Thursday, April 25, 2019

Cheerleadership is not Leadership. Cheerleadership creates fake believers

Guest post by Ryan Berman:

Imagine for a second that your boss is miles away from the day-to-day. A sufferer of Corner Office Syndrome he or she continues to make command decisions without consulting the team. The decisions are astounding to you and you start to question these far-off choices.

Now, your attention isn’t on doing the right thing for the business, but on how to stop the wrong thing your boss has put in play. You have two options. You could bite your lip and go with the flow. …Or …try to address this head-on which is no easy feat.

It could be too big of a risk to put your livelihood at stake. Your mind drifts again — pondering if this company is the right place for you. You wonder why you care so much. The easy thing to do would be to care less.

The truth is your faith in the business has splintered.

This inner conversation happens to many of us. When it does, you are officially not a believer anymore. You are transgressing into a fake believer.

When you lose belief, or don’t have something to believe in, it’s easy to fake believe.

But as Navy SEALs Jocko Willink & Leif Babin remind us in their book, “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead & Win”, “They must believe in the cause for which they are fighting, they must believe in the plan they are asked to execute, and most important, they must believe in and trust the leader they are asked to follow.”

Building a cultural rocket ship is more rocket art than rocket science.

If your responsible for hiring talent in your company, then you already know it comes down to creating, retaining and sustaining internal believers.

Why is this so important?

Because believers aren’t just wanted—they are needed in order to create the necessary conviction that makes your organization thrive.

Consider these questions for a second: Do you often feel like you are on an island alone in your company? Do you have coworkers you can genuinely trust? Do you feel you’re being sucked into corporate politics? Are you in a Watch-Your-Back Culture or a Got-Your-Back Culture?

These are the questions that need to be openly talked about with your teams. And these are the types of conversations that are welcomed by true leaders.

This might be a good time to share a truth. I have a major gripe with the word leadership. Make no mistake that I believe we are in dire need of courageous leaders. However, I’ve seen too many poor leaders turn leadership into cheerleadership.

Poor leaders start ra ra’ing to their employees, which may work with some of your workforce, but your elite producers can see right through it. Internal discord starts the minute you send staff down inside themselves questioning, wondering and calling out a faulty decision. 

Management guru Ken Blanchard is spot on when he writes……“It takes a whole team of people to create a great company but just one lousy leader to take the whole business down the pan.”

Making Believers all starts at the top with what I call your Believership.

I’m sure you noticed the world choice. The clear mission of leadership is to transform into the company’s Believership. The Believership’s job is to create believers in all directions: making believers out of your employees, your prospects, your customers and, when appropriate, your board.

One final reason I like calling it a “Believership” is because successful leading is not simply about one person. There’s a checks and balances system working together at the top – if you’re lucky, that group shares values but brings breadth of experience to the table. Courage and business are both team games.

Having an aligned Believership makes it easy for employees to believe. They set the vision for the company, deliver the truth (no matter how hard the circumstance) and create trust – the most essential ingredient – that unlocks a successful team.

RYAN BERMAN is the author of RETURN ON COURAGE and the Founder of Courageous, a creative consultancy that develops Courage Brands® and trains organizations through Courage Bootcamp. Berman also founded Sock Problems, a charitable sock company that supports causes around the world by “socking” problems and spreading awareness. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Right Leadership, Right Model

Guest post from Charles D. Morgan:

A few decades ago, when time was still a gentle concept, companies just rocked along in their comfortable hierarchies, everything centralized, proposals moving up the chain of command and decisions moving down at approximately the speed of glue.
Then in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, we had the tech bubble, and the old business model began to come apart. A pendulum tends to swing too far at first, and pretty soon we were in the second Wild, Wild West. With “clicks” and “eyeballs” as the watchwords, everybody began racing everybody else to get projects launched before the next guy did. They were just crazily developing things, business model be damned. They threw tons of money at things that went absolutely nowhere.

It could’ve been just a brief period of madness, like the tulip craze of 17th century Amsterdam. But in fact the tech bubble was a message from the future: Time now moves faster, and businesses must too.
In my long career, 45 years of it as a CEO, I’ve lived that change. In general, the old hierarchical structure and central leadership model that I knew as a young man at IBM has given way to a more nimble team concept, in which power resides within small, self-contained units.  But the challenge for modern business leaders is to adapt and empower the kind of team-based structure that’s right for their particular businesses. That right model will evolve as the business evolves, so you have to keep adapting. But mission is key. And today, especially in tech companies, every mission involves innovation, and every innovation requires speed because of all the competition.

Our company, First Orion, builds scam blocking and caller ID solutions for mobile phone carriers. Our senior management just spent two days in a retreat talking yet again about organization and how best to continue to drive proper decision-making. Several years back we elected to go with a high performance business unit concept – that is, each business unit has its own overall mission and is comprised of several teams charged with achieving parts of that mission. We give each business unit as many resources – tech support, product management, marketing – as we can to enable them to operate as autonomously as possible.

But there’s always tinkering to be done. For example, if two or three teams within a unit are developing technology products, is it really efficient for each team to do their own product management internally? Or should there be a single product management group within the business unit?

There are problems both ways. If a team’s mission is to build a certain product, they want to hit the ground running. What they don’t want to do is have to wait around for some centralized product management group to tell them how to proceed. On the other hand, if every team is totally self contained, when you bring together all the product sheets from every business unit it’s like you’re five different companies. Wait a minute, you say, this is nuts – nobody is communicating, nobody is coordinating, nothing is consistent. Somehow or other have to bridge the gap between a central product management organization – which is slow and cumbersome but gives you nice, orderly product definition and growth – and the guerilla-like missions of autonomous teams, which sometimes take you back to the Wild, Wild West.

Anyone who spends time around businesspeople today will frequently hear some variation of the words, “I own it.” This speaks volumes about the difference between the old centralized hierarchical business structure and the new team models. In the old days, lots of employees spent their careers as cogs in a giant machine. They were there, often precisely from 9 to 5, just to play their small parts in the overall pageant of their companies’ business. Today’s small team members “own” their work, which means they accept the accountability that comes with the freedom to make their own decisions.

This change alone means that contemporary business leaders must approach their jobs differently than did business leaders of the past. A CEO today points the way, of course; but rather than sitting in an executive suite on high, he or she must be comfortable down among the troops, in the middle of the fray, moving at the speed of innovation.

Charles D. Morgan is the visionary former Chairman and CEO of Acxiom Corporation, and is now Chairman and CEO of his latest tech venture, First Orion.  His new book is Now What?  The Biography of a (Finally) Successful Startup. Morgan lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.  For more information, please visit  

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A Leader’s Guide to Preventing and Dealing with Workplace Conflict

Most people can handle just about any amount and type of work that comes their way. It’s not the work that puts them over the edge – its conflict with coworkers!

Conflict in the workplace – or anywhere - is inevitable. Conflict is part of being human. Some people are more comfortable with it than others, and some people tend to be “conflict carriers”.

Ultimately, it’s part of a leader’s job to deal with workplace conflict head-on. Ignoring it will only make matters worse, and will eventually impact team productivity, results, employee satisfaction, and the leader’s reputation.

Here are some ways to manage workplace conflict, so that little problems don’t fester into BIG problems:

1. Make the ability to collaborate an expectation. Establishing expectations start with the hiring process. Are you looking to hire lone wolfs, or employees that can collaborate with others? If it’s the latter, than you need to ask questions that uncover how well the candidate gets along with their co-workers. Look for red flag answers like, “Well, I have very high standards, and sometimes get frustrated with others if they don’t meet those standards”. Which often translates to: “I thought my co-workers were idiots and we fought like cats and dogs.”
Make the ability to collaborate a job expectation for all employees, reward it, and make it a condition for advancement.
2. Recognize the difference between healthy and destructive conflict. Healthy conflict is making it OK to disagree, to debate the issue, challenge the process, and speak up. Destructive conflict is when it gets personal, gets in the way of working effectively, and has a negative impact on productivity, innovation, and ultimately, results.

3. Don’t ignore it – look for little signs that can turn into big problems. A manager needs to be having regular one-on-ones with all direct reports, as well as regular team meetings. These are the opportunities to ask questions, listen, and watch for subtle clues of unhealthy conflict. Most employees won’t want to tattle of their co-workers or be seen as a complainer – but you might pick up that they are going out of their way to work with another employee. Point out your observation, and ask why.

4. Be a role model with your peers. Many managers don’t understand the connection between how well they work with and talk about their fellow managers, and how well their own employees work together. Employees learn more from watching a manager’s behaviors than they do from what the manager says.

5. Learn a conflict resolution methodology. Most people shy away from conflict because it’s often messy and painful. If you’re not good at something, or you don’t like it, you’ll most likely avoid it.

However, if you learn and practice a consistent approach, you get good at it, and your world gets better as a result of dealing with it, then you’ll be more likely to seek out opportunities to deal with conflict.

I’d recommend taking a course in conflict management or reading a good book, like Crucial Conversations. A good course or book will give you a framework and set of tools, which gives you the confidence to confront conflict in a constructive, deliberate way. You’ll also be able to coach employees how to handle their own conflicts.

There are a lot of different conflict resolution models, but most of them have the following 5 elements:
            1. Stay calm and dealing with the emotions first
            2. State what is bothering you in a respectful and specific way
            3. Listen to the other person’s perspective for complete understanding
            4. Problem solving – look for root causes and win-win solutions
            5. Agree on actions to be taken, and making mutual commitments

Any new skill takes time and practice before we get comfortable with it. The important thing is to have the right intention – which is to resolve the conflict, not to punish the other person.

6. Help your employees with their conflicts. Once you’ve learned how to handle your own conflicts, you can help your employees deal with their conflicts. There are two ways to do this – teach them a methodology (or have them learn the same way you did) so that they can handle on their own. In fact, some managers and experts say this is the only approach a manager should take – that is, they should never get involved in a conflict between two of their employees. While I can see the value of encouraging employees to handle their own conflicts without having to “run to Dad or Mom”, I still think are times when a manager needs to step in.

However – it’s important that the manager doesn’t get caught in the middle by having individual conversations with each employee and trying to mediate. Instead, the manager should sit down with both employees and coach the employees through the conflict resolution process.

Learn to proactively eliminate destructive conflict and deal with it before it gets out of control and everyone will be able to focus on their work, and not get caught up in unproductive and stressful workplace drama.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Lead, Don’t Manage, Knowledge Workers

Guest post from James Hlavacek:

To improve innovation and growth, knowledge workers must be led, not managed. Too many policies born of bureaucracy are an enemy to creativity, so the more unnecessary distractions a company can remove from its employees, the freer they will be to contribute more creative ways. Management must reduce the administrative and on the job hassles for its employees by:

• Hiring people who are curious and knowledgeable about the job, the industry, the company;

• Limiting the number and length of meetings;

• Encouraging employees to network internally and collaboratively to continually seek the best and most efficient practices and solutions to problems; and

• Rewarding experimentation and avoiding penalties for mistakes made in
the pursuit of better solutions to customer needs.

Knowledge workers are self-directed, not other-directed, which means that they must be provided considerable autonomy. Out of respect for the knowledge they’ve gained over years, even front-line plant workers need freedom to “do their thing” as professionally as possible on their own. If they need help or clarification, they will ask for it.

People at all levels of a company, both degreed engineers and factory-floor craftspeople, are needed to design user-friendly new products and assemble prototypes that users can experiment with in the field. Today’s knowledge workers gain valuable information from every project and customer. They take their knowledge home with them every night and with them from company to company, including to competitors, if they feel mistreated. True knowledge workers are focused first on their professions and secondly to their current employer. Empowered knowledge workers make the best decisions for both their own development and for the good of the organization as a whole—because they realize that both will benefit from organizational health.

Although profits are the lifeblood of an organization, the financials come last. High costs and poor financial performance are lagging indicators, not leading ones. Financial viability is not a function of balance sheets and income statements, but the result of a focus on employee empowerment and engagement. Both drive higher customer satisfaction, which, in turn, leads to new customers and retention of previous ones. To quote Steve Jobs: Today’s leaders must think differently and shift their focus on their employees, not their financials. Be accountable first to your employees, not just to accountants. In short, by first doing your best to support and empower your employees, you’ll drive your organization to achieve its mission and purpose and it will achieve its financial goals as a secondary effect.

Walk around your plant and ask employees what things are causing bottlenecks, frustrations and disconnects. Request suggestions for how to improve processes, what customers are saying, and where communication breakdowns occur. Conduct annual employee engagement surveys, asking a wide range of questions, but be sure to follow up with actions that demonstrate you are listening and willing to improve anything in the culture that stands in the way of knowledge workers.
James Hlavacek, Ph.D., has over 40 years of global experience as a businessman, strategy consultant, and management educator. He has written five books including his latest Fat Cats Don’t Hunt. He has been a board member of both Fortune 100 companies and successful venture capital startups.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Elevating Your Leadership Game

Guest post from Timothy J. Tobin:

Congratulations! You’re a leader. If you’re reading this, you have either already heard this phrase or you aspire to hear it. Leadership is complex and demands are high. How do you continue to elevate your leadership game? What can you do to become a great leader?

Great leaders set a compelling vision. They develop, inspire, and motivate people. They actively listen and provide regular feedback. They recognize and reward talent. They work across organizational boundaries, handle conflict, make decisions, and they deliver results. Great leaders have a learning mindset. They continuously develop themselves and others.

The best leaders make all of this look effortless, but the great ones I’ve worked with are committed to getting better.

Much like physical fitness, you cannot neglect your leadership fitness and expect optimal results. The development choices you make will have a profound impact on your performance and it will also impact those you lead. It is easy to become consumed with all the demands that come with being a leader. After all, you have got a job to do and results to deliver.

Then again, isn’t one of your imperatives to be the best leader you can be? Somehow, that gets lost for some leaders and they wind up focusing on the never-ending tasks and initiatives that are immediately in front of them. Those projects certainly cannot be ignored.

What winds up getting neglected is a focus on development. Ongoing development – the learning, commitment, resilience, and effort – is often what separates great leaders from everyone else. However, when it comes to leadership development, the two greatest challenges facing leaders today are 1) finding the time to focus on their development and 2) determining where to start.

Today’s leaders simply have too many competing priorities. Making matters more challenging: as we move up the leadership ladder, demands increase and discretionary time decreases. Adding to this is the fact that there is an overcrowded leadership development landscape. The result is that too many leaders don’t pursue any leadership development activities or, worse, they pursue the wrong ones. The ‘wrong activities’ are those that are costly, time consuming or do not yield desired results. As a result of these challenges, it has become increasingly easy – perhaps even necessary – to drop leadership development from our growing list of priorities.

How can you navigate these inherent barriers toward becoming a great leader?

First, seek accurate feedback. You must know your strengths and development areas to ensure you are using your limited time most effectively. This occurs through a variety of types of assessments, and I recommend a good leadership 360 assessment. When done well, this will provide insights into how you are showing up as a leader. This allows you to be very precise in what aspects of leadership you want to improve. Have a plan that clearly spells out what activities you will pursue toward your development and how you will know you are successful.

When it comes to activities, here is your opportunity to shine – to elevate your game by building good, sustainable habits. Make sure the activities you choose are directly tied to improving the specific areas you outlined in your plan. You should do something to develop your leadership skills at least weekly. Time is of the essence, so it is imperative you remain laser focused on those activities that will help you improve. Lofty, one-time activities may be fine, but by themselves are limited in the impact they can have on your development.

For peak performance, you need repetition. I recommend a steady and balanced diet across numerous types of activities that are incorporated into your regular routine. Make sure you are contributing to a strong foundation of leadership by reading relevant business books and articles and listening to podcasts. Maintain your flexibility by actively engaging in a variety of on the job activities – shadowing, stretch assignments, task forces, teaching, and other such activities.

Remember that this is not about checking the box that you completed an activity. It is about applying what you learned, reflecting on the key insights, and refining your point of view and approach. Take this approach: learn, practice, get feedback, reflect, repeat.

So yes, you are a leader (or soon will be). Keep in mind that wanting to be a great leader is not the same as being a great one. Greatness requires effort and continuous improvement. Leadership development does not need to be costly or time consuming. There are opportunities for development all around us. We just need to know where to look and how to incorporate them into our routine.

Timothy J. Tobin is author of Peak Leadership Fitness:  Elevating Your Leadership Game and a learning and leadership development professional committed to helping individuals and organizations reach their greatest potential. He is currently vice president, franchisee onboarding and learning at Choice Hotels International, where he oversees the hotel opening processes and learning strategy and programs for all franchisees.
He was previously vice president of global leadership development at Marriott, and held leadership roles at Baker Tilly (formerly Beers + Cutler) and Booz Allen Hamilton, where he designed and implemented a variety of talent management solutions.
A frequent leadership speaker, he has served as an adjunct professor for more than 20 years at the University of Maryland, Catholic University, Trinity University, and George Washington University.
For more information, please visit

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

What Makes A Great Work Relationship?

Guest post from Graeme Findlay:

I just finished reading one of Dan’s previous posts, I’m your boss not your friend. He has some very sound advice and ten good reasons why it’s a bad idea for a manager and an employee to call themselves friends.

On reading the post, I was immediately reminded of a high-priced leadership development program that I once attended where we were presented with a different view. The model presented can be paraphrased by “Relationships are the foundation of all accomplishments; increase relationship and you increase results”. Taken to its logical extension, where relationships are universally good, this model fails for all of Dan’s ten reasons and more.

The problem with this model is a common one: over-simplification of a nuanced phenomenon. In their desire to have easily digestible ideas, proponents of leadership models generalise and simplify. And if there is one thing that everyone needs to know about leadership, it is that it is specific to the context and that it is inherently complex.  

This specificity and complexity should not deter us; leadership can be understood if we put the effort in. Let’s take this example of relationships.

Building close working relationships with a trusted inner circle of colleagues is a key leadership capability. I call this capability the Heartfelt Voice. The heartfelt voice is not about building friendships as we generally understand them. We need to get more granular and definitive about what we mean.

A ‘friendship relationship’ is a function of mutual care – if you care deeply about me, and I care deeply about you then we are friends. There is no doubt that this can be leveraged to deliver great results at work, but at other times it is an impediment and can work to actively undermine results.

To make sense of this, I define another aspect of work relationships which I call Relatedness.  Relatedness is not based on mutual care, it is based on mutual connection to a purpose. You and I might be complete strangers, but if we both share the same purpose, then this is the basis for delivering results. Relatedness to common purpose is an incredibly powerful motivator for collaboration. Therefore, building relatedness is a key leadership capability.

The sweet spot for leaders is to have both relationship and relatedness. This is the heartfelt voice of leadership. A leader with a strong heartfelt voice builds high levels of relatedness to a common purpose, and then amplifies this by fostering an environment of mutual care and respect amongst an inner circle. Unlike ‘friendship relationships’, the mutual care is not person-specific. Rather, the mutual care extends equally to every member of the team. This is fertile ground for high levels of respect and trust between team members.

The environment described here is that of Psychological Safety which consistently emerges in research as a key foundation of high-performance teams. The heartfelt voice is the essential foundation of great leadership. I can think of no better reason to put aside oversimplified leadership models and inquire more deeply into great leadership.  

Graeme Findlay is author of Evolve:  How Exceptional Leaders Leverage The Inner Voice of Human Evolution and an Associate Fellow at the University of Oxford Saïd Business School.  He consults to industry as an executive coach and change management advisor.  Prior to specializing in leadership development, Findlay held executive management roles and was accountable for delivering operational transformations and performance turnarounds on world-scale mega-projects.  His passion for high performance teams led to academic research at Oxford University and HEC Paris.  Findlay holds a Master’s degree in Consulting and Coaching for Change. For more information, please visit