Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Leader within Us – Developing Our Self-Leader

Guest post from Stanley Ross:

The paucity of effective leaders is only because in general organizations aren’t good at developing leaders. The expectation is that individuals can jump from being a non-manager to become a leader type manager. This expectation is an illusion with everyone suffering the consequences. A non-manager needs to develop their ability to learn how to successfully lead themselves first. Subordinates are hesitant to follow someone who is challenged to lead themselves.

An individual with self-leadership potential demonstrates specific behaviors associated with values commonly in a self-leader. Values such as self-respect, positive attitude, achievement oriented, social relations oriented, focused, strong work ethic and other leader values support the conclusion that this person demonstrates self-leadership attributes and these same attributes, with more development, are attributes of successful leaders.

How can we differentiate between self-leaders and non-leader types? Attitude is the thermostat for assessing an individual’s measure of self-worth which is key to identifying a prospective self-leader for their potential to eventually become a leader. A self-leader represents the stage between non-managers and leader type managers (different from non-leader managers who are maintainers of order). Leadership development programs need to focus on developing the self-leader first to provide the foundation for the subsequent stage of actual leader development.

Screening is an important first step to identify individuals with the potential to become a self-leader. An effective screening process is multi-faceted. The first step is to develop a set of screening criteria. Three essential categories of criteria include values, behaviors exhibited and social relations. Each category is easy to define and the leadership literature provides the specifics to use. Behavior and social relations are proxy measures for values and represent additional ways to learn the individual’s values indirectly. Social relations reflect a group of related values. Specific criteria and weighting/scoring system to accompany the criteria need identifying for each of the categories. Using several persons to screen provides several pair of eyes to objectify the screening process. Co-workers, supervisors and other significant contacts involved directly or indirectly with the candidates represent the best set of eyes.

The training program designer needs to consider three goals in designing a self-leadership development training program. First, training needs to either develop or build on values associated with successful self-leaders and successful leaders. Often the difference between these values is to image each value on a continuum and that a leader is closer to the end point than the self-leader. Second, the designer needs to focus on teaching the trainee to become a successful change agent. Learning how to transform the self is an important step in learning how to transform an organization or sub-unit of an organization. Finally, the training program needs to focus on activities that teach the trainee to become a successful change agent. Leadership is all about disrupting norms to develop new norms in the never ending process called achieving and which I often refer to as comfort zone busting. Individuals need to benefit from the experiences of comfort zone busting and the strategies used to successfully disrupt their personal comfort zone norms to gain the knowledge and skills that come from personal experiences. Existing values benefit and new values result from the training process.

A well-designed self-leadership development training program needs to encompass a variety of experiential exercises that involve pushing the trainees outside of their comfort zone. An exercise with a planned process that includes a goal helps to provide a routine for the change process and that the trainee to assess progress and make adjustments to the process dictated by the circumstances. Learning to adapt is both an important value to enhance and a skill trainees need to develop during the change process. 

A SMART goal is the recommended type of goal because SMART goals are measurable, realistic and create a sense of urgency because of the time constraint. Another important feature of an ideal training program is to incorporate the role of a mentor or coach. Mentors advise and coaches are task focused. Each role can provide a personal touch to help to successfully guide trainees through the various learning experiences within the training program.

A successful training program is one that develops trainee’s values and feelings of self-worth to the extent that the trainee moves forward to become a self-leader and eventually an effective leader.

Author bio:
Dr Stanley Ross is an Associate Professor of Management at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, MA.  Dr. Ross was in the active military and three tours in a combat zone.  Dr. Ross earned a Bachelor’s degree; Master’s and Doctorate post the military.  Dr. Ross recently published a book entitled “The Road to Self-Leadership Development: Busting Out of Your Comfort Zone.”  (Publisher: Emerald, 2015).  The book’s semi-autographical focus offers readers a model for understanding the self-leadership development process and how organizations and individuals can apply the model as a first step in the development of leaders.  Successful leaders need to become successful self-leaders first.  Successful leaders have a high rating on self-worth.  The book offers readers guidelines to follow on building self-worth. Contact: or

Monday, June 27, 2016

How Leaders can Ignite Innovation

An executive at a company I work with recently told me:
“We have very creative employees who want to be innovative but find many obstacles created by the cultural opposition to it. We have to find a way to hold a mirror up to leaders so they can recognize the issue and then give them tools to overcome or at least neutralize the cultural barriers.”

He’s so right! We spend a lot of time training and encouraging employees at all levels how to be more creative and innovation. They leave our programs all fired up ready to change the world, then go back to a workplace that crushes their innovative ideas and enthusiasm. It’s usually the organization’s leaders, with good intentions that unknowingly putting up barriers to innovation.

According to research from creativity researcher Goran Ekvall, leaders who seek innovation but are unsure how to make it happen can easily undermine innovation goals. In fact, leadership behavior contributes from 20% to 67% of the climate for creativity in organizations (from CCL whitepaper “Innovation, How Leadership Makes the Difference”).

Becoming a leader that drives innovation doesn’t always require learning new skills – it often means stopping innovative-killing behaviors or practices.

Here are 10 things a leader can do to create an environment where employees are encouraged to be innovative:
1. Be a connector. Facilitate constructive cooperation (not competition!) between groups working on similar opportunities).  

2. Allow employees time to innovate. Engineering organizations are notorious for making sure 100% of their engineer’s time is billed to a program. Leaders need to give employees a few hours a week to experiment, work on projects that are outside of their jobs, to read, or to solve problems. Google is well known for the practice of allowing their employees to spend 20% of their time on things not related to their immediate jobs or projects.
3. Encourage your employee to hang out with “PNLUs” (people not like you). People that are different bring a different perspective and fresh ideas. Some teams invite PNLUs to be a part of their project teams.

4. Replace “yeah but” with “what if”. Instead of saying, “It won’t work,” or, “We already tried that,” say “Well, up until now it hasn’t worked,” or, “What if…?”
5. Set a realistic expectation for innovation success. Innovative ideas, by their very nature, probably won’t be readily accepted or they will fail. What’s a good batting average for innovation? Some would say around 200, or one out of five ideas. Don’t let your employees get frustrated about the four rejections – instead, reward the effort and encourage them to come back swinging until they get a hit.

6. Take an Edison approach to “failure”:  “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
7. Provide as much autonomy and ownership for jobs, projects, or tasks. According to Daniel Pink, employees are motivated the most by autonomy – the freedom to do things their own way. The challenge for many managers to allow employees to do things differently than they would do them, as long as they are getting good results. Who knows, they may come up with a better way!

8. Provide training. Innovation is not something a person is born with (DNA) – innovation can be learned. Provide training in how to be more innovative.
9. Allow your employees to attend conferences and networking events. Again, in order to get them exposed to PNLUs and new ideas.

10. Encourage employees to observe their customers or users. This is central to the concept of “design thinking,” pioneered by the innovative design company IDEO. This isn’t about reading market research reports or user surveys – it’s about actually going out and observing the users of whatever it is you make or provide.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Defining Corporate Culture–Why Is It Critical?

Guest post from Rick Tiemann:

You can’t just take it for granted and assume that having a business plan in place is all it takes in order to develop your leadership program. You also can’t take for granted that having a leadership development program in place will enhance the quality of the leaders within your organization.

You must also have a corporate culture that emulates your business plan. The old cliché, “talk the talk and walk the walk,” is exactly what this means. If your corporate culture does not emphasize how you go about executing your business plan, you’re likely to have trouble achieving success. To begin with, it starts at the top, and the CEO must embrace a corporate culture that embraces the philosophy of building a learning organization. That is only the start of building your corporate culture, but it is an essential one. Without that piece, people won’t be held accountable for the learning and developing that they should be doing.

On the other hand, when the expectation for continuous learning becomes part of your corporate culture, learning is more likely to take place at the level you need it to. Do you know if your strategic intent and your corporate culture are in sync? If you are unsure of what your culture looks like and how to evaluate your corporate culture, here are some questions to help you frame your thinking.

• Do we have a corporate culture that supports people?
• Do we allow people to fail?
• Do we encourage people to take chances?
• Do we give them the tools to learn?
• Do we hold them accountable for their development?

Corporate culture is a hard thing to measure and is subjective in nature as everyone’s definition of culture varies. Your perception of your corporate culture is seen through your paradigm, and that may not be reality. Don’t be blinded by your own paradigm. Surveys can be an impactful way of taking the pulse of an organization and allowing you to find out what is happening across the broad spectrum of the company. An effective survey will help you get the lay of the land before
you embark down the wrong path. Usually, your survey will be more accurate if you use a third-party vendor rather than conducting it yourself internally. To have the meaningful impact you seek, you should do the following
when planning your survey:

• Set the stage to help people understand why you are doing the survey and what you hope to accomplish.

• Help your staff feel comfortable so they will be candid and not fear retribution for saying something that might be offensive.

• Share the results with the respondents. If you don’t, they will not believe it’s worth spending the time to take the survey and may not speak up in the future.

• Address and, at the very least, make the recommended changes that emerge from the information or explain why something cannot be done. You cannot ignore this. You must also let the entire organization see that you have listened and acted upon the results of the survey.

• Conduct the exact same survey in twelve to fourteen months to determine if the changes have taken hold and improvements were made. If you change the survey and do not ask the same questions in the same way, you cannot compare the results accurately and you will not be able to determine if your company has made improvements. It is imperative that you be willing to conduct the exact same survey a year after the first.

If you follow these principles, people will see you are fully committed to making improvements. Keep in mind the following powerful statement, “People support what they help create.” Listening and engaging your people will pay dividends when you build an organization around employee engagement. While following these principles is the right thing to do, it is important to understand that doing all these things does not guarantee you success. As an example, I was speaking to a president of a company about the employee feedback he tries to receive at the end of every month. All of the feedback he was getting was positive, yet there was a large increase in turnover from the previous year. To address the issue of staff departures, he brought in a third party to conduct employee interviews and found out that the reason people were leaving was because they were frustrated with several members of the senior leadership team. They told the president what he wanted to hear not what he needed to hear. This is not an uncommon situation, which is why surveys are more revealing when they are conducted by a third-party provider, especially if there are difficult leaders in place.

Rick Tiemann is President of The Executive Group and works with companies in the areas of organizational and business development. His expertise is on developing organizational effectiveness through employee selection and development with a targeted focus on sales and leadership.  His new book is Developing World Class Leaders.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Building Commitment on Your Team

Guest post from by JV Venable:

Any man or woman you hire will come on board with a measure of uncertainty.  They’ll step in wondering just what kind of commitment they can expect from you, and many will wonder if they can measure up to the standards on your team.  Commitment is a foundational requirement for loyalty, and loyalty for trust.  When you help them come up to speed with the technical standards, and give them a leg up on gaining social acceptance of your team, you’ll build a strong foundation of commitment.  But even when you fill those gaps and help them gain organizational traction, many will still carry self-doubts.  When those situations flare, your words will further their confidence like nothing else can.  I learned that lesson as a new fighter pilot taking my first steps into one of the most unforgiving environments in the world – my first operational fighter squadron.

A little humble pie over Turkey.

The weather was bad and our formation of four jets was forced to fly a pretty complicated instrument procedure into our deployed location at the far end of the Mediterranean. While each pilot was flying his own approach, we were also charged with maintaining a position two miles behind the jet in front of us. I took pride in flying a smooth jet, but that afternoon I got caught up in the bevy of tasks, and my usual precision seemed to unravel into out-and-out flailing.

I flew one of the worst approaches of my life, weaving left and right of course and it felt like I was moving the throttle continually from stop to stop. I managed to get back on the ground safely, but the effort really made me question my own competence. I was brand new in the unit, trying to establish a little credibility, and those moments of seeming incompetence were weighing heavily on me as we touched down.

As soon the van picked up the four of us, the other three pilots jumped into an animated conversation. “I got to tell you boys, that was one of the worst approaches of my life. I was all over the sky and never did settle into a smooth rhythm — It was mighty ugly!” Bill “Blaze” Binger said it so matter-of-factly that his words began to lighten my load. If someone with his experience and reputation could fly a bad approach, then maybe I wasn’t so bad after all. I knew it really was a one-off for me, but if he hadn’t made light of his own performance, that approach would have haunted me for weeks.

That night, I thought back on the fact that Blaze had been right behind me throughout the approach. He could have seen my every bob, weave, and change in airspeed with his radar, but there wasn’t even a hint of sarcasm in his voice. To this day, I don’t know if he was really talking about himself, or if he was trying to let me know that even the best fall short every now and then.

When your own standards are high, even small failures can seem disproportionate, whether you’re looking at yourself or at someone else. If Blaze’s words were directed at himself, then he set the bar high for honesty. If they were directed at me, he had re-enforced his commitment to my growth by letting me know that everyone has a bad day. Somehow he managed to accomplish both that afternoon.

The bed down phase can be an emotional rollercoaster for new hires. Keep an eye out, and chamber of few encouraging words when you see those doubts flare.  When you do, you’ll build the kind of commitment in your followers that lasts a lifetime.

About JV Venable:
Colonel JV Venable [USAF, Ret], author of
Breaking the Trust Barrier: How Leaders Close the Gaps for High Performance, is a Fighter Weapons School graduate who went on to lead the USAF Thunderbirds and combat group of 1,100 American airmen in the Persian Gulf. For more information, please visit and connect with JV on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Monday, June 13, 2016

How to Manage Yourself so Your Boss Won’t Have to

What’s the difference between an employee that can’t seem to tie their own shoes without asking “mother may I” and one that can perform with a high level of autonomy and accountability?

It comes down to three things:

1. The employee must have a high degree of competence and confidence.

2. The employee needs to understand the mission and goals of the organization (clarity).

3. The employee’s manager needs to allow and encourage self-leadership. No micro-management allowed!

I learned an important model for self-leadership and empowerment from reading “Turn the Ship Around”, by former naval officer David Marquet. I also completed his online course for $75.00.
It’s called “the Ladder of Leadership”. I’ve used this model to manage myself, shared it with my boss, used it in my executive coaching work, and referenced it in our leadership programs here at the University of New Hampshire.

The model can be used to teach leaders how to “let go” and empower their employees to make their own decisions. It can also be used by leaders as a way to coach employees up the ladder. Finally, it can be used by anyone as a roadmap to self-leadership.
Here’s what it looks like from the employee’s perspective:

7. I’ve been doing…..
6. I’ve done…

5. I intent to…
4. I would like to….

3. I think….
2. I see….

1. Tell me what to do.
And here’s the manager’s view of the ladder:
7. What have you been doing?
6. What have you done?

5. What do you intend to do?
4. What would you like to do?

3. What do you think?
2. What do you see?

1. I’ll tell you what to do.
Your goal as a manager and/or employee is to work your way up the ladder, rung by rung, until you are almost always having conversations at the top rung (#7) of the ladder.

Sound easy? Of course it’s not. However, it gives you a roadmap and a way to measure your progress.
It requires an investment in employee development, a two-way commitment, and a willingness to allow for mistakes. See Say “Thank-you” to Mistakes.

What do you think? Or better yet, what have you been doing? (-:

Thursday, June 9, 2016

To Get the What--You Need the Why and How

Guest post from regular contributor S. Chris Edmonds:

Why does your leadership team exist? To get results. Increase profits. Deliver expected performance. Right?

Take a look at many companies, and that seems to be true. The only thing that is measured, monitored, and rewarded are results and profits--that’s what they mean by “performance.” Leaders are recognized and valued (and paid) based upon their ability to deliver these tangible results. In many cases, that’s what leaders before them did, so they’ve picked up the baton and do the same thing.

It’s all they know.

But focusing exclusively on results and profits often has unwanted consequences. The biggest one? Team leaders and members find any way they can to make sure those numbers look good, including inhibiting other’s performance, manipulating numbers, spinning a presentation, or worse. The “I win, you lose” mantra destroys trust, respect, and dignity.

It also destroys the very results the company is aiming to achieve.

Think about it. Why would anyone want to work hard to deliver results with integrity when those who are recognized and rewarded are the ones who took the shortcuts?

There is nothing wrong with results and profits. What sucks is when the work environment is so competitive that people have to battle their peers to “win.” So much for wellbeing and cooperation. Welcome to anxiety and anger.

There is a better way. I can
prove it.

Leadership teams who craft a present day purpose focused on serving others, and clearly outlining desired values, behaviors, strategies and goals via an organizational constitution see results, performance, engagement and service increase by an average of 35% - 40% within 18 months. Those are impressive numbers, but getting leadership teams to evolve past their “old ways” is challenging.

So start with questions.

● What does this team do? (How do they spend their time?)

● Who do they do this for? (Who are this team’s primary customers?)

● Why do they do it? (What is the desired outcome—besides making money?)

You might be surprised at the answers to number three. Sure, employees want decent pay, benefits and perks. But what humans crave more is purpose and meaning. They want to make a difference. When they feel they do, engagement goes up. They serve others effectively. And turnover goes down.

The “why” question is critically important. Most leadership teams I work with struggle with an answer to it. They’d rather focus on tangible results, fearing if they don’t, those results will go away. But they won’t. They will likely get better.

Using this exercise, one of my client’s crafted a terrific, service oriented purpose statement for their leadership team:

“Drive results and service through engagement and respect.”

This statement honors the tangible goals, but specifies that they are to be earned the right way.

Leaders, don’t focus exclusively on results. Think about the why and how. The leaders are responsible for a work environment based on trust, respect, and dignity. Create that, and see the results you want come naturally.

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, June 2, 2016

A Lesson in Leadership from the Melancholic Teddy Roosevelt

The 26th President led a very tragic life; it made him empathetic and a great leader

Guest post from Jon Knokey:

Certainly there can only be one Theodore Roosevelt: the smile, the bombastic laugh, the unbridled energy that bore him the nickname the “steam engine in trousers.” 

But Theodore Roosevelt was deeply melancholic and forlorn. America just did not know it, then or now.

“His own brave and cheerful front was what the world knew him for,” biographer David McCullough writes “. . . [but] he dwelt more on the isolation and sadness inherent in human life, than most people ever realized.”

An intensely sick and asthmatic kid, living in sheltered aristocracy, Theodore fought off death as a youngster.  Few in the Roosevelt family thought he would survive to see his eighth birthday.  Shortly after TR turned twenty years old, his father died abruptly of cancer. Just a few years later, on Valentine’s Day 1884, Theodore’s mother and wife died on the same day, in the same house, just hours a part.   The wife died from Bright’s disease, the mother from typhoid fever.  All three deaths – father, mother, and wife - were a complete shock.

Roosevelt spent months not sleeping, walking through the streets of New York alone at all hours of the night.  Friends recalled his bloodshot eyes, his inability to process the disaster.  He told a friend he had nothing to live for.  He wrote in his diary that “the light has gone out of my life.” 

“He was carrying a grief that he had in his own soul,” a close friend confirmed, “. . .[it] hounded him to death.”

To Roosevelt the world was flawed and ephemeral; an imperfect place that required moral leaders vigorously fighting to mend its brokenness.  This burden of sadness propelled TR to seek the beauty in leading imperfect people, in an imperfect world, to a new and better frontier.  His tragedies provided a vessel to empathize with the poor and the sick, the young and the old, the north and the south, all in the name of uniting around the belief that the future would be better than the past.

The hard truth of the three tragic deaths meant that the end was always near.  His father had died at forty-six; mother at forty-eight; wife, at twenty-two.  Life, like a candle, could be snuffed out instantly.  It was this overpowering appreciation that life was wild and precious and fleeting, that undoubtedly propelled TR to become the youngest person to ever be President.

Alice Roosevelt, Theodore’s eldest child, was often surprised to find that her father - the most popular man in America - would suddenly and silently succumb to what she termed “a melancholic streak.”  Unprompted, Theodore would get quiet and abruptly retreat to his inner thoughts, his mind a thousand miles away, his body despondent.  Often, his other children would find their dad in his study staring out the window, his eyes down, lost in his own mind.  His second wife Edith would categorize his many lapses into sadness as another one of "his depressed conditions about the future.”

Theodore, much like Abraham Lincoln, went through pains to hide his melancholy from the public; a forlorn leader was not what America wanted.  Theodore gave the masses energy and vibrancy.  But it was not easy.

On the day he was inaugurated governor of New York he arrived at the Executive Mansion and began shaking hands with  several thousand New Yorkers who had lined up to meet him.  Through smiles and laughter, the mood was festive and energetic.  TR boomed with laughter.

But despite all the pomp, and despite the fact that he was the most celebrated man in the nation’s most influential state, Theodore quickly grew quiet when he left the cheering crowds. His intimates had come to expect this.  After walking into the executive mansion for the very first time as Governor, he leaned in to longtime friend Fanny Parsons.  Eyes downtrodden and sad, he whispered that he had “shot his last bolt.”  It was only if he could find a way to leave his children “a legacy of work well done,” would he find happiness.

In Theodore’s melancholic mind, he was already forecasting a sorrowful end to his political career, just minutes after he was sworn in as Governor. The proclamation that he “shot his last bolt” is particularly peculiar considering four of the previous six US Presidential elections had included a Governor from New York and Roosevelt was only forty-one years old at the time.

“I have known sorrow too bitter and joy too keen to allow me to become either cast down or elated for more than a very brief period over success or defeat,” Theodore explained.

Theodore Roosevelt embraced the fragility of life.  He never gloated in victory and had the strength to persevere in trial and defeat.  He just endured it all, striving to lead American’s to a better frontier, together, as one.  This steadfast determination was shaped by his crucible moments of suffering.

Perhaps we can learn from a leader who internalized empathy - a man who promoted community in times of sadness as well as joy? Perhaps, then, we should revisit the importance of internal empathy, and not outwardly charisma, as a potential hallmark of true leadership? 

After all, it was Roosevelt’s empathy that made him a leader of consequence.

Jon Knokey is the author of Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of American Leadership, a riveting book exploring the leadership journey of the 26th President.
Jon is a former NCAA quarterback for Montana State University. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Dartmouth College and a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University. Jon was a Vice President for a start-up software company before joining the MBA executive leadership programs at General Electric and then at John Deere. His career has focused on leadership and management at the intersection of business and government. He and his wife have two young daughters. Find out more at: