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An Interview With Leland Sandler- Executive Advisor At The Sandler Group

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Leland Sandler is an Executive Advisor and Managing Partner at The Sandler Group, a management-consulting, and executive advising company that focuses on improving the business aspects of the global life sciences and technology communities. Recently, The Sandler Group was the recipient of the San Diego Opera’s Adventure of Advancement Award which acknowledges The Sandler Group’s work in leading its staff on a quest to create a culture of transparency and an environment of success. Here is our interview with Leland Sandler:


Q: What is the role of an executive advisor?

A: The role of an executive advisor is to be a sounding board, a facilitator, and a coach. It is someone who is authentic and direct with a client. For instance, my CEO clients almost all tell me that it’s lonely at the top. They’re looking for someone they can trust and someone who’s going to be objective with them. That is what I do.

Q: What differentiates The Sandler Group?

A: There are 3 things that differentiate The Sandler Group from other executive advisory services.

1) We are about change, and I mean real change, permanent change, not the kind of change that’s short-term, but a way in which a person literally shows up differently.

2) We are about metrics. All the work we do needs to have specific outcomes that we hold ourselves to. We discuss that with the client on the front end. We measure throughout the process. We measure at the end.

3) We are about the establishment of internal structures to support long term improvement and growth. We don’t want them to become dependent on us. We want them to have sustainable systems so that change becomes part of everyday life.

Q: What do you mean by “real change”?

A: Fundamentally it’s about creating a permanent change in individuals, teams, and/or organizations.When executive advising works, an individual or team literally changes their way of being. They show up differently. They approach things differently. They literally think differently about different situations and people.

As an example, if you were to have an issue around listening, part of the issue is you may see the situation as someone either being threatening to you or they may not have the right point of view, whatever that happens to be.

After working with an executive advisor, those same individuals are looking at the situation and seeing things as possibilities, people having different points of view that have merit, taking different perspectives. It’s really a more complex way of looking at the world.

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Q: What sort of clients do you tend to work with?

A: The Sandler Group’s clients are primarily senior executives, mostly with CEOs in the life sciences world, technology, and environmental sciences areas where there is typically some kind of disruptive change. Disruption is something that is impacting probably all of my clients.

Q: What do you mean by “disruption”?

A: By disruption, what we mean is there is a level of complexity that a client is no longer successfully dealing with. By complexity, we look at a variety of different things. For instance, the challenges that they face and the answers they need to come up with, are often well beyond what they are prepared for, so they need to start doing some things differently.

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Q: How do you recommend best dealing with disruption and complexity?

Most importantly is asking different kinds of questions (as opposed to questions that typically want to confirm our understanding of things). We often find it difficult to deal with different perspectives and point of views. Trying to entertain too many options is a level of complexity that is beyond many of us

To do so requires different kind of questions that invite different ideas and ways of thinking. Examples include:
• “Tell me a little bit more about that.”
• “I’m not sure I understand.”
• “What do you mean by that?”
• “You know, I’ve never really thought of it that way. Tell me a little bit more.”

The idea is we want these executives to get to the reality of the situation which is more and more often complex.

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Q: Finally, how would you describe the process that you use in your executive advising work?

A: Every client is unique, but our general process is the same. It starts with a focal issue. What I mean by a focal issue is we ask our clients, “If you could change 1 thing that would have the greatest impact on your organization, your team, and yourself, what would that 1 thing be?”

Once we’ve identified the focal issue, we go into a series of questions that probe very deeply as to what’s actually getting in the way. In other words, what are they doing now versus what they would like to optimally do? Then we get to the heart of the matter: Based on what they’re doing now, what’s that blind spot? What’s that obstacle that they’re not getting past, that causes them to repeat the undesirable behavior? Those blind spots are based on assumptions, and that’s the key for us. Once these assumptions are identified, we start going after them. What we want to do is to prove to the client that the assumptions that are driving his or her sub-optimal behavior are not fully valid. In fact, in many ways, they’re not valid at all.

The way we do this is through a series of practices and tests. Much like someone who plays tennis or golf, if you want to get better, you’ve got to practice, and you have to practice the right way. For each client, we design a series of practices that help them not only start acting in a better way, but gets them to once again recognize their assumptions that are driving the behavior just isn’t true.

The end result is a significant and lasting change in the client.

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