Monday, November 17, 2014

Please follow me to a new blog platform

Blog followers,

I have migrated my blog to a new platform.  Follow the link below and sign-up to receive email notices each Tuesday Morning.

Please email me if you have any problems.  I am not a technology expert; therefore, I chose not to try and transfer the Blogger followers to the new platform.

You can also find my blog which is now embedded within the Greystone Global website at

Thanks so much for following!

Dr. Kathryn Scanland

Monday, November 10, 2014

Veterans can teach us, a lot, about leadership.

How do you build a sense of shared purpose among people of many ages and skill sets?  By listening and learning—and addressing the possibility of failure.   ~Four-star General Stanley McChrystal

Given it is Veteran's Day, it seemed only fitting to learn about leadership from a Four-star General.  

Because of the many military images that have been burned into our minds from Hollywood, when we think of military leadership we tend to think of officers shouting orders and rank dictating process and strategy.  Like much of Hollywood, this doesn't reflect reality but it certainly drives revenues.

On a number of occasions I've done research and searches on servant leadership for various clients.  What still seems to catch me off-guard is the number of servant leader examples from the military.  Actually, most of the real life examples I find are from our armed services.  Simon Sinek's most recent book, Leaders Eat Last, is based upon military leadership.  It's even in the title, officers always let the enlisted men and women eat first.  In the military, it's common practice for officers not to eat until everyone else does.  They sacrifice personal interest and self-serving actions to support their team.  This is symbolic of what drives many of their decisions.

In that same spirit, Four-star General Stanley McChrystal delivered a TED Talk that I use periodically in leadership training to dissuade the idea that servant leadership is a "weak" form of leadership.  The following was excerpted from McChrystal's talk:

Instead of giving orders, you're now building consensus and you're building a sense of shared purpose.  
I probably learned the most about relationships.  I learned they are the sinew which holds the force together.  I grew up much of my career in the Ranger regiment.  And every morning in the Ranger regiment, every Ranger – and there are more than 2,000 of them – says a six-stanza Ranger creed.  You may know one line of it, it says, "I'll never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy."  And it's not a mindless mantra, and it's not a poem. It's a promise.  Every Ranger promises every other Ranger, "No matter what happens, no matter what it costs me, if you need me, I'm coming."  And every Ranger gets that same promise from every other Ranger.  Think about it.  It's extraordinarily powerful.  It's probably more powerful than marriage vows.  And they've lived up to it, which gives it special power.  And so the organizational relationship that bonds them is just amazing. 
I came to believe that a leader isn't good because they're right; they're good because they're willing to learn and to trust.  This isn't easy stuff.  And it isn't always fair.  You can get knocked down, and it hurts and it leaves scars.  But if you're a leader, the people you've counted on will help you up.  And if you're a leader, the people who count on you need you on your feet.

Well said, General McChrystal! 

Not only do we owe a thing or two to our veterans regarding our knowledge of leadership, but we owe them a huge debt of gratitude for our freedom.  Let's each go out of our way this week to thank a veteran for both their service and what they've taught us about leadership.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The pain of incompatibility!

Only when our pain gets excruciating are we willing to humble ourselves and consider new actions that might allow us to successfully progress in our new situation.  ~Robert E. Quinn

Dreaded incompatibility!  I recently experienced technology incompatibility and discovered a number of parallels with organizational incompatibility.  I had a fairly long stretch, four years—especially in technology years—of having no compatibility issues.  Then it happened.  I have several old laptops that I use for travel and making presentations.  So I don't make it a priority to upgrade the software on those computers.  Well, the operating system on those computers is Windows XP, and as of the end of October, Microsoft no longer supports XP which means those computers are now more susceptible to viruses, etc. and any new software likely won't be compatible, which I'm already beginning to experience.

I could try to fight these circumstances and call Microsoft and demand that they support XP, indefinitely.  I'm fairly confident that approach would have no success whatsoever.  For me to get beyond this season of incompatibility, I need to change.  I need to upgrade my laptops to Windows 7.  However, I can't be overly aggressive and jump to Windows 8 because I've already heard from a client that their LCD projectors aren't compatible with Windows 8.  I need to find that compatible sweet spot and then hope I can make it last for another four years.

We've all heard the statement about the 21st century, "the one constant is change."  And organizations are at the heart of this phenomenon.  That means organizations too, find those moments when they reach the point of incompatibility.  It could be the transition away from a founder, trying to grow too fast, responding too slowly to market trends, mission creep, lack of focus, a generational shift in the workforce, etc. 

It's clear the organization has reached incompatibility because it's simply no longer working.  The incompatibility may be visible in low morale, a lack of trust, financial challenges, apathy, or scapegoating. 

Like my technology incompatibility issue, at one time Windows XP was the most current operating system and all worked wonderfully well.  But what once enabled my technology to thrive has become the bottleneck of not only progress but basic functionality.  The only way beyond it is for me to change. 

I see organizational leaders reach this point of incompatibility and try, sometimes desperately, to change everyone or everything else. 

Robert Quinn in Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within provides a different perspective.  Quinn says, "The real problem is frequently located where we would least expect to find it, inside ourselves.  It means someone must be enormously secure and courageous.  Culture change starts with personal change.  We become change agents by first altering our own maps.  Ultimately, the process returns us to the 'power of one' and the requirement of aligning and empowering oneself before successfully changing the organization."

Technology incompatibility or organizational incompatibility, they both require us to change.             

Monday, October 27, 2014

Do you have the 10 critical talents?

Entrepreneurial thinking and doing are the most important capabilities companies need from their employees.  As the competitive pace increases, it becomes more and more critical.  ~Reid Hoffman

I don't have to look far to find studies and statistics claiming that we continue to have a talent shortage, even though unemployment has not yet returned to levels prior to the 2008 recession.  I wonder if part of the challenge is that the type of talent we all seem to want and wish for is far rarer than we realize.

Reid Hoffman recently wrote in a LinkedIn Talent Blog, "Entrepreneurial employees possess what eBay CEO John Donahoe calls the founder mind-set.  As he put it to us, 'People with the founder mind-set drive change, motivate people, and just get stuff done.'"

Gallup has studied this phenomenon in more detail and recently published the book Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder to help all of us better understand exactly what we are looking for and why it's so hard to find it.  Gallup reported:
The single most important factor for America's economic survival remains as mysterious as life on Mars.  But maybe that's because it's so unusual.  Preliminary Gallup research discovered that high entrepreneurial talent is much rarer than high IQ:  Only about five in 1,000 people have the aptitude for starting and growing a big business.  In comparison, 20 in 1,000 have IQs high enough to be accepted into Mensa. 
The 10 talents of successful entrepreneurs are:
  • Business Focus: You make decisions based on observed or anticipated effect on profit.
  • Confidence: You accurately know yourself and understand others.
  • Creative Thinker: You exhibit creativity in taking an existing idea or product and turning it into something better.
  • Delegator: You recognize that you cannot do everything and are willing to contemplate a shift in style and control.
  • Determination: You persevere through difficult, even seemingly insurmountable, obstacles.
  • Independent: You are prepared to do whatever needs to be done to build a successful venture.
  • Knowledge Seeker: You constantly search for information that is relevant to growing your business.
  • Promoter: You are the best spokesperson for the business.
  • Relationship-Builder: You have high social awareness and an ability to build relationships that are beneficial for the firm's survival and growth.
  • Risk-Taker: You instinctively know how to manage high-risk situations.
We may not be lucky enough to be one of the five out of a thousand to possess all 10 talents.  Gallup says to increase your likelihood of success, identify strategies to manage areas of weakness, or acquire skills and knowledge to deal with your lesser talents.  Or best of all, form partnerships with people who have a different set of entrepreneurial talents.

In the old economythe stable oneefficiency was the cardinal virtue.  In the new economy of fierce competition and rapid technological change with markets constantly shifting, entrepreneurial thinking is the new gold standard.

Monday, October 20, 2014

6 Ways to Appeal to Millennials in the Workplace

My career will be more about enjoying the experience than earning money.  ~Millennial employee

This week I conducted two training sessions at a manufacturing plant.  The first was with a group of emerging leaders and the second was with the leadership team.  Or, said another way, the first was with mostly millennials and the second was with mostly baby boomers.  And this represents many, if not most, of the organizations I work with today.

According to HBR, in two years millennials—the people born between 1977 and 1997—will account for nearly half of all employees worldwide.  So it's time we baby boomers started to make an effort to understand the differences and provide a workplace that is welcoming to both of these generations.  Following are a few key findings from a study conducted by PWC entitled Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace that I found helpful.

Help millennials grow: Managers need to really understand the personal and professional goals of millennials. Put them on special rotational assignments more frequently to give them a sense that they are moving toward something and gaining a variety of experiences.

Feedback, feedback and more feedback: Millennials want and value frequent feedback. Unlike the past where people received annual reviews, millennials want to know how they're doing much more regularly. Give honest feedback in real time — and highlight positive contributions or improvements on key competencies.

Set them free: Millennials want flexibility. They work well with clear instructions and concrete targets. If you know what you want done by when, why does it matter where and how they complete the task? Give them the freedom to have a flexible work schedule.

Encourage learning: Millennials want to experience as much training as possible. If your organization is more focused on developing high potentials, or more senior people, then you could risk losing future talent if you fail to engage millennials with development opportunities. Consider allocating projects to talented millennials which fall outside their day job. Let them connect, collaborate, build their networks – and most of all innovate.

Allow faster advancement: Historically, career advancement was built upon seniority and time of service. Millennials don't think that way. They value results over tenure and are sometimes frustrated with the amount of time it takes to work up the career ladder. They want career advancement much quicker than older generations are accustomed to.

Expect millennials to go: It's inevitable that the rate of churn among millennials will be higher than among other generations, especially since many have made compromises in finding their first job, and this should be built into your plans.

It's a new day in the workplace; a day that embraces and encourages millennials to become the leaders of the future.  The way of the baby boomers worked for the baby boomers.  But our time is passing, quickly.  We need to make way for the millennials and equip them to lead, their way.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What Got You Here Won't Get You There

One of the greatest mistakes of successful people is the assumption, "I am successful. I behave this way. Therefore, I must be successful because I behave this way!" The challenge is to make them see that sometimes they are successful in spite of this behavior.  ~Marshall Goldsmith

One theory (I'd like to say fact but I'll withhold that temptation and stick with theory) nearly everyone agrees upon is that the most effective leaders don't have a specific behavioral profile or personality type.  The most effective leaders are those who know how to adapt their behavior to given situations and circumstances.  That's why when researchers and psychologists make a list of the U.S. Presidents and assign a behavioral profile to each one, there is no pattern.  The profiles are all over the map.

Marshall Goldsmith, without a doubt, is one of the most credible authorities on this topic.  He's the author or editor of 34 books, has written two New York Times bestsellers and a Wall Street Journal #1 business book of the year.  He's a top-ranked executive coach and one of the top ten most-influential business thinkers in the world.  So when Marshall Goldsmith says things like, "I tell my clients, 'it's a lot harder to change people's perception of your behavior than it is to change your behavior,'" it's got a boatload of reliability behind hit.

If all of this is true, and I'm going to assume that it is, then why do so many leaders resist or outright refuse to better understand how they are perceived and look for ways to change their behavior?!  I've had both MD’s and PhD’s refuse to complete some type of personality or behavioral profile.  I've had president's of organizations refute the findings of employee satisfaction surveys and 360 assessments with rationale like, "the survey was completed at the same time they may have been filing their taxes so they must have been in a bad mood."  

Who we are is who we are.  It is not good or bad, helpful or hurtful.  However, if we don't recognize that because who we are remains somewhat constant as the situation or circumstances around us change, we are going to run into trouble. 

Example: someone who is highly detailed and scrutinizes everything may be great in an entry-level accounting or finance position.  But, once promoted to manage others, that same behavior, if still practiced with the same intensity, could be viewed as micromanaging and severely hinder their ability to manage and lead others.  We must adapt.  And, we won't know how to adapt if we don't let others tell us how our behavior is perceived. 

If we want people to change their perception of our behavior, then, we need to change our behavior.  It's both that simple and that hard.   Sometimes we're successful in spite of ourselves.  Image what we could accomplish if we willingly welcomed a better understanding of the impact of our own behavior!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Would you join me in a social experiment?

A word of encouragement from a teacher to a child can change a life.  A word of encouragement from a spouse can save a marriage.  A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach their potential.  ~John C. Maxwell

This week I heard someone describe what happened when they intentionally took a break from watching the news.  After taking a hiatus from the news for a number of days, when he returned to watching the news, he was overwhelmed by all of the "bad" news.   

That made wonder, what if we did an experiment.  When I watch the national news I intentionally watch it to the end so I can hear the "feel good" story, or the "good" news.  What would happen if the news was flipped?  What if the "good news" was the first 20-25 minutes and the "bad news" was the final 5-10 minutes?

I don't know what would actually happen, but it makes me ask, have we become a culture that craves the negative, or the bad news, more than the good news?  I have to believe that ratings influence what we see on the news, so we play a role in this. 

And since it's also election season, could that be why politicians run so many negative ads against their opponent?  Because they know it's the negative or "bad" stuff that we are wired to remember?

What does this have to do with leadership?  Well, are most organization leaders also falling into this bad news/negative trap?  What do employees hear from their leaders?  Do they hear the "good," or is most communication they hear from leadership filled with the "bad?"  A number of years ago I recall a leader in a staff meeting say he was going to present the good, the bad, and the ugly.  What did the employees remember after that meeting?  The ugly, that's all I heard about for several weeks.

I'm not suggesting that leaders should be Pollyannaish in their communication.  But what we remember most, what we respond to (i.e., TV news ratings) is the "bad news."

Actual research has been conducted around this very idea.  Based on psychologist and business consultant Marcial Losada’s extensive mathematical modeling, 2.9013 is the ratio of positive to negative interaction necessary to make a corporate team successful.  This means that it takes about three positive comments, experiences, or expressions to fend off the languishing effects of one negative.  Dip below this tipping point, now known as the Losada Line, and workplace performance quickly suffers.  Rise above it—ideally, the research shows, to a ratio of 6 to 1—and teams produce their very best work.

Imagine what might happen to organizations, and dare I say countries, if we all started following the premise of the Losada Line?  So for the next week, will you join me in intentionally out-weighing the bad with the good at a ratio of 6 to 1?  Let's try it and see what results from our counter-cultural social experiment.

Monday, September 29, 2014

It won't make any difference because...

It all starts with the leader!  ~anonymous person talking on the phone while on the sidewalk

"They want to have an off-site retreat with leadership, but it won't make any difference because it all starts with the leader."  This is what I heard today from a passerby talking on her phone while I was walking back to the office from a breakfast meeting. I didn't mean to overhear, but she was talking rather loudly and I could certainly sense her frustration.  Based on her comment (and tone) I drew the conclusion that this leader isn't aware of the impact they are having on their leadership team.

Her astute observation reminded me of something I read recently on 

The National Advisory Council of a prestigious west coast business school was asked what single quality they thought would be most valuable for their graduates to acquire as they graduatedThe answer was self-awareness. 
For us, the most important element of self-awareness, especially for those who lead organizations, is a clear understanding of the impact they are having on the people around them.

I've come across a number of definitions of self-awareness, but this definition seemed so obvious that I had overlooked it.  And it reflects the frustration of the young woman this morning who seemed quite aggravated that the "leader" she was referring to does not have a clear understanding of the impact they are having on the people around them.  And, she's right; an off-site retreat probably isn't going to change that a whole lot.

Authors Bolman and Deal describe it like this in How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing. "One of the most basic and pervasive causes of leadership failure is interpersonal blindness.  Many leaders simply don't know their impact on other people.  Even worse, they don't know that they don't know.  They assume that other people see them pretty much the way they see themselves, then they blame others when things go wrong."

How do we know if we need to work on our self-awareness?  Here's something I've tried with leadership teams and I now use it as one barometer for self-awareness.  I challenge them for the next week, or two, to look for situations where their interaction with someone could benefit from them leaning in to the other person's strengths.  Said another way, observe your own behavior and the impact you have on another person.  Then alter your behavior so the other person realizes a greater benefit from having had contact with you this week.  Then I send them off.  Those who struggle to find any scenarios where they could have changed their behavior for another’s benefit are those who may need to work on their self-awareness.

If you, as the leader, aren't self-aware (the single most valuable quality for a leader), all of the off-site retreats you can pack into your schedule aren't going to change your team's effectiveness.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

What's the key to unlocking potential?

The way forward is to name it, reframe it, and provide support to improve it.  ~Michael K. Simpson, author of Unlocking Potential

Have you ever wondered why there are pockets of an organization that really excel and then others that just seem to struggle or feel stuck?  Both extremes seem to have the same basic knowledge or skills so what's created the chasm of performance between the two?  Two things that get overlooked or simply under-valued: behavior and attitude

Every organization contains pockets of great performing teams, but interestingly, no discernible difference exists in the basic know-how of the good performers versus the great performers.  The key differentiators boil down to two things great performers have been coached to do:  execute well and concentrate on reducing inconsistency in bad behavior. 
The best predictor of future performance is mostly determined by past performance.  Identify the existing islands or pockets of excellence within an organization.  To leverage top performance, leaders should find out what the top performers or high-performing teams are doing to produce high-quality results.  Leaders must not only capture their strategies but uncover the key competencies, the new and better behaviors, and the attitudes of those who are fully engaged.  Using examples and stories of what excellence looks like can inspire and educate others. 
Ask team members how they can improve their strategic performance, and then provide feedback and support.  Establish an environment in which leaders are trained to coach individuals and teams in ways that build upon their strengths and passions.  If an individual or a team is stuck, talk about the problems, give appropriate feedback, and address options and opportunities, rather than allow the issues to fly under the radar.  The way forward is to name it, reframe it, and provide support to improve it.

Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."  We could modify that slightly and say, "Be the change you want to see in your organization."  If pockets of an organization have differing behaviors and attitudes, I would venture to say that at least 90% of the time those pockets are modeling their leader.  The person leading a department, division, team, or entire organization, can't coach toward one type of attitude and behavior and then model another.   Well, they can, it's just not going to have the outcome they were hoping to achieve.

By all means, I agree with Simpson, that the way forward is to name it, reframe it, and provide support to improve it.  However, I might add one more tweak.  I would suggest the way forward is to name it, reframe it, model it, and provide support to improve it.

What issues are flying under the radar at your organization?  What needs to be named so you can begin the way forward and unlock potential?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Be competitive or achieve success?

Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.  ~Vince Lombardi

This week I heard a story on NPR that did, and didn't, surprise me.  It was a follow-up to the now infamous and wildly successful ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  As the story reported, it's been 75 years since baseball great Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with the disease.  But there is still no cure or even hopeful treatment, only experimental trials. 

The story reported, one of the possible reasons why there still remains little hope for those with this disease is the "hypercompetitive" nature of the research field.  "Many excellent grant proposals get turned down, simply because there's not enough money to go around.  So scientists are tempted to oversell weak results.  Getting a grant requires that you have an exciting story to tell, that you have preliminary data and you have published.  In the rush, to be perfectly honest, to get a wonderful story out on the street in a journal, and preferably with some publicity to match, scientists can cut corners."

While listening to this interview I also learned that scientists tend to keep their failures to themselves.  If a study doesn't prove successful, it's not worthy of publication or of sharing with the broader research field.  That means instead of systematically ruling out what doesn't work; we may very well keep researching and trying the same unsuccessful experiments over and over.  Because staying individually competitive has taken precedence over collective success for the field to find a cure or treatment for ALS.

I wasn't surprised by this because a number of years ago I did some work for a leading research scientist for HIV/AIDS and heard a similar story.  Data wasn't being shared or collected on a massive basis in order to more quickly rule out what wasn't working; hence, making the process for success slow and cumbersome.

Being competitive or achieving success is not always a mutually exclusive choice, but sometimes it is.  I frequently hear leaders say they believe their organization benefits from internal competition.  Maybe that's true, but maybe it's not.  If it means staff are individually withholding their failures or are overselling weak results, then I'd have to ask if that's really helping or hindering the organization's overall collective success?

Maybe this perspective especially caught my attention because I know someone who recently passed away due to ALS.  It made me wonder, if we could get over our own individual competiveness and really focus on collective success in the field of ALS, could that have made a difference for her?

What's more important to you, to be competitive or achieve success?

Monday, September 8, 2014

How to garner extraordinary buy-in!

If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.  ~African proverb

Now and then I experience something personally that I just have to blog about, and this is one of those instances.  Sunday, the extraordinary happened.  Way back in 1978, my church, along with three other churches, invested in a mixed-income housing project across the street.  It was important to these churches to provide affordable and mixed-income housing options in what was then a neighborhood close to Cabrini Green.  This property is now being re-developed and the churches sold their portion to the developers (with the requirement that it would include even more affordable housing options) and we received our portion of that sale, which was $1.6 million!  But wait, that isn't the extraordinary.

So, here's a medium-sized congregation (~300) with an annual budget of less than $1 million who now has $1.6 million in cash.  How do we determine the best way to use these funds?  The leadership wanted everyone to truly participate in this process and for it not to end up being a decision made by a few on behalf of the entire congregation.  They also felt that it was important, as a church, to tithe the first 10%, or if you do the math, $160,000.  What does it look like for a church to tithe $160,000?  Well, this is how we did it.       

Here's the extraordinary…on Sunday, it was announced that we would all have a part in determining where that first $160,000 would go by giving each of us (yes, everyone) a check for $500.  We would each then determine where to give our $500 and simultaneously join one of a dozen or so groups to begin the discernment process for the remaining $1.4 million.  The checks were distributed at a catered lunch following the service.  Not surprising, one of our most well-attended lunches in quite some time. 

I’m sharing this extraordinary story because it’s a remarkable example of how leaders can garner buy-in. 

Numerous research studies have been conducted that conclude that when people have input in a decision as opposed to being told what to do, they are 5X more likely to follow through.  For example, in one study two groups of people were given a lottery ticket.  One group was given their lottery numbers; the other group was able to choose their own numbers.  Then, both groups were asked to sell back their lottery tickets.  Keep in mind, the group who could select their own lottery numbers had a lesser chance of winning because their numbers could be duplicated.  However, the researchers had to pay this group 5X the other group to get their lottery tickets back.  Because they got to choose their own numbers, they were 5X more invested in the process.

As leaders, many times we become impatient and want to make all the decisions.  We don’t want to wait for buy-in.  It's true, many times what a group of people decide might be the very same decision the leader would have made much faster.  However, we're being short-sighted if we think the impact and momentum we can gain from collective buy-in isn't worth the wait.

Over the coming months, I'll return to my church story and provide updates on our progress.  We'll see if our intentional effort to go together will enable us to truly go far.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Little League Leadership

Celebrate the incremental achievements, not just the final results.  This communicates progress, inspires others, and reinforces successful, repeatable behavior.  ~Gary Burnison, The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership

In the midst of heightened security alerts, continued violence, and gruesome massacres, last week the city of Chicago was given a reason to celebrate.   Jackie Robinson West, a little league team from the south side became the National Little League Champions and lost the World title in the finals to South Korea.  The south side of Chicago has been in the news almost exclusively for the violence that continues to plague that part of the city.  That made this Little League National Championship even more worthy of a celebration.

These 11 and 12-year-old boys played their hearts out but had no idea how their victories were impacting an entire city.  When they arrived home and entered the airport they were greeted with thunderous applause and cheers.  Then there was the parade ending at Millennium Park with 10,000 fans supporting these boys who were honored by the Mayor.  That was followed by appearances at a Cubs game and a Sox game.  In between there were numerous TV interviews and next weekend I believe the entire team is off to Disney World for continued celebration.      

As the adults nearly forced their exuberance onto these youngsters, when the boys were interviewed and asked what they looked forward to most, the typical response was "sleep."  These boys were exhausted; but it was clear, the city wanted and needed a celebration.  I would even go far as to say the city was desperate for a reason to celebrate.

Several years ago when I began a program to become a certified coach, I thought the practice of beginning every training session with the opportunity for anyone to share any recent victories or reason to celebrate was sort of a waste of time.  But, I soon realized that we don't do nearly enough celebrating.  We focus on what's bad, wrong, not working, causing us frustration, etc. and take far too little notice of what is worthy of celebrating.  So now I've actually incorporated the practice of beginning with celebrating whenever I do leadership training.

I'm not arguing that we ignore the negative or problems that need to be solved.  But I am suggesting that we find ways to tip the scales a bit more on the celebrating side of the equation.  Dwight Frindt, co-author of Accelerate: High Leverage Leadership for Today's World says, "Acknowledgment and celebration are essential to fueling passion, making people feel valid and valuable, and giving the team a real sense of progress that makes it all worthwhile."

In honor of Labor Day (and Jackie Robinson West), let's all find a way to celebrate our labor this week.

Monday, August 25, 2014

How do you decide?

Life always avails the option of seeing the truth, no matter how blind and prejudiced we may be.  And if we have the courage to respond to the option, we have the power to change ourselves profoundly.  Only through the truth do we come to grace.  ~Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

Making and executing decisions is a substantial part of leadership.  Yet, what I see frequently in organizations are leaders choosing to take the hard road as opposed to the high road when it comes to decision making.  Here’s what I mean.

What I see frequently is a decision making process that looks something like a) decide, b) debate, and c) demand.  We go into discussions having already decided what we think should be done.  Then we debate with one another and debates tend to have winners and losers based on the belief that there is a right and a wrong answer.  That's followed by demanding that our view be the option that is implemented.  Sound familiar? 

The alternative to decide, debate, and demand is to a) discern, b) dialogue, and then c) decide.  In all organizations – large, small, for profit, not-for-profit – we've veered off the path of discernment and dialogue before we make a decision. 

What does it mean to really discern?  One of the definitions of discernment I've come across is perception in the absence of judgment with a view to understanding.  Another way I've heard it stated might be "am I willing to say that I could be wrong."  In Peter Senge's book The Fifth Discipline he describes preparing for dialogue by "suspending your own assumptions."  He suggests that we visualize our assumptions about an issue as if they were suspended in the air, available for both us and others to observe and assess.  If we are in a state of true discernment, we are more likely come to a decision through truth.

Then instead of engaging in a hearty debate, we create a pool of shared meaning through dialogue.  Crucial Conversations provides an example of dialogue with the acronym, STATE, to state your path. 
  1. Share your facts.  Earn the right to share your story by starting with the facts.  Facts lay the groundwork for all delicate conversations.
  2. Tell your story.  Why share your story in the first place?  It's the facts plus the conclusion that call for a face-to-face dialogue.
  3. Ask for others' paths.  Encourage others to share both their facts and their stories.
  4. Talk tentatively.  State your story as a story – don't disguise it as a fact.
  5. Encourage testing.  Make it safe for others to express differing or even opposing views.
Once we've spent time in discernment and dialogue, we can make a collective decision that is laced with truth and grace, as opposed to the casualties of debate: winners and losers.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The key to organizational succession: millennials and women.

One of the things we often miss in succession planning is that it should be gradual and thoughtful, with lots of sharing of information and knowledge and perspective, so that it's almost a non-event when it happens.  ~Anne M. Mulcahy

Succession planning, a term used frequently in organizations.  But what if we were to take the meaning of the word succession seriously?  Synonyms for succession include: series, sequence, chain, and progression.  When I've come across organizational "succession" plans, they feel more like these words: replacement, understudy, substitution, and interruption.

Why does succession feel like a clunky substitution instead of graceful progression?  I think there are a couple of key factors that make succession either graceful or clunky.

First, we've created a culture that encourages leaders to focus more on their personal legacy than the organization's future as they near retirement.  For example, how many leaders could we all name who wanted to retire from the organization with grandeur?  Maybe build a few new buildings, launch a new program or product, raise more money or increase revenues more than any of their predecessors.  I'm guessing that more than a few individuals come to mind. 

This means that while leaders are creating a personal exit worthy of notice, the organization falls off the edge of a cliff because no one was being mentored, coached, or groomed to truly take the helm and lead the organization forward.   

So what if our entire view of succession for leaders looked more like a peak followed by gradual downward mobility that was supporting others’ upward mobility?  It could be something that looked more like a seamless series or progression rather than an abrupt end and reboot for the entire organization.

A second factor that could improve succession planning is thinking more broadly about who can really lead.  We are now well into the 21st century yet many organizations are still being led by men over 50 years of age.  If you're looking for organizational growth, then look to the millennials.  Fast Company recently reported that "Companies with a 30% proportion of young people in higher roles saw 'aggressive growth.'  When it's more like 20%, the companies see 'little to low growth' rates."

Another demographic underutilized in leadership is women.  In the same study, "companies in the top 20% financially had almost twice as many women in leadership roles, as well as more high-potential women holding those roles."

It's 2014, it's time for the boomer men to gracefully step aside, mentor and coach millennials and women, and then take pride in leaving a thriving organization well-positioned for continued (and seamless) success.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Are you hiring employees or people?

We thought we hired employees, but people showed up instead.  ~Unknown

I've used this quote frequently with clients; unfortunately, I don't know the original source.  But the sentiment has resonated with clients on many occasions.  While it states the obvious, that the employees we hire are people and consequently bring along all of the talents and trials of working with human beings, we still hope for "employees" to show up on Monday morning.

Simon Sinek takes this concept one step further in Leaders Eat Last. He asks, "If you were having a hard year, would you get rid of one of your children"?  Sinek says, "Being a good leader is like being a good parent.  We want to give those in our care opportunities, education, discipline when necessary, all so they can grow and achieve more than we could for ourselves."

Many of you may be in agreement with all of this, so far.  The example Sinek uses to make his point is a mid-size organization.  When their economic foundation shifted along with every other organization, they chose to look for alternatives to layoffs.  They instituted a four-week mandatory furlough for every employee, top to bottom.  The CEO introduced the strategy and said, "It is better for all of us to suffer a little than for some of us to suffer a lot."  Much like a family wouldn't get rid of one of their children.

I'll admit, I've worked both with and for organizations that came upon hard times and I couldn't see another option but to reduce the workforce, which they did.  So I was a little cynical about  Sinek's perspective (pardon the pun).  If you've never had the pressure of creditors hanging over your head, then it's much easier to say there are alternatives to layoffs.

Then, I read a book that altered my perspective.  In Why Good People Can't Get Jobs Peter Cappelli describes a hiring process problem more than an unemployment problem.  We've taken that "employee" mindset so far that we believe we can craft a detailed and specific job description, run it through a database of hundreds of candidates, and find a perfect match, the perfect employee.  And, since there's a plethora of unemployed people looking for jobs, we can hire and fire, almost as if employees are disposable.  

The term employee is still fairly recent, relatively speaking.  Employee was first used in the U.S. in 1854 referencing railroad workers.  Labor unions began forming soon after, and in the early twentieth century we began using the term "human resources."  

Getting back to Sinek's analogy of getting rid of one of our children, is it time that we start hiring people, and consequently view them more like family members instead of resources?  In some regards that's counter-cultural, because we've been taught to think in an employee mindset.  However, many, if not most of our organizations in the 21st century require a people mindset in order to function effectively.  It's as if our mental perspective hasn't quite caught up with reality.  

We can keep hiring employees, but people are going to keep showing up!  

Monday, August 4, 2014

Are you an empathetic leader?

At its very heart, a business is the beauty of bringing together people and things to make the community better off—these are the businesses we admire.  Empathy is one tool that makes it all happen.  ~Angel Cabrera, President of George Mason University

Rita McGrath, professor at Columbia Business School recently authored a post on the HBR Blog Network that very succinctly summarized the history of management into three eras, leading up to the current era of empathy.   The following few paragraphs I excerpted from her blog post.

With the rise of the industrial revolution, management changed.  Along with the new means of production, organizations gained scale.  The focus was wholly on execution of mass production, and managerial solutions such as specialization of labor, standardized processes, quality control, workflow planning, and rudimentary accounting were brought to bear. 
The next major era of management emphasized expertiseThe mid-twentieth century was a period of remarkable growth in theories of management.  Statistical and mathematical insights were forming the basis of the field that would become known as operations management.  Peter Drucker, one of the first management specialists to achieve guru status, was representative of this era. 
Today, we are in the midst of another fundamental rethinking of what organizations are and for what purpose they exist.  If organizations existed in the execution era to create scale and in the expertise era to provide advanced services, today many are looking to organizations to create complete and meaningful experiences.  Management has entered a new era of empathy. 
This would mean figuring out what management looks like when work is done through networks rather than through lines of command, when "work" itself is tinged with emotions, and when individual managers are responsible for creating communities for those who work with them.

So what is empathy?  Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experience of others.  Simply put, empathy is the ability to step into someone else's shoes, be aware of their feelings, and understand their needs.

If you're thinking that this view is held by McGrath and few others; I challenge you to do a search on leadership and empathy and you may be surprised at the results.  Here are just a few examples of others who support McGrath's perspective.

"Leadership is about making a positive difference and you cannot do that without empathy."  ~Carly Fiorina (CEO of Carly Fiorina Enterprises and former CEO of HP)

"We are living in a world that, more and more, is driven by rapid change; a world in which every individual needs to be a changemaker.  You cannot afford to have anyone on your team who isn't a changemaker…and one of the qualities you need as a changemaker is empathy." ~Bill Drayton (CEO and founder of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public and former director at McKinsey & Co.)

This week, let's each make a greater effort to "walk in someone else's shoes" and join the movement toward 21st century leadership.

Monday, July 28, 2014

How well do you love?

The process of becoming a leader is, if not identical, certainly similar to the process of becoming a fully integrated human being.  ~Warren Bennis

I discovered Joel Manby in Matt Tenney's recently published book Serve to Be Great.  Here is how Tenney describes Manby's perspective on leadership.

Former CEO of Saab USA, Joel Manby points out in his book Love Works, many organizations are great at measuring what he calls do goals—the success of the customer experience, employee satisfaction, safety results, brand strengths, and financials.  But very few measure what Manby calls be goals—those we set for how we want our leaders to treat each other and the members of their teams while they are working to accomplish the "do" goals.  In essence, the "be" goals measure how well a leader lives the core values and fits in with the culture.  Manby believes that leaders should not only be measured on how well they achieve the "do" goals, but their performance on the "be" goals is also important.  In fact, their compensation should be directly tied to how well they do on both; in order to even qualify to be a senior leader a person must excel at both.
To get the best measure of the "be" goals we set for our leaders, we should consider gathering anonymous, 360-degree feedback from employees and peers, and getting feedback from seniors in person.  We can ask questions such as:
  • How well does Bob listen?
  • How willing is Bob to help others?
  • How important to Bob is the happiness and success of the people he leads?
  • How kind is Bob?
  • How compassionate is Bob?
  • How well does Bob live core value A (repeat for each value)?
In essence, we're asking "How well does Bob love his team?"  Of course, we're not talking about some romantic feeling that people often confuse with love.  We're talking about acts of love—extending oneself for others' benefit and treating them with kindness and compassion.  This is what it takes to be the ultimate leader. 
When we commit to measuring how well we love those around us, and how well the other leaders in our organization love those around them, we can dramatically improve the business outcomes for our organizations. 

The idea of having both "do" goals and "be" goals reminded me of Warren Bennis' definition of a leader—a fully integrated human being.  How can someone be "fully integrated" if they only have do goals and not be goals as well?  And, how can someone be "fully integrated" if they do not love well?

Leadership and loving well, a not often thought of combination, but far more interdependent than many of us may be willing to admit.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fear your strengths!

Coming to grips with the need to modulate your strengths is some of the hardest developmental work you will ever do.  ~Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser

Fear your strengths?  Really?  Yes, really.  First, I'll share my own example.  I've completed many different personality profiles.  I need to be aware of what instruments and assessments are available for my work, so the best way to learn about them is to take them.  And, there is some consistency across all of my profiles.  One of the consistencies is that I'm a perfectionist.  There are a number of strengths that go along with being a perfectionist.  I'm principled, I’m always looking for ways to improve things, and I'm an advocate for change, to name a few. 

However, when I focus too much on being a perfectionist, it can also mean that I may procrastinate because if I can't do something perfectly then I may not want to even try to do it at all.  It also means that I'm evaluating myself and consequently beating myself up when I didn't do something "perfectly."  I may have done it really well, but for me "well" isn't good enough.  In my world, everything requires perfection.  So I try even harder.

That's when I realized I needed to find a different way to look at my strengths and tone down my perfectionism.  I took note that one of the personality assessments described my "type" as reformer, which has perfectionist characteristics.  Looking at my work and life through the lens of a reformer as opposed to a perfectionist creates a much different view of the world.  As a reformer, I just need to know that I helped to make a positive change; that I truly did help improve things.  I don't need to be able to show that I blew the top off of the perfection meter.  I didn't abandon my strengths or who I am.  I did some recalibrating to allow my strengths to once again, truly be my strengths and not the thing that was actually preventing me moving forward.

I see this in leaders.  When organizations aren't going as well as their leaders would like; they try harder.  And many times trying harder means giving an extra boost to their strengths, not realizing that too much of a good thing may actually contribute to the problem, not resolve it. 

In the book Fear Your Strengths authors Robert B. Kaiser and Robert E. Kaplan describe a study they completed with leaders.  Most leader assessments structure questions assuming that "more" is always "better."  Instead, Kaiser and Kaplan use a scale that ranges from "too little" to "the right amount" to "too much."  And their findings are quite revealing.

The more pronounced your natural talent and the stronger your strengths, the graver the risk of taking them to counterproductive extremes.  There is a clear correlation between having talent in certain areas and overdoing behaviors associated with those talents.  For instance, leaders whose StrengthsFinder results indicated such talents as "achiever," "activator," or "command" were more often rated as doing "too much" forceful leadership.  Similarly, those who had the talents "developer," "harmony," or "includer" were more often rated as doing "too much" enabling leadership.  Overall, leaders were five times more likely to overdo behaviors related to their areas of natural talent than areas in which they were less gifted.

Taking your strengths too far has consequences.  Kaiser and Kaplan's study showed a relationship between leader behavior and employee engagement, team productivity, and effectiveness.  In every case, these outcomes are lower for managers rated "too little" on the leader behaviors, peak for those rated "the right amount," and drop back down for those rated "too much."  Overdoing it is just as ineffective as underdoing it.

Maybe it"s time to think about recalibrating your strengths?