Executing Your Vision, Part One

Trent Dunham interview with Martin West

My good friend Martin West runs an organization that, in essence, helps other organizations be better at what they do. And he’s been an incredible coach to Dunham+Company for quite a long time now.

In a recent episode of The Dunham Podcast, we talked about his gift for helping organizations go from simply maintaining the status quo to reaching their full potential.

Here’s a portion of our conversation:

Trent: Martin, tell us about your company, how you got there and what you do.

Martin: I was in the Air Force as a fighter pilot, but I didn’t want to go into the airlines. I did the fighter pilot thing for 15 years and loved working with people. So I started a company, and the focus was helping people execute their vision.

XGAP, our business name, is short for “Execution Gap.”

In the beginning, the main focus was execution, and we did that for 10 years. I call that the “smart side” of the equation. You know, determining goals, execution, and strategy.

The first big change that came was the way I represent our logo. I draw an arrow that says the plan and a smaller arrow which says current performance. The gap between the plan and current performance is the “XGAP.” Now, the way I represent that is today’s performance versus tomorrow’s potential. Performance and potential – the gap between the two is the XGAP. And the first ingredient is defining your goals and objectives.

Then there is what I call a healthy side of the equation – human dynamics within a team. It’s not just about goals and execution; it’s also how cohesive the leadership team is.

Today, we put more energy into this ingredient than the goals and execution. We do them both, but we definitely do the healthy part first. We use a model called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Pat Lencioni. It works!

Then, three years ago came the next shift. This last little anecdote explains probably the third, and in my view, the final ingredient that’s critical when you’re talking about how to help a team go from performing to reaching its potential.

This third ingredient came about when I had been traveling back and forth to Atlanta every month to help a client there. We got to the end of our three-year engagement and had truly helped them with smart and healthy goals. But what really struck me in the last three months of that engagement was that the leader needed to improve. The leader, who had now become my best client and my friend, was the limit on that organization’s performance.

I started to use language that hinted at that. I said, “The team has improved out of sight, this is fantastic.” Now, I knew the team quite well by then. I’d had three years of working with them and their teams. And all the signs were that this leader needed to change. He needed to improve as a leader. There were certain people on the team he had not built a strong relationship with, to the point where some days he would do a video conference meeting, even though he was only 30 feet away in his own office.

So, I started offering feedback on what I was seeing and hearing of him, saying, “You really are where we need to put the energy and effort to help this whole organization.”

The leader had become the limit. Unfortunately, those conversations didn’t go well.

So today, right up front, we say those three things to clients. “If you’re going to close the XGAP, you need to have your goals in alignment, a healthy leadership team, and ensure that your leader never becomes the limit.” And we have some effective methods behind that.

For more insight on how your organization can reach its highest potential, be sure to listen in on The Dunham Podcast episodeExecuting Your Vision with Martin West.

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