Friday, February 26, 2016

Finding Executive Education Courses that Provide Networking Opportunities

By Richard Moy

Reprinted with permission

If you are searching for an executive-education course that will foster networking opportunities in addition to the actionable knowledge you are seeking to build, ask yourself these three questions as you sort through all your options.

Does your course foster a group-based learning environment?

Typical executive education courses operate on some combination of lectures, exercises, and an interactive group-based learning environment. In the event that you’re looking to acquire a new skill with a limited amount of time, a course that relies heavily on lectures and/or reading material and allows you to learn at your own pace is a great option. However, if you’re looking to network with business leaders who have faced similar challenges as you have, take a hard look at executive-education courses that prioritise group-based interaction and growth.

As the article above also points out, these group-based learning environments also lend themselves to smaller networks. Before you make any assumptions about the drawbacks of potentially fewer networking opportunities, it’s important to remember that relationships you’ll build in a group-based executive-education course will be more focused on shared goals and may actually be more useful over the long haul.

Is there professional diversity among participants?

Professionals looking to enroll in an executive-education course are often looking for a fresh perspective on familiar challenges. Executive-education courses that appeal to leaders across multiple industries are likely to offer precisely such an array of alternative perspectives, which makes for an excellent variety of networking opportunities.

Of course, leaders from within your field will have plenty to contribute to a conversation. However, a classroom full of professionals who bring perspectives from a variety of industries can fuel eye-opening conversations and shed new light on the challenges and opportunities you’re encountering. Seth Godin describes innovation to Entrepreneur as taking something that worked over there and using it over here. The article also continues by pointing out that Henry Ford’s idea for an assembly line was actually born out of a lesson he learned from a meatpacking facility. Be brave when selecting an executive-education course, especially if you’re looking to network, and consider courses where a handful of industries are well represented.

Can any of your existing contacts refer you to courses?

A quick search for “executive education networking” turns up seemingly promising course descriptions from a wide variety combination of leading business schools and institutes. Sifting through the noise of options can be a daunting task. Why not pair your research with personal insight from people you trust?

Much like you would when deciding on other professional opportunities, don’t be afraid to ask for references from colleagues or reach out to people who have taken a course you’re considering.

About the author:
Richard Moy is a freelance writer who covers a variety of education-related topics for The Economist Careers Network's blogs.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Five Things GREAT Bosses Do Daily

Guest post from S. Chris Edmonds:

Every morning, your team members rally themselves to come to work. Some are enthused about what they’ll experience that day. They feel trusted, honored, and respected. They’re optimistic about what they’ll learn, how they’ll partner with peers, how they’ll contribute to customers’ quality of life that day.

Those team members don’t have to work hard to rally themselves.

Other team members are not enthused about what they’ll experience in your team’s work environment. They might feel it’s much more likely they’ll be demeaned and discounted than trusted or respected at work that day.

Those team members have to rally themselves hard to get into work.

If your workplace culture doesn’t treat team members with trust, respect, and dignity in every interaction, you’ve got work to do. You need to embrace the best practices of GREAT bosses.

Over 30 years of research and experience have helped me identify these five best practices that help GREAT bosses craft high performing, values-aligned teams. These practices are easily remembered - they form the acronym GREAT.

GREAT bosses inspire GROWTH. They create avenues for team members to learn new approaches, develop new skills, and gain confidence to put those skills into action in the workplace. They don’t allow team members’ skill sets to stagnate. GREAT bosses help team members continually boost their contribution and value to the company.

GREAT bosses honor RELATIONSHIPS. They know that positive relationships based on shared values create mutual trust and respect in the workplace. They create and maintain positive relationships with team members and expect the same among team members. They act to maintain a safe, inspiring, productive workplace so employees feel valued and honored at work. GREAT bosses know that trust and respect is a fragile state; it must be tended and monitored daily.

GREAT bosses inspire EXCELLENCE. They set clear performance expectations and coach team members to exceed them, every time. High standards met consistently help differentiate the team’s contribution to the company and to their customers. They must create a work environment that enables team members to apply their knowledge and skills in service to the team’s performance standards.

GREAT bosses ensure ACCOUNTABILITY.  They know that consequence management is the avenue to high performing, values-aligned teams. They praise and encourage progress & accomplishment of both goals and valued behaviors. They redirect and, if needed, reprimand values mis-aligned behaviors and/or missed performance standards.

GREAT bosses spur TEAMWORK. They know that cooperative interaction among team members maintains trust and respect more than competitive interaction does. They align all players to norms that enable sharing of information, skills, and support across their team. They hold teams and team members to high standards, not just for performance but for citizenship, as well.

By embracing these best practices, you can create a safe, inspiring, productive work environment that team members thrive in - and love being a part of.

How well does your current boss model these best practices? Add your comments below.

S. Chris Edmonds is a sought-after speaker, author, and executive consultant. After a 15-year career leading successful teams, Chris founded his consulting company, The Purposeful Culture Group, in 1990. Chris has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies since 1995. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Amazon best sellers The Culture Engine and Leading At A Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Learn from his blog posts, podcasts, assessments, research, and videos at Get free resources plus weekly updates from Chris by subscribing here.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Learning from Start-ups: Speed Does Not Kill

Guest post from Steven D. Goldstein:

I’ve never met a leader who says to his team, “Let’s move slowly.” In fact, most companies think they are moving quickly – it’s just that in actuality they are not. This is why start-ups have such a great advantage. Once they make the decision to start their business they operate at full throttle almost immediately. They know that if they do not build this business, and quickly, they have nothing – so it becomes a fight for their life from day one. Corporate time is typically measured in months, quarters and years, whereas start-ups tend to think in hours, days and weeks.

Why Does It Take So Long

It drives me crazy when I see leaders who believe they have time to ponder. As Mario Andretti, the famous race car driver, once said, “If your car is under control, you’re not driving fast enough” (and this is a man who knows what fast means). As recently as ten years ago, it took a lot longer to design and launch products, or even companies for that matter. But with improvements in technology, resources and cash available globally things happen much more quickly. We’ve all watched the decline of numerous companies who did not realize that the pace at which they were moving, while it might have sufficed before, was no longer going to work in today’s world. They sat by and watched their vaunted products, and in some cases the companies themselves, wither on the vine. In the past, corporate demises took decades, but today the same thing can happen in months and years.
I really don’t think leaders intentionally want to move slowly; but there are several factors preventing them from moving fast. Fear is a clearly an element. Fear can lead to endless requests for analysis, meetings, studies and other measures, whose sole purpose is to minimize risk and avoid making decisions. While some of that may have value, the problem is that the analysis is often too internally focused and the time spent reviewing the information exacerbates the fundamental problem itself. I believe that perfection never happens, and that therefore, “85% of very good, now” is a much better plan of action than 100% of perfect.
Another common impediment to speed is being too wedded to a plan, and to the planning process in general. These annual plans, typically formalized in the fall of the prior year, take on a life of their own and often are the primary element in determining executive compensation. Leaders tend to want to “stick with the plan” even in the face of new developments. Often I will hear a leader, in response to a new development, say, “Let’s bake that into next year’s plan.” This assumes they will be able to weather the storm until then.
Of course, it is unreasonable to expect a large organization to operate completely like a start-up. Yet it is possible, for big companies to adopt some key elements of what makes start-ups so unique. First and foremost, the leader needs to decide that he will embrace a few start-up characteristics and start modeling those behaviors at every opportunity. In meetings, the leader needs to listen differently to what is being said, with a keen ear to picking up on it when people quote longer time frames than are needed, plans for extensive analysis (i.e. paralysis) and other common slowing-down elements. Instead, he needs to ask: What needs to be accomplished in order to make this decision within one or two weeks? Then he needs to have a discussion as to why the recommendation says it is going to take four months. In other words, it’s important to instill a sense of urgency, so that people do not err too much on the side of being slow and careful. People need to remember they are in a war, not at a tea party.

Uniqlo – A Big Company Who Moves Quickly

Uniqlo is now recognized as the Number 1 casualwear brand, not only in Japan, but in Greater China and South Korea as well. The company prides itself of selling popular low priced items with high quality while constantly offering its customers new product lines and specific items. Importantly, it is rapidly opening stores in the United States and Europe, while simultaneously growing its online business. Its business model is designed around speed including everything from product design, supply chain, manufacturing and distribution, sales effectiveness and customer satisfaction – all tuned to constantly provide new, exciting clothing in its stores. The company continues to grow globally at an astounding rate, and demonstrates that large companies can move quickly.

JPMorgan Chase - Collaboration for Speed

Another way for companies to pick up speed is to collaborate. For example, JPMorgan Chase, the biggest bank in the U.S., has partnered with OnDeck Capital in order to dramatically speed up the process of providing loans to their small business clients. By combining Chase’s relationships and lending experience with OnDeck’s technology platform, they’ll now be able to offer almost real-time approvals and same- or next-day funding. Chase will be able to provide OnDeck’s technology platform to its four million small business customers--allowing loans that used to take weeks to be funded to now be made within hours. This is a case of a traditional company keeping apace of the times, rather than risking going the way of RadioShack.
More and more, large companies who understand and appreciate the need for acting like startups are training themselves to keep their foot firmly on the gas pedal. Time is not a leader’s friend. It’s vital to get quick wins and learn from failures fast, and to always treat change as a constant. One thing is for certain: Waiting is never an option.

Steve Goldstein is a proven leader who has held executive positions with leading global brands, such as American Express (Chairman and CEO of American Express Bank), Sears (President of Sears Credit), and Citigroup, as well as several early-stage enterprises. He currently works in the private equity industry as a Senior Advisor with the consulting and advisory firm Alvarez & Marsal, serves as Chairman of US Auto Sales, serves as a Senior Advisor to Milestone Partners and an Industrial Advisor to EQT Partners (a global private equity firm based in Stockholm).  He has also advised CEOs and private equity owners providing counsel on performance improvement with their companies in addition to acquisitions and merger integration opportunities. He has served on numerous boards, such as: American Express Bank, Jafra Cosmetics, Union Bancaire Privée, Pay-O-Matic and Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City. Steve has been an investor, advisor, and interim CEO for more than 10 venture backed e-commerce companies. Steve holds a Bachelor’s degree from City University of New York City, and an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business. He lives in New York City.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Servant Leadership Revisited

Guest post from William Dann:

The concept of servant leadership was introduced by Ancient Chinese philosophers such as Lao-Tzu, then found in the Christian teachings of Mark. It was popularized in modern management writings by Robert Greenleaf in a 1970 essay. 

To me it is more of a value system. Servant leaders value the needs of followers over their own needs for recognition, being right or being in control. Greenleaf was promoting this concept as “the rock upon which a good society is built”. No doubt true, but, in my experience the concept has real limitations when applied in certain organizational situations.

Defining Leadership

Let’s begin with an operating definition of leadership.  I consider it to be defining what needs to get done and assuring that it is done. Other management theorists such as Ken Blanchard focus on leadership as enabling the full potential of subordinates/peers to be contributed to an organization.  In that context, servant leadership works.

However, an organization needs clear direction and a clear set of rules.  At the end of whatever process is used to define these, a leader must hold them firm. That is, the vision, culture and organizational framework to which the “full potential of employees” are to be applied must be clear and consistent. Defining what needs to get done and assuring that it is done is a pre-condition for servant leadership to be effective.

Context is Key

The characteristics of Greenleaf’s servant leader are described as: “listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and building community.” I would submit that, while a great list, it lacks characteristics required for a turnaround or similar situations.  For these, I would add organizational assessment, decision-making, problem solving, strategic thinking, accountability for results and managing change.

It is my experience that employees gravitate to strong leaders.  A strong hand on the rudder makes them feel safe and well served.  Yes, they want involvement, affirmation of their accomplishments and many of the other characteristics Greenleaf lauds, but followers will not forgive a leader who does not see and confront what the organization needs to move forward.  They will forgive making a wrong decision, but not the failure to make one.

The risk in confining oneself to the servant leader philosophy is that you will, in fact, not meet the needs of employees.  There are times when those needs are to be led out of the fire. 

A leader who inherits an organization in which the staff has been suppressed cannot execute a turnaround by simply affirming belief in the potential of staff and delegating responsibility.   It is the equivalent of beating a dead horse.  First, the horse must be revived, and doing so takes affirmative action that creates safe space for the followers to flourish.  The affirmative actions involve 1) creating a clear set of expectations, 2) establishing a clear set of rules and 3) identifying and removing barriers to employees being effective.

So What to Do?

Step 1, understand that your job as leader is to meet the priority needs of the organization and those serving in it.  Thus, job one is to understand accurately those needs and wants.  This is done by observation and by inquiry.  Once completed, you now have a “To Do” list of decisions needed, problems to be solved, structure to be defined, policies to be clarified, processes to be improved, and priorities to be established.

Step 2, define the ability of those you are leading to execute on their own vs. needing to have leadership established before they feel safe to act.  In short, understand the true condition of your management team and workforce.  It may be that before the group can begin problem solving on their own, they may need some barriers removed by you.  Once a strong leader emerges that is meeting their needs, they will feel safe to begin making decisions and solving problems on their own.

These are no small tasks. The norm for leaders is that in doing step 1, they are able to see only what they can handle. They can become so overwhelmed with the result, i.e., the “to-do list”, that they literally don’t see many of the problems that exist. When this is the case, their followers see them as being out of touch, having a different reality and having little value to them as followers. 

The challenge with step 2 is that all leaders have a go-to leadership style that they tend to practice in all situations.  Moving off this go-to style to meet the true needs of their followers (being a Situational Leader) requires high intention and flexibility.  It may mean the affirming, servant leader having to be an authoritarian for a period or the authoritarian backing off and letting the team grow by making their own decisions and their own mistakes.

There is no greater joy or reward than effectively leading others.  But, getting there requires constant learning and growth.  This, in part, explains why effective leaders are a rare breed.

William Dann is founder and president of Professional Growth Systems, LLC, (Anchorage, AK) and author of CREATING HIGH PERFORMERS:  7 Questions To Ask Your Direct ReportsFor more information visit

Monday, February 1, 2016

Say “Thank-you” to Mistakes

This post recently appeared in SmartBlog on Leadership:

As a leader, what’s your first reaction when someone comes to you and tells you they made a mistake? While you may or may not verbalize your thoughts, you may be thinking to yourself:
  • Oh crap!
  • Seriously?!
  • What the hell were you thinking?
  • How could you be so stupid?!
  • OMG, how are we going to clean up this mess?
These are our natural, normal reactions when we hear about mistakes. We are all hard-wired to see mistakes in a negative way. Fight or flight. Mistakes are bad, mistakes are a result of incompetence, mistakes should be avoided, mistakes need to be punished, and too many mistakes will lead to failure and getting fired.

Unfortunately, some leaders let their mouths get ahead of their brains and do blurt out their first reactions!
When that happens, mistakes don’t go away – we just stop hearing about them. They go underground. People are still making them but they are afraid to tell you and get really good at covering them up. Or, even worse, they stop making them altogether.

And that’s the last thing you want to happen as a leader!
Why? Because mistakes can often be the by-products of innovation, empowerment, delegation, development, change, and continuous improvement.

All of these things involve doing things differently, doing things for the first time, learning, and taking risks.
When an employee brings a mistake that they have made to their manager, it also means that they are self-aware, showing humility, and being accountable – all positive behaviors that we want to encourage!

As leaders, we need to train our brains to react to mistakes in a positive way, and to replace those negative reactions with a more positive response. The easiest and most effective way to do this is by saying “thank-you”.
That’s right, the next time one of your employees musters up the courage to come to you and admit a mistake they made, your immediate response should be “Thank-you for letting me know”.

Your next three questions should be:
1. “Please tell me what happened?” This question makes sure you and the employee have all of the relevant facts and a good understanding of the situation. Use open-ended questions to get the what, why, when and how.

2. “What have you done to fix it”? This question teaches your employees to be accountable and take responsibility to fixing their own mistakes. If they have not taken action yet, then the question should be “so what needs to be done to fix it?” Avoid the temptation to jump in with your own answer, as you’ll miss an opportunity to teach your employee to think for themselves.
3. “What did you learn?” This question shifts the discussion to learning, with a positive focus on the future.

When you learn to reframe the way you respond to mistakes, you’ll create an environment that encourages and rewards risking taking, continuous improvement, and development.
Note: credit for saying “thank-you” to mistakes goes to David Marquet, former nuclear submarine commander and author of Turn the Ship Around.