Monday, June 27, 2011

Should Salaries be Completely Transparent?

I have a confession to make. When I was an HR Manager, I used to look up how much money people in my company made.

Sure, mostly I had to, as a routine part of my job. I had to help managers determine how to divide up tiny merit pay budgets, administer bonus plans, and establish pay for job offers.

However, there were those times when I was just curious to see what that guy over in procurement was making that was always giving me a hard time. If I found out he wasn’t making much, I was more likely to cut him some slack. However, if he was making more than me, I was less tolerant, and expected him to earn those big bucks.

At the time, I wasn’t violating any policy, although sometimes I felt like a peeping Tom. Maybe airport screeners feel the same way.

When I left HR, I heard they made a rule that said HR could no longer “salary surf”. That is, unless it was for a specific job related need, no more peeking. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with a need to know.

Most companies guard compensation information like Coke guards its secret cola formula. I did too. Loose lips sink ships and all that. Having been involved in succession planning work most of my career, I know the importance of confidentially and can keep secrets as well as anyone, even when subjected to corporate waterboarding. I may have peeked, but I never shared.

I once heard a consultant suggest that HR should post everyone’s salary on the company intranet. At the time, I thought the suggestion was naïve, disrespectful, invasive, and potentially destructive. Can you imagine the chaos and anarchy that would result if anyone could peek at anyone’s salary? It might even contribute to global warming.

Some companies won’t even publish salary ranges. Seriously!

Manager: “Sue, I can’t give you an increase, because it would put you at the top of your range.”
Employee: “Really?” What’s my range?”
Manager: “I can’t tell you that.”

Well, guess what? I now work for an organization where every year, the local newspaper publishes a complete list of what every employee makes. It’s called a public university. Apparently this is quite common in the transparent world of academia. Or perhaps it’s just unique to New Hampshire, with a motto like “live free or die”. They publish all of the state worker’s salaries as well.

Now, instead of just my coworkers knowing what I make, my friends and neighbors will know as well. BTW, before you develop eye strain trying to find my name, the most recent list is from 2010, before I started.

The funny thing is, when you lift the veil of secrecy, after the initial curiosity, it’s not a big deal at all. Work still gets done, people don’t obsess over it, and maybe it even helps create a greater degree of accountability. I guess people just get used to it.

But I’m not totally used to it yet. I still feel like the public has no business knowing how much some firefighter makes. However, if we all knew what each other made, would it really matter? With Zillow, we know how much our neighbors paid for their homes. Publicly traded companies publish their officer’s salaries in their annual report. We know how much professional athletes and entertainers make.

In these days of Facebook, we have entire generation entering the workforce that doesn’t seem to care about sharing the most personal aspects of their lives with the world.

Maybe that consultant wasn’t so wacky after all. It could change the way we introduce ourselves at training programs, networking events, and game shows. “Our next contestant is Jack, a real estate agent from Spokane, Washington, who didn’t have a very good year last year, making only $23,000 in a tough market.”

How about you? Can anybody give us one good reason why companies shouldn’t publish every employee’s salary?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Three Simple Tips to Strategize in Times Of Uncertainty

Guest post by AmyK Hutchens:

It is no secret that the past few years have been tough on many businesses.  During our recent political in-fighting and economic uncertainty, businesses leaders had their nose to the grindstone striving to do more with less. 

But as the economy slowly begins to improve and the dust starts to clear, many in management are starting to realize a key problem with the old strategy.  Everyone was so focused on surviving and cutting that they have no strategic initiatives…no clear next steps, vision or, in many cases, energy. Leaders are suffering from their own business hangovers.

As a manager, how can you get back to the business of strategizing and leading again?  Here are three quick and easy tips that any business leader can practice to immediately improve his/her leadership performance:

1. Focus on energy, not time.
Energy, not time, is an essential element of productivity and growth.  Have you ever noticed when you have endless high-energy and excitement you are more alert, focused, positive and productive? In fact, energy is what makes time more valuable. Time is a constant; energy is a manageable, renewable resource. What's burning your energy and what refuels it?  Physically? Mentally? Emotionally? Spiritually?

This question applies to your company as well. What's burning the energy of the company and what refuels it with respect to your strategy, operations, financial and people resources? Your answers will influence your strategy for energy management within the constraints of time and how you maximize the year ahead.

2. Focus on each conversation.
Leadership happens one conversation at a time. You are responsible for the quality of each and every conversation. Slow down and brainstorm what you want to say and how you want to express it prior to speaking or typing.  Ask yourself, What is the ideal outcome of this conversation? and then focus on two to three thought-provoking questions that you can ask to create your ideal outcome.

The brain is triggered by starts and stops. Create a positive filter when you begin a conversation by having an opening declaration or question that frames your ideal outcome, i.e. How might we best increase our sales 10%? is a much better way to start a meeting than Our sales are down and we better figure out how to turn them around! When you bring a conversation to a close, your last words linger. Utilize action statements to close conversations where you need increased accountability, or use persuasive, emotion laden comments when you need engagement and buy-in. For example, I look forward to seeing your first marketing draft on Tuesday at 4pm or I'm really excited to hear your creative  ideas for this exciting new product launch next Thursday at 9am are ideal closers.

For meeting prep, devote at least five minutes to think of three to five questions that will serve as your agenda and foster more critical and creative thinking. These five minutes will save you hours down the road.

3. Focus on creating internal alignment.
Only when your values and passions match your actions will you find peace. Step back and ask yourself: What am I resisting? What am I judging?  What am I attached to?  When people resist it means they are stuck. Stuck from fear.  Uncover the specific fear so you can address it and decrease resistance. Uncovering internal judgments and attachments allows you to uncover tension. Where there's tension, there's no clarity and acceptance.  When you gain clarity and compassion you reduce tension and risk and are more willing to try a new approach. Last but not least, what three rules do you live by that you wouldn't change anytime for anyone? Answer these questions and you’ll gain clarity, insight and a foundation for momentous success.

AmyK Hutchens, Founder and Intelligence Activist, AmyK International, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and business strategist. Having made over 800 presentations around the globe and worked with more than 20,000 executives on leadership and sales, AmyK and her team teach executives how to lead and sales teams how to sell…successfully. Follow AmyK on Twitter @AmyKinc or visit

This post is brought to you by Jobboom, the place to find sales jobs and more.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

And the Big Winner is.........

Alyssa Campanella, Miss California!! Congratulations, Alyssa, for winning the Miss USA pageant!!

But wait, Alyssa isn't the only big winner in the news this week.

The inaugural issue of the Leadership Development Roundtable Challenge introduced us to Rob, a new manager hired to come in and shake things up and drive change. However, when Rob wanted to take action to put the leadership team in place he felt he needed to succeed, he was met with resistance from HR and his boss’s boss.

Seven leadership development experts were asked what they would do if they were Rob, or what advice they would give Rob. There was also no shortage of reader opinions as to what Rob should have done or should do.

The experts and our readers seemed to be split right down the middle on this issue. Many felt Rob was the problem, with comments like:

“Rob sounds like a bit of a jerk”

• “Rob appears to be a victim of a growing epidemic among corporate leaders. They’re so busy doing that they can’t see what really needs to be done”

• “I would advise Rob to be open about his employees’ potential and hire a coach for himself to assist him in tempering his aggressiveness and find new ways to lead these employees”

• “Rob may have misread the organization’s culture and tried to push too hard too soon”

• “I'd have Rob work on his leadership presence”

Others were more in Rob’s camp:

“I cannot assume anything is wrong with Rob. Maybe Rob is the "one" with insight”

• “There is nothing wrong with Rob's approach”

• “The underlying issue is not Rob; it’s his boss”

• “Unfortunately, you want to use a Ferrari to arrive at your destination and it appears that key players in your firm would rather you use a skateboard”

However, the voice of reason and the “winner” of this month’s challenge is Art Petty, from
Management Excellence, who offered the following advice:

I’ve been “New Guy Rob” before, and I appreciate the dilemma. The burning issue of solving the “underperforming” problem is running head-on into the organization’s discomfort with rapid change.

For future reference, Rob must recognize that he erred on the front-end of the transaction by not gaining a clear understanding of the mandate and support for change from his new bosses. Having said that, my recommendation is for Rob to focus his energies on strategy and execution and spend a bit more time (90 days to six months) objectively assessing the talent he inherited. He might just be surprised.

The “rush to replace” is almost instinctive for new leaders and often wrong. Rob does not have a clear view to the capabilities of each of the managers, and is better served focusing on resetting strategy, execution and operations, and assessing talent as he goes. Some managers thrive with new challenges and others show their weaknesses or lack of commitment. Additionally, strategy must drive talent needs…not Rob’s gut-level assessment of people.

Bottom-line: focus on the business Rob. Assess talent under fire, involve your bosses and HR in the strategy work and on-going talent assessment, and then make fast, fair, informed decisions.

Congratulations, Art. The way you sized up the situation, your ability to see both sides, and your practical advice seemed to resonate with the voters. I think even Tom Peters would have to agree with you on this one (Art’s has had the honor of being shot down by Tom in an online discussion forum. I’m sure winning this month’s challenge helps to heal that wound).

By the way, if case you have not guessed the story of Rob is based on a true story. When I first heard about the changes Rob wanted to make, I was on his side and supported him. I thought his bosses boss was a slow, overly conservative decision maker, and HR was being unrealistic and too “by the book”. I thought Rob’s assessment of his management team was pretty darn accurate, he had a solid vision, strategy, and plan, and he had an urgent mandate for change.

He ended up having to slow down and work with “the cards he was dealt”, as one reader put it. Later he admitted that he may have been too fast to judge, and a couple of his managers stepped up to the challenge and really surprised him. He couldn’t move as fast as he wanted to and had to scale back his expectations, but at the end of the day, the business survived.

I hope readers understand that receiving the highest number of votes does not mean it’s the “right” answer, nor does receiving fewer votes mean it’s a “bad” answer. The voting and reader’s comments are only an indication of how our readers are responding to our advice, and it’s a way to have a little fun in a competitive way. In real life, the best coaches and consultants often give advice that our client’s don’t always want to hear, however, it’s what they need to hear.

So the loser said. (-:

The Roundtable members will be gunning to topple Art when he hosts the next Leadership Development Roundtable Challenge on July 13th. What will he pick for a challange? Who will he select as his guest expert? Who will be the next winner? That will be up to you to decide!

As they say in billiards, loser racks ‘em and winner breaks.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Introducing the Leadership Development Roundtable Challenge!

I'm pleased to introduce the new Leadership Development Roundtable Challenge!

Each month, a core member of The Roundtable will introduce a leadership challenge and a solicit a 200 word maximum answer from the other core members plus one special guest. Readers can then contribute their own answers and/or vote for their favorite.

Here are your Roundtable hosts:

1. Dan McCarthy, from Great Leadership

2. Art Petty, from Management Excellence

3. Mary Jo Asmus, from Mary Jo Asmus

4. Steve Roesler, from All Things Workplace

5. Jennifer Miller, from The People Equation

6. Scott Eblin, from The Next Level

7. This month's special guest: John Baldoni, from Lead by Example

Here's this month's challenge:

Rob was recently brought in to take over as the new General Manager of Operations for a large, established, mid-size (4 billion in revenue) company. The unit has been under performing, and the Vice-President (his manager) thought it was time for a change. The incumbent “left to pursue other opportunities and spend more time with family” and it was determined there were no viable internal replacements (although a couple members of Rob’s team thought they should have been considered).

Rob has a stellar track record, impressive credentials, and appears to be the right person to drive change and get results. Rob’s manager loves his passion and aggressiveness.

After 30 days on the job, Rob has interviewed each of his direct report managers and reviewed their performance data, and has determined before he can do anything, he needs to get “the right people on the bus”, and do it ASAP. He feels that while two of the managers may someday be able to grow into the role and meet his expectations, the other four don’t stand a chance. It’s not that they are bad managers – in fact, all have over 10 years’ service with no significant performance issues. However, Rob feels none of them have had the necessary experience or skills needed to take the business where it needs to go, and he doesn’t have the luxury (or time) to get them there. After all, according to Rob “Jack Welch said one of his biggest mistakes as a leader was not moving fast enough”.

He’s gone to HR to explore removal options, and he’s running into resistance. HR says because there is no previous documentation of any performance problems, each of the managers must be put on six month action plans, with measurable improvement milestones, and given access to training and coaching. While his boss (the VP) supports Rob, his bosses boss is concerned Rob is being too aggressive. “That’s just not the way we do things around here”, he said.

Rob is frustrated. He thought he had a mandate to drive change and turn a poorly performing operation around. Now he’s not so sure, and doesn’t know what to do next.

What would you do if you were Rob? What, if anything did he do wrong? What advice would you give Rob, or any manager in a similar situation? Is there a “rule of thumb” regarding how long a manager should wait to make changes when taking over a new team?

Here's the advice from "the experts":

From Dan McCarthy (written before I read the other answers):

Rob may have misread the organization’s culture and tried to push too hard too soon. It also sounds like his boss’s boss and HR are not on board with his plans.  Here’s what I would recommend to Rob:
1. Talk to your boss about getting his/her boss on board with your plans, as well as HR. Perhaps the four of you can sit down with a performance and potential matrix and come up with a consensus assessment of your management team and action plans.

2. For the managers who are seen as having long-term potential, make sure they know where they stand. Get them involved in creating and implementing your vision and creating robust individual development plans.
3. For the other managers, have a respectful yet honest discussion with them about where they stand and work with them develop action plans and provide them the support they deserve. Give them 6 months to meet your expectations or find new roles – they’ve earned that.

4. Begin to recruit the talent you need and bring them in at a higher level. Make sure you hire managers who can coach and are willing to develop your managers who end up staying.

From Art Petty:

I’ve been “New Guy Rob” before, and I appreciate the dilemma. The burning issue of solving the “underperforming” problem is running head-on into the organization’s discomfort with rapid change.

For future reference, Rob must recognize that he erred on the front-end of the transaction by not gaining a clear understanding of the mandate and support for change from his new bosses. Having said that, my recommendation is for Rob to focus his energies on strategy and execution and spend a bit more time (90 days to six months) objectively assessing the talent he inherited. He might just be surprised.

The “rush to replace” is almost instinctive for new leaders and often wrong. Rob does not have a clear view to the capabilities of each of the managers, and is better served focusing on resetting strategy, execution and operations, and assessing talent as he goes. Some managers thrive with new challenges and others show their weaknesses or lack of commitment. Additionally, strategy must drive talent needs…not Rob’s gut-level assessment of people.

Bottom-line: focus on the business Rob. Assess talent under fire, involve your bosses and HR in the strategy work and on-going talent assessment, and then make fast, fair, informed decisions.

From Mary Jo Asmus:

Rob appears to have assumed that his mandate and timeline for organizational change was more urgent to him than to his senior management; he should clarify the timeline. He should also look at himself for the answers to this dilemma.

Two key words that describe Rob in this scenario caught my attention: “passion” and “aggressiveness”. Both traits when over used can show up in behaviors like impatience and forcefulness, a deadly combination that can derail a leader. I fear Rob may exhibit these traits.

Rob has rendered an opinion of his employees on his own, without significant documented performance issues. If they are managed and coached well (by Rob) he might find that they are the right people for the bus. He’ll need to exercise some patience in his expectations.
I would advise Rob to be open about his employees’ potential and hire a coach for himself to assist him in tempering his aggressiveness and find new ways to lead these employees. He might be surprised at what they are capable of.  If any of them don’t measure up, he should work with HR on the performance issues.

From Steve Roesler

At least two things are going on organizationally:

1. HR is being diligent, not resistant. No prior documentation invites legal action.

2. The boss’s boss: “We don’t do that.” Rob is learning something about the culture and, perhaps, why things were the way they were in the first place.

I’d roll with the 6-month plan and be clear about the consequences of no change in performance. I’d also be touching base with potential candidates during that time.

I don’t see anything blatantly wrong. Given the task, Rob might have asked the VP (during his interview) if there was strong support from the big boss,

I’d advise others to be clear in advance about what’s possible, what’s not, and how each will impact the ability to make rapid changes. Rob now needs an agreed-upon Plan B for what will happen after six months and what kinds of results to expect in the meantime.

Rob took time to meet with the direct reports as well as review performance data. That’s a solid rule of thumb. The corporate “rule of thumb,” however, trumped Rob’s. This highlights how important it is to dig deeply before signing on to spearhead a “quick change.”

From Jennifer Miller:

It’s a good start: you’ve quickly assessed your operation; now you have a road-map for your journey.   Unfortunately, you want to use a Ferrari to arrive at your destination and it appears that key players in your firm would rather you use a skateboard.
You may have a mandate to shake things up, but right now, not everyone is “on the bus” with this idea. You’ve joined an organization with several layers of structure, not an entrepreneurial start-up, so be patient. I’ve seen many ambitious newly-hired leaders whose plans went down in flames because they were too focused on achieving results now. It’s not enough to have a solid plan; you need allies who will support the plan.

My advice:
Get clear about who holds the power in your organization. It may be true that your boss is supportive, but what kind of sway does his boss hold? If he’s resistant, you’ve got to show him how your plan benefits the company. Also— don’t underestimate HR’s unique type of power. They are the gatekeepers of company policy. Circumvent them, and they’ll make your life miserable.

Bottom line: Don’t abandon your plan. Rather, consider adjusting your timeline.

From Scott Eblin:

Rob appears to be a victim of a growing epidemic among corporate leaders.  They’re so busy doing that they can’t see what really needs to be done.   Instead of spending his first month figuring out who to fire, Rob needed to be casting his net more broadly to learn what other key stakeholders expect of his organization.  Rob is not the only person who gets to define what success looks like for his organization.  He needs to pay attention to what others think and then build a plan from there.
Once he has a clear picture of where he needs to go, he needs to then come up with a longer range plan for matching the talent of his team to the results needed in the future.  That’s likely going to mean sequencing the changes.  Is he really going to be able to find four ready now replacements at the same time?  Unlikely.  Would he be better off to key in on critical, immediate priorities for raising the quality of his team?  Likely.  And while he’s at it, he needs to get close to the head of HR.  He’s going to need support there.

From John Baldoni:

Move and move quickly, yes indeed!

Unfortunately Rob is on an island by himself and if he moves he will be in the water surrounded by sharks.

The underlying issue is not Rob; it’s his boss. Rob does not have the support he needs to effect change and for that reason he has two options: one, live with the status quo; or two, leave.

Rob could seek to bring in a one or two new executives to show the current team what it needs to do. Sometimes new blood can have a transformative effect on the organization. But would not bank on a miracle.

Rob’s credibility is at stake. He cannot effect the change he needs to effect without the support of his boss. That is not forthcoming so I would advise that Rob take his talents elsewhere.

Note: Jack Welch was an insider; he knew what levers to pull at GE. Rob has no such influence. He is a round peg trying to fit into a square hole.

OK, so you've heard from the Roundtable "experts". Now, here's your chance to cast your vote and pick your favorite answer:

Of course, feel free to add your own expert advice as a comment. Check back in a week to see which answer was the reader's favorite, and thanks for playing The Leadership Development Roundtable Challenge!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

10 Clues That You’ve Signed up for a Crappy Training Program

They say trainers are the worst trainees, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. Especially “seasoned”, errr…., “experienced” trainers like myself. It’s like trying to sell to a salesperson – they already know all of the techniques and tricks, so you can’t get away with anything.

New salesperson: “So, could we start by you telling me about your company strategy, goals, and pain points?”

Experienced cynical salesperson and potential customer: “Come on, let’s cut to the chase and tell me about whatever product or service you’re trying to sell me”.
I’ve gotten to the point where I can usually sniff out a bad training program, and try to avoid them at all costs. And if I happen to end up in a program and it looks like it’s going to be a waste of my time, I’ve been known to just not come back after the first break.

How can you spot a bad training program, without having the benefit of years and years of bad training experiences? As a training provider, I’m more than happy to pass along an insider’s secrets to recognizing a crappy training program. If you recognize any of these signs, save your money. If it’s too late and you’ve already shown up, then don’t be afraid to cut your losses and save yourself a wasted day that you can never get back.
1. A one day, mass-marketed, under $200 training program with claims that sound too good to be true. These are the puppy mills of the training industry. They are tempting because people often justify their choice by saying “well, it’s only $179.00, what do I have to lose?” You’ll lose a day of your life, and they’ll probably try to soak you for some books and CDs too. Save yourself some time and money – just buy the book.

2. A training program that sound like therapy or a religious experience, uses a lot of cosmic sounding code words, and incorporates chanting, meditation, or fire-walking. These cult-like training programs often use words like “transformational”, “life-changing”, and “empowering”. OK, so maybe not all of these programs end up being crappy – but many of them can be downright harmful. Just know what you’re getting yourself into, and don’t feel pressured to attend if you don’t really want to.
3. Lack of attention to the little details. If there’s no pre-work, vague or incomplete logistical information,  errors, poor seating arrangements, AV equipment that doesn’t work, a trainer that can’t manage breaks, late lunch, etc…. how much confidence can you have that the “meat” of the program is high quality? I know what goes into getting all of these little things right. When a trainer or organization slacks off here, it’s because they really don’t give a darn, and are just in it to make a fast buck.

4. When a trainer says something like “You’re not really going to learn anything from me – I’m really just a facilitator. The real learning is going to be from each other!” Oh really? You mean I’ve got to listen to you all day and you’re not even a subject matter expert? Sure, contributions from others are interesting, but let’s face it, they’re here for the same reason I am – it’s because we’re not experts.

5. Being forced to watch any video over 10 minutes in length. Come on, we all learned this trick in grade school, when the teacher made us watch bad science movies so they could use the time to grade papers.

6. Overuse of small group or paired discussions and journaling. Again, in moderation, these techniques can break up the monotony, encourage reflection, and enhance learning. When they are overdone, it’s usually because of lazy design or a lack of content.

7. Death by PowerPoint. Nowadays, trainers and presenters can do some amazingly creative things with tools that used to require professional production. When I see examples of these, I can really appreciate them. On the other hand, when a trainer is just reading from the slides or making me go blind with eyestrain, I start looking for the nearest exit.

8. When you see these signs of a bad trainer: shows up late, reads from notes, can’t answer questions, doesn’t even acknowledge when a hand goes up, gives condescending or arrogant answers, can’t remember your name (even after you’ve filled out one of those tent cards or stickers), can’t manage break time, disappears on breaks (instead of being available to participants), a lack of energy, dull and boring and/or doesn’t know Jack about the content. On rare occasions, I’ve seen great content and participants overcome a bad trainer, but it’s very rare.

9. A lack of course material. I don’t believe thick notebooks or slickly produced training material really do much to enhance a training program. They drive up costs and often end up either in the airport trash cans or gathering dust on shelves.  However, I hate it when a trainer takes this to the extreme and hands me a blank pad and tells me “You’ll learn more if you write it down”. OK, I don’t mind taking notes, but as least give me a copy of the slides and a few handouts and job aids.

10. No Food (other than a bowl of those little mints). “What, no morning muffins or coffee? No, I didn’t notice this was a “brown bag” session, and I didn’t bring a sandwich. And no cookies!? That’s it, I am so outta here!”  Well OK, I realize it’s supposed to be a training program, and not a free buffet….. but I have my priorities.

How about you? What are some of your favorite bad training experiences?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Four Surprising Sources of Leadership Power

Guest post by Terry R. Bacon, PhD, author of The Elements of Power.

When most of us think about the power of leaders, we think about the legitimate authority that comes with whatever role they play in the organizations they lead. CEOs are powerful because they are the chief executives of their companies; presidents are powerful because they exercise the legitimate authority vested in them by virtue of their position. But it turns out that role authority, while an important source of power for leaders, is not a leader’s greatest source of power; in fact, it’s not even among the top four.

For the past twenty years, I have been studying power and influence among leaders globally, and that research has yielded some surprising findings about where leaders derive their power. First, the old news. Four hundred years ago, Sir Francis Bacon observed that knowledge is power—and he’s right—but it is a foundational source of power, a prerequisite for being in a leadership position. Character is similar. Leaders could not build a followership without being knowledgeable or skilled in ways that are important to followers, nor would people follow them if they lacked character. Knowledge and character are essential sources of power for leaders, but they are hardly distinguishing.

What is news is the importance of attraction, which I define as the ability to draw people to you, to cause them to prefer you to others. It’s based on the psychological principles of similarity and liking. When we like someone or feel similar to them in some way, we are more likely to be influenced by them. So leaders who are more attractive are more powerful. The attraction can be physical but it may also be based on personality, warmth, caring, energy, commitment, or common values. Having these characteristics makes leaders more powerful because they are more appealing to followers. Having an abundance of these characteristics is commonly called charisma.

Another surprising finding is the importance of a leader’s reputation. This power source is based on how leaders are perceived in their communities, whether those communities are business units, companies, tribes, teams, or nations. It goes without saying that a leader’s reputation is critical—just look at Eliot Spitzer before and after news surfaced of his dalliances with a prostitute—but the research shows that leaders with good or very good reputations are more than three times as influential as leaders with average or poor reputations. Being highly thought of is so critical a source of power for leaders that they should do everything they can to protect it. Moreover, a strong reputation has a halo effect—it enhances all of a leader’s other sources of power.

One of the biggest surprises in my research was the effect of a leader’s ability to communicate. I call it expressiveness—the ability to communicate in commanding and compelling ways. It’s the power of eloquence. People with the gift of speech—like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King—are nearly four times as influential as leaders with average speaking ability. Aristotle and Plato understood the power of rhetoric. In fact, they warned against its abuse, and we witnessed that abuse in the hands of another powerful speaker—Adolf Hitler. But when the gift of speech is used ethically, it can build charisma and be an extraordinary source of power for leaders.

The biggest ah-ha from the research was the importance of will power. If you want to be more influential or have more impact as a leader, nothing matters quite as much as your desire to be more powerful coupled with the courage to act. The research shows that people with very high will power are more than ten times more influential than average leaders. Walt Whitman called the power of will personal force—the will to do something when others merely dream or talk about it. Will power—along with attraction, reputation, and expressiveness—is the secret sauce, the magic elixir that differentiates between average leaders and those who become exceptionally powerful.

Terry R. Bacon, PhD, is the author of The Elements of Power. He has been a thought leader, coach, and consultant to global businesses in leadership, management, and interpersonal skills for more than thirty years. In 1989, he founded Lore International Insti¬tute, a widely respected executive development firm recently acquired by the Korn/Ferry Institute, where he currently serves as a Scholar in Residence. For more on Terry and his works, see or

Friday, June 3, 2011

Clues That You May Have Fallen off the Fast Track

Most medium to large size organizations have some version of “high potential” programs. These are programs designed to identify and prepare future leaders for larger roles. These elite pools of employees are often officially or unofficially labeled as “hipos”, “rising Stars”, “fast trackers”, or “the chosen”.

Companies often don’t come right and tell you if you’re in one of these pools. They are concerned you might get too entitled or full of yourself. Also, if they tell you that you are in, they then have to tell you when you are out. And that’s an uncomfortable conversations most HR geeks and managers would rather avoid.

To deal with this “tell or don’t tell” dilemma, the folks who design and run succession planning systems (and I was one of those geeks) figure the fast trackers will easily be able to figure it out once they are anointed. All of a sudden you start getting extra attention, you’re invited to elite training programs, offered mentors and executive coaches, are asked to take a battery of assessments, and you get special “stretch” assignments (extra work to develop you in addition to your regular work). Also, someone from HR asks you for an updated resume, development plan, picture, and asks if you are willing to relocate. You might get invited to be a guest trainer or speaker for internal training programs. And finally, those “in the know” start acting differently towards you – treating you with a new kind of respect. All of a sudden your jokes are funnier.

I know this not just from running programs, but I’ve been a part of these pools at every company I’ve worked at. Now before you think I’m maybe too full of myself, I also learned what it was like to be yanked from one of these pools after a bad year. The funny thing was, no one told me. But I figured it out, and am glad to share these telltale signs with Great Leadership readers.

So what are some of the clues that you may have fallen off the fast track?

1. Your mentor stops returning your calls. If you are able to get a meeting, your mentor seems distracted, rushed, or annoyed that you are wasting their time. Clearly the chemistry is gone and it’s time to break off the relationship.

2. HR doesn’t ask you for an updated resume or IDP this year. Last year’s is just fine, they say.

3. Your request to attend another training program gets denied. The budget is tight; it’s somebody else’s turn, yada, yada…

4. You sense that “new kind of respect” start to disappear. It’s as if that magic power you had is starting to wear off.

5. Your name falls of the invite list for meetings, distribution lists, and other things that only the cool kids are invited too.

6. Your boss seems relieved. You are no longer a threat to take over their job.

7. No more stretch projects. Instead, you are given assignments that “play to your strengths”.

8. Random people stop you in the hallway and give you a wedgie. Well, Ok, that only happened once, and it may have been totally unrelated.

So what to do if this happens to you? First of all, you might just need to accept it with grace.

Perhaps you really weren’t ready for the next level. After all, only the top 3-5% of any organization really is high potential. Your organization wouldn’t be doing you any favors by promoting you and setting you up for failure. Higher management isn’t for everyone, and it might not be for you. There’s something to be said for doing what you enjoy and being good at it.

However, if you truly believe you have what it takes to rise to the next level, then whatever you do, don’t get bitter and give up, or lose your self-confidence. Resiliency is one of the key characteristics of high potentials. Believe me; I’ve seen it happen all too often. 9-box performance and potential grids are filled out, and last year’s superstar is all of a sudden this year’s disappointment. Then, the following year, after a strong year, they’re back at the top of the list.

See if you can get constructive feedback on what skills you seem to be lacking. Maybe it’s a perception issue? Or perhaps you have the skills but didn’t have a chance to demonstrate them, or didn’t realize they were seen as important. Sometimes it happens after a regime change, and you’ve lost your sponsors so it’s time to cultivate new ones. And of course, there may be some genuine skills gaps that you can begin to attack on your own. You don’t need special programs to if you’re seriously motivated to get better at something.

Look, organization systems for identifying high potentials are nowhere near perfect. At best, the accuracy rate is maybe 50%, no better or worse than picking college football players for the NFL. So if you find yourself “in”, don’t let it go to your head. Stay focused on doing a good job, take advantage of the development opportunities, and recognize that your status is only temporary. It’s not a lifetime appointment.

The fast track is not a non-stop trip to the top; it’s a journey with many stops and possible paths. You may find yourself getting on and off the track throughout your entire career, and each stop is an opportunity to grow and develop.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Has Success Eluded You Because You Eluded Failure?

Up until now, all of my guest posts have been written by authors, consultants, or practitioners, and most of them have their own blogs. I get a lot of offers from "novices", but I usually turn them down. I figure my readers are looking for a certain level of credibility.
This one, from Tim Eyre, is an exception. Tim wrote me an email a while back offering to write a post on the topic of failure and innovation. I politely turned him down. A couple weeks later I wrote a post called "10 Mistakes Every Leaders Should Make Before They Die", and realized after I wrote it the email from Tim was one of the inspirations for the post.
So I wrote him back and offered him a guest post shot- I thought it was the least I could do given I stole his idea. I challenged him to write a follow-up to my post.
I have to admit I wasn't expecting much - but I was was surprised - and impressed - with his post. In fact, I'd say it's one of my best guest posts ever. I like his use of quotes, stories, and history to illustrate his points. It just goes to show you - leadership is a universal concept -  and you don't have to be an "expert" to have a teachable point of view.

Has Success Eluded You Because You Eluded Failure?

Failure. Defeat. Collapse. Downfall. Rout. Wreck. Washout. And those are just the polite words.

Why are we so hard on ourselves when we fail? I find myself thinking back to classes that I took in college. The hard classes -- the ones I had to struggle with -- were always the ones that taught me something. The easy classes, the ones where I made effortless As, were nice, but they didn't teach me a single thing. Yes, it's a cliché to say that we must learn from our failures. Worse than that, it sounds like a consolation prize. That's too bad, though, because the lessons we learn from failure are not consolation prizes -- they are gold.

Here are a few reasons why I think we need to rethink failure -- not to be sweet and sensitive and make us all feel better, but because in the world of business, it's been my experience that failure is the first step (and often the second, third, fourth, and fifth steps) on the road to success. Why?

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"

--Albert Einstein

1. Sometimes failure isn't really a failure. It just looks like a failure because we are so focused on tiny details. Where one detail fails, often it leads to a breakthrough in another area. For example, it's hard to believe now that before 1980, there were no sticky notes in the United States. Sticky notes were invented purely by accident -- because an adhesive being developed by scientist Spencer Silver in a 3M laboratory wasn't as sticky as it needed to be. In fact, even after 3M began to see the potential value of the sticky note and started marketing it, post-its (then called "Press n' Peel") failed miserably in the market. A year later, after the product received a makeover and a new name ("Post-It Notes"), it began to really take off. But without that first failure, it never would have existed in the first place.

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."

--Robert F. Kennedy

2. Willingness to fail often gives leaders the ability to take the risks they need to take in order to succeed. Over the last few years, a movement has developed in which business teachers and mentors urge students to be willing to "fail fast." Why? Not because failure is in and of itself such a wonderful thing -- but because willingness to fail removes the risk-averse inhibition that we all have. The slogan "fail fast" should really be replaced with "reward risktaking." In business, success often comes about because someone somewhere gambled that what looked like a long shot might actually work. Google Instant was just such a gamble (one more gamble from a company that loves to rush new products into the market and see how they do). To many users, Google Instant seemed like an unnecessary tweak on the same old search. Studies since the product was introduced, however, have shown that Google's advertisers are getting more clicks since Instant was launched, with costs-per-click dropping somewhat.

Google probably could have lived without the increase in revenue that it will garner from Google Instant. But consider these two more dramatic examples. First, nearly a decade ago, Japan's Sharp seemed to be coming to the end of its life. But then-newly-promoted president Katsuhiko Machida decided the company should focus on what was then a new, unproven technology: flat-panel LCD television monitors. Not only did Machida's decision save the company, but it propelled Sharp -- at least for a while -- back into a leadership position in the technology industry. "Survival today means innovating and doing things that no one else does," Machida said later. (Fackler, Martin. "A Gamble on L.C.D. TV's Meant Survival for Sharp." The New York Times. March 22, 2006. 

Second: Ford's gamble on the Taurus. Facing possible bankruptcy in the early 1980s, Ford pulled its designers, engineers, and marketing staff into a secret group collectively called "Team Taurus." Ford was relying on the Taurus, a futuristic-looking car for its time (1985) to save the company -- and it did. By 1989 Ford had sold a million. And the company was solvent again.

"...why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life."

--J.K. Rowling, Harvard commencement address, June 2008

3. Nothing focuses the mind like failure. Failure revitalizes leaders -- it gives us a kick in the pants and says, "do something, now!" It is often when everything has gone awry that writers, scientists, business leaders, politicians feel liberated to do their most creative work. No one can truly be creative when everything is going fine. It just seems too risky, at a time like that, to rock the boat. But when you have lost everything, literally everything, and there is nothing else to lose -- well, necessity IS the mother of invention. I don't believe it's just the necessity of doing something in order to survive that brings about the creativity that leads to invention, though. Ironically, success itself can be bad for us -- it blocks our creativity by making us think that we should do more of the same -- more of what brought that success about in the first place. When you have nothing left to lose, then you are free -- free to try that secret, wildly creative idea that you always wanted to try but could never take a chance on risking everything for -- until finally, everything was gone.

4. Finally, and most importantly, nothing builds future leaders like failure. As Rowlings comments later in the same commencement speech I've quoted above, failure shows us what we've got in us. It shows us that we are strong enough to withstand adversity and creative enough to find a way out of it. Those times when an organization has just gone through a failure, or appears about to go through one, are the times when that organization needs stellar leadership the most. At times like that, we need leaders who have experienced adversity -- leaders who have hit rock bottom and found out what they were really made of. Overcoming adversity builds confidence, yes, but that's a cliché too. It isn't just about the confidence. It's that bouncing back from failure calls on us to develop a whole set of skills that leaders need: survival skills, the ability to see a way out of a hole, the ability to shepherd our resources while we hunker down for the next try. Street skills.

Look at it this way. Failure has the ability to take a spoiled (or at least never tested) recent college graduate and turn him (or her) into Indiana Jones. Failure is the flame that tempers the blade of the sword. Without tempering, the sword is too soft to withstand a real fight. Think about it.

Working with self storage users all over the United States, Tim Eyre helps customers store their stuff in places like Chicago self storage facilities and North Fort Myers self storage locations. In his spare time, Tim likes to get outside for a game of basketball or a round of golf.