How to Create a Breakthrough Strategy with CEO Coach and Author, Patrick Thean

Creating a Breakthrough Strategy with CEO Coach and Author, Patrick Thean

In this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast, I sat down with Patrick Thean to talk about how to create a breakthrough strategy in any organization. I loved my conversation with him and learned so many different insights, tools, and tricks. But before we get into the show, let me tell you a little bit more about Patrick.

Patrick Thean is an international speaker. He’s a CEO coach, and he’s a serial entrepreneur. He is a USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. His work has been seen on NBC, CBS, and Fox. Patrick was named Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 1996 for North Carolina as he grew his first company to number 151 on the Inc 500 (now known as the Inc 5000). And after a successful exit, he has been on a mission to help CEOs not fail— but instead build great companies and achieve their dreams. And I truly hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did, as Patrick and I discussed how we can create breakthroughs in our strategies.

Meet Patrick Thean, Entrepreneur, Speaker, CEO Coach and Author

Rythm: How to Achieve Breakthrough Execution and Accelerate Growth

Jenn DeWall (01:18):  Patrick Thean, it is so great to have you here today. Welcome to the Leadership Habit Podcast. I’m excited to gather– as the audience heard– your wealth of experience around organizations, businesses, and what it takes to build success. And today, of course, we’re going to be talking about how to create breakthroughs and your strategies, which I feel like anyone listening is probably like, yes, how do I do this? How do I look at them differently? How can I, you know, create greater results or have a greater impact? Before we dive into our episode today, I would love to just have our audience learn a little bit more about you. And so, could you go ahead and just give us your origin story, tell us who you are and how you came to be?

Patrick Thean (02:02):  Well, first, thank you so much for having me on your podcast. It’s amazing the podcast you do, and I’m so glad to be here. So thank you so much for inviting me.

Jenn DeWall (02:09):  You’re welcome!

Patrick Thean (02:10):  I am a serial entrepreneur, which means I’ve done this multiple times. And I would say that I started working at Oracle Corporation a long time ago, and then I started my first company right out of that. And my first company, we grew very fast. In seven years, we grew to about 25 million sales. We were Inc 500, we were 151 on the Inc. 500. And after seven years, we, we sold and we had a good exit. And the company was a software company in the supply chain space. Now, from the outside looking in, we looked really successful, but from the inside looking out, I felt like we were just running from one crisis to another crisis. And it’s kinda like we had a crisis, great, we survived, and then the next crisis. And then, oh my gosh, we survived that, too, within the next crisis season.

Patrick Thean (03:00):  Oh my gosh, we, we survived that too. And you string that together. Seven years went by, we became very successful. We sold the company. And I look back and I go, wow, how did that happen? And, and I, I’m just so thankful that we were successful. Like I said, from the world looking in, we were look very successful from the inside looking out, very stressful. So my learnings from that was that I had good strategies, but my problem was lack of execution, getting things right, getting commitments done. And so once I sold my company, and I live in Charlotte, North Carolina, by the way. And so lots of entrepreneurs asked me for help, and I did. And in doing so, I began to realize that, gee, I wasn’t as dumb as I thought I was! <Laugh> The mistakes I made, unfortunately, they were prevalent in a lot of other entrepreneurs who asked me for help as well.

A Quest to Help Companies Execute Their Breakthrough Strategy

Patrick Thean (03:50):  And around that time in 1999, an article came out on Fortune Magazine about why CEOs fail, or I should say why companies. The punchline is that the CEOs could not get their strategies executed. That was the punchline. It wasn’t for lack of strategy. It was poor execution. And I thought deeply about that and came to the conclusion that I totally agree. So that started a 20-year journey for me. Over the last 20 years, there has been my quest to really take a look at why companies fail and help them not fail, but succeed. And I totally concur that most of the companies I’ve met fail due to having trouble due to a lack of execution, which for me means achieving the commitments that they have made. So commit whatever you’ve committed to your customers, to employees. If you’re not achieving those commitments, then you have poor execution.

And poor execution comes back to you in, in the form of mistakes, rework. And ultimately, it hurts profitability. People don’t realize it, and they often think that they have a poor strategy, but oftentimes it’s just that they did not commit and do the work that they were supposed to do. It was really poor execution. So that’s my quick brief and, and I, I kind of lift the data, help CEOs not fail because the failure rate of CEOs and, and founders and presidents are really high. And so my, my, my whole focus is to help these folks not fail, but rather succeed and, and build great companies and achieve their dreams.

Jenn DeWall (05:27):  Well, and the first thing I want to say is, incredible success! And especially your vulnerability with talking about the fact that yeah, from the outside looking in, we looked great, but the inside we had to practice resilience. We had a lot of crises that we were managing around and that you kept, you know, overcoming. And I appreciate you sharing that one, because someone listening to this I’m guaranteeing might feel like the organization is, is also in a crisis in some way, or their team is in a crisis. The second piece that I love that you share is how to help CEOs not fail. And I think we do need to talk about the fact that failures do happen. You can’t have a breakthrough without them. They happen. And I, and I say that maybe because for the past few weeks, I’ve heard more people feeling like, oh my gosh, I failed at this and I did that, and you know, they will happen. That is a part of our journey as much as I know that US achievers do not like that. So I appreciate you just having that quest to even talk about failure or to talk about when things get tough, what do you do? And especially to those that are at the top that may not have the resources to be able to talk that through, because I can only imagine the pressure cooker that you and your clients are in when you’re talking about these things.

Before the Breakthrough— Everybody Fails!

Patrick Thean (06:42):  Yeah, it’s amazing. And, you know, everyone has failures every day. We have tiny little failures. Those are not bad things. Actually, I think we learn a lot. I learn a lot more from my mistakes and, and rather than from my successes. And so these tiny failures, what you wanna do though, is learn from them and do much, much better. So you don’t, you can avoid the massive failure, the massive failure where you have to like start all over. So that would be like the bad thing. But yes, I think that you know, I really believe by the way, that we should all strive to make mistakes. Because if, if you’re not making any mistakes, that means you’re playing too safe. That means you’re not pushing the edge. I had a CEO tell me once, he said, Hey Patrick, I really want you to come in here and help me with my creative process.

And he said, but I want you to do it in such a way that we don’t make mistakes, and I don’t want any waste. This, CEO, by the way, is one of my best clients as far as execution, getting things done, achieving his commitments, A + +. And I shared with him, I said, Hey, you know, in this case, I’m sorry, but creativity, innovation is kind of the enemy of efficiency. So if, if you wanna do a creative process, now is the time to actually not be efficient. But to accept that you’re gonna try a number of things. Some of these pre-strategies are gonna actually fail, and you’re gonna learn from them. But if you’re not doing that, then you’re not pushing the edge, then you’re not pushing it out there in your competition, I promise you will beat you. So if you wanna beat your competition and win in your category, you have got to be willing to put it out there, test some things, make some mistakes, learn quickly, and then execute very well.

Make Mistakes and Learn Quickly to Find Breakthrough Strategies

Jenn DeWall (08:26):  My, yes. Oh my, I feel like everyone needs that reminder because I think it exemplifies the growth mindset, right? Knowing that we’re gonna make mistakes, but it’s how we pick ourselves up and learn from them. But it also combats probably one of the biggest things that also might impact execution of strategy, I’m guessing ego. Yes. And our need to get everything right or feeling like we’re the best. But, you know, it gives you permission to soften your ego, or at least that’s how your message sounded to me.

Patrick Thean (08:56):  Yeah. Need to, you know, I’ll tell you, use it <laugh>. I’ll tell you, I a few years ago, my, my one of my employees shared me. He said, he said, Hey, Patrick, you know, we, we have, we we’re a great company and we were all rah-rahing about being a great company. And in my heart, I, I just knew we weren’t a great company. And, and so I stopped us. And I, I said to the team, I said, Hey, we’re not a great company. We’re a good company, but we’re not a great company because these are our performance numbers. Now we are in great, we’re a nice company, we’re great culture. Yes. But from a performance standpoint, if we would like to call ourselves a great company, these are the numbers we’ve got to hit. We’re not hitting these numbers. So I’m sorry guys.

Are You Really Great – Or Could You Use Some Help?

Patrick Thean (09:42):  We can’t be a great, we can’t call ourselves a great company. Now, when I shared that, I think a number of people who were stunned, they were stunned that, that me, the CEO would say that we’re not a great company, but we were not a great company. And I’ll share with you, we all like to think that we’re the best team in the world. I mean, I work with so many CEOs and all of them tell me when I walk in, they say, Patrick, you know, I have the greatest team. I have the best team. Well, the funny part is that if I have a hundred clients and all a hundred clients think that, that the best team, clearly 99 of them don’t, right? I mean, best means the ultimate bestest one. And I tell you, I just remember years ago, one of my friends and customers went to see a venture capital ABC group to get money to fund them this 20 years ago.

And I, I told him, I said, Hey Mike, do me a favor. When you go in there, just don’t say that. You have a great team. Don’t say that, okay? Everything else is great. And so you went in there, he did his, his presentation and he, he said he had a great team and they threw him out of the meeting. He called me later. He said, Patrick I said, we had a great team and they threw me out. I said, what, what happened? He said, well, he told me that if I had such a great team, then clearly I don’t need his money cause I got no problem to fix.

So the moral of that story is that we all have problems to fix. It’s okay. In fact you know, the faster we figure that out, the more time we have to fix it. So don’t be afraid of the mistakes you’ve made or being able to say, Hey, we screwed up over here and in this area we’re a great team, but in this area we’re a weak team. Oh, go fix it. It’s okay. But if you keep insisting that everything looks gorgeous and everything’s number one, you won’t fix your issues and you’ll not have great execution

Jenn DeWall (11:28):  Right now, I feel like you could mic-drop your podcast of what you just said. We all have problems to fix. And because I think you do see that in business where we don’t want to own our problems for a variety of reasons. We just don’t because it doesn’t feel good. But I love that point that you just made. If we all have problems to fix, make your mistakes so you can spend the majority of your time fixing those so you can be ahead in your market. I mean, we could end the podcast right there. We’re not going to, but we could. I love that insight,

Jenn DeWall (11:58):  So let’s talk about the problems that organizations can fix. And let’s dive into a little bit about the work that you do with rhythm systems too, because I would love to share more of that with our audience. How do you serve your customers?

Breaking Through the Ceiling of Complexity

Patrick Thean (12:10):  So let’s talk about breakthroughs. Because the, the customers that we serve, they tend to be mid-market firms. They, they tend to already have a, a stream of revenue and, and some number of, of employees. And most of them hit what I call the ceiling of complexity. Things are going well. And, but life begins to get complicated because of their success. So those are the kind of, those are the profiles of companies that we, we serve. We typically don’t serve companies that are, like, I had a friend call me and say, Patrick, can you help me with turnaround? And I said, no, we don’t do turnarounds. Now I could, I can do a turnaround, but that’s not what I’m a specialist in. And that’s not what we live to get up and do every day. So we really help companies that hit the ceiling of complexity and how do we punch through?

So I always get that question of how do we have the breakthroughs? So usually this is what happens. You have success, you get to a point where you are overeating from the buffet of opportunities. That’s the profile. You are too many good things happening. And as an entrepreneur. You’re not used to saying no to opportunities. It’s hard. But what’s happening now is that you’re so successful that you have so many opportunities that you can’t focus. So you take on 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 projects or priorities and your team gets scattered. You don’t have the resources to actually do them all. And so you begin to fail here and there and you kind of freak out. So my clients will all say, Patrick, how do we, how do we get, get breakthrough strategies,  and break through that ceiling of complexity? Does that resonate with you? Is that is this a good topic for us to talk about?

Jenn DeWall (13:48): Yeah, absolutely. Well, diving into understand that of the layers, because I can see that in many different businesses that I’ve worked in that their’s success and the overextension or, and I’m not, maybe how I would look at it is like the kind of overconfidence that comes from success that we can do everything and then find themselves. Yeah. You know, from an employee perspective, feeling like we’re chasing a lot of things and we can’t do anything. Well, or to me as an employee, I feel like I can’t even deliver my best work because I have no idea what the focus is anymore. <Laugh>. Yeah.

Breakthrough Strategies Require New Focus on Priorities

Patrick Thean (14:24):  I think the biggest challenge. Yeah, I think the biggest challenge is that as leaders, we are not used to saying no to opportunities. So when we’re a small company startup and all that, we say yes to everything. But then we get to a certain point where the opportunities are too small for us to grow to the next level. So we actually have to pause, say no to some of these things and really decide and be very intentional about when we invest our resources. Which are the top things we should work on? So we call visual priorities. So we want you to really figure out how to decide and choose the right priorities. Our research tells us that this is why companies get it wrong or I should say, this is why companies have to get it right. The first thing we got to do is we have to focus.

And so focus means you’re gonna choose, you’re gonna choose three to five big things to focus on. That’s what focus means. The second thing is that we have to slow down a little bit and achieve clarity. Clarity means that, look, I know what I’m doing, but you don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve turned it in my head a thousand times. So in my brain it’s crystal clear, but why don’t you know what I’m talking about? Well that’s because you’re hearing it for the very first time. So as leaders, we have to understand that like for me, I’ve turned it over a thousand times. But to my company, I’ve communicated for the first time, that’s not really fair, right? That I’ve turned it over a thousand times and I tell it to you one time and I expect you to know exactly what I mean. No.

So clarity, really slow down and give people the gift of time as in helping them understand, give them time and help them to understand clearly what we’re trying to achieve. So focus, clarity, and then we have alignment. You have multiple teams now cross-functional because your company’s now bigger. So how do we make sure that we’re all aligned and get these few priorities done? And finally the fourth item is accountability. Now that we have agreed or we’re gonna focus on how clear it is and how we’re now aligned to get it done, we got to now be accountable to get things done. And when we don’t get those things done, we need to be brave enough to say, okay, I am sorry I still wouldn’t get it done, you know, on this particular date, I’m not on track because if you say that, the team can now come together and figure out a solution and make the right adjustment so you can get back on track.

Create a Culture Where it is Safe to Ask for Help

Patrick Thean (16:44):  I think too many people are afraid to do that. Too many people are thinking, oh my God, I’m not on track here, but maybe if I can fix it in time, my boss won’t know. Well instead of doing that, why don’t we say I’m sorry I’m not on track. Who can help me brainstorm this so I can get back on track faster. I’ve got to tell you, the company culture has to accept this kind of behavior as well. Beause if you are in a company culture where you get smacked on the head all the time for, for, for having a problem, then obviously you’re not gonna bring the problem to the table, right? Cause your culture is telling you you can’t do that. The first thing you smack me on the head, I I’m, you smack the messenger. I’m not gonna give you bad news.

So I, I do think that what I’m saying sounds really cool. But what I’ve realized also is that oftentimes the company culture has to promote this kind of stuff. It’s easy for me to sit here and say, Hey, go ahead and make mistakes. But if you go out there and make mistakes and, and your CEO or your manager has a different attitude towards that, then I’m making your life more difficult, right? I’m not helping you. So I think your, your corporate culture, your work culture has to jive well with this kind of stuff.

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What Prevents People From Executing Breakthrough Strategies?

Jenn DeWall (19:05):  So you listed four areas of how we can get it right, how we can actually find those breakthroughs in our strategies, focus, clarity, alignment, and accountability. I wanna dive in a little bit more to each of them, but on the face of it, do you notice any one area that people tend to struggle with more? Or is it typically it’s all of them?

Patrick Thean (19:26):  I would say that all companies are different and people struggle different things. So it’s not one area that’s more you know, you for example, I’m, I’m a pretty vulnerable guy. I don’t mind telling you that. I’ve got challenges. And I always believe that my job is to walk in there and you know, I’m not trying to be the smartest guy in the room. So that’s not my problem. I have other problems. Don’t, don’t worry, I have the problem <laugh>, but, but vulnerability is not my problem. But for somebody else, you know, that might be a challenge. Some CEOs may say, Ooh, that feels icky. Why don’t I tell ’em all that? So I, I would say that it’s, it’s focus, clarity, alignment and accountability are four areas that I’ve, that most people will have a challenge in at least one or two of those.

Focus is About Learning to Say No

Patrick Thean (20:15): But let’s talk about focus. First. Focus I think is, is one area where it is hard to get right Because to me that just means a lot of people think that focus is where you say yes to, but usually for my client, they’ve already said yes to 10 things. So focus is really about saying no, it’s the reverse. It’s about saying no. It’s about saying, I got these 10 things that we restarted projects on and I got to shut seven of them off, or I got to shut six of them off. That’s the hard part is that I’ve, and by the way, it’s systemic. Cause I promise you people will say, well, let me at least get through this and I’ll prioritize later. No, cause you always see new opportunities. If you don’t start prioritizing now and understanding what is your top three or four. You are not gonna do that later either. So focus to me is at a tip of the iceberg. If you get focused correctly, then things begin to kind of flow out and and work for you.

Jenn DeWall (21:12):  That makes sense. I’m thinking. That’s where it starts. And I love the reframe in the mindset of focuses about what you say no to. But maybe I’m speaking from an experience of being an employee and watching someone be like, but we can do it all. How do you help the CEOs that do see so much opportunity maybe is it quieting that like scarcity mindset that comes up that if we don’t do it, we’re gonna miss out? Or how do you help them actually say and say no? Because I can still see one being like, but I don’t wanna, sure I still wanna do this <laugh>.

Patrick Thean (21:46):  So I, I think that there’s three answers really. I think that most of us have a binary mindset, yes or no. And that’s normal. Most, most people I meet, most executives I meet, most CEOs I coach have that binary mindset. And even for myself as I look at my own problems, I have a binary mindset. It’s easy for the doctor to see the problem in the patient less easy for me to see the problem in myself. But there are three answers. And the third answer is kind of the juice here is yes, no and later. So I’m not saying no to certain things even though certain things deserve a hard no that’s correct. But there’s certain things that you may just wanna say later.

Breakthrough Strategy # 1: The 13-Week Sprint

Patrick Thean (22:27):  This is why in our Rhythm process, we subscribe to a quarterly planning process. Create a breakthrough strategy one quarter at a time. So when we create a quarter a plan for the quarter, I call that a 13 week race. You got 13 weeks and a quarter. The only way to a great year, a four great quarters. And then the only way to have a four great quarters is to have one great one. And a quarter makes is made up of 13 weeks. So you got to go one great week after another great week and you string 13 great weeks together. So every quarter we wanna have the right discussions and have a plan of execution for that quarter. So what happens is around week four or five or six or seven, there’ll be new ideas and, and what a lot of people do incorrectly is they torpedo the current plan with the new idea. They go, wait a minute, this opportunity just happened. Let’s do it now. And I would say, no, let’s not do that. Let’s put it in the parking lot. Let’s execute this quarter.

Well and then when we come to the next’s quarterly planning cycle, let’s open up that parking lot. Let’s look at all the new ideas that got put in there and rank that against the other old ideas that we actually did not execute yet. Okay, now let’s do that and then choose the top three to five things that we wanna really focus on for this quarter. And I know it sounds boring, but every quarter just do that again and again and again. So you now have a place to put your ideas. And then you have a place to review your ideas against the old ones. Because sometimes people choose new ideas when actually they forgot about an old idea that was even more compelling. So getting to a rhythm of that allows you to free your brain up, execute on what you’ve already decided on, put things to this parking lot and review it every quarter as you plan and then choose the right things. So you always have the confidence that I’ve said yes, I’ve said no and I’ve said later, later goes into this bucket that I now consider with other ideas at the end of the the next 13 week cycle.

Jenn DeWall (24:29): Oh my gosh, I love that insight of how you can look at it, the 13 week sprint and even how you talked about the potential traps that can come up week seven or eight. There’s the shiny object. Yes, but next new idea and put it into that later. Yeah. And know that you can get there, but finish what you started. Maybe I’d say, and

Patrick Thean (24:47):  By the way, one other trap since you mentioned what trap, one other trap that happens which is why I really care about a 13 week cycle sprint actually. And every week to me is important. But what happens if you don’t look at yourself on a weekly basis is I have this goal and I don’t know how to do it. So I didn’t touch it. And then suddenly a month went by and so it’s now my monthly review. I look, I go, oh crap, I haven’t made movement over here. So usually around week 5, 4, 5, 6, that’s when a goal that you had at the start of the corner, you suddenly wake up and go, oh crap, I haven’t done anything yet. Now unfortunately it’s a 13 week sprint, so you’ve just lost four or five weeks, you don’t have 30 weeks to do this anymore.

Patrick Thean (25:31):  Now you have a more compressed time. So this is why pro tip here would be every single week, starting from week one, you wanna see how you’re doing according to your goals, against your goals for the quarter. And if you see anything that you don’t think is working, you wanna identify it in week one, week two, week three. Not wait till week 5, 6, 7, 8. Because usually that’s what happens is so many people wake up and go, oh my gosh, a month has gone by. Oh my gosh, a month and a half has gone by. Oh my gosh, half my quarters gone and I haven’t started yet. Right? That’s part of the problem too.

Breakthrough Strategy # 2: Gaining Clarity About Desired Results

Jenn DeWall (26:06):  Oh my gosh, I love that insight. Okay, so we talked about focus, finding two to three things and sticking with it for your 13 week, week sprint, committing to it. Now we move into clarity. And what I really appreciate that you said earlier is that I might not have said it in this way or I want to communicate that. And so how do you set clarity or how do you make sure that what we set out to do is very clear for everyone that’s involved in the process? What insights can you share with us?

Patrick Thean (26:33):  So you know, Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. What does he say? He says first one of his seven habits is begin with the end in mind, right? Begin with the end in mind. And I subscribe to the fully. I think that lots of people don’t know how to begin with the end in mind. So you may say, Hey, let’s go to the trade show. Let’s go do this trade show. Okay great, let’s go. Well no, that’s not a goal. Let’s just go into a trade show. And so beginning with the end in mind means we’ll be to say something like, Hey, we’re gonna go to this trade show. We’re gonna meet a hundred people. And if the a hundred people wouldn’t take five meetings that are meaningful to us, right? So now you’re describing clarity. Now I’m creating a vision of what I expect.

I believe that most people don’t take the time to actually discuss what that goal really means. What it really looks like. You have to visualize it. If you can’t see it, you can’t do it. So when you see it, you have to be able to describe it now. And so we use a regular green process. Green is actually the goal. So you would say something like, Hey, we’re gonna go to this conference or this trade show and we wanna meet a hundred people and create five meetings. Okay? So that’s my green goal, that’s my goal. Okay? Now then the next step is I say tell me if I’m gonna spend money, let you go to this trade show. What is a minimum level of performance I should expect for my, the return on my money? And you may say, okay, well let, let’s say I at least come back with two meetings.

Would that be okay Patrick? Then we negotiate on that and I’ll say, okay, two is fine. Anything less than two is unacceptable and we agree on that. And by the way, anything less than two is unacceptable. It also means it’s failure. That doesn’t mean I’m gonna fire you, but you should just acknowledge that anything less than two meetings in this case is failure. Not good. You shouldn’t have to ask me later whether that was good, because it’s not good. So then between red and green is is yellow right in between. And then a stretch goal, those all our A players want stretch goals. A stretch goal that will make me Super-Duper happy is if you came back with 10 meetings instead of five. That’s just wonderful stretch goal. So now you’re set up for great clarity. You know what your goal is. Come back with five meetings.

Breakthrough Strategy # 3:  Conversations Create Clarity

Patrick Thean (28:38):  You know that coming back with less than two meetings makes me unhappy and I feel like I wasted my money. And then if you wanted me to be super happy, come back with 10 meetings, right? That is really clear now and you can visualize it. So that’s our process of saying take the time, slow down, talk about what that looks like and then now we can talk about it. You can say, well Patrick, it is impossible for me to come back with 10 meetings. Okay, well why do you say that? And then you tell me and I’ll go, oh, maybe you are missing X, Y, or Z, right? So we can have this dialogue and suddenly your brain opens up and that’s where the breakthroughs happen. The breakthroughs happen in the discussions. It’s in the discussions where I think I have a block here, I don’t see how I can do ’em one in five or six or seven. And then we talk about it and go, oh my gosh, I just saw a way to get there. That is a breakthrough. So how you set your goal, how you discuss it for with clarity in mind really determines whether or not you’re gonna be able to get a breakthrough.

Jenn DeWall (29:41):  Yeah, I really appreciate the parameters or the constraints that you put into place. Whether it’s this is, you know, green, this is our goal, this is super success over here, this is our red where we don’t wanna be. But then you actually are doing the work to describe fully what that looks like. Which I feel like

Breakthrough Strategy #4: The Gift of “Red”

Patrick Thean (29:59):  By the way I call, I call this, The Gift of Red <laugh>. I call it a gift because if you’re in a meeting and you, you can see that you are performing at a place below that you can actually put your head up and say, hey this particular goal I’m working on right now, it’s red, I know it’s unacceptable performance so I need some help who can help me get it up beyond red. And one of my clients shared with me very recently, she said, Hey Patrick, this is amazing. You know, before we met you, we actually did not have a language to say words like failure or unacceptable. She said, in fact, I don’t think you’ve ever told anybody here that any level of performance is unacceptable. And I laughed and I said, but you thought it right?

She goes, yes, I’ve thought it, I’ve thought that this level’s unacceptable, but I’ve never had a language to share that in a way that that that isn’t demoralizing. Right? And she said, Patrick, you’re just giving me that gift. Like this is the goal. This is unacceptable. So I call that the gift of red because if you know that you’re, what I’ve known is, is this, nobody comes to work looking to fail, okay? Right? People don’t wake up in the morning turn to the significant other and say, Hey honey, I can’t wait to go to work and screw up and off my boss. Right? No, nobody wants that. So what happens is that if you are begin to do poorly, the gift of red happens where you can actually say, look, I’m not doing well. Help me, help me so that I can perform and not fail here and get above the unacceptable level. So people tend to self-manage themselves away from red. I call that the gift of red who works really well.

Breakthrough Strategy # 5: Aligning Goals

Jenn DeWall (31:32):  I love the gift of red. So now let’s talk about probably the next big challenge with a lot of strategies that alignment. How do you get different? I mean because I feel like from again, the chair that I sit in, you can easily see competing siloed or departments saying, well my goal and my goal. So how do you work with organizations? How do you actually get alignment around a

Patrick Thean (31:54):  Strategy? So what’s really important is that the company at the very top level needs to have the top two priorities. And then we all in all the different departments need to align our work with that. Now we can have the trade off discussion. You know, we have to put on the head of the company to say, it’s not my goal or your goal, it’s the company being successful. Most life is getting very complicated. So most of these priorities today, they’re really enterprise-wide or I should say they’re cross-functional. It’s almost impossible now to get anything major done that isn’t cross-functional. So what I’ve found is that a lot of companies have to learn how to do that. A lot of people aren’t used to that. A lot of people are used to more of a command and control for me to get this done, I need these resources.

What I’m used to saying, well Jack over there has resources that Jack can help me and he’s not under my commanding control, but that’s okay. Jack can help me with that. So this is what we call cross-functional collaboration. In our process we make sure that each department shares their goals with each other. So you know, not just what your goals are, but what the other team goals are and then you know how to, how to help each other, right?

Breakthrough Strategy #6: Accountability is the Key to Any Strategy

Patrick Thean (32:56):  And then the last one as you know, is accountability. So accountability is we had a red, yellow, green process that we just discussed just now. So accountability is being accountable to are you going to hit the green, yes or no? And if you don’t think you are, let’s discuss it and make the adjustment. And to do that, sometimes it’s what I call a spicy discussion. You know, it’s a tough discussion, it makes you sweat, but then when you have it, you feel much better than the other party benefits as well. So you got your alignment and then you wanna be accountable to it and have that spicy discussion early when you see that something’s not working out and then you want to collaborate. So that’s, that’s how that all works together. The whole focus, clarity, alignment, and then accountability.

Jenn DeWall (33:41):  I mean, what I loved, even from the, the alignment of what you just shared is having a conversation sitting down so people are aware of other organizations or departments’ goals just so you can understand how you could potentially collaborate or work better together. But in terms of the spicy conversations, I know I feel like it almost is important to follow your process because if you do the focus, the clarity of understanding what those expectations look like, then it almost de personalizes it. So it maybe isn’t as spicy. At least that’s how I see this working is that it could be a much more productive conversation.

Patrick Thean (34:15):  Yes. All those things help you so that you can have that spicy composition. Cause it’s hard, right? Like I’m afraid to have that conversation because I’m gonna hurt somebody’s feelings. Well yes. But but wouldn’t it be better to help the person succeed? Yeah. Wouldn’t that person be more grateful if you helped him or her succeed? And to do that, oftentimes, unfortunately it takes a spicy conversation. It takes the, hey I this isn’t working and, and by the way, we’re wasting time here so let’s talk about it, right? Let’s talk about it. So that’s why I call those spicy conversations cause it’s hard. It makes you kind of sweat and you don’t really wanna have it. But then it’s like, you know, actually this term came from meeting one of my favorite foods in Singapore called [inaudible], which is a very spicy dish. You kind of eat it, you drink more water, you eat it again, you drink.

Patrick Thean (35:04):  I don’t know why it’s so spicy, but you keep eating it because it tastes so good. You drink water, you wipe the sweat, you continue doing that. These conversations are the same thing. It’s like I don’t really wanna have this conversation with you because I don’t wanna hurt your feelings. So let’s try and say in a way that doesn’t hurt her feelings. Okay. But once I’ve done that, it’s like, oh it wasn’t so bad after all, I can wipe, I sweat away, drink some water and let’s go again. So that’s why I call them spicy conversations cause it’s spicy, but it’s so good after that.

Where to Find More from Patrick Thean

Jenn DeWall (35:32):  I love that. Hey, embrace the spicy conversations. Thank you so much Patrick for all of your insights. Whether it’s the four areas that we can focus on to actually find and create those breakthroughs. I feel like you dropped a lot of different considerations and I just wanna say thank you so much and thanks for encouraging a vulnerability b open communication and to even have the spicy conversations because you’re right, so many organizations fail, but they have so many opportunities to get it right. And thank you for coming on the show to help them get it right. And I have to ask in closing, how can they get in touch with you? How can they find out more about what you do and how you work and how you operate or buy your books? How can they get in touch with you?

Patrick Thean (36:11):  Yes. So you can definitely buy my book on Yes. The Rhythm: How to Achieve Breakthrough Execution and Accelerate Growth, the book it’s Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller. But it come to my website and scroll down and take the organizational effectiveness test. It’s a free test for you or free assessment for you. They can take and check and see, you know, what are things that you can improve on. So thank you very much again for having me on your show. I, I appreciate it and a wonderful time today.

Jenn DeWall (36:39):  Yes, thank you so much Patrick. I loved our conversation and good luck to everyone out there on their strategies. Hook up with Patrick, head on over to There you can find out more. Thank you so much again, Patrick. Until next time, hopefully we can have you back.

Patrick Thean (36:53):  Thank you.

Jenn DeWall (36:54):  Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of a Leadership Habit podcast. If you want to learn more about Patrick or if you want to take that complimentary organizational assessment that he offered, you can head on over to It’s Patrick— p a t r i c k t h e a n dot com. There you can find more about their systems speaking purchases, and books, and then take that organizational assessment. And of course, if you enjoyed this podcast or know someone that could really benefit from hearing these areas to focus on to get great breakthroughs, share this with them.

And don’t forget to leave us a review on your favorite podcast streaming platform. And finally, if at Crestcom can help you in any way develop your leaders so you can achieve greater results and retention, reduce turnover, improve engagement in workplace happiness, head on over to We would love to talk with you. And there, you can also find complimentary resources such as white papers and eBooks, and you can also find out about our complimentary monthly webinar. Until next time, have a great day everyone.