About Dr. Alan Weinstein

Alan Weinstein is a coach to CEOs, a college professor, a consultant, and an entrepreneur. Alan received his Ph.D in Industrial Psychology from Wayne State University. He has held professorships at Carnegie-Mellon University, Oakland University, and Canisius College. At Canisius, Alan was the Chair of the Management & Marketing Department, founded the Center for Entrepreneurship the Institute for Family Business. In 1988, Alan co-founded LaserTron, an entertainment company that manufactures and manages laser tag court games. The company is currently headquartered in Amherst, NY. In 1992, Alan started the first TEC/Vistage group in Western New York. He now chairs two CEO groups, and a KEY group. In addition, Alan created The Executive Edge, LLC., a company focused on Executive Coaching, Alan led his consulting company, Alan G. Weinstein & Associates. which specialized in organizational development, corporate training, team building, group facilitation, team building, and strategic planning. Alan also worked closely with several not for profit cultural organizations to create a collaboration, enabling these organizations not only to survive financial hardship but to flourish artistically. He has served on several Boards of Directors including Perry’s Ice Cream, LaserTron, Stride Tool, EGW Associates, and North American Health Plans.

Transferring Ownership for Problem Solving

Dear Coach Alan,

My name is Martin, and I am the president of a software company. A year ago, I hired a chief information officer, Bob, who lives about an hour from our home office.  Bob did not want to move, and he convinced me that he would be able to handle the commute to work. He was highly qualified, and I accepted his commitment. Over the past few months, Bob had accumulated excessive snow days, claiming he was not able drive to work.  When I called this to his attention, he claimed he could work from home on these days and meet his obligations to oversee ongoing projects and support his staff.  I was not convinced that he was unable to drive to work.  I was also concerned about his ability to carry out his work obligations from home.  I also felt, he was setting a bad example for his staff, mostly millennials, who showed up every day for work.  I was very upset, and I called him into my office, pointing out his failure to meet his commitment to me and the company.  This meeting did not go well, and he became defensive rather than accepting his responsibility to show up for work. I don’t want to lose him, but I will not accept his failure to show up for work.  Can you help me to resolve my dilemma with Bob?

Dear Martin,

We need to identify a different way that you can deliver your message to Bob.  Your direct confrontation led to a predictable response of defensiveness.  When people perceive themselves as being under “attack,” even when justified, they will try to protect themselves.  One suggestion is to transform the tension between you and Bob into Bob’s internal tension.  This can be done by clearly communicating your expectations, based on Bob’s previous commitment and the importance of his being present at the office. Then contrast this expectation with his performance, which falls short of expectations.  By asking Bob to resolve this discrepancy, he will be faced with resolving the dilemma that you are experiencing.  Hopefully, he will come up with a resolution that you will find acceptable.

In summary, shifting the tension to Bob will engage him in problem solving. By placing ownership of the problem and its solution on Bob, he is less likely to become defensive and feel more obligated to resolve the tension between expectations and his performance.

It is probably not wise to make any accusations regarding his taking advantage of the company or arguing about whether he can be effective working at home. This is likely to create defensiveness. Stay focused on the desired outcome, and let Bob come up with a solution for how he will change his behavior.


Using Constructive Tension to Create Change

Dear Coach Alan,

 As senior VP of administration, I have been given the responsibility to consolidate the accounting and integrate the IT functions of a recent acquisition.  My staff has been meeting with the accounting and IT staff of the acquired company, but progress has been very slow.  My biggest frustration is that the staffs we are working with report to their president, and he is not supporting our efforts to integrate these functions. He appears to like his own accounting and IT systems, which he helped to implement.  I have approached my CEO about this, and he assured me he would talk with the president of the acquired company.  I know my CEO does not like conflict, and I suspect he has avoided confronting the president. At the very least, I believe he has not been clear in conveying how important it is that the president support these changes. We have a deadline, and I am concerned that we will miss it at the current rate of progress.


Well George, you are in a difficult situation.  The first question I have for you is this:  how clear was your CEO with his new president?  If, as you claim, your ability to influence the accounting and IT departments is being compromised by the lack of support from the president, your CEO needs to step up and provide a very clear goal and firm deadlines. Given your assignment, you need your CEO’s help.

The key to your success rests on the acceptance and collaboration of the president in support of the changes you are attempting to make.   Since you are not in a position organizationally to get his support, this influence needs to come from your CEO.  The challenge for you is getting your CEO to obtain the support of the president.  From a coaching perspective, you will need to challenge your CEO by creating positive tension between the changes that are needed, including specific goals and deadlines, and the current reality of failure to make progress.  This tension needs to be strong enough to motivate your CEO to set very clear objectives with the president.  Failure to do this will lead to failure to reach your goals.  This is unacceptable.

Managing upstairs is never easy.  By helping your CEO to feel the constructive tension, you will have given him a strong reason to influence his president to support your goals and deadlines. You will have also helped him to shift his own tensions from a reluctance to confront the president to the need to bring him on board.  Finally, you have also set the stage for the alignment between you, your CEO, and the president.  This is a necessary step to assure success.


Risk, Stress, and Entrepreneurship

Dear Coach Alan,

After 30 years, I am feeling a great deal of financial risk and stress in my role as both owner and CEO of my company. Here are a few examples of why. I was named in a lawsuit where my company was not even involved but listed through association.  I have a major customer who is slow in paying invoices.  And, several of the projects I expected to begin are being delayed due to both political and market conditions.  Am I just becoming a worrier or should I be thinking of reducing my stress by selling off assets and or streamlining my company?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Bob

Dear Bob,

Being an entrepreneur always involves risk.  You are not unusual in worrying.  Many articles have been written on how scary it can be to own and run a company.  The first question I would suggest you focus on is “How do I manage risk–and the stress that goes along with it?”

Let’s look at each of the challenges you mentioned and put them into perspective.  With regard to the lawsuit, what is your situation regarding insurance?  Is your insurance company defending your case, and is it taking care of legal fees?  It is fairly common for lawsuits to list everyone with resources. This does not mean you will be liable for compensating the plaintiff.  While a lawsuit is certainly distraction, you need to let the legal process take care of this case.

Your slow-paying customer is cause for concern.  How confident are you that this customer will honor his or her commitments?  Does this customer have a rationale for withholding payment?  Are you able to manage cash flow until they pay their bill?  One thing you may want to do is check out the financial health of this company.  If healthy, perhaps a payment program can be worked out.

Sales based on projects pose special challenges.  In my experience, unlike products and services that are in continuous demand, projects are often put on hold based on economic conditions and organizational support.  If these projects are approved and funded, you should be able to get input from the customer on when they will be initiated.

In short, each of these concerns requires more information to assess and mitigate the risks.

To address your question about selling off assets or streamlining your company, as your coach, I would process each option with you to see how they would change your company and stress levels.  Will selling off assets or streamlining your company decrease your stress?  You will still be leading a company with sales challenges, slow payers, and potential lawsuits.  The real question you need to answer for yourself is “At this point in my career, am I willing to take on business risks?”  You may simplify your company and be fine with less risk.  You may also be able to take cash out of your business by selling some assets, giving you some financial security.   Or, should you be considering selling your company and doing something entirely different?

Entrepreneurs like you are exceptional.  The risk you are willing to take on creates value to customers, jobs for employees, and community support through the taxes that you and your employees pay.  You have lived with this risk for many years.  But in that time, your tolerance for risk may have changed, and now you will need to decide what is best for your company, your stress levels, and your financial secu

Pricing: Communicating Value and Customer Retention


Dear Coach Alan,

I have a customer who has asked me to do more work for his company but refuses to pay more for the additional work.  This customer is on a contract for a specific number of hours per week. When I asked for more money for the additional work, he responded that I should not increase my price but manage the work more efficiently. He even told me that I needed better time management on his job. I would like to retain this customer but not at the current fees he is paying.  His fees are well below my normal fees for similar service. What should I do?



Well, Sam, this problem has many facets.  I am not sure whether your customer truly believes you are not delivering valued service for what he is paying you or whether this is just a negotiating tactic to keep costs down.  What is clear is that you are struggling to retain a customer who is demanding more service than you feel are warranted under the current fee arrangement. It seems that you have two choices if you want to retain this customer.  The first choice is to restructure the pay agreement to reflect the extra work.  This does not seem to be working. The second choice is to redefine the work to meet your current pricing model.  In other words, offer a reduced service at the customer’s current fee arrangement.  To accomplish this, you may be able to remove services that the customer does not want to pay for.

There is a larger issue here.  You pride yourself in offering a high level of service and bill accordingly.  Not all customers are willing to pay for this level of service.  You must choose between how to retain a customer who wants a lower price and firing customers who do not want to pay what you feel is fair. It is not possible to satisfy all customers with one level of service.

But, here is your real dilemma:  you have stated that you want to retain this customer.  You also state he is reluctant to pay you what you believe is the market price for your services.  There seems to be a gap between how you value your services and how your customer values your services.  Is it possible that this customer cannot differentiate between what you offer and what some competitors offer?  If your customer perceives no difference in service between your company and competitor companies, then he will likely go for the lower price.  Your task is to clearly differentiate your service from your competitors.  If the customer wants less than what you offer, you can choose to offer a lower level of service at a reduced price and retain this customer.  Or, if you choose not to reduce your level of service, you might consider suggesting the customer hire a competitor.

From a coaching perspective, it is important to ask the right question.  Sam is emotionally involved and sees his dilemma as a customer who is cheap or does not appreciate the high level of service his company provides.  He has a problem stepping back and viewing the situation more objectively.  This is where coaching matters.  By probing and reframing the situation, Sam will be able to decide among several options: whether to attempt to educate his customer to appreciate his company’s high level of service, reduce his level of service and lower his price, or suggest the customer move his business to a competitor.  These are strategic alternatives that depend on how Sam wants to run his business. Once Sam is clear on these alternatives, he is in a much stronger position to resolve his dilemma.



Partnering to Create Change

Dear Coach Alan,

I have an employee who is brilliant at calibrating machines and creating new techniques to improve machine productivity.  He has come up with a way of reducing the cost of wear parts while decreasing the cycle time for finished products.  This is a precision grinding operation.  He believes his technology has the opportunity to greatly reduce costs of production.  His supervisor is skeptical because this employee has not collected enough reliable data to justify the significant investment needed for his innovative technology.  The employee is frustrated and is complaining that the company is too slow in implementing his innovations.  I believe this employee is on to something, but I am not sure how to intervene.  Is this a problem that coaching can help solve?

–Randy K, CEO


Randy, you are indeed fortunate to have such a talented innovator in your company.   In my experience, technical innovators are much like artisans:  they create new technologies and expect others to appreciate their work. They are often frustrated when implementation goes too slowly.  In your case, there is skepticism and a reluctance to make the capital investment until the technology has more data to support its adoption.  It is my understanding that your employee is not familiar with experimental methodologies or data collection.

From a coaching perspective, I see a talented employee whose assets include innovation and whose liabilities include a lack of sophistication with data collection. In order to realize the value of his innovation, change is needed.  The question is, what kind of change is needed?   If I were working with this employee, here is how I would approach change.

After completing an assessment profile of your innovator, I would work with him to develop a balance sheet of assets and liabilities.  It is important that this employee become aware of his liabilities and what he needs to do to manage them.  In this case, we know he lacks data-collection skills to assure management that his new technology will realize the gains he suspects it will.   A reasonable approach may be to find a partner for him who is familiar with data collection.  By partnering with a credible data-collection expert, the skeptics will have the data they need to decide how effective the new technology will be in reducing costs.  If successful, this will validate your innovator.  If not, he will need to continue to perfect his technology until the data support his claims.

One other suggestion is to have a joint coaching session with your innovator and his designated data-collection partner.  Getting these two employees to work together will greatly enhance the success of the initiative.  Group coaching should reinforce the importance of collaboration and of each partner appreciating the contributions of the other.  This can be a win/win initiative rather than one fraught with conflict.

Changing Leadership Style

Dear Coach Alan,

I am the CEO of a growing service company.  My role is to network with potential customers and keep us strategically focused.  A couple of years ago, I reorganized my team and promoted one of my executives to be our COO.  His role is to run the day to day operations.  Recently, I have gotten complaints about the COO from one of his executives, who is feeling stifled.  He is complaining that the COO is too controlling, and he is feeling a lack of support for what he is trying to accomplish.  Others who report to the COO seem to be satisfied with their relationship.  The executive who is complaining is very talented, and I don’t want to lose him.  How can I help my COO to improve this relationship?



Dear Tom,

The need to control is common to many task-oriented executives.  They perceive their role as achieving goals, and they sometimes push their team members rather than lead them.  Let me clarify this statement.  Effective leaders try to bring out the best in their people.  They understand that different people have different needs, and they try to individualize their approach with each executive.  In your situation, it appears that your COO is taking a one-size-fits-all approach to leading his team.  This has created tension between him and at least one executive who seems to need more autonomy and support from his leader.

You can help your COO by helping him to become aware of how his leadership style is creating tension that is counterproductive for one of his executives.  The challenge to your COO is whether he will be able to work with an executive who rejects his controlling style. My questions to you are, “How aware is your COO of his leadership style and its consequences?” And, “Is your COO willing to change his style to improve his relationship with this executive?”

If your COO lacks awareness of how his style impacts others, you might consider a program designed to help leaders gain insight into their leadership style and its consequences.  Several programs offer this, and one that I am comfortable recommending is The Center for Creative Leadership.

Once he has been made aware of his leadership style and how it impacts others, will your COO be able to commit to the changes that you want him to make?  This is where coaching can help.  You can help your executive to create a goal that encompasses the changes you would like to see him make.  The tension to close the gap between his current style and the desired leadership style needs to be strong enough to motivate him to change.  If it is not and he holds on to his current style, you will be faced with a dilemma to remove the COO or continue the dysfunctional relationship you are trying to resolve.

In my experience, many executives have a deep-rooted need to control, and, while they may voice a desire to change, they will continue to control, to the detriment of their team members.  Their control will stifle growth and initiative in others.  If your COO is able to change, your company will benefit.  If not, you will need to find a COO who can lead your company in a way that enhances the effectiveness of its key executives.

Managing the Financial Cost of Change

Dear Coach Alan,

My company is in the middle of a major change in strategy.  We have made a commitment to dramatically improve our product quality so that we can compete in new markets and attract new customers. As a result of this change, last month we had the largest loss we have ever had as a company.  I am fearful that more losses will undermine the financial health of the company and freak out our bank, possibly leading to a pullback on the line of credit we need to finance our change.

I can attribute our loss entirely to the expenditures needed to improve our products.  I am also convinced that this change will lead to higher sales and profits. However, this gives me little consolation, and I am anxious to a point that I am coming down hard on our sales team to step up their efforts to sell.  I am also beginning to scrutinize every expense, cutting back on all expenditures that are not essential to our business. I need some help on how to cope with the financial and emotional stress this change is taking on me and my company.


It seems like you are in what psychologists would describe as an “approach/avoidance conflict.” You have a goal that has both positive and negative consequences. In your case, as you advance to this goal, you are experiencing the financial pain of getting there. This is causing you anxiety and stressful reactions to the very goal you are trying to accomplish.

Tom, you are beating yourself up over losing money. But are you really losing money?  As your coach, I would ask you to reflect on your situation by asking you the following questions.

If you had planned and had been aware of the true cost of this change, would you still have moved forward?  And, if so, how would you have budgeted for these expenses?  In your case, it appears that you were not adequately prepared for the expenses related to the changes you are making.  And, you are financing these expenses out of your normal operating budget.  If you had budgeted the change separately and compared related expenses to this budget, would you still feel like you were losing money?  Or, would you realize that these expenses are part of an “investment” that needs to be evaluated on its own merits? Another question I would ask you is whether you have identified milestones and time lines for implementing change.  Project management techniques will help you keep track of both costs and time to market for your new products.

The above questions are based on three coaching principles.

The first is to identify positive tension. If the strategic goal for change is fully embraced and the current product strategy is not tenable, then you have the motivation to move forward.  Knowing what you know now and by reflecting on your current financial losses, asking yourself to rethink how you would have budgeted and managed for this change will have the effect of doing the preparation that you had not done originally.  This reflection would allow you to separate the expenses of the change from your normal operating expenses.  It would also offer you a method of tracking milestones and timelines that would cause delays and additional costs. In coaching terms, you would be reframing what you consider to be a loss to what it really is: an investment with a separate budget and time line. Reflecting and reframing will allow you to track both your normal operating expenses and your investment expenses.  They should also ease your anxiety over losing money. And, instead of putting pressure on your sales team to sell more, you might seek their commitment to implement the changes you are planning for.  They will need training and resolve to put your new “investment” strategy into action.

I have found that your situation is not that uncommon.  Mixing development costs and operating costs can greatly mask what is really going on financially.  To reduce confusion and truly reflect the cost of change, businesses need to budget for change in a way that clearly separates the cost of change from the rest of the income statement and thereby reduce confusion and concern. This will in turn help executives like you avoid displacing their frustration on employees to work harder when they should be engaging employees to embrace the forthcoming change.

Your situation is a good example of why executive coaches need to understand business.  Without awareness of how budgets work, coaches will not know how to ask the questions that bring clarity and resolution to dilemmas like yours.

Coaching Resistance to Change

Dear Coach Alan,           

I am the CEO of a professional services company with offices in cities in the Northeast and Midwest.  Several years ago, before I became CEO, one of our managers had moved from headquarters to a regional office with the intention of growing that region.  Since then, the corporate strategy has changed, and we would like that manager to return to headquarters.  He has resisted moving back to headquarters for family reasons and continues to pursue the old strategy of acting as regional manager. This is a touchy situation because he also leads one of our areas of business.  To complicate matters, his business area, which has potential to grow, has been stagnant in recent years.  My question to you is, how do I get this valued manager to return to headquarters and focus his efforts in growing his area of our business?

Dear Bob,

It appears you have three issues that need attention.  The first is the changing role of this manager, and the second is the growth of his area of the business. The third, moving back to headquarters, is more complicated, and I will address that later. The first two issues could be taken separately, but they are interrelated.  So, I will reframe your challenge from the perspective of your corporate strategy. It appears that the manager in question has not bought into the changed corporate strategy of assigning executives to lead and grow areas of your business rather than oversee territorial regions.  I am assuming that this strategy has the backing of your leadership team and that you are charged with implementing it.

From a coaching perspective, the goal of business growth needs to be established with specific targets and outcomes.  Closing the gap between this goal and the current level of business is the challenge that your manager needs to focus his efforts upon.  He needs to be crystal clear in understanding that he is responsible for this growth, and his performance will be measured on his progress in attaining it.  It is his responsibility to come up with the plan to do this.  He needs to do the “heavy lifting” in executing this plan, and you need to provide him feedback and support for it, once you are confident that the plan is workable.  Your role going forward is to monitor, offer feedback, and continue to encourage your manager to stay focused on reaching his goal.

Is it possible to separate your manager’s return to headquarters with growing his area of your business?  I ask this knowing that location is usually a personal matter and that a move may disrupt his life with regard to his family.  However, he should be made aware of the impact of his location on his growth plan and any other costs incurred because of his location.  Can he execute his plan if he remains at his current location?  Will he continue to interfere with the regional office that no longer reports to him?  And how will the travel and other costs resulting from remaining at his current location be accounted for?  As a business leader, he needs to be aware of these matters, and as the CEO, you need be sensitive to his personal situation.  You may be setting a corporate precedent that could incur very real costs if he does not relocate to headquarters.  This is a corporate decision that should be made intentionally by your leadership team.

Ultimately, you are responsible for your corporation meeting its planned goals.  This means holding leaders accountable for that growth. You are also responsible for maintaining a healthy and supportive corporate culture that accommodates personal needs whenever possible and feasible.  The clarity of your role and that of your leadership team is crucial in running a successful business.



Should I Hire My Son?

Dear Coach Alan,

I own and lead a profitable company. I am 55 years old, healthy, and have lots of interests outside my business. I see myself retiring in the next 5 to 7 years. My question is, should I hire my son and develop him to take over my business? My son is 29 and has a good job. He has expressed interest in someday joining my company. But I have heard horror stories about sons entering into a business with their father, and I am concerned about damaging our relationship.

Is it worth bringing him on board, knowing these risks?

                                                                                                                                                         –A Concerned Dad

To my readers: I will be responding to this question from the perspective of a father and son. This could have as easily been a mother and son or daughter, or a father and daughter. My response would not be materially different in any of the above scenarios.

Dear Concerned Dad,

It is natural to want to bring your son into the business. This is a great succession plan for you and your son. There is a great deal of comfort in handing over the reins of the company to someone you trust and who can carry on your legacy. It is also comforting to know that your son will have an opportunity to earn a good living and continue to grow the company that you founded.

That being said, you have good reason to be concerned. There have been some very difficult battles fought between father and son in the same business. They have not always turned out well. The transfer of leadership and ownership is difficult in itself; family dynamics add a whole new emotional dimension that needs to be carefully orchestrated. To start, you need to be certain that your son has both the passion and the ability to succeed you. Once this has been determined, you will need to create a developmental plan so he can learn the business. This plan should include both leadership and knowledge of the business. Five to seven years is a good lead time to accomplish this.

A coach can offer guidance through the transition in a number of ways. First, there is the decision of whether to hire your son. Does he have the “right stuff”? I am a strong advocate of using assessments to measure a variety of personal attributes, including personality, leadership style, intelligence, and critical thinking skills. You may also want to have conversations with your son to assess his passion for the business–or at least his willingness to eventually lead it. Of all the opportunities that present themselves to an intelligent and resourceful young man, is your business where he really wants to stake his career? While he may have the skills needed to run your business, he really needs to want to be there. You may only hope he will bring a vision to the business that will help to grow it to the next level.

I have a client who joined his father’s growing business. It was clear the son had a passion. He also had skills in both leadership and the technical side of the business. This should have been enough for his success, right? Not so. Father and son fought incessantly over strategy. The father had been very successful and wanted to continue his strategy for growing the business. The son, on the other hand, felt the father’s strategy was no longer viable. He wanted to grow the company in a different direction. The battles were often played out in front of employees, who were not always sure which of the two to support.

Through coaching, it was possible to help the son to leverage his talents, which were abundant. His father, while not necessarily trusting his son’s approach to the business, did give him some leeway to assert his strategy. The father’s public displays of disagreement diminished as he took more time off for travel and vacationing, sometimes for months at a time. However, it wasn’t until the father decided to retire that the son was fully able to implement his strategy. Coaching was a key factor in helping the son manage his way through the rough waters of transferring leadership and ownership from father to son. This coaching gave the son both support and a sounding board to cope with the stress with his father.

In another succession from father to son, the son had come into the business right out of college. He ran the sales department, but more and more, the father involved the son in key strategic decisions. One day, the father told the son that he was retiring in six months. He promoted his son to president, handing over leadership responsibility for the entire company. Six months later, he walked into his son’s office and stated that he was giving up his office. His rationale was that as long as he was there, managers and workers would come to his office rather than his son’s office. I had been coaching the father, who made me promise to coach the son after he left. I did, and the son and I worked together to help him grow the company until it was sold several years later.

The message here is that every situation is different. Some transitions are rocky; others are smooth. Personality and temperament play a big role here. Rationality sometimes takes a back seat to emotion. What was constant in both of the above cases was the desire by the father to develop the son, the passion of the son to take over the business, and the coaching that smoothed out many of the wrinkles in a not-so-perfect handoff of authority and ownership.

My advice to you, if you should decide to hire your son, is to find a coach experienced in family businesses to work with you and your son. While not a guarantee of success, coaching will increase the odds of a successful transition while maintaining a positive relationship between father and son.