Leadership Development

The McNeil Executive Leadership Development Program


The McNeil Executive Leadership Development Program evolved from the work of Will Schutz, Joseph Campbell, and Elsie Y. Cross. It’s based on the fundamental belief that leaders are in service to others. We view leadership as a journey that begins with a deep understanding of one’s calling to become an executive leader.

The journey begins with increasing the leader’s self-knowledge through individual and group work. The individual work is done with the leadership coach; the group work is done in the context of the leader’s team, the matrix, and the organization. We help managers to become reflective practitioners as they practice the requirements of leading others.

Leaders have to manage the paradox of working on themselves while working in and on their teams. Specifically we help leaders to develop a diagnostic mentality that combines curiosity with rigorous testing.

We focus on the behaviors of:

Inclusion – the engagement of others. Leaders learn to help others to contribute, collaborate, feel significant, speak their truth, raise their voices when necessary and add their unique perspective to the work of their team.

Control – Sharing power while setting expectations of self-determination and responsibility to the others on the team comes with diligent and focused practice. Leaders learn their own preferences for control and how these preferences lead to predictable patters of behavior. They learn to model the culture that they want to see expressed across their team.

Openness – Being available and present to followers is a key skill for leaders. Learning to be strong and vulnerable while inviting truth telling and different perspectives requires practice and self-awareness. We help leaders to cultivate an atmosphere where people can talk candidly, and reflect their own authenticity, while solving difficult problems.

The McNeil Executive Leadership Development Program explores the concept of leader defensiveness and how it plays out to short circuit the effectiveness of the leader in both the short term and the long term. Defensiveness reduces trust, increases passivity, engenders fear, and creates norms of behavior in groups that limit productivity.

Defensiveness itself is often based on irrational fears that can be overcome through increased self awareness and focused practice on behaving differently in these situations. Our mentoring helps leaders to discover their defensive routines and replace them with new ones that encourage openness, authenticity, risk taking and celebration.

Real Skill Development

In addition to becoming more aware of how to communicate more effectively and behave differently, we help leaders learn a series of unique and specific skills that build upon each other and increase ones effectiveness.

We emphasize all of the following:

Learning to Read the Communication Style of Others

We make use of our Life Orientations Program to emphasize these skills. LIFO (Life Orientations) gives the “golden rule” a new twist. Our leaders learn “to do unto others as they want to be done unto.” LIFO is strength based and helps leaders recognize their own strengths with the understanding that the over use of their strengths can lead to difficulties in communicating with others.

The Ability to Read Group Behavior

This is probably one of the most underdeveloped skill areas for leaders. Our program specifically develops these skills in a specially designed experience for the leader to learn about group dynamics, group development, and how to intervene effectively to keep groups on track and productive.

Meeting Design and Facilitation

Facilitating while leading is extremely difficult. Most leaders shouldn’t attempt it and yet most do, often with returns that are less than satisfactory. Our program teaches meeting design as a skill set as well as how to work with a facilitator so the leader can focus on content while reading and seeing the dynamics play out.

Productive Difficult Discussions

Conflicting with others is a normal and natural part of leadership. Getting good at differing and negotiating while maintaining attention and composure are complex skills that require focused practice. Our program emphasizes practicing these skills while learning to overcome our fear and defensive reactions.

Building a High Performance Team

Teams are now the basic units of our organizations. Building and sustaining a high performance team is now a requirement of leaders. We make use of the Drexler Sibbet Team Performance Model in our mentoring program to help leaders develop the language of teams, while working with their own team’s dynamics. The model describes help the leader to know when to intervene, and the practices we teach help the leader move his or her team to high performance. As the leader works with the team, we work with the leader to work on the team.

Specifically this means:

•       Setting the Vision

•       Assessing the Environment

•       Embracing current reality (As Is)

•       Clarifying the results (To Be)

•       Developing, aligning and executing the business strategy

Contracting and Customization

The McNeil Executive Leadership Development Program is a valuable part of a leader’s development plan. Leaders join with us for a year of work, consisting of individual sessions and group work sessions. The program includes individual mentoring, focused skill practice at work, receiving feedback and direction, journaling, and creating a portfolio that can be presented upon completion of the program. It is customized for each individual leader based on our contracting process with the leader and the leader’s sponsor.


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The Leadership Fundamentals Workshop

The Leadership Fundamentals Workshop is an intensive Leadership Experience that makes extensive use of The Human Element; a FIRO based Leadership Development Program. We make the assumption that effective leaders can be developed through a process of self-discovery that leads to self-awareness. Our work derives from three basic assumptions:

1.       Self-awareness – Leadership is enhanced when leaders are aware of how they behave towards others and how others behave towards them. Leadership behaviors are also informed by a leader’s feelings and his or her belief about the self. Self-esteem is fundamental to effective leadership and to the foundation of a confident and effective leader.

2.       Truth telling – Effective, strong leadership is also founded upon being vulnerable enough to tell ourselves and our superiors, peers, and employees the truth. The ability to cultivate managerial courage to see current reality and to speak candidly and forthrightly about issues, performance, and goals is a critical skill that can be developed and refined.

3.       Choice – All leadership is a choice. We choose to lead, we choose what we say and do, and we choose to accept the consequences of our choices. This infuses those we lead with energy and personal responsibility. Our peers and our direct reports also choose to follow us. We can also choose to be thought leaders in our organization, continually looking for ways to improve our presence and our productivity.


At the completion of the Leadership Fundamentals Workshop each participant will be able to:

•           Discuss their personal insights about their behavior, feelings, and self-esteem through the use of the Element B, Element F, and Element S instruments.

•           Demonstrate an ability to give and receive feedback from others and show an increased ability to be more transparent in their interactions with others.

•           Design leadership meetings based on the FIRO* behavioral concepts of Inclusion, Control and Openness.

•           Identify and discuss their personal defensive preferences and reactions that get in their way as leaders and derail their efforts to get the most from the people they lead.

•           Show an increased understanding of group dynamics and illustrate ways to intervene in ineffective group processes and procedures.

•           Apply the skills learned in each session to actual work situations and journal their experience in applying their learning.

•           Practice in each session the two most important behaviors of leadership: Feedback and Disclosure.

•           Discuss how the behaviors of Inclusion, Control, and Openness have a direct impact on the feelings of Significance, Competence, and Likability.

•           Recognize ineffective group processes, i.e. defensiveness, triangulation, blaming etc., and make appropriate interventions to improve teamwork.

•           Draw and discuss their individual Leadership Lifeline indicating significant events, mentors and experiences that have helped them to their present leadership position.

•           Create a personal action plan to further develop their leadership skills and contract with others in the workshop to support their proposed actions back at OFFICE.

•           Apply the Levels of Openness and Listening to real conversations and improve their relationships with their superiors, peers, and employees.

•           Apply their new understandings of self and leadership to critical business situations, e.g. designing and running productive meetings, influencing others, conducting effective performance reviews, holding meaningful career development discussions, mentoring employees, reading group dynamics and making effective interventions.


The Leadership Fundamentals Workshop is conducted as a five-day intensive workshop. Meeting are scheduled periodically with homework in-between each meeting. Participants are encouraged to practice applying the skills with the other participants and back on the job. We offer the workshop as a five-day intensive experience delivered over the course of three months. The leaders learn new skills and practice them. They discuss their experiences in applying the skills and refine those skills that need extra attention. Individual consultation is also available between each session. Often, Senior Executives are invited to the workshop to offer insight and perspective in applying the skills in the office environment. All experiences in the workshop are voluntary.


The scheduling for this workshop is flexible. Contacting includes working out a schedule that fits the needs of the participants.

Individual Consultation

Between sessions, each individual will voluntarily have a private consultation with Robert McNeil to cover any questions, concerns, observations, suggestions and feedback.


Click below to learn about our LIFO training. 



LIFO® Training Helps People Manage Their Strengths

LIFO® Training focuses on strengths — on what’s right about leaders, teams, and individuals. It begins by identifying each person’s basic orientation to life and work. Based on this information, itoffers powerful learning strategies for greater personal productivity, increased influence with key people, and more effective teamwork.

The LIFO® method has been used for over thirty years in 56 countries and territories around the world and in 24 different languages.

McNeil Consulting Inc. offers a oneIday training program to focus on a using an applied behavioral science system that fosters individual and organizational productivity. It begins by identifying the individual’s basic orientation to life, or personal style. Based on this foundation of selfIknowledge, it offers powerful strategies that enable individuals and groups to be more productive in their work and more influential when dealing with key people. The LIFO® Method unlocks the hidden potential of individuals and teams to achieve maximum performance by exploring how people:

  • Work together

  • Value individual differences

  • Make decisions in good times and when times are stressful

  • Implement their plans

  • Manage their time

  • Deal with stress

  • Work on teams

  • Lead teams

  • Prefer to be rewarded and encouraged

    The feedback will give everyone unique insights into how they behave under different circumstances. Guided by our consultant, the managers can explore how to make more of their strengths, recognize what prevents them from achieving more and how to minimize ineffective behavior. The feedback also points the managers towards ways of getting on better with other people and how to make the most of their strengths.

    The feedback can have a powerful effect on everyone. Because the feedback is completely objective, people feel comfortable discussing the survey findings and their implications and developing positive ways to respond to each other’s strengths, supported at every step by our consultant.

Click below to learn more about LIFO

Why LIFO and Not Myers-Briggs? 

Less Typecasting and More Behavioral Change

Styles-based instruments are popular training tools because they reduce the complexities of human behavior down to a manageable number of “types” or “styles.” They give people a feeling of quick insight into themselves and others. They provide a common language for talking about similarities and differences.

Yet some of the best learning possibilities inherent in these instruments are often overlooked. And sometimes these instruments actually reinforce stereotypes that limit our understanding of people.

Personality Types versus Strategies for Change

Most styles-based instruments are based on the assumption that differences in behavior arise from different personality types. This belief can be a barrier to behavioral change because a personality “type” is fixed— it is not subject to choice or change. People say to themselves, “If that is the way that I am, if that’s me, why should I change?” They may even wonder, “How can I change?” Typing people provides them with information about who they are, but it does not offer them guidelines about how to improve their performance.

LIFO® Training takes a fundamentally different approach from typing or labeling. It holds that you are not one type or another: it demonstrates that people prefer some behavioral styles more than others. Though it begins with a styles-based instrument, it does not typecast people. The LIFO Survey describes differences in behavior, rather than perception and judgment as does the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator® (MBTI® instrument). People are willing and able to change what they do. Perception and judgment are much less amenable to change.

To support the emphasis on behavioral change, the LIFO style labels end with the suffix, i-n-g. This suggest a process, not a fixed “product.” For example, people are described as “preferring the Supporting Giving Style,” or “acting in a Supporting Giving way.”

Preference Not Competence

The LIFO Styles also describe behavioral preferences, not competencies. Participants are not labeled, judged, or limited by their survey results. Labeling someone with a personality type can become an excuse for substandard performance. (“I’m no good at that— I’m just not that type of person.”)

Freedom from Categorical Judgments

In LIFO Training, differences in behavior are described quantitatively, not qualitatively. There is no reference to good or bad, right or wrong, strong or weak. Qualitative or categorical judgments often lead to oppositional thinking— “my way” vs. “your way”— which can promote conflict, impede teamwork, and make people less willing to change their behavior.

The LIFO Survey identifies a person’s relative preference for four basic behavioral styles or patterns. Everyone uses all four basic behavioral patterns. They just use them to varying degrees. Of the people taking the LIFO survey, 55% prefer using two styles regularly, while 31% use three styles and 5% use all four styles with about the same frequency. That leaves only 9% preferring to use just one style most of the time.

The MBTI yields a single, four-word “personality type” label, which is a constructed by selecting one word from each of four word pairings— for example, “Extroverted Sensing Thinking Judging.” These labels are determined by a process of “semantic differential,” in which one rates oneself on a scale with one word at one end of the scale and another word at the other end. MBTI results are represented in terms of the words at the extreme end of the scales, which form either/or categories (such as “introvert vs. extrovert”). The resulting “personality types” do not adequately express the wide range of behaviors in between the two extremes. This approach transforms quantitative differences into categorical differences.

With enough training, labels such as these may help people understand themselves better. However, these labels still encourage people to think, “That’s just how I am”— reinforcing attitudes that can block real behavioral change. As a result, it can increase communication gaps between people instead of bridging them.

A Quantitative View of Strength Leads to Greater Behavioral Change

In contrast to the categorical labels of the MBTI approach, LIFO theory views behavior along a continuum, from “too little” at one end to “too much” on the other. The notion is that we all tend to underuse some strengths and overuse others. Either extreme can make us less effective and can be perceived by others as an irritating weakness. LIFO Training eliminates the concept of personal “weakness,” which creates a defensive learning climate. What other people call weaknesses are seen simply as excesses, or strengths carried too far. These excessive behaviors may be unproductive, but they are not “bad”— they are just “too much of a good thing.”

For example, a person may overuse the strength of acting quickly and become impulsive. Another person may overdo the search for excellence and become perfectionistic. The LIFO approach to describing behavior in strength-based terms allows people to accept developmental goals and receive feedback with a minimum of defensiveness. 

LIFO developmental strategies help people identify which strengths they need to use less frequently and which to use more frequently. Workshop participants develop action plans for gradually changing their behavioral patterns so they display just the right amount of the appropriate strengths to accomplish what they want effectively and efficiently. Since almost everyone needs repeated practice to change established habits, this incremental approach makes it easier for participants to progressively master new ways of viewing and responding to people, problems, and situations.

Any approach that is based on categories— especially personality types— makes it much harder for people to change their behavior. Personality theories propose that the way one behaves springs from who one “is.” As a consequence, people are likely to feel that in order to change what they do, they have to change who they are. This of course is a recipe for failure.

Strength-Based Feedback is Easier to Accept

A quantitative view of strength also makes it easier for people to give and to receive constructive feedback. When people are frustrated or irritated by others, they typically use pejorative terms to describe what bothers them: “Bill is domineering,” “Sally is stubborn,” or “Jeff is aimless.” If these kinds of words are used when giving feedback, they trigger defensive reactions and create resistance to change.

In LIFO workshops, participants learn to view unproductive behaviors as the excessive use of productive strengths. A person who comes across as domineering is simply being overly directing, someone who is acting stubbornly is being too steadfast, and someone who appears aimless is too experimental. With this understanding, people learn to give strength-based feedback, in which they recommend that others use a little bit less of some strengths and a little bit more of other strengths. This strength-based feedback is much more likely to be perceived as helpful and supportive. People are therefore more likely to accept and act upon it.

Sixteen Types versus Four Styles

There are sixteen different MBTI personality types. It can be difficult for workshop participants to remember the meaning of each type, let alone understand the differences between them. The complexity of the categories makes it hard for people to learn how to recognize other people’s “types” and therefore determine the most effective communication strategies for influencing them. In contrast, there are just four basic LIFO behavior styles, or orientations to life, which are much easier to remember. This conceptual simplicity follows the psychologist George Kelly’s “mini-max” principle: any behavioral construct should include the minimum number of concepts required to explain the maximum range of behaviors.

The simplicity of LIFO theory does not oversimplify the diversity of human behavior. In fact, it does a far better job of explaining the extraordinary variety of ways that people behave. It does this by identifying a person’s relative preference for the four basic LIFO categories under both favorable and unfavorable conditions. Yet the smaller number of concepts makes it easier for participants to learn, remember, and apply the information in practical ways that improve their performance.

LIFO Style Preferences are Situational

The word pairs that form the MBTI semantic differentials are not presented in any context. You simply rate yourself in the abstract. In contrast, the LIFO Survey is highly contextual. When taking the survey, you are asked to think of yourself in a particular setting: at work, with your family, or as part of a specific group. The survey itself consists of a series of statements that describe different situations. After reading each statement, you rank four possible reactions according to how likely you are to act that way in that particular situation. The choices that you make are therefore much more concrete— much more connected to how you actually see yourself responding to people, problems, and situations.

People Behave Differently in Different Situations

In contrast to the fixed labels of the MBTI approach, LIFO style preferences are not set in stone. They are dynamic. People use different styles in different contexts and in different relationships. For example, research shows that approximately 50% of the population changes their behavioral patterns in stressful situations. People may also use different styles at home and at work, or with their supervisors and with their coworkers. Any instrument that yields a single “personality type” is therefore inaccurate predictor of how most people will actually behave in the real world.

Beyond Diagnosis to Improving Performance

LIFO workbooks, training materials, and performance support tools enable participants to link their LIFO Survey results to six performance improvement strategies to attain clearly defined development goals. These materials focus on applying information to improve performance, rather than on information for information’s sake or, even worse, labeling people so that their behavior can be predicted. Predictions tend to be self-fulfilling, and once a person has been labeled, his or her options for behavioral change may actually be reduced instead of expanded.

Everyday Language, Practical Focus, and Ease of Administration

LIFO Training uses everyday language, free of psychological terms and jargon, making the concepts easy to understand and to discuss. Contrast the LIFO style label “Supporting Giving” with the MBTI label “Introverted Sensing Feeling Judging.”

The LIFO instrument can be administered in just 15 to 20 minutes. Workshop participants can tabulate their results in about five minutes. The LIFO Survey can also be completed online in advance of a workshop and automatically tabulated, saving valuable classroom time.

Because of its systematic structure and practical focus, LIFO Training is easily grasped and immediately useful. It provides a cognitive map for getting through, getting agreement, and getting action from others. Participants learn to give strength-based feedback about behavioral choices and their impact. They learn a language for discussing individual, interpersonal, and team performance issues while respecting diverse values, goals, strengths, and styles.

Proven Results with Worldwide Acceptance

LIFO Training has benefited over eight million people in more than 20,000 organizations worldwide. It has proved itself to be a valuable part of management and supervisory development with target populations varying widely in educational background, work experience, and organizational position.

Multiple Applications

LIFO Training is used in numerous applications, including team building, management and supervisory development, leadership training, interpersonal communication, diversity training, and conflict resolution. The three most popular LIFO Training applications are:

Break the Performance Barrier enables participants to:

1. Build confidence and self-esteem by understanding and appreciating their styles, strengths, and uniqueness.

2. Avoid overusing their most preferred strengths so they don’t waste time and energy or have a negative impact on others.

3. Fill in their blind spots and provide a wider perspective in planning and solving problems.

4. Become more versatile in their approach to people and problems.

Bridge the Communication Gap enables individuals and teams to:

1. Become more effective in getting through, getting agreement, and getting action when dealing with key people at home and at work.

2. Improve their communication with people who are different from them by matching their approach to the other people’s most preferred ways of communicating.

Build Collaborative Teamwork enables teams to:

1. Inventory team strengths.

2. Utilize individual differences for greater participation.

3. Control team excesses to avoid wasting time and resources.

4. Overcome team blind spots so the team can see all sides of problems and make unbiased decisions.