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. 

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Using the performance and potential matrix to assess talent

Note: for an updated (Jan 2012) version of this post, see The Performance and Potential Matrix (9 Box Grid) – an Update.

The performance and potential matrix (9 box grid) is one the best talent management tools I’ve ever used. Here’s a tutorial on how to use the tool:

What is it?

The matrix is used to evaluate an organization’s talent pool. Here’s the basic format:
The X axis (horizontal line) of 3 boxes assesses leadership performance and the Y axis of 3 boxes (vertical line) assesses leadership potential. A combination of Y and X axis makes up the box within the grid that the leader is placed. 1A - High Performance/High Potential, 3C - Low Performance/Low Potential, etc...

Why use it?

1. It’s a simple way to assess any population of leaders on two important dimensions

2. It’s a great way to facilitate a dialog amongst a senior leadership team. Teams use it to calibrate their expectations and ratings

3. With a good open debate, the multiple perspectives provide for a much more accurate assessment (vs. one person’s opinion)

4. The process can facilitate a shared sense of ownership for the organizations talent pool

5. It’s a great way to identify development needs and transition to development planning

How to use it

The tool is best if used by a team and facilitated by someone who has experience with the process. This could be an HR person, OD consultant, or someone responsible for leadership development or succession planning. You should present the tool and process to the team to make sure they all understand and buy in to the purpose and process. Don’t underestimate the amount of anxiety if a team has never done anything like this before (a ranking exercise). It’s best to decide ahead of time how performance will be assessed (use a leadership competency model if you have one) and how potential will be assessed (again, best to decide ahead of time – I use specific potential criteria).

You could also ask for any other relevant information, such as years in current position, diversity status, retention risk, or relocatability. I usually have each manager plot their direct report managers (one level at a time, so we’re comparing apples to apples) and send their completed grid to me. I then consolidate all of the names on to one grid. Either as part of a multi-day off-site meeting or a standalone four hour meeting bring copies of the consolidated grid and start the discussion.

It’s easier picking someone in the 1A box (highest performance and potential) where you think there may be little disagreement. Ask the sponsor manager to explain the rationale for the assessment. Ask lot’s of why’s, then invite all others to comment. Don’t rush it, the benefit of this process is in the discussion. After all have been heard from, if there is agreement, then you have a benchmark for all others to compare against. If disagreement in perception, ask the sponsor manager if they want to change their mind based on the feedback – usually they do – but if not, leave it. Pick another name until you establish the benchmark. You can then discuss rest of the names in the 1A box, then move to the bordering boxes (1B and 2A). Then move to the 3C box, and again, facilitate a dialog to establish another benchmark. Continue the discussion for each person, or as many as time permits.

If time, or most likely at a follow-up meeting, the team can then discuss development plans for each leader. For succession planning, the focus should be on the upper right hand corner boxes (1A, 1B, and 2A) – this is your high potential pool.

Next Steps

Follow-up on a quarterly basis to monitor development plans. Repeat the assessment process at least once a year.

Need help using the 9-box? I can help you and your management team learn to use it, and/or conduct a talent review meeting for you. Email me at:

3/28/09 Update:

I've since written the following posts on using the potential matrix:

Nine Leadership Development Strategies for a Performance and Potential Matrix

Leadership development for A players

Leadership development for B players

Leadership development for C players

Reader Question: Nine Box Performance and Potential Matrix Best Practices

How to “Score” Leadership Potential When Using the Performance and Potential Matrix

Sunday, November 11, 2007

7 Ways to Measure the Impact of Leadership Development

Much has been written about the importance of measuring the impact of leadership development programs or systems. Over the years I’ve been looking for practical, meaningful, and effective metrics. Here’s what I’ve settled on for now, and although I’m not completely satisfied with any single measure, a combination of these should give you a pretty good dashboard.

1. Company performance. The ultimate measure, nothing else really matters. In most cases, consistent great company performance can usually be attributed to great leadership. And of course, lousy leadership is usually the root cause of business failures.

2. External perception of leadership. External perception can be measured by awards, such as CEO Magazine “Best Companies for Leaders” and hundreds of individual leadership awards (CEO of the Year, CIO of the year, CFO of the Year, etc…).

3. Internal perception of leadership. Internal perception can be measured in two ways. First, if you’re using 360 leadership assessments, you can maintain an aggregate score of a single “overall effectiveness” question, or run a report that aggregates the average score for all questions. Second, you can pull questions out of your annual employee survey pertaining to leadership and look for year over year improvement. You can also compare your leaders to other companies if you’re using questions provided by a third party vendor, such as Gallop or the Leadership Practices Inventory.

4. Succession planning measures. Keep tract of the number of key positions filled by internal candidates or the number of “ready now” candidates for each key positions (bench strength).

5. Individual Development Plan (IDP) progress or completion. Track the completion of development activity for key leaders and succession candidate pools.

6. Leadership development training measures. 
Use the basic Kirkpatrick measures, satisfaction, knowledge, behavior change, and business results. Easier said than done for the last one, but it works in some cases. For example, you would expect a decrease in turnover and improvement in sales after the implementation of a successful sales manger hiring or coaching program.

7. Finally, the easiest measure and perhaps the one that has the biggest impact on your funding and career opportunities: ask your key stakeholders. Regular meetings with your top executives and other key stakeholders will ensure you’re efforts are hitting the mark. These meetings are a great way to continuously assess current and future needs, communicate your accomplishments, and check for satisfaction.

Please comment if you’ve had success using other measures or have questions or opinions on any of these.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A guide to great development moves

Changing jobs is an often used and effective way to develop new leadership capabilities. I wrote the following guide when I worked for a large global company (“ABC”) to help support a strategy to move executives across at least two functions, businesses, and countries.

Execution of Great Moves is one of the key strategies to support our Leadership Excellence Strategy. Providing opportunities for new job changes across two functions, businesses, or geographies is a way to accelerate the cross-functional capability in our future executives.
While job changes can be a powerful catalyst for development, they can also lead to the derailment of a promising high potential leader. There are inherent risks and pitfalls that can be avoided or need to be managed. This guide was developed as a way to ensure successful 2X2X2 executive developmental job changes and be a vaccination against possible derailment.
It is designed to support HR Directors/Managers as they assist their highest potential executives prepare and navigate through these challenging job changes.
The information in this guide is based on the lessons of experience of real executives. External lessons are drawn from the work of Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo, and Robert Eichinger. ABC Executives who recently moved into new functions, businesses, and geographies and HR executives shared their lessons as well.

Lessons and Advice

Development and results
Development assignments are not a free ride. These are not educational sabbaticals. The standards and expectations for the new assignment should not be lowered to accommodate a lack of experience. While there will be a huge learning curve – and significant challenges – greater success and learning will come when the executive enters the assignment with a winning mindset, vs. a “good enough to get by” mindset. Many executives said that the most powerful developmental experiences they ever had were challenging jobs where they were held accountable for measurable results. “Total immersion is much better than just putting your toe in the water. You need to have some longer range responsibility with measurable accountability – otherwise all you have to do is show up at the meetings.” “You have to held accountable to the same standards of those already in your new area.” “Hey, there’s no lifelines – if I’m a total screw-up, I don’t deserve it!”

Advice: Work with the executive’s sponsor to ensure the new job has measurable goals and accountability. Make sure the executive understands that a developmental move does not lower the standards – while making sure all of the support systems are in place to ensure their success.

Dealing with resistance
Ideally, it would be great if the executive has a genuine passion and interest for the new work. Being dragged into a new assignment kicking and screaming – or with ambivalence – will make an already challenging learning curve even more difficult to overcome. Sometimes an executive may not understand or accept that a job change is what’s needed – in fact, what’s required - in order to prepare them for a much higher level of responsibility. The career path to running a business at ABC will now look more like a “Z” (series of different jobs) than a “T” (narrow, vertical promotions). The move may be outside their comfort zone, perhaps lateral - or worse - be perceived as a step down due to loss of perks and status. They may be getting conflicting advice from other well-meaning sponsors, peers, or significant others.

Advice: Listen to the executive’s concerns. Probe to find out what the real issues are. Work with the executive and the sponsor to address as many of these concerns as possible. Is there any room to modify the assignment or the conditions? If a concern can not be addressed, you may just have to help the reluctant executive understand how the new assignment is critical to the organization’s long range success and will help them achieve their longer range career goals. One senior executive said, “Some of my best jobs – where I learned the most – were one’s that I initially did not want to take. Some were painful – but I would not have gotten to where I am today if I didn’t take the risk” Forcing a high potential to take job against their will is risky – real high potentials have too many choices and may leave if they don’t think the move is in their best interests.

Going from knowing the most to learning the most
Going from a job where success has come from being the expert to an assignment that is new and different can be a humbling experience. Many executives have said that this is where they learned some of their most valuable lessons of leadership. “I always led from a position of knowledge. I was the expert and had all the answers. This last assignment forced me to develop a new leadership style. I had to really listen to others – to use my ears more than my mouth. I developed a genuine appreciation for the talents of those around me. I discovered that this is what’s really required of a General Manager – you can’t know it all.”

Advice: Help the executive understand that the single most critical competency identified for success in new jobs is learning agility. Help them develop this competency prior to the new job through targeted assignments, coaching, books, or articles. Help them learn to ask questions and listen. Help them write a development plan that targets the most critical areas to learn and how to best address their learning needs. Work with the incumbent or sponsor to proactively build a plan to address anticipated learning needs ahead of time.

The importance of never losing sight of strengths

The challenge of learning new things every day can be exhausting and make it difficult to stay confident, motivated, and energized. “Every single element of your like is different! (New geography and function) I couldn’t even remember where the switch was to turn the lights on!” It’s important to make sure the executive placed in a development assignment knows that they do bring some unique value to the organization. People will want to know what the new leader brings to the table – they don’t want to hear “I’m here to learn” – especially in a turn-a-round assignment. “Let people know what you need to learn and what you bring to the table that will help solve their problems. They’ll appreciate that and want to help you.” “My sponsor was very good about letting people know why I was there and how I could help – it was a win-win – this really helped pave the way for me”.
A caution regarding familiar strengths – it will be very tempting for the executive to want to gravitate to the things that they are already good at and avoid the things that are new. It’s important to help them figure out what the real priorities are, and pay attention to the things that really matter.

Advice: Help the executive make a list of strengths that they bring to the job. Share these with their new sponsor, and encourage that they be shared with other key stakeholders.

The “receiving” executive plays a critical role in the success of a development job change. “Learning from others” is one of the most effective ways successful executives develop leadership capability. “I’ve been fortunate to have worked for some really outstanding (and very different) leaders when I’ve changed jobs. In fact, I probably learned more from these new relationships than I did from the actual work”. “There’s three things you need to have for a reasonable chance for success: the right person, the right environment/situation, and the right support system.” A senior executive (sponsor) said: “Senior Management support will remove the barriers. It’s my job to be really clear as to what’s expected, including specific deliverables and development goals, and to provide feedback and coaching.” “-------- was really instrumental. The very first day we say down and developed a 90 day plan – including who and where to visit, what to accomplish, what to learn and checkpoints.”
A high potential executive in the midst of a job change should be encouraged, and assisted if needed, to cultivate multiple sponsorships. One executive referred to his sponsors as his “Board of Directors”.

Advice: Consider who the executive will be working with to be as important to the learning as the change in function, business, or geography. Treat it as another multiplier in a 2X2 Great Move. Help the receiving sponsor understand their role in the new executive’s success – including developing clear expectations and deliverables, being involved in the development plan, developing a 90 day transition plan, providing coaching and feedback, and removing barriers. Check in periodically with the executive to assess their sponsor relationships and assist if needed.

A “safety net”
One way to help ensure a leader’s success in a new assignment is to make sure there is a “seasoned professional” available as a resource. Typically this is someone who might work for the new leader with deep expertise and experience but perhaps limited executive potential. This highly valuable person can not only help train the new leader, but help prevent a green high potential new leader from damaging the business.

New jobs bring many opportunities to receive new and different feedback. Feedback can be one of the most powerful catalysts for executive development – and a way to minimize the changes of derailment in a new job. Feedback is even more important during geographic moves, where a leader can become isolated from their established network and far removed from the watchful eyes of corporate headquarters.
So why is good, timely, direct feedback one of the most under-utilized and poorly applied development tools used at ABC? The reasons are many: lack of skill in giving feedback, discomfort with giving and receiving feedback, managers know they should do it but business priorities come first, fear of retaliation, it’s not part of the ABC culture (conflict avoidance in direct settings), people often don’t want to hear or believe it, and lack of consequences for changing behavior. At ABC, we’ve attempted to address the lack of feedback by creating new and improved performance management systems, multi-rater feedback surveys, assessment centers, and hiring external coaches. While all of these tools can be effective (and often very expensive and time-consuming), they should not be used as a substitute for open, honest discussion between a executive and those that are in a position to observe their behavior in a variety of settings. While we all agree that in a perfect world, line executives should be providing feedback, the practical reality at ABC –at least for now – is that HR needs to take the lead in making sure feedback is occurring.

Advice: Every HR Manager involved in executive development should include feedback skills in their own IDPs. Use all of the learning tools we preach to our clients – books, learning from others, courses, practice – teaching others starts with role modeling.
Make sure feedback is provided from selection processes – especially involving key jobs and high potentials. Let the executive know how those involved in the selection decision perceive their strengths and weaknesses. While we tend to be most comfortable in sharing feedback around functional gaps, the executive often never hears about the “real” issues. Issues like arrogance, lack of composure, defensiveness, insensitivity, and political missteps are often discussed behind closed doors but rarely shared in a constructive way. These are the kind of issues that will follow an executive around until they eventually derail unless addressed. HR should have the ability to talk about these sensitive issues in a way that helps the executive understand the specific behaviors that need to change and why.
HR should participate in IDP discussions, especially with direct reports to senior executives and high potentials.
HR should ensure that semi-annual written feedback summaries are provided to each high potential and to each senior client executive.

How long is enough?
Long enough to learn and make a significant contribution is what most executives would say. Generally, if the assignment is too short (less than 2 years) there is not enough time to have an impact. If too long, learning diminishes and the leader can feel plateaued or abandoned. Early career job assignment may not need to be as long; complicated assignments with more significant scope and responsibilities may need more time.

Advice: 2-3 years seems to be a general rule of thumb.

Preparing for the move - immersion in the details
Preparation for a move can begin as soon as the move is identified. Although some executives can dive into a new assignment with little preparation (“Prepare? I Don’t! But than again, when I take a vacation, I just drive south – with no reservations, maps, or itinerary.” etc.), most will point to the importance of getting immersed in the details prior to starting. This immersion continues as a part of the executive’s 90 day transition plan. Some ways to prepare are to review business information such as strategy documentation, meeting notes, presentation material, competitive intelligence reports, and country/cultural information. If possible, spending some time with the incumbent can be valuable.
Some suggest hiring an external industry expert for a day as a great way to quickly get up to speed and get a more objective view of the business.

Advice: Help the executive gather as much business information as possible. Share information and insights about the culture, work environment, politics, and people. Getting to know the people is as important as getting to know the business. “It’s the people stuff that really makes a difference!” “You have to know who the anti-bodies are – and deal with them quickly.” HR can assist in providing IDPs (with pictures), resumes, performance appraisals, and talent reviews. Some executives found it beneficial to ask their team to prepare their own background information.
HR can also assist with the logistics of geographic moves. “------ was terrific. When I got there, I had a rented house, fully furnished, stocked with food, clean sheets, etc.. In two days I was settled in and could hit the ground running. You could tell he had done this before. For the last move (smaller company), I had none of this. I was on my own. It took me three months to get high speed internet access for my computer!”

Formal Executive Education
The best time to participate in a formal executive education program is right before a new job assignment. A general management program is an excellent way to prepare for a new GM role. Functional programs (Finance, Marketing and Sales) can help fill in experience gaps. For geographic moves, attending a program in the new country can be a great way to get exposed to the new culture and learn about the local business environment.

Executive Coaching
An executive coach can help an executive navigate the challenging waters of a development move. They often help an executive gain better self-awareness, develop critical behavioral leadership competencies, and provide a confidential, non-judgmental sounding board to the executive.

Need an executive coach? Email me at: I'd be happy to discuss the benefits, methodology, and pricing.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

6 Q Leadership

Excerpt from “The ROI on People- The 7 Vectors of Research
Robert W. Eichenger and Michael Lombardo

According to Day and Lord (1986), differences in the quality of executive leadership explain as much as 45 percent of an organization’s performance. Hunter and Schmidt (1990) suggest that it might be 48% for those executives who rank one standard deviation above average. Zenger and Folkman (2002) report that the top 10% of leaders produce five times as much net profit as the bottom 10 %, and twice as much as average leaders.

What does this enlightened leader look like? That debate has been going on since the invention of the printing press, and prior to that, since the spoken word. Does a top leader fit a single pattern? No. Do top leaders have some elements in common? Yes.

All of the research to date can be summarized in six Qs.

1. IQ – Intelligence Quotient
Top leaders are smarter than the rest. They have to sift through mountains of data, perhaps missing important pieces, and make decisions quickly. They have to track many simultaneous activities and streams of thought. The good news is that most of the people who get to top management positions are smart enough. There is no shortage of bright people.

2. TQ – Technical/Operational Quotient
Top leaders know the business. They have the functional and technical skills and knowledge necessary to make intelligent decisions and take prudent action. They have the operational skills to make things happen. Again, the news is good. Most who get there have this set of skills.

3. MQ – Motivational Quotient
Top leaders are super-motivated. They are ambitious. They make life sacrifices to climb the organizational career ladder. They work long hours. They travel a lot. They relocate frequently. They have to want it. Again, most who get there have the necessary motivation to lead and persevere.

4. Experience Quotient
Top leaders have had skill-building experiences along the way. We know from extensive research at CCL (Lombardo) that specific experiences can teach specific skills. Start-ups teach different skills than fix-its. Here the record is mixed. Many people get to the top without much diverse experience. They are especially deficient on global experience. It is almost impossible to add that experience if they are already at the top.

5. People Quotient
Top leaders are effective with people. They are able to relate to diverse audiences. They can get things done through others. They can influence and inspire. They adapt their actions to the needs of the people with whom they are interacting. They read people accurately. They know how to motivate people one at a time, in groups, or in entire enterprises. Here the news is dismal. People like Goleman, Boyatzis, and Spencer (2001) all report that this skill set is often missing. All of the derailment studies cited above list some version of PQ deficiency as the driving cause of failure among managers and executives.

6. Learning Quotient
Top leaders who rank in the upper portion of success (they are more effective than other top leaders) are the more learning-agile, which Bennis (2002) calls “adaptive capacity”, the hallmark of effective leadership. Lombardo and Eichinger (2004) have shown that it is associated with being a high potential learner; these learners perform much better after promotion than do the average and low learning-agile. Sternberg reports that LQ has a higher correlation (relationship) to success than IQ.

What this means is that effective leaders are lifelong learners. Learners of the soft stuff. Learning agility relates to learning to think, feel, act, and believe differently based upon experience and changing circumstances. Here the news is also mixed. Probably one-third of people who get to the top are learning-agile. Studies of why people fail (Finkelstein, 2003; Dottlich, 2003; Lombardo; Bennis, 2002; Zenger, 2002) all include some version of the lack of willingness and ability to adapt and learn from experience.

To really benefit from XQ, a leader also would need LQ. If someone had LQ but did not go through career-building experiences, that person wouldn’t develop the necessary skills to be considered one of the most effective leaders.