Thursday, November 14, 2019

Leaders: Where Are Your Best Ideas Born? The Power Of Incubation

Guest post by Roger L. Firestien, PhD:

I’d bet you a hundred dollars that you don’t get your best ideas at work. Most people in my seminars and classes tell me that they get their best ideas while driving a car, exercising, taking a bath or shower, or as they fall asleep at night.

At work, most of us are in implementation mode. Action mode. Make-it-happen mode. When we get away from work and are able to pay attention to something in a relaxed way, new ideas begin to surface. Activities like driving, bathing or falling asleep are so automatic that we relax the judgmental part of our thinking, thus allowing new ideas to surface.

A classic tenet of creative problem solving is that often breakthrough ideas come to us when we step away from the problem and incubate. You’ve likely experienced it yourself. You’ve been working on a problem for a long time, haven’t made progress, and you back off to do something else. After your period of incubation — eureka! The idea hits you.

Several times in my life I’ve woken up in the middle of the night with a breakthrough idea for a project I am working on. As a matter of fact, my first book came to me at 3 a.m. in Washington D.C. in 1986. I was finishing up my doctoral dissertation and took the weekend off to visit some friends. I still remember the meal we had that evening, Thai food with white wine. In the middle of the night, I woke up with the characters and the plot line for the book. I grabbed my pocket tape recorder and dictated almost the entire book. The next morning, I needed a new tape because I had filled one with my early morning epiphany. Now, here is the kicker. I went to D.C. to get away from my work. I almost did not take the recorder with me because I thought I was mentally exhausted. However, if I had left the recorder behind, I am sure that book would not exist today.

Recently, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of entrepreneurs for one of my clients. Each member of the panel agreed that their best ideas don’t come at work. All of them had their best ideas “off the grid.” One entrepreneur goes to his cottage on the lake, another goes to his property in the desert, another works on a friend’s cattle ranch outside of the city. (Confession: I'm the guy at the ranch.) Several of them keep their phones near their beds so they can dictate a voice memo if they wake with an idea during the night.

My friend Michelle Miller-Levitt was on the panel. She owned Buffalo, NY’s first podcast studio, Too Much Neon. Michelle told me where she goes to find great ideas, and it's one of the most unusual "places" I've ever heard. When Michelle is stuck on a problem, she hangs upside down on a medicine ball. She says that by doing this, she sees the world a little differently. After a few minutes, she has cleared her mind and a new idea usually surfaces.

The key? Being ready to catch those ideas when they appear. Keep a notepad or your smart phone with you to record new insights when you’re in the mode.

Dr. Roger Firestien has taught more people to lead the creative process than anyone else
in the world. He is senior faculty and an associate professor at the Center for Creativity and Change Leadership at SUNY Buffalo, author of Create in A Flash:  A Leader’s Recipe For Breakthrough Innovation and President of Innovation Resources, Inc. For more information please visit:

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Leaders Build Trust Through Conflict!

Guest post from Scott Warrick:

Trust. Leaders tell you how critical it is to building a team. But what exactly is “trust” and exactly how do you get it?

First, if any leader is going to implement a successful program, they have to define their terms. That is why there is no such thing as “soft skills.” If you cannot define what you are shooting for, how could you ever hit it? You can’t. 

So, how should you define “trust”? Is it safe?

And how do you prove to someone that it is safe to disagree with you? Verbal Jeet, or EPR Skills. (Empathic Listening, Parroting, and “Rewards”).     

We have all been there. We are sitting at our desks, doing our work, and we hear from our boss, Mr. Dithers, “Ah, Scott. I need to see you for a minute.”

Instantly, our gut tightens up and we imagine the worst kind of reasons why our boss wants to see us. “What did I do? Am I getting fired?” 

Rarely does it enter our minds that maybe this is good news. Maybe I was just named “Employee of the Month.” (Yeah, right.)

So, why do we think of the most negative scenarios in such situations? Because we are all hard-wired to have “ANTS,” or “Automatic Negative Thoughts.” This is how we have survived on this planet for so many years. 

Years ago, if Fred Flintstone, a human, saw a new animal that he did not recognize, was it a good idea to call it over to him and pet it? No! It was much safer for Fred to assume the animal was a killer. In short, Fred’s brain was keeping him safe by giving him a little bit of “anxiety” or “apprehension.”

Anxiety and apprehension are both essential to our survival.  This is why we tend to look both ways before crossing the street or pulling out into traffic, even if it is a one-way street.   

So, why do we have this negative reaction when our boss calls us into his office? Because we don’t know that it is “safe” to go into his office.  If there is not any trust in a relationship, our thoughts automatically go to the negative. 

So, how do you typically build “trust”?

Although it sounds contradictory, “trust” is actually built through “conflict,” that is, when conflict occurs in an honest respectful manner. This means you need to resolve conflict by using your Verbal Jeet Skills (EPR = Empathic Listening, Parroting, and “Rewards”).    

Let’s say that you are a new leader at your company and Fred Flintstone reports to you. 
However, you two have never met. There is no reason for Fred to believe that it is safe to talk to you, much less disagree with you.

So, you need to leave your office and talk to your employees. You need to find out about their likes and dislikes, their families and all little things that make them “them.” This does not build any trust at all. It builds familiarity.

At some point, you ask Fred’s opinion on some issue, such as his thoughts on the new health plan. You relax and use your Verbal Jeet (EPR) skills. Of course, you start with the “E,” which is Empathic Listening. You would say something like, “You know, I am not sure about this new health plan. What do you think?” You then shut up and listen from Fred’s perspective. 

So, you are asking Fred to take a risk. Is it safe for Fred to talk to you and give you his opinion? Will you attack Fred if I don’t like his answer?  Or will you be a passive aggressive and stab him in the back later, like most people do?

Fred then tells you what he thinks about the new health plan. You listen, nod your head and give him some “encouragers” or “Rewards” like, “OK,” “Yeah, I can see that” and so on.
When Fred is done explaining it all to you, you need to Parrot it all back to him. That means you have to repeat whatever he said to you back to him to his satisfaction before you move on. So, you would say something like, “Alright, let me make sure I’ve got this. You are saying …” If Fred disagrees with your interpretation, then he has to tell you again. You don’t move on until Fred agrees that you have it. This ensures a common understanding.

But let’s say you repeat everything back to Fred correctly. Great! If you agree with Fred, tell him so. If not, if you disagree with him, you have to give Fred a “Reward.” 

Whenever you disagree with another human and you are trying to build trust, you have to give that person a “Reward” to protect their self-esteem.  So, you would say something like, “I see what you are saying,“ or “I understand your point of view, but I am not so sure I agree with all of that.”

You are showing Fred that it is safe to disagree with you. The topic of conversation does not matter nearly as much as it matters that you prove to Fred that it is safe to disagree with you.  
That is how you built trust.

Over the next several months, you need to engage with Fred and continue to prove that whenever you disagree with him, it is safe. That is trust. You did not tell him to trust you. You showed him.  

Then suppose that after five or six months of having these types of conversations, you then called Fred and said, “Hey, I need you to come to my office. I found some papers in here and we need to talk about a few things.”

Is Fred nervous now? No, of course not. Why?  Because you have proven that it is safe to speak up and disagree with you by using your EPR skills. That is trust building and it proves that it is “safe.”

Scott Warrick,  author of "Solve Employee Problems Before they Happen: Resolving Conflict in the Real World." has been an employment and labor attorney, HR professional, and popular speaker for more than three decades. His clients range from small organizations to Fortune 500 companies to governmental institutions. He travels the country presenting seminars on such topics as Employment Law Resolving Conflict, Diversity, and General Differences. You can learn more about the book and Warrick by visiting

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Have You Ever Contemplated Your Own Demise?

Guest post from Nick Liddell:

Imagine that three years from now your career will be in tatters. You will have no job and your prospects of future employment will seem bleak. Your carefully manicured career path simply won’t materialize.

Now ask yourself: What are the most likely reasons for things going wrong?

And now ask yourself: What could you start doing today to prevent those reasons from happening?

Whether it’s a career plan or an organizational strategy, we tend to feel far more comfortable developing positive, purpose- or mission-driven strategy. It’s what some people call ‘backcasting’: setting a vision and then working back from it to identify the steps you’ll need to take in order to achieve it. It’s our go-to approach to strategy development because it helps us to break down long-term growth planning into practical, incremental activity. During implementation, progress can be measured against the plan and corrective action taken. Backcasting is positive. It’s practical. It’s logical. But in the real world, it’s far from a guarantee of success.

Failure is commonplace.
Which is why in 2007 research psychologist Gary Klein pioneered the idea of a pre-mortem: imagining that a project has failed and using the thought experiment to identify flaws in your plans. Pre-mortems function the opposite way to backcasting; rather than thinking positively about how to achieve a desired outcome, teams are tasked with identifying potential sources of failure and finding ways to mitigate those sources to make the strategy more resilient. In many respects, pre-mortems are the perfect complement to vision-led strategy planning.

There’s also a cultural upside to embedding pre-mortems into your (or your team’s) approach to planning: a 2017 study by researchers at Harvard and the University of North Carolina found that people tend to avoid precisely the type of feedback that pre-mortems are designed to elicit. One of the biggest issues with vision-led strategy development is that it encourages us to seek out confirmatory feedback; the moment we establish and communicate a plan, we create a strong incentive to search for evidence that it’s a good plan and that it’s working. Conversely, we tend to avoid disconfirmatory feedback because it fails to confirm our own view of how good a job we’re doing. Pre-mortems have a cultural benefit because they create a safe space for disconfirmatory feedback.

What’s the worst that could happen?
Like many things in life, strategy is rarely perfect the first time round. And even the most carefully conceived plans can go awry. As Mike Tyson famously observed, ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.’ Whether your plans are personal or organizational, they must eventually confront reality – and reality always wins. Contemplating the worst that could happen to your plans won’t turn you into one of life’s great cynics or pessimists. It will demonstrate to the people you work with that you’re realistic about your human fallibility, that you’re open-minded about outcomes and that you value alternative points of view – particularly when they differ from your own. Introducing pre-mortem thinking won’t just make your strategies and plans more resilient: it will make you more resilient, too.

Nick Liddell is co-author, with Richard Buchanan, of Wild Thinking: 25 Unconventional Idea to Grow Your Brand and Your Business. He is Director of Consulting at The Clearing, helping global brands grow and make a difference. For more information, please visit:

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Is your Leadership Development Developing Leaders?

Soft skills are increasingly important in creating successful leaders

Guest post from Gary S. Shamis:

One of the most gratifying experiences in writing a leadership book is the introspection
youallow yourself in the process. You are able to hold a proverbial mirror to your successes and failures, and view them both more objectively. If you are honest with yourself, the experience can yield a treasure trove of teachings.

As I wrote Building Blocks — Case Studies of a Serial Entrepreneur, I realized that over the years, I toiled with many of my failures, but I never analyzed the variables of the successes. It wasn’t until I could put those lessons into play as a consultant that I realized their value.

I managed a national top-forty accounting and consulting firm (SS&G). In thirty years, I grew it from 20 people to 500 with revenues of $80 million before it was acquired by BDO. Several of our initiatives set the industry standard for successful firm management.

Today, I help (mostly) professional services firms — law, accounting, insurance, architecture, finance — attain growth, productivity, and profitability. Together, we identify deficiencies and implement solutions.

Remarkably, the most consistent area of incompetence pertains to developing leaders.

Culture Club

Talent was our greatest asset and as the industry became more and more competitive, the urgency with which to attract, hire, and retain exceptional professionals became paramount. The cost of turnover was too great. We analyzed, overanalyzed, and re-analyzed what future leaders, Generations Y and Z, sought in a desired employer.

In turn, we adapted our culture to meet their needs — casual dress codes, flextime, healthy lifestyle options, community involvement, challenging work, more defined advancement. As a result, our voluntary turnover rate hovered at six percent, significantly lower than the industry average of 25 percent.

While it didn’t take long to weed out incompetence, we recognized that technical ability alone was not reason enough to promote professionals to managers. Inept managers were responsible for losing talent with leadership potential. And in a competitive marketplace, it cost us dearly.

People leave managers, not companies. But more often than not, we do a poor job of preparing them for the role and its responsibilities.

Getting Soft

The issue with leadership development is that there is too much emphasis on the hard skills (technical knowledge, teachable, easy to quantify) and not enough focus on the soft skills (interpersonal skills, subjective, harder to measure).

Ninety-one percent of HR professionals surveyed by LinkedIn believe soft skills are very important for the future of recruiting. In its 2019 trendsreport, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) stated that workplace soft skills are important for the future or recruiting talent and exceedingly valuable for competitive organizations.

Even the nation’s top business schools (Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Wharton, Berkley) are injecting soft skills into MBA curricula to support new management models such as remote teams, emotional intelligence, predictive analytics, passion and purpose, and mindfulness in the workplace.

Increasingly, executives are beginning to realize the benefits soft skills offer their organization and are placing equal importance on both. By ignoring the benefits of soft skills in leadership programming, companies are sacrificing the ability to identify strong leaders, whether innately or by coaching their mastery, let alone keep and grow them.

At my firm, we identified the professionals we wanted to invest in, those with the potential and desire. We included courses on working a room, presentation styles, dressing for the occasion, writing etiquette, and creating your brand, and offered a complimentary physical bootcamp to support wellness goals, teamwork, communication, and trust.

Leaders Over Lifers

As you move people up in the organization, ask yourself on what grounds they are being promoted. According to Gallup, “…two things that usually earn a promotion to management have nothing to do with great management ability: tenure and mastery of a previous, non-managerial role.” “This is a flawed strategy with serious consequences for an organization’s engagement, financial performance and long-term sustainability.” Many are generally minor performers. Few, if any, have had soft-skill training in actual management topics such as difficult conversations and delegation.

Employees who possess soft skills can directly impact the bottom line (SHRM). Professional development supporting those skills can be one of the most impactful investments you make.

So how does an organization go about creating a culture that distinguishes between leadership development and developing leaders?

Create a program that addresses the importance of the soft skills (effective communication, difficult conversations, constructive feedback, delivering presentations) necessary for success in the role. LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Report found that the four most in-demand soft skills are within leadership, communication, collaboration, and time management.

Then, consider:

External Development. While it’s most cost effective to create in-house training using senior-level employees, go outside of the organization and tap into true, dedicated expertise.
Personalized Learning. Some will be better than others at developing and enhancing certain skills. Recognize that the experience is an evolution and confidence is gained by practice.
Measurable Outcomes. Performance evaluations should ensure that these professionals are at the very least meeting the expectations the organization has established. Take into account that once-a-year assessments conflict with consistent accountability.

As with all good strategies, the execution, measurement, and evaluation are imperative. Curricula that effectively develops capable leaders is the most vital means with which to ensure their success. Only when developing leaders becomes a natural part of your culture is it successful.

Gary S. Shamis is CEO of Winding River Consulting and the author of Building Blocks—
Case Studies of a Serial Entrepreneur. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Why Dumpster Fires at Work are Powerful Teachers

Guest post by Maki Moussavi:

We've all been there. We've experienced the situation at work that pops up and is immediately followed by thoughts about how our day is suddenly going off course, that priorities have shifted in favor of the fire that needs putting out. Of course, this is to be expected from time to time. 

But what if the thought that bubbles up is a variation of "Here we go again"? When chaos is cyclical, reacting to and addressing the fire is reactive and only addresses the symptom of a much larger problem. This is the equivalent of treating recurrent heartburn with a pill instead of searching for the underlying issue that's causing your discomfort. It's a bandage on a wound that requires more than a surface solution. 

Many of you are either very good at (or have a team member or leader who is very good at) going into damage control mode to quickly triage a situation. All of the energy in the room gets funneled in the direction of applying the bandage, and even if there are important observations about an element that contributed to the fire that needs to be addressed, it's all too easy to set that aside in favor of the immediate actions that must be taken. Once the chaos has subsided, you may have a debrief and make a plan to correct underlying issues, but the reality is that plans of that nature tend to be put off for the future, or to be derailed by the next situation that pops up. 

One of the most frustrating aspects of managing cyclical challenges is that the cycle itself can create a false sense that there's no good way out of the pattern. That you're fighting a losing battle, and the powers that be don't get it and won't make the necessary changes to avoid the same issues in the future. You become resigned to fighting the fires instead of preventing them in the first place. All kinds of limiting mental chatter crowd into your head that reinforce your sense that you don't have the authority to make people listen or to create change. You and your colleagues may even get together to vent about this very thing, further reinforcing the idea that you have no power to make it better. 

Let me say that again: You get to the point where you believe you have no power to change the situation. 

It's easy to fall into the trap of this belief. After all, the culture of an organization is a powerful factor in the way chaos is handled. If all you see is how it's mishandled, you will naturally believe that future situations will be similarly mishandled. But where are YOU in all of this?

The next time a dumpster fire shows up, you can handle it in a way that empowers YOU, even if the desired outward change is slow in coming. 

Your to-dos:
  • Become an observer. Yes, you may be feeling some pressure, but do your best to truly see the situation. Are there key players who tend to be part of the cycle? What repetitive elements do you notice? How is this time the same or different from last time? Did something go unaddressed between the previous and current situations?
  • Note your mental chatter. What are you saying to yourself as this unfolds? Note the thoughts alluded to above that reinforce the cycle by telling you there's no way out, that the cycling is inevitable. Even more importantly, note how you feel personally. Are you feeling powerless? Anxious? Resigned? Frustrated? Ask yourself what you have been tolerating and accepting even when it's clearly not working for you
  • Take inventory. Have you ever taken a proactive approach to the solution in the past? If so, what did you do and how did it go? Did you involve others? What could you do this time, taking your observations into account, that may make a difference? Whose help can you enlist? 
  • Create a plan. Get through the chaos and then approach the people from your inventory exercise to create a way forward. You have no guarantee that it will work, but it is a proactive (empowered) rather than reactive (disempowered) way to build some positive momentum. From there, work with those you trust to chip away at a system that's not working. 
  • Know your limits. Go back to your mental chatter - what have you been tolerating? What do you no longer want to put up with? How long are you willing to put in effort toward change, and what will you do if you don't see it? There's no rule that says you have to stay in an organization that operates in chaos. If you truly run up against leaders who are unwilling to make changes, that's helpful information to have as you consider your career path.
  • You have a choice. You always have a choice. If you decide to stay and tolerate what's not working for you, that's a choice. If you tell yourself that there are no better options out there for you, it's a choice to believe that. One of the most powerful decisions you can make is to consciously catch your disempowered thoughts and reset your perspective to an empowered one. It takes practice, but your entire life will be better for it. 
Maki Moussavi is a transformational success coach focused on helping people create lives defined by their desires rather than societal or familial constructs of success. Too many put up with a life spent surviving rather than thriving. Maki’s passion is helping people discover their personal programming and the patterns in which they operate in order to break through to a life where they unapologetically live according to their own expectations, not those of others. She specializes in providing a process around transformation to streamline the path to change.
Maki has a Master of Science degree in genetic counseling and counseled patients before embarking on a 12-plus year corporate career prior to becoming a coach.
Her upcoming book, The High Achiever’s Guide: Transform Your Success Mindset and Begin the Quest to Fulfillment released on October 15. This book challenges unfulfilled higher achievers to examine what drives them, how they hold themselves back, and what it takes to define a new vision of life by facing their fears, using their voice, trusting their instincts and committing to a new way of being.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Ethical Leadership for Sustainable Wellbeing

Guest post from Dr. Ian Hesketh and Sir Cary Cooper:

Which style of leadership behaviour is the most effective has been the challenge for most executives for many years. Trying to meet the challenges of modern-day working practices and the demands of a 24hr global demand under increasing constraints is a real conundrum. Ethical Leadership is proven to improve employee wellbeing and promotes extra-role effort. Further, ethical leadership can decrease emotional exhaustion and increase work engagement. It can also result in a willingness from employees to make suggestions to improve the organization. Our experience is that the concept of feeling trusted in the workplace magnifies ethical leadership and can also result in further extra-role effort.  So, what are these concepts and how easy is it to implement them?

The great news is that these are easily learned and adaptable to all workplace settings. Ethical leadership is the notion that the leadership approach involves promoting ethical standards in organizations and encourages followers to behave more ethically. Although historically it is born out of the philosophical concept that it improves wellbeing, it has been popularized of late due to questionable business practices and huge corporate scandals; together with evidence that it improves both employee wellbeing and organizational performance.

Here is why. Ethical leadership leads to increased extra role effort. That is, what employees are prepared to do that is above and beyond what is expected of them by their employees. It also leads to employees feeling trusted to make decisions on their own that are appreciated and acknowledged by their employees. Further, it leads to reduced occurrences of feeling emotionally exhausted, that is the cognitive or physical strain that one feels from workplace pressures. It also leads to increased employee engagement, this is the way employees view their work as a positive challenge and are prepared to interact, to suggest new ideas and feel part of the organization. For example, employees are more likely to speak highly of their employer, both inside and outside of work. Employees are more likely to promote the business; and encourage other colleagues to do so also.

What to look out for? Ethical leaders are people-oriented. They look out for the long-term interests of colleagues and are unwavering in this quest. They authentically promote ethical behaviours, both inside and outside of the workplace. They live their own lives ethically. They make fair and balanced decisions.

To conclude, ethical leadership is good news for all business and for successful organizations is being proactively sought after. If you have leadership responsibilities or are concerned with human resource management and are recruiting or promoting your next tranche of leaders, look for the qualities outlined in this short article. These qualities in leaders can result in sustainable high performance. In this high performing environment you will witness employee pride in working for a reputable organization. One in which people are attracted to be part of and speak highly of both inside and outside of the organization. If this is your goal, ethical leadership is the way to go.

Ian Hesketh, PhD and Sir Cary Cooper, CBE are the authors of WELLBEING AT WORK: How to Design, Implement and Evaluate an Effective Strategy. Both are associated with the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work (UK). For more information visit:

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Great Leaders Focus on the Why and the What—Not the How

Guest post by Steve Coughran:

In my two decades of business experience, I have encountered many different flavors of leadership. Some leaders are strong-willed and autocratic, some are open-minded and democratic, some employ laissez-faire, employee-centric leadership styles, and most fall somewhere in the middle. While leadership style varies, in my experience, leaders across the board provide employees with a sincere depiction of the Why, an explicit description of the What, and freedom on the How.

Many of you reading are likely familiar with Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. His premise suggests that great leaders motivate with the “Why”, a deep-rooted purpose, before defining the “What”, the product or service, or the “How”, the process.  Expanding on Sinek’s thoughts, I believe that not only do great leaders deprioritize the “how,” but the most influential bosses leave the “how” to their employees to figure out.

Have you ever been in a work situation where your boss or manager is explaining in specific detail how to do your job? It’s frustrating when managers live in the weeds. Poor leaders provide specificity around how to complete a task but fail to share the big picture, the why, behind the request.  No one likes to be micromanaged. Unfortunately, many leaders result to meddling with the process in attempts to maintain a false sense of power. Micromanagers focus explicitly on the how, which often results in short-term success at the expense of the long-term strategy, overall scalability, and employee satisfaction.

Great leaders give little input on the how. Of course, this approach first requires leaders to equip employees with the tools and skills to solve for the how. They must invest heavily in training to ensure employees are prepared to think through the processes.

Training alone, however, isn’t enough to produce the desired results. After reinforcing the why and enabling employees, they get specific about the what. Great leaders share explicit expectations. When I first launched a high-end design build firm, I learned the hard way the importance of clearly communicating expectations. I was feeling on top of the world as my company flourished; customers were lining up for projects, and I had a diverse and talented staff to uphold my brand. To maintain this status, I was also working like a dog, putting in eighty-hour workweeks to keep up with demand. I jumped at my first opportunity to take a two-week vacation, leaving the company reins in the hands of one of my top managers. We were working on a high-end project, but I trusted my employees. I gave little instruction—my manager knew the business as well as I did—and was off to relax on a beach in Mexico and forget about work for a while.

I returned frustrated with the lack of progress. While I was away, the high-end project suffered from operational issues that led to cost overruns and schedule delays resulting in an upset client and some delayed payments. While I was upset with my team, I too was responsible for the situation. What did I count on my managers and employees to do while I was away? More importantly, how would I ensure they held up their end of the bargain? I failed to create an accountability structure. Through this experience, I learned a critical lesson: strong leaders follow up.

Great leaders build accountability structures that clearly define the desired results. Results are laid out specifically and comprehensively, often incorporating qualitative and quantitative data. By leaving little room for confusion, leaders establish fair expectations, which provide a foundation for equitable evaluation and constructive feedback. They create a “return and report” culture where employees are sent off with an understanding of the overarching strategy and the goals of the assignment. They present their findings after independently problem solving.

Giving employees freedom shows that you trust them (which according to research is critical for workplace engagement and productivity). Additionally, by encouraging employees to think, leaders boost their team’s development. Seeing how the employee problem solves allows his or her manager to clearly examine their comprehension of the task, the big picture, and detect any gaps in understanding or skills. They can then address these knowledge gaps with training and coaching, bringing the employees’ development full circle.

As we all continue along the journey to become the best leaders we can be, keep in mind Simon Sinek’s words of wisdom, “There is a difference between giving direction and giving directions.” Emphasize your purpose, explain your product or service, and leave the rest to your well-equipped team. 

About the author:  Author, CFO of an international billion-dollar company, and management consultant, Steve Coughran has over two decades of experience driving business excellence. His newest book is Outsizing: Strategies to Grow your Business, Profits, and Potential.  For more information visit

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Three Keys to Values-Aligned Experiences

Guest post from S. Chris Edmonds:

Being around values mis-aligned people lowers trust, discretionary energy, and performance. Our research suggests three key steps you can take to ensure values-aligned experiences:

1)    Be clear on your own values. Define the behaviors you will demonstrate when you are living your values, and take time regularly to reflect on how you’re doing with modeling those valued behaviors.
2)    Observe the decisions and behaviors of others. It is not your responsibility to change their values, but it is up to you to insulate yourself from those whose values are inconsistent with your own.
3)    Actively cherish and celebrate the people around you who DO share your values.

I’ve been very lucky throughout my career to be attracted to jobs and opportunities where I’ve worked with people who share my values and life principles. There have been times when I’ve engaged in project work with players who were clearly not values-aligned with me . . . and much learning resulted!

I have bragged about one of my best bosses, Jerry Nutter  (a long time executive with YMCAs in California) in previous posts. Jerry taught me to observe others’ behavior as “that will give you insights into their values” and to surround myself with values-aligned people. “Life is too short,” Nutter explained, “to do otherwise.”

Day-to-Day Decisions and Behavior Reveal a Person’s Values

You likely have seen these behaviors in the workplace during your career:

     Engaging in gossip
     Withholding information from peers to make oneself look better/smarter/more productive
     Teasing and/or making fun (sometimes in the name of “teambuilding”)
     Complaining about someone’s behavior to a peer, team lead, or boss without going directly to that person to address the concern

These and dozens of other similar behaviors happen in organizations every day. If your organization has not intentionally defined their desired culture and values base, norms often evolve that tolerate (and even support) behaviors like these.

Decisions reveal values in the workplace, as well. If you’ve had a boss belittle a team member (in front of them or behind their back), take credit for work others have done, or promised to do “X” yet moments later did the exact opposite, you are seeing the values they embrace.

The Hole In One

I experienced an epiphany about values misalignment years ago on the golf course. A work colleague and I enjoyed golf and began playing together at a local course on Saturdays. This colleague (let’s call him Bill) had a reputation in the company for making fast decisions that served him and his team well . . . even if it meant stepping on toes. I’d seen Bill publicly belittle others more than once, so had that gnawing feeling in my gut about this gentleman’s values. Because of that, I was always on guard around Bill, even outside the workplace.

We approached the par 3 17th hole and Bill set up his tee shot. He pushed the ball into the greenside creek. He cursed up a storm while placing another ball on the tee. He swung and hit a very nice shot towards the pin. It took one bounce and dove into the cup!

I said, “Nice par!” Bill’s first ball in the water cost him a penalty stroke, so he was hitting his third stroke on the tee. Bill looked at me angrily and said, “I’m taking that as a hole in one!” I was not surprised at Bill’s self-serving stroke tallying . . . but realized at that moment that I was at fault by spending time on the golf course with someone whose values were very different than mine. I fixed that immediately – I preferred playing golf with strangers than with Bill.

The bottom line: Do the right thing for your sanity, productivity, and spirit.

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

Boost Innovation by Strengthening the Organization’s Immune Systems

Guest post by Kris Oestergaard:

Today, every business is looking to find ways to streamline its innovative abilities. Those successful in establishing a culture of innovation have addressed their organization’s “immune systems.” Just as the body’s immune system keeps it healthy, stable and tolerant of change, an organization’s immune system must be strong in order to handle the task of innovating. 

But in a rapidly changing world, many of the defense mechanisms organizations utilize are no longer appropriate -- and can even put organizations’ innovation at risk. Too often, when innovation processes fall short, top managers make the impulsive diagnosis that it’s because their people are simply unwilling to change. This assumption is pervasive: A recent study revealed that 76 percent of managers believed their organizations didn’t have the capabilities needed to move into the future. 

But this conclusion is inexact. Every organization’s immune system is affected by an individual immune system, an organizational immune system and asocietal immune system. Organizational leaders need to address all three in order to transform into innovation champions.

1. Understanding individual’s resistance to change. Humans have different risk profiles. Some are thrill-seekers while others avoid exposure to risk at all costs. Knowing this, management needs to make a very compelling case if it wants to convince its staff to join in the organization’s innovation journey. Otherwise, the individual immune system kicks in and those with a low tolerance for risk, reluctant to change if the outcome is uncertain, won’t get on board. 

2. Assessing your organizational immune system. Transformation processes demand risk taking, the development of new staff capabilities and a strong focus on innovation. But very often, organizations attempt to kickstart a large transformation process without adapting their policies for measuring and rewarding employee behavior to the new reality they have set out to create. Key performance indicators (KPIs) and rewards systems make up a large part of the organizational immune system. Unless these are aligned with the organization’s strategic long-term goals, they aren’t supporting the motivation and attitudes needed to drive innovation efforts.

Grundfos, the Danish water pump manufacturer, is among the legacy organizations that have intentionally restructured their rewards systems to boost innovation. Grundfos evaluates employees on new parameters, including a willingness to help others and motivation to undertake a new digitization journey. Another example is Microsoft, which now includes sharing and building on the knowledge of others among its KPIs. These performance indicators help employees become aware of and work in a way that builds the desired innovation culture of the organization. 

3. Taking the temperature of the societal immune system.Organizational innovation efforts are subject to changes in the societal immune system as well. These can take the form of legislative inaction in regulating new industries. Consider Uber’s entry into the ride-hailing world, pushing the regulated taxi companies to the sidelines. Or, look at how the cryptocurrency Bitcoin has disrupted the regulated banking industry. Legislation can also serve to established industries by keeping new players out of the market and limiting innovation. But new business models can also seek out places where restrictions don’t apply. 

Longtime suppliers and customers represent another subset of the societal immune system. Both need ongoing education and encouragement to keep them well informed of and up to date on any new directions and developments you create. For example, helping clients stay up to speed with technological upgrades of products is critical to maintaining the organization’s market share.

It’s essential to understand the influence that individual, organizational and societal immune systems have on increasing an organization’s innovation capacity. Business leaders need to analyze and address each of the three immune systems to create the best possible foundation for their innovation strategy. 

Kris Oestergaard is a sought after speaker, facilitator, researcher and expert on innovation in legacy organizations, corporate cultures and exponential organizations. He is co-founder and Chief Learning and Innovation Officer at SingularityU Nordic, a collaborative venture with Singularity University in Silicon Valley. His new book is Transforming Legacy Organizations: Turn Your Established Business into an Innovation Champion to Win the Future (Wiley, June 10, 2019). Learn more at

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Ethical Leaders And Workplace Culture: The Foundation Of Ethical Decision Making

Guest post by Dr. Steven Mintz:

Ethical leaders create a culture in the workplace that promotes moral values and establishes an ethical tone at the top. Creating an ethical culture means setting a standard that decisions are made and actions are taken that are right, not wrong; good, not bad; and they benefit the stakeholders of the organization. Ethical leaders are role models for others in the organization to follow. They “walk the talk” of ethics in everything they say and do. Ethical leaders empower others to achieve success through right actions. They make decisions that contribute to the common good.

Employees want to work for ethical organizations. Ethical organizations treat employees with respect and promote fairness in the performance evaluation process. Employees are compensated based on results and not biased choices where one employee is favored over another and compensated higher for the same quality of work. The gender pay gap is one such example.

An ethical workplace culture is one where moral values define relationships between employees, the organization and other stakeholders. The congruence of employee-employer values facilitates ethical decision making while gaps in those values can promote conflict and create an ethical dilemma. For example, a superior who pressures a subordinate to overlook financial wrongdoing creates a dilemma for the employee that can best be expressed as: Should I do what my superior demands or what I know to be the right thing? 

Turning Moral Values into Virtues

The moral values of an ethical leader include honesty, integrity, respect for others, fair treatment, being responsible for decisions and accountable for one’s actions. Moral values encourage positive relationships built on respect, trust and transparency.

One way to understand the role of moral values in an ethical workplace is through the concept of virtue. Virtues are characteristic traits of behavior that ethical leaders should aspire to adopt. They are often thought of as excellences of character and categorized as either moral or intellectual. Moral virtues govern our behavior (e.g., courage, justice, self-control and truthfulness) while intellectual virtues deal with our thought process and are acquired through understanding, good judgment, reasoning abilities and practical wisdom. Intellectual virtues are gained by deliberating about what should and should not be done.

Turning virtue into ethical action requires a commitment to do the right thing regardless of the costs to oneself and the organization. Sometimes this is easier said than done because internal pressures create barriers to ethical decision making as in the case of financial wrongdoing.

Ethical Decision Making

The ethical decision-making process begins by identifying the moral values in play. The following example illustrates how ethical judgments are made.

It is 5 p.m. on Dec. 29 and the chief operating officer (COO) meets with the production manager about a major shipment of product to a customer. The COO tells the production manager to ship the product within the next two days to ensure it is counted as revenue in the current year. The motivation is to pay larger bonuses based on the higher level of revenue and profit. The production manager reminds the COO that an agreement exists with the customer to inspect 100 percent of the product prior to shipment and it cannot be done by December 31. What should the production manager do?

The production manager knows that what is being asked is wrong. After all, why should the customer be burdened by possible defects in the product that went undetected because inspections were not made? The COO is motivated by short-term considerations – higher profits and greater bonuses – rather than long-term ethical behavior.

An ethical production manager should be guided by the following virtues:

Honesty. Shipping the product without inspecting it violates the agreement and potentially compromises the trust of the customer.

Responsibility. The ethical question for the production manager is: How would I feel if the customer identifies a defect in the product and I failed to insist on 100 percent inspection? What if the product defect caused harm to the customer? Can I ethically defend my decision to go along with the COO?

Courage. Integrity is the key meaning to have the courage of one’s convictions to do the right thing precisely because it is the right thing to do. The production manager should be willing to stand up to the COO and not give in to the pressure, even if threatened with retaliation.

Good judgment. An ethical leader relies on reasoning methods such as teleology, or consequence-based ethics, and deontology, or duty ethics. The reasoning process for the production manager follows.

Ethical Reasoning Process

Teleology. Teleological ethics relies on an ethical analysis of the outcomes or consequences of each action. The best choice is that which maximizes the benefits to the stakeholders while minimizing the costs. The benefits are higher revenue, greater profits, and bonuses. The costs are largely unknown because it is unclear whether any defects exist and, if so, how they might affect the customer. This uncertainty is why cost-benefit analysis is problematic. 

Deontology. Deontological ethics, or duty ethics, bases moral decision-making on foundational principles of obligation. A major approach is rights theory under which each individual has certain rights that should be respected and decision-makers have an obligation to satisfy those rights. Simply stated, the customer has a right to use a product and expect it to operate as intended. The company has an ethical duty to meet the legitimate rights of the customers for a fully functioning product.

Ethical Decision

Knowing what the right thing to do is and doing it are not the same. The fear of retaliation can negatively influence ethical decision-making. However, an ethical production manager should understand that going along with the COO can create an ethical slippery slope problem where decisions in the future are tainted by unethical behavior in the present that has to be covered up. This is no way to promote ethical leadership and create an ethical organization environment.

Dr. Steven Mintz (, author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior, has frequently commented on ethical issues in society and business ethics. His Workplace Ethics Advice blog has been recognized as one of the top 30 in corporate social responsibility. He also has served as an expert witness on ethics matters. Dr. Mintz spent almost 40 years of his life in academia. He has held positions as a chair in Accounting at San Francisco State University and Texas State University. He was the Dean of the College of Business and Public Administration at Cal State University, San Bernardino. He recently retired as a Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo.