Saturday, December 29, 2007

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

Why’s boss a four letter word? It’s a double SOB spelled backwards).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a summary:

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

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Career Management: Should you Relocate?

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

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

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

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

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

1. Examine your relocation package. The obvious answer, but a manager should at least be made whole for any move and possibly come out a little ahead to compensate for the disruption and risks.

2. Identity high potentials at lower levels, where there’s often more willingness to move, and start developing a deeper, larger pool of leadership candidates.

3. Openly discuss what it means to be a “high potential” with your candidates. Talk about what the company is willing to do for them, and what they need to be willing to give back in return. If relocation is part of the deal, then address the pros and cons head-on, early, instead of bringing it up for the first time as a part of a job offer.

4. Sell the benefits of relocation. While a move to a strange place can be disruptive, it can also be a big adventure. I’ve had managers tell me that their experiences in China or Europe, with their families, while initially difficult, turned out to be the best years of their lives. The family bonded like never before, they were exposed to new and rich experiences, and it forever changed their perspectives.

5. Collect examples of positive relocation stories. Often we only hear about the horror stories, and those stories become company legend. Recruit managers who have benefited from moving and ask them to be ambassadors for relocation.

6. Be a chamber of commerce for the communities you are trying to attract talent to. I’ve heard of managers being unwilling to move to awesome communities because they just don’t know enough about them.

7.Don’t ignore the spouse and the rest of the family. “Trailing spouses” can make great employees. Can you make a job offer to the spouse? You could end up with a great “two for one” deal (with ½ the relocation costs!).

8.Consider temporary moves. A 6 month assignment can often be as developmental as a two year assignment. Can the manager try it out and commute back and forth, giving them time to get used to the new environment and then make a decision?

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

Monday, December 17, 2007

Are Team Assessments Self-Serving?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How to Design a Great Leadership Team Off-site Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Confirm any outside speakers or other guests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need help with your off-site meeting? Contact me at:

Monday, December 10, 2007

Leadership Development is a Sunk Cost

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 9, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 8, 2007

How to Select an Executive Education Program

Here are some guidelines for selecting an executive education program:

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

2. Search your favorite executive education providers.  The programs I’ve used have gotten positive feedback and they are also rated favorably by Business Week and the Financial Times. I start with The Center for Creative Leadership and Darden for leadership, Chicago’s GSB for sales and marketing, Wharton and Chicago for finance, Harvard and Stanford for strategy, etc….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 3, 2007

Fix Management Weakness First

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

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

November 6th, 2007 . by Brad Smart

Having assessed and coached 6,500 senior managers, my experience tells me you should ignore the common “wisdom” that people should just work to keep their strengths rather than to try to fix their weaknesses. An article in the November, 2007 issue of Training and Development (“The Positive Payoff”) conveys that common viewpoint. It sounds sensible for the world-class miler to run miles and not to try to convert to an event he’d hate and fail at – pole vaulting.

Trouble is, management is like the decathlon, with a lot of “events,” and if someone is strong in 8 events but weak in 2, that person will not succeed if competitors are strong in all 10.

Management requires a lot of skills, many of which are necessary, not just desirable.
I’ve sat in on a thousand meetings in which managers were considered for promotion, and the people who get promotions of course have many strengths. However, the most important consideration almost always is that they have no “fatal flaws,” “derailers,” or serious weak points. My role as a coach is much more to help managers fix one or two serious weaknesses than to help them maximize their strengths.

In my book Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching, and Keeping the Best People (Portfolio, 2005) I have a large section entitled "Fix Your Weaknesses", and present case studies in which good results became even better when managers minimized a serious weakness. Over the years I’ve also worked with some super talented people who simply could not control their negative treatment of people. One was given 2 years to improve, but he got worse – publicly humiliating his people and peers, using biting sarcasm, etc. He ran the most profitable division, almost single handedly, but was fired. The CEO said, “Pete, you’re brilliant at running one division, but 16 out of 18 peers told me they’d quit if you are promoted to President. So, you’re fired!”

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Impact of the CEO on Leadership Development

A Genie (actually an HR Vice-president at a former company) once asked me, “Dan, if you could waive your magic wand and only do one thing for leadership development, what would it be?”

You see, this was a company that was going through some tough belt-tightening, and we spent a lot of time making hard choices as to what to keep and what to cut. My initial reaction was I a thought it was sucker’s choice question. That is, of course you can’t develop leaders by doing just one thing, leadership development is a system, involving many interdependent variables. 

But I knew what she was getting at – she was trying to get me to prioritize, or perhaps to test my ability to think strategically. I thought about it for just a few seconds, and then, without thinking of the political consequences, blurted out, “get a new CEO?” 

Definitely the wrong answer, not what she was looking for at all. 

But you know, I still stand behind the answer. My experience has been that it always does seem to link back to the top banana’s belief and commitment to developing leaders. I once heard a CEO say, “You know, I don’t have time to teach people, and at this level, I shouldn't have to!” 

Well, at least he admitted it – better than phony lip service with all talk and no action. On the other hand, I worked with an executive named who was proud to say he spent 75% of his time developing leaders. I sat though a few talent review meetings with him, and he was dead serious about it. It was painful to witness his wrath when a business unit president showed up unprepared, or was not doing enough to weed out poor performers and develop high potentials. (these butt-kicking’s were all part of his 75%). And of course, we’ve all heard about how committed to Jack Welch was to leadership development and Crotenville.

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

How about you? How would you answer the question?

Helping Others Develop Their Potential

Guest post by Kevin Eikenberry:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Questions That Facilitate Learning From a Development Assignment

Development assignments by themselves don't always produce new learning and behavioral change. We need to step back and reflect, and make sense of the experience. Here are some questions a leader can ask themselves, or better yet, discuss with a coach.

Questions That Facilitate Learning From a Development Assignmentexcerpts from Handbook of Leadership Development Cynthia D. McCauley, Russ S. Moxley, and Ellen Van Velsor; published by the Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, NC

About yourself:
What strengths do I bring to this job? What will help me?
What are my development needs? What might hinder me from being effective and successful?
What aspects of this job may be particularly challenging for me, given my background, experience, strengths, and development needs? (Is the role clear or ambiguous? Will I have the formal authority to do what I need to do? Are there obstacles, and if so, how might I overcome them?)
What can I learn from this job? What do I need to learn?
What do I need to know to be able to do this job effectively?
What might make it difficult for me to learn?

About the assignment:
What are the organization’s objectives for me in this job?
What are my own personal objectives in this job?
How does this job fit with the organization’s mission, values, and goals?
What do I know about this job? What are the tasks, responsibilities, and requirements? What are the key leadership challenges?
What are my subordinates like?
What is my boss like?
Am I likely to encounter any resistance? What steps can I take to overcome it?
Who can help me? Where can I turn for support?
What other resources do I have available to me?
Is there anything I would like to change about this assignment?

During and after the assignment:
How can I monitor my learning progress? (For example, keep a journal, find a person to be a “learning partner”, seek feedback often, either formally or informally)
What am I learning? Anything I did not expect?
What am I not learning that I thought or hoped I would? Why?
How will I know I have learned what I wanted and needed to learn?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Leadership vs. Management - Does it Really Matter?

It’s seems like the profession of management, or supervision, has fallen out of style these days. I hear things like’ “we need more leaders, and less managers”, and “well, she’s a good manager, but not a leader”. 

A lot of leadership books, courses, and gurus espouse the wonderful virtues of leadership, while contrasting against the archaic, horrible characteristics of management. I also see various lists of leadership characteristics, often compared side-by-side to a management list, encouraging aspiring leaders to be more like leaders, and less like managers. As if you can turn off one switch and turn on another.

It’s almost as if they are saying: leadership – good; management – bad. I think the comparison, or differentiation, is kind of silly and isn’t really very helpful when it comes to developing leaders or improving our own leadership skills.

I find it more practical to refer to “leader” as a role, someone who is in a position of leadership (we used to call them managers and supervisors). Someone in one of these roles needs to be effective in order to be successful. 

So what does it take to be effective? Well, there are a thousand books on the subject of what it takes to be an effective leader, everything from “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun”, to “Leadership the Sopranos Way”. I’d rather take a look at some proven, research-based lists of competencies (skills, traits, knowledge).

 Lominger, PDI, CCL, DDI all have done extensive research, studying successful leaders and dissecting what makes them tick. When you look at the lists of competencies, you’ll find elements of leadership (setting a vision, inspiring others) and elements of management (planning, performance management). Follow a successful leader around for a week, and you’ll see her doing many of these things, often during the same meeting of conversation. For example, during a staff meeting the leader might describe a vision for a new idea, then move into planning on how to implement the idea, while getting everyone all fired up and discussing on how to lead the change, to figuring how much it’s going to cost.

So how about if we just focus on what it takes for a leader to be successful in a specific context, and then how to develop those competencies Wouldn’t that be a better use of our time and energy? Although it probably wouldn’t sell a lot of books and make for a dull keynote speech.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Traps to Avoid When Evaluating Leadership Potential

From DDI’s Finding Future Perfect Senior Leaders: Spotting Executive Potential

1. Focus on current performance.

2. Reliance on multirater (360°) feedback, which doesn’t predict potential, but only current competencies.

3. Inconsistent criteria, vision, or expectations.
Three out of four companies admit that they lack clear criteria for what actually determines potential. Or they haven’t arrived at a consistent vision of what their future culture should be (and thus how future leaders would fit into this vision), or what expectations for their future leaders are.

4. Dependence on too few, unchallenged perspectives.
An example: With only 16 managers in our Acceleration Pool, each slot becomes highly important. So when it became clear we’d made a mistake in one
instance after allowing someone into the pool when only one executive knew him well, we learned an important lesson.

5. Equal representation, current affiliation bias.
Giving in to political pressure for equal representation by department rather than truly identifying the best people.

6. Emergence of “strength”-based models.
Fine for targeting specific roles, perhaps, but too narrow as a forecast of general management potential. Focusing only on strengths leads to missed potential and wasted talent; it also fails to identify derailers that might be camouflaged under a seemingly solid profile.

7. Poor differentiation between potential and diagnostic assessments.

8. Confusing diagnostic assessments of a manager’s competencies with an “investment choice” based on past performance plus future potential

And I'll add my own:

Over reliance on a single, "silver bullet" test. Assessments can be part of an assessment process - IQ for intelligence, a 360 assessment against potential criteria, a properly benchmarked behavioral or motivational preference inventory, behavioral based interviews, and a variety of simulations all can be parts of a valid and reliable potential assessment process. But if there was a single leadership potential assessment test, everyone would be using it and there wouldn't be a 50% or more CEO failure rate.

Friday, November 23, 2007

How to Identify Leadership Potential

Here’s a summary of three studies on how to identify leadership potential:

Development Dimensions International

DDI has developed a set of criteria that they say will accurately predict executive success, based on their own experience and research, and research by others, including work by Jim Collins for his book Good to Great; Morgan W. McCall, Jr.'s High Flyers; and Ann Howard and Doug Bray's landmark 30-year study of professional and personal development at AT&T. DDI’s list:

1. Propensity to lead. They step up to leadership opportunities.

2. They bring out the best in others

3. Authenticity. They have integrity, admit mistakes, and don’t let their egos get in their way

4. Receptivity to feedback. They seek out and welcome feedback

5. Learning agility. See Lominger research

6. Adaptability. Adaptability reflects a person's skill at juggling competing demands and adjusting to new situations and people. A key here is maintaining an unswerving, "can do" attitude in the face of change.

7. Navigates ambiguity. This trait enables people to simplify complex issues and make decisions without having all the facts.

8. Conceptual thinking. Like great chess players and baseball managers,
the best leaders always have the big picture in mind. Their ability to think two, three, or more moves ahead is what separates them from competitors.

9. Cultural fit

10. Passion for results

Lominger, Inc.Lominger and Eichenger did a study that linked “learning agility” as a predictor of leadership success. The four types are learning agility are:

1. People Agility: Describes people who know themselves well, learn from experience, treat others constructively, and are cool and resilient under the pressures of change.

2. Results Agility: Describes people who get results under tough conditions, inspire others to perform beyond normal, and exhibit the sort of presence that builds confidence in others.

3. Mental Agility: Describes people who think through problems from a fresh point of view and are comfortable with complexity, ambiguity, and explaining their thinking to others.

4. Change Agility: Describes people who are curious, have a passion for ideas, like to experiment with test cases, and engage in skill-building activities.

Each of these factors was significantly associated with consideration as a high potential, having good-to-high performance, and staying out of trouble. People high in learning agility and likely high potentials:

1. Seek and have more experiences to learn from;

2. Enjoy complex first-time problems and challenges associated with new experiences;

3. Get more out of these experiences because they have an interest in making sense of them; and

4. Perform better because they incorporate new skills into their repertoire.

The face they show to the outside world is:

1. Eager to learn about self, others, and ideas.

2. Showing genuine willingness to learn from feedback and experience and change their behavior and viewpoints as a result.

3. Interested in helping people think and experiment.

4. Resilient and philosophical about what happens to people who push change.

5. Uncompromising: While wide-open to diversity, multiple sources, and a range of views, once they incorporate these into their thinking, they are described as stalwart in pushing their notions. They rely on logic, well-thought-through ideas, cool communications, and perseverance to sell their points.

Ram CharinRam Charan lists in his book, Know How, eleven criteria for spotting future leaders in your organization. He suggests that you repeatedly practice making judgments of other people and reflect on why you might have missed in some cases. Did the individual have the potential you saw in them? How good are your judgments compared to others judgments on the same individual?

1. They consistently deliver ambitious results.

2. They continuously demonstrate growth, adaptability, and learning better and faster than their excellently performing peers.

3. They seize the opportunity for challenging, bigger assignments, thereby expanding capability and capacity and improving judgment.

4. They have the ability to think through the business and take leaps of imagination to grow the business.

5. They are driven to take things to the next level.

6. Their powers of observation are very acute, forming judgments of people by focusing on their decisions, behaviors, and actions, rather than relying on initial reactions and gut instincts; they can mentally detect and construct the “DNA” of a person
7. They come to the point succinctly, are clear thinkers, and have the courage to state a point-of-view even though listeners may react adversely.

8. They ask incisive questions that open minds and incite the imagination.

9. They perceptively judge their own direct reports, have the courage to give them honest feedback so the direct reports grow; they dig into cause and effect if a direct report is failing.

10. They know the non-negotiable criteria of the job of heir direct reports and match the job with the person; of there is a mismatch they deal with it promptly.

11. They are able to spot talent and see the “God’s gift” of other individuals.

Eight Step Guide to Developing Your Leadership Skills

Here’s how to develop your leadership skills, adapted from Lombardo and Eichenger’s Leadership Machine:

1. Know what the target looks like. There are hundreds of books out there that claim to offer the secrets of how to be a great leader or manager, including “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun” to “Leadership the Soprano’s Way”. It can be overwhelming, confusing, and sometimes contradictory. So what’s an aspiring leader to do? This is why as a practitioner (someone who’s responsible for leadership development within a company), it’s important to clearly define the critical leadership competencies that are required now and in the future in order for the business to succeed. There are great research-based models to pick from (Lominger, CCL, PDI, DDI), so there’s no need to start from scratch. I’ve found it’s best to first understand your company’s strategy and leadership requirements, create a draft competency model, then engage your CEO and senior executives, as well as other key stakeholders to validate the model. If you’re an aspiring leader with no company model, then study the successful leaders in your company. Talk to them, ask them how they’ve been successful, then supplement this information with a couple good books.

2. Know where you stand against the target – seek out feedback. If you have access to one, a 360 degree assessment is a great way to gather confidential feedback on your leadership skills. Even better if the assessment is based on your company’s leadership model. You can also ask trusted colleagues for ongoing feedback. If there’s something specific you’re trying to improve, like listening skills, or assertiveness, you can ask your manager, a coach, or colleague to observe you and give you feedback on that skill. While feedback is one of the most powerful sources of development, unfortunately, it’s often lacking. First of all, managers just aren’t good at it. In fact, most people aren’t comfortable giving feedback. That, combined with our own natural emotional response to feedback (fight or flight), we often don’t get enough of it. And it gets worse the higher we get in an organization (the “it’s lonely at the top” syndrome).

3. Have a reason to develop – be motivated. It’s almost impossible for someone to develop if they don’t want to. The motivation has to come from within, some kind driving force. That’s usually not a problem with successful, ambitious people – improving leadership their leadership skills is often seen as a key to their success. For others, becoming a great leader is almost a calling, part of a purpose driven-driven life.

4. Get specific. I’ve seen so many development plans that say things like, “improve my leadership skills”, or “become a better leader”. Nice intentions, but pretty worthless when it comes to real development. You need to drill down and uncover the behaviors that if improved, will make the greatest improvement in your effectiveness as a leader. And oh by the way – with all due respects to Marcus Buckingham (Discover you Strengths), weaknesses do matter. It’s your weaknesses that will hold you back, so find out what they are and fix them.

5. Create a plan – and put your plan in writing. The research is clear – people that set goals are more successful than those that don’t, even better if they are written and even better if they are specific. Create your own “Individual Development Plan” (IDP). Do it – you deserve it.

6. Hit the need or needs with every learning method available. For some big needs, a job change may be the best development remedy (and the most powerful). In lieu of that, look for projects that require you to use the skill you are trying to develop. For example, if you’re trying to become a better listener, lead a project where you’re not the subject matter expert, so you’re forced to listen to others. Learn from other people (experts, mentors, coaches, etc…), from courses and books. Whatever you do, make sure you’re really challenging yourself. A robust development plan should make you a little queasy just thinking about it, there should be a risk of failure. It’s that “development heat” that causes the most impactful behavioral changes.

7. Make sense of it all. Think about what you did, what you read, what you learned. What were the lessons? What should you incorporate as a permanent part of your repertoire? What should you reject? What did you learn about yourself? It’s often helpful to have a trusted coach or mentor to help you with those “V8 moments”.

8. Finally, develop a sense of “learning agility”. A recent study showed that learning agility was the single most significant predictor of leadership success. Be curious, be open to new experiences, try new things, experiment, and take pride in being able to tackle the new and unknown. Enjoy the journey!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Worst Leaders Of All Time

We all know that We “learning from others” is one of the most effective ways that leaders develop. Whenever I ask leaders to think back and reflect on how they developed their leadership capabilities, they inevitably will mention two categories of managers they’ve learned from. 

First, there’s the role model, inspiration leaders that they observed and got advice from. Then there are the “boss from hell” examples – the ones we look at and say “that’s how not to be a leader – and I vow never, never to act like that!”
There’s already a lot of information on this blog about great leaders… but what about the worst leaders? Can’t we learn from them as well?

So here it is… my list of the 10 worst leaders of all time! Please comment to add your own favorite worst.

10. Michael Scott from “The Office”. With unshaken enthusiasm, Michael believes he is the office funnyman, a fountain of business wisdom and his employees' cool friend. He has no clue that his employees tolerate his inappropriate behavior only because he signs their paychecks. Painstakingly trying to be liked and look cool, Michael comes off alternately absurd and pathetic. His prize possession is his "World's Greatest Boss" mug -- which he had to buy for himself. 

9. Vlad the Impaler (15th century): Author Bram Stoker based his signature character Dracula on him. However, "The Impaler" did not kill to feed but for the pleasure of watching others suffer. It has been said he caused more "rivers of blood" than any other tyrant in history. Dracula is a teddy bear compared to this guy.

8. Dagwood’s J.C. (Julius Caesar) , the tyrannical boss, who frequently threatens to fire Dagwood from his workplace when (as frequently happens) Dagwood either botches or does not finish his work, sleeps on the job, comes into work late, or pesters Dithers for a raise or promotion.

7. Charles Dicken’s Scrooge. Scrooge has only disgust for the poor, thinking many would be better off dead, "decreasing the surplus population”. He has a particular distaste for the merriment of Christmas, his single act of kindness being that he gives his clerk, Bob Cratchit, the day off with pay, more as a result of social mores than any true kindness on his part. He sees the practice as akin to having his pocket picked on an annual basis.

6. Perry White, Clark Kent’s boss. Perry is famous for being boisterous and loud, as well as being a fairly strict editor. He is known for shouting, "Great Ceaser's ghost!" when angry, exasperated or surprised. Perry also dislikes being called "chief" and typically responds by shouting, "Don't call me chief!"--often in response to remarks made by Jimmy Olsen.

5. Gorden Gecko, from the 1987 file “Wall Street. Some classic Gecko quotes:
- "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind."
"And if you need a friend, get a dog."
"Lunch is for wimps."

4. Pol Pot (Cambodia; 1975-1979): He was influenced by Mao's cultural revolution, and 25 percent of Cambodia's population died from starvation, overwork and executions in Pol Pot's attempt to form a Communist peasant farming society. He conducted deadly purges to rid the area of the "old society," and anyone suspected of being disloyal was shot or bludgeoned with an ax.

3. Charles Montgomery Burns, normally referred to as Mr. Burns or "Monty" of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant and Homer Simpson's boss. Mr. Burns also embodies the stereotype of a manager: he forgets his employees' names (especially Homer, despite the fact that they seem to interact on a daily basis) and is unconcerned for their safety and well-being. His aspirations to apply obsolete technology to everyday life or references to Victorian era people or places provide a common source of humor on the show. Kent Brockman also credits Mr. Burns with having stolen Christmas from 1981 to 1985. Recently he has become less evil and more eccentric. His trademark expression is the word "Excellent", muttered slowly in a low, sinister voice while tenting his fingertips.

2. Tie: Hitler and Stalin. Nuff said.

1. And the all time, all around worst leader….. The pointy haired boss from Dilbert (otherwise known as PHB)! A company that has too many PHBs is often called a PHC, or pointy haired company. He's every employee's worst nightmare. He wasn't born mean and unscrupulous, he worked hard at it. And succeeded. As for stupidity, well, some things are inborn. His top priorities are the bottom line and looking good in front of his subordinates and superiors (not necessarily in that order). Of absolutely no concern to him is the professional or personal well-being of his employees. The Boss is technologically challenged but he stays current on all the latest business trends, even though he rarely understands them.