Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Individual Development Plans (IDPs) Are Worthless….

…if no action is taken.

I take a lot of pride in helping people write "Individual Development Plans”, or IDPs. Thousands of people have stumbled upon Great Leadership searching on this topic, and I’ve probably helped write over 1000 of them as part of my day job.

When working with a leader or aspiring leader, I’ll follow this process:

We usually have a great discussion, and the leader leaves energized about what they are going to do to develop as a leader.

Yes, I’ll tell you, I’ve helped write some beautiful IDPs. I should start a portfolio; maybe publish one of those big coffee table books, or frame them and hang them in my office.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid many of them are worthless pieces of paper. They are fairy tales, complete fabrications, and boldfaced lies.

How do I know this? Because when I check in with the leader (or leader’s manager) 6 months later, more often than not no action has been taken. That’s of course if they can even find the plan.

These are not slackers that I work with. These are high achievers – A players. Heck, I just pulled my own IDP out and realized there were quite a few things I never did. Why not? They sure seemed like great ideas at the time – I was committed, motivated, and had my manager’s enthusiastic support.

This lack of IDP follow-up is a nut I’ve been trying to crack for years. I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how well intended people are, development will always be neglected unless some sort of process is put in place to follow-up. That’s why people struggle so much to lose weight on their own. Weight loss programs like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig work best when you have to weigh in once a week and talk to your counselor, track your progress, and face the consequences or reap the rewards.

The same thing happens after a training program. Participants leave all excited about putting their new ideas and skills to use, and within a few weeks, without follow-up, it’s right back to where they started.

It’s not all doom or gloom. IDPs can and do work. Here are a few ideas to make sure those plans just don’t sit in a drawer gathering dust:

1. Make a public declaration.
Share your IDP with your manager, employees, coworkers, significant others, whatever. Let them know what you are working on and ask for their support. Once a goal is made public, you’ll feel more accountable to make it happen. As an added bonus, research has shown that managers that share their development goals with others receive higher follow-up scores on surveys than those that don’t.

2. Schedule regular reminders on your calendar.
Granted, this one’s kind of weak, and won’t work on its own, regardless of what the people who sold you your new Learning Management System (LMS) told you. However, at least it helps keep you plan front and center.

3. Get an “accountability partner”.
Find someone who can help hold yourself accountable. It could be your manager, a peer, a coach, a friend, or a family member. Make an agreement to call each other at a regular interval and check in on each other’s progress. Marshall Goldsmith, one of the worlds’s most sought after executive coaches, actually talks to his partner at the end of every day! They ask each other a series of yes/no questions for every goal, covering all aspects of life (development, business, fitness & health, spiritual, personal).
This process works great when it’s implemented at the end of a training program.

4. Track and measure your progress.
Try to make your goals measurable, and keep a log of progress. Aubrey Daniels uses this technique as a part of his performance management system. Then, establish your own rewards, or positive consequences, for when you hit key milestones along the way.

You put a lot of effort in that 360 assessment, training program, or book. You wrote a great individual development plan that’s designed to help you build the skills you need to achieve your goals. Don’t let it all go to waste! Put a system in place to ensure follow-up and you’ll beat the odds.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mastering Innovative Leadership

Guest post by Alexander Hiam, author of Business Innovation For Dummies. It's a rather long post, but hang with it, it's really good.

Innovation is, in my book, quite simply a fertile union of creativity and leadership. Thus you might say that the term ‘innovative leadership’ is redundant and all leadership is innovative. That assumes people in leadership roles really are leading, as in visualizing the new and better and moving us in their direction.

Sadly, real world leadership is more prosaic, and less innovative. In fact, in almost every survey ever done on the topic, employees say that their leaders are holding them back, not drawing them ahead, in the quest of innovation.

So, there seems to be a need to focus on leaders and their role in innovation, especially at a time when the only thing everyone, at all ends of the political spectrum, agrees upon is that we ought to be innovating our way out of a half-hearted economic recovery.

What, then, is an innovative leader? And, more to the point, how can the many people holding leadership positions begin to tip their weight forward a bit more, and encourage the rest of us to innovate our way out of this economic funk?

Which Side of the Leadership Coin Are You On?

To define an innovative leader, first differentiate between the two basic strategic orientations leaders tend to have. I call them basic orientations because they are expressions of a fundamental personality trait: How conservative or open the leader’s personality happens to be. Someone who tends to like stability and tradition has a conservative personality, while someone who likes change, asks lots of questions, and tends to be creative or into exploring is said by psychologists to be open to experience.

It happens that we tend to promote conservative personalities more often than open ones, because they fit our stereotyped notions of who should be our leaders. As a consequence, many of our institutions are not temperamentally very open to new ideas and experiences. On the other hand, entrepreneurs are, by nature, quite innovative and open to experience, so new startups have the opposite personality, at least until they grow and prosper, whereupon the innovator is usually replaced by a more sober, conservative personality, and innovation slows down.

Can an entrepreneurial, creative innovator learn to create systems and manage large-scale businesses? Sure, some do – the ones who are self-reflective and willing to learn new tricks. Similarly, conservative, stable business executives sometimes manage innovation quite well, but again, they are the ones who recognize when they need to flex their style and push their organizations in new directions.

Which style is your natural one? Does your personality push you toward being maintenance-oriented and a good custodian of successful businesses, or are you more of an innovator by temperament? Here’s a simple self-diagnostic you can use to find out (taken from Chapter 3 of Business Innovation For Dummies). To identify your basic leadership orientation, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do I focus on doing things consistently and carefully?

2. Do I find routines boring and dull?

3. Do I take pride in perfecting my skills?

4. Do I get the most enjoyment out of trying new things?

5. Do I insist that employees and team members do things correctly?

6. Do I insist that employees and team members try new approaches?

The following sections explain what your answers to these questions indicate about your leadership orientation.

Maintenance Orientation

If you answered yes to Questions 1, 3, and 5, your default orientation is toward maintenance. You’re probably particularly good at keeping a successful business or operation going smoothly and well. However, this maintenance orientation will tend to reduce the amount of creative thinking and experimentation you do, and make it more difficult for you to lead innovation and change. You’ll need to make a conscious effort to change your orientation in order to allow innovation to happen.

Innovation Orientation

If you answered yes to Questions 2, 4, and 6, you probably didn’t answer yes to the others, because people usually favor one or the other orientation. Your orientation is creative, and your tendency is to look for new ideas and approaches. You ought to find it fairly easy and natural to adopt innovative leadership techniques and to inspire others to become more creative. Your weakness may be in persisting long enough with one idea to bring it fully through development and refine it into a profitable routine.

Mastering Both Orientations

You need to be able to shift your orientation and not be stuck with just one approach. Knowing your basic orientation helps you understand not only your strengths but also your weaknesses.

A maintenance-oriented leader is great at keeping things running smoothly and doesn’t get bored with the pursuit of efficiencies during scale-up. However, he may tend to forget about creativity and fail to lead the way to the next big thing. Maintenance only makes sense as long as what you’re maintaining is worth it. At some point, you need to trade it in for a new model.

The innovation-oriented leader is a natural when it comes to finding the next great idea and working on it, but begins to lose focus and get bored just when the innovation’s kinks are finally ironed out and it’s time to profit by using it efficiently.

Which is your strength: innovating or maintaining? Whichever it is, know your strongest and weakest qualities and make a point of hiring people who can help you with both. I’m a natural innovator myself, but my business partner, Stephanie, has a maintenance orientation. She’s really good at making things hum along efficiently, and she keeps a close eye on plans and budgets, which means I can spend most of my time imagining. Some months she takes the lead, when her orientation fits the strategic phase we’re in. Other times, I step forward (for example, with a new product I’ve designed) and take the lead as we change our product lineup or try a new business model. If it works, I then turn the reins over to her to fine-tune it and make it run profitably.

I’ve found I’m so strongly oriented toward innovation that it’s hard for me to change my own approach and be a good maintainer, so I rely on someone else to help me cover the other orientation. However, most people are less extreme in their orientation and can teach themselves to switch from one orientation to the other more easily than I can. It’s up to you to decide whether you can cover both basic leadership orientations yourself or you need a partner to help you.

Pumping Up Your Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is a great quality that open-minded innovators bring to any leadership role. Face it; it takes a lot more energy to create something new than to keep moving ahead on the same track. That means you need to recharge your own battery often and fully, by making sure you have a healthy, energizing lifestyle outside of work. Take a moment to assess your sources of energy:

• Does you family or personal life support and energize you every day?

• Do you get eight hours of sleep a night on average?

• Do you get a moderate amount of exercise and manage your physical well being?

• Do you have a varied, interesting diet?

• Do you try new things at home, such as new hobbies, travel, or friendships?

• Do you learn new things every week that stimulate your imagination?

Yes, this is another mini-assessment. Count the number of yes answers. A perfect six would be great, but if you’re not there yet, this list gives you some practical ideas about ways to make your personal life more energizing and less wearing. It takes enthusiasm to energize others!

Turn Toward the Positive

There’s one thing you can do that I guarantee will make up for a lot of errors or missteps in every other aspect of your leadership. Leaders who maintain a strongly optimistic and positive frame of mind are able to build and maintain innovative momentum, even when things go wrong. It turns out that a realistic optimist is far better at stimulating creative behavior or at leading a team through a tough implementation than any other kind of leader.

There’s a lot of research supporting the importance of optimism at work. It’s actually one of the few things that most experts agree on. Optimists are more creative and innovative, more motivated, and more satisfied with their work. They also live longer, healthier, happier, and more successful lives. Entrepreneurs need to be reasonably optimistic to succeed. However, keep in mind that optimism can be taken too far. At its extreme, optimism can produce overconfidence and a lack of realism. Your goal should be to be realistically optimistic, with a positive, can-do attitude but also a willingness to admit a strategy isn’t working and change directions if need be!

Tempering Your Enthusiasm with Practicality

It’s important to aim for a positive attitude that supports innovation, so you may want to think about what that means for you. A pragmatic approach to optimism may be your best bet. Don’t just say, “Oh, it’s okay, we don’t have to do anything, things will get better on their own.” That’s an unrealistically optimistic view and goes along with feelings of personal lack or responsibility and even helplessness. A pragmatic optimist says, “Things don’t look so good right now, but I bet we can figure out a good way to deal with this problem, and even find some hidden opportunities in it.”

When you’re in a positive (optimistic and hopeful) frame of mind, you tend to spread that positive attitude to others. It spreads quite naturally, both through what you say and through the way you act. Positive statements indicate that you’re:

• Hopeful about finding solutions to problems

• Enthusiastic about the possibility of discovering, creating, or inventing something new

• Open to ideas and options and interested in learning something new

• Positive people express their optimism through their body language. They have:

    o A buoyant stride and energetic movements

    o An open, relaxed posture

    o An interested facial expression when others are making suggestions

If you find it hard to sound and act like an irrepressible optimist, you may need to revitalize your own attitude before you go around sharing it with others. It’s a happy fact of leadership that you have an obligation to be in a positive, energetic frame of mind.

Take the time to figure out what rituals and lifestyle changes you need to make in order to come to work each day full of optimism and energy, so you can naturally role-model and spark that kind of energy for your whole team. For example, adopt an exercise regime during lunch hour if it gives you positive energy.

What To Do On A Bad Day

On days when optimism just isn’t there and you feel down, stay away from your team if at all possible. Go out and recharge yourself before you interact with them, so as not to contaminate their attitudes. The leader’s attitude spreads more powerfully and rapidly than anyone else’s, so take advantage of the leverage your attitude has over others — and please don’t make the all-too-common mistake of amplifying your bad mood by sharing it at work.

Alexander Hiam is a leading innovation expert and the author of more than 20 books on innovation, marketing and creativity, including Business Innovation for Dummies (Wiley, June 2010), a how-to guide that offers practical techniques for stimulating imagination and developing ideas into successful innovations. A lecturer at the business school at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, he has consulted with many Fortune 500 firms and large U.S. government agencies (including the U.S. Coast Guard’s Leadership and Management School, the U.S. Senate, and the City of New York). He resides in Amherst, Mass. Online at and

Jack Welch corporate training on effective leadership skills

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

15 Questions to Shake up Your Next Team Meeting or 1on1

Are your team meetings, project meetings, or 1on1s with your employees getting too dull and predictable? Are they lacking energy or new ideas? Are you looking to get your employees to think, open up, and inspire a little creativity and out-of-the-box problem solving? Are people hesitant to bring up problems? Are you getting blank stares when you ask for improvement ideas?

Maybe you’re not asking the right questions. Uninspired questions lead to uninspired answers.

Give these a try, from the 1997 book by Dick Whitney and Melissa Giovagnoli,
75 Cage-Rattling Questions (to change the way you work):

1. What would our company/team be like if your mother ran it?

2. You’ve just received $10 million to help our company grow and prosper; how would you spend it?

3. What would appear bizarre, shocking, or amazing to a Martian visiting you at work?

4. What would our company be like if you never worked here?

5. What incredible invention would make your job much easier and you much more productive?

6. What unwritten rules at work make it difficult to get things done quickly, efficiently, or profitably?

7. Why and when does our organization make you feel that the information you need is top secret and you’re a poor security risk?

8. What’s your idea of a utopian workplace?

9. If our company was a football team, what would be our strongest and weakest positions?

10. If you could trade work skills the way kids swap baseball cards, who would you trade with and for what skills?

11. If Hollywood made a movie based on our organization, what would be the plot? Which stars would you cast as the heroes and villains?

12. If your crystal ball told you our products and services would be obsolete in the next 5 years, how would you react?

13. What is the most likely reason someone would want to join our company; what is the most likely reason someone would leave it?

14. You (or your department) are under an evil spell cast by a witch; who is the witch, what is the spell, and what words were uttered to cast it?

15. Pretend our organization is an organized religion. What are the core beliefs? What constitutes a sin?

Disclaimer: Please only ask these questions if you are truly committed to listening non-defensively and making improvements. They are designed to get people to open up in a way that they normally would not. If you come across as offended or shocked at what people say, or try to convince them their answers are “wrong”, the next thing you’ll hear is the sound of crickets chirping in a silent room.

If you can handle the truth and have the courage to shake it up, then fire away and get ready for some lively discussion!

Here's one final question for you:

What other questions could we add to the list?

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's "Back to School" Time for Both Leaders and Teachers

Here's a timely guest post by Randstad's Eileen Habelow, her second for Great Leadership:

September serves as an annual turning point in both the classroom and the workplace. Children greet September by returning to school while employees hunker down for the three contiguous months of work to be done before the holiday season picks up. While this end to long summer vacations may sound disheartening, it can in fact be quite the opposite.

According to Randstad’s latest Work Monitor survey, 73 percent of employees believe they perform noticeably better at work after they’ve had a few days off. That means even a short break such as a long weekend can generate a surge in employee productivity and motivation.

As business leaders, it is our job not only to recognize these upswings in employee motivation, but also to find ways to harness and recreate it once the excitement of vacation time begins to dwindle.

September can be just as bittersweet for school-aged kids as it can be for workers. That’s why for years educators and parents (the leaders of our youth) have employed a few simple concepts to help motivate their students when they return to school.

1. Sign-up for New Classes: What we must first remember is that the new is always more interesting than the old. Why do students get excited to start a new school year? They expect to learn something new – to become smarter than they were the year before. It is no different for those of us in the workforce who are buoyed by new challenges and opportunities to improve our workplace skills. Consider offering additional training sessions or professional classes to your employees after hours or during their lunch breaks. Or propose “student teaching” opportunities for employees to share their knowledge with colleagues. Just remember to pick your “classes” wisely. Topics should be relevant and worth your employees’ time, otherwise it could feel like added work.

2. Schedule Conferences: Provide feedback without the added pressure of being graded. Work loads continue to increase for many employees (55 percent) despite signs that the recession may be turning around. Just as teachers schedule mid-year conferences, so too should employers schedule times to meet with each employee to revisit company priorities and end-of-year goals. This also helps to remind employees that company leadership is involved in their work, supports their efforts and commends their progress.

3. Stock up on school supplies: Half the fun of back-to-school is shopping for supplies, so make your office supply room something to awe over. Focus on the little things your employees use the most. Stock up on black, blue and red pens, colorful highlighters and dry erase markers. New calendars, file folders, push pins or even sticky notes can help get employees organized and jump-start that back to school feeling inside the office.

4. Remember the Three “R’s”: Finally, remind them of what they already know. Just like students, employees can get wrapped up in the laid back and sometimes unpredictable summertime schedule, losing track of their steady routine. Embrace the routine of the school year, get back into the swing of things and prepare for the workload ahead by remembering three “R’s”:

· Rest. Going to bed 20 minutes earlier each night for three consecutive nights, results in a full hour of extra sleep before the week’s end. Workers will feel the difference in their attitudes and daily productivity. As an added bonus, the sun will start going down earlier and earlier, making this new routine even easier.

· Reschedule. When employees give themselves enough time to get ready in the mornings, they feel less rushed and more calm, as well as more organized throughout the day. Workers who battle their morning alarms might try mixing up their morning routine by going for a run, listening to music while they get ready or treating themselves to something at the coffee shop once or twice a week. Setting a new schedule can often add that extra pick-me-up that employees need this time of year.

· Recharge. Schools have snack time, recess, lunch and afterschool sports for a reason. Don’t let your employees deprive themselves of a much needed break. The majority of employees (66 percent) feel they can take time off when they need to. Do yours? Even taking a coffee break with a colleague or joining a kickball league after work can help raise energy levels and keep employees on track during those long days at the office.

So although September may seem like an end to summer freedom and fun, it in fact carries with it a number of means for inspiration. Employees, like students, will return to work with a certain amount of motivation after the long weekend. Think like a teacher, channel that energy and generate excitement for the months ahead.

Dr. Eileen Habelow is the Senior Vice President of Organizational Development at Randstad U.S. Eileen’s formal education has been focused on instructional design and educational psychology. Her professional experience has ranged from learning and development, sales and operations, and organizational effectiveness.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

7 Tips for Department Meeting Rookies

The average employee will attend about *12 meetings per year. A few of these will be what’s typically called “the department meeting”. If you work for a smaller company, it may be a company, or a branch meeting.

I figure I’ve attending hundreds of these. So while those are hours of my life that I’ll never get back, I thought I’d share a little advice for those that are just starting their careers or new to corporate life. This advice is based on my own clueless and dumb mistakes made early in my career, as well as having the opportunity to work for a company that hires a lot of early career employees (and seeing them make the same clueless and dumb mistakes).

1. Stay awake.
The single most important reason you have been asked to this meeting is sit and to listen. In order to give the illusion that you are actually paying attention, you need to be conscious (unless you can sleep with your eyes open).
This is especially important if you are in the audience of one of those big official conferences or meetings that are often videotaped. You don’t want to be that person that a cameraman with a sense of humor decides to zoom in on.
If the person sitting next to you is starting to bob and weave, be a team player and give them a nudge.

2. Preparation.
By preparation, I mean preparation to stay awake (back to tip #1). Do not underestimate the endurance required to stay awake for a one hour (or longer!) meeting. Think of church; or an 8:00am class after a late night. This is why companies put coffee in corporate break rooms. If coffee’s not your stimulant of choice, then “do the Dew” or a can of your favorite 5 hour energy drink.
Beware of meetings right after lunch, or if the lights dim and someone fires up what looks like a death-by-PowerPoint presentation. If you still find yourself nodding off (and oh, it’s a losing battle trying to fight it), then get up and fake a trip to the restroom. Better to suffer the embarrassment of a weak bladder than being the star of that corporate video.

3. There really are stupid questions.
The first thing you will hear from the person in front of the room is “We want this to be interactive – there are no stupid questions, so ask away”. Don’t take the bait. A stupid question will make you look stupid, no matter what they tell you. A single good question, on the other hand, can make a good first impression. However, don’t overdo it. Limit it to one – anything more comes across as grandstanding, or being socially clueless.
If the meeting is almost over – and the speaker says “well, we have time for one more question” – DO NOT be that person. That silence you hear is actually everyone holding their breath, hoping no one is going to ask that one more question.
If you leave with legitimate unanswered questions, ask one of your co-workers or your manager after the meeting.

4. Where to sit?
The back of large meeting rooms usually fill up first. Sometimes, the speaker will make everyone move to the front seats, so you end up looking like a slacker when you have to get up and shuffle to the front. I recommend the middle rows. It’s close enough to hear and see and shows commitment and interest, but far enough away to avoid looking overly ambitious.
Although you won’t see “reserved” signs on the first couple rows, they are not for you. Just like weddings and funerals, there’s often an unwritten rule that those rows are for the immediate family.

5. Keep your phone in your pocket or purse.
I know, I know, these things are addictive. I have a hard time not taking my IPhone to bed with me. However, to those running the meeting, staring down at your lap and Twittering will come across as rude. Same goes for the earbuds – take ‘em out.

6. Do some live social networking.
Department meetings were invented before Facebook and blogs, but for some reason, companies still like to have them. Take advantage of the gathering to do a little networking and relationship building. Arrive a few minutes early and hang around a few minutes after the meeting. Introduce yourself to at least one person you've never met. If you’ve never met the speaker, introduce yourself (with a nice firm handshake) and let them know what you thought of the meeting. Speakers are always looking for feedback – as long as it’s positive.

7. After the meeting.
The real meeting always happens after the meeting. That’s when employees gather in the hallways and back at the office and tell each other what they really thought and ask questions they knew enough not to ask at the meeting. It’s tempting to want to join in with the criticism, cynicism, or sarcasm. Keep it to yourself, or save it for happy hour with a few trusted co-workers. A good rule of thumb: always assume anything you say will at some point get right back to your manager or management. A little aspiring leader advice: be the person who everyone looks at to see how they should react - then be the positive optimist. Whiners suck the life out of everyone around them. Leaders energize those around them. Sorry, couldn't resist a little serious leadership development advice.

There you go. Career enhancing advice that I bet you didn’t get in your MBA program or new employee orientation. Use it to get ahead of your sleeping or clueless co-workers, or be a team player and share it with them.

How about you? Anyone have any sage advice to offer on department meeting?

*Totally made up crap.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Shift Your Intention, Change the Outcome

Guest post by author Rick Maurer:

Late last year, I was invited to revise my 1996 book, Beyond the Wall of Resistance. I was stunned to learn that the failure rate of change was still 70 percent after al these years.

There are many things that distinguish those who lead change well from those who don’t,

I only have space to tell you about one, and that’s the power of your intention. Sounds a little woo-woo, right? Bear with me, I think you’ll see just how valuable this notion of shifting our intentions can be.

There is a tendency to focus on tools and techniques as we try to get better in any endeavor whether its music, sports, graphic arts, or leadership. But skills alone don’t create mastery. I’ve worked with musicians who can play fast and high and yet its hard to find the music within that flurry of sound. Clearly, we need to have skills, but that’s not where it should start. It starts with clear intention.

1. Identify Your Intention

If I could follow you around and ask you what your intention is at various moments as you lead a major change, you might be surprised at your responses. Getting past the fact that most of us don’t think a lot about our intention before we act, you might say, “Well, my goal was to. . .”

Goals and intentions are different. A goal is what we want to accomplish. Intention is the way in which we want to meet that goal. So, for example, let’s say my goal is to get a project completed on time and within budget. Then you ask, “So, Rick, what’s your intention?” And I draw a blank. And that lack of knowing my intention could mark the difference between success and failure.

If my goal is to bring this project in on time and within budget, there are many ways in which I could intend to get that accomplished. For example, my intention might be. . .

• To get everyone engaged in planning and implementation, or

• To seek advice from people who I respect, or

• To demand compliance from everyone, or

• To hire mercenaries (or consultants) to make sure the job gets done right.

Each of those intentions brings with it very different sets of behaviors from me and those who fall under the spell of this way of working.

Ask yourself, what would I like my intention to be when I lead a major change? Here are some things to prompt your thinking:

• to learn from successes and failures

• to be willing to be influenced by others

• to believe in people’s capacity to change

2. Find Your Pattern

Most of us have habitual ways of doing things. Our intentions usually don’t change dramatically unless we choose to revise them.

Consider writing a story of how you led a change with some detail. Don’t evaluate as you tell your story, just tell it. For example, don’t write “we held a planning meeting, a bunch of people came, it worked pretty well, and then we assigned tasks. . .” Rather, “I worked with my senior team to design the agenda for a planning meeting that involved close to 100 people from various functions and levels in the organization. Not everyone on my team agreed with my desire to get so many people involved. We discussed the pros and cons of various approaches. . .” The difference is that the second example provides more context. As you recall that story, you should feel like you are reliving the experience.

Step back and imagine that this is someone else’s story. What would you say his or her overall mindset was and what were this person’s intentions along the way. In particular, look at:

• How you got things started

• Who you included and who you either chose to exclude or “forgot” to include

• How you responded when people pushed back with some emotion

• Points where your leadership was put to a test. What did you do during those times?

This retrospective look at how you lead change can give you a much better picture of your mindset and intentions, Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, “it is in the trifles – when he is off guard that a man best reveals his character.” (Same goes for women, but apparently Schopenhauer didn’t know that.)

3. Get Under the Hood

Sometimes you’ve got to lift up the hood to see why the car isn’t running the way you’d like. In Immunity to Change, Kegan and Lahey invite people to identify what they truly want and then list all the things that they are doing or not doing that works against that goal.

That’s a great thing to do with regard to your intentions as a leader of change: identify the things you currently are doing – or not doing -- that gets in the way of embodying that way of approaching change.

Getting under the hood keeps you (and me) from pretending that we really are living consistently with what we espouse.

In Kegan and Lahey call these “hidden commitments.” They believe that these commitments have as much power as our conscious and “more noble” aspirations. For example, say that I want to be influenced by your thinking on a particular issue that is near and dear to both of us. And, once I scratch the surface, I realize that I am also committed to preserving my status as the brightest guy in the room. (This is a rather common set of conflicting goals that you find in many organizations.)

Once I understand that the competing intentions and goals inside of me, then I’ve got options.

I wish you well.

This post is adapted from Rick Maurer’s book, Beyond the Wall of Resistance: Why 70% of Changes Still Fail and What You Can Do About It (Bard Press, 2010).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11: Heroes and Leaders

I'm angry, sad, and inspired today. My anger is directed at how recent political and religious controversies seem to be overshadowing what the anniversary of September 11, 2001 should be all about. I'm sad for the families and friends of the victims, and I'm inspired by the heroes and leaders that emerged from that tragedy.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to use my leadership development blog for a a post about 9/11, and decided to check my RSS reader to see what some of my favorite bloggers in this space were doing. I found this post over at Mike Myatt's N2Growth blog and was inspired to join Mike and others to help keep the memories alive.

The comments on Mike's post are moving, and includes links to other 9/11 posts, including this one by Wally Bock, and this one by Peter Mello, referring the post he did on 9/11 three years ago: Hard to Believe, Impossible to Forget.

I have to admit, I haven't watched footage of the Twin Towers attack in a while, so I watched this one (from Peter's post) with my wife this morning, reliving the the moment together. The video should be required viewing by anyone old enough to remember and especially for those too young to remember:

Peter also includes a video from the website called that commemorates the maritime professionals, vessels and companies who responded that day.  As I watched that one, and heard about how those heroes turned their boats towards the burning building, I was overcome. There were so many unsung heroes and leaders like this that we never heard about, and that's what this day should be about.

I'll end this tribute with David Bowie's amazing performance at the Concert for New York City, "Heroes". Crank it up, and remember.

How about you? What do you remember? Where were you, what were you doing, and what does 9/11 mean to you?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Reorganizations: Don’t Just Shake up the Bird Cage

I’ve heard some employees call frequent, questionable reorganizations “shaking up the bird cage”. You get a lot of noisy chaos and ruffled feathers flying, and at the end of the say, the same bunch would just be sitting on different perches, albeit a little dizzy from all of the cage rattling. Nothing else seems to change.

That kind of a cynical reaction is often the result of an organizational design process that started and ended with an organization chart. It’s also a result of a lack of communication and change leadership. People don’t understand the rationale, so they fill in the blanks with cynicism and skepticism. Unfortunately, it’s often justified.

I’ve been involved in enough of these - as a manager, outside advisor, and recipient - to have learned a few lessons. 

Here are some tips that I hope will help the next time you’re thinking of re-drawing that org chart:

Why Reorganize?

Most managers don’t decide to reorganize on a whim - it just seems that way, usually because of a poor design or lack of communication.

The typical reasons a manager decides it’s time to reorganize are:

1. A key person has left, leaving a void and an opportunity to question the existing structure. Like it or not, management org charts are usually built around individuals, not “positions”. When a key individual departs, the rationale for the position often leaves with them.

2. There are problems (inefficiency, talent mis-matches, overlapping or underlapping roles, or other operational issues). Work is not getting done, and/or it’s not being done well.

3. It’s required in order to seize a new opportunity (new market, product, service, etc…). Your current structure just wasn’t designed to support your new business objectives.

While these are all good reasons, it’s important to consider reorganizing as just one possible alternative. There are often lots of less disruptive ways to achieve the same objectives.

Who should be involved?

This one’s always been tricky. If it’s just the manager, there’s a missed opportunity for critical input and buy-in. If it’s the entire management team or more, it can be too slow and natural self-serving interests get in the way of doing what’s best for the business.

The best choice is usually something in-between, the manager and a small team of trusted advisers. They are usually the individuals who have enough confidence in their future with the new organization to be able to put their own interests aside.

The “process”

I’m sure there are ALL kinds of ways to go about this. I’ve pulled all-nighters in rooms with dozens of flipcharts and post-it notes and take-out food containers, and it’s never come close to what I’ve learned in the books and courses.

Believe me, there is no perfect science to how to do it, but here’s a few things that seem to work:

1. Start with a strategy.
It’s critical to know where the organization or team is going – what’s important, what’s not, what are the goals, etc…. Yes, this sounds pretty basic, but it’s an often overlooked step. Don’t have a strategy? Then maybe it’s time to create one before you start messing with the org chart. Structure should always follow strategy.

2. Develop your criteria.
List the problems you are trying to solve and/or opportunities. Then weight (H,M,L) each one. This becomes the criteria that you’ll use to evaluate design alternatives and to measure your success.

3. Develop and evaluate design alternatives.
I’ve seen a lot of teams fall in love with one idea and then spend all of their time trying to justify it or make it perfect. Instead, try to come up with multiple alternatives (3-4), and then rank those against your criteria. The reality is none of the options will ever be perfect. Take the best one, and then come up with action plans to mitigate the risks.

This is also a good time to discuss other alternatives that DON’T involve reorganizing. Sometimes, the best change is no change.

4. Test the final design with scenarios.
Spend time testing the design by discussing how various business processes would work within the new structure. These “what if” discussions help fine tune the structure and clarify roles.

Change Leadership

Even the most perfect design could fail to meet your objectives - or take a lot longer – if there’s no change plan. At the risk of again oversimplifying a very complex topic, there are two critical things to pay attention to: communication and involvement.

Communication needs to be much more than one-way announcements about the change. Stakeholders, including employees, will be more likely to get on board if you not only share the “what” and “why”, but tell them about the alternatives you didn’t consider and why you didn’t. Let them know you realize there is no one perfect choice – acknowledge the potential disadvantages of the choice you made – and share your plans to address those areas. This kind of candor and authenticity is way better than trying to “sell” your change as the perfect solution. When it comes to organization structure, there is no perfect design. Every design has its inherent flaws – it’s a matter of picking the lesser of evils. If you treat people like intelligent adults, you’ll get the same amount of respect and support in return.

Don’t expect people to understand it or buy into it right away – chance are you didn’t either (remember “the marathon effect”).

More importantly, ask for their help in making it work. This is where involvement comes into play. People will support what they help create. While they may not have had an opportunity to create the new organizational structure, they can play a huge part of implementing the structure. It’s yet another opportunity to get valuable input in order to further fine-tune the structure.

How about you? We’ve all been through re-orgs before – what have you seen that has worked well, and what have you seen that has not worked so well?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Uncrapify Your Life - How to Criticize Others

A short guest post by speaker, author, and former comedian Jeff Havens:

Hello. I’m Jeff Havens, here to help you become the worst you can be. Today we’re going to focus on how to more effectively criticize others. Now I’m sure some of you are thinking, “That doesn’t seem very nice.” And it isn’t. That’s not the point. Pay attention, people, the purpose of this article is to help you uncrapify your life, not anybody else’s. And seriously, what could make you feel better than making those around you feel bad? This is something you’ve been doing since you were a child. But until now your efforts have been those of an amateur. I, however, am a professional. I’ve been criticizing people for a living now for the past seven years, and I’ve developed a foolproof system to help you feel better at the expense of those around you.

The first step is to frame your criticism with a well-chosen phrase that makes it sound like you’re actually trying to help the person you’re about to insult; that way, you will get the most pleasure out of their shock and pain. “No offense…,” for example, is an excellent choice for two reasons. First, nobody in the history of the world has ever said “No offense…” without following it with something moderately or entirely offensive. But more importantly, if the person you’re talking to gets upset, it’s really their fault, isn’t it? You weren’t trying to offend them – you just said so! – and they should really try to lighten up a bit. It’s airtight, and there are a lot of other phrases that are just as effective. “Don’t take this the wrong way…,” “I don’t mean to sound rude…,” “This isn’t going to sound the way I mean it…” – you get the idea.

The second step is the actual criticism itself – the meat of the insult, the heart of the wounding. All you have to do here is be original and descriptive. You want to hit people with something they aren’t expecting. “I don’t like you,” for example, is a very common insult, and as such is relatively ineffective at getting a reaction out of people. But if you were to walk up to a family member or coworker and say, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope you contract an intestinal parasite” – you’ll get so much more joy out of the expression on their face. The best insults take time to formulate, but the reward is well worth the time and trouble.

Now I suppose this approach could work both ways. That is, you could theoretically create original, descriptive, and meaningful compliments and praises for those around you. All of us need to hear those things from time to time, and just about anything is better than a half-hearted “Good job!” that sounds more like a way to fill silence than it does an earnest attempt at sincerity. I mean, just imagine the difference that a single word can make. “I love you” is well and good, but you’ve also said it a million times. But when was the last time you told your children or your spouse “I adore you,” or “I cherish you”?


No. Never mind. Forget I said anything.

About Jeff Havens

Jeff Havens is a former comedian turned college and corporate speaker. His newest book, How to Get Fired!: The New Employee’s Guide to Perpetual Unemployment, is available in all popular retail outlets and online at and

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The September Leadership Development Carnival Back to Football Edition

Welcome to the September 5th, 2010 Leadership Development Carnival Back to Football edition! Yes, Fall is in the air, and the NFL kicks off it's season this Thursday with a rematch of last year's NFC championship game - the Saints and the Vikings.

To get in the spirit of the season, this month's Carnival is set up as if you're watching the big game, from tailgating to post game highlights. So grab your favorite snack and beverage and get ready for some championship caliber leadership development advice and opinions from some of the best bloggers in the league.

BTW, The United Way and the NFL are teaming up for the first Back to Football Friday, a celebration of the start of the NFL season and an effort to promote youth health and wellness on Friday, September 10. They are encouraging fans of all ages to show their NFL team pride at work or with their friends by wearing their favorite team’s gear or colors and planning parties, and to join the United Way and NFL's campaign to end childhood obesity. Anyone who registers is eligible to win a trip for two to Super Bowl XLV. One winning workplace will receive a visit from an NFL player at an NFL-hosted office party. Find out how to get involved here:

The tailgate party:

We'll start this month's edition with a little warm-up in the parking lot.

Erin Schreyer and Mike Henry team up to give us some spicy grub with What Really Makes You a Leader? posted at Lead Change Group. Seems like everyone has an opinion on this one, with over 70 comments.

David Burkus gives us a bucket of my favorite food, with My Buffalo Wild Wings Rant posted at LeaderLab.

Jason Seiden brought the paper plates and napkins, with Life Is Messy posted at Fail Spectacularly!.

Who brought the beer? None other than Sharlyn Lauby, with The Business Case for Managing Ourselves posted at HR Bartender,

and Mark Stelzner, with  Why Morons Win posted at Inflexion Point.


The game starts with a bang with lots of high scoring action! Here's Jane Perdue, our HR Goddess, with Excellence ? 1; Perfectionism ? 0 posted at Get Your Leadership BIG On!.

First to score is Art Petty with Leadership Caffeine-Give Your People Room to Run posted at Management Excellence.

Kevin W. Grossman gets a sack with Influential Leadership Can Trump Gender Bias posted at Leaders. Better. Brighter.™ The Glowan Consulting Group L3 Blog.

Bret Simmons is penalized for unnecessary roughness with Remarkably Unprofessional Behavior | Bret L. Simmons - Positive Organizational Behavior posted at Bret L. Simmons - Positive Organizational Behavior.

Wally Bock gives some veteran advice to the rookies in the huddle, with Simple Leadership Basics posted at Three Star Leadership Blog.

The 2nd quarter:

Jennifer V. Miller starts the 2nd quarter with a trick play -  The Z Factor posted at The People Equation.

Jim Stroup counters with something from his playbook, with his review of "Good Boss, Bad Boss", posted at Managing Leadership.

Mary Jo Asmus has some great coaching advice of her own, with On Being a Coach, posted at Aspire-CS.

Bill Matthies does a little end-zone celebration with Let The Good Times Roll (But Plan For The Bad) posted at Business Wisdom: Words to Manage By.

To close the half, Alice Snell puts it through the uprights for three points with Hardwiring Performance posted at Taleo Blog - Talent Management Solutions.

Halftime entertainment:

We've got a great musical line-up for your halftime entertainment! Miki Saxon starts it off with a couple hits from her latest album, Ducks in a Row, with Triple A Culture is One of the Worst, and Don't be Pizzled, Build a RAT Culture, at MAPping Company Success. What the heck is "pizzled"? You'll have to read the post to find out.

Anne Perschel brings out her amazing leaping leadership frogs, with  Leadership Leap Frog - How to Keep on Learning posted at Germane Insights.

Glain Roberts-McCabe brings back a classic band with Leadership Lessons from Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage a rockin’ focus on goals | RoundtableTalk posted at RoundtableTalk.

Adi Gaskell gets the crowd fired up with 7 ways to schmooze your way to the top posted at The Management Blog.

David Zinger closes out the entertainment with Employee Engagement, Self-Efficacy and Albert Bandura posted at David Zinger Employee Engagement.

The Third Quarter:

Bengamin McCall starts off the second half with an onside kick, with Your Title is Boss, not Jerk, posted at REThink HR.

Nissim Ziv recovers a fumble with How would you Describe Your Leadership Style? posted at Job Interview & Career Guide.

Kris Routch breaks a long run with Leadership Lessons from a 16-Year-Old, posted at DDI’s Talent Management Intelligence blog.

Nick McCormick is up in the booth looking for answers, with Ask Yourself, "What Can I Do?" posted at Joe and Wanda on Management.

Andy Klein runs a draw play for big yardage with Organisational change needs leadership of employee creativity posted at Fortune Group Blog.

The Fourth Quarter:

This game is a nail-biter, so stay with us.

Michael Lee Stallard returns a punt for a big gain with Burnout Results From Living in Conflict with Values posted at Michael Lee Stallard.

Michael Cardus reminds us that there's no "I" in "teamwork" with Leaders develop structure for teams posted at Create-Learning Team Building & Leadership Blog.

Mike King runs an all out blitz with Examining Your Own Belief Structure posted at Learn This.

Sylvia Lafair runs a creative play with Leadership, Creativity and Getting Unstuck posted at Sylvia Lafair - "Elegant Leadership".

And right at the final gun, Chris Stowell runs it in for a score with Leadership Is Needed Now: Don't Wait To Develop Your People posted at Leadership In Action.

The post game show:

Mike Miranda checks in on the NBA highlights, and gives us Lebron…meh…Gen Y has done Better! posted at Y the World Goes 'Round.

Lois Melbourne reviews the highlights with Be an Accountable Leader and Get to Lunch First!

Kathy C does the locker room interviews with Preparing to Interview a Job Candidate posted at The Thriving Small Business.

Dallas Burrows breaks down the Xs and Os with What Exactly Is Management Theory? posted at Biz-gasm.

Elyse Nielsen presents the game ball with Searching for Healthcare IT Leadership - Uncovering Your IT Practices posted at Anticlue.

Bob Lieberman interviews the coaches and gives us Teaching Leadership Skills posted at Cultivating Creativity – Developing Leaders for the Creative Economy.

That's it for this month's edition! The October 3rd edition will be hosted by Mary Jo Asmus at Aspire-CS.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How to Read Your Way into the Executive Suite

Here's an eye-opening and provacative post by Brad Smart, reprinted with his permission from his Topgrading blog:

A Player executives have very common reading habits, and what they read varies dramatically from what C Players and lower level managers read. For anyone aspiring to be a successful CEO, or a C-level executive, emulating the reading habits of the best and the brightest might give you an edge.

Sorting through my hard copy files of 6,500+ senior executives I focused on C-level executives (CEOs and those reporting to CEOs) who are North American, and only those whom I rated "A Player." There are about 500 in the sample.

First I'll report the results, and then explain why those executives believe their reading habits give them a competitive advantage in their career.

The Results of the Study: What Periodicals A Player Executives Read:

1. Wall Street Journal - Almost all read the front page and in the Opinion section, the Review and Outlook column (this column, in my sample, is the single most powerful source of political thought for senior executives).

For all the remaining periodicals, most executives skim them and only read a few articles.

2. Forbes
3. Fortune
4. BusinessWeek
5. The Economist
6. trade publications (all skim their industry "rags")
7. New York Times
8. local newspapers - almost all skim one or two

Over the past 3½ decades the above list has hardly changed, although many executives read online versions these days, supplementing reading these publications with headlines and 1-paragraph "articles" they receive as soon as they turn on their PC. Younger executives (in the 30's or younger) read much less than their older counterparts, and small company (fewer than 500 employees) read much less than Global 1000 executives.

What Books Do They Read?

The bigger company executives read a couple of books per month, typically one fiction (for relaxation) and one good, solid non-fiction book - topics such as how international politics impacts business, best sellers such as Good to Great (Collins), and books on strategy, and finance (understanding the subtle implications of finance/accounting/M & A). Recently Kindle and iPad have captured the imagination of only a small percentage of our sample, but they are enthusiasts! AudioTech Book Summaries is a great way to get written and audio summaries of books.

TV and Radio Sources of Information

Most top executives watch national and international news, particularly business news, programs, daily. And when in a car they sometimes listen to news stations. But they say that what they read gives them the most in-depth understanding.

How to "Skim" Articles

You might wonder how busy executives have time to, as listed above, "skim" so many periodicals. Any business writer knows the answer: as a writer you use the first sentence in each paragraph to say what you're going to say, and then you say it. So, to skim and get most of the "meat," read the first sentence of each paragraph.

How to Read Your Way into the Executive Suite

Forgive my cute title; I'm dramatizing a truth that most mid-managers simply don't get: if you want to BE an executive, THINK like an executive, and in order to do that, READ what the best, brightest, A Player executives read.

We don't assess or coach many mid-managers, but we conduct a lot of 2-day Topgrading workshops, and during meals and breaks we frequently find out what mid-managers read. Those who will not break into the C suite read mostly sports and entertainment magazines, and almost no books.

And most mid-mangers bore the heck out of A Player top executives. I can see it at lunches in which the top team dines with lower-level managers. Top executives in global companies know that international and domestic policies of 30 nations will affect their business, and if they are tuned into the powerful underlying forces in the world, and their competitors aren't, they win. And they want their peers and rising stars to be global in their views as well.

So in hundreds of lunches we've seen a typical scenario play out, in which a top executive is testing, to see which mid-managers have that global perspective:

CEO: "So, are oil prices going to go up or down?"

Mid-manager: "There are 5 factors pushing up and as many down," (whether the answer is up or down is irrelevant; what the CEO wants to see is a globally sophisticated response from a manager who reads, learns, analyzes, connects the dots, and forms an opinion).

Other CEO-instigated discussions in the past couple of years:

"How will an Israeli attack on Iran nuclear facilities affect our business?"

"Will the Chinese float their currency, and if they do, what will the impact be on our company?"

"Is now a good time to buy back our stock?"

"What acquisitions, if any, make sense for us?"

"How will likely tax rates in the next couple of years affect our business?"

Too often such questions are met with an awkward silence, with mid-managers embarrassed and their expressions are daffy. "I dunno," they say, raising their shoulders. And if the CEO asks, "What do you folks read?" the awkward silence tells all.

What Reading Habits Drive CEOs Nuts

Many CEOs have complained, "Young managers these days live in their own little narcissistic world, and find current events boring and depressing. Too many mid-managers these days think like technical professionals, specialists who will never understand the big picture. Stated bluntly, they are not well-read and they are not well-informed."

Why Reading Your Way into the Executive Suite Works

About a zillion years ago I entered grad school, and mentor, Dr. Bob Perloff, who became President of the American Psychological Association, said, "Brad, to get out of here (Purdue) with a doctorate, all you have to do is make the professors think of you as their peer." Good advice - translated it meant sure, get the grades and do the papers, but more than that find out what the professors read, what conferences they attend, what issues they exuded passion over, how they think.

That's what A Player CEOs want - direct reports and high potential lower level managers they consider peers, who share their concerns for not just how tactical issues should be addressed, but how world and national issues and policies will affect the business.

SUMMARY: To be an A Player top executive, learn what the CEO and other top executives think about, what global/national/business issues they are passionate about, and to get inside their brain - read what they read, so they consider you well-read, and well-informed.

Note from Dan: So what do you think of Brad's advice? Is it more about "looking good" than "being good", or is it about developing a genuine CEO mindset? How about the reading list - any surprises?