Monday, December 22, 2014

What to Get Your Boss for a Holiday Gift

This post recently appears in SmartBlog on Leadership:
If you google “gift ideas for your boss”, you will find pages of results, mostly from companies that sell gifts.

However, if you search “should I get a holiday gift for my boss”, the consensus answers seems to be “absolutely not!”

At least according to Miss Manners (Judith Martin), Emily Post, Ask a Manager (Alison Green), and the Evil HR Lady herself (Suzanne Lucas), all very credible workplace etiquette experts.

They say it’s either blatant sucking up, or could at least give the appearance of sucking up. Holiday office gifts should be given “down”, but not “up”.

On the other end of the boss gift giving continuum, you find holiday gifts that will impress your boss. While I think the idea of giving a holiday gift to impress your boss is pretty slimy, I have to give the author credit for being transparent.
Where do I stand on the issue of holiday gift giving for the boss? Somewhere very close to the “don’t, it’s poor office etiquette”, but perhaps not that extreme.

Yes, I think it’s never appropriate to give your boss anything too expensive, but I can come up with a few thoughtful, inexpensive ideas that would be appreciated without crossing the line into sucking up territory.

Here are a few guidelines and ideas for boss holiday gift giving:
1. Never spend any more on your boss than you are spending on your co-workers.

2. If you are a boss yourself, always spend less on your boss than you spend on your own employees.
3. Stay away from gifts that are too personal or intimate, i.e., nothing that you would buy your spouse or significant other.

4. DO NOT fall prey to most of the crap on lists like this. No, thank-you, but I really don’t need a Dachshund letter organizer or a Desktop skee-ball machine.
5. Stay away from self-help books, like “How to be a Better Leader”. The boss may think you are sending a message.

6. While a small, work-related framed picture is sometimes a good idea, a framed picture of yourself is creepy. I would also avoid a picture of you and your boss with your arms around each other. That just might make your co-workers a bit uncomfortable the next time they are in your boss’s office getting reprimanded for something and you’re staring back at them being hugged by your boss.
7. Homemade goodies are definitely OK. Everyone loves Christmas cookies, including this boss. A small plate, not a gift basket that takes up the entire desk.

8. A nice pen would be OK, especially if you’ve noticed that your boss favors a certain type of pen.
9. Anything Dilbert. Good bosses don’t take themselves too seriously.

10. Something with an inspirational leadership quote. Even better if you’ve heard your boss mention the quote.
11. A card, with a nice note.

Regarding "group gifts":

What about the group gift from “all of us”? Some would say that a group gift is a way to work around the appearance of sucking up. However, the group gift can be fraught with just as many landmines. First of all, if you are the organizer, your co-workers may see you as sucking up. Plus, you now not only have to find a gift that you hope your boss with like, but you also have to please all of your co-workers.

Then, who decides how much to chip in? This person just started a new job and was asked to chip in $100! While $100 may seem ludicrous to some, it must have sounded reasonable to someone. If this ever happens to you, and you either think it’s too much to spend or you just don’t want to chip in, you can always quote me or any of my sources and say “no thank-you, it’s not considered proper office adequate”. And if you are the organizer, please don’t get cute and leave names off the card of those that didn’t chip in.

Good luck, and please don’t forget to count your blessings and have a wonderful holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Currency of Relationships

Guest post from Erica Peitler:

Today all work involves engaging and collaborating with others. If you lead any
size team and relationships are a problem for you, your plans will most definitely derail. Be attentive and ensure that your relationships are built on solid foundations and that you continually nurture them over time.

Build Your Relationship Currency with Three Building Blocks:

  •     Establish Credibility
  •     Be an Authentic Messenger
  •     Demonstrate Gravitas
Establish Credibility: Relationships in business are often first established in forums where technical topics are discussed. Asking insightful questions, listening attentively to what others have to say, validating someone else’s viewpoint with your own experiences, and sharing useful information will start to establish your credibility. These behaviors also signal your sincerity to build mutually beneficial relationships versus engaging in superficial conversations with either no agenda or in which your own personal agenda is emphasized.

Making a positive first impression through interactive engagement is an entry point that can lead to a shared interest in investing more time in building deeper relationships. Building personal credibility is an ongoing process that is facilitated by your sincere, consistent, and service-oriented behaviors to share your knowledge and expertise.

Be an Authentic Messenger: Authenticity requires being real in expressing who you are to others. To gain followers, you must be authentic, because people want to genuinely connect with, trust, and believe in their leaders.

Being our authentic selves naturally serves as a magnet to attract others into relationships with us. Being an authentic messenger means that you honestly understand how you feel about a given topic and communicate your perspective in a way that conveys both your intellectual and emotional points of view on it. When you are an authentic messenger, you are able to build deeper relationships because you are connected to yourself and therefore transmit an emotional connection to others. Authentic connections establish intimacy beyond transactional information sharing; they build trust and confidence.

Demonstrate Gravitas: Having established both credibility and authenticity creates the conditions for you to now demonstrate that you are a leader with gravitas. While many find it difficult to describe, people look up and actively turn attention to the individual who has this desirable quality. Gravitas is similar to charisma in that it captivates us, but it is less about how you physically show up and attract attention and more about how you compel others to lean in and listen with extreme interest to what you have to say because it is expected to be insightful and is delivered with meaningful wisdom. Being recognized as a leader with gravitas is a highly regarded distinction. These leaders build powerfully intimate relationships. 

If you struggle with relationships, try to take a realistic look at why. Uncovering the essence of this challenge can make a big difference in how you address your personal learning and development process. For example, being introverted may limit the number of relationships you build because your preference is for fewer, more intimate, connections. For other individuals, being disconnected from their own feelings may make them insensitive to the feelings of others, inhibiting their ability to empathize and therefore create meaningful connections. Still others may fear not being accepted or, worse, rejected, which may make them reluctant to proactively engage in the relationship-building process.

Being self-absorbed, needing to be the smartest person in the room, or being so focused on tasks that the people you are working with don’t even cross your mind are additional reasons why relationships may elude you. Find the root cause and challenge yourself to consciously address it with a coach or mentor. Seek feedback on how to change your approach so that you gain more comfort and achieve greater success with this critical leadership currency. If relationship building simply does not seem important to you, you may have a choice to make with respect to your leadership aspirations. As you progress in your professional career, your technical skills will start to matter less and your interpersonal skills will matter more. If you aspire to team or organizational leadership roles, relationship building is mandatory. If you can’t or won’t address this vital area, you simply will not advance in your career.  

About the author:
Erica Peitler is an accomplished leadership performance coach and high-impact facilitator who creates the conditions for change and growth with her clients so that they can take the evolutionary or transformational steps toward achieving their full potential as individual leaders, high performing teams, and organizations operating at a level of excellence.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

50 Ways to Develop Leaders

I've been writing a series of posts over at Management and Leadership covering use of the 9 box performance and potential matrix for succession planning and leadership development.
The latest installment is how to use the 9 box to diagnose development needs and come up with "box appropriate" development ideas:
Others in the series include:


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

7 Ways to Assess Leadership Potential

There is more than one way to skin a cat, or in this case, to assess for leadership potential using the performance and potential 9 box matrix.

Read my latest post over at Management and Leadership Development to find out how.  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

7 Traits That Indicate You Might Not Be Leadership Material

Guest post from Rosalinda Randall:

Are you ready to consistently set a good example? Can you be engaging,
good-humored, tactful, available, considerate, courteous, honest, reliable, and understanding, every day, all day?

Being an effective leader is a task not everyone can do. At least not without guidance from mentors, experience, desire to think of others first, and the will to absorb his or her staff’s positive and negative traits. Are you leadership material?
1. Unpredictable moods: If you have some sort of “mood/behavior disorder”, please seek medical assistance. You may not be leadership material if:
  • you give in to your moods. 
  • your mood creates doubt in your abilities and mistrust among your coworkers.
  • your moods suggest that your decisions will be biased.
2. Emotional breakdowns are the norm: Again, if you have a personal matter that is ongoing and continuously affects your ability to do your work, please seek assistance. You may not be leadership material if:
  • you are not “available” to others.
  • you show indifference or get out of doing your duties because you just “can’t handle it” right now.
  • you create doubt as to your ability to cope with situations, opportunities, and challenges. 
3. Personal woes are apparent to all: This is relative. For some, a personal woe is not being able to buy the car of their dreams; having to settle for only a semi-luxury car instead. For others, a personal woe is losing their home, forcing them to move in with their parents. It really comes down to how you handle the woe. You may not be leadership material if:
  • you send out daily email blasts and constant posts on social media about your woe.
  • you share your woe with everyone that walks by your cubicle or enters the lunchroom.
  • you interrupt others only to show that your woe is worse than their woe. 
4. Allows unnecessary interruptions:  A day can be filled with interruptions. Are you able to control them and/or set boundaries? You may not be leadership material if:
  • you answer the phone or constantly glance away from whomever you are speaking with to check your flashing cell phone.
  • your dog distracts and interrupt you.
  • you disengage to yell out your lunch order as your coworker walks by?
5. Does not follow-through: Forgetting to reply to an email has happened to everyone. It’s how you remedy it that matters? You may not be leadership material if:
  • you make commitments and forget to show up or decide it’s not important to you.
  • you promise to gather information by the end of the day, and never do it.
  • you receive the information you requested and forget to acknowledge it.
6. Bad manners: People remember the seemingly insignificant words and small gestures. Words can change the entire delivery of a request or statement.
  • Do you use “please” when you ask for a favor, information, or make any request?
  • Do you say “thank you” after your favor or request has been satisfied?
  • Do you race to be first in line at the lunchroom buffet?
  • Do you arrive early to pick out the best donuts, but are the first to leave?
  • Do you openly point out your coworkers’ mistakes?
  • Do you gossip?
  • Do you avoid doing anything that isn’t in your job description? And if you do an extra task, you make sure everyone knows about it?
7. Same rules don’t apply to everyone: Being in a position of authority requires a professional attitude and a consistent manner when handling problems and people. You may not be leadership material if:
  • you overlook or ignore the rules with only particular staff members.
  • you don’t follow the same rules that you are imposing on others.
  • you blame others to avoid taking full responsibility.
  • you lie, omit, or exaggerate.
  • you walk around with an air of arrogance, just because you are in a position of authority.
WWALD? (What would a leader do if he/she is experiencing a crisis or personal woe?)
  • A leader would alert his/her immediate supervisor and the HR department; deciding not to burden his/her colleagues.
  • A leader would consider taking a few days off to handle the woe.
  • A leader would suck it up, put on a happy face, and exude a positive attitude.
  • A leader would gather their colleagues to fill them in; not necessarily sharing details, but enough to ease their mind.
  • A leader would privately seek assistance to help him/her resolve or manage their crisis or personal woe.
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” –John Quincy Adams 

About the author:

Rosalinda Randall, author of "Don't Burp in the Boardroom" is a modern-day expert on tact and civility, using etiquette as a foundation. She has been spreading civility for more than 14 years. By lending personality and humor to an age-old topic, Rosalinda’s tactfully, straight-forward manner provides her audience with modern social and business practices.

Monday, December 8, 2014

All About the Performance and Potential Matrix

Regular Great Leadership readers are already familiar with the performance and potential matrix, otherwise known as the "9 box".

In case you'd a refresher, I'm writing a series of posts on the 9 box over at Management and Leadership.

Here's part one and two:

8 Reasons to Use the 9 Box Matrix for Succession Planning and Development

How to Use the 9 Box Matrix for Succession Planning and Development


Thursday, December 4, 2014

5 Pitfalls That Make Workplace Conflicts Worse

Guest post by Peter T. Coleman and Robert Ferguson:

Great leaders are not afraid of conflict. They put it to work.

Conflict in an organization is a lot like fire. When it sparks, it can intensify, spread and lead to pain, loss, and irreparable damage. It can distract, distance, derail, and occasionally destroy opportunities and relationships. It makes most people anxious, and as a result it is often mishandled and made worse. It’s especially costly in today’s work environments where 25% to 40% of managers’ time is spent mired in conflict with aggrieved board members, supervisors, clients, peers and subordinates.

But if managed well, conflict can work for you and your organization. Constructive disagreements enhance creativity, encourage honesty, and lead to better problem solving. Great leaders know this and learn the skills it takes to make conflict work. It takes skill and wisdom to manage and resolve difficult conflicts in the workplace. But even if you feel frustrated when you fail to completely resolve the conflicts that burn around you, there are several things you can avoid in order to prevent conflicts from getting worse, and to turn them into something positive.

Avoid these pitfalls:

1. Treating all conflicts as the same. If you treat all conflicts the same way, you will fail at most of them. Our research has identified seven distinct conflict situations, depending on your answers to these three key questions:

· Is the other party cooperative or competitive? (In other words, to what extent do our goals overlap?)

· Who has more power? (Do you have less power than someone with whom you disagree, or more?)

· How much do I need the other party to achieve my goals? (Or, what can I get done without depending on others?)

The seven situations that those questions help you identify are Compassionate Responsibility, Command and Control, Cooperative Dependence, Unhappy Tolerance, Independence, Partnership, and Enemy Territory. Each situation requires a different approach, and diagnosing the situation correctly leads to the most effective strategy.

2. Ignoring power differences. Most leaders (and consultants) overlook the full significance of how power differences affect conflict. Whether you have more power than the other party, or less, it takes additional skills to get to the real issues and achieve your goals. If you have less power, you risk overstepping your bounds or inviting abuse. If you have more power, you risk eliciting dishonesty or sabotage from your supervisee. Ignoring power differences, and lacking a strategy for them, can render standard conflict resolution methods ineffective.

3. Abusing the power you have. Read any page of any history book and you see how monarchs, generals and presidents abuse power. But so do supervisors, middle managers, and team leads. You only need a little power to abuse it –– and thus make yourself less effective in conflict. Great leaders are highly aware of how they influence others, and watch out for the most common power traps, such as: “The Bulletproof Trap” (you make conflicts worse by thinking you are invincible), the “Not-Seeing-the-Trees-for-the-Forest Trap” (you appear insensitive to your underlings by ignoring details because you only see the “big picture”), and the “Screw the Rules Trap” (you bend or break rules because after all, you’re special –– you’re the leader! This sets the stage for minor or major rebellions).

4. Neglecting the power you have. Even if you are in a position of power, you also have a boss with whom you do not always agree. When you find yourself in lower power in a conflict, you may fall into different traps. These include the “Keep your Head Down Trap” (you keep your aspirations so low you don’t even try to find better solutions), the “Powerlessness Corrupts Trap” (you succumb to cynicism or rage toward those in authority, turning to apathy or sabotage), and the “Victim Status Trap” (you wallow in a sense of oppression and victimhood, which ironically can lead to a sense of superiority and refusal to negotiate).

5. Misunderstanding power. Don’t make conflict worse by acting passively. Even if you are less powerful than the person with whom you disagree, it doesn’t mean you have no power. Less power does not equal powerless. There are always informal ways to influence managers and leaders above you in the organization. And these methods do not show up on the organization chart. They include actions such as appealing to the others’ interests, eliciting cooperation, creating positive relations with superiors, fostering reciprocity, rational persuasion, increasing their dependence on you, and more. 

If you are determined to lead others to great results, learn all you can about making conflict work.

Author bios:
Robert Ferguson, PhD, is a psychologist, management consultant, and executive coach. Peter T. Coleman, PhD, is Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University, Director of the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution. They are the authors of Making Conflict Work: Harnessing the Power of Disagreement. Follow them on Twitter @conflictpower.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Most References are Worthless (unless they are fomer managers)

When it comes to references, the only reference that matters is a former manager. The candidate’s manager is going to have first-hand experience managing the employee. They will know their strengths, weaknesses, and can even provide valuable advice for the hiring manager on how to manage the employee if hired.

Read my latest post over at Management and Leadership to learn how to use the "TORC" method to get guaranteed access to a candidate's former managers!

Monday, December 1, 2014

The December Leadership Development Carnival

The December Leadership Development Carnival is up! It's being hosted this month by Michael Lee Stallard.

Over 25 recent leadership development posts from some of my favorite bloggers.

You can find it right here.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"I'd Like My Life Back" -- a lesson for CEOs in building an organization that listens to warnings

Guest post by Dave Yarin:

It was April 2010, and a Fortune 500 CEO would utter one of the most ill
advised yet memorable lines in corporate history. The world's largest man-made environmental disaster had taken place one week earlier when BP's Gulfwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 workers and spilling millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. BP's CEO at the time, Tony Hayward, stood on the beach in Louisiana, clearly unprepared for the disaster that had occurred and trying to fend off multiple questions from authorities and the media, when he said "I'd like my life back."
For the employees who worked on the rig, their families and friends; they wanted those 11 lives back. The citizens and businesses along the Gulf shore, the environment -- they wanted their old lives back too. Clearly, Hayward's declaration was stupid, thoughtless, and it rightfully cast him as arrogant and insensitive. Oddly however, the picture of Hayward prior to the oil spill was decidedly different. Before the 2010 disaster, Hayward was described as "unassuming and modest."1 He had succeeded John Browne in 2007 as CEO following Browne's prostitution and perjury scandal, along with leaving BP with a checkered safety record. Hayward promised an improved culture and safety record for BP, yet here he was less than three years later with a horrific disaster on his watch, and ending up departing BP under a cloud of controversy; worse than the departure of his predecessor John Browne.

How many leaders and managers of large corporations watched Hayward implode on television and thought to themselves, "I never want that to be me"! I'm guessing that many senior executives felt that way as they watched, since it is every business leader's nightmare to have a disaster such as the BP Oil rig explosion occur on their watch. Their hard work over years climbing the corporate ladder comes undone by a single event. But what makes the event even more tragic is that it was avoidable. There were multiple fair warnings provided to BP by oilrig employees that were ignored. Multiple BP documents, e-mail messages, engineering studies and other company records shed light on the extent of problems long before the explosion, including an internal report from a senior drilling engineer that warned of a loss of "well control" and collapse of the well casing and blowout preventer.2 At some point, Hayward must have regretted that his company didn't act on those warnings, save 11 lives and avoid the unprecedented environmental damage.

What can business leaders do to act on fair and credible warnings provided by their employees to avoid this type of disaster? The first step is understanding the aspects of human nature that prevent individuals from listening to warnings; the normalization of deviance ("We've done it this way before and nothing bad happened"), effects of hierarchy ("They're senior management – they must know what they're doing"), and over-focusing on one goal at the expense of others - as a few examples. The second step is to set up a "culture of listening" that includes systems and policies to facilitate the intake and proper escalation of credible warnings. In this way, business leaders can avoid "losing their lives" in the first place.
But how do we implement and maintain a culture of listening? Here are seven critical elements of an effective program to both identify and act on warning signs:
  1. High-level oversight – does your company have an organizational structure led by senior management that oversees issues such as compliance, quality and safety, while being able to respond quickly and appropriately to credible warnings?
  2. Training and education – How do you train employees to identify and report concerns?
  3. Auditing/monitoring and risk assessment – risk assessment is the "radar screen" of threats to your company. How are risk assessment, and more specifically -- enterprise risk management ("ERM") implemented in your organization? How and when are audits performed that "kick the tires" on key activities?
  4. Open lines of communication – Does your company have a hotline that operates 24/7/365 and is staffed by competent individuals who know how to properly intake and triage emergency reports or concerns? Yes, in these many reports will be false alarms and non-emergencies; one CFO told me that someone actually ordered a pizza on his company's hotline. But somewhere within these hotline reports will be a pearl of information that just may save the company from disaster.
  5. Written policies and procedures – Does your company have written guidelines that make reporting concerns a job requirement, as well as non-retaliation for doing so?
  6. Investigating reports of concerns – Does your company thoroughly escalate and investigate reported concerns?
  7. Enforcing standards – is your company prepared, culturally and otherwise, to both set and enforce standards related to issues such as safety, quality and compliance? I've often used a phrase with clients that I refer to as a "stop the presses" issue. Is your company prepared to "stop the presses" if and when a credible warning comes in?

1. – "Before Gulf Spill, BP CEO Tony Hayward Won Praise" – by Jim Zarroli – June 17, 2010
2. New York Times – "Documents Show Early Worries About Safety of Rig" – May 29, 2010

Author Bio
Dave Yarin
is a compliance and risk management consultant to senior management and directors of large and mid-size companies, and author of the soon to be published book Fair Warning – The Information Within. Dave follows and researches news stories regarding ignored warnings that lead to bad business outcomes, along with the social psychology theories that explain why these warnings were ignored. Dave lives near Boston, Massachusetts with his fiancĂ©e and two children. For more information please visit and follow Dave on Twitter