Sunday, January 31, 2010

Career Advice Part 2: Never Stop Learning

This is the second part of a 5 part career advice series.

There’s three parts to every career path: the past, present, and the future. Kind of like Dickens’s Christmas Carol.

A lot of us tend to think of these elements in terms of the results we’ve achieved (as documented on our resume), the work we’re doing, and what we want to do when we grow up (our career plans and goals).

There’s another way to think about your career path – think of your career as a learning journey.

The Past:
Most of know it’s a smart habit to update our resumes every year. It’s like paying your taxes - no one likes doing it, but it has to be done. If you really hate it and don’t want to do it yourself, then you can pay someone to do it.

Many of us are also asked to document our accomplishments for the year as input into the annual performance review. Again, not a bad idea. If you’re not asked to do this by your manager, then I’d recommend doing it anyways. It’s hard for managers to keep track of all of your accomplishments, so it’s OK to help jog their memories.

Here’s the part I’ll bet you don’t do: at the end of each year, sit back with a cup of coffee or glass of wine and ask yourself what you learned over the last year. In fact, don’t just do it at the end of the year. Make it a regular habit at the end of every big project, whether you succeed or fail.

It’s called reflection, and it’s a proven best practice that helps clarify and crystallize your learning. That’s why journals are often used as in leadership development programs – they’re a learning enhancer. Great coaches are masters at asking those million dollar reflective questions – the kind of questions that just seem to unlock our “ah-ha” moments. As a leader, make it a regular habit to ask your employees to reflect on what they’ve learned. Even better, ask them to do it after a major screw-up. It’s those hardships that build resiliency and can end up being some of our most powerful learning experiences.

The Present:
Have you ever heard of “learning agility”? It’s a key characteristic of highly successful people. Some say it’s THE #1 predictor of success.

Top leaders who rank in the upper portion of success are the more learning-agile, which Warren Bennis calls “adaptive capacity”, the hallmark of effective leadership. Lombardo and Eichinger have shown that it is associated with being a high potential learner; these learners perform much better after promotion than do the average and low learning-agile. Robert Sternberg reports that learning agility has a higher correlation to success than IQ.

What this means is that effective leaders are lifelong learners. Learners of the soft stuff. Learning agility relates to learning to think, feel, act, and believe differently based upon experience and changing circumstances.

Studies of why people fail all include some version of the lack of willingness and ability to adapt and learn from experience.

Fortunately, you can actually develop a sense of “learning agility”. Be curious, be open to new experiences, try new things, experiment, and take pride in being able to tackle the new and unknown. A mentor once told me that in order to stay fresh and motivated in a career, at least 20% of what you do each year should be new and different. I’ve tried to follow that advice, and hope I can continue to do so well beyond retirement.

The Future
A high level manager once told me he refused to have career discussions with people who came to him looking for advice on how to become an executive. To him, the more important question they should be asking themselves is “what is it I want to learn?”

Although I never liked that manager, his advice stuck with me.

I do think it’s OK to have an idea of what your next likely role might be, as well as 2-3 longer term potential roles. Once you do that, then identity what you need to learn in order to prepare myself for those roles. It’s called a development plan. Regular readers of this blog have heard me harp on the importance of having an IDP (individual development plan) on a regular basis.

You didn’t think I was going to miss an opportunity to work it into this career advice series, did you?

In summary, a good career path isn’t just a list of jobs – it’s a continuous journey of new experiences, reflection, and learning. If you do that, the rest should take care of itself.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Career Advice Part 1: Don’t Settle

I’m going to veer a little bit from the primary mission of this blog (leadership development) and offer a 5 part series of career advice posts.

I do this with some hesitation. There are hundreds of career advice blogs out there already. For a good sample, start with Alltop’s collection of career blogs. I’d also recommend signing up for the new SmartBrief on Your Career free daily newsletter.

The point is, I can’t even begin to compete with some of my favorites like Anita Bruzzese, so I won’t even try. I humbly bow to their expertise.

However, I have picked up a few strategies that have worked for me over the last 30 years, and I love to give advice and help others. So I guess that sort of qualifies me.

Here’s part 1 of 5 – I hope you enjoy.

Career Advice Part 1: Don’t Settle
 
This last December, I was in my office with my nose to the grindstone cranking out new ways to develop leaders for the coming year. I heard a horrible noise coming from the lobby and went out to investigate. It was a rag-tag collection of employees with Santa hats singing Christmas carols in the lobby of our corporate headquarters. There were a couple Vice-Presidents in the chorus, children of some of our employees, and anyone else they could round up that could carry a tune.

I’m kidding about the horrible noise – they were actually pretty good. I looked down below on the first floor and saw the buffet tables and carving stations being set up for the annual employee holiday lunch. These lavish spreads are set up in every one of our major facilities. Santa Clause was going around with a cart handing out cookies.
As I leaned against the wall with my co-workers and took it all in, a warm feeling came over me. Could it have been heartburn – or heartfelt emotion?

I realized how far I had come since I quit my last job to join this company. At my last company, the holidays meant layoff season. I would have been firing employees as a manager or HR manager, watching my co-workers walk out, or worrying about losing my own job. No Santa Claus, no cookies, no carols.

It was at that moment that I realized what an impact a job can have on who you are. It affects your attitude, your values, your relationships, your self-esteem – just about everything that matters. I realized that I had changed significantly – very gradually without even realizing it. I had become a better person, and a much better leader.

At the time I left, I didn’t realize how much that job was affecting me. The primary reason I left was due to a lack of *support for training. Looking back, I now realize I had become hardened, cynical, mis-trusting, and somewhat selfish as a leader. Thanks God I made the decision to get out. It was a tough decision at the time – I left a high profile job and was making good money. It’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

So here’s my career advice to all of you: Don’t settle for a job that’s making you miserable. Because it’s not just a job – it’s a huge part of your life, and unless you’re coated with Teflon, a bad job could turn you into a bad person. Life’s too short – no job is worth selling your soul.

Yes, I do realize there’s double-digit unemployment right now, so many of you are lying low and waiting for the economy to improve. That may be a wise strategy for now, however, the 22 Best Companies to Work for currently have at least 500 opening each, totaling more than 87,750 jobs!

Who knows – maybe one of those is hiring managers is looking for you.

If this Careerbuilder commercial from last year's Super Bowl reminds you of your job… then maybe it's time.



I can’t wait to see this year’s Super Bowl ad. You can vote for your favorite here. I like Job Fairy.

* Happy ending note: I’m proud to say I’ve found a company that very much supports training. I’ll be going to San Diego next week to the Training 2010 Conference to accept our Training Top 125 award. We don’t know where we’ve placed yet, but we’re usually in the top 50. Know any good restaurants? (-:

Stay tuned for Career Advice parts 2-5 in the upcoming weeks.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conan O'Brien's 'Tonight Show' Farewell Speech: A Class Act

I'm not a regular "Tonight Show" watcher - it's on too late for me - but I happened to watch Conan O'Brien's final show last night. For those of you that have not been paying attention, NBC wanted Conan to give up the first 30 minutes of his show to make room for Jay Leno. He felt NBC was giving up on him too soon, after only 7 months, so he decided to walk away with a reported 45 million dollar severance package.

I'm glad I watched - it was an awesome show! Steve Carell (sort of in his Michael Scott role) processed his exit interview, Tom Hanks shared a farewell toast with him, Neil Young performed "Long May You Run", and Will Ferrell belted out "Freebird", along with Billy Gibbons, Beck and Ben Harper.

However, the part I liked the most was Conan's classy farewell speech. At some point, we're all going to face a little adversity in life. Maybe we'll get fired, laid off, or feel forced out of our job. If that ever happens to me, I hope I handle it with the class that Conan displayed last night.

Here's the transcript:

"Before we bring this rodeo to a close, I think a couple things should be said.
There's been a lot of speculation in the press about what I legally can and can't say about NBC.
And this isn't a joke.
To set the record straight, and this is true, tonight I'm allowed to say anything I want.
(Man laughs)
Um, and no it's not a joke, but thanks sir. Tonight I really am allowed to say whatever I want and what I want to say is this.
Between my time at "Saturday Night Live," "The Late Night Show," and my brief run here on "The Tonight Show," I've worked with NBC for over 20 years.
Yes, we have our differences right now, yes we're going our separate ways, but this company has been my home for most of my adult life.
I am enormously proud of the work we've done together. And I want to thank NBC for making it all possible.
I really do.
(Audience applauds)
A lot of people have been asking me about my state of mind and I'll be honest with you, walking away from "The Tonight Show" is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
Um, making this choice has been enormously difficult. This is the best job in the world.
I absolutely love doing it and I have the best staff and crew in the history of the medium.
I will fight anybody who says I don't, but no one would.
But despite this sense of loss, I really feel this should be a happy moment. Every comedian...every comedian dreams of hosting "The Tonight Show" and for seven months, I got to do it.
And I did it my way with people I love. I do not regret one second of anything that we've done here.
(Audience applause)
And yeah.
And I encounter people when I walk on the street now who are just uh who give me sort of a sad look.
I have had more fortune than anybody I know.
And if our next gig is doing a show in a 7-Eleven Parking lot we will find a way to make it fine. We really will.
I have no problems. And, I don't want to do it on a 7-Eleven parking lot.
(Audience laughs)
But whatever, uh, finally I have something to say to our fans.
This massive outpouring of support and passion from so many people has been overwhelming for me.
The rallies, the signs, all the goofy outrageous creativity on the Internet uh, the fact that people have traveled long distances and camped out all night in the pouring rain.
(Audience cheers)
It's pouring! It's been pouring for days and they're camping out to be in our audience.
Really, you...Here's what all of you have done.
You've made a sad situation joyous and inspirational.
So to all the people watching I can never ever thank you enough for the kindness to me and I'll think about it for the rest of my life.
And all I ask is one thing...and this is...I'm asking this particularly of young people that watch...please do not be cynical.
I hate cynicism. For the record, it's my least favorite quality.
It doesn't lead anywhere.
Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get.
But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you. Amazing things will happen. (Audience claps) I'm telling you.
It's just true.
As proof, let's make something amazing happen right now. (Intro Will Ferrell)

He thanked his employer. He complimented his team. He was heartfelt, authentic, positive, and grateful.

However, the part I liked the best was his advice to young people: “if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen”.

I've always tried to follow that advice as a leader and I hope my kids do as well.

Well done, Mr. O'Brien. Well done.

What Prevents Leaders from “Connecting the Dots”?


It seems like as a result of the failed bombing attempt on the Northwest Airlines flight, “connecting the dots” is the new “thinking outside the box”.

The phrase may need to be added to your latest version of corporate bull%$#* bingo.

SmartBrief on Leadership did a poll last week and asked the following question:

“In your organization, what prevents people from "connecting the dots" with important information?

Here are the results and commentary from a research consultant:

- Corporate silos blocking information flow 33.46%
- Unwillingness to speak truth to power 25.24%
- No direct responsibility/"not my problem" attitude 19.94%
- Poor listening/unwillingness to hear bad news 11.28%
- Political correctness 6.12%
- Paucity of information 3.96% 

Where the trouble comes from: It's clear that that connecting the information dots in organizations is no simple matter. Responses are diverse and suggest failure to connect information is mostly due to a slew of organizational behaviors, not a paucity of information (only 3.9%). Besides the architecture of organizational silos blocking the flow of information, a combination of negative behaviors aggregate to make the problem more complex and, hence, more difficult to solve. Unwillingness to speak truth to power, a "not my problem" attitude, poor listening, unwillingness to hear bad news and "political correctness" represent 62.6% of the reasons voted. "Hard" organizational policy will not effectively counter these "soft" behaviors. Enlightened team building, good culture, supportive architecture and informed leadership will. --Eva Schmatz, president, Summus Limited

It’s a good poll and analysis, but the one potential cause that is missing and that may be the biggest reason why we can’t seem to see what’s right in front of us is that our own “worldviews”, or “paradigms” obstruct our vision.

Wikipedia defines worldview as “a comprehensive world view (or worldview) is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing natural philosophy, fundamental existential and normative postulates or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.

Translation: it’s how we see the world. We all have a lifetime’s worth of experiences that shape our beliefs, attitudes, and values, and ultimately, our behaviors. When confronted with new information, we try to make sense of it – we unconsciously filter the new information through our worldviews and but it in the proper box. We decide what is “true” and what is “right”.

But what happens when we’re exposed to new information that doesn’t fit into any of these boxes? We often reject it, or in many cases, don’t even see it. It’s a survival mechanism – without it, we couldn’t cross the road without getting run over.

There are countless examples of businesses that failed as a result of being stuck in their own worldviews and not able to see a competitive risk or opportunity. The Swiss Watch industry failed to patent or market the quartz watch, even though they invented it, because they couldn't shift paradigms. Their own success got in their way.

So what’s a leader to do? How can we not allow our worldviews to block our ability to “connect the dots”?

Here are five ways:

1. Listen for possibilities.
Most of us tend to evaluate too quickly when we’re listening. Practice listening to learn, not to confirm what you already believe. Listen for what’s new, not what you already know. It requires a willingness to suspend judgment, a willingness to tolerate paradox, patience, curiosity, and respect for how others might see things.

2. Spend time with outliers.
While it’s good to have experienced and trusted “experts” in your inner circle, you also need to spend a little time with outliers, those unconventional mavericks that exist in any organization.

3. Be a lifelong learner.
The phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” just makes me cringe. Education shouldn’t stop when we’re out of college. And don’t just focus on practical functional knowledge pertaining to your own field. It’s those unrelated “liberal arts” that can often broaden your worldview and enable you to make connections.

4. Don’t let yourself get isolated from reality.
I just wrote a post on this topic: here are 10 ways to prevent this from happening as a leader.

5. Manage your career for diverse experiences.
I’ve seen too many leaders that have only worked for one company, one location, and/or one function. The more diverse your experiences, the more likely it is you’ll develop a more diverse and broader worldview. If for some reason you don’t feel you can get this variety of experiences on the job, then seek them out off the job. Travel, join things, get involved, and break out of your rut.

As leaders, we need to be able and willing to change our worldviews. Just as importantly, we need to help others change their worldviews. That’s the essence of leadership, isn’t it? It’s about getting people to change. Management is about changing behavior – leadership is the ability to change worldviews.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The “One Thing” Approach to Leadership Development


There’s a scene in the Movie “City Slickers” where the lead character, Mitch, played by Billy Crystal, is debating with his ornery trail boss Curly, about the meaning of life. It goes like this:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Curly: This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean s--t.
Mitch: But, what is the "one thing?"
Curly: [smiles] That's what you have to find out.

I think Curly may have been on to something in regards to how we approach our development as leaders.

For years now, I’ve been working with leaders helping them with their individual development plans. The general rule of thumb I’ve always used is to help the leader pick 3-4 things that they want and need to get better at. These can be strengths to leverage or weaknesses that are getting in the way of their success.

It’s usually never a problem coming up with a few things. The leader may have a keen sense of self-awareness, has recently taken a 360 degree assessment, or received feedback from their manager. Once we identify those 3-4 things, we then build a plan to develop in those areas.

Unfortunately, when I follow-up with the same leaders 6 months to a year later and ask about progress, all too often nothing or very little actually got done. These are not slackers I’m working with either – these are very successful, ambitious individuals.

There are a lot of excuses, errr, reasons, for this. A lack of interest from their managers, a lack of inspection, overly ambitious plans, too busy, and all kinds of other reasons that make it so hard for us to lose weight or stick to our New Year’s resolutions.

However, lately I’ve been following the advice of coaching guru Marshall Goldsmith. When he works with leaders, he’ll ask them “what’s the one thing that if you could show improvement would make the biggest difference in your success as a leader?”

Maybe it’s the ability to listen; or to think more strategically; or to lead change. Then, for the next 6 months, focus exclusively on improving in that one area. Hit that development need with every proven method available: a challenging assignment, a coach, mentor, or other subject matter experts, a good book or course, and continuous feedback.

The approach may serve us well when it comes to organizational effectiveness as well. For example, what’s the one thing your entire sales force needs to focus on and get better at? Nowadays, we are so inundated with so much crap everything can become important and nothing gets done very well. We can overwhelm and confuse our workforce to the point where they tune us out.

I’m certainly not saying something as complex as leadership or organizational development can be overly simplified as to say there’s only one thing you need to pay attention to in order to succeed. Others have already written books on that topic, and I don’t happen to agree with the theory.

This approach means only focusing on getting better at one thing at a time – then, once you get that nailed, pick another thing and focus on that. It’s a never-ending journey.

I’m betting that the “one thing” approach to leadership or individual development may have some potential. I’ll let you know 6-12 months from now.

How about you? Have you used this approach as a leader or as a coach? Or would you be willing to give it a try?

Note: after I drafted this post, I read about an exercise that Marshall uses that helps bring the "one thing" concept to life. Five to eight people sit around a table, and each person selects one practice to change. One person begins the exercise by saying: "When I get better at..." and completes the sentence by mentioning one benefit that will accompany this change. For example, one person may say: "When I get better at being open to differing opinions, I will hear more great ideas."

After everyone has had a chance to discuss their specific behavior and the first benefit, the cycle begins again. Now each person mentions a second benefit that may result from changing the same behavior, then a third, continuing usually for six to eight rounds. Finally, participants discuss what they have learned and their reactions to the exercise.

The exercise works becuase it gets people to realize the profound difference changing that single behavior can make in thier lives. It often doesn't hit them under the later rounds. People are often moved to tears.
 
Try It for Yourself. Pick a behavior pattern that you may want to change. Complete the sentence: "When I get better at..." over and over again. Listen closely as you recite potential benefits. You will be amazed at how quickly you can determine whether this change is worth it for you.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Leaders Get Your Pants Off the Ground

Every once in a while, someone comes out of nowhere and captures our imagination – maybe even inspires us. Last week, it was 62 year old General Larry Platt, appearing on American Idol with his viral hit “Pants on the ground”. Thanks to Sarah for bringing it to my attention.

If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look. Warning: once you hear this song, you’ll be hooked!



As leaders, what does it mean to have your “pants on the ground”? What are those punk-like behaviors that could cause a leader to look like a fool, and eventually fail?

I’ll draw from the work of the Center for Creative Leadership’s research on executive derailers, Marshall Goldsmith’s book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”, and my own experience and submit the following:


Top 5 deadly sins for leaders:

1. Arrogance and insensitivity to others
Whether it’s yelling, screaming, and berating, or a more subtle approach to letting everyone else don’t they don’t matter, everybody can’t stand an arrogant jerk.

2. Not listening
Not listening is another way of displaying arrogance and insensitivity, even if you don’t mean to be.

3. Manipulative
Getting things done by manipulating people shows a lack of authenticity and keeps people guessing what your true intentions are. It fosters a lack of trust.

4. Lack of integrity
Lying, cheating, fibbing, blaming others for your mistakes – it only takes one mistake to ruin a reputation for life.

5. Selfishness
A “me first” approach, inability to collaborate or build a team, and unwillingness to collaborate.

If you’ve ever been told you display any of these traits, then do yourself and everyone around you a big favor – get some help!

Unfortunately, a lot very “successful” managers shrewdly use these very same characteristics to their advantage. You can achieve short-tem success by lying, cheating, and abusing your power. However, at some point, it’s going to catch up to you. In the meantime, you’ll end up “lookin’ like a fool with your pants on the ground”.

Great Leadership Pants on the Ground Remix:

Pants on the ground
Pants on the ground
Lookin’ like a fool with your pants on the ground

With your air-o-gance,
wax in yo ears,
pullin those strings,
cheatin, lying, and lookin out for you

Pants hit the ground
Call yourself a cool cat
Lookin’ like a fool
Walkin’ downtown with your pants on the ground

Get it up, hey!
Get your pants off the ground
Lookin’ like a fool
Walkin’ talkin’ with your pants on the ground.

Get it up, hey!
Get your pants off the ground
Lookin’ like a fool with your pants on the ground

You should be glad I don’t do videos, or you’d have to see me singing and break-dancing. Not a pretty sight.

BTW, Larry Platt is no fool. He marched with Martin Luther King when he was a teenager. The Georgia General Assembly proclaimed Sept. 4, 2001, Larry Platt Day in Atlanta, because of "his great energy and commitment to equality and the protection of the innocent and for his outstanding service to the Atlanta community and the citizens of Georgia."

Sounds like leadership to me.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Leadership Development Code of Ethics


I have a lot of unwritten rules around ethics, confidentiality, and behaviors that I adhere to and expect anyone that works on my team to adhere to when practicing leadership development. They are just things I’ve picked up over the years based on my own personal values, learning from others, and a lot of mistakes. I’m usually pretty flexible about most things, but on these I don’t give an inch.

Here’s an experience that I’ll never forget that had a big impact on me. I was in my early twenties and just starting a new position as a corporate trainer. I was in a meeting with my supervisor, manager, and vice-president – three levels of hierarchy. We were in the process of rolling out a new supervisors training program, and a component of the program was sending out surveys to the participant’s employees and manager. The forms (no online surveys back then) were supposed to be sent directly to an outside vendor for the purpose of needs assessment and evaluation. I found out the manager wanted to keep copies of the surveys for each individual supervisor – without telling anyone. “No one will know, and it would be good information to have to know who our good and bad supervisors are” was the rationale. Being young and naïve, I was appalled, and gave an impromptu and passionate speech on the evils of such an approach. I said I’d refuse to be a part of it. My supervisor turned white, the manager turned purple, ...... and the vice-president agreed with me.

It wasn’t the best way to manage up and influence, and my manager wasn’t too pleased with me in the short term. But in the long term, it paid off. Over the years I’ve had lots of opportunity to refine my technique (less confrontation, more influence), but I’ve stuck to my guns and have never been fired for it.

I’m wondering how common these rules are for others who work in leadership development, or talent management – i.e., those in HR, training, coaching, and consulting.

Last year the International Coaching Federation adopted a Coaching Code of Ethics.

I’m going to follow their lead and propose a Leadership Development Code of Ethics:

1. I will not divulge leadership assessment results (360s, MBTIs, DISCs, etc…) to anyone other than the recipient of the assessment, unless it is clearly stated in writing whom the assessment data will be shared with.

2. When facilitating a talent review meeting, I will never share the details of these confidential discussions with anyone who was not at the meeting. What’s said in the room stays in the room.

3. I will not share the details of discussions that occur during a training program to the participant’s managers, nor will I share my assessment of the trainee’s behavior or leadership potential (unless it is clearly stated upfront that assessment or grading is part of the program).

4. I will not share succession planning information with anyone but the owner of these plans. I will never tell, or even hint, to anyone about their potential status.

5. When coaching a manager, or helping with a development plan, I’ll not share with anyone the details of our discussion.

6. I will at all times strive to be a role model for the leadership behaviors we are responsible for developing. There is no “on and off” switch.

7. I’ll maintain a high level of respect for the leaders I work with. There will be no “boss-bashing” or “witch hunts”. My role is to help the good ones become great, the struggling ones become better, and establish a culture and processes that weed out the bad ones. I’ll look for good examples instead of always looking for flaws.

8. I will not practice cult-like or just plain wacky leadership development programs or practices. I won't use my role to advance my spiritual beliefs or social causes. I'm paid to develop proven leadership and management competencies – it’s not social work or a personal pulpit.

Note: this rule applies to corporate or government organizations; it of course would not apply to church-based leadership development programs.

9. I will treat external vendors/suppliers/coaches/trainers/contractors with respect and look for win-win partnerships. I will not bully or take advantage of these partners.

10. I will respect the intellectual property of others. Copyrights and trademarks will be honored.

Warning: stubbornly refusing to bend on these rules could get you fired, or at least irritate some very powerful people. But then again, so could breaking them. Which would you rather be fired for?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Top 6 Excuses for Not Blogging


You may have noticed that my posts are a little less frequent these days. I also have not been able to visit and comment on many of my favorite blogs or be too active on Twitter.

It's certainly not because I've lost any of my passion for blogging... I still love writing about leadership and leadership development.

Fortunately, it's nothing serious. When I hear about some of the personal challenges others are facing, I count my blessing every day that my family and I are healthy and happy.

It's just that, well, I've just been busy. Way busy. It's one of those spikes in activity, which is probably typical for this time of year.

Here are the top 6 things that are getting in the way of my blogging:

1. Succession planning and leadership development.
Ironic, huh? My day job gets all consuming this time of year. We start our formal succession planning this time of year. There's VP meetings, talent reviews, IDPs, program design, yada, yada, yada... I'm in the epicenter of all the stuff I love to write about with little time and energy left to write about it. On a bad day, I'll get frustrated and wonder "what's the point"? On a good day, I feel like I'm in a zone, with a major buzz of accomplishment.
There's the rest of our work too, which all seems to be spiking at once. I'm lucky to lead an awesome team that never complains and always steps up to the plate.

2. Travel.
Lot's of work and personal travel coming up, which tends to compress everything else. These days, like everyone else, I really hate air travel. Every time I fly I swear I'll never do it again.

3. Playoff football.
Given that I do much of my writing on weekends, a 2-a-day playoff football regimen consumes much of my free time. I love the match-ups this weekend!

4. Family and friends.
The holidays were great, and spilling into January with birthdays, college breaks, and other fun stuff. It's all good, just busy.

5. I'm dieting.
That's not really an excuse, but it just makes me cranky. I feel like a damn rabbit these days with all of the vegetables. I'm craving an order of hot wings, extra blue cheese, and a slice of chocolate cake.

6. American Idol.
Yes, we're Idol junkies. I'm actually going to miss Paula.

As I read these over, it's a pretty weak list of excuses. I promise, I'll have something for you soon. Or better yet, does anyone have an excuse I can borrow?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

How to be an “Undercover Leader”

Have you heard about the new reality show “Undercover Boss”? I’ve seen it advertised and recently read about it over at PunkRock HR.

It’s going to premier on February 7th, right after the Super Bowl.

I just looked at the extended preview:




This is an open appeal to CBS:

I WANT TO BE THE OFFICAL LEADERSHIP BLOGGER FOR YOUR SHOW! Please email me.

What an awesome concept. Each week, CEOs from big name companies like Waste Management, 7-Eleven, Hooters, White Castle, “will leave the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their company. While working alongside their employees, they will see the effects their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their organization and get an up-close look at both the good and the bad while discovering the unsung heroes who make their company run.”

As a leader, it’s easy to get isolated from the realities of the workplace. One of the 8 leadership lessons from David Cottrell’s book, Monday Morning Leadership, says we need to “escape from managementland”. It’s so true – as leaders, if we’re not careful, we can allow ourselves to become a part of an alternate reality. While it’s more common with CEOs and senior leaders, it can happen to front line leaders as well. All it takes an office with a door.

As leaders, do we need to go as far as disguising ourselves to find out what’s really going on in the workplace around us? Maybe, but here’s 10 more ways to make sure you don’t get isolated from reality as a leader:

1. Be an outstanding listener.
Listening is one of the most, if not THE most, important leadership skills. Unfortunately, it’s often one of the most lacking. Learn to “listen between the lines” and pick up on subtle hints that your employees are trying to tell you something.

2. Shadowing.
You don’t have to go undercover to experience life on the front lines. I knew a VP that spent 4 hours each month in a call center next to a customer service rep listening to customer calls. He not only learned the frustration that a rep goes through dealing with an outdated CRM, he learned what customers were complaining about. If you manage sales reps, then go out on “ride-alongs” on a regular basis. Listen and observe - don't give advice and try to fix every issue.

3. Have regular 1on1s with your employees.
Is your reaction “Duh-uh” to this suggestion? Do you think sounds too obvious? Try asking a random group of employees if their managers have regular 1on1s with them. I do, and I’m no longer shocked at what I hear.

4. Town halls.
If you’re a really big cheese, informal breakfast gatherings, fireside chats, and town hall meetings can help. Just make sure you’re listening more than you’re talking.

5. Surveys.
Again, please don’t dismiss the obvious and assume all companies do employee surveys. I could write another blog post called “101 excuses for not doing an employee survey”. There’s only ONE good reason not to survey employees on a regular basis: if you’re not going to do anything about the results.

6. Break out of your office.
It’s easy to become a prisoner in your own ivory tower or even your own office. If you have employees in multiple locations, then get out and visit each location at least once per year. I knew a VP that had a map of the world on his wall, and put a pin in every location he visited each year. You don’t need to have employees scattered around the world to break out. I’ve seen managers (myself included) become isolated from employees that are just located on a different floor in the same building.

7. Leverage technology.
Use email, blogs, IM, social networking, and other digital communication tools to establish a “virtual open door” policy. In some companies, it can be career suicide to email the CEO. In other companies, it’s a regular practice that’s rewarded.

8. Eat with employees.
There are these rooms called “break rooms”, and “company cafeterias”, where regular employees go to sit with co-workers and grab a bite to eat. Give them a try – but don’t just sit by yourself or with other managers.

9. Establish a culture of candor.
This one’s easier said than done - certainly not as easy as eating in the breakroom. It’s about making it OK to challenge authority and speak up. If you’re not a CEO, you may not be able to change your company’s culture, but you sure can establish your own sub-culture.

10. Get regular feedback.
The research says that leaders who regularly ask for feedback are rated higher than leaders that don’t. Asking for feedback isn’t a sign of insecurity or weakness – it’s a sign on strength and confidence. Every leader should do a 360 assessment every couple years.

As I was writing this post, it occurred to me that after being a manager for over 20 years, what if I’ve become more isolated from reality? I hope not too much.

Are there other ways I’ve missed to prevent this from happening?

This post is supported by online CRM from Sherweb.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Top 12 Development Goals for Leaders


I help a lot of leaders create individual development plans using some variation of this process. This time of year (January) is always especially busy.

Although every leader I work with is unique, it seems like the development goals end up being somewhat common from year to year.

To help you get a head start on your 2010 leadership development plan, here’s a list of development goals that may apply to you too. I’d recommend picking no more than one and really working at it for at least 6 months. Do not attempt to work on all 12, just because there are 12 months in a year. (-:

For 2010, I’d like to improve my:

1. Strategic thinking.
Improve my ability to see the big picture and take a longer range, broader business perspective. Learn to step back from the day-to-day tactical details of my business and focus on the “why”, not just the “what” and “how”.

2. Listening.
Learn to pay attention and demonstrate to others that that I value what they have to say. Use active listening, open-ended questions, body language, and eliminate distractions that get in the way of my ability to listen.

3. Coaching.
Shift my leadership style away from always directing and telling and learn to guide and develop my direct reports. Work with each of my direct reports to create their own individual development plans.

4. Financial acumen.
Learn how to understand, interpret, and use “the numbers” to improve my business.

5. Cross-functional knowledge and perspective.
Learn about other aspects of the business other than my own functional silo.

6. Industry, competitive, and customer knowledge.
Improve my understanding of our industry and our competitors. Get closer to our customers and find out what they need and value.

7. Leadership presence.
Improve my ability to “command a room” and communicate in an authentic way that inspires others.

8. Change leadership.
Be more of a change catalyst, a champion of change. Learn to implement and sustain change in my organization.

9. Remote management.
Improve my ability to manage my remote direct reports and organization. Make better use of technology to plan, communicate, and collaborate virtually.

10. Collaboration.
Improve relationships with my peers. Be a better partner, understand their goals and needs, and learn to work together to help achieve each others goals.

11. Talent management.
Improve my ability to assess, hire, promote, and develop. Fill all open positions with nothing but “A” players and replace chronic underperformers. Develop a “virtual bench” for all key positions and a succession plan for my own position.

12. Time management.
Get a handle on where I’m wasting time and shift my focus to more value-added activities. Learn ways to work more efficiently and prioritize.

How about you? What’s on your 2010 leadership development plan?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The January 3rd Leadership Development Carnival: Best of 2009 Edition


Welcome to the January 3rd Leadership Development Carnival, Best of 2009 Edition!

It’s below zero and snowing here on a Sunday morning, so what better way to spend the morning than by reading 50 outstanding posts from my favorite leadership bloggers. It sure beats taking down Christmas decorations.

It’s also a good way to get inspired about your own development as we kick-off a new year and decade. Perfect timing for those New Year resolutions.

So whether you’re kicking back at home with a mug of hot beverage, or back to work slumped over your desk looking for a constructive diversion, I hope you enjoy these best of the best leadership posts!

Let's start off with Mary Jo Asmus with Encouraging Pure Possibility, from her Aspire blog.
Use these powerful coaching questions and you'll turn a negative conversation into one about possibilities!

Next up is Art Petty presenting Leadership Caffeine-The Cure for Tired Leader Syndrome (TLS) posted at Management Excellence. In this important public service announcement, Art discovered a new ailment - Tired Leader Syndrome! Fortunately, Dr. Petty has the cure. While you’re at it, check out Art’s new Building Better Leaders offering – very cool.

Wally Bock presents Can leadership be taught? posted at Three Star Leadership Blog. Wally is spot on with his answer, and the comments he received are worth reading too.

Here's more excellant leadership coaching advice from Steve Roesler, presenting Leadership: You'll Know Them When They Know You posted at All Things Workplace. This one made me pause and reflect.

Becky Robinson paused to reflect on her birthday, and offers this inspiration for the new year, Happy Birthday to Me! - Mountain State University LeaderTalk posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk.

Bret Simmons stirred the pot with Engagement Soup  posted at Bret L. Simmons - Positive Organizational Behavior. Are you really measuring employee engagement? Find out.

"Encouraging talent mobility, which is a key way to build better leaders, takes more than using standard incentives such as money." Amy Wilson presents When will we get serious about Talent Mobility? posted at TalentedApps, the hosts of next month's Carnival.

And here's the host of last month's Carnival, Mark Stelzner, with Common Sense is Not So Common, posted at Inflexion Point. Good advice here from Mark - never, ever yank the pants off your VP. Read Mark's hysterical post to find out more.

Tanmay Vora has been a regular Carnival contributor and a Twitter advocate for Great Leadership. Here’s his best from 2009, GIVING is GROWING - Generosity and Leadership, posted at QAspire. More great advice to start the year - on the importance of giving. Ok, I'm in!

Another blogger I got to know in 2009 is Jennifer V. Miller. Here's Praising Mastery | The People Equation posted at The People Equation. After reading this, I'll bet you'll become a regular too.

Who else could get a Presidential audience at the Kennedy Center shouting, "Bruuuce!"? From the spring of 2009, Scott Eblin shares some thought on what leaders can learn from the Boss, Kennedy Center honoree, Bruce Springsteen. Scott Eblin presents What Leaders Can Learn from Springsteen posted at Next Level Blog.

Here’s the remarkable Kevin Eikenberry, from Leadership Learning (and host of the “Best of Leadership Blogs” contest), with Leadership Lessons Everyday.

Miki Saxon has been a regular contributor to the Carnival and just loves to disagree with me. (-:
Here’s another gem from Miki’s MAPping Company Success: What you do shows how everybody leads, manages and sells all the time.

Even leaders need a little refresh every now and then - Lisa Rosendahl presents Exit A Funk and Seize The Day posted at Lisa Rosendahl. Thanks, Lisa, we needed that!

"Corporate trust is at an all time low. Leaders need to work toward creating a work environment that will allow healing to begin." Sharlyn Lauby, a future host of the Carnival, presents Trust posted at HR Bartender. Stop by for beverage and some conversation.

Mike Henry, from the Lead Change Group, gives us Unique Difference. A great post and comments.

"In this "Best of 2009" submission, see what you can learn from how Army Rangers school prepares elite troopers for the most challenging tasks. And see what you might learn about preparing your leaders to be able to handle any mission! Rangers Lead the Way!" Tom Magness presents Rangers Lead The Way posted at Leader Business. Gotta love Tom's passion. (-:

From John Ingham: “My best leadership post from 2009? Not a very typical blog post but I like it as a case study of an organisation developing clarity about where it's going and then aligning action behind this: Visa Europe: What do you want to be when you grow up."

Erik Samdahl presents The Leadership Competencies That Matter Most in Today's Trying Economic Times  posted at i4cp.

From Mike Myatt: "A message that definitely needs to be heard!" - The Power of Listening | N2Growth Blog posted at N2Growth Blog. Mike, thanks for all of the Twitter support for Great Leadership!

"Leaders see what's coming. They anticipate how their opponents will attack them and they use that knowledge when developing their plans in the first place." Jason Seiden presents Success Tip: Expect to Get Punched posted at Seiden Leadership.

Here's Janna Rust with DISC Styles: Are You a Tortoise or a Hare, from Purposeful Leadership.

Eric Pennington gives us Don't be charmed by security, posted at Epic Living.

You may have gotten to know Aaron Windeler as a regular commentor at Great Leadership. Here he presents Leadership training that increases the bottom line posted at Scientific Management.

"Dan suggested we look for our 2009 "greatest hit", which is a good idea. However I don't know what criteria I would use to decide what that would be so I've elected to pick the topic that means the most to me, which is, leadership that results in performance rather than excuses for lack of performance. Happy New Year to all and a great 2010!" Bill Matthies presents Failure: "I Can Explain" posted at Business Wisdom: Words to Manage By.

"The management system is far more important than one person." John Hunter presents The CEO is Only One Person posted at Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog.

From the cranky Wayne Turmel: "Dan, I think this is the most important Cranky show we’ve done in a couple of years. The world of work has changed and senior Leadership is caught like a deer in the headlights when it comes to remote working, changing the workplace and what it all means. I know you usually do blog posts but you’ve posted Cranky shows in the past and this one is important….." Your Senior Mgmt Doesn’t Get Remote Working John Blackwell.

Nick McCormick presents Managers, Do Your Job! posted at Joe and Wanda on Management.

Michael Ray Hopkin gives us The Price of Leadership, from Lead on Purpose. Good stuff, as always!

"My most popular post of 2009, with some great tips from communications expert Diana Booher!" - Jennifer McClure presents 6 Tips For Developing "Executive Presence" - Cincy Recruiter's World posted at Cincy Recruiter's World. Jennifer, where have you been, I miss your posts!

"Almost everyone in the team would want to become a leader, but there are very few who would actually have the characteristics to be a team leader." - Nissim Ziv presents What Makes a Good Team Leader? How to Be a Good Team Leader? posted at Job Interview & Career Guide.

Mike King presents The Problem with Leadership | Learn This posted at Learn This.

Matt Paese , from Talent Management Intelligence, presents A Startling Shock of Insight. While you're at it, check out DDI's Top 10 2010 Talent Resolutions.

"Elective courses in ethics, responsibility and moderation in MBA programs follow scandal-plagued eras. No surprise they are back now." - John Agno presents Disenchantment with MBAs Today posted at Coaching Tip: The Leadership Blog.

GL Hoffman gives us Pushing on a Rope, from What Would Dad Say.

"I don't write too much about leadership, but this post that was inspired by basketball coach and announcer Jeff Van Gundy seemed to resonate with my readers." - Steve Boese presents The Wisdom of Jeff Van Gundy posted at Steve's HR Technology. Steve, you should write about leadership more often.

"This article got more views and discussions than any other single blog post all year - so a likely candidate for a Best of 2009 Carnival! The premise is that leaders need to be able to inspire hope in their teams. It doesn't mean they forego vision or results, but they will accomplish so much more by also being a Hopeful Leader!" - Erin Schreyer presents The Hopeful Leader posted at Authentic Leadership. I can see why it got so many views - nice job, Erin! And thanks for all of your Twitter support, I really appceciate it.

Dr. Charles H. Polk presents Gone to Complacency, Every One: The Emergent Leader Crisis - Apex Thinking: Words from Dr. Charles H. Polk posted at Apex Thinking: Words from Dr. Charles H. Polk.

Tom Glover, a promsing new blogger, gives us What is Reflection, posted at Reflection Leadership.

Jane Perdue, the HR Goddess, presents Positive Influence, Positive Power posted at Life, Love & Leadership.

"With the New Year, I’d like to share a tip regarding being the new leader on the scene. Most often you are replacing a leader who is off to other pursuits, the leader leaving the situation may offer you some advice on those who need a heavy hand. Truth be told. Your future experiences with the team will be different from the other’s leaders. Your problem staff will be different from the other leaders. So when faced with this advise from a fellow leader, what do you do?" Elyse Nielsen presents Learning to Lead - Own Your Judgements posted at Anticlue.

Barry Zweibel presents Out-Loud Leadership posted at GottaGettaBLOG!.

Kevin Kim presents What is flat leadership? posted at hour9.

"In this article I want to discuss a few ideas which may help you to set goals more consciously and also introduce a practical way to actually get them achieved." - Manager skill presents Achieving your goals posted at Manager skill.

Bob Lieberman presents The Wisdom Of Fallow posted at Cultivating Creativity – Developing Leaders for the Creative Economy.

Dean L. Forbes presents How to Always Make Good Decisions posted at Dean L. Forbes - Powerful Principles of Personal Growth.

Rose King presents 100 Lectures Every Leader Should Listen To posted at Online Classes.org.

Mike King presents The Problem with Leadership | Learn This posted at Learn This.

"Being a leader means having to critique your employees. Learn how to give constructive criticism to various types of individuals." - Ralph Jean-Paul presents The Ultimate Guide to Giving and Taking Constructive Criticism posted at Potential 2 Success.

And finally, here’s the last act of the Carnival, at #50, my own The Cowardly Manager’s Guide to Dealing with Poor Performers. I’m not sure if it was my “best”, but it sure got a lotta hits, thanks to my friends at SmartBrief.

Thanks to all of this month’s contributors, and thanks to all of you for reading the Leadership Development Carnival in 2009.

Next month’s edition will be hosted at TalentedApps on February 7th. Please submit your posts by the day before using the Carnival Submission form on the sidebar.