you to be? This is common theme in my individual and team coaching projects, with people often saying, “Our VP doesn’t think we are strategic enough,” or “We’ve been told we have to become more strategic,” yet with little concrete guidance.

Years ago strategy was reserved for the top, but this isn’t the case today where teams, at all levels of the organization, are asked to be operationally effective AND more strategic.

If this sounds familiar to you, here are three things you can do to help your team become more strategic:

1) At your upcoming team meeting, ask everyone to share the most strategic decisions the team has made in the last 60 or 90 days. See what people come up with. Then ask everyone, why did you consider this strategic? You will get comments like it has a longer term impact, risk is involved, involves a lot of people, influences a lot of people, stakeholders are very interested in the outcome and so on. This gets your team members thinking more about strategic decisions and actions. You can set up a scorecard to track the progress of your strategic team decisions.

2) Ask the people and the teams around you, “In what ways do you think our team could become more strategic and have a bigger influence on the business?”, and take these findings back to your team.

3) Lead a brainstorming session, ask the team to imagine it’s 2024 and they have been very successful. Ask them to look back and identify the priorities and changes they made to be recognized as successful and strategic team in the business. What did you do differently than you are doing today?

We are all being asked to be more strategic and I’d be very interested to hear how you and your teams are rising to this challenge.

For You, Your Team & Your Business

Executive Guardrails

Most of us think of  guardrails as a strong fence or barrier at the side of a road, strategically placed at dangerous points to reduce the risk of accidents. We can thank Samuel R. Garner as he is credited with the U.S. Patent 1,905,377 in 1933 for the highway guard rail.

Leadership teams can benefit from what I call executive team guardrails, designed to help teams stay safe, stay effective and focus on what only they can do.

Let me give you three examples of executive guardrails:

  1. Leadership Team Purpose enables the leadership team to develop a sense of meaning, something that all members can take ownership for. Occasionally, an executive says, “Our only purpose is to make money.” Money is never a purpose, but the result of some higher, more meaningful purpose.
  2. Unique Team Contribution is the guardrail that clarifys the scope of the executive team. Without a clear and aligned commitment to stay true to the executive team’s unique contribution, it is very easy to go off the road and down one or more rabbit holes.
  3. Standards of excellence (S.O.E.) differ from team to team. They are explicit rules of engagement within the executive team. They define acceptable behaviors and describe what is not acceptable within the team. Without S.O.E., it is impossible to hold people accountable to high performance behaviors.

There are a few other executive guardrails that help leadership teams play at their best. You can install guardrails around decision making, roles and responsibilities, conflict and strategy creation and implementation.

Many executive teams do not have executive guardrails as I have described above. In fact, 90% of executive teams do not have a system for continuous improvement in their executive team. If you do not commit to a system for continuous improvement in the leadership team, it is impossible to do so for the overall business.

If you are interested in learning more about creating executive guardrails so that your leadership team can stay safe, stay effective and focus on only they can do, refer to chapter four in my recent book, Executive Ownershift, Creating Highly Effective Leadership Teams.

People, Places & Technology

If you are interested in working closely with me and a small group of high-performance peers who, like you, want to maximize their potential as a leader, one of my leadership growth labs could be of interest to you.

The Leadership Growth Lab is made up of five to six professionals, often coming from diverse companies and industries and who share a desire to accelerate their growth as a leader and results for their business.

None of us is as smart as all of us; you will grow faster—with fewer wrong turns and much more enjoyment—leveraging the insights you develop in the Leadership Growth Labs. Throughout your growth lab cycle, you will get personal advice, practice sessions and strategic business exchanges on topics that matter most for your leadership success. For more information about my leadership growth labs click the link, drop me a mail or ring me at +49 172 862 5123.

When you join a growth lab before March 31, you will receive this program for 33 to 50% off the normal price, details in the link above.

Thought for the Day

“You can’t go back and change the beginning,

but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

– James Sherman


Contact Information

Dan Norenberg
Wensauerplatz 11
81245 Munich
Phone: +49 172 862 5123

About Dan Norenberg

Dan Norenberg improves leadership performance and organization results through Executive Ownershift®, his transformational growth process for executive teams. As a trusted advisor, consultant and professional speaker, Dan’s mission is to enable executive teams and their organizations to play at their best.