Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Let's Kill off our Best Employees!

Organizations don’t always do a good job when it comes to nurturing, developing, rewarding, and retaining their high potential employees. In fact, it often seems like they are going out of their way to sabotage their best employees.

Read my latest over at Management and Leadership to learn more:

Live. Die. Repeat. 10 Ways to Kill Your Best Employees

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

10 Ways to Take Charge of Your Own Leadership Development

This post was recently published at Smartblog on Leadership.
When I first started in the field of leadership development (when gas was 89 cents a gallon), the model we used looking like this:

When someone got promoted to team leader, supervisor, or manager, they were sent a memo (no email yet) from HR informing them that they have been registered for a mandatory 4 week supervisory training course.
When they showed up, some (or most) of them kicking and screaming, HR told them everything they had to learn, showed them step-by-step details, made them practice (role plays), and then sent them off to do good and no harm never to be seen or heard from again.

Sadly, there are many organizations that are still using this outdated method of leadership development. While this model is inherently flawed in a number of ways, the biggest problem with it is that people won’t grow or change unless they want to. They need to be intrinsically motivated to change, and in order to be motivated, they need to have a sense of autonomy, or control.
While force-feeding leadership development was never a good idea, neither is going too far in the other extreme. Some organizations have adopted a philosophy that says “you’re in charge of your own development”. Which sounds great, but it often ends up really meaning “good luck, you’re on your own, now sink or swim”. They eliminate all training programs, budgets, and support, and mandate “individual development plans”, without teaching people how to develop on their own.

If that’s the situation you find yourself, here are 10 ways to put yourself in the driver’s seat and take charge of your own development:
1. Find out for yourself what really matters. Don’t just rely on the HR-produced formal leadership competency model. Most of these are so complicated or sanitized they aren’t very helpful at all when it comes to figuring out how to succeed as a leader in your organization. Instead, ask around and find out who the most respected leaders are, then go and talk to them about what skills and mindsets are the most important and why.

2. Go get feedback. Don’t wait for a formal 360 assessment, or for someone to tell you where you’re screwed up when it’s too late to do something about it. There are a number of free 360 assessment tools out there- just do a search. Here’s 10 more ways to get candid feedback, including one of my favorites, “feedforward”. Everyone is different, and will have different learning needs. Find out what yours are instead of conforming to what everyone else is told to learn.
3. Write your own development plan. Don’t wait for your boss to write it, or for HR to tell you to write one. If it’s your development, then it’s your plan. If you don’t have a template or know how to write one, here’s a few samples.

4. Find your own training – then ask for it. Don’t wait to be sent to class, or wait for your boss to make the offer. After you’ve completed steps 1-3, find a training program that addresses your specific development needs. If you pick it, you’ll own it, and be much more motivated to learn and change. Sure, budgets might be tight, but if you put a good business case together, you just might be surprised. Maybe you offer to meet your company halfway – you attend on your own time of they pay for it, or you offer to pay half yourself.
5. Ask for an executive coach. Executive coaches are usually provided to select executives on their way up, or executives in trouble on their way out. However, I’ve heard of plenty of organizations that will approve coaching to an executive who steps forward and asks on their own. Again, you never know. When it comes to your own development, you have to be the squeaky wheel!

6. Negotiate your work assignments and next jobs. Before you take that next assignment or job, make sure it’s an assignment or job where there will be ample opportunities to learn, grow, and develop. Sure, we don’t always have a choice, but if you do, don’t let your company or boss force fit you into roles that just play to your strengths.
7. Find your own mentors. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a mentor to be formally “assigned” to you. Find your own. Look for those that you admire that can give you advice, and ask them. Most people would be flattered.

8. Read books. Yes, books! This is a must for continuous development as a leader, and something I’m seeing less and less. While blogging “top 10 lists” is what I do, I also make sure I’m reading at least a few leadership and management books each year. It requires an attention span of greater than 2 minutes, which is getting harder and harder to maintain.
9. Start with yourself before you coach others. More and more organizations are saying that it’s the manager’s job to develop employees. However, in an organization where every manager is developing others and not developing themselves, you have to wonder if anyone is really developing at all. When you learn to take charge of your own development, you’ll be a role model and have more credibility when you show your employees how to take charge of their own development.

10. Carve out the time and treat it as a priority. You’ve probably heard the story about a hiker that came upon a woodsman in the forest, vigorously chopping down a tree - with a very dull ax. Noticing the slow progress being made, he asked the woodsman why he didn't stop and sharpen his ax. ''I haven't time,'' the reply was. ''I've got to chop down all these trees.''

Monday, October 27, 2014

What NOT to Delegate

Most managers understand the importance of delegation, and probably already know how to delegate.

However, what about the other extreme end of the delegation continuum- the handful of things a manager should never delegate?
Read my latest over at Management and Leadership to find out more: 10 Things a Manager Should Never Delegate.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why Leaders Don’t Listen

Guest post by Marcia Reynolds, PsyD

“Leaders boldly go where no one has ever gone before.” Is this true? Rarely. The more successful a leader becomes, the less likely he or she chooses to step into the unknown. Although I have seen the words, “Embracing ambiguity,” on the list of leadership competencies for many companies worldwide, I have never met an executive who loves not knowing the answers.

The problem is related to biology, not personality. The brain’s primary function is to protect you, but your brain doesn’t differentiate external things from internal ego. Whatever has helped you create your success – your business savvy, your great ideas, your broad knowledge of the marketplace – is what you will dearly protect from threats.

You may have started your career happily fumbling up the ladder, but the more recognition and successes you gain, the more you have to lose by accepting that other ideas could be better today. As Steve Tobak says in the post Why Leaders Resist Change, “…those who have the greatest impact on corporate performance – not to mention the livelihoods and investment portfolios of millions of employees and shareholders – are the most resistant to feedback and change.”

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman explains in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, we don’t embrace ambiguity because of  “…our excessive confidence in what we believe we know, and our apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and the uncertainty of the world we live in.”

Leaders want to feel confident about their choices, to have the answers under pressure, and to rightly respond to adversity. Most leaders want to be boldly decisive. This desire to feel confident in what you know makes it harder to listen to others and accept new ideas.

Having a sense of confidence in who you are is good for yourself and others around you. Feeling absolute confidence in what you know is risky. In this crazy, complex, fast changing, and full-of-surprises world, it is impossible to have all the answers. In fact, the best answers are around you, in the minds of others and in the collective conversations, not inside of you in your limited memory.

As a human, your brain cannot see all possibilities. Your experience is deficient, your intuition is fallible, and your intelligence is victim to your unreliable emotions and instincts.

Leaders have to have the courage to feel vacant and vulnerable.

An open mind is willing to listen, learn, and grow. As Malcolm Gladwell said in Blink, “We need to accept our ignorance and say ‘I don’t know’ more often.” The more you feel confident saying, “I don’t know, let’s talk about it,” the more clarity you will gain about the best options for moving forward in the future.

Your best decisions will be made in conversations.

No matter how smart you are, thinking through a complex issue can rarely be done well in isolated analysis. As described in The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs, for the same reason you can’t tickle yourself, you can’t fully explore your own thoughts and attack your own ideas. Your brain will block and desensitize you to self-imposed exploration. When someone else adeptly challenges your reasoning and dares to ask you a question that penetrates your protective frames, your consciousness can go to new depths. You might get defensive, but if you take in the challenge your brain will synthesize the new insight into a new awareness for you. You might even laugh at seeing what you should have known all along.

In other words, you need others to initiate the interaction that reveals your blind spots and helps you recognize the value of completely new ideas. The brain needs to be surprised. The greater the surprise you feel when you discover a blind spot or new idea, the more likely you will have a breakthrough in perception. You have had these surprises before when you experienced an “Aha” moment.

Blind spots hurt you when you don’t consider their existence when making an important decision or taking an action that will impact others. You instinctively know this because after you make a mistake, you admit you should have known better. Or you blame something else.

The most long lasting changes in your thinking occur when you allow others to help you explore your thought processes and you trust them enough to feel uncomfortable with their questions. 

Do you have a friend you respect and trust enough to allow him or her to question your judgment? Do you know someone who will be honest and straight with you? If not, you need to find someone. In the meantime, hire a qualified coach. This deep, enlightening and gratifying conversation is coaching at its best.

Find good ideas and energize people by building on what they know instead of exhausting them with what you know.

If you are a leader looking to empower and develop others, spend more time asking questions than giving advice. A good question can help both them and you make the right decisions for the right reasons.

Listen so you get good ideas to build on. Listen so people feel cared for and respected, which inspires them to learn, grow, and commit to you and the company. If you want to grow your mind and the minds of the people who look up to you, embrace the mystery of not knowing.

About the Author: Dr. Marcia Reynolds has over 30 years working with global corporations in executive coaching and leadership training. She is the author of 3 books, Outsmart Your Brain, Wander Woman (for high-achieving women) and her new book, The Discomfort Zone. You can read more at her website,

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Informal Coaching and Feedback

"Performance feedback and coaching shouldn’t just happen once a year during a formal performance review. In order to create real, measurable, and meaningful change, it is also important to supplement those formal, documented meetings with continuous, informal coaching that is delivered as things happen."

Read Beth Armknecht Miller's guest post over at Management and Leadership to find out how.

Monday, October 20, 2014

There's No Crying in Football!

Crying at work is in the news again. The latest incident involved New York Giant’s Wide receiver Victor Cruz being driven off the field on a cart sobbing.

Cruz’s unfortunate injury reignited the debate over the appropriateness of not only crying in sports (“There's no crying in baseball! No crying!”), but crying at work.

Read my latest post over at Management and Leadership for tips on how to deal with crying at work.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why Mindfulness is for Leaders and Not Just Monks

Guest post from Scott Eblin - a nice follow-up to my recent post at, from someone that knows more about the topic than I do! Scott is the best at what he does - coaching and advising successful but overworked executives. Buy his new book!

You know a topic is hot when it makes the cover of Time.  That’s what happened with mindfulness last year when the magazine ran a cover story called The Mindful Revolution.  When you’re a busy leader and you hear about the latest trend like mindfulness, you may immediately think, “ Yeah, right, I don’t have the time or space for that.  I’ve got real world stuff to worry about.  That may be great for monks who have time to meditate for hours a day, but that’s not my life.”

You’re right about that not being your life, but you’re wrong if you think mindfulness can’t help you with the real world stuff you’ve got to worry about.  Here’s why.  Being mindful doesn’t mean you have to meditate like a monk.  Based on the research I did for Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative I define mindfulness as simply being aware and intentional.  By being aware, I mean aware of what’s going on around you and inside of you – mentally, emotionally and physically.  Once you’re aware, you’re in a much better position to be intentional about what you’re going to do or, what you’re not going to do, next.

Pretty simple, right?  The part that may not seem so simple is learning to be more mindful about how you show up as a leader and in the rest of your life.  The problem is that the demands of a do-more-with-less operating environment and the hyper-connectivity of a smartphone-enabled life can easily leave you feeling overworked and overwhelmed.  Think about it:

·        Over the past 5 or 6 years has every year seemed a little more frantic and packed than the year before? 

·        Are you in the same job you were in a year ago, but the scope today is bigger that it was a year ago?

Most of the leaders I work with as an executive coach and speaker answer yes to both of those questions. 

The pace and input of modern leadership and life can leave you feeling overworked and overwhelmed.  When you feel that way all the time you end up in a chronic state of fight or flight.  Being in that chronic state has a dramatic impact on your ability to think clearly, your judgment and your relationships.  It also has a devastating impact on your overall health and well being and makes it more likely that you’ll die sooner rather than later.

This is where mindfulness comes in.  In doing the research for my new book, one of the things I learned is that most of the millennia old mindfulness traditions like meditation or yoga have the effect of getting you out of fight or flight by activating your body’s rest and digest response.  Fight or flight is your body’s gas pedal.  Rest and digest is the brakes.  Just like you need both in a car; you need both in your body to be an effective leader and lead a healthy life.

The good news is you don’t have to meditate for hours on end or take a 90 minute yoga class every day to activate your rest and digest response.  There are simple habits and routines you can learn – I call them Killer Apps and Habit Hacks in my book – that are easy to do and will definitely make a difference in you showing up as the aware and intentional leader you want and need to be.  For example, learning to take three deep breaths from your belly before a big meeting or taking a short walk to energize your body and clear your mind when you’re feeling overworked and overwhelmed can do wonders.  In the book, I share a one page resource called the Life GPS® that will help you identify the routines that enable you to show up at your best and help you create the outcomes you want not just at work but at home and in your community as well.

If you want to demonstrate leadership presence you actually have to be present – not just physically, but also mentally, relationally and spiritually.  If feeling overworked and overwhelmed is keeping you from doing that, give the mindfulness alternative a try.  You’ll be a more effective and happier leader if you do.

About the author:
Scott Eblin is an executive coach, speaker and author who helps leaders exhibit leadership presence by being fully present.  His new book is Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative.  You can learn more about Scott and read his blog at

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

6 Simple Leadership Don’ts and Dos

Sometimes we tend to "complexify" things. Things like leadership.

That's why I love Bill Treasurer's guest post over at Leadership and Management:

6 Simple Leadership Don’ts and Dos.


Monday, October 13, 2014

30 Definitions of Leadership

Leadership has always been an elusive concept to define. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to learn and great leaders are in such short supply.

There really is no one “right” definition of leadership – so instead, I've published a collection of my favorite definitions over at Management and Leadership, from both the famous and not-so-famous.

Read them all, reflect on the kind of leader you want to be known for, and choose one that best fits your own leadership vision.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

From Great Employee to Lousy Boss

Why do great employees often turn out to be lousy managers?

Read my latest post over at Management and Leadership to find out why.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How to Lead like a Buddhist Monk

"Mindfulness" - cutting-edge trend or just the latest fad in leadership development?

Read my latest post over at Management and Leadership, and decide for yourself.


Monday, October 6, 2014

The October Leadership Development Carnival

The October Leadership Development Carnival is up!

It's being hosted this month by hosted by Mary Ila Ward, at her Horizon Point Consulting blog.

Enjoy these great posts from 29 of the best leadership bloggers. Every quote is a link to tweet. Feel free to share with your networks!

You can find it right here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Creating a Positive Leadership Legacy

Guest author S. Chris Edmonds explains how leaders can use “the 3 C’s:
Context, Courage, and Consistency” to create at positive leadership legacy.
Read my latest post over at Management and Leadership to find out how.