Thursday, October 27, 2016

How Adversity Affects the Backbone, and Soul, of a Leader

Guest post from Bernie Swain:   

Leadership requires all sorts of qualities: judgment, character, confidence, an unshakeable commitment to a work ethic guided by a moral compass. But in order to lead others, people also have to lead themselves, a quality that is often tested during periods of adversity.

I got to know many leaders in politics, the military, business, sports, and entertainment over the 30-plus years that I led the Washington Speakers Bureau, a company I co-founded and built. I learned that one of the key turning points in their lives came as a result of a personal setback that shook them to their core. They drew on inner resources they sometimes didn’t know they had to not only persevere through an unexpected job loss, health issue, or family crisis but to define and shape a future that would have new meaning. They emerged battered, but stronger—and much more aware of what they could control, and what they couldn’t.

The lessons they learned—about themselves, the curveballs thrown by life, and the power that comes from staying the course—offer insights to all who aspire to leadership roles that will help them harden their backbones and soften their souls. Here are some of those lessons.
Lou Holtz is the only coach in football history to have taken teams from four colleges to a top 20 ranking. But when he was 28, he was let go from his job as a defensive backfield coach at the University of South Carolina.

He had a big mortgage, no savings, two kids, and a wife who was one month away from delivering their third. “Have you ever thought about going into a different profession?” Lou was asked by the coach who laid him off.
The answer, of course, was and is no, and that coach wound up rehiring him. The lessons young Holtz learned that year “have guided me all my life,” he told me.

“Adversity is part of life, no matter who you are, what your age, and what you do. You will never outgrow or outlive it, but you can be motivated by it. You have two choices: you either stay down or pick yourself up.”
Judy Woodruff has been a prominent television journalist and news anchor for more than 40 years. She’s also the mother of three children. Her oldest, Jeffrey, was born with a mild form of spina bifida, a defect that involves the spinal cord. When he was 10 months old, Jeffrey had a shunt implanted—shunts drain away excess fluid—and he became an active kid who played sports and did well academically.
But when he was in the 10th grade, the shunt needed to be replaced, there was a complication, and “something went terribly wrong” during follow-up surgery, Judy recalls, leaving Jeffrey with a serious brain injury. He would be functional again on some level, but never fully recover. He couldn’t walk, his short-term memory was gone, his speech was severely compromised.

“We willed ourselves to go on,” Judy recalls. She and her husband, fellow journalist Al Hunt Jr., pulled together, helped by a group of Jeffrey’s former teachers who became volunteer tutors and by medical students who served as companions. Jeffrey is just as smart as before, but “because of his physical disabilities, and especially because of his impaired short-term memory, every day for him is like climbing Mount Everest.” Jeffrey met the daily challenge with “courage and determination.”  Eventually, he went back to school and graduated from college. Now, more than 15 years later, he has a “pretty good life,” lives in a group home and has a job.

“I would never wish our experience on anyone,” Judy says, “and yet seeing what our son has accomplished against such long odds has been unimaginably rewarding. When you meet Jeffrey Hunt and see what it takes for him to get through the day—and how he does it with a positive outlook and a sense of humor—it makes your own problems seem very small . . . Al and I could spend the rest of our lives being angry. But we take our cue from Jeffrey. We get on with life.”  

Stew Leonard Jr. led a charmed life for many years, helping to run the fabulously successful chain of Stew Leonard’s food stores founded by his father. Everything was good until New Year’s Day 1989 when his 21-month-old son, Stewie, escaped attention for just a few moments and fell into a pool.  “Life can change in an instant,” Stew remembers of his son’s death. “Even at that moment, I knew everything would be divided into ‘before’ and ‘after.’ “

The “after” was predictably very dark at first. Besides blaming each other for what happened, Stew and his wife, Kim, went through waves of grief, anger, and resentment.

“Sometimes, well-meaning people would say, ‘You’ll get over this.’ But one of the lessons I learned is that you don’t ever get over a trauma that deep. You can’t simply wrap it up, leave it behind, and move on with your life as if it hadn’t happened.”

But what you can do is change. “I am a different person . . . I hug my four daughters and my wife a lot longer and tighter now. And my life is slower now. Oh, work is fast, but I look at people differently. When I look at someone today, I am overwhelmed with the thought, ‘What’s happening in their life?’

“What Stewie’s death taught me falls somewhere between empathy and perspective . . . I was born with advantages and privilege. Most people aren’t. When tragedy hits, it’s very humbling. You realize your basic humanity, and that it’s something we all share.” 

More than 25 years after losing his son, Stew says, “I am still trying to figure it out. What I can say clearly is that I am inspired to be a better person.”

Washington DC-based BERNIE SWAIN is co-founder of Washington Speakers Bureau and today's  foremost authority on the lecture industry.  Over the past 35 years, Swain has represented former US Presidents, cabinet members, business executives, public figures, media leaders, and sports legends.  His new book, What Made Me Who I Am, is available everywhere.  For more, visit

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Leaders Should Define More Than the Mountain Top, but Less Than the Whole Plan

Guest post from Hamish Knox:

When it comes to defining their vision, leaders tend to fall into two camps. Camp one can clearly articulate a mountain top they want to reach, but create zero clarity on how they’re going to get to that mountain top. Camp two has their mountain top defined and they also have a step-by-step guide to get from where they are today (base camp) to their mountain top.
Both camps fail to create sustained motivation in their people. Camp one fails because they haven’t defined base camp so some of their team will draw their own conclusions about the likelihood of getting from base camp to their leader’s mountain top and give up because they feel it is unreachable or unsustainable. Camp two fails because their team feels no connection to their plan and while they may go through the motions of following their leader’s plan they aren’t fully bought in.

To create buy-in and sustained motivation in your team for executing your vision make sure you:
1)    Clearly define your mountain top
Humans are story-based creatures. On the negative side this causes your team to take a snippet of information, which may be inaccurate to begin with, and weave an entire novel-length story that they will share with their colleagues. On the positive side this enables leaders to create buy-in by weaving a story that each member of the team can identify with in whole or in part.

When you are defining your mountain top ask yourself:

·         Where am I?

·         What am I hearing/seeing?

·         What am I saying/doing?

·         How am I feeling?

·         Who am I there with?

·         What are they hearing/seeing?

·         What are they saying/doing?

·         How are they feeling?
Using those questions you can weave a story to share with your people that will create more buy-in than any slide deck filled with statistics.

3)    Define base camp
Without a clear definition of where your organization is today your team may not even be able to see the mountain you want to climb much less the mountain top. This isn’t permission for you to lower your goals, but it is a warning that unveiling your ultimate mountain top to your team (e.g. pivoting your business model from transaction-based to subscription-based with an entirely new set of customers) may cause decreased motivation and turnover.

If you discover that your ultimate mountain top is too far from base camp to create sustained motivation in the majority of your team, define 2-4 interim mountain tops and roll each out as the “ultimate” destination. A mountain top summited becomes your next base camp on the journey to your ultimate mountain top.

3)    Define waypoints to the mountain top

Years ago I set a really stupid goal, which was to triple my business in 12 months. The goal wasn’t stupid because of the mountain top. It was stupid because my response to “how ya gonna get there” was “I’ll figure it out.”

Winners don’t “figure it out” they at least have a clear mountain top, a clearly defined base camp and defined waypoints (camps 1-X) that will indicate they are on the right path to achieving their goal.
Defining your waypoints will give your team comfort in having smaller targets to reach on the way up your mountain and create sustained motivation because their next destination isn’t too far away.

4)    Co-create the path between camps with your team

Humans have a preference for editing over creation. Give your team a complete step-by-step guide from base camp to the top of your mountain and they’ll spend time editing it instead of executing it.

Instead, share with your team your mountain top, base camp and waypoints and challenge them to create the path to the top. You’ll likely discover that they have more effective or efficient ways of achieving your vision that you could have come up with on your own, and because they were involved in creating the path, your team has greater buy-in.
Great leaders not only have great vision they can clearly articulate the vision from where their organization is today to where they will it to be, but they also create buy-in and sustained motivation in their team by lowering their anxiety about stretching to achieve their vision and enrolling them in creating the path to their mountain top.

Hamish Knox is author of CHANGE THE SANDLER WAY:  Understanding The Human Dynamics
That Cause New Initiatives To Succeed.  He currently heads a Sandler Training Center in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. For more information, visit

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Great Leaders Embrace Innovation, and Innovation Demands Risks

Guest post by Randal Moss:

Great leaders consistently talk about the need for their organization to ‘be innovative’ in their thinking. They recognize that innovation is a strategy for growth and that being able to harness that power will drive their organization’s success and their own as well. Often overlooked by great leaders is that very successful organizational level innovation requires a willingness to take risks, cultural openness to external ideas, and a structure to protect non-traditional ideas as they develop and prove value through proofs of concept testing.

No Guts, No Growth, No Glory
Taking risks is an inextricable part of being innovative. Bets made on well researched unknowns led to the most cutting edge products in history. The hubris to use new materials in creative and non-traditional ways led to Teflon, Kevlar, and Viagra. Great leaders develop an appetite for risk and a willingness to support the development of nontraditional idea when they see the potential for gains. Great leaders know the difference between incremental and exponential growth, and which kind delivers glory.

Culturally Open To Greatness
Great leaders also know that they have to create a culture that supports innovation, and therefore a culture that embraces and celebrates risk. In some industries that is daunting. In companies who are market leaders because ‘they have always done things that way’ innovation can face an uphill battle to drive change. Great leaders challenge their organizations to go beyond the day to day and seek out their full potential. Securing executive support for, and then creating, a formalized innovation program is a critical first step. Executive support sends the message that innovation is a priority. Celebrating innovations publicly is another important activity. Whether new products are commercial blockbusters or break even lines of business, publicly celebrating new ventures reinforces the idea that the company is not satisfied with stagnation and appreciates growth. This is even more critical for new lines of business that came from an employee suggestion or innovation submission.

When organizations continue to promote and call positive attention to internally developed new ideas, and encourage their employees to participate in innovation, they become more open to change and the leads to the genuine consideration of external input. Whether this comes in the form of consumer feedback, or partner input in industrial enterprises. Truly innovative companies are not so conceited that they think only the best ideas come from them. They seek out inspiration externally, and are positioned to create partnerships and joint ventures that drive exponential value. Most importantly great leaders measure and demand innovative thinking and effort from their employees. New products and services do not spontaneously appear - they germinate from a seed idea and are intentionally nurtured into self-sustaining lines of business.

Structure For Success
To drive growth and cultural change you have to make a concerted and intentional effort at innovation. Many of the companies we think as ‘innovative’ actually have innovation labs dedicated to creating new opportunities. Dell, Starbucks, Shell Oil, Amazon, BMW, General Electric Consumer Appliances, Under Armor, Google all have dedicated internal innovation initiatives. These initiatives have a number of similar characteristics; independence, executive support, corporate visibility, and a defined structure and path for attracting ideas and developing them into profitable innovations.

To extract the most value from an external facing organization that values new ideas and wants to monetize them you have to have a process for attracting, evaluating, and prototyping ideas. Great leaders are able to energize people and solicit ideas from every corner of the organization. They can lead a diverse team in setting the business requirements for funding new ideas. They have the wherewithal to know that you get what you measure, they craft a review rubric to ensure smart investments, and shepherd proof-of-concept prototypes through the corporate bureaucracy all the way lines of business.

Great Leaders Embrace Innovation, and Innovation Demands Risks
All of this work demands leaders to take on a certain level of risk. There are no guarantees innovation will deliver a specific ROI. Looking at a wide variety of business across a number of industries there are some facts that cannot be ignored; every industry will be disrupted at some point, business evolution is a prerequisite for longevity, the only change is constant.

To grow you must be innovative.

To be innovative you must take risks.

Taking risks is the mark of a great leader.

Randal C. Moss is an award winning marketer who focuses on engaging organizations and applying technology to drive growth. He has over 12 years of experience including institutionalizing innovation development frameworks, and creating consumer engagement solutions for companies and clients across the CPG, Real Estate, and nonprofit sectors. Randal has spoken at conferences such as SXSW (3X), State of Play, National Human Services Assembly National Meeting, Disney Institute’s Digital Now, and the American Marketing Association Hot Topic Tour.
Moss’ first book is The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age (Wiley).  His newest book, IGNITE (August 2016) is available for purchase at most fine book stores,, as well as Amazon and other online booksellers.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Everyone has Values

Guest post from regular contributor S. Chris Edmonds:

Some time ago, I had a conversation online with someone who disagreed with me. I enjoy dialog with people having differing viewpoints, especially if it is handled in a respectful manner (on both sides.)

This leader had read a post of mine (Surround Yourself With Values-Aligned Compadres) and tweeted, “I wish more people had values. Too few do!”  I know what he meant. Many people don’t seem to act in alignment with any particular values. But I had a different take.

To me, everyone has values. Each person aligns to their values every day, and we can (sometimes pretty quickly) see what their values are.

I responded, “Everyone has values. Bullies have values. Teen gang members have values. They just hold values that are different than my own.”

The leader didn’t see it quite that way. In his mind, values were all positive. But values are defined as “a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.”  Thus, a thug may “value” some power or material thing as more important than courtesy and respect toward a stranger. He or she is operating on values--they may be different than yours or mine, but they are values nonetheless.

My experiences with values alignment began formally four decades ago, in my YMCA days.

In the 1970's I was actively involved in values clarification. A couple of my bosses used values clarification in our work teams. I used it with my camp directors and counselors to ensure we were all on the same page with how we'd treat each other, how we'd treat our campers, and how we'd treat their family members each summer.

In all the values clarification sessions I ran (for literally hundreds of people)\ not one person failed to come up with their personal values.  The lists varied, especially in how they defined them, but every participant was satisfied with their own list.

I also learned how values-aligned teen gangs are. I directed a YMCA national project that looked at what teens of “today” (then, early ‘80s) were seeking. That study found that the teens were looking for three things. First, to do “cool, different” things than what they did with their families; second, to belong to a group; and third, to do things with that group that advanced a meaningful purpose.  These same three things are true for teen gangs. The values are often very different than those of other teams, but they still correspond to doing cool things, to belong, and to advance what is (to the gang) a meaningful purpose.

This data and my experiences have led me to believe strongly that everyone has values. We experience others' values in how we are treated and how we see them treat others. We experience them in decisions they make. We often question other’s decisions from a values standpoint. (Have you ever said, “I would never do that. I value my _______ too much to go that route!”)

The beliefs and principles we hold dear guide our individual plans, decisions, and actions. By formalizing them, we can quickly assess how well we are living them, and also assess how aligned the values of people in my life are with mine. This can help me make wise choices about who to hang out with, who to work with, and who to spend my life with.

S. Chris Edmonds is a sought-after speaker, author, and executive consultant. After a 15-year career leading successful teams, Chris founded his consulting company, The Purposeful Culture Group, in 1990. Chris has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies since 1995. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Amazon best sellers The Culture Engine and Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Learn from his blog posts, podcasts, assessments, research, and videos at Get free resources plus weekly updates from Chris by subscribing here

Thursday, September 29, 2016

New Approaches to Leadership Development: A New VUCA Filter

Guest post from Lorraine Grubbs:

The US Army War College, in the post cold war years, described the future business environment in four words:  Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity - code name: VUCA.  In my work (building loyal employee cultures), I define VUCA through a new filter: Value people, Unparalleled communication, Curious mind, and Accept responsibility. This new definition revolves around appreciating employees and, done right, can become your greatest competitive advantage.   

Value people:  President Teddy Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  That is as true today as it was when he said it in early 1900.  People are one of your biggest assets.  To get them to perform at the highest level, they need to feel valued. You can’t fake caring.   Leaders who demonstrate they care will gain the respect of their people.

Action ItemShow new hires the “love” right away.  At Houston based David Weekley Homes, as the new hires exit their orientation session, they walk down a hallway lined with employees clapping and welcoming them to the company.  This is a great way to demonstrate your caring environment from the onset.  What are you doing to ensure your new hires feel welcomed from the start?

Unparalleled communication:  Be a great communicator.  Leaders should be aware that people learn in different ways.  Some learn through listening, some through doing, and some through reading.  Leaders who are proficient communicators understand how employees learn and adapt their communication style accordingly.  Good communication makes employees feel like they are in the know and keeps rumors to a minimum. 

Action Item:  Set up focus groups and ask employees how they stay informed about the company.  Ask for suggestions on how to improve communication, then take their ideas and implement them if possible.  In this way, everyone will be on the same page.  At Sugarland based Hotze Health and Wellness Center Dr. Steven Hotze gathers the troops together every week to recite their vision and mission statement.  In their “huddle”, they take time to recognize employees, talk about anything new, answer questions and within 30 minutes, everyone returns to work.  Employees appreciate being in the loop.  It makes them feel respected.  

Curious Mind:  Get to know your people.  Who are they?  What do they like?  On the flip side, let them get to know and understand who you are.  Leaders should be curious about their people.  Employees feel valued when you remember their names, their accomplishments and details about their families.  At Boston based General Insulation, CEO Frank Granara not only remembers everyone’s names, but is aware of what’s going on with their families as well.  And his employees love him for it.  

Action Item:  At your next meeting give each employee a form to fill out.  Ask things like:  

·         What’s your favorite candy?
·         What’s your favorite movie?
·         What do you like to do on your days off?

Then, at the next meeting, hand them a sample of their favorite candy.  Doing little things will amaze and impress employees and they, in turn will learn to do the same for their teams.

Accept Responsibility:  Employees who understand a company’s “one thing” are more apt to feel a part of the mission and embrace the company as their own.  They will accept responsibility, as owners, to ensure they do their best to help the company succeed.  Everyone in an organization needs to understand what the vision of the company is and how their job contributes to the big picture.  When I worked at Southwest Airlines, we were taught that we were in the customer service industry even though we flew airplanes.  Ultimately, we came up with a tagline that everyone could resonate with:  “We give America the freedom to fly”, and every one of us knew what role we played in making that happen.

Action Item:  In your next meeting, ask your employees what business you are in.  Create the “one thing” you do above all else. Then make sure all your employees know, understand and live your “one thing”. 

By following the redefined VUCA “people” competencies, your leaders will build a culture of loyalty and respect. Employees will be proud and defend “their” company against any competitor.  Employers who are consistently voted among the top companies to work for have discovered that by sticking to the newly defined VUCA principles, their employees work harder and customers are happier.  And, their bottom line reflects it.   

About the author:

Lorraine Grubbs recently co-authored  “Beyond the Executive Comfort Zone: Outrageous Tactics to Ignite Individual Performance” ( Lorraine is president of the consulting firm Lessons in Loyalty. As a former 15-year executive with Southwest Airlines, she takes principles and practices she helped develop to companies that strive for better employee engagement and loyalty. Look for her soon-to-be released book, “Award Winning Companies Create Happy Employees”.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Gaining Trust on Day One

Guest post by Paul Smith:

It happens every time you join a new company, or even when you change roles at the company you work for now. You have to spend months winning the trust and respect you’d already earned with the last group of people you managed.

Or do you?

Consider the results of a July 1999 New York Times/CBS survey. It asked, “Of people in general, how many do you think are trustworthy?” The average answer was 30 percent. Then it asked, “Of people you know personally, how many do you think are trustworthy?” The average answer shot up to 70 percent!

What does that suggest? It suggests that people who don’t know you default to not trusting you. But people who do know you default to trusting you unless you’ve given them a reason not to.
The good news is, there is a shortcut to earning trust – storytelling. Storytelling almost magically builds trust. Telling a personal story can move you from the 30 percent to the 70 percent, because it provides a personal, intimate, and perhaps vulnerable glimpse into your world. Reading the facts on your resume doesn’t really let someone get to know you, and spending enough time together could take months or years. A story is the shortest distance between being a stranger and a friend.

A great example of this happened in January of 2005 when Procter & Gamble bought the Gillette Company in the largest consumer packaged goods acquisition in history. As you might expect, Gillette employees were naturally concerned about what would happen to their jobs, pay, and benefits.

A few days after the deal closed, the CEO of P&G, A. G. Lafley, and several senior Gillette officials, held a huge meeting at Gillette headquarters in Boston’s Prudential Tower. The purpose of the meeting was to put employees at ease over the change in ownership. They invited as many Gillette employees as could fit in the auditorium. One of them was Mike Berry.

The Gillette officials spoke first. In their prepared remarks, they covered a number of reasons why this was a great deal for Gillette employees. “P&G is a market leader in almost every category they compete in . . . they have a 160-year history of treating their employees well . . . they have a very generous profit sharing plan,” etc. When it was A. G.’s turn to speak, he also had his list of reasons why this would be a good thing for Gillette employees. But before he got to those details, he told the audience a little about himself personally. How he started his career in the military, a little about his family, his hobbies, where he likes to go on vacation, and so on.

When the meeting was over, Mike’s reaction reflected the sentiment of many in the room. “Wow. I know A. G. better after five minutes than I know Gillette leaders after five years!” And that’s exactly what they needed to know—a little about A. G. personally. After all, what those Gillette employees needed most at that moment was to trust the man in charge of the company that just bought them. A. G. could have told them, “Trust me. We’ll take care of you.” But that wouldn’t have been nearly as effective as letting them get to know him a little. A. G.’s story moved him in the minds of his audience from the 30 percent to the 70 percent.

Don’t be afraid to share a few personal stories early in your tenure of a new job. It can take months off your start-up curve of earning trust and respect so you can start making a difference on day one.

© Paul Smith, author of Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale (AMACOM)

About the Author:
Paul Smith is the author of Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust and Close the Sale (AMACOM, 2016). He is a widely sought out speaker, coach, and trainer on business storytelling techniques whose clients include Hewlett Packard, Bayer Medical, Progressive Insurance, and Ford Motor Company. As the author of Lead with a Story (AMACOM, 2012), his work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Time, Forbes, The Washington Post, Success, and Investor’s Business Daily. A former Procter & Gamble communications research executive with an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of Business, he lives in suburban Ohio. For more information, please visit

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Leaders need to Lead

Guest post by Ken Marlin:

Leadership is one of those concepts that management gurus like to throw around. There are tons of books and articles on the subject. One article I read said that leaders look forward while managers manage what just happened. I don’t buy it: good leaders do both. Another said that leaders “influence” while managers “direct.” Nah … Leaders direct too—when their suggestions don’t get the desired result. An HBR article a few years ago talked about the need for leaders to create value vs. just measuring it. I like that concept. But how do you do it? To me, most of these books and articles are more about “managing” than about “leading.”

There are also a fair number of military-themed books, many of which take advantage of things such as the 14 Leadership Traits I learned while serving in the Marines, or they leverage the teachings of Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher. But there too, there is a link missing. 

A fundamental premise of the Marine Corps approach to leadership is that it is inextricably linked with winning. It begins with a clear articulation of a unit’s long term strategic objectives—and the development of a disciplined strategy to achieve those objectives. Simply managing effectively—killing more bad guys or making more profit—isn’t a strategic objective, and it isn’t enough. Leaders decide which battles must be fought as part of a longer term effort to win strategic objectives. And they decide which ones to skip. They decide what resources to allocate. They think three steps ahead.

It never ceases to surprise me how many CEOs don’t understand the concept of linking leadership to actually winning—not just managing. Like too many politicians and too many on Wall Street, they just keep pushing forward along some path, such as reducing costs, improving profit margins, growing the company 15 percent, getting promoted or re-elected. That’s not leading. It kills companies.

Marine Corps Leadership also requires that leaders have true “domain expertise.” There are far too many organizations led by generalists. My father is a retired engineer with his Master’s degree in thermodynamics. He worked on the Mercury and Gemini space programs before moving to Cummins Engines where he helped develop the small diesel engines now used in pickup trucks. He used to bemoan senior managers that knew a lot about finance, labor negotiations and “leadership” but couldn’t tell a crank shaft from a piston rod. “Develop real domain expertise,” he told me. Unless you do, you will be at the mercy of subject matter experts. You won’t be able to challenge them and you will never be able to lead the organization to the next level. Marines embrace that concept. 

Leadership also requires that leaders actually lead. Managers work within the realm of what’s possible believing that they are constrained by what they see as the facts on the ground. Marines (and other leaders) certainly take note of the facts on the ground but often they see those facts differently—and then they bend them in their direction. They motivate a team to accomplish things that others believed impossible and lead them to victory. Dwight Eisenhower; Douglas MacArthur, Chesty Puller are military examples. Nelson Mandela, Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, and Aung San Suu Kyi are political examples, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are recent business world examples. George Bernard Shaw once said: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” 

Over the years, I have come to appreciate that these principles Marines practice in an effort to successfully execute their missions also can lead to success on Wall Street and on Main Street. I have seen first-hand that those who lead units without applying these principles succeed far less often than those who do. I won’t call them doomed to fail—some people do just fine. Some people win lotto. But those that do apply these principles have a much higher likelihood of success—and along the way they have less drama and feel good about how they got there too. I like that. It’s the Marine Corps Way.

Ken Marlin is founder and managing partner of the award-winning investment bank Marlin & Associates and the author of The Marine Corps Way to Win on Wall Street (St. Martin’s Press; August 30, 2016).

Thursday, September 8, 2016

How to Manage 5 Difficult Personalities at Work

Guest post from Merrick Rosenberg:

At extreme levels, our most admirable personality traits undermine us. Charles Dickens said it best in his novel Dombey and Son:
“…vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess!”
To understand the vice, and address it, we must examine the virtue first.
In your work environment, you manage four main personality types. No one style is superior or inferior – they all complement each other. Indeed, effective leaders learn to employ and mirror each style, like a chameleon. I’ll introduce you to the virtues and vices of each style, and then I’ll explain how to counter the extremes.

Eagle: Dominant to Domineering

Eagles are impossible not to spot. Direct, confident, and results-driven, they soar into the situation with an appetite for action. In crises, you want an Eagle on your side. 

When Eagles take their virtues to extremes though, they become what I call The Commander. Their natural leadership ability morphs into bossiness and aggression. Their frankness can devolve into callous insensitivity. They degrade and even frighten their coworkers in the insatiable pursuit of results.

When Commanders emerge, understand their inner need for achievement and respect. They must do what they perceive to be great things in order to validate themselves. Counterintuitive as it may seem, giving the Eagles that desired recognition can tame their vice.

Parrot: Passionate to Promotional
Parrots are the social birds who rally the team. Enthusiastic, outgoing, and optimistic, they have a knack for engaging people. Parrots can talk your head off and keep you enthralled.

When Parrots go overboard, they become The Promoter, a self-involved chatterbox. Their emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills lose sight of any objective. In their clamoring for attention, they distract themselves and their coworkers. Meetings become pontification sessions, as Promoters love the sound of their own voices.

Parrots need to feel liked, and a little positive feedback can quench their desire for appreciation. Something as simple as, “Hey, I really need your opinion on ____,” can guide Promoters back into productive conversation.

Dove: Conciliator to Martyr

Doves help their coworkers feel supported. Harmonious, helpful, and compassionate almost to a fault, they genuinely want others to be happy.

But when Doves go too far, they become The Martyr, their passive-aggressive twin. Because Martyrs must solve everyone else’s problems, they become overwhelmed. They suffer quietly rather than voice their frustration. If no one recognizes their sacrifices, they’ll dish out contempt instead of empathy.

The Dove finds self-worth in service to others – a virtue, no doubt. But if others fail to acknowledge that service, here comes The Martyr. Commend Doves for the specific things they thought no one would notice. It’s the little things, not the massive achievements, that Doves want recognition for. 

Owl: Analytical to Unpleasable

Logical, detail-oriented, and accurate, Owls sweat the small things, and we love them for it. They charge headlong into data analysis, strategy, and planning with an obsession for getting it right. Let’s just say that Owls tend to make better accountants than Parrots.

But in excess, the Owl becomes The Critic. Such Owls become hyper-skeptical of people and new ideas. They overwhelmingly find faults instead of solutions. Nothing will work and no one is to be trusted in a Critic’s opinion.     

Know that Owls are perfectionists. Work is integral to their identity, so they take shortcomings very personally. Change the dialogue to bring the Owl back. Questions like, “How would you improve this?” and “How you would add to this?” help the Owl become a builder instead of a bulldozer.

Energy Vampires: Personality #5

Many people lose passion for their work. They go through the motions, count down the minutes, and leave the office as soon as they can. Eagles, Parrots, Doves, and Owls can all become The Energy Vampire, the disgruntled person who sucks the spirit out of coworkers.

Rather than firing Energy Vampires outright, or telling them that negativity isn’t tolerated, identify the root of this disengagement. If you don’t address the cause, it will create more Energy Vampires.

Remember, you didn’t hire a dead battery. You might find that a new project, a change in teams, or more self-direction recharges the person in question.

Don’t Hesitate

You cannot tolerate difficult personalities without bringing down the person, the team, and, eventually, the whole organization. When you enable and tacitly condone toxic personalities, you lose credibility with the people hurt by them. Without credibility, you can’t lead.

Rather than fight the symptoms, fight the disease. What stressor, situation, or dynamic fuels the negative behavior? What virtue, in excess, has a become a vice?

The good in people doesn’t vanish into thin air. Usually, it hides behind a cloud of unmet needs. Stay calm, find the need, and pull the virtue back down to Earth.

Merrick Rosenberg is the author of The Chameleon and CEO of Take Flight Learning.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Leadership Growth Starts with Courageous Communication

Guest post from Matt Paese

Talent Exec:  So, we have a serious leadership shortage and it’s getting worse.

CEO:  So hire more people.

Talent Exec:  We’re doing that. It’s not enough.

CEO:  What about our development programs? Aren’t they working?

Talent Exec: Not quickly enough. We need to get more people into the pipeline. Like now.

CEO: Which people?                                

Talent Exec:  The ones with leadership potential. The ones who will grow the fastest.

CEO:  Okay. What do we say to everyone else?

The decision to accelerate leadership growth comes quickly and easily. There’s often no alternative.  But things get messy when you have to decide whom to accelerate. That means differentiating between people by their levels of potential. This too can be done, with the right approach and tools, and it works particularly well in a private conference room, far away from the eyes and ears of the rest of the company.

Out in the hallways, talking about accelerated leadership growth gets tricky.  Sitting down with the top performers to share the good news is easy and rewarding.  It’s figuring out what to say to everyone else that hijacks good intentions.  Referring to some leaders as “high potential”, or to development efforts as “acceleration programs” can be like tip-toeing through an employee engagement landmine.  Say the wrong thing and you’ll signal a secret in-group.  Only the cool kids get development.  Same old no-diversity boys club.  Enter: morale crisis.

But leadership shortages cripple business progress and create urgency for accelerated development.  It’s not like there’s an option to do nothing.  Still, we’ve seen some of the most determined organizations embark on the effort to identify high-potential leaders, only to be stymied by philosophical resistance. The rationale goes like this: "We can’t create an elitist culture," and "What will we say to the ones who aren't identified?"

So, when your business situation mandates that you grow leaders faster from within, and you can’t accelerate everyone at once, what are the right messages to share?

Start With Acceleration Ground Rules

Acceleration is an investment in the business that also has big impact on culture.  Although not all people in an organization will be involved, it’s fair to say that acceleration affects everyone – by inclusion or omission.  So it’s essential to establish some ground rules that can be discussed openly with the entire organization.  Below are the basics of a clear and public communication plan.  If you can’t discuss these freely, chances are you’ll get resistance, and ultimately struggle to grow leadership:

·         We need this. Accelerating the growth of a subset of leaders (with high potential) is a business necessity.

      Everyone is eligible, although not everyone can participate at the same time. Diversity is a value.

      It’s not a club.  Those receiving specialized development experiences will rotate periodically.

      It’s not a promise.  Those receiving specialized development are not guaranteed promotions – all promotions are based on readiness for the requirements of the role.

      It doesn’t deny growth for others.  Everyone in the organization still receives development.

      Everyone matters to the company’s future.  Not being offered special accelerated development does not lessen one’s value to the organization, or limit ones prospects for advancement.

Each organization has to customize these messages, but establishing a clear narrative that people can discuss, and even debate, is part of the essential foundation of an organization that truly works at growth.  Making adjustments is healthy.  In fact, doing so signals to the organization that you’re listening.

Be Straight with Accelerated Learners, and Offer a Choice

Most people appreciate the opportunity to learn at work.  But when the objective is to learn faster, that’s different.  Apprehension is not unusual.  But one thing is sure: People won’t learn faster if they’re not aware that doing so is the objective.  Translation:  You have to tell people that they’ve been identified for accelerated learning.  You don’t have to call them “high potentials”.  In fact, you don’t have to name people at all – just name the experience they’ll be part of (e.g., specialized learning, the leader experience, etc ).  That helps to avoid perceptions of permanent designations.

But be careful.  It's not enough to simply tell high-potential leaders that management thinks highly of them and explain what will happen next. That alone won't cultivate the engagement needed to drive accelerated learning.  Individual leaders must be offered the choice to participate, or to opt out without negative consequences.

Oddly, this practice is routinely overlooked. Perhaps in days gone by leaders were more predictable in their desire for advancement.  Not so anymore.  Fewer leaders seek leadership advancement, and those who do often have conditions.

Step Up to the Conversations Your People Want

It’s easy to have healthy discussions with top performers.  But it’s tough when someone asks, “Why not me?”  Weaknesses in the performance management system, coupled with a lack of skills among top leaders to navigate these conversations, can create resentment among those not identified as high potentials.  They don’t get a sound explanation of why, or they're left with a feeling that their advancement possibilities are limited.  

Wary of these outcomes, many organizations adopt policies of secrecy, keeping the names of high-potential leaders known only to an inner circle of senior players.   But while this approach seems to sidestep the communication challenges, it undermines the original intent of the acceleration effort.  It’s not necessary or prudent to make lists of names and potential status public, but that doesn’t make saying nothing the better alternative.

Imagine you’re the high potential leader: You’re experienced, work exceptionally hard, and your track record shows it.  Management has plans for you, if you can grow.  They not only hope, but need you to acquire new skills and capabilities, and quickly. You’ll need to stretch yourself to take on new challenges. You may be asked to participate in key projects that can teach you crucial lessons, or you may attend formal learning experiences that provide instrumental insights.

But no one has mentioned any of this to you.

Somehow, when leaders graduate to senior management, they become weirdly hesitant to talk honestly about the performance and potential of others.  But this doesn’t square with what most people want.  Ask nearly any employee, particularly the high performers, and they’ll beg for more feedback, not less.  It’s no secret that people want to know how they’re doing, and what their prospects for the future look like, even if the news isn’t good.  These fundamental truths are core to the effort to grow leaders.

One thing is sure: Avoiding these conversations makes the problem worse, particularly when the organization is facing a critical leadership shortage.  Closing the gap is not a task management can accomplish alone.  And for that reason, it’s essential to confront a leadership crisis by starting with your communication plan.  Learn to talk about leadership potential with all your people, and you’ll soon learn to do what it takes to grow the leaders you need.

About author Matt Paese:
Matt Paese is a vice president of succession management and c-suite services for Development Dimensions International, or DDI. He is the co-author of Leaders Ready Now, out in June, and Grow Your Own Leaders. In his work at DDI, Matt consults with senior leaders to design and implement strategic organizational talent initiatives, including succession management, CEO succession, executive assessment, executive coaching, development and team building. His insights have been featured by media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and the Financial Times.