Thursday, February 11, 2016

Learning from Start-ups: Speed Does Not Kill

Guest post from Steven D. Goldstein:

I’ve never met a leader who says to his team, “Let’s move slowly.” In fact, most companies think they are moving quickly – it’s just that in actuality they are not. This is why start-ups have such a great advantage. Once they make the decision to start their business they operate at full throttle almost immediately. They know that if they do not build this business, and quickly, they have nothing – so it becomes a fight for their life from day one. Corporate time is typically measured in months, quarters and years, whereas start-ups tend to think in hours, days and weeks.

Why Does It Take So Long

It drives me crazy when I see leaders who believe they have time to ponder. As Mario Andretti, the famous race car driver, once said, “If your car is under control, you’re not driving fast enough” (and this is a man who knows what fast means). As recently as ten years ago, it took a lot longer to design and launch products, or even companies for that matter. But with improvements in technology, resources and cash available globally things happen much more quickly. We’ve all watched the decline of numerous companies who did not realize that the pace at which they were moving, while it might have sufficed before, was no longer going to work in today’s world. They sat by and watched their vaunted products, and in some cases the companies themselves, wither on the vine. In the past, corporate demises took decades, but today the same thing can happen in months and years.
I really don’t think leaders intentionally want to move slowly; but there are several factors preventing them from moving fast. Fear is a clearly an element. Fear can lead to endless requests for analysis, meetings, studies and other measures, whose sole purpose is to minimize risk and avoid making decisions. While some of that may have value, the problem is that the analysis is often too internally focused and the time spent reviewing the information exacerbates the fundamental problem itself. I believe that perfection never happens, and that therefore, “85% of very good, now” is a much better plan of action than 100% of perfect.
Another common impediment to speed is being too wedded to a plan, and to the planning process in general. These annual plans, typically formalized in the fall of the prior year, take on a life of their own and often are the primary element in determining executive compensation. Leaders tend to want to “stick with the plan” even in the face of new developments. Often I will hear a leader, in response to a new development, say, “Let’s bake that into next year’s plan.” This assumes they will be able to weather the storm until then.
Of course, it is unreasonable to expect a large organization to operate completely like a start-up. Yet it is possible, for big companies to adopt some key elements of what makes start-ups so unique. First and foremost, the leader needs to decide that he will embrace a few start-up characteristics and start modeling those behaviors at every opportunity. In meetings, the leader needs to listen differently to what is being said, with a keen ear to picking up on it when people quote longer time frames than are needed, plans for extensive analysis (i.e. paralysis) and other common slowing-down elements. Instead, he needs to ask: What needs to be accomplished in order to make this decision within one or two weeks? Then he needs to have a discussion as to why the recommendation says it is going to take four months. In other words, it’s important to instill a sense of urgency, so that people do not err too much on the side of being slow and careful. People need to remember they are in a war, not at a tea party.

Uniqlo – A Big Company Who Moves Quickly

Uniqlo is now recognized as the Number 1 casualwear brand, not only in Japan, but in Greater China and South Korea as well. The company prides itself of selling popular low priced items with high quality while constantly offering its customers new product lines and specific items. Importantly, it is rapidly opening stores in the United States and Europe, while simultaneously growing its online business. Its business model is designed around speed including everything from product design, supply chain, manufacturing and distribution, sales effectiveness and customer satisfaction – all tuned to constantly provide new, exciting clothing in its stores. The company continues to grow globally at an astounding rate, and demonstrates that large companies can move quickly.

JPMorgan Chase - Collaboration for Speed

Another way for companies to pick up speed is to collaborate. For example, JPMorgan Chase, the biggest bank in the U.S., has partnered with OnDeck Capital in order to dramatically speed up the process of providing loans to their small business clients. By combining Chase’s relationships and lending experience with OnDeck’s technology platform, they’ll now be able to offer almost real-time approvals and same- or next-day funding. Chase will be able to provide OnDeck’s technology platform to its four million small business customers--allowing loans that used to take weeks to be funded to now be made within hours. This is a case of a traditional company keeping apace of the times, rather than risking going the way of RadioShack.
More and more, large companies who understand and appreciate the need for acting like startups are training themselves to keep their foot firmly on the gas pedal. Time is not a leader’s friend. It’s vital to get quick wins and learn from failures fast, and to always treat change as a constant. One thing is for certain: Waiting is never an option.

Steve Goldstein is a proven leader who has held executive positions with leading global brands, such as American Express (Chairman and CEO of American Express Bank), Sears (President of Sears Credit), and Citigroup, as well as several early-stage enterprises. He currently works in the private equity industry as a Senior Advisor with the consulting and advisory firm Alvarez & Marsal, serves as Chairman of US Auto Sales, serves as a Senior Advisor to Milestone Partners and an Industrial Advisor to EQT Partners (a global private equity firm based in Stockholm).  He has also advised CEOs and private equity owners providing counsel on performance improvement with their companies in addition to acquisitions and merger integration opportunities. He has served on numerous boards, such as: American Express Bank, Jafra Cosmetics, Union Bancaire Privée, Pay-O-Matic and Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City. Steve has been an investor, advisor, and interim CEO for more than 10 venture backed e-commerce companies. Steve holds a Bachelor’s degree from City University of New York City, and an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business. He lives in New York City.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Servant Leadership Revisited

Guest post from William Dann:

The concept of servant leadership was introduced by Ancient Chinese philosophers such as Lao-Tzu, then found in the Christian teachings of Mark. It was popularized in modern management writings by Robert Greenleaf in a 1970 essay. 

To me it is more of a value system. Servant leaders value the needs of followers over their own needs for recognition, being right or being in control. Greenleaf was promoting this concept as “the rock upon which a good society is built”. No doubt true, but, in my experience the concept has real limitations when applied in certain organizational situations.

Defining Leadership

Let’s begin with an operating definition of leadership.  I consider it to be defining what needs to get done and assuring that it is done. Other management theorists such as Ken Blanchard focus on leadership as enabling the full potential of subordinates/peers to be contributed to an organization.  In that context, servant leadership works.

However, an organization needs clear direction and a clear set of rules.  At the end of whatever process is used to define these, a leader must hold them firm. That is, the vision, culture and organizational framework to which the “full potential of employees” are to be applied must be clear and consistent. Defining what needs to get done and assuring that it is done is a pre-condition for servant leadership to be effective.

Context is Key

The characteristics of Greenleaf’s servant leader are described as: “listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and building community.” I would submit that, while a great list, it lacks characteristics required for a turnaround or similar situations.  For these, I would add organizational assessment, decision-making, problem solving, strategic thinking, accountability for results and managing change.

It is my experience that employees gravitate to strong leaders.  A strong hand on the rudder makes them feel safe and well served.  Yes, they want involvement, affirmation of their accomplishments and many of the other characteristics Greenleaf lauds, but followers will not forgive a leader who does not see and confront what the organization needs to move forward.  They will forgive making a wrong decision, but not the failure to make one.

The risk in confining oneself to the servant leader philosophy is that you will, in fact, not meet the needs of employees.  There are times when those needs are to be led out of the fire. 

A leader who inherits an organization in which the staff has been suppressed cannot execute a turnaround by simply affirming belief in the potential of staff and delegating responsibility.   It is the equivalent of beating a dead horse.  First, the horse must be revived, and doing so takes affirmative action that creates safe space for the followers to flourish.  The affirmative actions involve 1) creating a clear set of expectations, 2) establishing a clear set of rules and 3) identifying and removing barriers to employees being effective.

So What to Do?

Step 1, understand that your job as leader is to meet the priority needs of the organization and those serving in it.  Thus, job one is to understand accurately those needs and wants.  This is done by observation and by inquiry.  Once completed, you now have a “To Do” list of decisions needed, problems to be solved, structure to be defined, policies to be clarified, processes to be improved, and priorities to be established.

Step 2, define the ability of those you are leading to execute on their own vs. needing to have leadership established before they feel safe to act.  In short, understand the true condition of your management team and workforce.  It may be that before the group can begin problem solving on their own, they may need some barriers removed by you.  Once a strong leader emerges that is meeting their needs, they will feel safe to begin making decisions and solving problems on their own.

These are no small tasks. The norm for leaders is that in doing step 1, they are able to see only what they can handle. They can become so overwhelmed with the result, i.e., the “to-do list”, that they literally don’t see many of the problems that exist. When this is the case, their followers see them as being out of touch, having a different reality and having little value to them as followers. 

The challenge with step 2 is that all leaders have a go-to leadership style that they tend to practice in all situations.  Moving off this go-to style to meet the true needs of their followers (being a Situational Leader) requires high intention and flexibility.  It may mean the affirming, servant leader having to be an authoritarian for a period or the authoritarian backing off and letting the team grow by making their own decisions and their own mistakes.

There is no greater joy or reward than effectively leading others.  But, getting there requires constant learning and growth.  This, in part, explains why effective leaders are a rare breed.

William Dann is founder and president of Professional Growth Systems, LLC, (Anchorage, AK) and author of CREATING HIGH PERFORMERS:  7 Questions To Ask Your Direct ReportsFor more information visit

Monday, February 1, 2016

Say “Thank-you” to Mistakes

This post recently appeared in SmartBlog on Leadership:

As a leader, what’s your first reaction when someone comes to you and tells you they made a mistake? While you may or may not verbalize your thoughts, you may be thinking to yourself:
  • Oh crap!
  • Seriously?!
  • What the hell were you thinking?
  • How could you be so stupid?!
  • OMG, how are we going to clean up this mess?
These are our natural, normal reactions when we hear about mistakes. We are all hard-wired to see mistakes in a negative way. Fight or flight. Mistakes are bad, mistakes are a result of incompetence, mistakes should be avoided, mistakes need to be punished, and too many mistakes will lead to failure and getting fired.

Unfortunately, some leaders let their mouths get ahead of their brains and do blurt out their first reactions!
When that happens, mistakes don’t go away – we just stop hearing about them. They go underground. People are still making them but they are afraid to tell you and get really good at covering them up. Or, even worse, they stop making them altogether.

And that’s the last thing you want to happen as a leader!
Why? Because mistakes can often be the by-products of innovation, empowerment, delegation, development, change, and continuous improvement.

All of these things involve doing things differently, doing things for the first time, learning, and taking risks.
When an employee brings a mistake that they have made to their manager, it also means that they are self-aware, showing humility, and being accountable – all positive behaviors that we want to encourage!

As leaders, we need to train our brains to react to mistakes in a positive way, and to replace those negative reactions with a more positive response. The easiest and most effective way to do this is by saying “thank-you”.
That’s right, the next time one of your employees musters up the courage to come to you and admit a mistake they made, your immediate response should be “Thank-you for letting me know”.

Your next three questions should be:
1. “Please tell me what happened?” This question makes sure you and the employee have all of the relevant facts and a good understanding of the situation. Use open-ended questions to get the what, why, when and how.

2. “What have you done to fix it”? This question teaches your employees to be accountable and take responsibility to fixing their own mistakes. If they have not taken action yet, then the question should be “so what needs to be done to fix it?” Avoid the temptation to jump in with your own answer, as you’ll miss an opportunity to teach your employee to think for themselves.
3. “What did you learn?” This question shifts the discussion to learning, with a positive focus on the future.

When you learn to reframe the way you respond to mistakes, you’ll create an environment that encourages and rewards risking taking, continuous improvement, and development.
Note: credit for saying “thank-you” to mistakes goes to David Marquet, former nuclear submarine commander and author of Turn the Ship Around.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

How Being a ‘4D’ Leader Impacts Business Relationships

Guest post from Dr Alan Watkins:

Organisations are collections of human beings and the success of our businesses are grounded in our relationships with each other and with our customers. Successful relationships require a multi-dimensional approach.

Unfortunately too many leaders today are one-dimensional. They are so preoccupied with what they need to do (the IT dimension) that they often fail to pay sufficient attention to themselves (the I dimension) or their relationships (the WE dimension) that ultimately drive performance.

The best leaders operate well in all three dimensions and they recognise that they also need to develop in the fourth dimension, which is their level of sophistication in the I, WE and IT dimensions.

Start with being (the I dimension)
Our ability to build successful relationships is entirely dependent on the sophistication of our interior landscape and our ability to regulate our own emotional state.

Unless you are an Oscar-winning actor, you will not be able to hide how you are really feeling at any point. How you feel is ultimately determined by your biology. If you’re anxious, your heart will be racing. When your heart beats fast, that biological signal is actually radiated off the body. Your colleagues may not have an ECG machine to know for sure, but they will notice an inconsistency between what you’re saying and the biological signals your body is emitting.

Getting into the right emotional state means taking control of your biology. We can only sustain confidence in the face of pressure if our biology actually supports this state. Such biological consistency is the ultimate level of ‘authentic leadership’.  Inspiring confidence, something critical to successful business relationships, is much easier when we shift ourselves into a genuine state of inner biological confidence. Our emotional state completely changes our ability to think clearly and build high quality relationships.

Move on to relating (the WE dimension)
Once you are more aware of how you are being and are able to control your emotional state, you will find building successful relationships comes much easier. But relating to others successfully means really listening and hearing what people mean rather than what they are saying.

Think about a conversation you’ve had recently. Can you say you were really listening to the other person? Did you pick up on the tone, body language and subtle nuance of their communication? Unfortunately, communication for most people is a combination of talking and waiting to speak.

Instead, if we cultivate a fascination in what the other person means, not just what they are saying we can connect much more effectively with them.  In such a condition, we can make people feel heard, and ‘seen’. Creating such a dynamic based on warmth and appreciation rather than indifference or judgmentalism will put the speaker more at ease and they will open up more.

Once the speaker has stopped their transmission, you can playback what they really meant at the deeper level rather than just repeating every word they said. You are not trying to simply summarise what they said or even offer an, opinion, solution, counterargument, reaction or interpretation. Rather you are simply reflecting back what you feel the speaker meant – the deeper meaning beneath the literal spoken words.

Successful business relationships come not from doing more things, but through a better understanding of ourselves and how we relate to others.

Dr. Alan Watkins is CEO and Founder of Complete Coherence. Both physician and neuroscientist, he has been a coach to many top CEOs and business leaders for over 15 years. He is also the author of Coherence: The Secret Science of Brilliant Leadership and 4D Leadership: Competitive Advantage Through Vertical Leadership Development (both published by Kogan Page).

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Are You Using Those Fun New Technologies to Monitor, Mentor or "Motivate" Your Employees? Prepare for Sabotage

Guest post from Robert Galford:

It has been hard to ignore the recent spate of stories about the newest techniques and technologies designed to increase employee efficiency, motivation and/or engagement. A list of workplaces from Amazon to Zappo's have found themselves, perhaps unexpectedly, in the midst of a rather public discussion of the virtues, pitfalls and impact of these approaches on the workplace.

All of these tools and programs are high-tech, high-touch variations on the theme of getting people to work harder, work smarter, establish goals, measure progress, share results and receive accolades, encouragement and advice from those around them in the pursuit of ever-greater productivity. Some people might love the way they help them gauge their efficiency on the job, just as we have become accustomed to tracking everything from our steps to our sleep patterns. But scores of people will likely have quite the opposite reaction to these Fitbit-like trackers for the workplace.

Given that these new tools are unlikely to disappear any time soon, it might be useful to consider how to protect yourself and your organization from the unintended consequences, the damaging results or even the sabotage that may well ensue along the well-intentioned path of introduction or implementation. Though Newton's third law of physics may dictate that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, when it comes to the alteration of employee behaviors in the workplace, the reactions and resistance can often be disproportionately negative.  So if you or your organization are contemplating the introduction or tools for monitoring employees, here is a brief set of admonitions on how to avoid some of the pain that might otherwise ensue:

1. First and foremost, anticipate the forms of emotional resistance you will inevitably encounter: fear, skepticism and suspicion top the list. And while some of the resistance will be overt, and therefore easier to confront, it is the more insidious "simple sabotage" behaviors that are harder to stop and therefore important to address.

Having studied that topic, we use that term of "simple sabotage behaviors" advisedly here. You can see it when individuals, seemingly operating with the best of intentions, do subtle things that slow down progress or kill the effort entirely. For example, people could engage in overcompliance, providing so much detail as to overwhelm the system or render the data useless. At the other end, they could comply, but simply slow down their responsiveness. They could also sandbag the system by providing the types of answers they think the powers-that-be want to hear. These types of behaviors are subtle, hard to detect, and incredibly difficult to root out once they have taken hold.

2. Start to reduce the likelihood of those simple sabotage behaviors by including a small heterogeneous group of employees as early on as possible to test drive the process. Go beyond managers and your usual compliant suspects to include some likely naysayers or cranky folks in the group (but not too many!). Beta-test the program with one to two groups before you roll it out, collect honest feedback and spot potential problems, and adjust as needed before introducing it to the entire organization.

3. Be excruciatingly clear on how the program will work, how it will help employees, what personal information is shared and with whom, what happens to the data, how it is used, who might use it, and for what purpose. Make all that as verifiable as possible. And then show and tell and test the hell out of it again, whether with your initial beta groups or, ideally, with a new set of users.

4. Be both transparent and realistic up front about how you expect people to use the tools. If you compare this to how people have learned to engage with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any other social tool, you'll need to be both clear and rational about what people are supposed to do, including their options or lack thereof, with regard to:
-participation-privacy levels
-frequency of use
-reading and responding to information and/or requests
-contributing input
-staying current and involved

5. Don't expect it to be the Holy Grail and immediately demand total compliance. Make sure there are other ways for people to pursue the same goals, at least for a while, whether that’s three months, six months, or longer. This will give you some time to work out the kinks of the new system, and also allow people space to get used to the new program.

6. Finally, stay vigilant over time, in order to be able to identify, isolate and inoculate against the later-stage simple sabotage behaviors that will inevitably arise. Not all sabotage – blatant or covert – will emerge early on. Some initially benign behaviors evolve into more dangerous characteristics as complacency or fatigue sets in. 

And give the Fitbit a rest every so often. You may have the technological tools at your disposal, but they should not be the only tools in your belt. Go back to some of the older ways of keeping your finger on the pulse, or getting your exercise, or whatever it was you did before that dazzling new technology landed in your midst or on your wrist.  

Robert M. Galford is the co-author, with Bob Frisch and Cary Greene, of Simple Sabotage: A Modern Field Manual for Detecting and Rooting Out Everyday Behaviors That Undermine Your Workplace (HarperOne). Robert is the Managing Partner of the Center for Leading Organizations.  Bob is the Managing Partner, and Cary is a Partner, of the Strategic Offsites Group.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cracking the Behavior Code

Guest post from Bob Nease:

In attempting to explain the nature of physics, Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Nothing happens until something moves.”  A corollary applies to our organizations: “Nothing happens until someone does something.” We can talk all we want, but what our managers, employees, and customers do is mission critical to business success. Perhaps more than anything, behavior matters.

For better or worse, human behavior is complicated, messy, and unpredictable. This makes it difficult for today’s leaders to achieve optimal performance from their teams.  Great leaders, however, use three simple insights to understand and change the behaviors of their key people.

Understand the Fifty Bits Challenge

If you want to understand something about human behavior, there’s no better place to start than human brains. Each of our noggins processes a stunning 10 million bits of information per second. That’s comparable to the throughput of the original Ethernet cable. But an even more shocking statistic is that the conscious part of the brain – what we think of as the mind – runs at a pokey 50 bits per second.

To get a handle on what this means, let’s assume that a cup of sugar represents the entire bandwidth of your brain. The throughput of your conscious mind? It’s a measly ten grains… almost negligible.

In other words, it’s about 99.9995% true that our brains are wired for inattention and inertia. This heavy reliance on quick twitch, automatic behaviors served our ancestors very well 100,000 years ago, but today it contributes to behavioral hiccups.

This isn’t meant to be an excuse or a reason to let people off the hook.  High performance often requires attention to detail and the ability to put effort into a project in the here and now for a reward in the future. Nonetheless, it’s critical to remember that people can’t pay attention to everything all the time, nor can they be counted on to endlessly optimize every decision they face.

See Beyond Bad Behaviors to Underlying Intentions

There are nearly as many behavior change strategies as there are professions. Educators tell us that better behavior requires better information. Economists argue that things will improve when we get the incentives right. Marketers claim that cajoling in just the right way will get things done. Each of these approaches shares a common fallacy: that people’s intentions and behaviors go hand in hand. They all implicitly agree with the belief that if we get people’s intentions squared away, good things will follow.

These approaches are barking up the wrong tree because over time inattention and inertia create a yawning and persistent gap between our underlying intentions and what we actually do.  We refer to this chasm as the intent / behavior gap.

The intent / behavior gap is a critical concept because it helps keep us from being fooled by observed behavior. If we incorrectly attribute bad behaviors to intentions, our efforts at change will leave us disappointed and frustrated.

Activate People’s Pre-Existing Good Intentions

Once you understand that bad behavior is often the result of dormant good intentions rather than active bad ones, everything changes.  Instead of looking for ways to change people’s intentions, we start focusing on strategies that activate the good intentions that most people already have. There are two main ways to do this: demand attention and leverage inertia.

Demand Attention… Wisely

If the problem is inattention, then one solution is to figure out how to capture people’s scant fifty bits. For example, you can stop people in a process and require that they make an active decision before moving on. (PetSmart does this with its customers during the checkout process, asking whether or not they want to donate money to help save homeless pets.) You can also simply go to where a person’s fifty bits are likely to be; this is why family members leave notes for each other on the refrigerator door or bathroom mirror.

Demanding attention needs to be done carefully and wisely. One of the quickest ways to whittle away at your ability to capture the attention of others is to “cry wolf” too often. Let people know when you really need their “fifty bits” – and when you don’t. Also, try to push information to people when they need it rather than when it’s easiest to send.

Leverage Inertia

We usually think of procrastination as the enemy of better behavior. But that’s only true if the current state – or default behavior – is something other than the desired one. In that case, procrastination stands as an obstacle between the status quo and the better choice. If we can make the desired behavior the default, however, procrastination becomes an ally: changing to a less desired behavior requires an active change.

This is the secret behind increased participation in 401(K) retirement plans. Early on, employers offered their workers the option to participate in these plans but the uptake was modest. Even matching contributions didn’t move the needle all that much: participation rates were about 30% to 40%. But when employers made participation the default option (allowing employees to opt out or change the level of their contribution), participation rates soared to 80% to 90%.

The lesson: whenever possible, make the right behavior the natural, default choice. Leveraging the natural inclination toward inertia can be a powerful way to improve behaviors.

In every organization, behavior matters. If you want to help your coworkers, your clients, and yourself, remember three important insights: people are wired for inattention and inertia, there’s often a gap between good intentions and actual behavior, and that those good intentions can be effectively activated by demanding attention (wisely) or leveraging inertia.

Bob Nease, PhD, is the author of “The Power of Fifty Bits: The New Science of Turning Good Intentions Into Positive Results (HarperBusiness, 2016).  He is the former Chief Scientist of Express Scripts, the nations largest pharmacy benefits management company, and has authored and published more than 70 peer-reviewed papers. Dr. Nease is the recipient of the Henry Christian Award for Excellence in Research from the American Federation for Clinical Research and the URAC’s Health Care Consumer Empowerment and Protection Award for his application of behavioral economics to health care. He and his wife currently divide their time between Phoenix, Austin, and a small farm in rural Italy. For more information about Bob’s work, visit

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

New Year’s Development Goals for Leaders 2016 Edition (Added Bonus: How to Keep Them!)

This post was recently published in SmartBlog on Leadership:

For many of us, making and breaking promises to ourselves for the New Year has become an annual tradition. We say we’re going to lose that 10 pounds, quit smoking, change jobs, read more, be more positive, be more productive, etc… and start off all Tigger-like with energy and great intentions. Then, when the going gets tough we lose interest, motivation, and momentum and at the end of the year we’re back to where we started.
For next year, let’s break that cycle! Let’s set our yearly leadership development goals and put some best practices in place to help us achieve those goals.

We’ll start with 10 goals. Don’t get too ambitious, just pick 1-2, or maybe these will inspire you to come up with something better of your own. Then, make sure you include the three “goal boosters” at the end.
1. Pick one thing you like to do or are good at – but probably should not be doing at your level – and delegate it. That’s right, let it go! Just be sure to provide appropriate support and coaching to your delegee (new made-up word).

2. Practice in-the-moment, don’t get distracted by shiny objects, focused active listening. It’s called “leadership presence”, and it’s the single most important thing you can do as a leader.
3. Let someone on your team know where they really stand. Good or bad, doesn’t matter, just commit to some honest, caring, constructive developmental straight-talk.

4. Pick one thing that’s not broke and make it better. Look for an innovative breakthrough solution, not just incremental improvement.
5. Look for at least one thing someone is doing well and tell them about it. While each day would be a nice stretch goal, weekly may be more realistic.

6. Gain clarity on your leadership values and share those values with your team.
7. Get feedback on your leadership skills. Take a formal 360 degree assessment or use some other method to get more informal feedback. Then do something about the feedback!

8. Take a leadership course. Whatever program you chose to attend, just make sure it’s grounded in solid theory (no flavor of the month fads), builds self-awareness, and includes lots of practical on-the-job application.
9. Read at least 4 leadership books. That’s one a quarter. Believe me, it’s harder than it sounds. Keep an action log of new ideas that you are going to try out.

10. Find a new mentor or coach and/or mentor or coach someone new. Get a little, give a little.
Bonus content:

3 Proven Ways to Help you Achieve your Leadership Goals:
1. Write them down. Be SMART about it – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound).

2. Tell others about them. Make “public declarations”.
3. Find an “accountability partner”. Someone to check in with you once a month to review progress on your goals (or each other’s goals).

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Six Steps to Hiring Exceptional Talent

Guest post from Dee Ann Turner:

The best business leaders have a keen sense of purpose that drives their work. Ideally, they also have superior products and services that support that purpose. But noble purpose and brilliant products won’t get you far if you don’t have the right people to deliver them.

In other words, our who matters even more than our what and our why.

That makes selecting talent the most important task of today’s leader. It’s also the most difficult. So many managers don’t understand how to use the hiring process not just to fill a position, but also to truly add value that enriches and complements the company’s culture.

I have worked at Chick-fil-A’s corporate headquarters for more than 30 years. I’ve spent most of that time as Vice President of Corporate Talent, and my decades of experience and devoted personal study have led me to believe that hiring is an art, not a science. While that may seem daunting at first, especially to those of us who crave facts and precision, it’s actually great news. Hiring as an art abandons robotic coldness in favor of human intuition. When we combine our instincts with finely honed processes such as behavioral based interviewing, we can achieve game-changing results.

In my new book It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and Compelling Culture, I share secrets behind the exceptionally effective business model Truett Cathy pioneered when he founded Chick-fil-A in 1946. Truett’s entrepreneurial philosophy was way ahead of the curve. Over the years, he emphasized to me time and time again that our business was not about numbers, growth, or even chicken. To Truett, Chick-fil-A was always about people.

In the midst of a fluid labor market in which individuals move from company to company with expected regularity, Chick-fil-A’s corporate staff retention rate has remained at 95-97% for almost 50 years. I believe that success can be traced back in part to how we hire. Here are six guideposts to smart, soulful hiring, shaped by Truett’s people-first ideology:

1.    Think hard about the role and carefully craft its description. How can you use the new hire to address current weaknesses that may be slowing your staff down? Try also to think about the future instead of just the present.

2.    Expand your search. In It's My PleasureI call it “casting a wide net.” Different perspectives and experience from other industries can bring invaluable new energy to your team.

3.    Practice behavioral based interviewing. Behavioral based questions push candidates to draw on how they’ve responded to situations in the past. Instead, interviewers often ask questions that can only be answered hypothetically, which is not the best way to learn how someone will actually act.

4.    Check references. Too many managers do not follow up with references thoroughly. This calls for more than just verifying employment: Take the time to ask about past performance, which we know is the best indicator of future performance.

5.    Talk the candidate out of the job. Once you have decided to offer a candidate the position, try to talk them out of accepting. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it is an excellent way to gauge the individual’s level of passion and determination for both the role and your company.

6.    Make a commitment to the new hire. Once the job has been accepted, do all you can to ensure the new employee’s success. They are your investment: Use the time and resources necessary to help them grow into the position.    

In It's My Pleasure, I explore each of these suggestions in greater detail, along with other proven hiring techniques. While there are no one-dimensional solutions to the challenge of recruiting and sustaining extraordinary talent, we can hold on to one simple truth: When we put people at the center of our strategies, we gain so much more than added sales. One person at a time, we build a thriving, compelling culture that extends far beyond business hours to impact the lives of everyone who comes into contact with it.

That is Truett Cathy’s legacy, and one that is well worth trying to emulate.

About Dee Ann Turner
Dee Ann Turner is Vice President, Corporate Talent, for Chick-fil-A, where she began her career more than 30 years ago. Her first book, It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and a Compelling Culture, reveals never-before-shared secrets behind building and maintaining Chick-fil-A’s revolutionary business model. Dee Ann believes people are the most powerful commodity in any organization, and companies that recognize the value of individuals can succeed not just ethically, but financially as well. In addition to serving on the boards of the Kenya Project and Proverbs 31 ministry, the married mother of the three is also active with a variety of family-focused missions that support women and children.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

When Listening, Avoid Making Suggestions

Guest post from Dana Caspersen:

I offer a challenge:

The next time you are listening to someone during a difficult conversation or conflict and you are tempted to make a suggestion—don’t. Instead of making a suggestion, bring your attention back to what they are saying and why. Listen for what’s important, even if you think you already know.

If you feel compelled to respond while you are listening, try asking questions that help the other person unfold their story. Avoid saying things like: “Well, you need to…”, or “What if you just…”, or “It sounds like the problem is…”. Instead, try asking questions that look for more information, like: “What’s the most important thing to you in this?”, or “How has this affected you?”.

Whether with a colleague, a partner or a stranger, it’s obvious that listening is useful in communication. But often in the stress of a difficult conversation or conflict we don’t really listen. Even when we think we are listening, we are often caught up in getting ready to, or making, a suggestion.

Listening and making suggestions are two different actions. Each of these actions leads us in a different direction and tends to provoke different outcomes in conflict.

I have found that the principle: “When listening, avoid making suggestions”, often initially strikes people as odd. They say, “If I have a good idea, why shouldn’t I say it?”, or, “Just because I have a suggestion, it doesn’t mean I’m not listening.”

here are times when it is important for us to offer our ideas, but there are many more times when the act of making a suggestion too early in the conversation can blind us to other options and get in the way of really hearing the information that the other person is trying to give us.

It can be very tempting to make suggestions when time is short or we feel uncomfortable in the pressure of a conversation. The urge to say what you think the problem is or which action the other person should choose can be strong. However, what I have seen over and over, is that once people decide to stop making suggestions for a while—to stop telling other people what to do—they are often shocked by how little they had really been listening. They are often equally surprised and delighted by how radically relationships can improve and how beneficial the outcomes in conflicts can be when they listen first and look for solutions later.

Here’s two reasons why differentiating between the action of listening and the action of making suggestions matters:

1. Your story is not their story.
Making suggestions is about your point of view. Listening is about the other person’s point of view. One of the most basic things that people need in a conflict is to be heard. When we move from the action of listening to the action of making a suggestion, we’re changing the focus of the conversation from their point of view to our own point of view. If this change in focus happens too early in the dialogue, people often feel their story hasn’t been heard. It then becomes more difficult for them to listen to the rest of the stories in the conflict.

2. Solutions that don’t meet the needs of both sides usually fail.
Whether we like it or not, in a conflict we need the other person’s story to be able to understand what is important and what kind of solution might be possible and effective.

Listening is about allowing the landscape that you are both traversing to become more visible, which makes it more possible to find a pathway through it. Listening is a form of map-building.

Offering a suggestion, on the other hand, is an attempt to find a solution. It is a proposed pathway. But, if we don’t have a good map of the landscape, we can’t know which path will get us where we want to go.

Often it’s tempting to try to find solutions as soon as possible, because conflict can be uncomfortable. But, if we do jump into a solution too early, before we really know what’s happening and what’s important to people, then we are much less likely to find a solution that meets the needs of the situation– one that works and will last.

So, the challenge: in the next difficult conversation you encounter, stop making suggestions for a while and see what happens. Develop an investigatory mindset and find out what really matters in the situation. Build detailed maps with people, even when you disagree, to see where you are and where you both want to go. Once you have this common ground, ideas and suggestions from both sides can be more easily heard and become useful in helping to find an effective pathway through the conflict.

Dana Caspersen is the author of Changing the Conversation: The 17Principles of Conflict Resolution (Penguin, 2015), and works internationally as a conflict specialist, public dialogue designer, speaker and award-winning performing artist. Dana holds a master’s degree in Conflict Studies and Mediation and her focus is on helping individuals and communities develop their ability to see conflict as a place of possibility and the skills to make those possibilities become reality. Learn more about her work, talks, videos and events at

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Overcoming the Desire to Please Your Boss

Guest post from Chip Espinoza:

Two of the top challenges young professionals report facing while making the transition into management is a change in relational dynamics with former peers at work and the fear of disappointing the boss who promoted them. One young woman shared her distress when one of her best friends at work unfriended her on Facebook. The newly minted manager asked her friend, “Why the unfriend?” She replied, “You are the boss now, and I don’t want you creeping on my Facebook.” It is not uncommon for there to be a bit of a cold spell while the relationship with a peer goes through redefinition.

At first glance, how your peers see you and what your manager thinks about you are unrelated, but being overly concerned with your manager’s estimation of you may inhibit your ability to effectively lead your peers and the development of your own leadership perspective.

If you find yourself pre-occupied or even worried about what your boss thinks of you, give yourself a break. One of the reasons you made it to management is because you cared and your boss saw something in you that she did not see in your peers or others. That something is usually a comfort level with building a relationship with authority figures or appearing to be more mature than your peers. Perhaps you have heard your manager say things like, “You are different from other Millennials” or “You are a throwback.” The term throwback refers to someone who appears to be from a generation older than one’s own. It could be flattering, but be aware, it could also set you up to be perceived as someone you are not. It is a good thing to want your boss to be pleased with you. However, the danger comes when you become more concerned with the approval of your boss than being your own person or exercising your own voice. The slang behavioral diagnosis for those who quickly adapt what they think, say, and do in an effort to please their manager is brown nose—the kiss of death for building credibility with peers and exerting one’s own voice.

The first step to overcoming the desire to please your boss is to accept there will come a day when you disappoint him or her—not necessarily because you have done something wrong, but because you did something different from what they would do. It is inevitable! Even the best of mentor/mentoree relationships end in conflict. It is a right of passage that eventually results in reconciliation and mutual respect. As an example, my mentor primarily consulted nonprofit organizations, and when I started working with major corporations, he was disappointed. It hurt me to let him down, but I had to pursue my own path even though it was emotionally difficult. Before he died, he affirmed me for having the desire to help all kinds of organizations with generational diversity and valued my work.

The tension you may experience with your manager is often the result of leading from your own perspective. Not unlike what you experience with peers, your personal growth triggers a redefinition of the relationship with your boss. When you understand the relational dynamic that is taking place, there is no need to be defensive, make excuses, or villainize. No need to fret. It is a sign of a new phase of your leadership development. One of the first stages of leadership development is to develop your own perspective.

Which leads to the second step of overcoming the need to please your boss—develop your own leadership perspective. What do you believe to be true? What are you convinced of? What are you willing to stand for? How would you want to be managed? The young professionals in research my coauthor Joel Schwarzbart and I have conducted talk about feeling torn between the way they wanted to manage and the way they thought their boss wanted them to manage. It was like having their boss on one shoulder and their preferred “me” on the other. The dialogue in their heads between the two created a migraine. The bipolarization also led to inconsistency in leader behavior.

Having a perspective can be quite powerful. A perspective can be as simple as, “Everyone deserves a second chance.” Such a perspective has probably salvaged many a career. It is not true in every situation, but helpful in most. Not having your own perspective sets you up for being perceived as inauthentic and a mini-me of your boss. Inauthenticity is the kiss of death for a young manager. Your peers will not respect you, and ultimately your boss will be disappointed anyway.

The third step is to understand that when a peer says you have changed for the worse or a manager says you are not ready for the next level, it may be a function of them not wanting their relationship with you to change. That is not a bad thing. You have to keep it in perspective. It is not our enemies who hold us back from achieving our full potential—it is usually those who care about us the most. When you grow, advance, and seek new opportunities, it threatens relationships. If you get that, it will save you sleepless nights, the need to defend yourself, and self-doubt. Embrace all kinds of feedback—the good, the bad, and the ugly—just have your own perspective.

Chip Espinoza is the author, along with Joel Schwarzbart, of Millennials Who Manage: How to Overcome Workplace Perceptions and Become a Great Leader. He is also the author of Managing the Millennials. Espinoza is the Academic Director of Organizational Psychology and Nonprofit Leadership at Concordia University Irvine.