Friday, December 24, 2010

Reflections on 2010: The More I Know About Leadership Development the Less I Know

Sometimes it feels like the more I learn about leadership and leadership development the more I realize how little I really do know.

I have to admit, there have been times during the last year when I’ve allowed myself to get quite full of myself. We probably all have those moments, those little victories – an award, some recognition, a nice review, a big win, helping someone get to the next level, or just the satisfaction of knowing you showed up as a leader that day.

While it’s great to take the time to bask in those moments of glory, it’s also important not to let it go to our heads. Because it seems like when we do – when we start allowing ourselves to get all puffed out and feel like some kind of guru or role model- that’s when we uncover some blind spot about ourselves, screw something up, or discover some new ideas that challenges our deeply help beliefs. That’s when we’re reminded that the journey to great leadership has only just begun.

The best leaders seem to have a remarkable blend of self-awareness, humility, confidence in their ability to improve and succeed, and a thirst for new knowledge and skills. They listen, observe, study, and practice, and when they get good at something, they either move on to something else or want to get even better.

I had the pleasure of spending a day with the legendary Warren Bennis a couple years ago. If there was ever someone that has earned the right to be called a leadership guru, it would be him.

Instead of just giving a canned speech, signing a few books, and leaving early, I was amazed how this 80 plus year old legend was walking around the room talking to people and asking questions. I sat next to him and lunch expecting to pick up a few lessons, and instead, he spent the entire time asking my opinion about things. It turns out he was working on a new book, and was trying to soak up as much as he could from those in the room. It didn’t come across as work either – he really seemed to be enjoying himself.

I’ve also recently had the chance to get to know Francis Hesselbein this year, another legendary leader and still going strong in her 80s. Again, she struck me as having the same qualities: confident yet humble; self-aware and curious, and a life-long student, vs. a self-proclaimed “guru”.

One of my most memorable lessons in leadership development humility was a few years ago, when a attended a leadership program at Darden. Each of the participants had to complete a 360 degree leadership assessment as pre-work and bring the results to the program. I was feeling pretty cocky about my scores, that is, until the instructors revealed to the class (with his permission) who had the highest score. After being in the program for a couple days, he was one of the last participants I would have picked as a great leader. He wasn’t flashy or charismatic, just some unassuming mid-level government manager.

For the rest of the program, I spent as much time as I could with this leader. The more I learned about him, the more I realized how far away I was from where I wanted to be. He led from the heart, cared about his people but was tough when he had to be, and was responsible for turning one of the worst performing agencies into one of the best. The gap between his “9.9” and my “8.9” was a mile wide, and it inspired me to want to work harder to close that gap.

Looking towards the new year, I know there are a few things I want to get better at or learn more about in 2011, including:

1. The art of coaching. I want to get better at asking questions to help people discover answers to their own challenges.

2. New and more effective ways to influence and lead change. I’ve got a “bag of tricks” that has served me well….. up until now. It’s time to learn some new ones.

3. Leadership selection assessment methodology. There just has to be a better way to predict success in a new leadership role.

4. Leveraging social networking and informal learning for leadership development. I think we’re on the verge of something here. The fun part is, no one has yet to figure it out, despite claims by the “experts” that they have.

5. Talent mobility strategies. I thought I was pretty good at this, but barriers exist that didn’t before, and I have to figure out a way around them.

6. Fostering inclusion and diversity. I get the value of inclusion and diversity…. I just don’t think the methods HR has been pushing for the last 20 years (i.e., quota-like programs) are working. We need some fresh thinking here.

7. Strategic thinking. It’s a leadership competency that’s in short supply, and I need to get better at designing approaches to help leaders get better at it.

8. Performance management. It’s still broken. It always has been, and despite advances in technology, it’s no better than it’s ever been. Yet, I know there’s value in it.

9. Leveraging strengths. I’ll admit, I’ve not been a big proponent of the whole “strength-based” approach to leadership development. However, it’s an emerging trend, and I need to keep an open mind and look for ways to help leaders use strengths to improve weaknesses (not ignore or work around them).

10. New and emerging models for succession planning. As confident as I am in my ability to design and manage succession planning systems, I need to keep an eye out for who’s figured out how to do it even better. When someone does, it gives an organization a huge competitive advantage.

The scary (and exciting) thing is, that’s only what I’m aware of. So more importantly, I know I need to pay attention to the world around me, listen for understanding to everyone and anyone, and stay open to possibilities. That’s one of the things I love about this blogging and social networking thing – it’s opened all kinds of new doors to learning (Dave, Jennifer, Susan, how about chewing on some of these topics on our next conference call?).

How about you? What’s on your learning agenda for 2011?

I’d like to wish Great Leadership readers a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dear Company Leadership, I Have Been A Good Manager...

Here's a sponsored guest post by Anna Smith, from - the informal network for managers.

Dear Company Leadership,

Here is my Christmas Wish List:

• I (junior manager) would love to be challenged (more), trained (more) and mentored (more) by a senior manager.

• Help me become an integral part of the team. Tell me that it's not about me.

• Collaborating with other managers is awesome. Give me a chance to do it more often.

• Organizational values/mission, alignment, emotional competence, networking, team building, all the other stuff I need to know - teach me (again and again).

• Allow me to make mistakes.

• The bottom-line matters most, I understand that. Now help me re-humanize my workplace.

• Don't let me become a bosshole!

(I'm tempted to say that if I don't get what I want, I'll quit and work someplace cooler, but I'm trying to show some integrity here. Plus, the economy sucks and I'm not sure if the 100 Best Companies To Work For are hiring right now...)

Your greatest asset (one of them)


More from Dan:
I love Anna's manager wish list, and I'd like to add a few items, on behalf of the managers I'm responsible for developing:
  • A winning long term strategy
  • Clear direction and consistent priorities
  • The resources I need to execute on our strategy
  • Support and reinforcement from my own manager for the new leadership skills I've learned
  • Empower me to deliver results without micromanagement
  • A competent, supportive HR partner
  • The courage and strength to do the right thing
How about you? Anything you'd like to add to our manager's Christmas wish list? We'll make sure it's emailed to your company's senior leadership with a copy to the North Pole.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The 20 "Best" Leadership Blog Posts 2010

There's a list of the 20 best leadership blog posts from 2010!?

Unbelievable. I mean, I really, really like these blog posts.

Check it out: right here.

Thanks to DDI, the talent management experts,  for collaborating with me on this.

Happy reading!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Great Employees Trump Perfect Processes

Those that preach and practice Process Improvement, Total Quality Management (TQM), Six Sigma, and Lean Manufacturing like to tell us that:

• “There is no such thing as a poor performer, there are only poor processes”;

• “Don’t blame the person, fix the process”;

• “Bad processes beat good employees”;

• “There are no bad dogs, only bad owners”. No, wait, maybe that’s from Cesar Millan, the Dog Wisperer. But it’s close.

Gurus like Deming and Juran say that process is responsible for anywhere from 80-95% of good or poor performance, with people making up the remainder.

With all due respect to these very brilliant men, as well as the rest of those in the Quality industry, my response to this, based on over 20 years as a practitioner in talent management and my own experience as a manager is….. really?! I mean, seriously!?

I’m sorry, but do anyone other than those that teach and sell this stuff, and maybe criminal defense attorneys, really believe this?

Here’s a way to test the validity of the “no bad employee” school of thought: get a bunch of HR people or managers together for happy hour, offer to buy the drinks, and start sharing “describe your worst employee nightmare” stories. Then, after you’ve heard about a dozen of these, test the theory. Say something like, “Well, you know, there really are no bad employees, only bad processes. Have you thought about doing some process improvement work?” After the laughter dies down, say “just kidding”, and quickly offer to buy another round, before they hang you up by your underwear.

I’m not just picking on misfit employees here. You can conduct the same experiment and substitute the word “manager” for “employee”, and get even more passionate responses. Yes, Virginia, there are some really bad managers out there, and no amount of “process improvement” methodology is ever going to make them effective. Good managers can develop into great leaders. Bad managers should be removed.

One of the most important lesson’s I’ve ever learned in leadership development is from Jim Collins, author of Good to Great – you start with getting the right people on the bus. Everyone else follows, i.e., strategy, structure, processes, and training. Without the right people – great, “A players”, the rest is doomed to failure. The same is true in talent management – selection trumps training every time. No amount of training will overcome a poor selection decision.

I’m not saying process improvement efforts have no value – I actually am a big proponent. Improving processes can streamline work, improve efficiency, and eliminate waste. However, it makes me crazy when an organization or team will spend hundreds of hours in meetings covering walls with post-it notes in order to design idiot proof “perfect processes”, when what they really should have done is just remove the 1-2 idiots and turn the rest of their employees loose. It’s a cowardly way to avoid dealing with performance issues at the expense of everyone else.

Great employees – and great leaders – don’t need to be spoon-fed and have their work spelled out in detail. They use their brains, creativity, and resourcefulness to find a way, innovate, and adapt. In reality, by the time some team gets done documenting the perfect process, the world around them changes and the process is outdated. Even brand new employees, if they really are good, will outgrow your 100 page training manual before you’ve had a chance to teach it to them. They may see things with a fresh set of eyes and bring even better ideas to the table.

The key to success is to hire and develop great employees (and managers) – then empower them to deliver extraordinary results. Yes, the lack of clearly defined processes and roles may trip them up now and then – but you need to trust them that they’ll figure out a way - they always do. I’ll take a team full or A players over a perfect process any time.

I suspect there may be some dissenters out there – I’ll publish all opposing viewpoints, as long as they are civil. (-:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

31 Days to Become a Better Leader

With the start of a New Year looming, there’s no better time than now to commit to being a better leader in 2011.

Here’s a list of 31 activities that can help you become a better leader. Each one can be done in a day.

Please feel free to leave a comment to add to the list – who knows, maybe we can turn it into one of those desktop calendars.

1. Start a learning journal.

2. Read a leadership book

3. Subscribe to a leadership blog

4. Call a peer and offer to help solve a cross-functional problem

5. Delegate something meaningful to one of your employees

6. Take a leadership assessment

7. Schedule regular one-on-ones with your employees

8. Call a non-profit that’s important to you and volunteer your services

9. Ask for feedback or feedforward from your manager, an employee, or peer

10. Praise someone

11. Volunteer to be the first to try something

12. Find a mentor

13. Have a crucial conversation

14. Make a tough decision you’ve been putting off

15. Create a vision for your team or a project

16. Show some humility

17. Really listen to someone

18. Have a career/development discussion with one of your employees

19. Find a mentee

20. Thank someone

21. Offer to give feedback to an employee, peer, or your boss

22. Start a task force to seize a new opportunity or solve an important problem

23. Do a SWOT analysis for your function

24. Share your vision with someone

25. Teach something or do a presentation

26. Help someone feel more valued

27. Eliminate some low-value work or improve a process

28. Coach someone

29. Ask your boss to delegate one of his/her responsibilities to you

30. Find a peer coach

31. Develop an Individual Development Plan (IDP)

Note: Thanks, Sarah, for the post idea.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What to do About the Holiday Office Party

Here's a guest post by regular Great Leadership contributor Eileen Habelow:

The holidays are back, but the economy is still making its way – What to do about the holiday office party

It’s that time of year again. Time to start planning for gifts, employee vacation time and don’t forget, the holiday office party. Every year these management issues come up for debate, especially around whether or not to host the annual holiday party. The question arises: Does anyone really enjoy the holiday party?

Oftentimes the answer is yes. However, since the recession, personal finances and company budgets have become increasingly more of a concern for employees and management alike. What used to be a yearly holiday tradition may be perceived more as a luxury or even an improper use of limited funding and increased attention to unemployment rates. A focus on employee engagement and morale is absolutely critical in difficult times, but it’s difficult for managers to know when money is being well spent and when money is being wasted on outdated proprieties. And, a lot of that has to do with how the spending is perceived by the workforce.

In an effort to provide office leadership with some direction this season, Randstad conducted a survey of employee attitudes around the holidays. This is what we found:

• 93 percent of employees would rather have a bonus than a holiday office party

• Nearly one-third (29 percent) of employees think a holiday party is inappropriate during these economic times

What does this mean for company leadership? Although the holiday office party may be an annual company tradition, it may not be what some companies need most this year. While holiday parties often boost morale, they can have the opposite effect if they are unwelcomed or even resented by the workforce.

If your company is debating whether or not to host a holiday party this year, it may be prudent to take a step back and view it from your employees’ perspective. Has your company been through a series of layoffs this year? Have raises, promotions and bonuses been put on hold? If so, consider what message a holiday party might send to your employees and whether funds could be spent in better ways, or even saved.

Taking into account employee demographics may also help in the decision-making process. Although most prefer a bonus over a party, the majority of Gen Y and Millennials (83 percent) view the office holiday party as a morale builder and as a reward for hard work (80 percent). For companies made up of mostly young professionals and those that have been hit less hard by the recession, a holiday party may still be the perfect end-of-year gift. This is especially true if your company can afford both a party and an annual bonus.

In contrast, companies employing mostly older professionals (55 and over) may want to consider an alternative gift. Older employees, who are often more financially and professionally established, were more likely (59 percent) to wish holiday party funds be donated to a charity instead of spent on a party.

Whatever your company decides, keep in mind that as the economy fluctuates so do employee attitudes on spending. What may be the right choice this year may be different next year. Remind employees that this year’s decision is not a set-in-stone tradition and that feedback and ideas for next year are always welcome.

Eileen Habelow, Ph.D., is the Senior Vice President of Organizational Development with Randstad, a global provider of HR solutions and staffing.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Leadership - Off the Wall

Here's a thought-provoking guest post from Paul Thornton, a regular guest writer for Great Leadership. 

As a leader, what should the sign on your wall or desk say?

W. Clement Stone began as a shoeshine boy and became a multimillionaire. He credits his success to three words: Do It Now. He required everyone who worked for him to write those words on index cards and post them in their work area.

Over the past twenty years I have collected and analyzed many of the quotes leaders post on their office walls or keep on their desks. Many of these quotes are the guiding principle they followed to achieve success. Here are my top 15.

1. “It can be done!” —Sign President Ronald Reagan kept on his desk in the Oval Office.

Leaders are optimistic, upbeat, and positive. Reagan was known for his optimism and the ability to express ideas in a clear, eloquent, and quotable fashion.

2. “No Whining” —Sign on the desk of James Parker, former CEO, Southwest Airlines.

Victims wine and blame others. Leaders may get discouraged on occasion but never play the victim role.

3. Bill Gates had a picture of Henry Ford in his office. It was there as a reminder to not do what Ford did. Ford didn’t listen to his customers. He knew his customers wanted the option to buy cars painted other colors besides black. This “fatal attitude” caused him to lose market share to upstart General Motors.

4. “The Buck Starts Here!” —Sign on the desk of Donald Trump.

Leaders see opportunity and take action. Non-leaders only see the status quo and sit still.

5. "Be brief. Be Brilliant. Be Gone." —Former sign on the office wall of Mark Goodman, CEO, Twist Image.

Leaders who are clear and concise are more credible and more brilliant.

6. “Start Talking and Get to Work” —Sign in the office of Alden Davis, former Business Effectiveness Consultant, Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies Corporation.

Leaders spend a significant amount of time talking and listening. Advocating, proposing, nudging, selling, questioning, listening, probing and digging are what leaders do.

7. "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." —Antoine de Saint-Exupery”—Sign above the desk of Michael S. Hyatt, CEO, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Michael states, "Leaders remove the clutter so their big ideas stand out."

8. Hatim Tyabji, former chairman and CEO of VeriFone, Inc. —On his office wall there was a poster that consisted of twelve blocks, each with a photo of an Irish setter. The first 11 blocks show the dog standing, not responding to a command to "sit." Finally, in block twelve, the Irish setter sits. "Good dog," reads the poster.

Hatim states, "That is the essence of leadership. I can't get disillusioned when I say 'sit' and nobody sits. So I just keep repeating the message. Leaders must be clear, consistent, and repetitive. Keep repeating the message until it sticks.”

9. “Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible” —Sign in the office of T. J. Rodgers, founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor.

Leaders are demanding! They expect more than others think is possible. Leaders believe most people have underutilized talents and abilities.

10. Strive for Excellence. Signed photographs of Frank Sinatra, Mohammad Ali, Albert Pujols, Ted Turner, and Donald Trump are on the office wall of Jim Stovall.

Jim is president, Narrative Television Network and author of The Ultimate Gift.

Jim states, “These are people who I’ve worked with and respect. They remind me to always strive for excellence.”

11. “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” John le Carré  —Sign in the office of Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., former CEO of IBM.

Seeing the problem, touching the part, talking directly with employees and customers provides a reality you don’t get sitting in your office. We want to see our leaders directly involved in the problem like Louisiana Governor Bobby Gindal has been involved in the Gulf Oil Crisis.

12. “Prove Your Groove.” —Sign on the office wall of Peter H. Reynolds CEO/Owner, FableVision Enterprises.

Peter states, “It means don’t just say it—do it. Show us your passion in action. Leaders use the media, storytelling, and technology to foster the development of each person’s potential.”

13. “Just because it worked once, doesn’t mean it will work again!” —Sign on the desk of Shaun Coffey, CEO, Industrial Research Ltd., New Zealand.

Shaun states, “Every situation is different, and this is particularly so when dealing with change. People are different, and people change. An intervention that has been spectacularly successful may not work in a new situation. It may not even work in the same company/organization again because the people will have changed as a result of the experience. Keep changing your tactics, staying aware of how people are responding. Attack from different angles. Look for signs that something isn’t working, and try something else—don’t get stuck in your ways.”

14. "The time is always right to do what is right." Martin Luther King Jr. —Sign on the office wall of Michael Jansma, President

Leaders consistently stand up for their values and beliefs. It’s not a once in awhile thing.

15. “Leaders should be able to Stand Alone, Take the Heat, Bear the Pain, Tell the Truth, and Do What's Right" Max DePree —Sign in the office of Brian Morehouse, coach of women’s basketball at Hope College, 2006 Division III National Champions.

Brian states, “That quote covers everything a leader needs to do as they approach their day in terms of courage, integrity, focus, and perseverance. And, it closely meshes with my coaching philosophy which is –Do the right thing every day, every play, on and off the court!”


Leaders have a positive, can-do attitude. They are optimistic and believe there is hidden talent in each person. Their enthusiasm creates energy and excitement. Leaders may get down from time to time but they never play the victim role. They take responsibility. They are confident in themselves and the people around them. Many of the office wall quotes I have found relate to one or more of the following themes:

 Attitude

 Communicating Big Ideas

 Changing the Status Quo

 Setting Goals—the Steps of Change

 Confronting Problems—Making Decisions

 Taking Action—Making it Happen

 Living Your Values

What are your guiding principles? How about posting them on your office wall. Periodically take time to think about how well you are applying your leadership principles. Solicit feedback from people you trust. Keep improving.

About the Author

Paul B. Thornton is an author, and trainer. He is the author of numerous articles and 13 books on management and leadership. This article is based on his latest book, Leadership - Off the Wall published by WestBow Press a division of Thomas Nelson Publishing. His book is available at Amazon and from the publisher 1-866-928-1240.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Four Stage Leadership Development Model

I’ve never met a training or HR practitioner that doesn’t want to “have a seat at the table” – that is, be perceived as being relevant, strategic, important, and influential. It’s a basic intrinsic motivational need, and even more so for today’s knowledge workers where the work output is less tangible and visible.

Unfortunately, not many are. While a few training, HR, or OD departments have reached this lofty pinnacle, others still languish in obscurity, soon to be the victims of when the next cost cutting ax falls.

I’ve been a part of, or the leader of, both of these scenarios, and everything in between (it’s often not an either or). I’ll borrow an idea from Bersin and present my own 4 Stage Leadership Development Model, along with a few tips on how to advance in each stage.

Stage 1: Isolated and irrelevant
This is the practitioner or group that’s buried deep down in the HR org chart located in some remote building far from headquarters. They have little access to senior management. Morale is poor, and cynicism, sarcasm, and second guessing run rampant.

Programs are often flavor-of-the-month, off-the-shelf, and disconnected to the needs of the business. They are often “open enrollment”, and seen as a harmless employee benefit.

However, this person or group often sees what they are trying to promote as righteous. When they can’t get the attention or support of senior management, it only fuels their view that “they just don’t get it”.

Leadership development is usually seen as training programs, not connected to other talent management practices; succession planning is non-existent.

Action plan:
If you are a member of a team like this, GET OUT as fast as your can. By the time a function gets to this point, it’s too late to save it. At some point, someone is going to wake up and start asking questions about the lack of results from this group. And when senior management starts asking for ROI studies, it’s already all over.
The best way to fix it is to blow it up and start over. It needs to be re-positioned, it needs new leadership, and a new mission.

Stage 2: Striving for relevance
This is the group that may have seen the early warning signs of stage 1, or perhaps a new function or new leader, and is trying to get its act together. While they don’t have access to senior management, and are not being utilized strategically, they are doing their best to at least understand the business strategy and align their efforts to support it. They know what they should be doing – but may just not know how to get there, or might not have the capability or leadership to get there.

Programs are often driven and designed by HR, instead of the senior leaders. So while there may be high level sponsorship – it’s often compliance driven and not seen as mission critical. At the risk of offending a segment of my readers (and we know starting a sentence that way means you’re going to say something offensive), diversity programs used to be a typical example. While these may be noble causes, they are often seen my senior management as “nice-to-do”.

Talent management functions like succession planning, training, and recruiting are often siloed and disconnected, sometimes even at odds with one another (i.e., competing competency models).

Action plan:
There’s hope for this person or team, but it’s going to take a lot of work. The team may need some new talent. They also need some small, credibility building wins and testimonials. This can be done my working with a few influential middle managers and building some momentum and sponsorship. Design and run “pilots” under the radar – use these as a way to learn.

Get out there and start talking to managers at all levels to learn more about the real business drivers and development needs. If your talent management functions are siloed, be the one to reach out and try to work together. If you don’t have a succession planning system, start one – perhaps not for the CEO, but instead for a willing sponsoring organization that is feeling the pain.

Stage 3: On demand and in demand
This is the practitioner or team that’s doing great work and is high demand. Programs and processes are piloted and the successful ones generate word-of-mouth requests for more. Senior management is very involved in driving the leadership development agenda. They determine needs, generate solutions, and set priorities. Most programs are internally created and implemented, with senior managers as the sponsors and/or teachers.

Programs are often created as a result of a senior leader reading a good book, and wanting to implement the concepts in their organizations. Other times, the request comes from the need to address a tactical business issue. Practitioners at this stage have a full plate of training programs, coaching, and team development.

Talent management functions usually report the same VP, and there is good collaboration and integration.

Action plan:
So what’s to change? Most leadership development practitioners would love to be in this spot, right? They are busy, productive, and delivering on what senior management is asking them to do. There is the opportunity to advance to the next stage, a place where very few will ever get to……

Stage 4: Trusted advisor
This is the leadership development leader or team that doesn’t just enable strategy – they help create it! They’re not just reacting and responding to requests – they are being proactive and innovative, using their influence to create demand where none would otherwise exist.

The trusted advisor tends to have a very high success rate when it comes to adoption of new ideas. Most of their projects are as a result of innovation and new proposals, instead of top-down driven.

The trusted advisor often has rare access to the CEO and other C level executives. They are well-read with a high degree of business acumen.

Leadership development is seen as something that’s for every level of management – including the executive team. Executives turn to this person to help them figure out what they need to be learning, and how to go about it.

This person is well networked both internally and externally, and is seen as a business thought leader.

Action plan:
I’m guessing only about 5% of companies actually have someone like this responsible for leadership development – however, they do exist. GE comes to mind – Noel Tichy and Steve Kerr had that kind of credibility when they ran GE’s famous Leadership development program at Crotenville, and Susan Peters has it today. These leaders often have “C” level titles and responsibilities (Chief Learning Officer) and even report directly to the CEO.

So how do you get there? First of all, you need to be damn good at leadership development – you need to excel at stage 3. You can’t just jump from 1 or 2 to 4, you have to work your way up and earn it. Then, you’ll need to build your business acumen – learn about your industry, the competition, and your own business model and processes. Finally, it takes a high degree of emotional intelligence (EQ) to be effective at this level. That is, you’ll need to develop your leadership presence, ability to influence, build consensus, and a willingness to put your own ego aside. To be effective at this level, you learn to take pride in getting a senior leader to come up with an idea that they think they came up with on their own – even though you’re the one who planted the seed.

So how would you rate yourself, as a trainer, HR pro, coach, or consultant? How would you rate your company’s leadership development function? What do you like or dislike about the model?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Top Global Open Enrollment Executive Education Providers 2010

University based executive education programs are often a once-in-a-lifetime developmental experience, and can enhance any resume.

These 1-4 week programs are an excellent way to develop leadership and management skills, as well as build external networks that can last forever.

They are a big investment, and there are a lot of choices. To get started, I’d recommend reading the article, “How to Select an Executive Education Program”.

Once you’ve done that, here’s a handy companion reference list to bookmark and save.

I cross-referenced the Financial Times 2010 Best Open Enrollment Executive Education programs with the BusinessWeek Best Open Enrollment Executive Education programs 2010.

Keep in mind that these are the best non-credit executive education programs, not the best business schools for an MBA. Also, these rankings are as much about brand name recognition than they are any kind of analysis or participant feedback. The rankings are based on surveys filled out by a single point of contact for executive development (I filled one out this summer). I'm sure there are plenty of lesser known schools that are just as good. However, it's a good place to start.

Here are the 15 schools that appear in the top 20 on both lists:

1. Harvard University


3. Stanford University

4. IMD

5. Center for Creative Leadership

6. London Business School

7. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

8. IESE Business School

9. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)

10. Columbia University

11. Northwestern University (Kellogg)

12. IE Business School

13. University of Chicago (Booth)

14. University of Virginia (Darden)

15. Thunderbird School of Global Management

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Do’s and Don’ts for Having a 360 Degree Assessment Development Discussion

A 360 degree assessment is a great way for a manager to get feedback on their strengths and development needs. As a follow-up, the recipient of this great feedback should review the data with their manager as a springboard to a development discussion.

While this sounds like a good idea in theory, I’ve seen way too many managers screw it up. Here are some lessons learned, from both the perspective of the 360 participant, and their own manager (the “coach”).

When you get a 360 assessment and are ready to discuss it with you manager, DO:

1. Prepare for the discussion. Be ready to share your reactions, surprises, top 3 strengths, top 1-3 development needs and why

2. Prepare a draft Individual Development Plan (IDP)

3. Ask clarifying questions

4. Be open to possible “blind spots

5. Ask for advice and/or “feed-forward

6. LISTEN – and say “thank-you”

7. Be willing to take some risks

8. Acknowledge what you are going to work on and commit to telling the world

9. Ask for a follow-up meeting to review progress and set a date


1. Let the assessment report drive the discussion, your decisions, and your choices

2. Dwell too much on a single comment

3. Justify, deny, explain, rationalize, or defend

4. Wing it

5. Play it safe, i.e., wimpy development ideas like “read a book”

6. Keep playing to your strengths and ignore your weaknesses

7. Try to figure out who said what

8. Even have a follow-up session if you really don’t need clarification, don’t trust your manager, or don’t value his/her feedback or advice

When you are the “coach”, and one of your managers comes to you to discuss his/her 360 assessment, DO:

1. Allow the manager to own the process

2. Create a positive, optimistic environment

3. Ask a lot of questions:

 What did you learn about yourself?

 How do you feel about that? Why?

 What are the strengths you feel most proud of? Why?

 What’s your biggest opportunity for development? Why? How are you going do this?

 Do you need any additional ideas from me? How can I support you?

4. Listen:

 Think before you speak

 Listen with respect

 Ask yourself: “is it really worth it” before you add your comments

5. Provide clarification or additional feedback

6. Provide additional development ideas

7. Offer to open doors and make connections

8. Be supportive, encouraging

9. Be available for follow-up, keep your commitments


1. Demand to see a copy of their report

2. Treat this like a performance review

3. Be a know-it-all

4. Do your own diagnosis and insist on your own brilliant solutions

5. Talk about yourself

6. Compare this manager to others

7. Be vague when asked for clarification

8. Focus only on development needs

9. Chicken out and sugar-coat development needs

When both the manager and coach follow these guidelines, a 360 review and development discussion can be one of the most energizing, positive, and constructive conversations you’ll ever have. If not, it’ll end up being….. well,…. like a performance appraisal. Yuk.

Note: permission granted to turn this into your own 360 job aid.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Best of Leadership Blogs 2010 Contest!

Once again, I’m very honored to be nominated for The Kevin Eikenberry Group's Best of Leadership Blogs 2010. Every year, Kevin and his team, along with reader nominations, select what they feel are the top 10 leadership blogs (see complete list below). This is the 3rd or 4th time I’ve been selected, but I’ve never won. In fact, last year I got crushed. I’m the Susan Lucci, the Chicago Cubs, the Zippy Chippy of leadership blogging.

However, being a lifetime Buffalo Bills fan, I’m used to getting knocked down, getting back up, and saying “wait until next year!” That, and looking forward to a high draft pick.

So how about it, Great Leadership readers? Can I count on your vote for this year? In addition to the opportunity to show your support, which I really appreciate; each voter will receive an invitation into the brand-new, free, online Bud To Boss Community. This is a chance for people to have access to a free resource site with tips and techniques on handling the transition from peer to supervisor and other leadership challenges. There will also be several random drawings each week from those who have voted for various prizes.

Here is where you go to vote:

In addition to casting your vote for Great Leadership, make sure you check out the other nominated blogs as well. They are:

- Leading Blog - Building Community Leaders by Michael McKinney

- Three Star Leadership Blog by Wally Bock

- N2Growth by Mike Myatt

- Great Leadership by Dan McCarthy

- All Things Workplace - Steve Roesler

- Lead by Example by John Baldoni

- Leading Questions by Ed Brenegar

- Ramblings From A Glass Half Full by Terry Starbucker

- LeaderTalk by Becky Robinson

- Extreme Leadership by Steve Farber

- Leadership Freak by Dan Rockwell

These really are already some of my favorite leadership blogs, and there are a couple new ones I’m not familiar with and need to check out. All great stuff, so there would be no shame in getting crushed again by any of these.

How about if we just make it a little closer this year? Thanks for your vote and support!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

How to Overcome Your Fear of Spreadsheets

Disclaimer: The following post is a sponsored advertisement. However, I've reviewed and tried this new product and am very comfortable recommending it to Great Leadership readers.

In the world of Microsoft Office, I’ve always been more of a PowerPoint and Word guy. That is, the output of my work is usually words, pictures, models, and concepts. Except for an 18 month developmental assignment as a senior HR manager, I’ve never had to become proficient in Excel.

Sure, I can do the basics – set up a simple spreadsheet, or navigate around a spreadsheet someone else has already created. But when it comes to doing pivot tables and making charts, I’m in way over my head.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to learn it. I’ve tried a few instructor-led and self-study courses – they were OK – but deadly boring. I’d walk away all fired up, but without application and practice, the learning never stuck.

So when Sean Duffy, the owner of Excel Everest, approached me about partnering with him to promote his new product on Great Leadership, I was initially skeptical. That is, until I checked it out. It’s actually pretty cool. Here's a screen shot:

First of all, I like the design. It’s based on some good, solid adult learning principles. In an article for the Association for Learning Technology called “Make Them Struggle but Keep Them Smiling”, Duffy says:

“We think the secret sauce of Excel Everest is a set of design principles we followed through the course of development. We’d like to share these and propose that they’re broadly applicable to any learning technology that contains interactive elements. They are struggle, immediacy, delight, progress, beauty and navigational ease.”

It’s the “delight” part that I really like – go figure, an Excel tutorial with a sense of humor. Complete with dancing bears.

I also like the price. Having written about my preference for “frugal” training programs, I can appreciate a $34.95 price tag for over 20 hours of good training. Even better, for one week only, Great Leadership readers can use the discount code "leaders" and pay only $27.96, a 20% discount! This offer expires on November 21st.

Take a look at the clever 2 minute video on the homepage to learn more, or download the trial version and try it for free.

Who knows, maybe getting a little geeky in Excel might be just what you need to impress your co-workers and boss, improve your love life, and get recognized as a smarty-pants leader!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Getting Rid of the “A” Team

Here's a encore guest post by Sylvia Lafair:

This is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for; time to say “good bye” to all the annoying, arrogant, argumentative, abrasive, attacking, autocratic, aloof, and aggressive folks you work with who make your life annoying, alarming, and apocalyptic.

Don’t spend another day wondering if you can have a more creative, cooperative, and collaborative work world.

You can!

Getting rid of this type of “A Team” can be done in five easy steps. Well, five steps anyway. The easy part depends on how much elbow grease you are willing to put into the process. Becoming Conflict Competent is a major part of leadership development, yet it gets limited attention. Its sibling, conflict resolution is the process that gets most of the attention. However, resolving conflict has to be done again and again and again and, well you get the picture.

Conflict competence means you are so super self-aware it would take a bulldozer to push your buttons. It means you have the capacity to see other sides of every situation and can make an unbiased decision that is in the best interests of everyone involved. It means you can withstand criticism and stay steady when the going gets rough. It means you can stay in the anxiety of the “ugly middle” of upsets without rushing to solve the problem just to get it out of the way. It means having the ability to listen to others and ask great open-ended questions.

Use the following five step action plan and the “A Team” will transform into an “A TEAM” that is alive, audacious, accountable, agreeable, accepting, and amazing.

The Step- Down Process:

Take time to let your own emotions settle down. Use one of the following techniques before you talk with any of the parties in the conflict. Breathe! All the martial arts use breath for success. Think down two inches from your navel. This is your core. Put your hand there to feel the space and push your hand just a bit to help keep your mind focused there. Now, start breathing into this area. I promise; it works. Takes some practice, yet once you get the hang of it you will begin to feel calmer as you proceed to think about the “A- -“ on the team who is making life difficult.

This is where you have to face your own fears and anxieties. The premise of “Don’t Bring It to Work” is that when stress hits the hot button we are all prone to revert to patterns of behavior we learned as children to alleviate our fears and protect us. While we don’t want to bring the patterns from our families to work, we do! Sorry for this news, yet if you give it some thought you will see the validity and realize that when the stress is high you, your boss, or your colleagues will begin to behave like babies. So, slow down and begin to explore all the options you can find for solving the present problem.

Begin to look at the gap between your intentions and that of the others in the conflict situation and how you are all impacting each other. This is where the old, outmoded patterns start to interlock, like a puzzle. Here is where the pattern takes on a life of its own, unless you take charge. Get to know your triggers when someone upsets you. Own them, acknowledge them, and embrace them. If you don’t own the drama king/queen in you, or the avoider, martyr, rebel, etc. please know the pattern will own you!

Now it is time to create the safe space for you and the other/s to talk. They may not have the background and knowledge of conflict competence that is where your skill and tenacity come in. Set the standards for listening without interruption. Set the standards for telling the truth without blame, judgment, or attack. Make sure there is enough time to go through the range of dialogue that needs to happen. Nothing is worse than finally getting to the heart of the issues and time is up. You can make the space safe for truth telling only if there is a quiet, setting with no interruptions.

Great, you have earned the points, the cheering from the crowd. What happened? You were instrumental in keeping the process moving in a forward direction, helping to hold people accountable, helping untie the “Knots” as in “am not, should not, will not, not good enough and not like me”. This is what separates those who can get to consensus in conflict resolution from those who can become positive teachers about how to approach conflict and not just get consensus this one time, how to shape conflict discussions from here forward.

Give this a shot. It may seem paradoxical at first, having to step down to step up. Once we all learn to use our bodies and minds to discipline our emotions, once we learn to look back at the patterns from family, culture and crisis that have formed us, we are all in a more secure position to tackle conflict and that is sure what the world needs now.

Sylvia Lafair, PhD, is an international business leadership expert and President of CEO – Creative Energy Options, Inc., a global consulting company focused on optimizing workplace relationships.
Her award winning book “Don’t Bring It to Work” (Jossey Bass) has been ranked in the top of Amazon’s Best Selling Workplace books. She has been featured in Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Time, CIO Magazine, New York Times, many radio, and TV programs.

Monday, November 8, 2010

7 Ways to Get Your Boss Promoted

Your success is heavily tied to the success of your manager. In most cases, when your manager wins, so do you. When your manager is failing, it’s like being on a sinking ship without a lifeboat.

Think back over your own career, and about some of the managers you’ve worked for. I’ll bet when you worked for a successful manager you had:

- More resources
- More credibility
- More meaningful, value-added work
- More development and career opportunities
- A bigger slice of the merit increase, bonus, or commission pie

Now think about when you worked for a failing manager. By “failing”, I mean a manager that isn’t hitting their numbers, getting results, has limited potential or career options, isn’t seen as credible amongst their peers, and doesn’t get along with their own boss. Stuff usually rolls downhill in these scenarios, so you probably experienced:

- A lack of resources; your team was always at the end of the line when it came to budget, office space, equipment, headcount, etc….
- No matter how good you may have been, you carried the stain of your manager’s bad reputation
- You worked on low priority projects that didn’t seem to matter
- You didn’t get much coaching, and maybe not much development (failing managers are usually threatened by ambitious, high achievers)
- A lack of career growth opportunities – because your manager was stuck in place, and didn’t have the political clout to be an advocate for his/her people

OK, so it’s in your best interest to work for a successful manager, right? Well, what if you don’t? In extreme cases, I’d say look for another job. Or, just lay low and wait it out. Organizational antibodies usually will catch up to and weed out really bad managers.

And oh by the way, if you’re thinking the best way to clear the path for your own promotion is to help get your manager fired – forget about it. First of all, it’s slimy. Second, when a failing manager gets fired, the organization usually brings in an outsider – why would they want to promote another one of the losers on a losing team?

However, for the bell-curve majority of average, above average, and even great managers, there’s the opportunity to learn, grow, get better, and be even more successful. And you can play a big part in helping them be more successful!

Here’s how (interestingly, this post is a first - I Googled the topic and couldn't find anything even close - only advice on how to get yourself promoted, your employees promoted, or your boss fired):

1. Starting with the obvious: be damn good at your job. A manager’s success is the aggregate of their team’s success. Put your manager in a position where they can bask in the glory of your success. When a manager doesn’t have to worry about how well you’re doing your job, it frees them up to focus on more strategic opportunities.

2. Support your manager behind his/her back. Help protect your manager’s reputation by spreading good news about him/her. While it may be tempting to join the crowd when the water cooler conversation turns to boss-bashing, don’t do it. You’re not doing yourself – or your own reputation – any favors.

3. Give your manager credit for your own successes. When you give that acceptance speech for employee of the month, don’t forget to acknowledge your manager. Oh, and don’t forget to mention your Mom and Dad too. Sorry, that was directed to my own kids.

4. Nominate your manager for an award. There are plenty of industry awards to go around these days – you and a couple of your co-workers could work behind your manager’s back to submit a nomination.

5. Show confidence in your manager’s potential. A lot of managers don’t get promoted because they don’t think they’re ready, or perhaps they haven’t been formally tapped as a “high potential”, so they don’t even try. Inspire your manager (if you really believe they can do it) to think of themselves as having potential.

6. Make development suggestions on how to be better prepared for larger opportunities. “Hey, have you ever considered volunteering on a not-for-profit board? That would be a great way to learn how to work with diverse people and functions, and get an organizational perspective”.
Just be careful here that you don’t come across as making remedial development suggestions.

7. Give feedback to your manager. Positive, specific, and sincere feedback lets your manager know what they are doing well so they can keep doing more of it. It’s also a good confidence builder. Well intended, specific and proactive constructive feedback can help keep your manager out of trouble. When your manager asks you to fill out a 360 degree assessment, take the time to give honest ratings and thoughtful comments. Every manager needs a trusted advisor on the team – someone they can go to – or that will approach them – then they need to hear the truth.

So go ahead, hitch your wagon to that rising star, and who knows, you might just be sitting in your manager’s chair some day.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Leadership Development Carnival - Early Bird Edition

Welcome to the November 7, 2010, early bird edition of leadership development carnival! We've got over 40 recent leadership posts from the best of the best leadership bloggers.

This month's edition is a little early, after setting the clocks back an hour. So now you have an extra hour to catch up on some good reading, all in one place. Read 'em all at once, scan em' and cherry pick, or read a few now and come back later for more. Oh, and don't be greedy and hog 'em all to yourself - use the RT button at the bottom of the post to share 'em with your friends.

We'll lead off with our next month's Carnival host Jane Perdue, with The both/and dance of leadership posted at Get Your Leadership BIG On!

Last month's Carnival host, Mary Jo Asmus always is worth reading. Here's Who Can Help? posted at Mary Jo Asmus.

Wally Bock sure has been hot lately. Here's his take on "bad attitudes", with  The Attitude Trap posted at Three Star Leadership Blog, saying, "Addressing a bad attitude directly is a trap for you if you're a boss. It will get you argument, denial, and withdrawal, but little or no change. Instead, ask yourself a simple question and then take action."

Alice Snell follows up with More Human Than Capital posted at Taleo Blog - Talent Management Solutions.

Mark Stelzner commits to giving all his best stuff away! Follow the series at The HR Idea Lab posted at Inflexion Point.

I've been reading a lot of Tanveer Naseer lately, and just added his blog to my blogroll. Here's Social Media and the True Meaning of Leadership | posted at

The always reliable Art Petty gives us a dose of caffeine to start the day with Leadership Caffeine: Learning to Ask for Help posted at Management Excellence

Eric Pennington explains "why you must move forward, even if uncertainty surrounds and confounds you."
Moving Forward In An Uncertain World posted at Epic Living - Leadership Development Career Management Training Executive Life Coaching Author.
Erik Samdahl presents Emotional Dimwits Need Not Apply posted at Productivity Blog

nissim ziv presents What are the Qualities of a Good Leader? posted at Job Interview Guide, saying, "This article will not address the issue whether or not leaders are born to lead, but rather focuses on classifying some qualities imperative to good/positive leader."

Rob Tucker presents How to encourage others to take ownership posted at Reading About Leading, saying, "A detailed discussion of the ways in which you can help your team to take ownership."

Gwyn Teatro presents Leadership and All That Jazz posted at You're Not the Boss of Me, saying, "This is a look at jazz as a metaphor for good leadership, often calling for improvisation and often messy but always grounded by its core melody."

The never boring, always provocative Bret L. Simmons gives us Power: The Heart Of Leadership | Bret L. Simmons - Positive Organizational Behavior posted at Bret L. Simmons.

Anne Perschel and Marion Chapsal team up to give us When Truth Speaks to Power?and Power Listens posted at Germane Insights, saying, "INSTIGATING CHANGE. When truth speaks and the leader acts, change happens. Be Bold. Speak your Truth." While you're there, take a look at the new "NOW Leadership Carnival".

Tanmay Vora presents The Quest of Better Outcomes: Hierarchy And Process posted at QAspire - Quality, Management, Leadership & Life!.

Michael Lee Stallard presents Servant Leaders Outperform Because They Connect posted at Michael Lee Stallard.

Anna Farmery, the Leadership Development Carnival founder, presents Are you too professional! posted at The Engaging Brand.

Benjamin McCall presents Compensation, Pay Raises and Becoming a CEO | ReThinkHR - (ReThink Human Resources) posted at ReThinkHR - (ReThink Human Resources), saying, "Many employees believe that they are being mistreated. Lately it has been in the form of decrease in benefits and lack of merit and pay increases. But is this truly mistreatment, a sign of the economic times or just the fact that they do not feel they are getting what is owed or deserved?"

Kevin W. Grossman presents We are responsible for EQ learning that sticks, not slides posted at Leaders. Better. Brighter.™ The Glowan Consulting Group L3 Blog.

Lisa Rosendahl presents We Are All Bullies, Sometimes posted at her new Women of HR. Check it out, the site has a great collection of contributors.

Anna Smith presents Inspire The World – A Recipe posted at WDYWFT Blog, saying, "A post on how to bake an inspiration cake. Just in time for the holiday season." Sounds yummy.

Jennifer V. Miller presents Leaders Help People Connect the Dots posted at The People Equation. Jennifer's great - she always connects the dots for me.

William Matthies presents More Than Honesty, Now What? posted at Business Wisdom: Words to Manage By, saying, "How much "truth" can you handle?"

Sharlyn Lauby serves up another round of wisdom with Developing Your Mission Statement posted at hr bartender, saying, "Managers need to be involved in creating and evaluating the company mission. It's an effective way to keep them engaged and focused on operational goals."

John Hunter presents A Theory of a System for Educators and Managers posted at Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog.

David Zinger presents Leveraging Positive Deviancy for Employee Engagement posted at Employee Engagement Zingers, saying, "Leverage positive deviance to enhance your employee engagement work."

Adi Gaskell presents I'll hire you so long as you don't threaten my mojo | Chartered Management Institute posted at The Management Blog, saying, "Insight into how management recruit talent based upon their own strengths and weaknesses."

Nick McCormick presents Live Your Deepest Values at Work posted at Joe and Wanda - on Management, saying, "Stan Slap, author of "Bury My Heart at Conference Room B," is the guest on this episode of "The Management Tips Podcast Series." Stan explains that emotional commitment is the key to optimal performance, and the only way to achieve it is to live your deepest values at work. Listen in to find out more."

Mike Henry Sr. presents 5 Performance Tips When You Are Micro-Managed | Lead Change Group posted at Lead Change Group | Site Wide Activity, saying, "What can someone do when their boss is a micro-manager. This post contains 5 ways you can use your performance to attempt to affect your situation."

Jason Seiden will never give you the usual party line. Here's Promoted In a Flat World—Wait, Is That Possible? posted at Fail Spectacularly!, saying, "The way in which people are promoted for good work has got to change. Now."

I had a chance to meet Lynn Dessert recently, and have been following her blog ever since. I'd recommend you do to! Here's Succession planning: Always a good outcome? | Elephants at Work posted at Elephants at Work, saying, "Succession planning done in a vacuum rarely works to a manager's benefit when they are interested in employees from another group."

I think this may be Mike Hoban's first submission, but if it's DDI, it's got to be good. Here's Cast Your Vote at the Office posted at DDI’s Talent Management Intelligence.

GreatManagement presents 6 Steps To More Effective Management posted at Great Management, saying, "Here are six basic skills to increase your abilities as an effective manager:"

I run a family blog, so this one almost didn't make the cut.... but I can't turn away Miki Saxon. Here's Ducks in a Row: Leadership or LeadershIt?, posted at Mapping Company Success. Don't worry, it's clean.

Michael Cardus presents Is Your Leadership & Work Matched to Capability; How do you know? posted at Create-Learning Team Building & Leadership Blog, saying, "This is why leaders and people within the organization NEED to be properly matched with their capability to make decisions, use their judgment for completion of task assignments (within Goal Setting Structures) and have the opportunity to work for a leader that knows their values & commitments, plus can establish clear and distinct good and bad quality definitions of work. All people who work are due that from the leader."

Shawn M. Driscoll presents The Innovator in Each of Us posted at Shawn Driscoll.

Heather Stagl presents 99 Ways to Influence Change posted at Enclaria LLC.

John Coleman presents My Leadership Failure posted at Developing the Leader in You

Joe Tichio presents Oct 4, Famous Leadership Quotes posted at Inspirational Quotes Blog, saying, "A collection of leadership quotes from famous people in government, the military, business, and more."

Namita Panigrahi presents Do you challenge your high performer(s) ? posted at TalentedApps, saying, "We often overlook a very important way to motivate our high performers (hint: it isn't money)"

Mike Miranda presents Leadership and Ice Cream | Workforce Management Opinions & Trends posted at Aquire Blog, saying, "Here is a leadership blog post sent on behalf of Lois Melbourne, CEO of Aquire.

Iván Ríos-Mena presents A System Isn’t Enough (And What You Can Do About It) posted at Iván Ríos-Mena, saying, "Systems and methods by themselves aren't enough to change workplace values and attitudes. Here are three ways to start changing your organization's culture to make it deal better with conflict."

JeremyMDay presents How To Promote Teamwork posted at Jeremy M. Day, saying, "These are three things I have learned from being a manager in my own company about how to promote teamwork among all colleagues."

That's it for this month's edition! Thanks to all the bloggers who submitted posts and congratulations to those that made the cut. My apologies for any typos.... with over 40 posts, I'm bound to miss something. Email me if it's critical to fix it.
For those that did not make it- read  the submission guidelines. (-:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Striving To Be A Real Leader

Here's a guest post by Graham Jones:

The last couple of years have brought an intriguing quandary for senior leaders, and one that is probably here to stay. These are times when leaders have the option of keeping their heads down, staying out of the firing line, and playing it safe. The other option is to contribute to the current and future health of the organization by stepping up to be real leaders.

The Choices You Make As A Real Leader
Being a real leader is not easy which is why too many incumbents of leadership positions, knowingly or unknowingly, go for the easier option of safe leadership. Although I am sure you have some friends who have gone for the safe option, you, of course, will have opted to be a real leader and, in doing so, have made a number of choices that you will need to remind yourself of from time to time.

Your Choice To Take On The Pressure
Your choice to take on the visibility of real leadership means that you will be exposed to sometimes relentless pressure that can cause you to feel isolated, lonely, and vulnerable. And that is just during normal times! During economic downturns and when market conditions are tough, you will be stretched to the limits of your capability and resourcefulness. At times like these, it may be hard to see beyond those pressures that your responsibilities and accountabilities bring with them. You will need to remind yourself why you have chosen this path – the internal drivers that provide positive challenge, the change that you bring about because you have the guts to do it, the development you see in your people because you give them the opportunities, and the individual care you provide that makes your people feel valued.

Your Choice To Be Accountable When Things Go Wrong
By being a real leader, the buck stops with you! The failures of your people are your failures – you are the one who is accountable. Have the courage to seek to understand the causes of failure so that you can learn from them and take your learning forward.

Your Choice To Accept That You Will Make Mistakes
You have chosen to put yourself in a position where you are expected to innovate and take calculated risks. You will sometimes get it wrong and you will make mistakes. These are what will make you a better and stronger real leader as long as you see mistakes as a key part of your learning and development.

Your Choice To Do What Is Right
You are aware of your responsibility to make those difficult, often critical, decisions that might not be popular with everyone, but are the right thing to do. You know that no matter how hard you try, there will always be someone who is unhappy with your leadership. There may even be people who think they can do the job better than you. No matter what, it is important that you tackle hard issues head on.

Your Choice To Drive Change
No individual, team, or organization can ever stand still. Sustained success is underpinned by constant change that takes you to the next level. As a real leader, your responsibility is to lead by example in driving continuous change. Encourage challenge and collective problem-solving among your people because you cannot do it all on your own.

Your Choice To Be A Role Model
Role modeling is a critical part of your role as a real leader. Role model what you want to see and hear in your people, and also role model the aspirations of the organization. If you want your people to raise their performance bars, then raise your own. Show them that you are hungry for feedback because it is so important to your development. And recognize and celebrate success in a way that inspires them to want more.

Your Choice To Develop The People You Lead So That They May Some Day Be Your Boss
If you do a great job of being a real leader, then you may find that, one day, you are being lead by someone who used to follow you. Your choice to empower and coach your people, combined with encouraging them to be creative and innovative, will enable them to make a significant contribution to achieving your vision. It will also help their individual development as they pursue their own aspirations in the organization. The best of them may end up being your leader! Take huge satisfaction from this.

Your Role In Creating A High Performance Environment
Real leaders create environments where high performance is inevitable and sustainable. If you are to achieve this goal, then there are a number of core principles that you should remember and follow.

Accept That You Can No Longer Do All The Things That Got You To Where You Are
This is where some leaders get it wrong. Most are promoted to leadership positions because they are functional experts and they make the mistake of continuing to be involved in the detail because they enjoy and are good at it. But, as you know, leadership is about people, and not about managing a function. As a real leader, your role is to create the conditions for your people to thrive. Minimizing constraints and maximizing supports for your people is a critical role that will help them deliver the performance you are now leading and no longer ‘doing’ yourself.

Identify And Communicate A Compelling Vision
Your people want to know where you intend to take them. Figure out what your vision is and communicate it in a way that it makes sense and also demonstrates a passion that will inspire your people to follow you and find a way of delivering it even in the most trying circumstances.

Get The Strategic Focus Right
You will have to manage the dynamic tension of current versus future focus. Your responsibility is to focus on the longer-term; specifically, the innovation and well-being that the future health of the organization is dependent on. Of course, your focus will be dragged into the current, day-to-day detail, especially when times are tough, but do not fall into the trap of getting stuck there.

Make Sure You Have The Right People In The Right Roles
If you are to stay out of the detail, then you need to have people with the appropriate knowledge, skills, and experience in the appropriate roles. This is your responsibility, and achieving this will provide you with the space you require to focus on your job as a real leader.

Clearly Define And Communicate What Is Expected Of Them
Having the right people in the right roles is insufficient – they must know what you expect from them. They want to know what their short-term focus should be and how their individual performances will contribute to achieving the longer-term aspirations and vision of the organization.

Have The Courage To Let Go
If you have the right people in the right roles, and they know what is expected of them, then have the courage to place your confidence and trust in them to deliver the goods. This will probably feel strange at first as you struggle with relinquishing some control. And it will not be possible before you have the confidence and trust in yourself to pass it on to your people.

Balance Vision, Challenge, And Support
Once you have everything in place, then your day-to-day role as a real leader is to remind people of the vision, challenge them to deliver against it, and support them in doing so. Remember that if you can get the balance right, then you will create an environment where the potential of your people is unleashed and high performance is inevitable and sustainable.

Over To You
Being a real leader will be stimulating, energizing, and, perhaps most important, enjoyable. And when you get it right, being a real leader will also provide you with an enormous sense of satisfaction and achievement. It really is something worth striving for.

Graham Jones, PhD, is Director of Lane4 Management Group, a performance development consultancy, based in Princeton, New Jersey. Graham is the author of Thrive On Pressure: Lead And Succeed When Times Get Tough, published by McGraw-Hill in August 2010. For more information, visit his website and blog at For information on Lane4, visit