Thursday, March 27, 2014

Three Communication Tips Every Leader Should Use

Guest post from Joe McCormack:

Brief breakthroughs can come at any time.

“I wish I knew how important brevity was for me 30 years ago.” That’s a powerful confession to hear from an accomplished Fortune 500 professional.

I had just wrapped up a “Brief Leadership” seminar with a group of manufacturing managers and one of their senior leaders pulled me aside afterward. I thought he was going to thank me or ask a follow-up question.

“I just can’t help myself with words,” he lamented. I was floored by his candor.

Recognizing that his successful career, nearing its end, had been filled with constant falling into temptation to over-explain, he confided to me that his default mode was to dump on his subordinates and give them lengthy lectures.   

He was looking me straight in the eye, completely serious and contrite. “I’m going to change. I just wish I knew this at the beginning of my career.”

I walked away thinking that he’s not alone. Many managers feel that way when they realize the impact they have on others when they get lost in their own words. Their ability to lead, manage and stay ahead is hindered by a lack of discipline when communicating.

In your career, grasping that “less is more” can be a powerful, immediate and profound realization.

So why don’t more leaders catch themselves before falling? Who needs to get the message that talking less and listening more is an essential 21st-Century leadership skill? What can professionals do to avoid the lure to be long-winded?

Here are three pointers that will help you avoid the temptation to pour it on:

1.     Brief means balance. Professionals often think that when they communicate they need to share everything they know, regardless of how long it may take. They’re perpetually running out of time to cram it all in. Brevity means maintaining a fine balance of being clear, concise and compelling. When you’ve made your point, don’t try to make it sharper.

2.     Filling what’s already filled. Your subordinates and colleagues are already flooded with information, constantly interrupted and highly inattentive. Think of their heads like a glass of water with only a few inches left to the top. Your job is to be certain that their minds don’t overflow with your wasted words.

3.     Leave room for a response. Pause to give people time to process. Their minds are so often so burdened and divided that they need to take small breaks to digest and respond. These silent pauses are critical to knowing not only that what you’ve said has sunk in, but that they’re on board not over board.

Long story, short: Choose your words carefully and economically. Effective leaders today are mindful communicators, aware of the needs of their audience as well as the message they are trying to get across, briefly.


Joe McCormack is an experienced marketing executive, successful entrepreneur and author. He founded and serves as managing director of The Sheffield Company, an award-winning boutique agency recognized for its focus on narrative messaging and visual storytelling. His new book, Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (Wiley & Sons, 2014) tackles the timeliness of the "less is more" mandate. In 2013, he founded The BRIEF Lab as a specialty institute to help business and military leaders become lean communicators. There are currently facilities in Chicago, IL and Southern Pines, NC.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

15 Ways to Set a Positive Example as a Manager

“I'm not a role model... Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids.”
- Charles Barkley

When you’re a manager, like it or not, you ARE a role model. All eyes are on you. The example you set has an enormous impact on your direct report employees and those around you. If you are a newly promoted or hired manager, your employees will watch, listen, and learn about what matters to you, what’s important, what to do and what not to do. If you’ve been a manager in the same role for a while, they already have learned, and the norms you’ve perhaps unconsciously established are more powerful than that “Our Company Values” poster on the wall.
In addition to influencing your employee’s behavior and attitudes through your day-to-day behaviors, you’re also having an impact on their long term development. We all learn powerful leadership lessons from the examples – both positive and negative – from current and former managers.

Do you want your employees to conduct themselves with the highest level of professionalism? You may want to review following list and ask yourself the following questions:

Is this what I would expect and want from my employees? Am I setting the right example? What kind of lessons am I teaching?
Note: none of the items on the list below are made up – all are from the Great Leadership files of actual manager behaviors. Hopefully not my own.

1. Arrive to work and meetings on time, and don’t make a habit of leaving early.
2. Pay attention to your own development. Be a humble and continuous learner, and be transparent about your development needs and what you are doing to overcome them.

3. Ask for feedback – be open to it and listen – and be willing to give caring, constructive, and frank feedback to others.

4. Be open to change – especially when the change isn’t your own idea. When a change is announced, employees will be looking at you to see how they should react.
5. Don’t participate in gossip, spreading rumors, or speaking poorly about your boss, fellow managers, or about another one of your employees.

6. Be discreet and respect confidences.
7. Keep your non-work related business to a minimum. And don’t ask your employees to assist with your non-work related business (i.e., picking up your clothes at the drycleaner).

8. Treat everyone – regardless of their level or degree of influence – with respect.
9. Tell the truth – be a straight shooter, with no white lies. Own up to your own mistakes.

10. Keep the cynicism and sarcasm to a minimum. It poisons the work environment.
11. Maintain a sense of humor – about yourself – but never at the expense of others.

12. Pitch in and lend a hand doing the dirty work now and then.
13. Watch your language – with few exceptions, don’t swear. I don’t care what the studies say – there’s no place for F-bombs in the vocabulary of a professional manager.

14. Don’t lavish yourself or your management team with perks that are off-limits to the rank and file.
15. Maintain a professional distance from your employees – you are their manager, not their friend.

While you may not agree with every item on the list, wouldn’t you prefer to work for a manager who follows most of them?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What’s Your Blindside?

Guest post by Great Leadership monthly contributor Beth Armknecht Miller:

We all have our blind spots, those things we either can’t see or choose not to see. These are behaviors that you mismanage and often become more intense and harder to manage during change and stressful situations. Let’s face it; blind spots can lead to shortfalls in our success as a leader or a team member.

Over the years coaching senior executives, I have found that there seems to be three themes around leadership blindside: Avoidance, Independence, and Acceptance.

Depending on your level of comfort the number one thing that leaders avoid are difficult conversations, which are generally related to an individual’s performance. And if you aren’t guilty of this, I know you know at least one person who is!  And, when the conversation finally occurs the outcome is worse than if the conversation happened closer to the questionable performance.

Delivering bad news about company performance would be the second type of avoidance.  Often the behavior displayed by a leader in these cases is a deafening silence and absence.  Suddenly meetings start to become less frequent and reports are delivered late. Often a leader’s fear is driving this behavior.  The leader has conversations in his mind of whom they might lose on their team and how it is going to impact them, or who will lose respect for him because of the bad results.

Another type of avoidance is change. The executive has identified a significant change that needs to be made, which will negatively impact employees. And instead of implementing the change, it is delayed and delayed again.

Independence can be displayed in a number of ways. This is the leader who has all the answers or believes that he should have all the answers. He thinks he is being paid to fix all the problems and has the right solution, so he doesn’t delegate properly. The result: team members aren’t growing to their full potential and often leave out of frustration.

Or it is the leader who sees the world only from his point of view and has difficulty stepping into the shoes of others. This behavior inhibits others to share their points of view and makes them feel less valuable as a team member. It stifles innovation and optimal solutions and ultimately this is an unsustainable model, growth will be inhibited as talent becomes frustrated and escapes to greener pastures.

This is the leader who accepts the current state of the business as acceptable and the external changes to be ones that won’t threaten the organization.  It borders on complacency, yet it is more insidious.  These leaders know, when challenged, that changes need to occur. Yet, left unchallenged they will continue to stay the current course.

So if you are already aware of your blindside, great!  What are you doing to address those behaviors that are getting in your way? And if you don’t know your blind spots, how might you go about uncovering them?

Uncovering Your Blind Spots: Ask and Assess
The easiest way is to ask and assess. Although, if you aren’t willing to be challenged you won’t receive the unfiltered truth. If you are in the C Suite, you can count on not getting the truth from your employees.  Why would an employee risk their job by helping you uncover your blind spots?

Yet, if you have a board of directors/advisors, or a peer group such as Vistage, that you trust and respect, you have a much better chance of uncovering your blindside by asking questions.

The second part of the process is to use one of many assessment tools that help to uncover behaviors within leaders.  In my practice, I use both Hogan and Business DNA, they both provide reports with practical coaching advice.

Once you have identified your blind spots, then it’s time to get started with a plan to address them and develop new behaviors that will help you to get your leadership to the next level.

Beth Armknecht Miller is CEO of Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. Beth is a trusted executive consultant, Vistage Chair, and committed volunteer. She is a graduate of Babson College and Harvard Business School’s OPM program. She is certified in Myers Briggs, Hogan, and Business DNA. And she is a Certified Managerial Coach. Beth’s insight and expertise has made her a sought-after speaker, and she has been featured in numerous industry blogs and publications. To learn more about Beth visit BethArmknechtMiller.comor

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mentoring Still Not Happening for Women in the Workplace

From Development Dimensions International (DDI):

Mentoring Still Not Happening for Women in the Workplace

New Research Reveals Subject Matter Expertise A Key Factor

PITTSBURGH—Many mid- to senior-level businesswomen have never had a formal mentor even though mentoring is widely considered a critical component to career success, according to new trend research conducted by Development Dimensions International (DDI) titled, Women as Mentors: Does She or Doesn’t She? A Global Study of Businesswomen and Mentoring. And this is not for the reasons one would expect. According to the research, women who felt less-than-expert on a specific topic did not take on mentoring roles.

Since the benefits of mentoring are well documented, this research took a closer look at the less explored side of the issue surveying 318 businesswomen from 19 different countries and 30 different industries. Given the number of women in the United States in senior-level positions, this survey size is statistically significant. The average age was 48-years old and 75 percent indicated that they were mid- or senior-level leaders. Tacy M. Byham, Ph.D., DDI Senior Vice President, Leadership Solutions stated, “A staggering 63 percent of the survey group never had a formal mentor and considering that 67 percent rated mentorship as highly important in helping to advance and grow their careers—this indicates a critical gap in businesswomen’s development.”

Are women afraid of rejection, protective of their authority and too competitive?

The data from this research breaks the stereotypes. Study results confirm that women don’t mentor because of one basic reason—they aren’t being asked. More than half the respondents have been asked to be a mentor a few times and 20 percent have never been asked at all. Women want to share their experience and provide career guidance, but other women are not seeking them out. And if they are afraid of rejection, the data shows they have no need to be. Seventy-one percent of women in the study report that they always accept invitations to be a mentor at work and reported they would mentor more if asked.

Contrary to the assumed rivalry and “Queen Bee” mentality popularized in movies like “The Devil Wears Prada,” our data show that almost half strongly agree that they would back one another, are more likely to sponsor each other and help other women rise to the top. Ranking lowest as a concern was “office politics” as an issue for only 8 percent of respondents and “internal competition” for an even smaller demographic of 2 percent.

What is holding women back from mentoring?

“Time” is the number one factor holding women back. Seventy-five percent of women reported that the time it takes to mentor most affects their decision to accept mentorships. Yet, only one in 10 chose not to mentor because it interfered with family time or other commitments. Criteria coming in second are “subject matter expertise” and “relationship to the mentee.” More than half—54 percent—site these as key considerations when deciding to accept a mentorship or not.

Only half of survey participants work at organizations that have formal mentoring programs. Of those that do, training is often ineffective. Twenty percent of women in our study rated the quality of the formal training they received as high or very high and another 22 percent didn’t receive any formal training at all. Compounding the problem, mentors aren’t being armed with the interpersonal skills (coaching, networking and influencing) they need to be effective in their roles.

Why mentoring matters and next steps?

Since women often have difficulty building social capital at work, mentoring is even more critical to their success. Mentoring is essential to practical experience sharing, to passing the wisdom-gained baton and to closing the information gaps between different parts of the organization. The one consistent theme that women in global executive offices share is the role mentoring played in helping them along the way.  

To make mentoring happen, organizations need to set up a culture that makes mentoring a common practice. Provide communication around mentoring and train and support potential mentors and mentees. Mentors in senior-level positions need to make themselves available. Set up clear expectations for the mentorship and put a program in place that meets both your and your mentee’s needs. Mentees need to be on the lookout for the right mentors because there are fewer senior women to look to. Clarify and articulate what you hope to learn from the mentorship by clearly defining desired learning goals.


About Development Dimensions InternationalFounded in 1970, Development Dimensions International (DDI), a global human resources consulting firm, helps organizations close the gap between today’s talent capability and future talent needs. DDI’s expertise includes designing and implementing selection systems, and identifying and developing front-line to executive leadership talent. With more than 1,000 associates in 42 offices in 26 countries, the firm advises half of the Fortune 500.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What’s Behind the Leadership Deficit? My Interview with APQC

APQC’s (American Productivity & Quality Center) ElissaTucker recently interviewed me for an article published on their site on March 4 called “The "Secrets" of Leadership Development. Here’s the full interview, reprinted with permission:
APQC’s Leadership Deficit survey research found that leadership development programs today are considered by many to be ineffective. What do you think are some of the most common leadership development mistakes that organizations make? How could these be fixed so that leadership development programs will be more effective?

The “secrets” of leadership development are no longer secrets. The ones that consistently do it well year over year—the GEs, P&Gs, 3Ms, IBMs, etc… treat it as a strategic priority, are committed to it, and are willing to invest in it (time and money). Yes, innovation and execution are important to—but it all starts with top-level commitment. If you only have half-baked (or half-assed, if I can say that) commitment (lip service), you’re going to get half-baked results (and poor survey results). Once the CEO is on board, the rest is relatively easy. In fact, it’s kind of hard to screw it up. Study the research on what works and what doesn’t, learn from the best, and adapt those tried and true best practices to your organization’s unique needs and culture.
One of the top drivers of the leadership skills deficit, according to our research, is that a different style of leadership is required and that current leaders are resistant to changing how they lead. Based on your experience with executive development, what are some steps that organizations could take to provide ongoing development to current executives?

Successful executives are often, if not always hesitant to change their behaviors. After all, why should they? They often connect those same behaviors to their success (cause and effect). Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are successful in spite of some ineffective behaviors, and sometimes new challenges require a different set of skills and behaviors.
I’ve found the best way to help executives see the need to change how they lead (without changing who they are) is to use 360 assessments, feedback, and coaching. It’s like holding a mirror up to them and saying “see, this is how you’re coming across to others and the impact it’s having on them.” Actually, you don’t have to say anything—the data speaks for itself. Then it’s a matter of helping them identify new behaviors to replace the ineffective ones, and helping them practice until they start to see improved results.

You wrote a very useful blog post titled How to Be a Leader in a Crappy Culture. What would you say are the elements that make up an organizational culture that encourages great leadership?
Thanks, I got a lot of nice emails as a result of that post (How to Be a Leader in a Crappy Culture).

Cultural elements that encourage great leadership would be a strong set of articulated leadership values, role modeling from all levels, openness to feedback and learning, and organizational structures that support leadership development.
Our survey found that one of the drivers behind the leadership deficit is that at many organizations’ selection, development, and reward practices are encouraging an outdated style of leadership. You wrote a blog post titled How “Strategically Aligned” is your Leadership Development Program? How can HR make sure that HR practices are aligned with the type of leadership that the organization requires?

Hmmm, that’s the second time you’ve used the term “outdated style of leadership.” I’m not sure great leadership—specifically the competencies that make up great leadership—ever really go out of style. Given that, every organization needs to put a different emphasis on critical competencies that are needed to achieve their business objectives.  It’s a “connect the dots” exercise: Business strategy X requires leadership competencies A, B, C, and D. So, all of our HR practices (success profiles, selection criteria, rewards, development programs, 360 assessments, etc…) need to be aligned to build these critical leadership competencies.  
In practice, it’s not that easy. Picking that handful of critical competencies is hard… and often gets muddied up with politics and bureaucracy, and the temptation to take shortcuts.

CEOs are often cited as being very concerned about a leadership shortage, yet our survey found that leadership development is underfunded at many organizations. You have written a lot about the role that CEO’s play in great leadership. Why do you think that there is a disconnect between what CEOs say is a priority and where investments are being made? What could an organization do to fix this disconnect?
CEOs say a lot of things are a top priority. You are the right—the proof of what is really seen as important is what’s funded, where the CEO spends time, and what’s discussed at the monthly operating reviews. I wish I had a prescription for that one—i.e., how to get your CEO to make it a priority. Some have had success taking a business case approach, some have turned the tide doing pilots and getting measurable results. Sometimes CEOs are exposed to something (peers, an event) that makes them come back with religion, and sometimes, if it’s not too late, the pain (poor results, lack of successors, inability to fill critical positions, etc…) becomes so intolerable that they are compelled to finally get serious and take action.

APQC’s survey found that developing leadership skills in all employees is associated with an organization having a smaller leadership skills gap and that organizations using a more inclusive, less hierarchical style of leadership also have smaller skills gaps. Given these findings, do you think there is still a role for high potential development programs? Why or why not?
Absolutely! High potential programs are just one type of leadership development—and should never be at the expense of everyone else. Everyone needs some kind of development—it will only make the organization stronger, so I’m not surprised by those survey results. However, some employees have more potential to assume larger roles than others, so the type of development they get is different—designed to get them ready for those larger roles.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Key Performance Indicators of Good Leadership

Guest post from Dr. Greg Alston:

“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”
- Peter Drucker

This quote by one of the most respected management theorists of the last 100 years crystallizes the essence of how to determine whether someone is a good leader or not.  Good leaders find a way to get the job done.  Great leaders find a way to get their team to perform better than they thought was possible and to succeed despite their shortcomings. Good people like to join good companies run by good leaders. Unfortunately good people also leave good companies because of a bad manager. And bad managers infect every organization.
A bad leader is identified by his ability to destroy the effectiveness of his team. A BossHole is that particularly bad manager who sucks the joy, life, energy and enthusiasm out of their organization. The BossHole Effect is what happens to a company run by a poor leader. Instead of performing high quality work that adds value to the economy they do uninspired mediocre work. Instead of providing great customer service that inspires customers to sing their praises they do sloppy inattentive work that annoys their customers. These BossHole managers are the arrogant, irritating, snarky people who make good people want to quit even though they like the company.

Here are ten ways you can tell the difference between a BossHole and a good boss:

1.     When a good boss does something stupid he will acknowledge the screw-up, apologize for his error and fix it. BossHoles never think anything is their fault and they never apologize because in their imaginary world they are never wrong.

2.     Good bosses normally ask you to do something for them and only occasionally tell you what to do. BossHoles never ask, they always tell. And they demand that you to stop whatever you are doing to get it done for them regardless of what else you have to do.

3.     Good bosses only hold meetings when they are necessary to move the team effort forward. Bad bosses hold meetings all the time so they can hear themselves speak. They do not respect their employee’s time or efforts.

4.     Good bosses’ immediately correct poor performance in an employee before it has a chance to get out of hand. A BossHole ignores poor performance until it festers and becomes such a big deal that he has to belittle and demean someone in front of their peers.

5.     A good boss knows that good people occasionally do bad things and need to be given a break. A BossHole thinks that all employees need to be micromanaged for them to be useful.

6.     A good boss deflects praise for a job well done on to the efforts of his team and steps up to take the blame for any failure. A BossHole takes credit for anything good that happens and deflects the blame for any failure on to his team.

7.     A good leader finds a way to inspire average people to perform at a championship caliber level. A BossHole finds a way to demoralize above average people to perform mediocre work.

8.     A good leader builds consensus and inspires his team to new heights. A BossHole creates a culture of infighting, back biting sabotage of the team’s effort.

9.     A good leader leads from in front a BossHole drives from behind.

10. A good leader won’t allow his team to fail. A BossHole won’t allow his team to succeed.

After 35 years of research in to the key performance indicators of leadership success a new tool has been developed to allow employees to quickly and easily identify BossHole behavior. The BossHole Rating scale describes 5 different categories of Boss. These are: Great Boss, Good Boss, Partial BossHole, BossHole and Complete BossHole. The leadership dimensions assessed focus on the unmistakable behaviors that signal good and bad leadership behavior. Anyone can use the Boss Rating system to rate a current or former boss using the Rate Your Boss Tool or they can rate themselves using the separate Rate Your Self as a Boss Tool.

About the author:
Dr. Greg L. Alston is the developer of the Boss Rating System and the Best Selling author of, The BossHole Effect, Three Simple Steps Anyone Can Follow to Become a Great Boss and Lead a Successful Team. He has owned and operated a variety of businesses, worked for hundreds of bosses and supervised thousands of employees. His no nonsense approach and clear informal teaching style will teach you how to Coach others, Command respect, and Create an environment in which your team can thrive. Leadership is not a personality trait; it is a way of acting. Great leaders build great teams. Great teams achieve great things. The call to leadership is a call to action and this action begins when you buy and read his book. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How to Get Recognized as an Emerging Young Leader

This post recently appeared in SmartBlog on Leadership:

I recently asked readers to submit their burning leadership development questions. Those that get picked for a post will receive a free copy of my eBook.
This question from Nicholas:

“What are some good ways to get recognized as an emerging young leader in your organization without sounding like you're trying to toot your own horn?”
My mother always told me if you just kept your head down and did good work, you would get ahead in your career. While there is certainly some truth to that advice, there’s a lot more too it when it comes to getting noticed for your leadership potential.

I’ll share some insider information with you as to how most organizations look assess for leadership potential.
According to research by the Corporate Leadership Council, performance was found to be more of a “gatekeeper” to being even considered for promotion to the next level. That is, 90% of “high potentials” were strong performers. So, yes, being great at whatever you are doing matters. If you’re a poor or average performer in your current role, you’ll never be considered for higher level responsibilities.  While we all like to think of ourselves of being a top performer, the reality is, most of us are not. So step one, especially early in a career, is to establish a consistent track record of strong performance.

However, only 29% of high performers have what it takes to succeed at the next level. Other factors come into play when it comes to predicting success at the next level, including aspiration (willingness to take on new, higher level responsibilities), engagement (your commitment and willingness to go the extra mile), and ability (a combination of innate characteristics and learned skills).
The good news is, many of the abilities that organizations look at to evaluate leadership potential can be learned. According to Development Dimensions International, employees that demonstrate the following abilities have a strong chance at being successful in a senior leadership role:

1. Propensity to lead. They step up to leadership opportunities.
2. They bring out the best in others
3. Authenticity. They have integrity, admit mistakes, and don’t let their egos get in their way
4. Receptivity to feedback. They seek out and welcome feedback
5. Learning agility.
6. Adaptability. Adaptability reflects a person's skill at juggling competing demands and adjusting to new situations and people. A key here is maintaining an unswerving, "can do" attitude in the face of change.
7. Navigates ambiguity. This trait enables people to simplify complex issues and make decisions without having all the facts.
8. Conceptual thinking. Like great chess players and baseball managers,
the best leaders always have the big picture in mind. Their ability to think two, three, or more moves ahead is what separates them from competitors.
9. Cultural fit
10. Passion for results
So, I’d suggest evaluating yourself against these characteristics and see where you stack up. Of course, there are limits to self-assessment (we tend to be clueless as to how we are perceived by others), so it’s even better if you can get some candid feedback from your boss or others.

Then, identify 1-2 things you need to get better at and create a development plan to address those areas. I’d recommend sharing it with boss, for a number of reasons.  First of all, to get your bosses feedback, and secondly, to get additional ideas and support. Finally, going back to the “aspiration” component of potential, to show that you’re interested in leadership development and willing to do what it takes to learn and grow.
Just one more thing when it comes to “tooting your own horn”. That’s something many of us are not comfortable with, and no one wants to be seen as a self-promoting blowhard. It’s always better when other people toot your horn for you. That is, your boss and decision makers are hearing good things about you behind your back, from your peers and others. Given that, managers, as much as they should, are not always aware of every one of their employee’s accomplishments. It’s up to you to humbly let them know on a regular basis during your regular meetings, and especially during your annual performance review. A lot of managers will ask for performance review “input” – this is the one time per year that you are allowed to loudly toot that horn.

It’s the lucky few that can just consistently shine and get picked for one plum role after another. The rest of have to work hard at it, do a little self-promotion, and have the confidence to ask for it when the opportunity presents itself.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Leadership Development Carnival: Ides of March Edition

The Leadership Development Carnival Ides of March Edition is up!

This month's edition is hosted by executive coach and blogging extraordinaire Mary Jo Asmus at her Aspire-CS blog. You can find it right here:

The Leadership Development Carnival Ides of March Edition.

A collection of 26 recent posts, from some of the best leadership bloggers on the planet!