Saturday, December 29, 2007

When B-O-S-S is a Four-Letter Word

Bol·ton (bōĺ tən) : n, adj., Urban slang for a demoralizing or unsupportive boss; all-around big bully; a stinky supervisor. (Ex. “My boss just went all Bolton on me.”)


I love making fun of bad bosses. I don’t find it unprofessional, in fact, its part of my job. We know that one of the most powerful leadership development experiences is “learning from others”. Those others are often good leaders and bad bosses. (By the way: why’s boss a four letter word? It’s a double SOB spelled backwards).

Companies spend an awful lot of time and money training managers how to be great leaders. Maybe we should also tell them how not to be bad bosses? It might be harder to stop doing annoying things than to learn brand new skills.

Here are five ways to get started on your journey to “great leadership”, and to look for things to stop doing:

1. Badbossology.com is a site created for the unhappy individual contributor. It’s all about how to deal with a bad boss (in a constructive way). If you recognize yourself doing any of these things, stop it.

2. Fortune’s Stanley Bing has a blog dedicated to Crazy Bosses: http://bingbosses.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/. If you one of your employees has written for advice, then stop it.

3. Read Dilbert. If you see yourself acting like Dilbert’s Pointy-Haired Boss (PHB), then stop it. And if you don’t think Dilbert is funny, you may be beyond saving.

4. Watch “The Office”, and study Steve Carroll’s character, Michael Scott. Or watch a few samples on this blog. Any manager that can’t find a little Michael in themselves needs to take a closer look.

5. Read Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”. Study his list of 20 annoying behaviors, and strive to stop doing at least two of them in the next six months.

Here’s a summary:

1.Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations—when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point.
2.Adding too much value: The desire to add our two cents to every discussion.
3.Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.
4.Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound witty.
5.Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”
6.Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.
7.Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.
8.Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts, even when we aren’t asked.
9.Withholding information: The refusal to share information to gain or maintain an advantage over others.
10. Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward.
11. Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.
12. Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.
13. Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.
14. Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.
15. Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.
16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect.
17. Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.
18. Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocents who are only trying to help us.
19. Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.
20. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What did You Learn about Learning in 2007?


This is December’s “Big Question” from ASTD’s Learning Circuit’s blog, http://learningcircuits.blogspot.com/. Check out this blog for other bloggers contributions to the same question, and please leave your answer to the question as a comment on this post.

My 2007 learnings about learning:

Real learning in practice may look very different than what we learn in graduate school and read about in our trade. Our challenge as learning professionals is to bridge the gap between what we know should work and how things really work.

Not so much a new learning, but a heightened awareness: people sure do buy in to what they create. The other person’s idea may not be as “good” as yours, but if it’s their idea, they are more likely to implement it. Same concept applies to learning and coaching. Facilitating self-discovery is often more effective than teaching or advising.

A big “aha” for me was how many managers (and learners) still see development activities as something completely separate from the most important work they need to do. This creates a mindset that says “as soon as things settle down, I can devote some time to my own development or the development of my team”. (See “Leadership Development is a Sunk Cost” for more on this topic). Given that one of the most significant development experiences for leaders is challenging assignments, we need to show them how to turn these assignments into learning opportunities.

Finally, I learned about the potential of blogging as a new way to learn and network.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Relocation: A Serious Barrier to Talent Management



It used to be if a hard charger wanted to advance in a company, moving to another location every 2-3 years was an accepted part of the unwritten deal. IBMers used to joke that IBM stood for “I’ve been moved”. In fact, if you were not being asked to move, it was a sign that you had fallen off the fast track.

One company I know of had a leadership development strategy that in practice was referred to as “2x2x2”. That is, in order to be prepared and considered for a top job, a rising manager had to work in at least 2 different countries, 2 different businesses, and 2 different functions. From a leadership development perspective, it was a great strategy. We know that the most effective way to develop leadership skills are full-time job changes, followed by challenging assignments. Large, diverse companies, with multiple locations and lines of businesses provides a manager with all kinds of opportunities to stretch, learn, build new networks, and broaden functional capabilities.

Of course, there have always been inherent challenges with this kind of a leadership development strategy. Executives often don’t want to give up there star performers. They also aren’t always willing to take the risk of taking on someone else’s star performer that doesn’t have the typical experience (and if you’ve ever been burned by agreeing to take a “star” that really was a “slug” you’d be gun-shy about making the same mistake again). Job changes can be disruptive, for the manager and the business. But somehow we’ve managed to deal with these challenges recognizing the longer-term benefits and the greater good.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed a shift in high potential manager’s willingness to take a developmental job change if it means packing up and relocating. And I’m not talking about moving to Afghanistan here, these are often very desirable U.S. communities. Managers are willing to pass up promotions, larger and more prestigious assignments, and the opportunity to be considered for larger roles. The reasons are often a spouse’s job, family in the area, or just liking where they are. This unwillingness to move is creating serious talent shortages. I’ve talked to some of my talent management colleagues, and it seems this is becoming an issue with a lot of companies.

So what are the answers? Here are a few ideas, although I’d love to hear from anyone who has other ideas on how to address this challenge.

1. Examine your relocation package. The obvious answer, but a manager should at least be made whole for any move and possibly come out a little ahead to compensate for the disruption and risks.
2. Identity high potentials at lower levels, where there’s often more willingness to move, and start developing a deeper, larger pool of leadership candidates.
3. Openly discuss what it means to be a “high potential” with your candidates. Talk about what the company is willing to do for them, and what they need to be willing to give back in return. If relocation is part of the deal, then address the pros and cons head-on, early, instead of bringing it up for the first time as a part of a job offer.
4. Sell the benefits of relocation. While a move to a strange place can be disruptive, it can also be a big adventure. I’ve had managers tell me that their experiences in China or Europe, with their families, while initially difficult, turned out to be the best years of their lives. The family bonded like never before, they were exposed to new and rich experiences, and it forever changed their perspectives.
5. Collect examples of positive relocation stories. Often we only hear about the horror stories, and those stories become company legend. Recruit managers who have benefited from moving and ask them to be ambassadors for relocation.
6. Be a chamber of commerce for the communities you are trying to attract talent to. I’ve heard of managers being unwilling to move to awesome communities because they just don’t know enough about them.
7.Don’t ignore the spouse and the rest of the family. “Trailing spouses” can make great employees. Can you make a job offer to the spouse? You could end up with a great “two for one” deal (with ½ the relocation costs!).
8.Consider temporary moves. A 6 month assignment can often be as developmental as a two year assignment. Can the manager try it out and commute back and forth, giving them time to get used to the new environment and then make a decision?

Again, please comment if you have additional ideas on this challenge.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Are Team Assessments Self-Serving?


It seems like every time I administer an off-the-shelf leadership team assessment, the results are horrendous! I’ve been through a gauntlet of team assessments as a leader, team member, and facilitator, with a variety of companies and teams, and the results always seem to be the same. At best, average, but still room for improvement, and at worst, I see descriptors like “dysfunctional”, “toxic”, “serious problem”, “needs immediate attention”, etc…

In fact, one of the most popular team models out there (and I like it) is appropriately called “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. Seems like a pessimistic view of teams.

The worst teams I’ve worked on and observed wouldn’t even think of doing a team assessment, so the one’s I’m referring to were actually pretty good teams. Nice people, competent, respectful of each other. So the cynic in me makes me wonder: are the companies that develop and sell these team assessments designing them in a way that no team could possibly score well? Most of these companies are of course in the team development business – that is, once you get your lousy team scores, you are encouraged to buy their services, books, or videos as the remedy to your myriad of problems.

Would a better approach be for a team to simply ask themselves to define what kind of a team they would like to be? To define their own team behaviors and goals, then rate themselves and choose what they want to work on to improve? I’ve tried this, and it seems to create more buy-in and positive energy.

Oh, and one last thing on team assessments and team development: don’t ever use this approach if it’s really the behavior or performance of ONE person that’s really the problem. As a leader, deal with the individual, and spare your team the pain of having to attempt to fix your problem for you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Survival of the Fittest?


There’s a common belief and practice in a lot of companies that the best way to develop leaders is to run your high potentials through a gauntlet of challenging assignments, then step back, and watch “the cream rise to the top”. Another way is to move high potentials from job to job every two years or so in order to build functional experience, learn new businesses, develop global capabilities, etc…

So what’s wrong with this approach? Isn’t this what growing leaders through job changes and challenging assignments is all about? Well, not really. In many cases, what we’re really doing is putting our high potentials through a series of assessments, or tests, to see if they really have the “right stuff”. With none of the developmental catalysts required to turn experience into development, we run the risk of culling away our high potential pool until there’s hardly anyone left. In a talent rich environment, where we have too many aspiring leaders and too few positions, that would be an OK model. However, in most companies, we don’t have enough high ready-now candidates to fill current and future opening. The bench is woefully thin.

What we need to do is identify high potentials early in their career, provide them with developmental jobs and assignments, and then support them with training, coaching, feedback, mentors, and opportunities to reflect. Our objective should be to help them be successful, not put them through hell and then cast them aside the first time they screw up. It’s like growing a garden. We can’t just toss the seeds in and walk away. We need to constantly water, feed, prune, and nurture in order to produce an abundant and healthy crop. It’s an agricultural approach to leadership development.

The “sink or swim” approach is more of a “Darwinist” approach to leadership development. It rewards and promotes people who are the most adaptable, not necessarily the smartest, most talented, and possibly, the very best leaders. And by the way - one of the most adaptable creatures in the world is the cockroach. Do we really want a bunch of cockroaches running our companies?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

2007 Chief Learning Officer Learning In Practice Awards

Congratulations to the 2007 CLO Learning in Practice Award winners!

In his keynote address preceding this year’s Learning In Practice awards ceremony, held during Chief Learning Officer magazine’s Fall 2007 Symposium in Tucson, Ariz., 2006 CLO of the Year David Vance talked about how employee development creates real economic value. He noted that because of learning’s relationship to workforce productivity, its impact on organizations can be immense.
The editors of Chief Learning Officer magazine created the Learning In Practice awards for that reason: to recognize learning leaders who have improved performance in their enterprises through a combination of leadership, vision, business acumen and strategic alignment.
Chief Learning Officer recognized winners in each of the following categories:

The Business Impact Award recognizes learning executives who have demonstrated the positive impact of their workforce development programs on the enterprise in the past year, and compiled clear and reliable evidence to support those. Typical gauges of success involve Phillips Level 5, return on investment, cost savings, time to competency, improved productivity and testimonials from high-level executives.
Gold, Division 1: Carol Davison, Senior Human Resources Specialist, Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration
Gold, Division 2: Lynne Zappone, Vice President, Talent Development and Learning, InterContinental Hotels
Silver, Division 1: Sharon Smart, Director of Training, Mattress Giant
Silver, Division 2: D’Anne Carpenter, Executive Director, Organizational Learning and Development, Trinity Health


The Innovation Award recognizes learning executives who have sought out and successfully applied emerging technologies and/or methodologies to create a stimulating and engaging combination of content and modalities in the past year. Some of these include simulations, games, podcasts, streaming video, blogs and wikis, as well as creative variations on e-learning, m-learning and other established modalities.
Gold, Division 1: Alysa Parks, Director, Learning and Development, and Maureen McDermott, Manager, Learning and Development, CDW
Gold, Division 2: Frank J. Anderson, President, DAU
Silver, Division 1: Jim Brolley, Director, Organizational Development and Training, Harley-Davidson
Silver, Division 2: Lesley Hoare, Vice President of Talent Management, Diversity and Inclusion, Kimberly-Clark

The Leadership Award recognizes learning executives who have demonstrably extended their power and influence within their organization and/or established themselves as leaders within their enterprise in the past year. This includes (but is not limited to) frequent and regular contact with the CEO and CFO (or equivalent) and increased responsibilities for the learning function that fall outside its traditional purview.
Gold, Division 1: Alan Malinchak, Vice President and Chief Learning Officer, ManTech University
Gold, Division 2: Marianne Langlois, Vice President, Learning Services, Convergys
Silver, Division 1: Matthew Bertman, National Director, Leadership Development, Pulte Homes
Silver, Division 2: Kimberly Kelly, Director of Training and Development, Paychex Inc.


The Magellan Award recognizes learning executives who have delivered development initiatives to geographically dispersed and/or culturally and linguistically diverse audiences internally and/or externally in the past year. This award is not just for those who merely have the greatest reach, but also for those who have transformed the efficiency and effectiveness of distant overseas operations.
Gold, Division 1: Mark Searcy and Kenny Kinder, Global Operations Support Managers, Coverall Cleaning Concepts
Gold, Division 2: Fabio Tonolini, Director,TenarisUniversity
Silver, Division 2: Jim Phelan, Senior Director in Organizational Learning, Merck

The Vanguard Award recognizes learning executives who have either launched a new enterprise learning function or completely overhauled existing workforce development initiatives in the past year. This includes a learning department, an extensive enterprisewide development program and/or a corporate university.
Gold, Division 1: Heather Bock, Global Director of Professional Development, Howrey LLP
Gold, Division 2: Shawne Angelle, Vice President, Global Learning and Development, Verizon Business
Silver, Division 1: Cynthia Scott-Williams, Senior Director of Human Resources, Adaptive Marketing
Silver, Division 2: Bryan Murphy, Executive Vice President and Chief Claims Officer, Farmers Insurance

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How to Design a Great Leadership Team Off-site Meeting


Taking a leadership team off-site for a few days is a great way to develop strategy, get creative, develop a team, learn, and re-invigorate a team. Here’s a proven design method I’ve used:

1. What’s the overall purpose of the meeting? To develop a 3 year strategy? Improve teamwork? Solve a big hairy problem? Sometimes it’s a combination of a few things, but try to keep it to just a few. A great off-site agenda should not look like an extended staff meeting. This is an opportunity to take the time needed to strategize, brainstorm, debate, reflect, and learn.

2. What’s the “desired outcomes”? Desired outcomes are a tangible set of deliverables that describe what a successful meeting would look like at the conclusion. Examples: “A list of 3-5 three year goals”, “A shared vision”, “a shared understanding of each other’s concerns”. Desired outcomes give you a target to shoot for and a way to evaluate the success of the meeting. It also helps drive the creation of the agenda – a way to screen out the clutter that everyone always seems to want to bolt on.

3. Determine participants and roles. Usually there’s one meeting leader, participants, maybe a facilitator, and sometimes guests.

4. Do a “stakeholder assessment”. Who are all the key stakeholders for this meeting and what would a “win” look like for them. Stakeholders may be attending the meeting or they may not. For example, the manager of the meeting leader is a key stakeholder. You won’t be able to pleased all stakeholders but it helps to least be aware of their needs.

5. Consider the context. What’s going on in the environment that may influence the participant’s behavior, mindset, or participation? For example, is their a pending downsizing? A new team member? A restructuring?

6. Establish the dates. Three days is often ideal, two is OK, and anything more than four can turn into a death march.

7. Notify the participants – just have them hold the dates for now.

8. Select an overall “theme” for the meeting. The theme will emerge based on the purpose, desired outcomes, and context. The theme could be “Leading change”, or “A winning team”, or “playing to win”. Having a central theme allows you to creatively tie all of the meeting elements together: agenda, venue, activities, gift, etc…

9. Find the right venue. Work with your corporate meeting planners, your meeting facilitator, or do your own search. Most resorts and hotels cater to corporate meetings and can help you select the best room, meals, and activities. You’ll probably work with a conference planner. Make sure you specify AV needs, room set-up, meals and breaks, and any other details.

10. Begin to work on the key design elements. This is a creative process, where you begin to come up with ways to accomplish the desired outcomes. There could be teambuilding activities, strategy or problem solving sessions, training, and/or presentations.

11. Design the high level agenda. The pieces begin to fit together like a puzzle. I often write the key agenda pieces on post-its, and move them around until they begin to form a nice flow.

12. Confirm any outside speakers or other guests.

13. Develop the detailed agenda. For each major agenda segment, determine the what, who, how, when, and how long.

14. Select activities. Activities are a great way to informally build the team and keep the energy high. Pick activities that support your meeting purpose and theme.

15. Send a high level agenda to the participants and any invited guests, including all of the logistical information, including maps, dress code, pre-work, and any activities.

16. Select a parting gift – some kind of special memento that supports the theme and creates a lasting anchor for the experience.

17. Fine-tune the agenda, trouble-shooting potential snafus and making the inevitable last minute adjustments.

Once the meeting starts, be prepared to make adjustments. Things never go as planned, but if you follow these steps, you’ll improve you chances of having a great leadership team off-site. Good luck!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Leadership Development is a Sunk Cost

I often hear that managers just don’t have time for leadership development. They are too busy learning a new part of the business, dealing with an employee performance issue, getting ready for a new project, negotiating a new deal with a supplier, onboarding a new supervisor, crunching a new budget, and getting ready for a visit from headquarters. Once they get all of that taken care of, and things settle down, only then they’ll have time to focus on their own development or the development of their managers.

Actually, all of these high pressure, job related activities are part of an overall leadership system. Every project, interaction with another person, task, or job change all have the potential to be developmental. As managers, we’re developing ourselves and others all the time. Usually, however, it’s pretty haphazard and unfocused. We’re learning a lot of lessons, and teaching lessons to others all the time. They just might not be the right ones.

So if we already have a leadership development system – wouldn’t it be worth our while to leverage this enormous cost? It’s not a matter of making an additional investment in leadership development – or adding more hours to our week – the investment has already been made – it’s a sunk cost!

For your own development, the key is knowing what you want to develop and proactively putting yourself in situations where you can learn those new skills. You seek out those that know more about the skill that you do, then watch, listen, and soak it all in. You take the time to reflect on what you’ve learned and figure out the right lessons to adopt. Successful leaders are always looking for new opportunities to stretch themselves and learn, they ask a lot of questions, they aren’t intimidated by someone that knows more about something than they do, and are constantly adapting their approach.

For developing others, you can be intentional in how you delegate, how you select a project team, who you spend time with during site visits, and how you communicate. When one of your employees makes a mistake, it’s a development opportunity. When one of your employees comes to you with a problem, it’s a development opportunity.

An executive once told me he spent about 75% of his time developing others. The opportunities are all around us, the cost is sunk, we just need to take advantage of them and turn them into powerful development opportunities.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

How to Maximize Your Return on Investment from a Leadership Development Program


Attendance at a leadership development program does not guarantee behavior change or improved results as a leader. An openness and willingness to new ideas and approaches is certainly important, combined with a lot of hard work during the program. But once the program ends, and participants all go their own ways and return to their real world work environments, unfortunately, many of them will soon forget what they learned and soon revert back to old familiar habits.

So what separates those that attend leadership programs and actually become better leaders and those that don’t? Here are the differentiators that will produce a greater return on leadership development investment:

1. At the end of the program, and on the way home, create an individual development plan (IDP). Keep a journal throughout the week of key learnings, insights, and new ideas. Select 3-4 things that you’re going to improve about yourself or new ideas you’re going to try. Write them down – it’s important to actually take pen to hand (or keyboard these days) and write them down. Then get specific – describe how you’re going to achieve your goals. Include what, how, who, and by when. There have been all kinds of research that shows significantly higher levels of achievement of those that have written specific goals vs. those that don’t, or had vaguely written goals.

2. Make a public commitment. Find a learning partner from the program and agree to contact each other in 30 days to review each other’s goals. Write a letter to someone important in your life sharing your goals. Review with you manager what you learned and your goals. Go back and share with your team. The idea is to announce to the world, or at least someone, that you are committed to improving in specific areas. This public declaration and commitment will provide extra motivation as well as a support system to keep at it when the going gets tough.

3. Follow-up. Keep reviewing your goals every month for 12 months. Continuously ask for feedback from others on how you are doing. Marshall Goldsmith did extensive research on the effect of follow-up after leaders completed a 360 degree assessment. He found that simply by asking for feedback on a regular basis, leader scores improved on follow-up assessments.

Follow these steps and you’ve get the biggest bang for your buck from your next leadership development investment.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

How to Select an Executive Education Program


Here are some guidelines for selecting an executive education program:
1. Identify the development needs. Boil it down to the top three development needs, or in other words, “what are you trying to get from a program?” Typical answers are “learn how to be more strategic”, “leading change”, or some combination of functional knowledge (finance, sales, and marketing). There may be is a timeframe that’s better or worse than others (i.e., next 6 months, avoid the summer, etc…)

2. Search your favorite executive education providers. Mine are listed on the left on my blog. These are programs I’ve used and have gotten positive feedback; they are also rated favorably by Business Week and the Financial Times. I start with The Center for Creative Leadership and Darden for leadership, Chicago’s GSB for sales and marketing, Wharton and Chicago for finance, Harvard and Stanford for strategy, UCLA and CCL for non-majority programs, etc….

3. Once you find a couple potential programs, look for a good fit. Look at the recommended participant level, participant mix, industry mix, and company participation.

4. Check out the instructors, read the bios. Review the day by day agenda, topics, and activities. Again, you’re looking for a good fit for the participant and his/her development needs. Talk to the provider’s Exec Ed Director, or someone who can help you learn more about the programs.
Ask other’s if they have experience with the program.

5. Talk to past participants if possible, or someone in charge of leadership/executive development development.

6. Geography can sometimes be a factor. Looking for a global experience? Than look for a good mix of global participants, or better yet, attend a program outside the U.S. Insead, IMD, and the London School of business are all excellent European choices. I’ve not found much in South America or Asia, but many of the top US programs now take place in Asia. If you want to network for some high tech leaders, then go to Silicon Valley (Berkeley, Stanford).

7. Length of program: Programs range anywhere from 2-3 days to 6 weeks. I honestly don’t know how someone could afford to go to a 6 week program these days, unless they are on a sabbatical or their company is just trying to get rid of them for a while. I’ve found you need at least a week to have a true immersion experience. Some of those deep “ahas” don’t happen until the 4th or 5th day. Two weeks seems to be perfect, with an opportunity to explore and recharge on weekends.

8. Check out the amenities’. All right, I know, this is a learning experience and not a vacation, but top notch food, accommodations, and surroundings all are part of the total experience. All of the schools on my list cater to executives – this actually ends up being a driver of participant satisfaction and the school’s program rankings. Also see if the room and meals are included in the program.

9. Factors that should not be a part of a decision: alumni relationships, timing coinciding with the NCAA playoffs, and catchy program titles.

10. After all of this, narrow it down to 2-3 program, and then select based on best fit, timing, and costs.

These are often once in a life time experiences for most leaders. University executive education programs are a big investment, usually in the $7,000 - $40,000 price range. Clear your work and personal calendars, and immerse yourself in the week. This is a time to be 100% selfish, and focus on nothing but your own development as a leader. Your company, employees, co-workers, boss, and family will all benefit from the new and improved you!


This post is supported by Ontario Business Schools.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Fix Management Weakness First


Recently, I've had the opportunity to become a student of the "Topgrading" methodology for talent management. I've worked with Brad Smart to implement his hiring system within one of our sales divisions, and we're already to see remarkable results. I'd highly recommend visiting his website to learn more: http://www.smarttopgrading.com/index.cfm.


Here's a some great advice for leaders from Brad about the importance of fixing weaknesses:

November 6th, 2007 . by Brad Smart
AMBITIOUS MANAGERS SHOULD WORK HARDER TO FIX THEIR SERIOUS WEAKNESS(ES) THAN TO BUILD ON THEIR STRENGTHS


Having assessed and coached 6,500 senior managers, my experience tells me you should ignore the common “wisdom” that people should just work to keep their strengths rather than to try to fix their weaknesses. An article in the November, 2007 issue of Training and Development (“The Positive Payoff”) conveys that common viewpoint. It sounds sensible for the world-class miler to run miles and not to try to convert to an event he’d hate and fail at – pole vaulting.
Trouble is, management is like the decathlon, with a lot of “events,” and if someone is strong in 8 events but weak in 2, that person will not succeed if competitors are strong in all 10. Management requires a lot of skills, many of which are necessary, not just desirable.
I’ve sat in on a thousand meetings in which managers were considered for promotion, and the people who get promotions of course have many strengths. However, the most important consideration almost always is that they have no “fatal flaws,” “derailers,” or serious weak points. My role as a coach is much more to help managers fix one or two serious weaknesses than to help them maximize their strengths.
In my book Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching, and Keeping the Best People (Portfolio, 2005) I have a large section entitled Fix Your Weaknesses, and present case studies in which good results became even better when managers minimized a serious weakness. Over the years I’ve also worked with some super talented people who simply could not control their negative treatment of people. One was given 2 years to improve, but he got worse – publicly humiliating his people and peers, using biting sarcasm, etc. He ran the most profitable division, almost single handedly, but was fired. The CEO said, “Pete, you’re brilliant at running one division, but 16 out of 18 peers told me they’d quit if you are promoted to President. So, you’re fired!”

For management jobs, my experience is that high performers who want to earn promotions quite naturally maximize their strengths every day. They know they are great at product launch projects, public speaking, analysis of financial reports (or whatever); they love exercising their strengths, read articles and go to seminars to strengthen them, and too often ignore working on one or two competencies they must have in order to get promoted.

In my book I break out 50 competencies into groups including competencies that can be significantly improved on in one year (personal organization, writing, and even treating people with respect), and those competencies that generally can’t be improved on a lot (honesty, drive/energy).

Actually, for individual contributors, which are most people in companies, I totally agree that they ought to stick with their strengths and what they love to do, and not waste time trying to fix weaknesses that have no bearing on their success or job satisfaction. The creative ad person is probably better off staying in marketing than maybe trying to make more money by transitioning into an accounting job that would be boring.

But as soon as people move into the world of management, and particularly when they want to be promoted two or three levels – aha, that’s where all those meetings I’ve been in make it clear that weaknesses knock people out of promotions all the time! That’s where the decathlon analogy is quite real!

SUMMARY
I am frequently asked about the value of working on fixing weaknesses and make the point: for individual contributors, don’t bother trying to fix your weaknesses and instead go with your strengths, but for ambitious managers, fix your serious weakness(es) or your career will plateau!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

All of Us Are Stuck on Suck-Ups

Another of my favorite Marshall Goldsmith Articles. More on this topic and 19 other annoying habits in his new book, "What Got you Here Won't Get You There". And yes, Annie is quite the suck-up.


All of Us Are Stuck on Suck-Ups
We all claim to hate suck-ups. So why do we surround ourselves with them?

By: Marshall Goldsmith
From: Issue 77 December 2003, Page 117

I have reviewed more than 100 custom-designed leadership profiles for major corporations – and have helped write over 50. These documents typically feature motivational language that describes the leadership practices companies desire - such as "communicates a clear vision," "helps people develop to their maximum potential," "strives to see the value of differing opinions," and "avoids playing favorites."
One item I have never read is "effectively fawns over executive management." While almost every company says it wants people to "challenge the system," "be empowered to express your opinion," and "say what you really think," there sure are a lot of people who are stuck on sucking up!
Not only do companies say they abhor such comically servile behavior but so do individual leaders. Almost all of the leaders I have met say that they would never encourage such a thing in their organizations. I have no doubt that they are sincere. Most of us are easily irritated--if not disgusted--by derriere kissers. Which raises a question: If leaders say they discourage sucking up, why does it happen so often? Here's a straightforward answer: Without meaning to, we all tend to create an environment where people learn to reward others with accolades that aren't really warranted. We can see this very clearly in other people. We just can't see it in ourselves.
So now you may be thinking, "This guy Goldsmith is right. It's amazing how leaders send out subtle signals that encourage subordinates to mute their criticisms and exaggerate their praise of the powers that be. And it's surprising how they can't see themselves doing it. Of course, Goldsmith isn't talking about me. I don't do this in my company." And maybe you're right. But how can you be so sure that you're not in denial?
I use an irrefutable test with my clients to show how we unknowingly encourage sucking up. I ask a group of leaders the following question: "How many of you own a dog that you love?" Big smiles cross these executives' faces as they wave their hands in the air. They beam as they tell me the names of their always-faithful mutts. Then we have a contest. I ask them, "At home, who gets most of your unabashed affection?" The multiple choices: one, your husband, wife, or partner; two, your kids; or three, your dog. More than 80% of the time, the clear winner is --- the dog!
I then ask them if they love their dogs more than the members of their families. The answer is always a resounding no. My follow-up: "So why does the dog get most of your unqualified positive recognition?" They reply with answers that all sound about the same. "The dog is always happy to see me." "The dog never talks back." "The dog gives me unconditional love, no matter what I do." In other words, the dog is a suck-up.
I can't say that I am any better. I have two dogs at home. I travel all the time, and the dogs go absolutely nuts when I return from a trip. I pull into the driveway, and my first inclination is to open the front door, go straight to the dogs, and exclaim, "Daddy's home!" Invariably, the dogs jump up and down and wag their little tails. I give them a big hug. One day, my daughter, Kelly, was home from college. She watched my typical love fest with the dogs. She then looked at me disgustedly, held her hands in the air like little paws, and barked, "Woof woof."
Point taken.
If we aren't careful, we can treat people at work like dogs: by rewarding those who heap unthinking, unconditional admiration upon us. What behavior do we get in return? A virulent case of the suck-ups.
Here's how leaders can stop encouraging this behavior. Begin by admitting that we all have a tendency to favor those who favor us, even if we don't mean to. We should then rank our direct reports in three areas. First, how much do they like me? (I know you aren't sure. What matters is how much you think they like you.) Second, what is their contribution to our company and our customers? Third, how much positive, personal recognition do I give them? In many cases, if we are honest with ourselves, how much recognition we give someone is more often highly correlated with how much they seem to like us than it is with how well they perform. If that is the case, we may be encouraging the kind of behavior that we despise in others. Without meaning to, we are basking in hollow praise, which makes us hollow leaders.


Marshall Goldsmith (Marshall@MarshallGoldsmith.com ) is corporate America's preeminent executive coach and a founder of Marshall Goldsmith Partners.
Copyright © 2004 Gruner + Jahr USA Publishing. All rights reserved.Fast Company, 375 Lexington Avenue.,New York , NY 10017

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Impact of the Top Leader


A Genie (actually an HR Vice-president at a former company) once asked me, “Dan, if you could only do one thing for leadership development, what would it be?” You see, this was a company that was going through some tough belt-tightening, and we spent a lot of time making hard choices as to what to keep and what to cut. My initial reaction was I a thought it was sucker’s choice question. That is, of course you can’t develop leaders by doing just one thing, leadership development is a system, involving many interdependent variables. But I knew what she was getting at – she was trying to get me to prioritize, or perhaps to test my ability to think strategically. I thought about it for just a few seconds, and then, without thinking of the political consequences, blurted out, “get a new CEO?” Definitely the wrong answer, not what she was looking for at all. But you know, I still stand behind the answer. My experience has been that it always does seem to link back to the top banana’s belief and commitment to developing leaders. I once heard a CEO say, “You know, I don’t have time to teach people, and at this level, I shouldn't’t have to!” Well, at least he admitted it – better than phony lip service with all talk and no action. On the other hand, I worked with an executive named Marty Coyne, who was proud to say he spent 75% of his time developing leaders. I sat though a few talent review meetings with him, and he was dead serious about it. It was painful to witness his wrath when a business unit president showed up unprepared, or was not doing enough to weed out poor performers and develop high potentials. (these butt-kicking’s were all part of his 75%). And of course, we’ve all heard about how committed to Jack Welch was to leadership development and Crotenville.

Why does it matter so much? When a senior leader understands the strategic value of leadership development and the ROI, all else falls into place. There’s a cascading effect from role modeling, setting expectations, inspection, and ultimately, improved business performance. As a practitioner, you’re not spending time deciding what to cut or figuring out how to sell your new program, you’re hanging on to a tiger’s tail and trying to keep up. The expectations are sky high, and you better deliver, but I’ll take that deal any chance I can.
How about you? How would you answer the question?

THRIVE: Standing On Your Own Two Feet in a Borderless World by Mike Cook






I've had the pleasure of working with Mike and his colleagues from Vitalworks for a couple years now. He's had a profound impact on our company's culture and the development of our leaders. He's recently written an insightful and powerful book - here's an overview:




THRIVE: Standing On Your Own Two Feet in a Borderless World by Mike Cook picks up where Thomas Friedman leaves off in his acclaimed book, The World is Flat. Moving beyond a description of the newly “flattened” world, THRIVE provides approaches to survive—and thrive. The book helps readers of all stripes—from business leaders to employees to students to retirees—to:
Gain a sense of confidence in a borderless world where the most persistent condition is uncertainty.
Stand willingly on your own two feet, not alone, but in collaboration with others
Use practical models and tested techniques to thrive in this paradigm of interdependency.



Interdependence—beyond dependence, beyond independence
Pragmatic and provocative in his approach, Cook invites citizens of the borderless world to investigate the relationships they have with our economic and cultural structures.
Have generations of paternalistic relationships with employers left us waiting for someone else to make our most important life decisions?
Conversely, have we taken on the role of rugged individualist and convinced ourselves that by our unique skills and cunning, we can somehow make it alone?
Neither approach holds up in the borderless world. With insight born of 20 years of helping people and organizations navigate change, Mike Cook suggests a new paradigm—appreciating interdependence—and the skills and behaviors (vision, adaptability, personal accountability) that support it.
Along with his practical guidelines, Cook recommends proven developmental and assessment instruments, and includes resources and reading materials that expand on his ideas and our skill mastery.


Fresh insight—grounded in a broad spectrum of accepted wisdom
Cook draws on traditional thought leaders from W. Edwards Deming to Abraham Maslow. He references transformational leaders including Matthew Fox and the Dalai Lama and advances the ideas of contemporary business writers such as Peter Block, Marcus Buckingham, and Peter Drucker.
Cook’s insight into human and organizational behavior makes THRIVE a compelling read. His advice makes THRIVE invaluable.
Once you’ve read THRIVE, you’ll never see your life or your work environment in the same way again. And you’ll come away with the tools to fashion a life that is rewarding and liberating.
Check it out:





Helping Others Develop Their Potential

Helping Others Develop Their Potential
by Kevin Eikenberry

Most of us find ourselves in a position to help others achieve more of their potential than we realize. Sure, as leaders, supervisors, and parents we can see ourselves in that position; but the fact is that all of us are uniquely qualified to help at least one other person in our lives reach their potential. I believe it is part of our purpose in life to serve others in this way – to encourage and support people we care about in becoming their best selves.
Many books (some of which sit on my bookcases) have been written about coaching and helping people develop their skills. This article won’t be a definitive list, but it will share my perspective on the essential ingredients in helping others reach their potential.

Help Them See
The first step in developing the potential in others is for the “others” to recognize that they have potential and to know for themselves what it is! We’ve already talked about his but you can’t forget it – it is a critical step. Our goal should be to help them get where they want to go – even if their vision is slightly different from ours.
Potential is about passion. If people don’t have passion for the future they see, they are much less likely to get there (and likely it isn’t the right future!)

Be Them Focused
Many years ago I had a manager who saw great things in my future. He was very supportive of helping me reach his vision. While I will always be grateful to him for seeing potential in me, I continue to shake my head at his approach. He never wanted to know what I saw for myself and my future, instead, he assumed I would want to become what he saw for me. Even when I tried to explain to him that our visions didn’t match, he focused on providing me opportunities and support that were right for his vision, not mine.
Remember that you are helping people reach their potential, helping them discover their agenda and goals. This is not a platform for you to exert your influence based on your belief in them or your vision for them.
Yes, if you are a supervisor or manager you may have organizational goals you hope this person can achieve. Be upfront about those goals, and look for the matches with the person’s passions and unique abilities. Perhaps there is a perfect fit, or maybe the best thing you can do for everyone is help the person move into a new or different role inside or outside of the organization.
To truly serve others in this way we must keep this process completely about them, and not our best judgment, our agenda or our vision for them.

Ask Questions
As a developer of potential our role is to draw the answers from others. Too often we want to share our wisdom and advice. We will be more effective when we spend less time talking and more time asking and listening. Ask people questions about their passions, their ideas regarding their greatest areas of potential, and about the other areas in this article.
Ask questions without bias and questions that encourage the other person to think. Then be patient and keep your mouth shut after you ask. Your only job then is to listen.

Help Them Set Goals
All of us know the value of goal setting, but many of us don’t do it very well or very consistently on our own. We can guide and encourage people to set them. We can help them define and clarify these goals through the questions we ask. Help people describe their current situation then set goals that will stretch them from their current reality towards their potential.
Use your questioning skills throughout this process and encourage people to write their goals down.

Help Them Identify Options and Opportunities
As a part of the goal setting process, people should begin to identify some options to help them reach the goal. Here is where you can begin to provide more direct advice. Perhaps you have experience that you can share to help them identify approaches they can use. Perhaps if you are in the role of a supervisor, you can offer specific training or learning experiences to help them.
At least as important though, is that you are now in a unique position to help them in the future because you know their goals and their vision. As time goes by you will be become aware of situations, courses, lectures, books, people and all manner of other things that will help that person advance towards their goals. Make sure you share those ideas and opportunities with them.

Provide Support
If we want to help people reach their potential, we know they need support. They need encouragement, advice and even feedback.
You expected me to mention feedback, and it is very important. Sometimes though, people have more feedback than they want or need. What they are often lacking is encouragement. Be a person who is supportive, interested and encouraging and you will provide great value to others.

Be a Model
Want to help others reach their potential? The most important thing you can do is be on that same path for yourself. Model the behaviors you are encouraging in them. Have your own development goals. Be a willing and eager learner. Be open and flexible to new opportunities yourself.
You will have much greater influence and much more success in developing others if you are serious about developing yourself first.
Taken individually each of the suggestions above can be a powerful aid to you in helping others reach their potential. Taken together they will astound both you and those you are helping. The best way to apply these ideas is to get started. Identify at least one of these suggestions that you will implement today.
Getting started is often the toughest step. Seeing the success that comes with action will encourage you to continue. Doing it (rather than just shaking your head and agreeing with these ideas) will be both gratifying and life changing - to those you are helping and to you too!
Follow these steps and you are on your way to unleashing the massive potential in others.
I wish you great success.

© 2004, All Rights Reserved, Kevin Eikenberry. Kevin (Kevin@KevinEikenberry.com) publishes Unleash Your Potential, a free weekly ezine designed to provide ideas, tools, techniques and inspiration to enhance your professional skills. Go to http://www.kevineikenberry.com/uypw/current.asp to read the current issue and subscribe. Kevin is also President of The Kevin Eikenberry Group, a learning consulting company that helps Clients reach their potential through a variety of training, consulting and speaking services. Visit our website at http://www.kevineikenberry.com/ or contact Kevin at toll free 888.LEARNER.