Thursday, April 18, 2019

Right Leadership, Right Model

Guest post from Charles D. Morgan:

A few decades ago, when time was still a gentle concept, companies just rocked along in their comfortable hierarchies, everything centralized, proposals moving up the chain of command and decisions moving down at approximately the speed of glue.
Then in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, we had the tech bubble, and the old business model began to come apart. A pendulum tends to swing too far at first, and pretty soon we were in the second Wild, Wild West. With “clicks” and “eyeballs” as the watchwords, everybody began racing everybody else to get projects launched before the next guy did. They were just crazily developing things, business model be damned. They threw tons of money at things that went absolutely nowhere.

It could’ve been just a brief period of madness, like the tulip craze of 17th century Amsterdam. But in fact the tech bubble was a message from the future: Time now moves faster, and businesses must too.
In my long career, 45 years of it as a CEO, I’ve lived that change. In general, the old hierarchical structure and central leadership model that I knew as a young man at IBM has given way to a more nimble team concept, in which power resides within small, self-contained units.  But the challenge for modern business leaders is to adapt and empower the kind of team-based structure that’s right for their particular businesses. That right model will evolve as the business evolves, so you have to keep adapting. But mission is key. And today, especially in tech companies, every mission involves innovation, and every innovation requires speed because of all the competition.

Our company, First Orion, builds scam blocking and caller ID solutions for mobile phone carriers. Our senior management just spent two days in a retreat talking yet again about organization and how best to continue to drive proper decision-making. Several years back we elected to go with a high performance business unit concept – that is, each business unit has its own overall mission and is comprised of several teams charged with achieving parts of that mission. We give each business unit as many resources – tech support, product management, marketing – as we can to enable them to operate as autonomously as possible.

But there’s always tinkering to be done. For example, if two or three teams within a unit are developing technology products, is it really efficient for each team to do their own product management internally? Or should there be a single product management group within the business unit?

There are problems both ways. If a team’s mission is to build a certain product, they want to hit the ground running. What they don’t want to do is have to wait around for some centralized product management group to tell them how to proceed. On the other hand, if every team is totally self contained, when you bring together all the product sheets from every business unit it’s like you’re five different companies. Wait a minute, you say, this is nuts – nobody is communicating, nobody is coordinating, nothing is consistent. Somehow or other have to bridge the gap between a central product management organization – which is slow and cumbersome but gives you nice, orderly product definition and growth – and the guerilla-like missions of autonomous teams, which sometimes take you back to the Wild, Wild West.

Anyone who spends time around businesspeople today will frequently hear some variation of the words, “I own it.” This speaks volumes about the difference between the old centralized hierarchical business structure and the new team models. In the old days, lots of employees spent their careers as cogs in a giant machine. They were there, often precisely from 9 to 5, just to play their small parts in the overall pageant of their companies’ business. Today’s small team members “own” their work, which means they accept the accountability that comes with the freedom to make their own decisions.

This change alone means that contemporary business leaders must approach their jobs differently than did business leaders of the past. A CEO today points the way, of course; but rather than sitting in an executive suite on high, he or she must be comfortable down among the troops, in the middle of the fray, moving at the speed of innovation.

Charles D. Morgan is the visionary former Chairman and CEO of Acxiom Corporation, and is now Chairman and CEO of his latest tech venture, First Orion.  His new book is Now What?  The Biography of a (Finally) Successful Startup. Morgan lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.  For more information, please visit  

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A Leader’s Guide to Preventing and Dealing with Workplace Conflict

Most people can handle just about any amount and type of work that comes their way. It’s not the work that puts them over the edge – its conflict with coworkers!

Conflict in the workplace – or anywhere - is inevitable. Conflict is part of being human. Some people are more comfortable with it than others, and some people tend to be “conflict carriers”.

Ultimately, it’s part of a leader’s job to deal with workplace conflict head-on. Ignoring it will only make matters worse, and will eventually impact team productivity, results, employee satisfaction, and the leader’s reputation.

Here are some ways to manage workplace conflict, so that little problems don’t fester into BIG problems:

1. Make the ability to collaborate an expectation. Establishing expectations start with the hiring process. Are you looking to hire lone wolfs, or employees that can collaborate with others? If it’s the latter, than you need to ask questions that uncover how well the candidate gets along with their co-workers. Look for red flag answers like, “Well, I have very high standards, and sometimes get frustrated with others if they don’t meet those standards”. Which often translates to: “I thought my co-workers were idiots and we fought like cats and dogs.”
Make the ability to collaborate a job expectation for all employees, reward it, and make it a condition for advancement.
2. Recognize the difference between healthy and destructive conflict. Healthy conflict is making it OK to disagree, to debate the issue, challenge the process, and speak up. Destructive conflict is when it gets personal, gets in the way of working effectively, and has a negative impact on productivity, innovation, and ultimately, results.

3. Don’t ignore it – look for little signs that can turn into big problems. A manager needs to be having regular one-on-ones with all direct reports, as well as regular team meetings. These are the opportunities to ask questions, listen, and watch for subtle clues of unhealthy conflict. Most employees won’t want to tattle of their co-workers or be seen as a complainer – but you might pick up that they are going out of their way to work with another employee. Point out your observation, and ask why.

4. Be a role model with your peers. Many managers don’t understand the connection between how well they work with and talk about their fellow managers, and how well their own employees work together. Employees learn more from watching a manager’s behaviors than they do from what the manager says.

5. Learn a conflict resolution methodology. Most people shy away from conflict because it’s often messy and painful. If you’re not good at something, or you don’t like it, you’ll most likely avoid it.

However, if you learn and practice a consistent approach, you get good at it, and your world gets better as a result of dealing with it, then you’ll be more likely to seek out opportunities to deal with conflict.

I’d recommend taking a course in conflict management or reading a good book, like Crucial Conversations. A good course or book will give you a framework and set of tools, which gives you the confidence to confront conflict in a constructive, deliberate way. You’ll also be able to coach employees how to handle their own conflicts.

There are a lot of different conflict resolution models, but most of them have the following 5 elements:
            1. Stay calm and dealing with the emotions first
            2. State what is bothering you in a respectful and specific way
            3. Listen to the other person’s perspective for complete understanding
            4. Problem solving – look for root causes and win-win solutions
            5. Agree on actions to be taken, and making mutual commitments

Any new skill takes time and practice before we get comfortable with it. The important thing is to have the right intention – which is to resolve the conflict, not to punish the other person.

6. Help your employees with their conflicts. Once you’ve learned how to handle your own conflicts, you can help your employees deal with their conflicts. There are two ways to do this – teach them a methodology (or have them learn the same way you did) so that they can handle on their own. In fact, some managers and experts say this is the only approach a manager should take – that is, they should never get involved in a conflict between two of their employees. While I can see the value of encouraging employees to handle their own conflicts without having to “run to Dad or Mom”, I still think are times when a manager needs to step in.

However – it’s important that the manager doesn’t get caught in the middle by having individual conversations with each employee and trying to mediate. Instead, the manager should sit down with both employees and coach the employees through the conflict resolution process.

Learn to proactively eliminate destructive conflict and deal with it before it gets out of control and everyone will be able to focus on their work, and not get caught up in unproductive and stressful workplace drama.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Lead, Don’t Manage, Knowledge Workers

Guest post from James Hlavacek:

To improve innovation and growth, knowledge workers must be led, not managed. Too many policies born of bureaucracy are an enemy to creativity, so the more unnecessary distractions a company can remove from its employees, the freer they will be to contribute more creative ways. Management must reduce the administrative and on the job hassles for its employees by:

• Hiring people who are curious and knowledgeable about the job, the industry, the company;

• Limiting the number and length of meetings;

• Encouraging employees to network internally and collaboratively to continually seek the best and most efficient practices and solutions to problems; and

• Rewarding experimentation and avoiding penalties for mistakes made in
the pursuit of better solutions to customer needs.

Knowledge workers are self-directed, not other-directed, which means that they must be provided considerable autonomy. Out of respect for the knowledge they’ve gained over years, even front-line plant workers need freedom to “do their thing” as professionally as possible on their own. If they need help or clarification, they will ask for it.

People at all levels of a company, both degreed engineers and factory-floor craftspeople, are needed to design user-friendly new products and assemble prototypes that users can experiment with in the field. Today’s knowledge workers gain valuable information from every project and customer. They take their knowledge home with them every night and with them from company to company, including to competitors, if they feel mistreated. True knowledge workers are focused first on their professions and secondly to their current employer. Empowered knowledge workers make the best decisions for both their own development and for the good of the organization as a whole—because they realize that both will benefit from organizational health.

Although profits are the lifeblood of an organization, the financials come last. High costs and poor financial performance are lagging indicators, not leading ones. Financial viability is not a function of balance sheets and income statements, but the result of a focus on employee empowerment and engagement. Both drive higher customer satisfaction, which, in turn, leads to new customers and retention of previous ones. To quote Steve Jobs: Today’s leaders must think differently and shift their focus on their employees, not their financials. Be accountable first to your employees, not just to accountants. In short, by first doing your best to support and empower your employees, you’ll drive your organization to achieve its mission and purpose and it will achieve its financial goals as a secondary effect.

Walk around your plant and ask employees what things are causing bottlenecks, frustrations and disconnects. Request suggestions for how to improve processes, what customers are saying, and where communication breakdowns occur. Conduct annual employee engagement surveys, asking a wide range of questions, but be sure to follow up with actions that demonstrate you are listening and willing to improve anything in the culture that stands in the way of knowledge workers.
James Hlavacek, Ph.D., has over 40 years of global experience as a businessman, strategy consultant, and management educator. He has written five books including his latest Fat Cats Don’t Hunt. He has been a board member of both Fortune 100 companies and successful venture capital startups.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Elevating Your Leadership Game

Guest post from Timothy J. Tobin:

Congratulations! You’re a leader. If you’re reading this, you have either already heard this phrase or you aspire to hear it. Leadership is complex and demands are high. How do you continue to elevate your leadership game? What can you do to become a great leader?

Great leaders set a compelling vision. They develop, inspire, and motivate people. They actively listen and provide regular feedback. They recognize and reward talent. They work across organizational boundaries, handle conflict, make decisions, and they deliver results. Great leaders have a learning mindset. They continuously develop themselves and others.

The best leaders make all of this look effortless, but the great ones I’ve worked with are committed to getting better.

Much like physical fitness, you cannot neglect your leadership fitness and expect optimal results. The development choices you make will have a profound impact on your performance and it will also impact those you lead. It is easy to become consumed with all the demands that come with being a leader. After all, you have got a job to do and results to deliver.

Then again, isn’t one of your imperatives to be the best leader you can be? Somehow, that gets lost for some leaders and they wind up focusing on the never-ending tasks and initiatives that are immediately in front of them. Those projects certainly cannot be ignored.

What winds up getting neglected is a focus on development. Ongoing development – the learning, commitment, resilience, and effort – is often what separates great leaders from everyone else. However, when it comes to leadership development, the two greatest challenges facing leaders today are 1) finding the time to focus on their development and 2) determining where to start.

Today’s leaders simply have too many competing priorities. Making matters more challenging: as we move up the leadership ladder, demands increase and discretionary time decreases. Adding to this is the fact that there is an overcrowded leadership development landscape. The result is that too many leaders don’t pursue any leadership development activities or, worse, they pursue the wrong ones. The ‘wrong activities’ are those that are costly, time consuming or do not yield desired results. As a result of these challenges, it has become increasingly easy – perhaps even necessary – to drop leadership development from our growing list of priorities.

How can you navigate these inherent barriers toward becoming a great leader?

First, seek accurate feedback. You must know your strengths and development areas to ensure you are using your limited time most effectively. This occurs through a variety of types of assessments, and I recommend a good leadership 360 assessment. When done well, this will provide insights into how you are showing up as a leader. This allows you to be very precise in what aspects of leadership you want to improve. Have a plan that clearly spells out what activities you will pursue toward your development and how you will know you are successful.

When it comes to activities, here is your opportunity to shine – to elevate your game by building good, sustainable habits. Make sure the activities you choose are directly tied to improving the specific areas you outlined in your plan. You should do something to develop your leadership skills at least weekly. Time is of the essence, so it is imperative you remain laser focused on those activities that will help you improve. Lofty, one-time activities may be fine, but by themselves are limited in the impact they can have on your development.

For peak performance, you need repetition. I recommend a steady and balanced diet across numerous types of activities that are incorporated into your regular routine. Make sure you are contributing to a strong foundation of leadership by reading relevant business books and articles and listening to podcasts. Maintain your flexibility by actively engaging in a variety of on the job activities – shadowing, stretch assignments, task forces, teaching, and other such activities.

Remember that this is not about checking the box that you completed an activity. It is about applying what you learned, reflecting on the key insights, and refining your point of view and approach. Take this approach: learn, practice, get feedback, reflect, repeat.

So yes, you are a leader (or soon will be). Keep in mind that wanting to be a great leader is not the same as being a great one. Greatness requires effort and continuous improvement. Leadership development does not need to be costly or time consuming. There are opportunities for development all around us. We just need to know where to look and how to incorporate them into our routine.

Timothy J. Tobin is author of Peak Leadership Fitness:  Elevating Your Leadership Game and a learning and leadership development professional committed to helping individuals and organizations reach their greatest potential. He is currently vice president, franchisee onboarding and learning at Choice Hotels International, where he oversees the hotel opening processes and learning strategy and programs for all franchisees.
He was previously vice president of global leadership development at Marriott, and held leadership roles at Baker Tilly (formerly Beers + Cutler) and Booz Allen Hamilton, where he designed and implemented a variety of talent management solutions.
A frequent leadership speaker, he has served as an adjunct professor for more than 20 years at the University of Maryland, Catholic University, Trinity University, and George Washington University.
For more information, please visit

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

What Makes A Great Work Relationship?

Guest post from Graeme Findlay:

I just finished reading one of Dan’s previous posts, I’m your boss not your friend. He has some very sound advice and ten good reasons why it’s a bad idea for a manager and an employee to call themselves friends.

On reading the post, I was immediately reminded of a high-priced leadership development program that I once attended where we were presented with a different view. The model presented can be paraphrased by “Relationships are the foundation of all accomplishments; increase relationship and you increase results”. Taken to its logical extension, where relationships are universally good, this model fails for all of Dan’s ten reasons and more.

The problem with this model is a common one: over-simplification of a nuanced phenomenon. In their desire to have easily digestible ideas, proponents of leadership models generalise and simplify. And if there is one thing that everyone needs to know about leadership, it is that it is specific to the context and that it is inherently complex.  

This specificity and complexity should not deter us; leadership can be understood if we put the effort in. Let’s take this example of relationships.

Building close working relationships with a trusted inner circle of colleagues is a key leadership capability. I call this capability the Heartfelt Voice. The heartfelt voice is not about building friendships as we generally understand them. We need to get more granular and definitive about what we mean.

A ‘friendship relationship’ is a function of mutual care – if you care deeply about me, and I care deeply about you then we are friends. There is no doubt that this can be leveraged to deliver great results at work, but at other times it is an impediment and can work to actively undermine results.

To make sense of this, I define another aspect of work relationships which I call Relatedness.  Relatedness is not based on mutual care, it is based on mutual connection to a purpose. You and I might be complete strangers, but if we both share the same purpose, then this is the basis for delivering results. Relatedness to common purpose is an incredibly powerful motivator for collaboration. Therefore, building relatedness is a key leadership capability.

The sweet spot for leaders is to have both relationship and relatedness. This is the heartfelt voice of leadership. A leader with a strong heartfelt voice builds high levels of relatedness to a common purpose, and then amplifies this by fostering an environment of mutual care and respect amongst an inner circle. Unlike ‘friendship relationships’, the mutual care is not person-specific. Rather, the mutual care extends equally to every member of the team. This is fertile ground for high levels of respect and trust between team members.

The environment described here is that of Psychological Safety which consistently emerges in research as a key foundation of high-performance teams. The heartfelt voice is the essential foundation of great leadership. I can think of no better reason to put aside oversimplified leadership models and inquire more deeply into great leadership.  

Graeme Findlay is author of Evolve:  How Exceptional Leaders Leverage The Inner Voice of Human Evolution and an Associate Fellow at the University of Oxford Saïd Business School.  He consults to industry as an executive coach and change management advisor.  Prior to specializing in leadership development, Findlay held executive management roles and was accountable for delivering operational transformations and performance turnarounds on world-scale mega-projects.  His passion for high performance teams led to academic research at Oxford University and HEC Paris.  Findlay holds a Master’s degree in Consulting and Coaching for Change. For more information, please visit

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Empathetic and Mindful Leadership

Guest post from Aryeh Brickner:

The other day I was in an elevator. A man who looked to be in his thirties got on, while talking on the phone. Entering behind him was a couple with a baby boy about a year old in their arms. 

The guy on the phone says, “I have to hang up now, I just got into an elevator”.
The father turns to him and says in a nasty tone, “Did you really have to endanger all of us just to finish your call?” 

He snaps back, “I hung up before the doors closed, its’ fine”.

The father responds, “I don’t know what physics degree you have but it really doesn’t work like that!”

End conversation.

I was so taken back about how quickly this whole scene needlessly escalated. The man had clearly hung up the phone, so all the father had to do was mention politely how the radiation can still be impacted even with the doors open. Instead, he took an aggressive tone from the start, and was responded too in kind.

Obviously, one of the most important qualities a leader needs to posses is the ability to be a calming voice. But I think it goes deeper than that. At work, we sometimes encounter people who are usually pleasant and calm talking in an aggressive, or belligerent manner. Rather than attack them back, or chide them for their behavior, a leader needs to think to themselves, “Why is this person acting like this?” Perhaps they are under some intense pressure at work due to some deadlines. Maybe it’s something in their personal lives which is causing them to lash out. Next time you see an employee acting out, take them aside and reflect their behavior back to them in as polite a way possible. Then ask, “Is everything ok, this really isn’t like you.” Nine out ten times you will find there is something going on in their lives which is bothering them. (The other time, is they likely skipped lunch and are just cranky!)

To me, one of the most important character traits of leadership is the amount of compassion we show others. Compassion means thinking about the other person, what is ailing them, and how we can help. Most people in this world are good kind-hearted people. So, when they lash out at others there’s a good chance there’s a perfectly good explanation for it. Our ability to help find this explanation and deal with it is rooted in our humility which is of course another quintessential hallmark of leadership. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the offense especially if their tirade is aimed at us, we neglect to think about the root cause.

That elevator I was in, happened to be in a hospital. One look at the child and it was clear he was a patient, which was likely causing an enormous amount of stress on the parents. It doesn’t excuse the father being a little nasty but it sure can explain it. All the guy had to do was swallow his pride, look at these parents and say, “Sorry, I didn’t realize there is a problem to talk on the phone when the doors were still open” And if he was being super polite, “I hope your child gets better soon”.

Aryeh Brickner is a seasoned manager of multiple large-scale international companies and has been responsible for the welfare and development of hundreds of employees. He is passionate about all topics related to management and leadership. He likes Star Wars, Ice Cream, and running (not necessarily in that order!) His book, The Office is No Place for a Cattle Rancher! How to Practice Emphatic and Mindful Management, is now available on Amazon.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Seven Subconscious Habits That Sabotage Your Ability to Listen – And Lead

Guest post from Fred Halstead:

Years ago, I complied with my wife’s request to have my hearing checked. She told me time and again that she felt that I did not consistently hear her. I was surprised and somewhat reluctant, but decided to go to an ENT. Everything checked out and the doctor told me my hearing was fine. As you may have guessed, I realized it wasn’t my hearing that was defective – it was my listening. That event accelerated my interest in making listening a hallmark for me, not only as a coach, but in all aspects of my life. As I focused more on listening, I encouraged my clients to become better listeners and noted these positive changes:

·         - Increased self confidence

·         - Decreased frustration with subordinate misunderstandings

·         - Increased respect with subordinates as well as their direct reports

·         - Substantial increases in performance and effectiveness

·         - Greater efficiency, despite additional listening time with subordinates

As an executive coach for the past 15 years, I have observed how a change in a leader’s leadership style can rapidly transform a company culture. Like a cascading waterfall, direct reports quickly emulate the leader’s changes, and cultural transformation follows organically. Becoming a highly skilled listener is one of the most important tools in achieving remarkable transformation. A critical part of becoming a better listener is understanding and then overcoming these seven habits.

·      A conscious or subconscious lack of respect of others. The act of fully listening to another person is an act of respect. When we do not truly listen, we are disrespecting the person talking. Our disrespect may not even be intentional, but it is disrespect never the less. Just recognizing this fact may inspire you to be in the present and truly listen.

Action Tip: Prior to meeting with a person or persons, think about what is your purpose/motivation for listening. I could be to show respect, to learn, to inspire or to…

·         The natural desire to talk. The fact is, for just about everyone, it is more natural to talk than to listen. We want to tell others what we think, what we did, and what we know. Therefore, be honest with yourself how true this is for you, and give yourself a break in understanding that focused and active listening requires discipline.

Action Tip: For the next month, consider putting your curiosity into overdrive! Ask insightful questions and observe the effect this has on you.

·         Judging others. Assessing one’s thoughts and actions is a critical part of leading people and helping them achieve the desired result. Judgment, as in judging another person’s value, beliefs, intelligence, personality, or background, however inhibits listening. When assessment turns into judgment, amongst other implications, it becomes so much harder to really hear and to gain any benefit from what they are saying. 

Action Tip: Ask yourself: What could motivate me to reduce or eliminate the temptation to judge others while listening to them?

·         Preconceptions and biases. One source of judgment is preconceived ideas about a person. This bias stems from something you believe, such as, “Every time I talk with him, he always has the same point of view.” “I just know he is not very smart, so it is so hard to listen to him. What will I get out of it?” As amazing as it might seem, you will learn something new when you leave your bias behind and sprinkle in some thoughtful questions with a dose of curiosity. 

Action Tip: Consider: What will I gain if I abandon my bias when listening? Be more aware of preconceptions that impede your ability to listen.

·         Ego. We all have a need to appear to be smart. Maybe even to “be the smartest one in the room.” My observation is the less we worry about appearing smart and the more we listen and ask great questions, the smarter we actually appear to be! And, others develop an even greater respect for us. Another observation is leaders known for their big egos are normally those who have the deepest doubts about themselves. If you are a great listener, it is hard also to be known as the person with the big ego.

Action Tip: Be aware when you are trying to demonstrate your intelligence. Try asking questions to learn more about what others know. Prepare to be surprised by the value of others’ thoughts.

·         Multitasking. In my Skills That Inspire Incredible Results (STIIR) program, this habit always garners a strong response. “I have so much to do I have to multitask” can be heard spoken from the audience. Our ability to think comes from our prefrontal cortex lobe where information processes serially – where each new piece of information processes individually. Our brains cannot take in multiple bits of information simultaneously. Most of us can process information very rapidly, but not simultaneously. Simply put, we are most effective when put all of our focus on one thing at a time.

Action Tip: As difficult as this might seem, try for one week to turn from the computer or whatever might distract you from listening and give your undivided attention and listening to the person who is talking to you. Notice how much it benefits you and the other person.

·         Shutting people off. The habit of disagreeing with a person and concluding that you will not learn anything useful from that person is common. We concentrate on the disagreement rather than the kernel of truth or the insight the other person may have to offer. When you shut people off, you may miss critical information or knowledge.

Action Tip: When you find yourself shutting another person off, instead become curious and listen for the kernel of truth or insight that the person may have for you.
I have observed that high-performing leaders who make a strong commitment to overcome these habits gain benefits far beyond the effort required. Try it; you will be amazed by the outcome.

Fred Halstead is the founder and principal of Halstead Executive Coaching, the author of Leadership Skills That Inspire Incredible Results, and creator of the performance-enhancing leadership program, Skills That Inspire Incredible Results (STIIR). He specializes in coaching highly successful CEOs and senior-level executives who are open to positive change and wish to increase their abilities as great leaders. Discover more leadership coaching resources at

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Hiring Is A Science and An Art

Guest post by Lisette Howlett:

When we think about leadership and leadership development we rarely think about hiring and recruitment.  Yet one of the most important contributions of a great leader is creating, and sustaining, the organisation for success both now and the future.  Hiring talent, for now and the future, is fundamental to this ambition.  Yet so often, hiring is seen as a painful activity which takes time away from more important matters.  Yet what can be more important than ensuring the organisation has the right people?

Hiring well is, in my opinion, both a science and an art.  The science part is more easily learned, albeit not frequently integral to leadership development and training.  It is concerned with understanding, and executing well, the elements of the hiring process.  Some aspects can be successfully delegated, including elements such as the sourcing of candidates, documenting, initial screening, referencing.  However, leaders need to play a role in the messaging and selection elements of hiring.  Leaders play a critical role shaping the message communicated to potential hires which must be congruent with the leader’s vision for the organisation, or department, and consistent with the experience of current employees.  Playing a part in the selection of the candidate requires leaders to be skilled in interviewing and judgement. Learning how to interview effectively to remove irrelevant bias and get to the truth of the candidate is a skill and it can be learned by someone committed to mastering it.  Making the right judgment is more of an art.  It can be honed through experience and great leaders need to invest time and effort in developing, testing and improving their judgement on a range of factors including hiring decisions.

Perhaps because there is a great deal of system and routine involved in hiring, or perhaps because leaders do not consider this a skill that will further their personal success, many leaders do not invest time and attention in becoming great recruiters.  I believe that they are missing a trick here which results in either missing out on some talent, or perhaps even worse, hiring less than brilliant people into their teams and organisations.

As a contribution to energising leaders to repositioning hiring excellence as one of their key leadership competencies, here are a few thoughts:

·       -   It takes courage and confidence to make a good hire.  To refuse to settle in terms of quality and fit, no matter how much pressure there is to fill the spot to get the work done.  To be willing to take on someone who might, one day, overtake you.  To take a well mitigated risk on hiring someone outside the mold, and more importantly to nurture, challenge and mentor them to be a success.
·       -   It takes vision to know what people, attitude, skills, behaviours, competencies will be needed in the future and to attract these people into the organisation and retain them thereafter.
·        -  It takes integrity to be honest with a potential hire about what is great about the organisation today and what needs to be worked on so that candidates can make an informed choice about joining the organisation and once in it will be able to affirm their decision and not feel that they were sold something that is not quite true.
     - It takes strong critical thinking to be able to evaluate the information presented to you by a candidate and to pull out the important elements and make a determination about suitability for the immediate role, fit with the organisation and future potential.
·        -  It requires decisive action to make a timely hiring decision and to act quickly so as to secure top talent who have many other options that they can pursue and will be attracted not just by the role and the leadership but also by their hiring experience.
·        -  It takes self-development orientation to accept that some attention will need to be given and time invested in perfecting the science and art of hiring.
·        -  It takes strong communication and the ability to inspire others to attract top talent to your organisation in what is increasingly a tough market for talent, particularly if you are up against higher profile organisations, or higher payers.
·         - It takes flexibility to be able to reshape roles and challenges to better meet the aspirations and talents of a potential hire.
·         - It requires managerial competence and empowerment to allow your leaders to hire without unnecessary interference and to trust in their judgement, coaching and not controlling to support great decisions.
·          -It takes good judgement to get it right when hiring.

In summary, great hiring requires all the attributes of great leadership and allows leaders to leave a legacy which is greater than themselves.

Lisette Howlett is author of The Right Hire:  Attract And Retain The Best People, a licensed Sandler Trainer located in London Central, and she has fifteen years of global change leadership and business development experience. Howlett is called upon by business owners of small and medium-sized companies for strategy and business development. Her experience includes financial services, technology, pharma/biotech, manufacturing, IT, media, recruitment and professional services.
For more information please visit

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Fundamentals of Tomorrow’s Leadership, the Basics with a Twist

Guest post from Fiona Murden:

In 1998 I graduated from business school feeling I knew all there was to know about leadership. I began work as a management consultant and much of what I’d learnt was very quickly thrown out of the window. The basics of behaviour tell us far more than the latest fad. I became obsessed with observing like a detective, working out what, why and how. In fact, I was so fascinated that I soon returned to university to complete an MSc in Business Psychology.

Since then I have profiled and coached leaders from across the world. I have lived their journeys with them and while I’ve not bourn the scars or failure (nor shared in the rewards of success!) in their entirety, I have assessed and predicted who would fail, who would succeed. I’ve worked hand in hand with leaders who have struggled and those who have flourished.

With this experience in tow I returned to those original learnings to re-assess their relevance. What I’ve found is that it really isn’t the latest cutting-edge idea that’s most relevant, rather the foundations taught as long ago as philosophers such as Lao Tzu in 600BC that have stood the test of time.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

Whilst we may now add in ‘he or she’ into this quote today, people are people and as the human brain has evolved very little (if at all) over the centuries the fundamentals of good leadership have also remained largely unchanged. What threatened people then, will threaten today, what motivated then, will motivate today. What is however changing is the rate of change itself and the volume of data leaders and followers have to deal with. As a result, those critical aspects of good leadership become even more important. They act as an anchor from which to weather the storm of a turbulent world and the foundation from which to build on new knowledge.

Hence, I believe the fundamentals of good leadership are as true today as they ever were, but with a twist:

1.    Resilience. Leaders have always needed be resilient but what that means is changing. A generation ago resilience meant continuing no matter what: sleeping under the desk, not sleeping at all, skipping vacations, taking calls from a hospital bed. There’s still a badge of honour associated with carrying on in spite of pressure but this sort of behaviour was never sustainable (Arianna Huffington openly talks about this) and is arguably becoming even less so. As a leader of tomorrow there is a need for constant flex to your own physical and emotional needs, being hyper aware, understanding what energises and what drains, carefully managing of life and duties and giving permission for others to warn you when you become blindsided by stress creeping up on you.

2.    Curiosity for Agility. We have an increasing understanding of how ‘plastic’ our brain is, even into later age. Until recently we believed many aspects of our personality were fixed and were unconsciously encouraged to approached life accordingly. However, as a leader of tomorrow, understanding this plasticity means that it is never too late to change or grow, to seek out opportunities, to learn, to flex to a new way of working and to adapt to the changing world around you. Remaining open and curious allows you to embrace unpredictable situations rather than being thrown off track by them.

3.    Building High Performing Teams. All too often top teams are made up of high performing individuals working in silos which is then reflected down through the organisation. This approach massively limits the potential of the whole organisation, restricting the ability to flex and quickly respond to the demands of the fast-moving world. As a leader of tomorrow, it will become ever more critical to understand how to build and enable truly high performing teams that challenge ‘bricks and mortar’ organisation structures and ways of working. You will need this to allow for optimal agility and to fully leverage the collective capability of employees throughout the organisation.

4.    Communicating Vision. The priority of this point is increasing exponentially with the ambiguity of the world around us. As humans we become emotionally and intellectually stifled in times of uncertainty. This results in employees feeling threatened and disengaged. As a leader of tomorrow, it will therefore be imperative to articulate the vision with clarity and passion, really connecting with the audience. This will allow people to feel a sense of unity, purpose and comfort that enables them to engage and perform at their optimum. As a leader it allows you to safely provide freedom to employees on how they work, empowering people to achieve in a way that is best suited to their own strengths, approach and personality.

The enabler of all of these is not only an increasing knowledge of behaviour and how best to leverage it, but also the presence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) working alongside that understanding. Many see AI as a threat but it’s also an amazing opportunity. A McKinsey article published in April 2018, for example says that AI ‘creates space and time to think by filtering the signal from the noise’. As a leader, letting algorithms work on the increasing volumes of data that you are expected to deal with, the aspects which are creating the constant flux and overload will mean that AI can ‘report back only what you need to know and when you need to know it.’ If used effectively both as a leader and employee, it could free up the brain from a huge amount of unnecessary processing and decision making. This will allow focus on the behavioural aspects for leaders who embrace AI to flourish in the landscape of tomorrow.

So, to be a great leader of tomorrow, don’t look to the latest fad or claim, return to the basics as your foundations to remaining agile, then leverage what the future world is offering. 

Fiona Murden is a Chartered Psychologist, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, best-selling author and stimulating public speaker who has spent the past eighteen years working with leaders of multi-national companies. She is also founder and MD of Aroka Ltd which she has run globally for the past 11 years.  Aroka profiles senior leaders in the UK, USA, Europe and Asia Pacific to assess their fit, strengths and the risks in relation to the role that they are being hired for. Her speaking commitments take her into boardrooms as diverse as the Institute of Directors, the Cabinet Office, the Royal College of Surgeons, Lloyd’s of London, The City Women’s Network and Nomura.
Fiona’s book, Defining You was published worldwide in 2018. Defining You opens a window into the process of psychological profiling in business and presents a clear path to improving your effectiveness with immediate actions and tangible tips.