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Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the November–December 1974 issue of HBR and has been one of the publication’s two best-selling reprints ever.

Why is it that managers are typically running out of time while their subordinates are typically running out of work? Here we shall explore the meaning of management time as it relates to the interaction between managers and their bosses, their peers, and their subordinates.

Specifically, we shall deal with three kinds of management time:

Boss-imposed time—used to accomplish those activities that the boss requires and that the manager cannot disregard without direct and swift penalty.

System-imposed time—used to accommodate requests from peers for active support. Neglecting these requests will also result in penalties, though not always as direct or swift.

Self-imposed time—used to do those things that the manager originates or agrees to do. A certain portion of this kind of time, however, will be taken by subordinates and is called subordinate-imposed time. The remaining portion will be the manager’s own and is called discretionary time. Self-imposed time is not subject to penalty since neither the boss nor the system can discipline the manager for not doing what they didn’t know he had intended to do in the first place.

To accommodate those demands, managers need to control the timing and the content of what they do. Since what their bosses and the system impose on them are subject to penalty, managers cannot tamper with those requirements. Thus their self-imposed time becomes their major area of concern.

Managers should try to increase the discretionary component of their self-imposed time by minimizing or doing away with the subordinate component. They will then use the added increment to get better control over their boss-imposed and system-imposed activities. Most managers spend much more time dealing with subordinates’ problems than they even faintly realize. Hence we shall use the monkey-on-the-back metaphor to examine how subordinate-imposed time comes into being and what the superior can do about it.

Where Is the Monkey?

Let us imagine that a manager is walking down the hall and that he notices one of his subordinates, Jones, coming his way. When the two meet, Jones greets the manager with, “Good morning. By the way, we’ve got a problem. You see….” As Jones continues, the manager recognizes in this problem the two characteristics common to all the problems his subordinates gratuitously bring to his attention. Namely, the manager knows (a) enough to get involved, but (b) not enough to make the on-the-spot decision expected of him. Eventually, the manager says, “So glad you brought this up. I’m in a rush right now. Meanwhile, let me think about it, and I’ll let you know.” Then he and Jones part company.

Let us analyze what just happened. Before the two of them met, on whose back was the “monkey”? The subordinate’s. After they parted, on whose back was it? The manager’s. Subordinate-imposed time begins the moment a monkey successfully leaps from the back of a subordinate to the back of his or her superior and does not end until the monkey is returned to its proper owner for care and feeding. In accepting the monkey, the manager has voluntarily assumed a position subordinate to his subordinate. That is, he has allowed Jones to make him her subordinate by doing two things a subordinate is generally expected to do for a boss—the manager has accepted a responsibility from his subordinate, and the manager has promised her a progress report.

The subordinate, to make sure the manager does not miss this point, will later stick her head in the manager’s office and cheerily query, “How’s it coming?” (This is called supervision.)  

Or let us imagine in concluding a conference with Johnson, another subordinate, the manager’s parting words are, “Fine. Send me a memo on that.”

Let us analyze this one. The monkey is now on the subordinate’s back because the next move is his, but it is poised for a leap. Watch that monkey. Johnson dutifully writes the requested memo and drops it in his out-basket. Shortly thereafter, the manager plucks it from his in-basket and reads it. Whose move is it now? The manager’s. If he does not make that move soon, he will get a follow-up memo from the subordinate. (This is another form of supervision.) The longer the manager delays, the more frustrated the subordinate will become (he’ll be spinning his wheels) and the more guilty the manager will feel (his backlog of subordinate-imposed time will be mounting).

Or suppose once again that at a meeting with a third subordinate, Smith, the manager agrees to provide all the necessary backing for a public relations proposal he has just asked Smith to develop. The manager’s parting words to her are, “Just let me know how I can help.”

Now let us analyze this. Again the monkey is initially on the subordinate’s back. But for how long? Smith realizes that she cannot let the manager “know” until her proposal has the manager’s approval. And from experience, she also realizes that her proposal will likely be sitting in the manager’s briefcase for weeks before he eventually gets to it. Who’s really got the monkey? Who will be checking up on whom? Wheel spinning and bottlenecking are well on their way again.

A fourth subordinate, Reed, has just been transferred from another part of the company so that he can launch and eventually manage a newly created business venture. The manager has said they should get together soon to hammer out a set of objectives for the new job, adding, “I will draw up an initial draft for discussion with you.”

Let us analyze this one, too. The subordinate has the new job (by formal assignment) and the full responsibility (by formal delegation), but the manager has the next move. Until he makes it, he will have the monkey, and the subordinate will be immobilized.

Why does all of this happen? Because in each instance the manager and the subordinate assume at the outset, wittingly or unwittingly, that the matter under consideration is a joint problem. The monkey in each case begins its career astride both their backs. All it has to do is move the wrong leg, and—presto!—the subordinate deftly disappears. The manager is thus left with another acquisition for his menagerie. Of course, monkeys can be trained not to move the wrong leg. But it is easier to prevent them from straddling backs in the first place.

Who Is Working for Whom?

Let us suppose that these same four subordinates are so thoughtful and considerate of their superior’s time that they take pains to allow no more than three monkeys to leap from each of their backs to his in any one day. In a five-day week, the manager will have picked up 60 screaming monkeys—far too many to do anything about them individually. So he spends his subordinate-imposed time juggling his “priorities.”

Late Friday afternoon, the manager is in his office with the door closed for privacy so he can contemplate the situation, while his subordinates are waiting outside to get their last chance before the weekend to remind him that he will have to “fish or cut bait.” Imagine what they are saying to one another about the manager as they wait: “What a bottleneck. He just can’t make up his mind. How anyone ever got that high up in our company without being able to make a decision we’ll never know.”

Worst of all, the reason the manager cannot make any of these “next moves” is that his time is almost entirely eaten up by meeting his own boss-imposed and system-imposed requirements. To control those tasks, he needs discretionary time that is in turn denied him when he is preoccupied with all these monkeys. The manager is caught in a vicious circle. But time is a-wasting (an understatement). The manager calls his secretary on the intercom and instructs her to tell his subordinates that he won’t be able to see them until Monday morning. At 7 pm, he drives home, intending with firm resolve to return to the office tomorrow to get caught up over the weekend. He returns bright and early the next day only to see, on the nearest green of the golf course across from his office window, a foursome. Guess who?

That does it. He now knows who is really working for whom. Moreover, he now sees that if he actually accomplishes during this weekend what he came to accomplish, his subordinates’ morale will go up so sharply that they will each raise the limit on the number of monkeys they will let jump from their backs to his. In short, he now sees, with the clarity of a revelation on a mountaintop, that the more he gets caught up, the more he will fall behind.

The manager can now see, with the clarity of a revelation on a mountaintop, that the more he gets caught up, the more he will fall behind.

He leaves the office with the speed of a person running away from a plague. His plan? To get caught up on something else he hasn’t had time for in years: a weekend with his family. (This is one of the many varieties of discretionary time.)

Sunday night he enjoys ten hours of sweet, untroubled slumber, because he has clear-cut plans for Monday. He is going to get rid of his subordinate-imposed time. In exchange, he will get an equal amount of discretionary time, part of which he will spend with his subordinates to make sure that they learn the difficult but rewarding managerial art called “The Care and Feeding of Monkeys.”

The manager will also have plenty of discretionary time left over for getting control of the timing and the content not only of his boss-imposed time but also of his system-imposed time. It may take months, but compared with the way things have been, the rewards will be enormous. His ultimate objective is to manage his time.

Getting Rid of the Monkeys

The manager returns to the office Monday morning just late enough so that his four subordinates have collected outside his office waiting to see him about their monkeys. He calls them in one by one. The purpose of each interview is to take a monkey, place it on the desk between them, and figure out together how the next move might conceivably be the subordinate’s. For certain monkeys, that will take some doing. The subordinate’s next move may be so elusive that the manager may decide—just for now—merely to let the monkey sleep on the subordinate’s back overnight and have him or her return with it at an appointed time the next morning to continue the joint quest for a more substantive move by the subordinate. (Monkeys sleep just as soundly overnight on subordinates’ backs as they do on superiors’.)

As each subordinate leaves the office, the manager is rewarded by the sight of a monkey leaving his office on the subordinate’s back. For the next 24 hours, the subordinate will not be waiting for the manager; instead, the manager will be waiting for the subordinate.

Later, as if to remind himself that there is no law against his engaging in a constructive exercise in the interim, the manager strolls by the subordinate’s office, sticks his head in the door, and cheerily asks, “How’s it coming?” (The time consumed in doing this is discretionary for the manager and boss imposed for the subordinate.)

In accepting the monkey, the manager has voluntarily assumed a position subordinate to his subordinate.

When the subordinate (with the monkey on his or her back) and the manager meet at the appointed hour the next day, the manager explains the ground rules in words to this effect:

“At no time while I am helping you with this or any other problem will your problem become my problem. The instant your problem becomes mine, you no longer have a problem. I cannot help a person who hasn’t got a problem.

“When this meeting is over, the problem will leave this office exactly the way it came in—on your back. You may ask my help at any appointed time, and we will make a joint determination of what the next move will be and which of us will make it.

“In those rare instances where the next move turns out to be mine, you and I will determine it together. I will not make any move alone.”

The manager follows this same line of thought with each subordinate until about 11 am, when he realizes that he doesn’t have to close his door. His monkeys are gone. They will return—but by appointment only. His calendar will assure this.

Transferring the Initiative

What we have been driving at in this monkey-on-the-back analogy is that managers can transfer initiative back to their subordinates and keep it there. We have tried to highlight a truism as obvious as it is subtle: namely, before developing initiative in subordinates, the manager must see to it that they have the initiative. Once the manager takes it back, he will no longer have it and he can kiss his discretionary time good-bye. It will all revert to subordinate-imposed time.

Nor can the manager and the subordinate effectively have the same initiative at the same time. The opener, “Boss, we’ve got a problem,” implies this duality and represents, as noted earlier, a monkey astride two backs, which is a very bad way to start a monkey on its career. Let us, therefore, take a few moments to examine what we call “The Anatomy of Managerial Initiative.”

There are five degrees of initiative that the manager can exercise in relation to the boss and to the system:

1. wait until told (lowest initiative);

2. ask what to do;

3. recommend, then take resulting action;

4. act, but advise at once;

5. and act on own, then routinely report (highest initiative).

Clearly, the manager should be professional enough not to indulge in initiatives 1 and 2 in relation either to the boss or to the system. A manager who uses initiative 1 has no control over either the timing or the content of boss-imposed or system-imposed time and thereby forfeits any right to complain about what he or she is told to do or when. The manager who uses initiative 2 has control over the timing but not over the content. Initiatives 3, 4, and 5 leave the manager in control of both, with the greatest amount of control being exercised at level 5.

In relation to subordinates, the manager’s job is twofold. First, to outlaw the use of initiatives 1 and 2, thus giving subordinates no choice but to learn and master “Completed Staff Work.” Second, to see that for each problem leaving his or her office there is an agreed-upon level of initiative assigned to it, in addition to an agreed-upon time and place for the next manager-subordinate conference. The latter should be duly noted on the manager’s calendar.

The Care and Feeding of Monkeys

To further clarify our analogy between the monkey on the back and the processes of assigning and controlling, we shall refer briefly to the manager’s appointment schedule, which calls for five hard-and-fast rules governing the “Care and Feeding of Monkeys.” (Violation of these rules will cost discretionary time.)

Rule 1.

Monkeys should be fed or shot. Otherwise, they will starve to death, and the manager will waste valuable time on postmortems or attempted resurrections.

Rule 2.

The monkey population should be kept below the maximum number the manager has time to feed. Subordinates will find time to work as many monkeys as he or she finds time to feed, but no more. It shouldn’t take more than five to 15 minutes to feed a properly maintained monkey.

Rule 3.

Monkeys should be fed by appointment only. The manager should not have to hunt down starving monkeys and feed them on a catch-as-catch-can basis.

Rule 4.

Monkeys should be fed face-to-face or by telephone, but never by mail. (Remember—with mail, the next move will be the manager’s.) Documentation may add to the feeding process, but it cannot take the place of feeding.

Rule 5.

Every monkey should have an assigned next feeding time and degree of initiative. These may be revised at any time by mutual consent but never allowed to become vague or indefinite. Otherwise, the monkey will either starve to death or wind up on the manager’s back.

“Get control over the timing and content of what you do” is appropriate advice for managing time. The first order of business is for the manager to enlarge his or her discretionary time by eliminating subordinate-imposed time. The second is for the manager to use a portion of this newfound discretionary time to see to it that each subordinate actually has the initiative and applies it. The third is for the manager to use another portion of the increased discretionary time to get and keep control of the timing and content of both boss-imposed and system-imposed time. All these steps will increase the manager’s leverage and enable the value of each hour spent in managing management time to multiply without theoretical limit.

(A version of this article appeared in the November–December 1999 issue of Harvard Business Review.)


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Three Key Leadership Lessons For Promoting Cultural Cohesion

Leadership is more than a role or an office occupied by an individual by way of happenstance, appointment or willpower. Leadership equates to influence. The leadership style, behavior and rhetoric of any given leader — and the values represented therein — can direct the culture in which the leader operates.

Here are a few key lessons on the elements of leadership that can promote cultural cohesion and drive sustainable success in an organization.

1. Cultivating A Culture Of Diversity And Inclusion 

Diversity cannot be viewed as a box to check or a measure undertaken for the sake of demographics reports or stakeholder expectations. Diversity can be a key element in ensuring that a culture remains fertile with creative potential. In fact, research published in Financial Management found that organizational policies focused on building a more diverse workforce are linked to higher levels of innovation. Creating an agile organization in competitive, highly disrupted markets may require that leaders embrace a workforce with employees who come from a range of backgrounds and can bring to the table the differing opinions, life experiences and areas of expertise that promote innovation.


What’s more, Gallup found that "engagement and inclusiveness are closely related." This is likely a result of engaged employees also feeling valued at work. When employees sense that their opinions matter and that leaders care about their input, they typically feel more committed to helping the organization achieve success.

Organizations with higher than average diversity and inclusion rates not only can achieve elevated agility through innovation, but they also can gain a greater sense of cohesion and may see higher overall rates of employee engagement — which, according to Gallup, can translate to higher productivity and 21% higher profitability.

2. Fostering Loyalty

Loyalty is of paramount importance to most leaders. When members of a group remain loyal to their leader even through times of decreased performance, doubt or struggle, leaders may feel confident in persevering in their duties to achieve desired results.

However, the method by which leaders attain loyalty is no insignificant matter. Commanding loyalty through positional power tends to guarantee only temporary advantages. By leveraging their positional power, leaders maintain loyalty only by virtue of their office — not thanks to any particular personal strengths, abilities or righteousness. As it is, positional power is easily abused and can morph into scare tactics, manipulation and unilateral control that's exerted in order to obtain allegiance that they haven't earned. Members of the team remain loyal out of fear, coercion or incentives rooted in power-related promises.

Conversely, persuasive power inspires loyalty by way of a leader’s influence — the virtue of their vision, decency and transparency. Loyalty that's built organically, rather than coerced or artificially contrived, is rooted in the authentic commitment of team members. This kind of loyalty can promote purposeful engagement at work that's driven by a dedication to realizing the leader’s vision and the desired outcomes of the group. As such, it can require less oversight during periods of crisis as team members remain assured of their leader’s abilities regardless of circumstance.

3. Reactivity Versus Proactivity 

Overcoming both anticipated and unanticipated challenges is a daily requirement for most leaders. How they choose to handle these hurdles can send a clear message to the teams they head — indicating whether the organization should act or react in the face of an obstacle.

In response to their leaders’ approach to meeting challenges, team members can form beliefs about how they should think and act in high-stakes situations. If a leader is faced with a challenge, he or she sets the precedent for beliefs and conduct for the rest of the organization.

A pattern of reactive responses can create a belief in the workforce that reactivity is the correct method by which to handle challenges. Ultimately, the blame game is given free rein over an organization, which can deplete team members’ faith in their leader while undermining confidence in one another, both within and between teams and departments. The result? Internal silos, splintering loyalties and a lack of team cohesion that can inhibit productivity and performance.

On the other hand, proactive leaders react with grace and effectiveness: They recognize a problem when it arises, take psychological ownership for the problem, mobilize creative problem-solving efforts to create a meaningful solution and deploy the most effective solutions in order to overcome the challenge seamlessly.

Closing The Gap With Strong Leadership

Leaders can create a sense of strong collective identity and promote increased innovation by championing diverse opinions, skill sets and backgrounds. At the same time, fostering loyalty through the positive influence of demonstrated honesty, tenacity and vision can create a deeper commitment to achieving shared goals. Finally, leaders can meet challenges head-on with a proactive approach to problem-solving that illustrates a high degree of accountability for delivering positive results.

When leaders foster diversity and inclusion, build loyalty through authentic virtue and overcome challenges with grace and agility, they set a precedent for the rest of us. When we all buy into and embody beliefs that contribute to our collective good, we can mobilize meaningful change and achieve greater success together.

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Key Steps Women Can Take Toward Strong Leadership

Women have learned that career success is not about adjusting to the male-dominated status quo. It's about changing that status quo by embracing what makes diverse perspectives unique, and overcoming the doubts that keep you from reaching your full potential.

"Once I heard that I shouldn't expose my feelings at work, because this represents weakness, especially coming from a woman," said Mayra Attuy, a marketing head at Oath. "I see emotion, passion and compassion as valuable assets, not things to be ignored or hidden."

The importance of leaving your comfort zone

A commonly cited Hewlett-Packard study on internal hiring practices found that men often apply for a job when they meet 60 percent of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them. Reshma Sujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, said that while girls are taught to play it safe, smile pretty and get all A's, boys are taught to play rough and swing high.

"In other words, we're raising our girls to be perfect, and we're raising our boys to be brave," she said in a TED talk. Even when women are ambitious, the socialization of perfection often leads them to risk aversion, Sujani said.

Devoreaux Walton, owner of Distinct Personal Branding, believes success is found outside of one's comfort zone, but is often hindered by the fear of the unknown.

"Every successful entrepreneur and business leader did what they were afraid to do instead of just letting the fear rule in their personal and professional lives," she said.

She recommends the best way to overcome fear is to acknowledge it; recognize it's there, but do it anyway. If you're too rigid, you could miss one of those serendipitous 'aha' moments that could inspire a creative solution or force a different approach.

Angie Hicks, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Angie's List, had to face her fears when she was approached about starting the now-national customer review service as an introverted college graduate.

"My biggest challenge was combating the fact that I was really shy and quiet," said Hicks at the inaugural American Express OPEN CEO BootCamp in 2013. "In starting a business, you have to get out and talk to people. I was doing door-to-door [subscription] sales, which was the last thing I ever thought I would do."

Leaving her comfort levels paved the way for Hicks to take advantage of opportunities that never would have arisen otherwise.

"Don't miss out on opportunities that come your way," she said. "Put yourself in a position to have those opportunities; know when one is facing you and take it."

Seeing equality as a reality

Many women have felt the effects of the gender gap during their careers, whether it was a pay dispute, a lost promotion or just a snide comment from a co-worker. Even if your work environment champions equality, it's not uncommon to encounter people who have faced some kind of discrimination, subtle or not, because of their gender.

It's difficult to think this way when cases of gender inequality are talked about in the news and on social media every day. However, if women want to be viewed as equal in the workplace, they must stand their ground and demand the respect they deserve – and it starts by behaving as if the gap has been closed, said Paula Stephenson, director of marketing at Smoke's Poutinerie.

"I have noticed that if you act like there's equality in the workplace, then there will be," Stephenson said.

That's not to say that people should pretend inequality doesn't exist. Acknowledging the need for change is important, but more important are your actions and attitudes in the workplace.

"Being a working mom in the corporate world is a daily challenge," Attuy said. Despite the struggle to find balance, Attuy considers her most proud professional moment when she returned from maternity leave. She believes that the fulfillment of her simultaneous personal and career success has made her a stronger marketer.

For women just entering the workforce, Attuy recommends leading by example while being open, supportive and collaborative with others. With advancements like the #MeToo movement, discussions have been ignited, but there are still many barriers to overcome.

"The big challenge is to keep our perspectives top of mind in conversations at the corporate level, and also among family and friends, so the mindset shift can happen," Attuy said. "Be resilient that change will come."

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Why Telling is Not Good Enough: 3 Benefits of Connecting Language and Behavior

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” All too often, leaders fall for this illusion, believing that if they said it, then the message has been both heard and understood. Some leaders deepen the illusion by believing that they have also gained agreement about how to think and act.

Over 30 years of leading, observing and developing leaders and teams, we have come to recognize that telling is not good enough. Leaders today should move away from an over-reliance on the one-sided communication that is characteristic of “command and control” to the language and behavior of connecting.

Jack Eckerd, founder of Eckerd drugstores, modeled the value of having collective, inclusive, open and reciprocal communications. He knew that such connecting language and behavior would help him make better decisions and give him greater and sustained influence. He was often heard inviting new leaders, indeed all employees, to speak up, to connect and to fully participate in the conversation. He would say, “I am paying you for your expertise and perspective, not to recite mine. I know what I know and think. What I need to know is what you know and think.”

Consider the following benefits you gain when you move from telling to connecting.

1. Secure Enlistment, Not Just Compliance.

The use of command and control language may foster compliance at the expense of engagement or commitment. Leaders who use position power, and who are strong-willed communicators, can bend the will of others to comply with their wishes. Such speakers take a position and demand or push that position often without any consideration of what others want, need, know or believe. Since compliance does not require agreement or foster ownership, it can be hard to sustain in the face of new or contradictory information, barriers to the desired outcome, or competing priorities.

The use of connecting language (e.g., collective pronouns and inclusive statements) and connecting (i.e., open and reciprocal) behavior fosters the development of commitment and shared accountability. Leaders create connections by balancing advocacy for their own position with active inquiry of the ideas, beliefs, needs and recommendations of others. They enlist, rather than command, first by learning, second by considering, and finally by integrating those ideas and beliefs into their own thinking.

When others believe their needs and beliefs matter and that their knowledge and insights can make a difference, they are enlisted. When they are enlisted, their intrinsic motivation will enlist them to integrate new information, find ways around barriers and resolve competing priorities.

2. Increase Initiative, Not Dependency.

Leaders who insist that employees do only – and exactly – as they are told limit them to doing only what the leader declares to be right and true. This “telling” can create a dependency that reduces initiative, innovation, risk-taking and collective problem-solving. It teaches others to wait for answers, to wait for information or to wait for direction. If the leader is unavailable when action is needed, no action is taken. People cease making decisions.

Most organizations cannot afford to have employees waiting to be told. Instead, they need employees who understand that their purpose in the organization is greater than a list of tasks on a job description. Connecting leaders invite employees to share and test their ideas, to look for opportunities to make a difference, and to resolve problems they discover. Connecting leaders use collective pronouns and engage in collective problem-solving. These leader behaviors increase initiative, not dependency.

3. Know More, Not Less.

Leaders who only “tell” are information-blind. They operate under the false premise that asking others is not necessary, because they already have the best information and all the required information. They fail to seek or listen to the information that others know. They never learn the brutal facts that others have discovered. They make decisions blind to options, perspectives, feelings and facts that might have led to a more effective, innovative or otherwise better decision.

By connecting with people who know things they do not know, or who may interpret shared information differently, leaders can access and evaluate relevant insights and information. Leaders who practice open and reciprocal communication learn more, know more and consider more and are, therefore, better equipped to make the complex decisions with which they are charged.

We invite you to connect with us. Like Jack Eckerd, we know what we know, and we would love to learn what you know. We look forward to learning the benefits you have gained through the use of connecting language and behavior. Tweet us @ConnectedLead and @TrainingIndustr.


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What Is Accountability in the Workplace?

Achieving high levels of accountability in the workplace is the key to improving your organization’s top-line performance. 

When organizational performance is stagnating — or worse, declining — leaders are forced to confront a difficult question: why aren’t we getting the results we need?

Leaders often attempt to correct course by adjusting strategy and optimizing operations. They may re-frame their budget to allocate supplemental resources to struggling projects, shift their strategic approach to a business relationship, or on-board new talent in the hopes of closing performance gaps.

While these efforts can improve efficiency and may even lead to short-term successes, they often fail to sustain top-line improvement because they do not address the underlying culture. If leaders commit the same level of dedication to building a Culture of Accountability® as they do to developing an effective business strategy, they will be better positioned to deliver sustained organizational results.

Defining Your Desired Results

The first step to building accountability in the workplace is establishing a set of clear organizational objectives. This is especially important considering that, according to our landmark Workplace Accountability Study, nearly 90% of employees report that organizational results within their company are not clearly defined or understood. To make matters worse, 84% said that priorities within their organization are constantly changing. With no clear, set targets, how can employees be expected to drive meaningful progress towards organizational goals?

In order to avoid confusion surrounding top-line priorities, leaders should pinpoint and articulate their company’s Key Results — the three to five meaningful, measurable, and memorable “must-deliverables” that define organizational success. Only once leaders have clearly communicated these targets with their employees and created alignment across the organization can a company begin to build accountability in the workplace.

Taking the Steps to Bolster Accountability in the Workplace

While many people conflate accountability and responsibility, the differences between these two concepts are significant. While responsibility is associated with clearly defined duties and roles, accountability is the proactive, dynamic, and forward-facing process of exercising one’s agency in order to achieve a goal. According to the New York Times bestseller The Oz Principle, accountability is the “personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results.”

Achieving Key Results through accountability requires that all employees take four crucial steps: See It, Own It, Solve It, and Do It (SOSD®). 

See It® – When employees See It, they ask themselves, What factors can I control and what factors are out of my control? They recognize the hurdles that exist and what must change in order to overcome those hurdles. 

Own It® – When employees Own It, they refuse to place blame on others and instead internalize the problem, asking themselves, What am I doing to contribute positively or negatively to current results? 

Solve It® – Once they have taken personal, psychological ownership for the problem, they Solve It by demonstrating creative problem-solving and asking themselves, What else can I do to help create an effective solution? 

Do It® – Finally, accountable employees Do It by asking themselves, What results am I accountable for and by when? 

Ultimately, establishing a culture of accountability in the workplace depends upon every employee’s willingness to See It, Own It, Solve It, Do It.

Nurturing Accountable Attitudes and Behaviors

When employees See It, Solve It, Own It, Do It, they are taking personal accountability for Key Results. However, accountability in the workplace demands continual psychological work — because it can be difficult to maintain an attitude of open feedback, ownership, innovation, and commitment. Sometimes, it’s easier to ignore or deny the problems at hand, offer excuses, justify underperformance — or worse, point fingers and blame others. 

Cultivating a flourishing culture of accountability in the workplace requires that every employee is constantly striving to reject these bad habits in favor of positivity, ownership, and solution-seeking — and to help others do the same. By taking personal ownership for problems and solutions rather than externalizing blame or making excuses, employees maintain a proactive approach to Seeing It, Solving It, Owning It, and Doing It every day. Accountable thinking and behaviors enable an organization to achieve its Key Results.

A Culture of Accountability Generates Better Results

According to The Oz Principle, “Only when you assume full accountability for your thoughts, feelings, actions, and results can you direct your own destiny; otherwise someone or something else will.” 

While this rings true on a personal level, its effects are magnified on the organizational level. If an organization fails to keep its workforce thinking and behaving collaboratively toward its objectives, it will fall victim to circumstance — allowing external factors such as fluctuating market conditions and competitors’ ability to determine its fate. On the other hand, when teams come together to take accountability through SOSD®, they control their destiny — and are able to reach and surpass their desired results.

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The 5 Cs: 5 Essential Qualities That Define Great Leadership

Want to be a stronger leader? Build a stronger team on these five principles.

Many leaders focus on upward movement within their organization, deciding ways they can ascend the ranks in their company. However, fighting hard to get to the top doesn’t necessarily make for a strong leader. There’s another approach you can take to improve your leadership skills that is more rewarding and far less lonely: surrounding yourself with great people. But how do you find and cultivate strong workers?

According to the 2018 Gallup Employee Engagement report, only 34 percent of people in the U.S. are engaged in their work. Although this number is quite low, you may be surprised to learn that this is the highest percentage in the history of Gallup’s employee engagement reporting. The number of disengaged workers has reached an all-time low of 13 percent. Despite these record-breaking statistics, U.S. employees’ lack of engagement can have disastrous impacts on the success of their organizations. Perhaps these figures are a direct result of poor leadership.

To inspire engagement and effectiveness in their employees, leaders should look within, asking themselves the following questions:

How clear and communicative are you as a leader? What is your leadership style? Do you practice what you preach? Do you keep the promises you make?

First and foremost, a good leader establishes an important foundation of credibility and trust. When people trust you, you can inspire their engagement and loyalty in the company; this is critical when the organization faces challenges and you need to rally the team to success. Effective leaders can build strong teams on these five principles, the five Cs of great leadership:

1. Collaborate

It may be satisfying to be able to complete a project on your own. However, those who try to juggle a considerable amount of work by themselves often result in failure. Competent leaders understand the importance of working with a team to complete tasks both large and small. To encourage collaboration among your team, you should be able to delegate. Having work completed by other members of your team doesn’t mean getting items off your own plate. You will likely need to look over the finished product, after all. Instead, collaboration can vastly improve the quality of the product your team is creating. You know what they say: “Two heads are better than one.”

2. Communicate

Strong leaders should motivate and instruct the people on their teams. If they are not skilled communicators, they may have trouble getting messages across to their teams. When speaking with your employees or delegating tasks, be sure to give them clear direction. You should always be willing to answer questions that may arise if the employees are having trouble comprehending complex instructions. Make time to meet with your staff to speak with them and check on their progress to ensure success.

3. (Be) Candid

Being honest sounds fundamental to being a great leader, yet many people often hold back what they’d really like to say to avoid hurting someone’s feeling. Instead of helping the problem, this can hurt it. When important statements go unsaid, no one on the team can learn from their mistakes. This will cause them to make the same mistakes over and over, not knowing that what they are doing is incorrect.

When correcting employees’ mistakes, you need to figure out a way to approach the issue in a constructive – not harsh – way. Approach the critiques as a form of self-improvement, coaching rather than correcting.

4. Connected

Effective leaders understand the value of feedback, on both the giving and receiving end. As managers, we likely have information to share with our employees about their individual performances. Provide regular check-ins with employees to measure their success. A quarterly one-on-one isn’t enough to keep your team on track. Meet individually with your staff members consistently to reinforce their hard work, provide feedback on areas in which they can improve and explain both short- and long-term goals for team metrics.

It is just as important to encourage your employees to offer you feedback as it is to lend it to them. When your employees are encouraged to express their opinion, they feel that their voices are important and their ideas are valued. When employees feel useful, they are more likely to stay engaged. Make sure to listen to the feedback you receive and follow through with their requests and suggestions. Getting criticism can be difficult, but make sure you stay off the defensive and thank your employee for their honesty.

5. Care

Exceptional leaders are empathetic, caring for their staff members, not just the work they do. Employees want to feel valued. Make sure you ask them about their life. What do they enjoy? How is their family doing? Did they find time to relax on their recent vacation? Work isn’t everything, and employees feel a sense of loyalty when their leader cares about them as a person, not just as a workhorse.

Invoking Change in Your Organization

Great leaders typically attribute their success to the strong individuals on their teams. Look to the people who work with you and for you. When they respect their leader and feel that their voice is valuable to the organization, they are likely to feel engaged in their work. As leaders, we are only as good as our people. Forging strong relationships with our teams pays off in corporate morale as well as overall performance. Use the five Cs every day and you may notice an improvement in attitudes and results among your team members.

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4 reasons leaders should be able to do any job at the company (even the entry level ones)

Despite the hardships, the great thing about doing the dirty work is that as you grow and scale your teams, you have a fundamental understanding of every aspect of what it takes to run your business–because you’ve done it all.

When people think of leaders who carry the illustrious title of CEO, they might envision someone who sits in a plush office all day, looks out of a big window, and has a personal assistant to bring them coffee. (By the way, did you say you wanted that with sugar and cream, or just hot and gently stirred?)

However, most successful CEOs, both with established brands or startups, will tell you very quickly that this couldn’t be further from the truth. In actuality, many successful leaders have had to roll up their sleeves to get into the “grit and grime” of hard work in order to grow their companies. It’s those menial tasks, the stuff no else wants to do, even the downright dirty work, that helped them achieve the level of success they now enjoy.

As a veteran startup leader, I have yet to see a successful company with leadership that wasn’t afraid to put on a hard hat, throw on some work boots, and get right into the weeds of the most “unenjoyable” tasks that were required for them to sustain or grow their business.

Take me, for example. When I first started Newchip, I was sleeping in a 100-ish-square-foot office (henceforth called the closet) that I leased while renting out my apartment on Airbnb to pay the bills for the office and to meet payroll. It just made more sense since I was at the office nonstop anyway (Hey, if Elon could do it, so could I). However, living at an office was no walk in the park because I had to make it without certain amenities that naturally come with the comforts of home. And while I definitely missed having a real bed, warm showers, and a full kitchen (mostly, my bed), I also realized that this sacrifice was necessary in order to build my company with the limited resources I had at the time.

Ironically, even as my company started to grow, and I was able to staff up, there were still many times that I was found in the muck and mire of cleaning up the conference room after meetings, sweeping the office floors to keep the place tidy for the next investor’s meeting, and yes, even taking out the trash. How’s that for stroking your ego?

This is why it’s so important to understand that leadership can often come with highs and lows. For example: Picture a day in which you were finally able to land millions of dollars from some of your key investors. (It’s time to celebrate, right?) But also on this same day, you have to throw on some jeans, grab a T-shirt from the drawer, and head right back to the office to make your own copies, send over your own paperwork, and order a pizza just so you have something to eat after a long day.

Despite the hardships, the great thing about doing the dirty work is that as you grow and scale your teams, you have a fundamental understanding of every aspect of what it takes to run your business–because you’ve done it all. With this in mind, here are four great reasons not to be afraid of doing the dirty work:


If it needs to get done and you are the only one with the bandwidth to do it, then be willing to it take on, regardless of how big or small. At the end of the day, it shows that you’re willing and able to pitch in wherever needed. It also shows humility and creates an atmosphere for excellent teamwork. By demonstrating that there’s no task that’s beneath you, you’ll inspire loyalty that can never be earned otherwise. Even if it’s just serving as an extra set of hands during a busy time or taking over for an employee who needs a quick 15-minute break, employees who see you contribute in these small but significant ways will be much more willing to do the same themselves.


Leadership isn’t about seniority, rank, or entitlement. In fact, great leaders don’t care about any of those things. Launching a business takes vision, resourcefulness, determination, and a willingness to get down and dirty. A strong leader doesn’t just tell their team how to work, a strong leader models this behavior in everything they do–whether it’s an elevated task like creating the company’s big vision or day-to-day things like working alongside service reps to help them answer phone calls.


As a leader, your time is immensely valuable and it’s also in short supply. This is especially true during the phase of scaling your business. During this time, you have to have a good pulse on all the areas of your business so you can easily identify the gaps and friction points. Being in the trenches is a good way to accomplish this.

If you have a customer service problem, handle the matter yourself. This allows you to learn about any rough spots firsthand. If you have a supply challenge, take the time to dig into the details yourself so you can determine the best solution. You will gain a fundamental understanding of how to make things operate more smoothly, which will, in turn, support long-term sustainable growth.


You can’t build a successful business without sweat equity. For the CEO, this usually means actual sweat. That’s true for companies in every industry, from tech to finance to food. You simply have to use your elbow grease. Even genius developers and programmers have found themselves not only coding software programs but also poring over financial statements or managing invoices at 2 a.m.

While this is very time consuming, it allows you and your dedicated team to handle multiple job functions in-house without extra cash compensation, as a way to save costs while you grow your organization. In the end, this will all pay off.

Doing the dirty work isn’t always fun but it can provide you with some very valuable insights and personal growth opportunities along the way. Running a successful organization requires you to be ready to dive in and do whatever it takes to keep your team moving forward.


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How do You improve accountability

Leaders can improve organizational accountability — and drive better top-line results — by understanding the critical relationship between how employees think and how they act.

It’s true that optimizing operations and re-imagining your business strategy can help organizations see better top-line results. Unfortunately, these approaches often fall short because they only address employee behaviors, and not the underlying mindsets that drive these behaviors.

Ensuring sustained success requires a more challenging proposition: improving accountability in the workplace. 

Accountability, according to the New York Times bestseller The Oz Principle, is the “personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary to achieve desired results.” In alignment with this definition, achieving true accountability in the workplace depends on every employee’s personal and proactive commitment to delivering on team and organization-wide objectives. 

So how do you, as a leader, improve accountability across your organization — and in turn, drive better topline results?

Build Around Key Results 

According to the results of our Workplace Accountability Study, 9 out of 10 senior executive teams do not effectively clarify their organizations’ top priorities — leaving employees with a vague sense of direction and little understanding of how their daily actions impact organizational performance.

To compound this issue, nearly 85% of employees say that their company’s priorities are constantly shifting. One month, the company’s focus may be driving sales, while the next it may be funneling resources into better product development. When priorities regularly change, employees do not feel a sense of connection to the overall mission of the organization — and are thus are more likely to disengage from their work, hindering productivity on the whole.

Before leaders can effectively improve accountability in the workplace and lift top-line results, they must ensure that every employee knows exactly what objectives they are working towards. When employees are given clear targets and are able to see how their everyday duties contribute to the success or failure of Key Results — the three to five top-line results that the organization must deliver on in order to achieve success — they feel a deeper sense of purpose and pride in their work.

As such, it is the leadership team’s responsibility to identify and clarify the organization’s Key Results. These results should be communicated and reinforced across the organization by leaders at every level, guaranteeing that each and every employee understands and feels connected to the company’s primary objectives.

Master The Results Pyramid

Even if leaders have clearly defined and articulated the organization’s Key Results, they may not be able to improve accountability in the workplace until they understand the causal relationship between every employee’s experiences, beliefs, and actions.

According to the evidence-based Partners In Leadership model known as The Results Pyramid®, experiences shape personal beliefs, which in turn, influence actions. Finally, actions drive results — whether good or bad. As such, bolstering top-line results begins at the bottom layers of the pyramid: by purposefully shaping employees’ experiences and beliefs.

Take this example: a major healthcare organization was experiencing a worrying rate of medical errors and near-misses due to operational inconsistencies. In an attempt to curb these high error rates, the organization introduced a new initiative requiring two layers of patient name and treatment verification. This regulation created a new experience for intake employees by introducing a new step into their workflow.

In turn, the initiative promoted the cultural belief of patient safety by stressing the importance of verifying patient information. By following the new initiative and integrating the belief of safety into her daily work, a practitioner was able to catch a near-miss when one patient — who shared the same name as another patient — was called in for the wrong treatment. Because the practitioner took action to verify the patient’s full name and treatment plan, she was able to avoid a potentially dangerous mistake and achieve better healthcare safety results for the organization.

This example demonstrates that when leaders build experiences and beliefs that support their desired results, they are able to effectively cultivate higher levels of accountability in the workplace and ultimately, deliver on Key Results.

Maximize Accountability in the Workplace

When leaders clearly establish Key Results and understand the critical importance of the Results Pyramid®, they are prepared to improve accountability in the workplace.

Taking the cue of the healthcare organization that introduced new initiatives to shape cultural beliefs that in turn propelled meaningful action toward Key Results, leaders must focus on creating new experiences for employees. Whether it be a new set of regulations or an organization-wide training series, the experience must be purposefully designed to improve employees’ abilities to recognize the gaps between existing and desired results, take psychological ownership of the problems and potential solutions, employ creative problem-solving to close critical gaps, and fulfill their promise to deliver on Key Results.


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Change in the Workplace

How to Protect Your Career When Senior Management Changes

Change makes most people uneasy. When that change is in your workplace and threatens your livelihood, that uneasiness can become abject fear and it may, if you let it, tremendously impact your career. Your response can make a significant difference to the long-term effects. Find out how to respond effectively when your employer is undergoing a major transition, such as one to its senior management team.

What Changes May Occur 

Changes to organizations' senior management teams happen all the time. They are often the result of entities merging, being spun off, or getting acquired by private equity firms that buy up companies as investments. 

Changes to an entity's management team may also occur for reasons that are unrelated to mergers and acquisitions. Boards of directors may decide to bring in new talent to replace underperforming CEOs, or upper-level managers may leave on their own. New chief executives, in turn, could bring in new mid and lower level managers to help them turn things around. Regardless of what precipitated it, a management change will alter your workplace in some way.

The Impact of Management Change on Your Workplace 

A new management team may institute new rules and procedures, especially if your small, casually run organization is bought by a larger, more formally operated one. For instance, employees may have to follow processes for calling out and or requesting vacation time that were not in place before. Where limits on taking time off may have been somewhat lax, the folks running your company could stipulate how many sick and personal days they will allow. Your somewhat flexible old boss who didn't care what time you showed up as long as you worked a full day may have been replaced by a strict one who expects everyone to show up at a specific time every day.

The effect new management will have on the company culture—an organization's personality based on its values and underlying philosophies—may be subtle or quite noticeable. A casual workplace may become formal, or vice versa, for example. Your new boss may frown on the big birthday celebrations that used to happen in the break room at least once a week or may encourage parties when your prior boss didn't allow them. A workplace that forced you into wearing business attire every day may now allow casual dress.

While going from a strict boss to a more laid-back one may sound good, it can also be disconcerting.

Even though adapting to revamped rules and procedures, and even a new company culture may be a bit unpleasant, you will probably be able to adjust to them with some effort. Other changes, however, are less pleasant, and can significantly affect your career. When one company merges with or is acquired by another, there will be duplication in lines of business and departments. An organization doesn't need two accounting and human resources departments, for instance, and therefore some employees will be excessed.

Elimination of lines of business will also result in layoffs.

When new leaders come into a company, there is a trickle-down effect on those members of the organization who report to them including lower-level managers and the rank and file. You may someday find yourself facing challenges due to workplace changes like this. Your reaction to these transitions could have profound consequences on your career. Follow these dos and don'ts to cope with changes in your workplace that come about when new senior management arrives on the scene.

Tips for Facing the Challenges of Workplace Change  Become an Expert on the Changes: The more you know about what is happening, the better you will be able to react to it. Do company research to learn about the nature of the merger or acquisition or whatever else is at the root of the management change. If your employer is a publicly-held entity, it is required to make this information available to shareholders. That means it must file documents about it with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). It will be more difficult, but not impossible, to find information about a privately-held company. Consult trade publications and other media that publish business news. Get to Know the New Management Team: Attend any events your company may hold to introduce the new team to the staff. When you encounter an unfamiliar face around the office, initiate a conversation. Continue your online research to learn about new personnel. Your professional network can also be instrumental when gathering information about your new bosses. Be Realistic About the Changes: People, in general, bristle at change, but it is important to note that not all changes are bad nor are they all good. Some may lead to improvements that may increase your job satisfaction, but others may make you dislike going to work. Approach this transition with an open mind. Understand some changes may require time to get used to and some may continue to make you feel uncomfortable no matter what you do. Have a Plan In Place: Unfortunately, a workplace change may lead to your having to look for new employment. It may be for reasons beyond your control, for example, an organizational restructuring that results in the company eliminating your position or a manager bringing in his or her own people to replace you. Start preparing for a layoff as soon as whispers of the transition begin and activate your plan when necessary. Better to have it ready and not have to use it than to be blind-sided by a layoff. If your job is secure, but you decide to move on anyway, your plan can also help with that.
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10 Leadership Resolutions for a Successful 2019

You can’t predict everything that will happen in 2019, but it’s a safe bet that change and uncertainty will continue to be major themes. It’s also safe to assume that your leadership will be critical for success. With that in mind, here are 10 leadership resolutions for the coming year.

Leading Yourself

Stay healthy. We know you hear this a lot around the New Year, and you probably think about it more, too. Your personal performance — and therefore your effectiveness as a leader — are heavily influenced by your health.

Healthier people have more energy, can think more clearly, focus for longer periods, and are less likely to get sick. There are 4 key practices:

Eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. Get adequate, high-quality sleep. Engage in physical activity regularly. Manage pressure so it doesn’t turn into negative stress.

Succeed at digital learning. Being a leader doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Leaders must continue to acquire new skills, new areas of knowledge, and new leadership tools.

With limited time and resources, some of that learning will take place via digital learning. So how can you make the most of your time?

First, make sure you commit. Set real deadlines and block out time on your calendar.

Second, just practice the new skill or find a way to apply your new knowledge. Real learning doesn’t happen until you actually use it.

And third, celebrate your success. This reinforces the value of ongoing learning.

Leading Others

Stop wasting time in meetings. We’ve all complained about time spent in a meeting that just wasn’t worth it. So how can you make sure that the meetings you set are productive? Here are 3 tips to start:

Only hold a meeting if it’s necessary. Can this be handled via email? Make sure all attendees are really present. Invite only those required and enforce behavior standards to keep everyone engaged. Decide in advance what the purpose of the meeting will be and how you’ll achieve its goals.

Make better group decisions. We’ve all heard — and many of us have said — that several minds are better than one. But actually making good decisions as a group is challenging.

Here’s how groups can make better decisions about things such as work processes:

Define the task. Choose the best fit for decision making. Set decision-making criteria. Brainstorm at least 3 alternatives. Select the best alternative using the agreed-upon method. Develop action plans. Take action. Evaluate decision effectiveness. Repeat until complete.

Support your employees in their development efforts. Professional development is important for everyone on your team. Our research has found that the primary predictor of the success of leadership development programs is the degree to which participants’ bosses support them.

So how can you support your people?

Set the stage for an effective program by discussing with your direct reports their goals — areas they should focus on and how they can get the most out of each opportunity. Give them permission to focus fully on the training by allowing them to fully disengage from normal responsibilities. Find out what support they’ll need when they return. Follow up after the training by meeting with your team members to discuss what they learned, how they’ll apply it and what you can do to continue supporting them.

Lead your team through change. Change is the one thing we can be certain of. For leaders, it’s also a virtual certainty you’ll need to lead your team through change.

Even when leaders and organizations know what the change is, they may still hesitate, fail to act, or act slowly. Here’s how to overcome the inertia:

Know what you want to achieve. Observe the current state of your team or organization. Accept that this is where things are and that change won’t happen unless you take action. Communicate your intent and why — again, again, and again. Demonstrate your personal commitment to the change. Offer a better vision based upon your intent. Reward those who move forward. Leading the Organization

Help frontline managers master their roles. In most organizations, frontline managers are critical.

A recent McKinsey study found that more than 70% of senior managers were unhappy with frontline manager performance, and more than 80% of frontline managers are dissatisfied with their own performance.

The first step in fixing this problem is to understand what skills frontline managers need. There are 6 they should master to be effective:

Self-awareness Political savvy Learning agility Influencing outcomes Communication skills Motivating others

These 6 skills should form the core of development programs for frontline managers.

Create an environment where women can excel. Research shows that gender diversity benefits the bottom line. So how can your organization attract and retain more women? The first step is to understand what ambitious, talented women want from employers.

Women want to find their calling. That is, they want their jobs to connect with their values and purpose.

Women want flexibility in where, when, and how they work. Women rated paid-time off and flexible schedules as 2 of the most valuable benefits.

Women want real leadership opportunities. But women are more wary of some leadership opportunities, perhaps because research suggests that they’re more likely to be offered roles with fewer resources or high-stakes, high-risk opportunities.

Understand and manage millennials. For all the commentary about millennials, younger workers are not a mysterious tribe that can’t be understood or managed by older leaders. Here’s what you need to know:

Millennials place a high value on their team, boss, mentors, and friends at work. They want to feel like their managers genuinely appreciate them. They also want their managers to coach and mentor them. Millennials want work to be interesting and meaningful — but they don’t want to be plugged in 24/7. Work-life balance is also important. Millennials want to grow. They’re interested in opportunities for development, promotion, and feedback. They want to advance, and they want help doing so.

Nurture innovation instead of squashing it.  Innovation is important, but few companies are really good at it. Why? In part because leading innovation is different from leading ongoing business operations.

Managers and individual contributors responsible for innovation need more emotional support to take the risks and give innovation efforts all their knowledge, skill, and energy.

Leaders must practice 3 critical behaviors to support innovators:

Demonstrate trust in innovators to empower them. Keep the purpose of the innovation front-and-center to motivate, inspire, and focus innovators. Partner with innovators as equals to contribute and share the risk.

If you can keep these goals in mind, or bookmark this list and come back to it, you’re bound to have a more successful and rewarding year!

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5 Skills to Include in a Comprehensive Leadership Development Program

Although the majority of organizations have leadership development programs, only 7 percent describe their programs as “best in class,” according to Harvard Business Publishing research. This statistic makes it clear that many current leadership development programs may ultimately be failing both the leaders who participate in them and their organizations. Creating a world-class leadership development program starts with equipping leaders with the specific skills, tools and behaviors they will need to confidently lead others and drive the performance of their team or organization. With that in mind, here are five skills a comprehensive leadership development program should include.

1. Coaching

Coaching is one of the best methods leaders can leverage to unleash the full potential of their direct reports. Coachable moments happen every day, and a leader with strong coaching skills can seize these moments and turn them into valuable learning experiences. According to Gallup research, only three in 10 employees “strongly agree there is someone at work who encourages their development.” This skill can go a long way in positively influencing employee engagement and productivity. Gone are the days of vague yearly reviews; employees today want feedback, motivation and guidance in real time, and leaders must be able to effectively provide those things.

Coaching is one of the best methods leaders can leverage to unleash the full potential of their direct reports.

2. Accountability

The most successful leaders know that their success hinges more on their team’s performance than their own. Leaders are no longer individual contributors and will be not be assessed that way. They are held accountable for others’ actions and results, as well as their own, and must take accountability for team outcomes – the good and the bad. By training leaders on this important distinction, you can ensure that they will be capable of defining accountabilities and rigorously holding direct reports to those commitments, so that everyone can succeed and produce the results they need.

3. Change Management

An organization is not a static entity that can be frozen in time. Changes in the marketplace, employee turnover, company growth and countless other factors contribute to ongoing changes. Whether the changes feel like a ripple or a tidal wave to employees, leaders must be prepared to shepherd them through the changes, which requires training leaders to manage change before it ever even happens. Change management training should be part of any leadership development program to ensure that leaders can harness the power of vision, provide strong leadership during any season and capitalize on the transitional times to improve performance.

Change management training should be part of any leadership development program.

4. Influence and Negotiation

Effective leaders don’t command with authority; they inspire, persuade and encourage others to make their vision a reality. By learning how to be strong influencers and fair negotiators, leaders will return to their roles knowing that it is not about who has the most power but about who has the best influence on employees to achieve results. Rather than demanding that employees do something because of authority or hierarchy, leaders will use this subtle quality to build relationships, align priorities, and find a win-win that ultimately leads to completed projects and delivered results.

5. Communication

Communication training is often a cornerstone of leadership development, but how effective and up-to-date is it? What format does it take? Communication is not a skill that leaders can learn by just reading, watching a video or listening to a presentation about it. In a leadership role, communication happens at all hours of the day through large presentations, one-on-one conversations, phone calls, text messages, videoconferencing and, of course, emails. Although it’s not a new skill to leadership development, communication is one that needs to be optimized in order to be fully relevant and useful to the leaders of today and tomorrow.

Although it’s not new, communication is a skill that needs to be optimized in order to be fully relevant and useful.

Closing the gap between the desire for excellent leadership and the reality of failed leadership programs requires a fresh approach to training and development. Consider company-specific challenges and the needs of leaders in today’s world, and ask for input from current leaders, to create a leadership development program that is successful in the eyes of everyone involved.

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Here's how you can make agile learning methods effective

Can agile leadership development, if done in a structured way, help scale up an organization?

"I am 29 years old. I spent three years in my father’s insurance firm. It has fifteen employees and it has grown steadily over the years. I spent three years being in the back office doing odd jobs. But today my father decided to put me in Sales, something that he has personally loved doing since the ‘80s. I remember he would often step out of a long drawn negotiation with a client and then tell me how much he enjoyed the negotiation. But I don’t think I could be like him and do the same job for three decades like he has. He has been giving me management books to read in order to get me to learn the new skill, but I don’t think I can learn like that. I learn by observing and then trying it out. I am starting the new job next week, and I am looking forward to it but I do not feel prepared enough. I guess, one day, I will be taking over the firm and being in Sales is a good place to get prepared.”

The Agile Learning Method: 4Es

Although a scenario like above is not unheard of and most of us have become leaders by learning on the job or through the help of management books, today’s business operating ecosystem demands much more from leaders as traditional or conventional learning methodologies do not make the cut. Organizations need to adopt the 4Es of agile learning to develop leaders in a rapidly shifting environment. 

Education: Structured learning of the basics helps in building skills at scale. Learning the alphabet helps us to form words. We combine words to craft sentences. Reading the theory helps the learner understand the design principles of the competency being developed. Being aware of the core body of knowledge prepares a someone to join a profession. When someone says, “I am a practical person. I do not read”, you know this person is proudly flaunting his ignorance. Reading is a sign of intellectual curiosity and openness to new ideas in agile leaders. Weak signals and early trends often show up in a new book or article. An early start of a year can help an agile leader capture critical mass in the market. 

Exposure: To be able to connect the dots, it is important to have enough dots to choose from. That is just what internships are designed to do. For example, being the apprentice of a top-notch practitioner gives a young surgeon the exposure to multiple variations and scenarios where they learn from the master surgeon. The Tata Administrative Service was designed for build leaders who had broad exposure to the business across geographies, whereas short-term assignments across geographies and functions over a two-year period was the basic principle of the Global 100 program of Wipro. Apple brought a leader from Burberry when they were launching their own stores. Agile leaders are able to adapt and implement ideas from other contexts. 

Experience: Education gives the leader knowledge, learning, and a head-start. A musician will be taught the theory of music and then given exposure to multiple interpretations and possibilities as they watch several maestros interpret the same piece of music in their own unique manner. The Indian army puts its officers through various assignments during their careers. Every two to three years, they have to uproot the family and move to a new location and assignment. This helps them put their education and exposure to use. This is also the phase when having a coach can step-jump the competency of the agile leader. When a leader takes on a new role in the organization, having a coach can enable them to become productive early. Firms often spend a lot more on hiring leaders but will forget to invest in a coach who can onboard the new hire. Transition coaching is one of the most effective methods of building agility in a new hire.

Expertise: I have often seen master craftsmen practice a single line of a composition hundreds of times till they get it right. “Don’t you get bored doing the same thing over and over again?”, I have asked a famous music director. “Until I can play the notes to perfection from muscle memory I am not playing the same piece. It may all sound the same to a novice but an expert will know each quiver and tremble.” The difference of one hundredth of a second can be the difference between an Olympic gold medalist and a silver medalist. While a lot of people claim to have a passion for what they do, until they get comfortable with deliberate practice, they only have a fleeting interest – not passion. When someone says that they are passionate about something, check to see their comfort with repetition. The best cricketers are often the ones who will wake up an hour earlier than their peers to retain their extra edge. The Grand Slam winners still have a coach who will polish their craft even if the improvement will not be visible to others.

How do we learn effectively?

Add new mental models and theories: Try to explain things to others by simplifying complexity. Find examples from other fields that can help someone else experience an “aha” moment. Create something to practice what you learn.

Build time chunks to think and reflect: Most leadership development programs are ineffective because organizations do not build time and space for reflection.

Without time to reflect, it is hard to learn from failure.

Warren Buffet blocks chunks of his time every day to read, think, and reflect. He uses this time to process information from the environment, simulate, and predict and then update his own predictions before taking action. Ask if you are creating new mental models.

Become a part of a learning community: Being a part of a community of practice helps us to learn more effectively. It helps you to know what good looks like. Having a mentor can be a very powerful way to accelerate your learning. Create a group of mentors who will challenge your thinking and question your choices. They will connect you to other people you can learn from. A novice can be a great source of learning too.

Agile organizations continuously stay in touch with the outside environment and change their internal processes and workings to stay in tune. Agile leadership development, if done in a structured way, can help scale up the rest of the organization. The organization moves at the pace of the weakest link. Agility comes from everyday actions – not one-off training programs. 

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Inclusive Leadership Boosts Organizational Performance

When leaders are inclusive of diverse workers, their companies could see higher profits.

Inclusive leadership focuses on creating a culture where differences are valued and appreciated, contrasting opinions and perspectives are encouraged and employees have a sense of both uniqueness and belonging. Research has shown that organizations with leaders that facilitate inclusive cultures tend to have employees who contribute more, stay longer, make better decisions, collaborate more effectively, perform better and are more engaged, innovative and motivated.
Organizations that have inclusive cultures are also twice as likely to meet or exceed their financial target, as well as six times more likely to be innovative and anticipate change, according to Bersin’s 2017 research on building an inclusive culture.

Our recent research further supports the notion that inclusive leadership increases an inclusive culture, as well as the notion that diversity does not always lead to inclusion. Through a survey of employees from 156 of the 250 organizations on the Forbes “America’s Best Employers for Diversity” list, we found that inclusive leadership highly correlated with inclusive culture.

Diversity is Necessary, But Not Sufficient 

Today’s organizations already have some of the basic building blocks of creating inclusive cultures. The most important of these is having diversity in the workforce. Diversity, simply put, is all the ways in which employees differ. These differences can include a wide range and combination of factors: gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, national origin, cultural background, sexual orientation, political affiliation, education, experience, socio-economic background, personality, tenure and work style.

Proponents of workforce diversity advocated for the many benefits of having the “right mix” of employees, including increased productivity, engagement, job satisfaction and innovation. As such, most organizations have focused on achieving workforce diversity through a variety of initiatives over the past few decades. Many have been successful in increasing diversity, albeit primarily focused on racial/ethnic and gender diversity. Unfortunately, the expected benefits did not always materialize and in some cases had the opposite effect. For example, some organizations that increased diversity without creating a more inclusive work environment experienced lower productivity, engagement and job satisfaction due to employees from diverse backgrounds feeling alienated and their contributions unappreciated.

It was soon realized that simply having a diverse workforce was not enough. Organizations neglected to realize that there is an ongoing process required to integrate, manage and nurture employees in a way that facilitates the benefits of diversity. This process is known as inclusion. Put another way, diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.

What Inclusive Leaders Do (And Don’t Do) 

Inclusive leadership encompasses five main aspects of a leader’s approach to working with others in the organization. At a high level, inclusive leaders are supportive, equitable, entrusting, encouraging and enabling.

These five facets of inclusive leadership are interrelated and often lead to one another depending on the environment. In other words, all facets must be present to some extent, but may vary in degree for different situations. These aspects are key not only for interactions with those employees who report directly to the leader, but also to others with whom the leader must influence in order for his or her team to be successful. The table below provides examples of the “do’s and don’ts” for each facet of inclusive leadership.

Becoming a more inclusive leader is an ongoing process, but there are three main steps to start you on that path. First, evaluate where you stand on the inclusive leadership continuum. Seeking feedback and/or completing a 360 appraisal of your on-the-job behaviors that are related to inclusive leadership would provide you with data of how others perceive your inclusive leadership skills (or lack thereof).

The Path to Inclusive Leadership

Next, identify areas for development based on that feedback. These areas should not all be those where the most improvement is needed, as it is just as important to maximize your strengths (i.e., going from good to great). If you have more than five areas of development (as most will), focus on a few areas at a time. Don’t try to do it all at once.

Third, create an action plan that includes development activities on the job as well as e-learning or other more traditional learning programs. Sharing the plan with others will only help reinforce your commitment to becoming a more inclusive leader. Finally, don’t forget to build in some personal rewards for meeting objectives.

As you travel down the inclusive leadership development path, you will notice a profound difference in interactions with others. Coworkers who barely said a word to you in the past may become your best source of new and innovative ideas. Direct reports will likely become more willing to go above and beyond and become more motivated and engaged in the work they do. Your team’s level of collaboration and quality of decision making is likely to rise to levels higher than ever before. As an inclusive leader, all of this is possible, but you have to take the first step.

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Want to Become a Great Leader? Work to Acquire These 8 Simple Qualities

Not everyone is cut out to be a leader.

Some entrepreneurs, CEOs, and even middle managers confuse leadership with the title next to their name. They think just because they're "in charge," people will rally behind them, listen to them, and heed their every command. But the truth is, it's very easy to become a "leader" in terms of acquiring responsibilities. What's far more difficult is becoming a credible, trusted leader who is loved by everyone. 

So, what makes a terrific leader?

1. Walking the walk

The best kinds of leaders lead by example. The worst kinds of leaders live by the phrase, "Do as I say, not as I do."


This is especially true for leaders who feel they don't need to become truly knowledgable about the organization they are leading. For example, some executives or managers don't prioritize becoming experts of the industry they're in, and instead lean on their title as a way to avoid digging into the hard work. This behavior then leads to a poorly balanced team dynamic, and people begin to see the leader as lazy and hierarchical. 

2. Earning your stripes--not showing them off.

Leadership is something you have to earn, day in and day out.

Your title is not something you flaunt. In fact, the moment you have to lean on your title in order to get people to listen, you've started down a difficult path. People respect leaders that show up and continue to prove they are worth following--not leaders who expect everyone else around them to work harder than they're willing to work themselves.

3. Being open, honest, and trustworthy.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a leader is breaking someone's trust.

Especially if you're at the helm of an organization, you're going to run into scenarios where people will come to you to share how they're feeling, or issues they're experiencing within the company. It's your job to treat those conversations carefully, make the person feel heard but respect the fact they came to you and you alone. Don't go sharing that individual's issues with one of their peers in the company. That's a fast track to breaking trust you've built in the past.

4. Doing what you say you're going to do.

If you say you're going to give everyone a raise, then you better give everyone a raise (or, very honestly, explain why you weren't able to deliver on this promise).


I have a few stories about this in my book, All In. One of the big mistakes young leaders make is painting these wildly imaginative futures for their employees, never once considering what will happen when, two years later, all those employees want to know why none of it came to fruition.

The best thing you can do when leading a team, a department, or an organization is stay true to your word. So, if you think there's a chance you won't be able to deliver on the promises you're making, don't make them in the first place.

5. Aim for the moon, and be clear about how you're going to get there.

Nobody likes following a leader whose mission is to do things "pretty well."

As a leader, you have to ride the careful line of setting realistic goals for yourself and your company, while simultaneously choosing goals worth getting excited about. Contrary to popular belief, employees really do want to work hard and be part of building something special. 

Don't be afraid to share the grand vision.

6. Learn to control your emotions.

To protect the culture of your company, you have to master the art of remaining calm during periods of high stress.

When you react emotionally--to an individual, to a conflict, or to a massive threat to your business--you are showing the people around you that it's alright for them to react emotionally as well. This is not the kind of team dynamic you want to encourage.

Instead, try to see these moments as opportunities to exemplify patience, understanding, focus. While everyone else is feeling stressed, show them another way of dealing with problems.

7. Be decisive.

One of the worst qualities a leader could possess is a habit of indecisiveness. 


It's a pattern that's easy to fall into: you say the words, "Let me think about it," and then before the day has even ended, you've suddenly got 10 different things you've decided to postpone and "think about." But deep in your gut, you almost always know what decision needs to be made. There's no reason to postpone it.

8. Educate yourself--constantly.

Some people become leaders because they are brilliant, talented, and have a knack for constantly educating themselves.

And then they stop.

They reach a point of authority, they hit a plateau, and they decide they know everything there is to know--and become complacent as a result. Trust me, you don't want to become the sort of leader that suddenly realizes you've fallen behind the growth curve. 

In order to stay at the forefront, you have to keep educating yourself. 

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4 Habits of People Who Are Always Learning New Skills

Working in online learning, I’ve found that every year around this time there’s a burst of sign-ups from workers seeking new skills. Perhaps it’s a matter of New Year’s resolutions, or a reaction to seeing their friends and colleagues make big career changes each January.

Unfortunately, the initial commitment to learning all too often fizzles out. Studies have found that 40% to 80% of students drop out of online classes.

Those who give up miss out. In one survey of more than 50,000 learners who completed MOOCs on Coursera, 72% reported career benefits such as doing their current job more effectively, finding a new job, or receiving a raise.

Having worked in HR at a large banking corporation and in strategic HR consulting, I’ve seen the effects of learning and development on career mobility — and what leads people to let it fall by the wayside. Over time, working with users as well as learning experts, I’ve found that four crucial habits can make a tremendous difference.

Focus on emerging skills. With so many learning options available these days, people are often tempted to simply go to Google, type in some general search terms, and start one of the first courses that pops up. That’s a waste of time.

Job requirements are quickly evolving. To ensure relevance, you need to focus on learning the latest emerging skills. You can do this in a couple of ways.

First, track what skills the leaders in your industry are hiring for. Look at recent job postings from the top companies, and see which qualifications keep popping up. Second, reach out to people in your network or on LinkedIn who have the job you want. If you want to know what sales skills and technologies are becoming most important, talk to some high-level salespeople. Ask them what they’re having to learn to keep succeeding at theirwork and what skills they think someone needs to acquire in order to become a viable candidate.

You may feel intimidated about reaching out. But I’ve found that most of the time, people are happy to share this information. They want to see more and more capable candidates filling jobs and staying on top of trends.

As you get a sense of the most important skills to learn, ask these experts whether they can recommend specific online courses with practical value. Also take a close look at course descriptions to find content that will be useful on the job rather than provide mostly academic insight. For instance, you might seek out instructors who are leading experts in your industry or content created in conjunction with companies that you admire.

Get synchronous. In this era, micro-learning — engaging with online learning tools when and where it’s convenient — is becoming a much larger part of the training and development scene. This has its benefits, including freedom, convenience, and digestible content.

But there’s also a downside. These asynchronous experiences are often solitary. And without at least some real-time interaction, whether in person or online, many students lose motivation. Researchers have found that “the sense of isolation” for some online learners “may make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful online learning environment.” They call for more synchronous experiences. Others have also identified interaction and collaboration as critical factors in fruitful learning.

In my work, I’ve consistently seen that when online students sign up for a live course, in which they interact with a professor and one another at a set time at least once a week, they stick with it longer and learn more. Often, these kinds of programs offer materials you can work on individually. But the camaraderie can serve as a huge motivator, as can the desire not to fall behind the group.

When a live course isn’t available, I encourage learners to find a “synchronous cohort” — a friend or acquaintance with similar learning goals. Make a pact to do online learning together weekly. You can learn a lot from hearing each other’s questions and explaining things to each other as you come to understand them, since the act of teaching can improve content understanding, recall, and application.

Implement learning immediately. Research shows that performing the tasks you’ve learned is crucial, because “enactment enhances memory by serving as an elaborative encoding strategy.”

This is part of the problem many engineers face when looking for jobs straight out of college: They’ve been stuck in “theory land,” with little experience putting what they’ve learned into practice. You can run into the same issue with online learning. For example, I could spend weeks watching videos on how to set up a distributed computing system. But if I don’t go to Amazon Web Services and deploy it — soon — I’ll forget much of what I learned.

So whatever field you’re studying, find opportunities to use your new skills. (In addition to increasing “stickiness,” this also gives you a chance to discover unforeseen challenges.) Depending on the skill, you might participate in a collaborative project at work, for instance, or set up your own project on a small scale at home. Or you could find an online simulation that is similar to the real experience.

Set a golden benchmark. Just like runners in a marathon, online learners need to have a clear goal in order to stay focused. A return on investment (in terms of time and money spent) is hard to gauge in the near term. But those who persevere generally have their eye on a larger prize — a new job, a promotion, or the chance to lead a project. I encourage people to determine a specific career objective and keep it front of mind as they learn.

Of course, that benchmark will change as you develop. Learning is a career-long process. After you achieve one big goal, set your sights on the next one. That’s how you make learning a part of your normal routine. The more you do that, the less likely you are to stop.

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Take Control of Your Learning at Work


Human beings have an astonishing ability to learn, but our motivation to do so tends to decrease with age, particularly in adulthood. As children, we are naturally curious and free to explore the world around us. As adults, we are much more interested in preserving what we learned, to the point of resisting any information — and data — that challenges our views and opinions. Unsurprisingly, there is now big demand for employees who can demonstrate high levels of “learnability,” the desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt one’s skill set to remain employable throughout their working life. This demand has been turbocharged by the recent technological revolution.

Indeed, one of the major cultural and intellectual changes of the digital age is that information has been commoditized, and access to it is now ubiquitous. With the right question (and WiFi), we can all pretty much find the answer to anything, so long as we are able to judge if the answer is true — which in a world of fake news and dirty data is no small feat. The main career consequence of this is that knowledge and expertise have been devalued. What you know is now less relevant than what you can learn, and employers are less interested in hiring people with particular expertise than with the general ability to develop the right expertise in the future, particularly if they can do it consistently and across a wide range of roles. Note that our interest in people who can learn how to learn is not precisely new. Over a century ago, the French psychologist Alfred Binet, who pioneered the application of modern pedagogy and child development science to formal education, observed that “our first job was not to teach [the students] the things which seemed to us the most useful to them, but to teach them how to learn.” Fast forward to today and Binet’s perspective is perhaps more current than it ever was.

When we can all retrieve the same information, the key differentiator is not access to data, but the ability to make use of it; the capacity to translate the available information into useful knowledge. Ironically, a surplus of information can create a poverty of knowledge. It requires curiosity and a hungry mind to resist digital distractions and have the necessary discipline to learn. Unlike our evolutionary ancestors, who lived in a world of relatively low environmental stimulation where attending to novelty was rewarded, it is now more advantageous to ignore new information than to absorb it. Just like our evolved inclination to maximize caloric intake is no longer adaptive — but maladaptive — in a world of abundant and cheap fast food, our evolved predisposition to consume as much novel information as possible is no longer advantageous in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and clickbait news. Kim and Kanye are the intellectual equivalent of burgers and pizza — hard to resist, but with limited nutritional value for our hungry minds.

To make matters worse, today’s jobs and careers often handicap our ability to learn, demanding consistent levels of high-performance and focusing our energies on attaining results rather than broadening our skillset. Instead of genuinely promoting a learning culture, most employers obsess over results, demanding higher and higher levels of efficiency and performance, which can be the biggest barrier to curiosity and learning. Individuals looking to overcome this challenge should consider these four suggestions:

Pick the right organization. Most people don’t include “learning potential” as one of the key criteria when they choose their job, but you should. Of course, your learning potential is partly dependent on your own personality, with traits like learnability, curiosity, and openness to experience being key. Unsurprisingly, intelligence is also a very important quality. But regardless of these qualities, your propensity to learn will be strongly influenced by the type of job, career, and organization you pick. For example, research shows that enriching learning environments play a critical role in shaping our experiences and helping us develop new knowledge. Companies like Google, Unilever, and Edmunds.com have successfully put in place cultures to unlock employees’ curiosity and reward their formal and informal learning. To create a learning culture, organizations must value psychological safety, diversity, openness to ideas, and reflection time, all of which can hinder short-term results. Set aside time for learning. One of the biggest barriers to learning is time, particularly when you are focused on delivering top levels of performance. This is also true for your boss, so you cannot expect them to devote much time to your learning journey. In fact, chances are your boss is too busy to set aside time to learn themselves. It is therefore essential that you own your own learning process, managing your professional growth and development. If you are waiting to be told what to learn, you are not being proactive about your learning. Even if you are not given a specific time to achieve this, it is up to you to set aside the necessary time to learn. Ignore your strengths. Although it is convenient to pick jobs that are a good fit for our strengths — and talent is largely personality in the right place — we can only develop new strengths by addressing our weaknesses, so if you want to acquire skills you don’t have, or develop new expertise, you will inevitably have to focus on what you don’t know rather than what you do know. This takes courage — and support from your employer. At times, finding a skill adjacency can be a compromise: leveraging some of your existing capabilities to learn new things or acquire valuable experiences in a new area. Remember: even if it makes you a relatively worse performer to begin with, it will improve your ability to learn new things and absorb new types of training, expanding your range of strengths. Learn from others. Too often we equate learning with formal training or education, but some of the biggest learning opportunities are organic or spontaneous, and this is also true at work. They involve learning, not from structured courses or training materials, but from others: e.g., peers, colleagues, bosses, and especially mentors. In fact, whereas formal learning interventions tend to boost only the acquisition of specific content or subject matter expertise, spontaneous and social types of learning are more likely to result in the formation of new habits and practical behaviors. It has also been noted that most of the problems we encounter during our everyday working lives are ill-defined rather than well-structured, so they do not have an objectively correct solution, requiring adaptive rather than technical learning. However, this requires seeking the right feedback and being receptive to others’ suggestions, including criticism. Most of us are so busy trying to demonstrate competence that we forget to learn, and we perceive asking for suggestions as a sign of weakness. And if you have limited opportunities to learn from others, you can always learn something about yourself: how do others perceive you, including your talents and performance? Answering these questions will help you identify gaps, as well as future learning areas.

Importantly, learning should never stop. Regardless of your past achievements and your present level of expertise, your future depends on your ability to keep learning.

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The Next Time You Want to Complain at Work, Do This Instead

I looked at my watch. It was 3:20pm. I had been on the phone for over an hour, almost all of that time listening to Frank*, a senior manager at Jambo, a technology company, complain about his boss, Brandon. Jambo is a company I know well — I have many ongoing relationships there from when I used to work with their CEO — but they are not, currently, a client. In other words, I wasn’t soliciting complaints or asking for feedback.

“He’s so scattered,” Frank griped about Brandon, “He’ll waltz into a meeting — late, mind you — and share his most recent idea, which is often a complete distraction from our current plan. Totally ignoring our agenda. And then he’ll micromanage everything we do, reorganizing our work — though we’re still accountable for the stuff he’s ignoring. And that’s not the worst. The worst is he’s completely clueless. He thinks he’s great. At yesterday’s meeting . . .”

This was not the only complaining I heard from people at Jambo. Earlier that week I had spoken to several others, as well as a few members of the Board. And they weren’t just complaining about Brandon — they were complaining about each other as well.

I also spoke directly with Brandon who, just as Frank said, thought of himself as a very strong leader. Meanwhile, he had a mouthful of complaints about Frank and some of the other staff. He also complained about the Board.

I added up all the time I’d spent listening to people at Jambo complain about each other that week: 3 hours and 45 minutes. And that was just the time they spent complaining to me.

This is, unfortunately, not unusual. My friend, the legendary executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, interviewed more than 200 of his clients and what he discovered matched previous research he read, but found hard to believe: “a majority of employees spend 10 or more hours per month complaining — or listening to others complain — about their bosses or upper management. Even more amazing, almost a third spend 20 hours or more per month doing so.”

And that doesn’t even include the complaining they do about their peers and employees. Which would be hard to believe if not for the fact that, if you pay attention to what you experience during your day, you’d find it’s pretty accurate.

Imagine the productivity gain of reducing all those complaining hours.

Why do we complain about other people?

Because it feels (really) good, requires minimal risk, and it’s easy.

Here’s what happens: Someone annoys us. We’re dissatisfied with how they’re behaving. Maybe we’re angry, frustrated, or threatened. Those feelings build up as energy in our bodies, literally creating physical discomfort (that’s why we call them feelings — because we actually, physically, feel them).

When we complain about someone else, the uncomfortable feelings begin to dissipate because complaining releases the pent up energy. That’s why we say things like “I’m venting” or “I’m blowing off steam” (But, as we’ll see in a moment, that dissipation doesn’t just release the energy, it spreads it, which actually makes it grow).

Additionally, when we complain to people who seem to agree with us — and we almost always complain to people who seem to agree with us — we solicit comfort, camaraderie, connection, support, and justification, which counteracts the bad feelings with some fresh, new good ones.

Complaining changes the balance of negative/positive energy and, for a brief moment at least, we feel better. It’s actually a pretty reliable process. Addictive even.

Which is the problem (beyond even the wasted time): Like just about all addictions, we’re feeding the spin of a destructive, never-ending cycle. The release of pressure — the good feeling — is ephemeral. In fact, the more we complain, the more likely the frustration, over time, will increase.

Here’s why: when we release the pent up energy by complaining, we’re releasing it sideways. We almost never complain directly to the person who is catalyzing our complaints, we complain to our friends and families. We’re not having direct conversations to solve a problem, we’re seeking allies. We’re not identifying actions that could help, we’re, almost literally, blowing off steam.

Why is complaining such a bad move?

Complaining creates a number of dysfunctional side effects (again, beyond the time wasted): It creates factions, prevents or delays — because it replaces — productive engagement, reinforces and strengthens dissatisfaction, riles up others, breaks trust, and, potentially, makes the complainer appear negative. We become the cancer we’re complaining about; the negative influence that seeps into the culture.

Worse, our complaining amplifies the destructiveness and annoyance of the initial frustration about which we’re complaining.

Think about it: someone yells in a meeting. Then you go to the next meeting (where no one is yelling) and you complain about the person who just yelled. Now other people, who weren’t at the initial meeting, feel the impact of the yelling and get upset about it too. Encouraged by their support, your brief, momentary release transforms into righteous indignation and, becoming even more incensed, you experience the initial uncomfortable feelings all over again.

In other words, while the energy dissipates, it expands. The amount of time you spend thinking about it extends for hours, sometimes days and weeks. And you’ve multiplied the people who are also thinking and talking about it.

Meanwhile, our complaining improves, precisely, nothing.

In fact, that might be the biggest problem: Complaining is a violent move to inaction. It replaces the need to act. If instead of complaining, we allowed ourselves to feel the energy without needing to dissipate it immediately — which requires what I call emotional courage — then we could put that energy to good use. We could channel it so it doesn’t leak out sideways.

In other words, let the uncomfortable feeling you have — the one that would otherwise lead you to complain — lead you to take a productive action.

What’s a better move when we feel like complaining?

Go ahead and complain. Just do it directly — and thoughtfully — to the person who is the cause of your complaints.

Talk to the person who yelled in the meeting. If that person doesn’t listen, talk to their boss. If you don’t like that idea, then, when it actually happens, say “Hold on. Let’s respect each other in this conversation.” If you missed the opportunity in the moment, then meet with them afterwards and say, “Please let’s respect each other in our conversations.”

That, of course, also takes emotional courage. It’s a scary, more risky thing to do. But it’s why it’s worth developing your emotional courage — because, while scary, it’s far more likely to be highly productive. It holds the potential for changing the thing that’s the problem in the first place. And rather than become the negative influence, you become the leader.

If you want to brave this route, let your urge to complain be the trigger that drives you to take action in the moment (or, if you missed the moment, then shortly after): Notice the adrenaline spike or the can-you-believe-that-just-happened feeling (e.g., someone yelling in a meeting). Breathe and feel your feelings about the situation so that they don’t overwhelm you or shut you down. Notice that you can stay grounded even in difficult situations (e.g., feel, without reacting). Understand the part about what’s actually happening that is complain-worthy (e.g., it’s not okay to yell and disrespect others in a meeting). Decide what you can do to draw a boundary, ask someone to shift their behavior, or otherwise improve the situation (e.g., “Please let’s respect each other in our conversations.”) Follow through on your idea (e.g., actually say: “Please let’s respect each other in our conversations.”)

It’s not nearly as easy as complaining. But it will be far more productive and valuable.

But wait, you might protest, the whole reason I’m complaining is that I’m powerless in this situation. I can’t tell the person to be respectful because they’re my boss.

You may be right. It’s true that most people complain because they feel powerless.

It’s also true that most people have more power in a situation than they believe they have, even with their boss. And, just maybe, it could be worth the risk to say something. You could say “I see that you’re very angry and I can feel how it’s shutting me down. Can we go a little more gently here?”

It’s a risk. Because the person may blow up even more.

Or it may gain you their respect and, in one sentence, change the direction of the leader and the organization. And transform what could have become weeks of complaining into a moment of productive engagement.

More than once I have seen someone gain the respect of everyone in the room because they were courageous enough to be direct — caringly, compassionately, and truthfully. And almost always, everyone is surprised by the offending person’s response, who, almost always, was more open to the feedback then they thought. Not always. But almost always.

Let complaining — and the feeling that leads to complaining — be the red flag that it should be: something wrong is happening and you are probably not powerless to do something about it.

That’s what happened at Jambo, when Frank shifted from complaining to acting and told Brandon about the impact he was having. At first Brandon was defensive, but soon enough he began to ask questions and realized that he had a blind spot for how he was impacting the team.

It won’t always work like that, but you may be surprised how often it will.

*Names and some details changed for privacy

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6 Unexpected Signs You're a Much Better Leader Than You Think

Charisma? Drive? Passion? Not exactly.

Think for a moment about the most effective boss that you've ever work with in your life. As you look back, ponder for a moment what made that individual stand out? What characteristics made them special?

Was it charisma? Drive? Enthusiasm? The ability to motivate?  Whatever the case, exemplary leaders that stand out today -- perhaps those in etched in your memory -- have been talked about for decades in the literature and best-sellers. They're often referred to as "servant leaders," "transformational leaders," or "conscious leaders."


Under the guidance of such leaders, people often give twice the effort as opposed to more command-and-control leadership styles.

So what exactly is it about them that will release discretionary effort in others and across the enterprise?

Through my research and observations over the years, it comes down to several factors. For the sake of length, I'll narrow it down to six key behaviors for this piece. 

By the way, as you read further, these six behaviors will inform you of whether you're a much better leader than you give yourself credit.

1.  You help create meaningful work.

Research states that "work" is one of the top things that give people a meaningful life. One 2003 study of 25 top companies in the world set out to discover what attracts and retains top performers. They found that employees in those companies felt their work was valuable -- it gave them significance and purpose, and it made them feel that they mattered and that they were doing something that was worthwhile or important. In turn, it's been found that how we feel about our work not only fuel business outcomes like productivity and profitability, it also lowers stress and causes less burnout.

2. You let others shine.  

Perhaps you've worked for a self-serving leader? Typically, they need to be in the spotlight to keep their inflated ego fed. On the flip side, the most remarkable servant leaders don't need the glory; they understand what they've achieved. They don't seek validation, because true validation comes from within. They stand back and celebrate other people's accomplishments; they let others shine and give them credit for the success of the job, which helps boost the confidence of others. 

3. You lead from your heart.

More than ever, we are faced with business challenges that call for higher levels of innovation, knowledge, and soft skills. So when leaders operate from a place of integrity, honesty, and compassion (matters of the heart), they gain the trust of their team members. Yes, they are still tough and hold others accountable for performance, excellence, and results, but people feel safe in their presence. 

4. You meet the needs of others.

Great leaders are cognizant of what's needed to keep their most valued team members motivated and engaged in their work. They ask themselves questions like:

Do my employees know what is expected of them at work? Do my employees have the opportunity to do what they do best every day? Have my top performers received recognition or praise for doing good work? Do I, or does someone at work, encourage employees' personal and professional development? 5. You give and receive feedback regularly.

In a casual interview a few years ago, Elon Musk dropped one of the best quotes in regards to improving oneself:


"I think it's very important to have a feedback loop, where you're constantly thinking about what you've done and how you could be doing it better. I think that's the single best piece of advice -- constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself."

The feedback loop is unquestionably part of every leader's growing process. In trusted teams, negative and constructive feedback will stretch a leader (and team members) to learn new things. Managers also win the hearts of their people by being open and sharing plans for the future, communicating important things to their people, and fostering a transparent culture of giving and receiving feedback on no less than a weekly basis. 

6. You share your power.

Instead of leveraging their positional power for personal gain, self-promotion, or demands for special privileges, great leaders put people in positions of leadership to stretch their growth and develop new strengths and roles for them. In essence, they are able to share their power because they're in it for their people and want to see them win. By sharing power and releasing control, great leaders actually gain real power. Employees are more loyal, more committed, and they unleash discretionary effort beyond what is expected of them. This is all possible because they work for selfless leaders with a keen interest in their people's growth and success. It's really a win-win-win -- the leader wins, the employees win, and the company wins.

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4 Ways Leaders Can Protect Their Time and Empower Their Teams

We know that controlling what we pay attention to is the key to living an intentional life.  According to an informal poll of my clients, one of the biggest impediments to attention management is “O.P.P.” — other people’s problems. This is a particular problem for my clients in leadership who find it difficult to disconnect from their team, even for short periods. The primary reasons they give for this constant availability are that they “don’t want to be the bottleneck that holds up important work,” and they want to be available to make decisions and mentor their staff through problems.

So in this article, I want to take a deeper dive into learning to control your environment. When leaders’ time is constantly in demand from staff, they report they have too little time remaining to engage in what might be their most important role — “reflective thinking time.” This is time to look ahead, consider different paths, play out different scenarios, and generally be visionaries for the organization. And even worse, the constant distraction undermines their very capacity for being reflective, by eroding their attention span and crowding out “slow thinking” with “fast thinking.”

How can leaders create the time and space to think and get important work done, while still being mentors and enabling the team to keep their work moving forward? I arm my clients with four strategies that help them find this balance.

Mentor in hindsight. Mentoring is an important role of leadership and helps to groom employees to advance within the organization. However, they learn much less when advice is given on the front end than they do when they have the opportunity to experience their own successes and failures and discuss them with their boss later.

Try opening scheduled discussions with staff by saying, “What problems or challenges did you face this week, and how did you deal with them? … And how well did that work out for you?”

If you’re concerned about how team members can identify what kinds of issues they can solve on their own and what they should bring to you, consider the next strategy.

Create boundaries for decision-making. Sometimes, it’s hard for employees to determine what they should handle on their own and what is outside the scope of their responsibilities. This problem is alleviated when all employees know exactly what their ultimate role in the company is and when it’s acceptable for them to make mistakes within that role.

An added benefit of this clarity is creative thinking in unusual circumstances that can’t be predicted. For example, Zappos customer service staff know that their ultimate role is to create a WOW experience for their customers, and when they make decisions based on that motivation, they’ll be praised and not scolded. An example of this is the legendary customer service of Zappos that results in things like flower delivery and pizza research, but also generates free press, loyal customers, and organizational success.

Have regular meetings with direct reports and designated times for others. Your team will want time with you, and you should be available to them, for mentoring and other reasons. This is where the philosophy of an “open door policy” originated. The mistake frequently made is that this is often interpreted as “open all the time.” The original intent is to have times when you are accessible to your staff, but not necessarily any time, all the time.

Instead, reliably dedicate time on your calendar every week for each of your direct reports. If they feel empowered to make decisions on their own, and they understand how far their responsibilities extend and what they need your help for, they will then be more likely to hold their questions and issues to discuss at your weekly meeting. This not only empowers them, it also results in you being interrupted less often.

If you’re in senior leadership, and your organization isn’t too large to logically prohibit this, you should also dedicate time to interact with those who have one or more layers of managers in between you and them. This could be done using “office hours,” where you designate some time periodically when you are available for “drop-ins.” It’s good for morale and engagement when employees feel like they have (reasonable) access to “their boss’s boss.” Or if you want more control over their access to you, another way to do this is via  “management by walking around.”

Be available less often. Think of those times when you’ve been working but away from your email for extended periods, like while you are attending an off-site meeting or conference. And when you get back to it, you’ve likely had a series of emails from one or more members of your team in a progression similar to this:

(Oldest message) “Hey boss, I know you’re out of the office today but we’re having this issue we’d like to discuss with you…” (Next message) “I guess you’re still tied up but if you can squeeze in a minute to call the office…” (Last message) “Never mind, we figured it out…”

The lesson here is that if the boss is unavailable more often, the team figures things out on their own more often. This allows them to grow in their positions, and it minimizes the interruptions the leaders face.

This situation illuminates other problems (besides distraction) that arise when leaders are “too available” to the team. For example, when staff is constantly bringing questions and problems to the boss, and the boss provides answers and solutions, this can create the unintentional consequence of the team becoming disempowered (or lazy). It reinforces the behavior loop of “questions/problems arise; I bring them to my boss; my boss provides answers/solutions.” This can suggest to the team, “These problems are beyond the scope of your responsibilities, and so you are correct in bringing them to me,” even when this really isn’t the case.

If, instead, the boss rebuffs the interruption with some variation of, “I trust your judgment,” then the team will feel empowered and will grow in their positions — and ultimately interrupt the boss less.

Now, at this point when I’m delivering a leadership session, someone in the audience invariably interjects, “I think you’re right; that’s why I tell my team, “don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions!” My response is that if your staff has identified a problem and has the solution, why do they need to come to you at all? Let them deal with the issue on their own, and then “mentor in hindsight.”

For leaders to effectively manage attention, you need to be able to balance interruptions with availability to your team. Employing these four strategies is a step on the path to the ultimate goal of attention management: the opportunity to achieve more of the results that are significant to you, and also have undistracted thinking time, so that you can be the visionary thinker that your leadership position demands.

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Leadership 4.0: Embracing the weQ trend

The sharing economy, weQ, cooperation, co-creation, and community are key principles of weQuality trends. In the midst of a social cultural change, new principles are created for our working world. The enormous upheaval is readily visible.

Digitization has created three new facts.

• Participation (weQ) is possible in a way that has never previously existed.
• A new generation of people is becoming less and less socialized.
• The global economy is a multi-dimensional playing field on which players and markets quickly emerge (and disappear).

How can a leadership culture look like in the weQ world of tomorrow?

In “From the IQ to the weQ - 3 of the toughest challenges for our working world,” Oxford Leadership gave you the answer to the three most important challenges for our economy. From our work with decision-makers in the business world, we can confirm that the leadership culture in companies has to change; the majority of executives agree: 77 percent of executives welcome a change in their leadership culture. 

At the same time, however, these same leaders still believe there is a long way to go; they themselves hardly feel able to implement this new leadership culture. With the agreement that change is necessary, the question is how? The straight-forward answer is that good leadership can endure open-ended co-creative processes.

As experts in management development, Oxford Leadership sees three guiding principles for future learning in a management context that should be based on all the methods and tools of choice: mindfulness before abilities, focus on what works, and changing priorities.

Principle 1 - Mindsets not Skillsets

What makes leadership inefficient in today’s economy is not a lack of skills. It is the combination of a constantly changing environment coupled with a transfixed mental attitude (being trapped in non-changing thought patterns). This is a balancing act that cannot be successful.

A lot of management learning has been geared to teaching or expanding skills (like active listening, giving good feedback, etc.). However, social change requires rapid personal development as teams are exposed to new ideas beyond common concepts. Challenges evolved to far exceed management “craftwork” to now encompass ideological adaptability and mental elasticity.

The co-creative community culture of the weQ takes a high learning flexibility for granted. People have to be able to adjust continuously and quickly to new things. This means a high degree of aptitude to changes. The future of learning in the economy will focus less on the expansion of skills, more on the expansion of thought and mindset.

Principle 2 - Focus on what works

Warren Buffet always tells the story about his first encounter with Bill Gates. While attending a party, everyone at their table was asked to define their one secret to success. According to Buffett, both men gave the same answer: I know how to focus on the essentials. 

If you look at the learning landscape in the economic environment, it is easy to see that it is not focused - especially on innovative forms of working and leadership. Many executive programs and management trainings resemble a buffet with different tools, techniques, and methods that do not really merge into common contemporary applications.

By shifting the focus to making sustainable progress, creating headway in new thinking structures, and inspiring teams to make changes together, it can make a tremendous difference for the company. However, a question still remains: What works in the context of weQ with omnipresent changes to deserve focus?

Principle 3 - Prioritize differently

When things are difficult, we cannot afford to waste time and energy. We are well advised to focus on the levers that lead us to real development. Starting in mindset, recognizing the need for efficient focus, and then understanding that the networked complex world of the digital age requires more relationship management than process management brings success.

People who observe their thoughts and emotions objectively without evaluation struggle to understand that they are always controlled by old patterns of thought. The brain was trained one way and will work that same way until consciously retrained. As we focus on our inner processes and reflective thinking, the more we can influence them with less energy, so more energy can be used for clarity about the present situation.

Therefore, it is recommended to first work on one’s own personality in order to be able to shape relationships - both new as well as existing ones. Time for reflection and mindfulness is the objective. Observing your own perceptions, emotions, and thoughts is recommended for our everyday hectic life.

Moving forward

Many executives and managers describe in personal talks that they find too little reflection time in the hustle and bustle of everyday life in order to think ahead. It is important to look very critically at this point: whoever cannot lead himself should not lead others.

This result in “being present” with renewed clarity inside and then inevitably for the outside. That’s when the possibility to surf with the social cultural change after Peter Kruse and the upheavals take place — the IQ, then EQ, and now as a guide to the weQ.

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Your Challenge as a Leader Is to Find Strength in Differences. Here's How

Wouldn't it be nice if the world was made up only of people who are just like us, who like us, and who think exactly the way we do?

Well, no. Because (1) we'd be wasting iconic truisms like "opposites attract," and (2) it would be monumentally boring, and (3) it would be just plain un-American.

Anyone in a leadership position ought to have as a goal--especially here in the U.S. with our national holiday coming up--to be an instrument of unity, not division. And the reality is, we here in the United States are very far from united as a country. Our "team spirit" is in trouble.

Our challenge as citizens is to find ways to understand and work things out with people we don't agree with--people who may be very different from ourselves. Here are three commitments you should make to do just that, helping not only to create a united workplace but also a united country.

Accept that people have differences. The fact that they may not be just like you does not make them wrong.

Think about how many competing ideas and strong leaders the Founding Fathers had to bring together. As Ben Franklin put it, "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." On a less graphic level, that's what we do as business leaders every day.

Think about how our country stuck together after the Civil War, despite enormous differences that led to taking up arms, and striving to rebuild "with malice toward none; with charity for all," in Lincoln's words. Never take that for granted, and use that as your model.

Those of us in leadership roles are intimately familiar with how un-alike people can be. Of course, we want what's good for the enterprise (corporation, organization, project), and that means we need to build teamwork and group unity.

But if we're dealing with a bunch of different ages, races, genders, personality types, and personal agendas--and wildly different political affiliations these days--how do we make it work? That's why businesses need leaders. This is not an autopilot situation, nor should it be. Roll up your sleeves and become the collaborator and example you want others to be.

Support those who need it the most, because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Along the way, leaders come across "land mines"--people who can't handle change, who take out their personal unhappiness on the group, who rub each other the wrong way and need to be handled; even those who are unable to just keep up with the program.

Find ways to give extra attention to those who need it, pull attention away from those who shouldn't be encouraged in their negativity, and reward team spirit so it becomes the common theme. It's a matter of knowing the whole is greater and better than the sum of its parts, even when the parts are a little mismatched and don't seem to fit together.

Realize that the best results come when your love of others is genuine.

Work things out with people (that means listening to them) in a spirit of love and understanding, even--especially--when it's really hard. You're not only being a force for unity and understanding because it's profitable. It's also because you care. If you don't, stop calling yourself a leader.

But why do you care? Why do you truly, deeply want people to understand one another? Sure, you want the business to run smoothly and not get sidetracked by endless emotional drama. 

But also because it's the right thing to do. Read my article about a "culture of love" in the workplace, in which I tell the story of a Florida shipping company that chose to help a customer in dire straits, just because it was right. That's the spirit to strive for.

There's no better time than the Fourth of July, our most joyful national holiday, to reflect on what it means to be an American and what we are called upon to do in relation to our fellow citizens. As I described in my book Greater Than Yourself, "This isn't about your position or title, it's about your human being-ness."

Think about your children or family members and the unconditional love you feel for them. Now challenge yourself to apply that same spirit of acceptance and love to people who do not look or act like you.


A commitment to unity will make your business soar; it will make our country work better.

And that's the flag we all want to fly all year round.

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Leaders Focus Too Much on Changing Policies, and Not Enough on Changing Minds

Not long ago, I asked 100 CEOs attending a conference how many of them were currently involved in a significant business transformation. Nearly all of them raised their hands, which was no surprise. According to a study by BCG, 85% of companies have undertaken a transformation during the past decade.

The same research found that nearly 75% of those transformations fail to improve business performance, either short-term or long-term.

So why is transformation so difficult to achieve?

Among many potential explanations, one that gets very little attention may be the most fundamental: the invisible fears and insecurities that keep us locked into behaviors even when we know rationally that they don’t serve us well. Add to that the anxiety that nearly all human beings experience in the face of change. Nonetheless, most organizations pay far more attention to strategy and execution than they do to what their people are feeling and thinking when they’re asked to embrace a transformation. Resistance, especially when it is passive, invisible, and unconscious, can derail even the best strategy.

Business transformations are typically built around new structural elements, including policies, processes, facilities, and technology. Some companies also focus on behaviors — defining new practices, training new skills, or asking employees for new deliverables.

What most organizations typically overlook is the internal shift — what people think and feel — which has to occur in order to bring the strategy to life. This is where resistance tends to arise — cognitively in the form of fixed beliefs, deeply held assumptions and blind spots; and emotionally, in the form of the fear and insecurity that change engenders. All of this rolls up into our mindset, which reflects how we see the world, what we believe and how that makes us feel.

The result is that transforming a business also depends on transforming individuals — beginning with the most senior leaders and influencers. Few of them, in our experience, have spent much time observing and understanding their own motivations, challenging their assumptions, or pushing beyond their intellectual and emotional comfort zones. The result is something that the psychologists Lisa Lahey and Robert Kegan have termed “immunity to change.”

We first ran up against the power of mindset two decades ago when we began to make a case inside organizations that rest and renewal are essential for sustaining high performance. The scientific evidence we presented to clients was compelling. Nearly all of them found the concept persuasive and appealing, both logically and intuitively. We taught them very simple strategies to build renewal into their lives, and they left our workshops eager to change the way they worked.

Nonetheless, most of them struggled with changing their behavior when they got back to their jobs. They continued to equate continuous work and long hours with success. Taking time to renew during work days made them feel as if they were slacking. Even when organizations built nap rooms, they often went unused. People worried that if they rested at all, they wouldn’t get their work done, and above all, they feared failing. Despite their best intentions, many of them eventually defaulted back to their habitual patterns.

More recently, we worked with the senior team of a large consumer product company which had been severely disrupted by smaller, more agile online competitors selling their services directly to consumers. On its face, the team was aligned, focused, and committed to a new multi-faceted strategy with a strong digital component. But when we looked at the team’s mindset more deeply, we discovered that they shared several underlying beliefs including, “Everything we do is equally important,” “More is always better,” and “It has to be perfect or we don’t do it.” They summarized these beliefs in a single sentence: “If we don’t keep running as hard as we can, and attend to every detail, everything will fall apart.”

Not surprisingly, the leaders found they were spreading themselves too thin, struggling to pull the trigger on new initiatives, and feeling exhausted. Simply surfacing these costs and their consequences proved highly valuable and motivating. We also launched several initiatives to address these issues individually and collectively.

One of the most successful began with a simple exercise aimed at helping the leaders to define their three highest priorities. Then we took them through a structured exercise including delving into their calendars to assess whether they were using their time to best advantage, including setting aside time for renewal. This process prompted them to examine more consciously why they were working in self-defeating ways.

We also developed an online site where leaders agreed to regularly share their progress on prioritizing, as well as any feelings of resistance that were arising, and how they managed them. Their work is ongoing, but among the most common feelings people reported were liberation and relief. Their worst fears failed to materialize.

Several factors typically hold mindset in place. The first is that much of it gets deeply rooted early in our lives. Over time we tend to develop confirmation bias, forever seeking evidence that reinforces what we already believe, and downplaying or dismissing what doesn’t. We’re also designed, both genetically and instinctively, to put our own safety first, and to avoid taking too much risk. Rather than using our capacity for critical thinking to assess new possibilities, we often co-opt our prefrontal cortex to rationalize choices that were actually driven by our emotions.

All this explains why the most effective transformation begins with what’s going on inside people — and especially the most senior leaders, given their disproportionate authority and influence.  Their challenge is to deliberately turn attention inward in order to begin noticing the fixed patterns in their thinking, how they’re feeing in any given moment, and how quickly the instinct for self-preservation can overwhelm rationality and a longer term perspective, especially when the stakes are high.

Leaders also have an outsize impact on the collective mindset — meaning the organizational culture. As they begin to change the way they think and feel, they’re more able to model new behaviors and communicate to others more authentically and persuasively. Even employees highly resistant to change tend to follow their leaders, simply because most people prefer to fit in, rather than stick out.

Ultimately, personal transformation requires the courage to challenge one’s current comfort zone, and to tolerate that discomfort without overreacting. One of the most effective tools, we’ve found is a series of provocative questions we ask leaders and their teams to build a practice around asking themselves:

“What am I not seeing?

“What else is true?”

“What is my responsibility in this situation?”

“How is my perspective being influenced by my fears?”

Great strategy remains foundational to transformation, but successful execution also requires surfacing and continuously addressing the invisible reasons that people and cultures so often resist changing, even when the way they’re working isn’t working.

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Why Humble Leaders Almost Always Lose Out to Autocrats

Humility long ago joined the pantheon of desirable leadership traits, elevated by authors like Robert Greenleaf and Jim Collins. Conventional wisdom holds that great leaders blend the will to achieve with self-doubt. They act decisively but also seek advice from others and admit their own mistakes.

But humility isn't a de facto best practice, some leadership experts say. In his new book Open Source Leadership: Reinventing Management When There Is No More Business as Usual, leadership guru Rajeev Peshawaria argues that "history shows that people love working for autocratic top-down leaders." He cites such examples as Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, and Nelson Mandela.

Peshawaria's organization, the Kuala Lumpur-based Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre, surveyed 16,000 executives, asking them to choose from a list the top three leadership traits shared by people like Abraham Lincoln, Jack Ma, and Mahatma Gandhi. Overwhelmingly, respondents identified traits associated with dominance, such as challenging general opinion and remaining firm in their course of action despite feedback and resistance.

The juniors get nervous

Iconic leaders aren't the only ones admired for their autocratic styles. A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that in some instances a more authoritarian hand works better, depending on the leader's status relative to his or her team. Specifically, low-level employees would rather cede control to the leader while higher-level ones prefer power sharing.

"Oftentimes, we forget that leadership is about relationships," says Jasmine Hu, an associate professor of management at Ohio State University and a co-author of the paper. "It is not just what team leaders want to provide to their members. It is also what team members want or expect from their leaders."

Hu and her fellow researchers studied 11 I.T. companies in China to see how power distributions within teams influenced worker expectations of leader assertiveness. First, they measured team members' perceptions of their leaders' humility, characterized by openness to advice from others, willingness to admit their limitations, and appreciation of others' strengths and contributions. They then assessed levels of knowledge-sharing and psychological comfort within teams and, finally, those teams' performance related to creativity.

They found that teams with humble leaders tend to share knowledge freely and be creative--so long as the leaders don't far outstrip followers in terms of power. On teams with yawning power gaps, however, humble leadership resulted in significantly lower creativity. Although the researchers did not look at things like productivity or morale, Hu expects those outcomes would be roughly the same.

On teams where leaders are much higher status, the propensity to consider others' opinions "could make team members nervous or uncomfortable, because they think that should be under the scope of the leader, not their own responsibility," Hu says. Under those circumstances, "leader humility actually can do harm to their teams' creativity."

Be the leader they want

Hu's best advice for leaders is to know what your team expects of you. If you are leading high performers, then you should eagerly solicit their thoughts and loudly credit their contributions. But don't replicate that behavior with junior employees. In that case, more dominant behavior will produce better results.

For very mixed teams--when the CEO addresses the whole company, for example--take an average. "You can't satisfy them all," Hu says. "But if out of 10 people six want you to be dominant, then you probably have to demonstrate more confidence."

The ideal, Hu says, is not to be a humble leader or an autocratic leader, but rather to be a flexible leader. However, if you lean autocratic there are a few ways to get your humility on. "When you realize you are not doing something well, admit it in front of your followers," she says. "And pay attention to each follower to see if there is something unique about that person's contributions. If there is, praise it in public."

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The New Brand Of Leader Requires Self-Awareness

Today’s workforce has dramatically changed. Employees are demanding a different relationship with work than previous generations had. It’s not so much that previous generations didn’t care about feeling appreciated, energized or invested in their work, but they didn’t realize they had a choice.

It's an employee’s market, and a war for talent, changes in demographics, increased global competition and rapidly changing technology have fueled new expectations of what employees want — and can get — from work.

And it's not just employees who are affected. Leaders must also change in response to manage, inspire and develop this new workforce. But they’re not.

A quick look at employee engagement numbers highlights this. When consulting firm DDI asked 1,000 C-level executives what keeps them up at night most, the majority bypassed issues of cybersecurity, slow economic growth in emerging markets, global recession or global political uncertainty. Instead, the majority said leadership was the biggest issue.

Leaders said that developing “next gen” leadership was the top challenge, closely followed by the failure to attract or retain top talent. Leaders are aware of the problem, but struggle to address it.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

It’s a common issue for leaders. The skills that brought them success are different from the ones needed to take them to the next level.

If you’ve ever watched the reality television show Survivor, you know it’s an excellent psychological case study. But what is particularly interesting is how in the first few episodes, when the tribe is struggling to build shelter and get food, the strongest, fastest contestants are valued. But later, once the essentials have been taken care of, strength and speed become less important factors. In fact, it becomes a threat. Instead, the contestants who have other skills — who can cooperate with others, are perceptive and use their influence — are the ones most likely to outwit and outlast the others.

In the same vein, the new brand of leader must develop new skills to be successful today and to develop leaders tomorrow.

The Most Critical Skill Of The New Brand Of Leader: Self-Awareness

Today’s leaders are operating in a VUCA environment (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). Self-awareness is a so-called “soft skill,” one which may have been thought of as a nice-to-have, but is now a must-have, and while it can be developed, it is difficult to teach.

Self-awareness means demonstrating not just through words but through behaviors what it means to truly interact with others. Leaders know they must develop their employees, but they also understand they must develop themselves.

As an example of the journey on the self-awareness spectrum, a command-and-control manager would be at the bottom: self-centered, with a personal agenda of climbing the corporate ladder and no concern with who might get in the way.

At the next level is the achieving leader. This leader wants to achieve their own goals but doesn’t want to harm others on the way up.

The highest level of leadership is the generative leader. This leader, also called the conscious leader, sees the bigger picture as more than their own career or even the company’s success. This leader understands that by leading others, they gain rewards, and they are conscious of the impact their work has on the greater global society.

Being a self-aware leader means merging four areas of the human psyche: IQ (intelligence quotient), EQ (emotional quotient), SQ (spiritual quotient) and PQ (physical quotient). Leaders are used to making decisions using IQ, or their intelligence. But EQ, which is an intangible self and social perceptiveness and management; SQ, which provides a sense of greater purpose; and PQ, which is the body’s ability to listen and respond to subtle signals the body sends -- all help leaders absorb and use intangible information that helps them reach the next level.

Where to start with self-awareness?

Leaders must be open to introspection — not an easy task when leaders are trained and expected to be certain. They must be willing to say they are uncertain in a business environment that is also uncertain. They must have the courage to be and display vulnerability.

Self-aware leaders are willing to do the arduous work to look internally, even though they have primarily been trained to look outside. They are willing to put aside their egos — after all, they have a career history of success — and work on areas of weakness.

Self-aware leaders have a support system of people who act as mirrors and point out blind spots.

Leaders can’t wait until the next generation is in place to develop self-awareness. Pre-flight announcements inform passengers that, in case of a loss of cabin pressure, they should put the air mask over their own faces before those of their children. If the parents are incapacitated because of a lack of oxygen, their children are more likely to suffer as well.

Similarly, if today’s leaders don’t do the requisite work to take care of their development, they will be unable to develop others.

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Engaging the disengaged leaders is key to employee engagement

Take a look at almost anything written about engagement and it is almost a given the words “staff” or “employee” will feature. Globally, 87 per cent of employees are not engaged, proclaims Gallup; employee disengagement costs the UK economy £340 billion a year in lost productivity, according to Hay Group; and so the list could go on. 

But the eagle-eyed may have noticed all these statistics ignore one key person – the leader. If employees’ engagement oscillates, it’s surely common sense leaders suffer the same ups and downs. But here’s the $64,000 question: how much does this really matter? 

“It’s absolutely the case leaders set the tone. It’s they who set the standard, so leaders actually need to be even more engaged,” argues Kate Cooper, head of applied research and policy at the Institute of Leadership and Management. “Even when things aren’t going well, they almost need to rise above this.” 

Even though academics have veered away from the great leaders’ mantra, preferring a holacratic, everyone-in-it-together approach to organisational design, what has not disappeared is the notion companies can either have inspiring leaders or leaders who inspire disengagement. 

A recent Bain & Company study found 60 per cent of employees didn’t know their company’s goals, strategies and tactics, so if leaders haven’t clarified this vital ingredient for creating engagement, responsibility for poor business performance lies squarely on their shoulders. 

“It’s interesting lots of leaders still don’t focus on their own engagement or what I call their own energy,” says Charlene Li, author of The New York Times best seller, The Engaged Leader. “Yet it’s even more important they maintain this over time.” 

According to Ms Li, the tale-tale signs leaders are becoming disengaged are when they go missing in action, take longer to return e-mails or calls, say “no” more often, and start to support and promote those who most agree with them. And when this attitude sets in, it can have a corrosive impact on the bottom line. Staff who are “actively disengaged” – around 20 per cent, according to Gallup – specifically say they do not find their work or their leader motivating. 

“Leadership is a contact sport,” says Chris Bones, professor of creativity and leadership at Manchester Business School, and partner at Good Growth. “Being an engaged leader is about being visible and present. What’s interesting though is that a reason leaders often become disengaged is because it can take time for staff to believe them. Paradoxically, leaders can become disengaged just at the point when their staff start to buy in to their vision.” 


One leader acutely aware of the power of engaged leadership is Ken Allen, chief executive of DHL Express, who in 2013 launched what business journal HR magazine described as the “world’s biggest engagement scheme”. In what was a do-or-die decision, as the company had lost €2.8 billion between 2002 and 2009, the business has since transformed itself. 

But according to Mr Allen, engagement starts from him and particularly from being imbued in the business. “I’m a company man,” he says. “I’ve been here since 1985. Today I see lots of leaders parachuted into businesses, but they will only inspire their staff if they embrace the good things that made the business successful and don’t try to do things ‘their way’. 

“Until every employee thinks they can grow personally too, leaders can’t grow their business, so it’s leaders who need to create stories. I take it upon myself to be in front of people all the time, delivering my message. I don’t want to be seen as a suit from head office.” 

Although Mr Allen admits leaders still “have to force themselves to be engaged”, Ms Li believes the very act of being in front of staff is not only engaging for employees, it’s engaging for the boss too. “When they challenge their people to be engaged, it’s engaging for themselves,” she says. “They reconnect; they rediscover their passion for the business.” 

A reason leaders often become disengaged is because it can take time for staff to believe them

Because human resources literature focuses on “authentic leadership” and about being honest with staff, Ms Cooper argues leaders can be confused about the sort of engagement they have to present to staff. For instance, whether they should admit they’re feeling low or whether being emotionally bare facilitates better “followership”.

She says: “Authenticity is about saying ‘I’m having a bad day’. That’s fine, but the best leaders still need to present control. What leaders must do is create a team around them, one that has their backing rather than waits for them to fail. 

“Engagement needs to be a strategic activity. Leaders need to recognise what sort of person they are. If they thrive setting businesses up and are engaged doing that, fine. But, if they also know their enthusiasm wanes, they need to know when it’s best to bring someone else in who has more energy.” 

The good news is as more leaders understand the bottom-line value of having engaged staff, the more leaders themselves are understanding their role in it. 

Eric Garton, partner at Bain & Company, and author of Time, Talent and Energy, says leaders need all three of these qualities, but it’s their energy or engagement that has the most power to transform. “All businesses suffer organisational drag, but the most drag is caused by lacklustre leadership,” he says. “Engaged staff are 44 per cent more productive than satisfied staff, but employees who are inspired are 125 per cent more productive than a satisfied staff.” 

Mr Garton argues engaged leaders “presume trust and empower accordingly”. He says: “Millennial companies have inherently more energy because their leaders don’t tend to micro-manage. While some leaders get worn down by their own organisation, the best don’t worry about people challenging them. The best leaders demonstrate engagement by owning it – simple as that.” That’s the challenge. Now it’s up to leaders to embrace it. 

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Reading the Room Before a Meeting or Presentation


In every conversation at work, there’s the explicit discussion happening — the words being spoken out loud — and the tacit one. To be successful in most organizations, it’s important to understand the underlying conversations and reactions that people in the room are having. But if you aren’t picking up on those subtle cues, how can you learn to do so? What signals should you be looking for? And what can you do to influence the unspoken dynamics?

What the Experts Say
“Knowing how to read between the lines is a critical workplace skill,” says Annie McKee, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of How to Be Happy at Work.“You need to understand other people — what they want, what they don’t want, their fears, hopes, dreams, and motivations,” she says. “This builds trust. And trust is fundamental to getting things done.” In addition, you must be aware of your effect on others, according to Karen Dillon, coauthor of How Will You Measure Your Life? “You need to be constantly assessing how other people are responding to you,” she says. “Some people find this easy and intuitive. For others, it’s a challenge.” The good news is that this skill can be learned. Here are some ways how.

The best way to read a room is to pay close attention to people — and not just what they’re saying. “If you’re relying [solely] on their words, you’re only getting half the picture,” McKee says. Upon entering a meeting, she recommends, do “a quick scan of the individuals,” noting “who’s next to whom, who’s smiling, who’s not, who’s standing, who’s sitting, and how much space is between people.” Next, try to pick up on “the almost invisible clues on how people are feeling” by looking carefully at “their facial expressions, posture, and body language.” Be on the lookout for “quick microexpressions” such as “fleeting smiles, raised eyebrows, or even tiny frowns.” Vigilant observation will give you the information you need to interpret group dynamics. Dillon recommends identifying role models to further improve your social awareness. “Think of people you admire who are great at reading the room,” she says. “Isolate the things they do and try to emulate those.”

Control how much you talk
You can’t observe if you’re spending most of your time talking. You need to listen, Dillon says. “Be conscious of how much you are saying.” Whether you’re in a room with a large group of people, a small group, or you’re speaking with a colleague one-on-one, she advises taking frequent pauses “to really think about what the other person is saying” and watching out for the nonverbal cues. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk; there is “no shame” in silence. When the conversation is more intimate, Dillon says, you must strive to “make the other person feel heard.” Be present. Be engaged. Make eye contact. “Position yourself so that you’re not inviting others to butt into your conversation. Help the other people feel confident that you are all in the moment together.” After the other person says something, paraphrase what they said to indicate that you’re paying attention. Similarly, “if the other person doesn’t seem to be hearing what you’re saying, and you start to realize that you’re talking at them, you should ask a question,” she adds. Try open-ended questions such as “What do you think about…?” or, “What are the consequences of…?” or, “Have you experienced this?” The answers to these questions help you uncover what’s really going on.

Interpret your observations
Once you’ve “tuned into the emotions and energy in the room,” you can “try to make sense of what you think you know,” McKee says. She recommends “generating multiple hypotheses about what’s going on.” Consider the people in the group more broadly and reflect on the possible reasons for their individual and collective emotional states. “What’s happening in their lives? What’s going on in their jobs? What do you know about these people?” If you don’t know much, this can be tricky, but you can still come up with hypotheses for what’s motivating people. At the same time, you shouldn’t project your feelings onto the group. “Keep your emotions in check,” McKee says, adding that this is a feat that “takes tremendous skill and self-control.” If, say, the room is reverberating tension, don’t let yourself “be hijacked by negative energy, and don’t give in to your natural inclination to be frightened and angry.” Remember, too, that the emotions you perceive are not personal. “It probably doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

Check your hypotheses
When you’ve developed a few explanations for what’s going on in the room, check your understanding. You can do this by continuing to gather further information — though you should continue to be open to what you’re seeing and sensing so that you don’t fall prey to confirmation bias. You can also ask people directly, in private, McKee says. When you’re in one-on-one conversations, you might say something like, “In the meeting I saw you furrow your brow when discussion turned to the xyz project — how do you feel about it?” Most likely, your colleagues will be pleased you noticed, she says. When you make note of people’s feelings and reactions, they “feel attended to.” Another tactic McKee suggests is talking with a trusted colleague, mentor, or coach. “Talk about what you’ve observed — not in a gossipy way, but as a learning opportunity,” she says. “You want someone else to check ideas with” so that you can say, “What do you think is going on with that colleague? Or that coalition?”

Put your perceptions into practice
If in the midst of a meeting or interaction, you notice that things are getting tense or heated, you can “take the opportunity to shift the emotional reality of the room,” McKee says. “Use humor,” she adds. “Or empathize with the group — make them feel okay.” She recommends determining who in the room has “the most social or hierarchical capital” and then focusing on getting that person on your side. “It could be a person who has the most seniority, or the person who others are sitting closest to. It could be the person who’s telling jokes and has the ability to lighten the mood.” Keep an eye out “for any positive signals” — the executive in the corner who’s smiling, for instance — and concentrate on those. Importantly, continue to pay attention to what’s not being said. “Most people are just waiting to talk,” she says. As a result, “we may catch most of the words, but we miss the music.”

Principles to Remember


Consider the people in the room more broadly and reflect on the possible reasons for their individual and collective emotional states. Look for microexpressions such as fleeting smiles or raised eyebrows. These offer clues to group dynamics and individual emotions. Isolate the behaviors that your socially aware role model exhibits and try to emulate them.


Be distracted. Maintain eye contact and be present and engaged in conversations with others. Make it all about you. Ask open-ended questions to help you uncover what’s really going on. Allow yourself to be hijacked by a room’s negative energy. Keep your emotions in check and do what you can to shift the emotional reality of the room.  

Case Study #1: Pay attention to people’s body language and facial expressions
As the chief human resources officer at Prosek Partners, the global PR company, Karen Niovitch Davis has a good deal of experience reading rooms. “I’ve had a 20+ year career in HR,” she says. “A lot of what I do is about trying to really understand what people are saying when they are not actually saying it.”

Every week, she attends a management meeting at Prosek for senior vice presidents, managing directors, and partners. The company’s CEO leads the meeting, and Karen, because of her role, is often aware of what’s on the agenda.

“Since some of the things that we discuss are sensitive or controversial, I am often prepping for how my colleagues will react,” Karen says.

Recently, for instance, the CEO announced that the company would be expanding and that it had signed a lease for more space in the building. Certain employees and teams would be moving to another floor.

Karen paid close attention to her colleagues’ body language and facial expressions to gauge their reactions. She was prepared for a mixed bag. “I knew everyone in the room was thinking: What does this mean for me? What does this mean for my team? Are we all going to have to move?” she says. “That’s human nature.”

Many of her colleagues seemed “genuinely pleased” by the news, she recalls. “They were excited because the move means we are growing.”

Others, however, gave off a decidedly different vibe. Some people’s faces went blank; others visibly frowned. One — we’ll call her Jane — looked down and scribbled a note to a colleague sitting next to her.

Karen assumed that Jane wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of moving. She thought about what she already knew about Jane. “She does not like to change her routine,” Karen notes.

Shortly after the meeting ended, Karen approached Jane. She told her that it seemed that she was unhappy about the move. “I wanted to make sure she knew I noticed her,” Karen says.

Jane appreciated that Karen noticed. “She said, ‘I don’t want to move because I like where my desk is now,’” Karen says. “She told me that she didn’t want to say anything in the meeting because she didn’t want to come off as not a team player.”

Karen listened attentively to Jane’s reasoning. She empathized with her and asked her open-ended questions about her concerns. She wanted to make sure Jane felt heard. “I told her that the office would be an exact replica of our current space and that the views would be better,” she says.

But Jane was not swayed by the argument. “I told her we would work something out so she would not have to move,” Karen says.

Case Study #2: Don’t assume you know how other people feel — ask them
Heather Anderson, an executive mentor at Vistage International, the San Diego–based advisory and executive coaching organization, says that she often speaks to her clients about the importance of social intelligence. “Emotions contain data,” she says. “I tell them that the emotional data they receive in their team meetings, their one-on-ones, and their client calls are just as important to their end game as anything else.”

She speaks from experience. Recently, Heather ran a meeting for one of her peer-to-peer coaching groups at Vistage. One of the agenda items was to provide feedback to one of the newer members — we’ll call her Susan. These meetings happen regularly; their purpose “is to challenge each other to be better leaders.”

“People are candid in these meetings and it can feel harsh if you’re on the receiving end — particularly when it’s your first time,” Heather says. “It’s intimidating.”

Heather first scanned the room to gauge the temperature; it wasn’t particularly tense, but she could tell that Susan was nervous. Next, she listened carefully to what others said. The comments were “frank,” and it wasn’t particularly positive.

She paid close attention to Susan’s body language. “I could see the look of surprise and fear on Susan’s face,” she says. “She shrunk in her chair and her shoulders dropped.”

Heather empathized with Susan’s emotions and reflected on what was happening. “I thought she felt threatened,” Heather says. “I wondered, ‘Should we soften our words?’”

To be sure, she asked Susan how she felt. “I said, ‘How are you feeling? What is it like to get this feedback?’”

Susan surprised her. “She said, ‘Wow. This is intense, but this is exactly what I signed up for.’”

Heather realized that she had projected some of her own feelings onto Susan. “I expected her to feel a certain way,” she says, “but you can’t assume you know.”

Later, Heather asked Susan how she planned to use the feedback she received during the meeting. “Susan was able to recite very specific action items, and she talked enthusiastically about the things she wanted to do and changes she wanted to make,” Heather says.

Heather plans to follow up with Susan in a few weeks.

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Managing Generational Differences In The Workplace

With it becoming commonplace for businesses to have multigenerational employees, knowing how to manage their differences couldn’t be more important. While it’s easy to become overwhelmed with what may seem like a lot of generational differences, it’s actually easier than you’d imagine to manage effectively and promote great cohesion among your employees.

The key to getting a grip to age diversity in the workplace is to adopt a single, inclusive style of leadership. Start focusing on managing your employees fairly and being a leader for all while adjusting your style to accommodate the differences that are there.

To help you adopt a new and improved management style to combat generational differences in your workplace, we’ve set out 6 useful tips. If you’d like to read more on how to improve your leadership skillset, please visit our Leadership blog now.

Adapt the ways in which you communicate

An important part of dealing with generational differences in the workplace comes with effective communication. Knowing how to speak with older or younger employees is an excellent way to build an inclusive workplace.

When dealing with older members of the workforce (baby boomers) you may find that they’re more reserved and less upfront about their opinions. More often than not, a traditional and more authoritative style of management will work well with baby boomers.

On the other hand, younger employees (millennials) are more likely to prefer a collaborative style of management where you’ll work together to deal with issues. Think about adopting a similar style of management that a coach might have with a sports team.

Helping employees embrace change

Whether it be political, emotional, financial or anything else, change is something that a lot of people have problems dealing with. Unsurprisingly, this is the same in the workplace and some employees will need a little more time or coaching in order to adapt.

According to research from Robert Half, millennials are far more likely to view change as an opportunity that should be made the most of. This is in contrast to baby boomers simply being accustomed to changes in the workplace. However, accustomed doesn’t mean inspired and additional support should be given to baby boomers to try and get them wholeheartedly on board with what’s going on.

Optimising for learning and training 

A lot can be said as to why people learn differently to others, but the divide between generations can be disruptive to the workplace. Robert Half’s research also found baby boomers and gen x (the generation following the baby boomers) learn best via “traditional instructor-led courses or self-learning tools”. In contrast, millennials prefer a “collaborative, technology-centric” approach to learning.

So, what does this mean for management? Well, cohesion between both groups needs to be established to avoid disruption in the learning process. Develop new communication methods that appeal to the millennial side of your workforce and make sure to adapt if older employees need help too.

Create diverse project teams

Millennials and baby boomers will both have different ways of tackling project management and problem solving. Thankfully, mixing up teams for projects presents an easy way to iron out generational differences in the workplace. This can help bolster your leadership skills and allows employees to really learn something from having age diversity in the workforce. Ideally, the goal is to create a safe environment where both sides of the generational spectrum can learn from one another.

Give more responsibility to younger members of your workforce

While having project teams with diverse age groups can aid in creating cohesion among your employees, you need to recognise that the younger generation is the inevitable future. Therefore, it’s essential that you give your younger employees a chance to shine.

Encouraging your younger employees to lead projects is an effective way to introduce different methods and thought processes into the status quo. This is especially useful in building respect between different age groups in your workforce and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Base your leadership style around flexibility

The final piece in the puzzle revolves around management style. It’s fair to say that there isn’t a single management style that can deal with age diversity in the workplace. While the broader strokes of management will deal with all the points mentioned here, the finer detail lies in your ability to understand each of your employees as individuals. Despite their age, work to understand your employees and what drives their ambitions. It’s not something that happens overnight but it should be a focus point you’re aiming to get a firm understanding of as soon as possible.

For more leadership and management inspired reading material, please visit our Leadership blog or alternatively, see how Saxons can modernise your IT systems by heading to the IT Solutions page.

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5 Ways To Amplify Your Change Management Strategy

Change, while intimidating for some, plays an essential part in business development at any ambitious company. Markets can change, talent pools can switch to contingent models, and technological innovations can become instantly available. So, knowing how to amplify your change management strategy can really make a difference in the long run.

But, every change management strategy comes with a certain amount of risk in some way or another. In fact, a 2013 Strategy&/Katzenbach Centre survey noted that major change strategies only saw success 54% of the time. Clearly, failing to successfully implement a proper strategy will cause financial issues as well as wasting company resources and damaging employee morale.

So, what kind of change management tools and tips are there to make your strategy a success? We’ve come up with 5 ways to amplify your change management strategy no matter how ambitious your plans may be. Read on to learn more or visit our Leadership page to see more of our articles.

Ask for feedback from the entire workforce before you begin 

Having a vision for your change management strategy isn’t a bad thing. But, failing to ask for feedback before you begin the journey isn’t the best way to start. Thankfully, you can very quickly iron out any potential issues by taking onboard feedback from colleagues and employees about your planned changes.

By getting feedback from your employees, you can learn how well received your changes will be as well as discovering what simply isn’t necessary. After all, what kind of major business decision doesn’t rely on data of some sort?

It’s fine when top-level executives pull off a successful change management strategy after planning everything themselves. However, if they don’t achieve their aims or if the whole process fails, the outcome will be extremely disruptive and the responsibility far harder to shoulder.

Keep things simple at first

There’s no denying that change management can require a deep and sophisticated overhaul of current processes and technology. Just remember that you don’t need to run before you can walk. Even if there are existing issues that need to be addressed, prioritise these issues and bring in changes to fix them in stages.

Failing to do this will probably result in your employees becoming overwhelmed and confused with so many new things to learn. Productivity shouldn’t ever be compromised and if it is, you need to slow down and simplify your strategy even further.

Honest communication with all your employees is crucial after implementing any changes

The biggest mistake you can make during the change management process is failing to speak with employees honestly. It’s vital that you get them on board with your aims as enthusiasm and cooperation is what will drive success.

There’s no doubt that there may be technical issues to deal with as well as trouble adapting to new processes, but you’ve got to be honest about anything that crops up. By creating a transparent environment, feedback can flow from your employees long after implementation.

This is a really important part of optimisation when it comes to your strategy and can affect the outcome in a positive way if handled correctly. There may be a temptation to keep the ‘creative’ planning and development process restricted to only senior-level employees. Sadly, this is a common mistake that many change management strategies fail to tackle.

When employees at all levels are invested in and involved with the changes at hand, more real-time information is likely to come to your attention. And it’s this time-sensitive information that can make or break your plans.

Cultural values in the workplace can be redefined 

A company’s workplace culture can really underpin employee satisfaction, productivity, and acceptance of change. But, is it really necessary to tread extra carefully when dealing with the established cultural values at your workplace?

Well, there’s no reason to dismantle what’s commonly accepted as this is likely to disrupt business and create resistance to what you’re trying to achieve. However, offering up ongoing, staggered improvements is a great way to loosen up even the most resistant employees when it comes to change.

Think about proposing ideas for new incentives

Obviously, one of the easiest way to get your workforce on board with your change management strategy is to offer up new and improved incentives. Simple employee recognition initiatives can provide the incentive and drive that less enthusiastic workers need to ensure success all round. But, this will also help management teams, as employees are left feeling valued by the company and more accepting of change in the future.

Are you looking to learn more about change management tools and tips? For more information, contact us now to get in touch with a member of our team. Or, find out how Saxons can help your strategy become a success with the latest change management tools by visiting the IT Solutions page now.

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The First Step in Leadership Development Training

First-time manager training is an important part of any leadership development program, with the need for quality training essential to build a solid foundation to start managerial careers. Understanding the dynamics and preferences of these aspiring leaders is critical to developing successful training programs.

A Training Industry, Inc. study on first-time manager training focused on a range of best practices, covering program design to preferred delivery methods. We also asked participants to help us understand what topics areas should be covered during training, providing a roadmap of what to consider when creating your company’s first step in leadership development.

Qualities of Training 

Customization was the clear message from research participants. Over 90 percent of respondents believe it is important for training to be based on challenges of real managers and customized to their own company’s internal competency framework. This customization provides first-time managers with relevant examples of what to expect in their new leadership role, as opposed to training that only provides general and non-specific information.

It was important to acknowledge that this training was part of a larger competency framework at the company and not an isolated event. With 55 percent of respondents rating this attribute as the most critical quality, it is clear that learners want to attend training events that are a relevant to their career path at the company.

Designing a training program with modules that build off one another in a comprehensive curriculum roadmap provides learners with a structure for their learning. It also allows learners to apply basic skills before moving on to more advanced skills.

Grounding training in research on trends and the challenges of real managers increases the relevance to learners, and many believe it results in increased learner engagement, retention and application on the job.

Top Five Attributes of Quality First-Time Manager Training

Topic Areas

Aside from understanding what first-time managers want in training, it is also essential to gauge the importance of particular leadership topic areas. Given a list of 30 topics, respondents rated which were most important to them. Below are the five most important topics and the percentage of importance:

Coaching employees (64 percent) Communication (written, verbal) (56 percent) Giving performance evaluations and feedback (53 percent) Managing and resolving conflict (49 percent) Decision-making (44 percent)

Interestingly, all five of the top training topics are basic skills. Over 50 percent of respondents rated communication as most important; reinforcing the value of both verbal and written communication in leadership roles. Communication is the foundation to coaching, giving performance evaluations and feedback, and resolving conflict, which learners rated as other important topic areas. Allowing first-time managers the opportunity to develop these skills will essentially make them more comfortable, easing the transition into their new role.

Delivery Methods

Once you better understand how to design first-time manager training and what topics are important to learners, it’s vital to know how to deliver this information. The top delivery methods for first-time manager training are all live: face-to-face instructor-led training, coaching, live practice such as role-plays, and mentor networks. Only 35 percent of learners rated live virtual instructor-led training as most important, falling to the sixth most preferred delivery method (out of 15 available methods).

It’s clear that learning leaders acknowledge the role of learning technologies, but live training is still the preferred delivery method. Live face-to-face instructor-led training and live practice delivery both give trainees the opportunity to practice their skills in a safe environment with feedback-intensive interactive activities such as role-plays, case studies and scenarios. Coaching and mentor networks provide chances to learn from more seasoned managers, who can assist with questions and problems and act as a sounding board when managers run into challenges.

Best Practices

To further add to the research, respondents were asked to share best practices that support excellent first-time manager training. Not surprisingly, comments closely mirrored what respondents felt was most important in developing first-time manager training. We found that the best practices focused primarily on delivery methods including:

Coaching and mentoring: These are needed for building skills and getting feedback. Live practice: Role-plays with feedback are great ways to learn skills. Follow-up reinforcement on the job: Include action plans/assignments, projects, observing other managers and communities of practice. Peer support networks: Continue to learn from other managers. Blended: Use live face-to-face instructor-led training with self-paced, virtual and experiential exercises/mentoring.

Also, when a training event comes to a close, the learning can’t end: It must be reinforced. To solidify the training, on-the-job reinforcement and other forms of live practice are crucial to strengthen skills and cement knowledge.

Among the many insights that this study provided, first-time managers require an immersive training experience that allows them to practice and role-play to fully prepare them for their leadership role. And don’t forget one of the most important pillars of any leadership program is communication skills. It’s critical that companies utilize this first-time manager training as an opportunity to ensure that emerging leaders are set up for success at the ground level.

Key Takeaways

In an analysis of the first-time manager training market, Training Industry conducted a study to better understand the needs of aspiring leaders. We focused on specific areas to find out what is most important to learners. Here are the key findings:

General Qualities: Training needs to be customized, based on real challenges and part of a comprehensive curriculum.  Topic Areas: Coaching, communication and giving feedback were rated as the most important topics. Delivery Method: Live methods such as face-to-face instructor-led, coaching and live practice were the preferred delivery methods.  Best Practices: On-the-job reinforcement and other forms of live practice are necessary to solidify training.
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The Most Common Type of Incompetent Leader

A young friend recently remarked that the worst boss he ever had would provide him with feedback that always consisted of “You’re doing a great job.” But they both knew it wasn’t true — the organization was in disarray, turnover was excessive, and customers were not happy. My friend was giving it his all, but he needed more support and better feedback than he received. He wanted a leader who would be around when he needed them, and who would give him substantive advice, not platitudes. As a measure of his frustration, he said, “I would rather have had a boss who yelled at me or made unrealistic demands than this one, who provided empty praise.”

Researchers have studied managerial derailment — or the dark side of leadership — for many years. The key derailment characteristics of bad managers are well documented and fall into three broad behavioral categories: (1) “moving away behaviors,” which create distance from others through hyper-emotionality, diminished communication, and skepticism that erodes trust; (2) “moving against behaviors,” which overpower and manipulate people while aggrandizing the self; and (3) “moving toward behaviors,” which include being ingratiating, overly conforming, and reluctant to take chances or stand up for one’s team. The popular media is full of examples of bad leaders in government, academia, and business with these characteristics. However, my friend was describing something arguably worse than an incompetent boss. His manager was not overtly misbehaving, nor was he a ranting, narcissistic sociopath. Rather, his boss was a leader in title only — his role was leadership, but he provided none. My friend was experiencing absentee leadership, and unfortunately, he is not alone. Absentee leadership rarely comes up in today’s leadership or business literature, but research shows that it is the most common form of incompetent leadership.

Absentee leaders are people in leadership roles who are psychologically absent from them. They were promoted into management, and enjoy the privileges and rewards of a leadership role, but avoid meaningful involvement with their teams. Absentee leadership resembles the concept of rent-seeking in economics — taking value out of an organization without putting value in. As such, they represent a special case of laissez-faire leadership, but one that is distinguished by its destructiveness.


Having a boss who lets you do as you please may sound ideal, especially if you are being bullied and micromanaged by your current boss. However, a 2015 survey of 1,000 working adults showed that eight of the top nine complaints about leaders concerned behaviors that were absent; employees were most concerned about what their bosses didn’t do. Clearly, from the employee’s perspective, absentee leadership is a significant problem, and it is even more troublesome than other, more overt forms of bad leadership.

Research shows that being ignored by one’s boss is more alienating than being treated poorly. The impact of absentee leadership on job satisfaction outlasts the impact of both constructive and overtly destructive forms of leadership. Constructive leadership immediately improves job satisfaction, but the effects dwindle quickly. Destructive leadership immediately degrades job satisfaction, but the effects dissipate after about six months. In contrast, the impact of absentee leadership takes longer to appear, but it degrades subordinates’ job satisfaction for at least two years. It also is related to a number of other negative outcomes for employees, like role ambiguity, health complaints, and increased bullying from team members. Absentee leadership creates employee stress, which can lead to poor employee health outcomes and talent drain, which then impact an organization’s bottom line.

If absentee leadership is so destructive, why don’t we read more about it in the business literature? Consider a story I recently heard about the dean of a well-known law school: Two senior, well-regarded faculty members called the provost to complain about their dean because, they said, he wouldn’t do anything. The provost responded by saying that he had a dean who was a drunk, a dean who was accused of sexual harassment, and a dean who was accused of misusing funds, but the law school dean never caused him any problems. So, the provost said, the faculty members would just have to deal with their dean.

Like the provost in this example, many organizations don’t confront absentee leaders because they have other managers whose behavior is more overtly destructive. Because absentee leaders don’t actively make trouble, their negative impact on organizations can be difficult to detect, and when it is detected, it often is considered a low-priority problem. Thus, absentee leaders are often silent organization killers. Left unchecked, absentee leaders clog an organization’s succession arteries, blocking potentially more effective people from moving into important roles while adding little to productivity. Absentee leaders rarely engage in unforgivable bouts of bad behavior, and are rarely the subject of ethics investigations resulting from employee hotline calls. As a result, their negative effect on organizations accumulates over time, largely unchecked.

If your organization is one of the relatively few with effective selection and promotion methods in place, then it may be able to identify effective and destructive leaders. Even if your organization isn’t great at talent identification, both types of leaders are easy to spot once they are on the job. They also produce predictable organizational outcomes: Constructive leadership creates high engagement and productivity, while destructive leadership kills engagement and productivity. The chances are good, however, that your organization is unaware of its absentee leaders, because they specialize in flying under the radar by not doing anything that attracts attention. Nonetheless, the adhesiveness of their negative impact may be slowly harming the company.

The war for leadership talent is real, and organizations with the best leaders will win. Reviewing your organization’s management positions for absentee leaders and doing something about them can improve your talent management arsenal. It’s likely that your competitors are overlooking this issue or choosing not to do anything about it, like the university provost. Doing nothing about absentee leaders is easy. Just ask any absentee leader.

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3 Remarkably Powerful Leadership and Life Lessons From Jazz


Here's something you don't see at the record store every day: an original mono test pressing of John Coltrane's iconic album A Love Supreme. Now for sale on eBay, this piece of jazz history is currently listed and is yours for the taking. But in the event you don't have a spare $19,000 to spend, you can still take a piece of jazz with you wherever you go.

As work and life throw you and your leadership constant change, you can handle the chaos using the same strategies a jazz musician would employ.

1. Master the art of improvisation.

According to Frank J. Barrett, jazz pianist and professor of management and global pubic policy at the Naval Postgraduate School, "Musicians prepare themselves to be spontaneous. Managers and executives can do the same." Missed deadlines, forgotten meetings, a presentation that malfunctions -- jazz not only requires you keep up with the music, but it asks you contribute, no matter what notes are or are not planned. To guarantee success, improvise and adjust when anything unexpected lands on your desk.

2. Take your solo, but support others too. 

Don't be shy --  be proud of your work as a leader and team member. Assessing your own efforts for a business project is important for keeping your morale high. At the same time, like jazz, office work can ultimately be a group activity. Great teams, according to Barrett, "hit a groove the same way a jazz band hits a groove." Sometimes, this means "letting someone else on the team take charge," or letting them "get credit the same way soloists in jazz are supported by people who comp or accompany them."

3. Love your errors.

When we put so much pressure on ourselves to do everything right, we often forget our failures are just as important as our successes for growth and achievement. Mistakes can push both business leaders and musicians to step outside their comfort zones, which is where really valuable lessons can be found. Times of conflict, whether with yourself or with others, can show you what it takes to be a respected and trusted leader.

As Miles Davis once said, "If you're not making a mistake, it's a mistake!"

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Can you Train Leadership?

When leading workshops, I ask a simple question: “How have you learned to lead?” I ask learners to vote for two out of six sources of learning. Are you main sources of learning leadership from:

Books Courses Bosses (positive or negative lessons) Peers Role models (inside or outside work) Experience

Ninety-nine percent of people do not choose books or courses. Nearly everyone learns the most from direct experience or from the observed experience of bosses, peers and role models.

This approach to learning makes perfect sense. When you see someone do something well, it’s natural to try to copy them. If they step on a land mine, you make a quiet note not to tread the same path. This form of learning means that you will learn what works for you in your context. It is highly practical and highly personal. It is also powerful learning, because we all tend to believe what we discover more than what is revealed to  us. We own our learning, while we find it hard to own someone else’s idea or theory, however brilliant it may be.

But this sort of learning is also very dangerous, because it is a random walk. If you bump into good experiences, bosses, peers and role models, you are on the high road to success. If you are surrounded by Darth Vader-wannabes, you may find your path to leadership is much harder. There is a purpose to books and courses: They can put structure on your random walk of discovery and help you make sense of the nonsense you encounter from day to day.

The reality remains that you cannot read a book and finish on page 275 as a great leader, just as you cannot attend a two-day course and be transformed into the leader of the future. In practice, there is huge resistance to much leadership training for three reasons:

1. Leadership is all about know-how, not know-what skills.

It is about implicit, not explicit, knowledge. Explicit knowledge covers things like accounting and finance, where there is a clear body of knowledge that can be transmitted. Implicit knowledge is much more contextual. How you motivate people in one setting may be completely different from another setting; attitudes to risk vary dramatically by function and industry. There is no single solution to the question, “What is leadership?”

2. Leadership training can often be seen as a sign of weakness.

If I attend a course on the law, it shows that I am building my professional skills. If my boss tells me to take a course on motivating people, or problem-solving, or dealing with crises or on any other leadership skill, the implication may be that I am rubbish at motivation, problem-solving or crisis management. No one likes to admit that they need help with the core skills of leadership.

3. Leadership training often has a bad reputation.

With good reason – there are plenty of people out there with a flip chart and a theory who claim to have perfected the answer to leadership. Curiously, they have often failed to lead anything themselves, and then they wonder why they have a credibility gap. The blunt truth is that there is far too much poor leadership training in the market.

Ultimately, leadership is a journey of discovery for each of us. That means we have to adapt how we train people to help them manage their journey. It means we have to focus on coaching, career management, ensuring people get the right experiences at the right time, and then occasionally supporting those practices with a targeted course that meets an immediate need.

Leadership and leadership training are hard work, but that is good news for us all. If it were as easy as reading a manual, we would all be out of a job. Often, the tough stuff is the best stuff.

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Turn The Ship Around!

I’ve recently finished reading Turn The Ship Around, David Marquet’s book about turning followers into leaders. I wanted to jot down some thoughts before the finer points evacuated my brain.

For those not familiar with it, here’s the brief synopsis from Amazon..

Captain David Marquet was used to giving orders. In the high-stress environment of the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear-powered submarine, it was crucial his men did their job well. But the ship was dogged by poor morale, poor performance and the worst retention in the fleet. One day, Marquet unknowingly gave an impossible order, and his crew tried to follow it anyway. He realized he was leading in a culture of followers, and they were all in danger unless they fundamentally changed the way they did things. Marquet took matters into his own hands and pushed for leadership at every level. Before long, his crew became fully engaged and the Santa Fe skyrocketed from worst to first in the fleet.

Essentially, Marquet recognised that when he told people what to do (which is pretty standard practice for a Naval Submarine Commander) they absolved themselves of responsibility of the task and blindly followed direction without critical thought. This also meant they weren’t thinking proactively about the work they were doing.. which is arguably not a good thing aboard a nuclear vessel.

Marquet decided that he wanted to fundamentally change the way he and his crew worked. Rather than everyone waiting on him to make a decision, he wanted to step back and allow people the space to think about what they were doing and then tell him their intent.

Marquet calls this intent based leadership.

It’s a very subtle difference, but rather than the crew waiting on the Captain to direct them, they were encouraged to think for themselves and then tell the Captain their intent.


“Captain, permission to submerge the ship.” becomes..

“Captain, I intend to submerge the ship. All men are below and the ship is rigged for dive.”

The onus is put upon the crew to think before they approach him. “What questions would he ask? What would I do if I were in his shoes?”. He’s flipping the tables and giving people control (or authority) over what they do.

As Marquet rather pithily puts it.. “Don’t move the information to authority, move the authority to information.”

This might seem like a really minor change, but it has some dramatic effects.

It alleviates the pressure (and temptation!) on leaders to attempt to have all the answers for those around them. It encourages people to take responsibility & accountability for their work. It prevents people from blindly following bad direction. It promotes an environment of mentorship where decisions are discussed. It enables the whole organisation to be far more responsive and resilient because everyone is thinking for themselves rather than waiting for direction.

Of course, it’s wouldn’t be quite as simple as just asking everyone to think a bit then say what they intend to do. Marquet says that it’s only possible to distribute Control (authority) if you have two pillars in place. He defines the pillars as Technical Competence & Clarity.

You can’t give authority to someone if they don’t have the technical competence to carry out the work. They’ll likely fall flat on their face and take a hit to their morale in the process.

Likewise, without clarity, people will struggle to make good proactive decisions that are aligned with the aims of the organisation.


In order to support this leader-leader model, Marquet developed a number of principles or mechanisms to support it. I could probably write reams on all of them, but I’ll focus on the ones that resonated most.

Resist The Urge to Provide Solutions

Giving people time & space to think on upcoming decisions is a useful training and mentoring tool. Obviously this requires a degree of organisation to spot upcoming decisions early enough to allow the time for people to react and suggest solutions. Marquet underlines the importance of encouraging difference of opinion rather than white washing a consensus because there is value in everyone thinking differently.

Think Out Loud

Marquet realised they didn’t have a language for uncertainty onboard the sub. Signaling intent alone wasn’t enough to convey why things were being done. He developed a behaviour of Thinking Out Loud when evaluating courses of action. This gave everyone nearby context and clarity of what was being thought about and an opportunity to suggest alternatives (or avert disaster!) if required.

Encourage A Questioning Attitude Over Blind Obedience

What’s stopping your organisation from following its leaders over a cliff? If every person at every level is actively thinking about the directions they’re given, it stops bad decisions from proliferating.

Continually And Consistently Repeat The Message

When you introduce something new, people have a tendency not to picture it as you picture it. Their frame of reference tends to be based on their experiences, not your own. So even if they say “I totally get it!” — they may envisage something completely different in their mind's eye. To counter this you must keep repeating the same message over and over until their mental picture is similar to yours.

Specifying Goals Not Methods

Rather than fixating on avoiding mistakes or following a prescribed set of steps, focus on the goal. That motivates people to come up with the best solutions to achieve or surpass the goal rather than treating it as a tickbox exercise (aka doing the bare minimum to get rid of it).

  Reflection on the book

There was lots I liked about this book. Many of the concepts seemed familiar from elsewhere, but here they’re woven together with Marquet’s narrative of commanding a nuclear submarine that demonstrates how they work(ed) in practice.

At the end, I was left with some questions to mull over…

This seems like the best way of unsticking the command & control model, but there’s still a fixed hierarchy underpinning it. Is that the model we want to remain with going forward? Could we take some of the lessons learned here and apply them to something that wasn’t quite so hierarchical? There are A LOT of controls and procedures in the Navy — perhaps assuredly so when you’re in charge of nuclear missiles. It provided Marquet with a very clear audit trail of what was happening, even when it was clearly not going according to plan. Does the average civilian organisation have those data points available? Would it be possible to identify the pressure points without that? There’s not a lot of conflict or clashing decisions in this book. There was one clear instance where the Captain thought the crew were doing something totally wrong, but upon viewing the information outside the sub realised he was wrong and backed down. How often are decisions so clear cut between right and wrong? What happens when boss & subordinate disagree and there’s no clear data to prove either point of view? I’ve been thinking about the conditions required to try something radically different than before. The Sante Fe was (from memory) the worst performing sub in the fleet. Everyone knew it, even the crew. Are the stakes lower in that environment? Are people more open to ditching the old? If the sub was middling or above average, would there be more resistance to letting go of the status quo?

Overall, I think there’s some very useful and much needed tools in Turn The Ship Around. Is it the future of work? Not sure — but it’s certainly a far better approach than the traditional organisational structures of old.

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Everybody Experiences Imposter Syndrome — Strong Leaders Use it to Their Advantage

Do you ever secretly fear you’re in over your head at your job? If so you’re not alone. Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you don’t deserve to be where you are in life, and over 70% of the population has experienced it.

In 1938, John Steinbeck confessed to his diary “I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.” A year later, Grapes of Wrath was published, going on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Last week I stood up in front of all 250 FreshBooks employees and admitted that sometimes, I feel like a fraud.

In all likelihood, this was not what they expected to hear from their CEO. But it’s important to know you’re both leading and following people who sometimes feel like imposters. There’s an upside too: I really believe embracing these feelings of self-doubt can make you a better leader.

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Here are three ways imposter syndrome manifests and what to do about it:

1. You Feel Like a Fraud Because You Don’t Have All the Answers

Leaders will often find themselves in situations they’ve never encountered before. Even if they have the necessary skills to arrive at a solution, they may find themselves stumped when they don’t have easy answers at the ready.

What to Do About It: Think in Problems, Not Solutions

Hit the brakes! When faced with some unfamiliar slow down, spend more time articulating problems. Enumerating solutions before you are clear on the problem leads to poor results. Not to mention immediately trying to find a solution can be overwhelming and intimidating — especially when the self-doubt and inadequacy creep in.

Instead, think in problems: How did we get here? Why is the current solution not working? What are the characteristics of a good solution to this problem?

If you work your way through those questions, not only will you get a good grasp of the situation, you will be better equipped to recognize the right solution. Plus focusing on problem definition instead of solutions brings other benefits:

You can involve others in defining the problem, so you don’t feel alone Together, you and your team will be clear on the problem you want to solved You can uncover and address the root cause of the issue When ready, brainstorming solutions collaboratively creates buy-in for implementation

Don’t have an immediate solution? Don’t sweat it. Trust that you can lead your team toward solutions if you first think in problems.

2. You Begin to Doubt Your Own Ability

Second guessing that decision you made? Receive praise that you think is unwarranted? Mistrusting yourself is one of the most common feelings caused by imposter syndrome.

What to Do About It: Place Trust in Others & Build Team Spirit

While an outcome of imposter syndrome is mistrusting yourself, that same mistrust can make you more humble — a feeling I think is worth embracing. Humility is an important and often overlooked, leadership quality. Humble leaders tend to be more open to other’s opinions, and more willing to admit mistakes.

A leader who has all the answers doesn’t leave room for anyone else. And that can leave people feeling like their opinions don’t matter.

In contrast, great leaders are receptive to input from others, and transparent about their mistakes — which helps others learn from them, and builds trust among your team. When in doubt ask: “I don’t know, what do you think?”

3. What If These Feelings of Self Doubt Are Proven to be True?

If you’re living with the overwhelming feeling of being a fraud, chances are the fear of people discovering that you don’t know what the heck you’re doing is high up on your list.

What to Do About It: Acknowledge You Are an Imposter and Get Over the Fear of Making Mistakes

The fact is there are times when you probably are an imposter. As a self-employed professional you’ll do many things for the first time. But there’s no better way to learn than wrestling a new problem to the ground. And learning is something you should never expect to be “done” with. To keep growing and developing, embrace the fact that, yes, you sometimes are an imposter and you’ll definitely end up making some mistakes.

I’ve never been a CEO before, and I’ve never hidden the fact that I’ve made some mistakes along the way. Just like any small business owner, I’ve had to learn on the job as I went with both product and people.

Mistakes are a teacher in disguise. When the answer to something isn’t clear the only thing to do is give it your best guess, test that guess for a reliable amount of time, gather information and use this to inform the next best guess. Mistakes create a feedback loop in which information is evolved and knowledge is grown.

So, Imposter Syndrome is Actually an Opportunity in Disguise

I’m not here to convince you that you should enjoy feeling Imposter Syndrome. It’s not an enjoyable experience. But if you are committed to growing yourself and your career, you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. You need to commit to stretching beyond the repeated things that you’ve already done with great success.

Along the way, you’ll experience self-doubt, for sure. But learn to read this as a sign you’re pushing yourself in ways that can deliver great payoffs.

Trust me — this mindset is what separates good leaders from great ones.

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Your team doesn’t work for you. You work for them.

When I worked at Trilogy, one of my fellow managers seemed to have a brutal case of absenteeism. He was never at his desk. Even more concerning, when I did see him he seemed to be doing random things — talking to one person, going for coffee with another, or maybe just standing around and looking at people.

Yet his teams performed excellently. I wondered if luck bestowed him with a pack of A-players, enabling him get by doing nothing as a manager.

I thought he was hopeless, but then I discovered something powerful: he spent all his time helping people. Those ostensibly random activities were his way of unblocking his team and paving their way to success.

I changed my own behaviour. I started to work for my team and carried that practice throughout my career. Whether I manage five (as I did at first) or 300 (as I did at Xtreme Labs), I help people do their jobs. I volunteer for the unpopular jobs. When my people are blocked, I work as hard as I can to unblock them.

To an outsider, it might look like I’m doing nothing. But the value accruing to the company is tremendous. There are four main reasons:

Your people need a threshold level of responsibility to get creative Your people need missions and authority to reach peak productivity You are in the best position to unblock people This is how your people learn — and how you learn 1) Your people need a threshold level of responsibility to get creative “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” — Kurt Vonnegut

In order for someone to do her best work, she needs to feel and understand the problem. She’ll never grow wings if she’s never forced to fly.

The conflict and struggle of fixing one’s own problems is the key to creativity. This is why people should work for themselves and ask for help from managers when they need it. This is the opposite of what most people think (people work for managers and ask for help from below when they need it). As a manager, your job is to unblock people by getting your hands dirty, showing them who to ask for help, or asking for help a level up — from your own manager.

This way, the company benefits by having far more people working on creative solutions to problems. Command-and-control works for organizations like the army, but not for knowledge workers. You need each of your people to spread their wings.

2) Your people need missions and authority to reach peak productivity “You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” — Toni Morrison

Your people have to shed their chains to do good work. A typical manager might give her subordinate a task and micromanage until it looks like they want. I prefer to ask my people to build something that solves the pain.

For example, I asked one of our Helpful product designers, Novia, to help solve a pain: some users want to use the app but they won’t use their phones. The mission was to build web functionality for everything in our app. Her output looked nothing like I expected, but it was fantastic.

Roger Martin calls this the “Choice Cascade” — choices cascade down the org chart and fall to the people that actually do the work.

Missions alone, however, are not enough. Your people need to have the authority to accomplish their missions. Even if you think the output should look different, they need to be able to say “no.” Saying “no” is a skill, and like all other skills, it has to be nurtured. I encourage and reward people who defend their points of view.

For example, I gave Shawn, another Helpful product designer, a specific feature suggestions. When I didn’t see it in the app, I repeated it five more times. Eventually, I asked, “Why isn’t that in the product?” He replied, “I know you’ve told me many times, but I don’t agree with you.” He has the final say. I am just one voice.

3) You are in the best position to unblock people “In most cases you will have more context than I will about a [technical] decision, but come to me when you’re blocked and I’ll unblock you. That’s my job.”

As a manager, you understand who knows what, who’s done what, and who owns what. By virtue of that alone, you know how to get help for your people.

At Xtreme, I spent a lot of my time learning about people. This way, I could help people quickly. My team called me “air traffic control.” My task as air traffic control was to unblock people (making sure there were no crashes), but not micromanaging (how to fly the plane).

4) This is how your people learn — and how you learn “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” — Richard Branson

As a manager, your job is not to prevent people from making mistakes. Don’t worry about mistakes. In reality, there are extremely few catastrophic mistakes that people can make.

Your job is to set a tone that making mistakes is okay — as long as people learn from them. Make your own mistakes. Bring a mindset of learning to everything. Explicitly call it out: “I thought that X was right, but turns out I was wrong and Y is better.”

I learned that you have to be explicitly and emphatically advertise your own mistakes. At Pivotal, I once called someone by the wrong name and a colleague said, “Woah, you make mistakes!” I was floored, ”Do you think I never make mistakes?” My mistake was to not showcase my mistakes.

This helps people get rid of their fear — again unleashing autonomy and creativity.

Two Cautions 1. You can very sparingly say “no”

Success for a manager sometimes requires saying “no.” Some of your creative people will sometimes create output that just won’t jive (with other departments, with the company vision, or with other team members). Your duty to the company may require you to put a bullet in such projects. Do it quickly and without remorse. As a manager, you have to be decisive — your team will appreciate it. Just use your bullets wisely — saying “no” should never become a habit.

For example, I will not budge in my stance pair programming. I believe so strongly in the benefits of pairing that I simply will not allow engineers to code alone. I often say that, if you don’t like pair programming, you don’t have to work at Helpful.

2. Don’t create a leaning monolith

When you have large numbers of people all working to advance their mission, you increase the risk of colossal failure. They might build a huge monolith only to have it fail in an unexpected way. To mitigate this risk, be agile (ship, test, iterate).

At Helpful, everyone (not just our engineers) demos every Friday. This means nobody can work on something for more than a few days without another person seeing their output.

Friday demos also force people to think in terms of short-term output. It’s okay to demo something that’s broken, as long as it’s moving in the right direction each week. Be hard on the process, not the people.

Another way to avoid creating a monolith is to time box activities. For example, one of our Helpers wanted to create a new analytics report. I know that analytics can take a lot of time, so I said, “Sure, but don’t spend more than one day on it.” This forced him to hone in on the few most valuable metrics, create a lightweight report, and move on.

Conclusion: Your org chart is upside-down. Flip it.

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Make Your Company a Talent Factory

Despite all that is known about the importance of developing talent, and despite the great sums of money dedicated to systems and processes that support talent management, an astonishing number of companies still struggle to fill key positions—which puts a considerable constraint on their potential to grow. We conducted a survey of human resources executives from 40 companies around the world in 2005, and virtually all of them indicated that they had an insufficient pipeline of high-potential employees to fill strategic management roles.

The problem is that, while companies may have talent processes in place (97% of respondents said they have formal procedures for identifying and developing their next-generation leaders), those practices may have fallen out of sync with what the company needs to grow or expand into new markets. To save money, for example, some firms have eliminated the position of country manager in smaller nations. Since that role offers high-potential employees comprehensive exposure to a broad range of problems, however, the company’s initial savings may well be outweighed by the loss of development opportunities.

Even if a company’s practices and supporting technical systems are robust and up to date, talent management will fail without deep-seated commitment from senior executives. More than half the specialists who took part in our research had trouble keeping top leaders’ attention on talent issues. Senior line executives may vigorously assert that obtaining and keeping the best people is a major priority—but then fail to act on their words. Some managers still believe they can find talented employees by paying a premium or by using the best executive recruiters, while others are distracted by competing priorities. Passion must start at the top and infuse the corporate culture; otherwise, talent management processes can easily deteriorate into bureaucratic routines.

The challenge of filling key positions has, in a sense, crept up on businesses, many of which used to view development almost as an employee benefit. Today, demographic shifts—notably, the impending retirement of baby boomers—along with changing business conditions, such as significant growth in largely unfamiliar markets, like China, have combined to produce something of a perfect storm. Leadership development has become a much more strategic process, and faulty processes and executive inattention now carry a tangible cost. We’ve attended multiple executive committee meetings where companies have been forced to pass on hundreds of millions of dollars of new business because they didn’t have the talent to see their growth strategies through to fruition. One London-based real estate finance and development firm, for instance, was gearing up for a major reconstruction job in Berlin—an effort that would represent not only a €500 million boost in revenues over two years, but also an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of many other projects in that part of the world. When the executive committee reviewed the list of people who might be ready to take on such an assignment, the CEO noticed that the same names appeared as the only candidates for other critical efforts under consideration. And when he asked his business unit heads for additional prospects, he was told that there weren’t any. The firm’s growth strategy hinged on these projects, but the company had failed to groom people to lead them. 

Demographic shifts—notably, the impending retirement of baby boomers—and changing business conditions have combined to produce something of a perfect storm.

Some companies, by contrast, face the future with confidence because they don’t just manage talent, they build what we call “talent factories.” In other words, they marry functionality, rigorous talent processes that support strategic and cultural objectives, and vitality, emotional commitment by management that is reflected in daily actions. This allows them to develop and retain key employees and fill positions quickly to meet evolving business needs. 

Mapping Functionality and Vitality



Consider, for example, how one talent factory, consumer products icon Procter & Gamble, found a leader for a burgeoning joint venture with an entrepreneur in Saudi Arabia. The role required someone with emerging markets experience, who had worked in other countries and in the laundry detergent business, and who was ready and willing to relocate on short notice to Saudi Arabia. For most companies’ HR departments, finding and hiring such a senior manager would entail protracted dialogue with internal and external candidates and might well end in failure. P&G, however, searched its global database of talent profiles and came up with five very strong potential candidates in just a few minutes. In the end, they found just the right fit, and the new manager was fully on board three months after the start of the search.

In this article, we look at the people processes in two talent factories: Procter & Gamble and financial services giant HSBC Group. We selected these companies because even though they approach talent management from slightly different directions, both illustrate the power of a twin focus on functionality and vitality. P&G has established a plethora of elaborate systems and processes to deploy talent; HSBC has worked mightily to incorporate talent processes into the firm’s DNA. Both companies can claim a free-flowing pipeline of current and future leaders.

Functionality: Effective Execution

Functionality refers to the processes themselves, the tools and systems that allow a company to put the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time, as P&G did in Saudi Arabia. Good design isn’t just a matter of technical excellence; clearly linking processes to the company’s objectives is equally important. In particular, processes should support most CEOs’ top concerns: driving performance and creating an effective climate. 

So, for example, after years of growth through acquisition, HSBC in 2002 shifted its strategy to focus on organic growth. The goal was to strengthen local resources in multiple geographies for the firm’s increasingly global customers. Achieving this objective required an accompanying cultural shift, since HSBC had always operated as a confederation of fiercely independent, stand-alone businesses. As part of the move, the bank committed to a new brand promise: to be “the world’s local bank,” guaranteeing the availability of a local resource for customers, wherever they do business. Stephen K. Green, HSBC’s chair, views performance and climate as inextricably linked: “If we don’t create the proper climate internally and live up to our brand promise, we won’t be able to achieve our strategic objective—managing for growth.”

To develop local talent while maintaining global standards, HSBC centrally designed its human resources practices and policies but built in some flexibility to accommodate local variations. The firm now has companywide processes for assessment, recruiting, performance and career management, and leadership development, but local offices can adapt them (within limits) to their own resource capabilities and cultural requirements. When making assessments, for example, each office must choose at least two from a menu of tools, such as psychometric tests, individual interviews that probe people’s aspirations, and 360-degree feedback. They must also use a standard rating scale and include performance data from the most recent three years. This way the company can ensure a degree of objectivity and establish a common measurement language across all the businesses and locations.

To help instill a global mind-set, HSBC created a system of talent pools that track and manage the careers of high-potentials within the firm. After those employees have been identified, they are assigned to regional or business unit talent pools, which are managed by local human resources and business unit leaders. Employees in these pools are then selected initially for new assignments within their region or line of business and, over time, are given positions that cross boundaries. They are viewed as having the potential to reach a senior management role in a region or a business. Managers of the pools then single out people to recommend for the group talent pool, which represents the most senior cadre of general managers and is administered centrally. These managers are considered to have the potential to reach the senior executive level in three to five years and top management in the longer term.


Leaders maintain talent relationship dialogues with members of each pool, in face-to-face conversations where possible, to address their development needs and concerns. In new relationships, the dialogues are time intensive and available to the employee on demand; in established relationships, the conversations tend to occur two to four times a year, as needed. The aim is to structure a set of experiences that leads to a deep knowledge of all aspects of the business as well as an understanding of the many different cultural environments in which HSBC operates.

In fact, people are told that if they want to reach the highest levels of management they must expect to work in at least two very different cultural environments. The number of people making such moves has increased exponentially over the past few years. “We have a Brazilian working with one of our affiliates in China, our insurance affiliate,” Green told us. “We have an Armenian working in India in the IT function, a Turk working in New York. There are…hundreds and hundreds of examples of this.” Green acknowledges that this approach is expensive—it’s nearly always cheaper to fill a role with someone local—but considers it a vital investment in achieving the firm’s global goals.

HSBC is still tweaking the process. The bank learned, for instance, that assessing each employee on a scale of one to five was demoralizing for some people, so it modified the process to rate only people in the top two levels of some areas. Feedback for the rest is framed in terms of development needs and support, rather than “you haven’t made it into a talent pool.” This change takes into account early-stage career development, which entails gaining a certain amount of expertise before a person is ready to advance.

HSBC also learned that, talent pools notwithstanding, leaders of the local units still behaved as princes of their domains—they weren’t connecting across units in ways that would benefit the firm overall. In short, the model of international teamwork was still more an aspiration than an operating principle. To close this gap between aspiration and reality, HSBC resolved conflicts in its reward system and took steps to build relationships on a more personal basis. So, for example, the top executive team launched what it called collective-management conferences, where employees could learn about the company’s strategic objectives and operations around the world—another way to help people feel like part of an organization that extends beyond their own unit or locale. Each conference is attended by about 40 senior managers, who have been nominated by their country, functional, or customer group leader because they’ve demonstrated a potential for growth and because their roles have policy implications across the enterprise.

These meetings, which are held twice per year, have become a vehicle for senior people in the company to share knowledge and ideas across corporate borders and customer groups. During one conference, the general manager for Mexico told his colleagues how he managed to rebrand a recent acquisition, Grupo Financiero Bital, literally overnight. His story shed light on the value of collaborating across company boundaries. At another gathering, one of HSBC’s senior executives explained how acquiring the U.S. firm Household International gave the organization much deeper capabilities in customer analytics and buying behavior. During yet another meeting, a couple of general managers explained how they built on their preexisting relationship to ease the transfer of a client from commercial banking to private banking. (In the past, the client would have been jealously guarded because his profitability would have been attributed to whichever group “owned” that customer.) After each conference, participants are asked to commit to doing one or two things differently to strengthen the firm’s collaboration capabilities. 

The company also established networks across countries, so that, for instance, the head of personal financial services in Hong Kong knows her counterpart in Mumbai, in Mexico City, in São Paulo, in Vancouver. These networks allow executives to participate in important virtual meetings on a regular basis for each line of business and provide them with opportunities to gather face-to-face in occasional off-site meetings.

Like HSBC, Procter & Gamble has tied its talent management processes to its strategy for growth, which means a focus on winning in the emerging markets of China, India, Latin America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. The company is building what amounts to a global talent supply-chain management process, coordinated worldwide but executed locally. Hiring and promotions are the responsibility of local managers, but high-potential prospects and key stretch assignments are identified globally. 


Assessing Your Company’s Overall Capability To get a sense of your company’s current capability, rate its strength on a scale of one to ten in the following areas. Then, write down one thing you will do to address any weakness. Your ratings will give you an idea of the areas you need to focus on.1. Do you know what skills your company needs to execute its growth objectives?What will you do to strengthen your company’s capability in this area?2. Does your company have a process for identifying, assessing, and developing its next generation of leaders in all its businesses and regions?What will you do to strengthen your company’s capability in this area?3. Do you have specific development plans for your high-potential leaders? What will you do to strengthen your company’s capability in this area?4. Are you able to deploy the right people when emerging opportunities arise, quickly and without significant disruption to other parts of your organization? What will you do to strengthen your company’s capability in this area?5. Do you have diverse and plentiful pools of talented employees who are ready, willing, and able to be deployed to new opportunities at the technical, managerial, and leadership levels of your organization? What will you do to strengthen your company’s capability in this area?6. Do you have a diverse and plentiful pool of leaders who are capable of moving into your organization’s most senior executive roles? What will you do to strengthen your company’s capability in this area?7. Do you offer managers and executives developmental experiences specifically aimed at preparing them for the unique challenges of leading large, complex, global organizations? What will you do to strengthen your company’s capability in this area?8. Have you, as a leader, used words and deeds to unequivocally demonstrate that you are fully committed to developing talent globally in your company? What will you do to strengthen your company’s capability in this area?9. Would the people around you consider you actively engaged in your company’s talent management initiatives? What will you do to strengthen your company’s capability in this area?10. Do you hold your managers and leaders accountable for identifying and developing talent in their businesses, functions, and regions?What will you do to strengthen your company’s capability in this area?

New hires tend to be local talent. Line managers in China, for instance, hire Chinese recruits. That’s been the case for some time, but it used to be that key corporate roles in emerging markets went to expatriates. Now, local hires are considered growth prospects for the firm; those Chinese recruits are expected to become managers in that market. Key stretch assignments and senior positions, however, are managed globally, at the executive level. The emphasis on hiring nationals translates into a diverse pool of leadership talent for the entire corporation, especially at more senior levels: At the geography and country leader level, there are almost 300 executives who come from 36 countries, and 50% are from outside the United States. The top 40 executives come from 12 different nations, and 45% are from outside the United States. As high-potential employees advance, they move through a portfolio of senior-level jobs that are categorized according to strategic challenges, size of the business, and complexity of the market. Leadership positions for businesses or countries are earmarked for either novice or experienced general managers. A relatively small country-manager position—in Taiwan, for instance—is considered appropriate for first-time general managers. Such assignments then set up the incumbents for placement in larger countries, like Italy or Brazil, which in turn can lead to roles in clusters of countries, such as Eastern Europe or the United Kingdom. Those last roles then become springboards or crucibles for leaders who demonstrate the potential to become senior executives.

P&G offers formal training and development programs and sometimes sends managers to external executive education programs. The lion’s share of development, however, takes place on the job, with the immediate manager’s support and help from mentors and teammates. A typical marketing manager, for example, will have worked with a number of different brands over a period of time. A finance manager will have gone through various assignments, ranging from financial analysis to treasury to auditing to accounting. Most managers are also placed on important multifunctional task forces or project teams from time to time. New postings and task force participation are expected to challenge employees, and they signal to managers that P&G will always offer new opportunities.

Consider the career progression of Daniela Riccardi, who has been with the company for 22 years. She started as an assistant brand manager in Italy, where she stayed for six years, advancing to brand manager. A three-year stint in Belgium as a marketing manager for cleansers and bleach followed. She then spent seven years in three Latin American countries, holding the positions of marketing director, general manager, and vice president of ever-larger divisions. From there, she became a vice president of Eastern Europe, and in 2005, she was promoted to her current position—President, Greater China. When the development of a career like Riccardi’s has to be managed across business units and countries, the planning process is led collaboratively from the center by the company’s CEO, A.G. Lafley; the vice chairs; the global HR officer; and the global leaders of the various functions for their people. All this is done in partnership with the president and human resources manager at both ends of the reassignment.

People and positions are tracked in a technology-based talent management system that is sufficiently robust to accommodate all the company’s more than 135,000 employees but is primarily used to track 13,000 middle- and upper-management employees. The system captures information about succession planning at the country, business category, and regional levels; includes career histories and capabilities, as well as education and community affiliations; identifies top talent and their development needs; and tracks diversity. It also makes in-house talent visible to business leaders, who no longer have to scour the company to find candidates by themselves. To keep the systems relevant, P&G has instituted a global talent review—a process by which every country, every function, and every business is assessed for its capacity to find, develop, deploy, engage, and retain skilled people, in light of specific performance objectives. For example, if the company has stated diversity hiring objectives, the review is used to audit diversity in hiring and promotions. Determinations made in these reviews are captured in a global automated talent development system and can be accessed by decision makers through their HR managers.

The company also pays close attention to the effectiveness of its recruiting processes. P&G interviewers record detailed assessments of each candidate and assign them a quantitative score, using uniform criteria. The company then regularly assesses performance against the baseline set during the interviews. P&G also evaluates the success rate of its key promotions, using quantitative and qualitative measures that cover a three-year period. Managers who improve the business and its capabilities are deemed “successful”; the company has a success rate that exceeds 90%. When derailments occur, P&G conducts a thorough “lessons learned” review. 

  Vitality: The Secret Weapon

If functionality is about focusing your company’s talent management processes to produce certain outcomes, vitality is about the attitudes and mind-sets of the people responsible for those processes—not just in human resources but throughout the line, all the way to the top of the organization. Unlike processes, which can with some effort be copied by competitors, passion is very difficult to duplicate. Nevertheless, there are measures that companies can take to build it into their cultures. Our research shows that the vitality of a company’s talent management processes is a product of three defining characteristics: commitment, engagement, and accountability. 

Unlike processes, which can be copied by competitors, passion is very difficult to duplicate. Nevertheless, there are measures that companies can take to build it into their cultures.

Fostering commitment.

P&G hires and develops people through a set of principles—such as the rules to hire at entry level and build from within—that are specifically designed to foster commitment. While people typically have long careers with the company, the average age for all employees is only 39; 38 for all managers. More than half the organization has been with P&G for less than five years. That’s because the company constantly pumps in new talent and has integrated huge numbers of people through its acquisitions of Clairol, Gillette, and Wella. So, even with the relatively low attrition rate of 7.5% (including retirements), more junior managers are always coming in. P&G hires 90% of its entry-level managers straight from universities and grows their careers over time. (The relative youth of the workforce may also reflect that this approach often allows for retirement earlier than usual.) All the vice chairs and corporate officers either joined the company from universities or arrived via acquisitions. Lafley himself joined P&G right out of Harvard Business School and, over the subsequent 25-plus years, went through numerous assignments before becoming CEO.

To gain commitment early, the company also established a college intern program that offers the chance to assume real responsibility by working on important projects with the full resources of the company. Extensive intern programs can be a drain on an organization because of the time that managers must spend sponsoring, coaching, and advising the interns. P&G, however, converts former interns to full-time employees at a percentage well above that of most competitors, so the company is compensated for its investment with high-quality hires who can hit the ground running. It also assigns interns to multifunctional teams that work on business and organizational issues and present solutions to the CEO and senior management sponsors. The company often ends up implementing the suggestions those teams come up with. One of the four ideas presented in 2006, for instance, may result in accelerating the launch of a new brand; two other projects have been partially implemented.

At HSBC, commitment to talent is personified by Green, who explains, “There is nothing more important than getting this right…all the way from intake through the most influential senior positions.” Line executives participate directly in the process, partnering with the central and regional HR functions to fill important positions.

Building engagement.

Engagement reflects the degree to which company leaders show their commitment to the details of talent management. P&G engages employees in their own career development the day they start with the company. They work with their hiring managers to plot moves that will build what the company calls “career development currency.” For high-potentials, P&G identifies “destination jobs,” which are attainable only if the employee continues to perform, impress, and demonstrate growth potential. The purpose is to view job assignments through a career development lens. For instance, a manager whose destination job is to become a president of one of P&G’s seven regions will go through assignments in different locations to acquire international experience and work in a global business unit with responsibility for a major product category.

University recruiting is a line-led activity at P&G, and many senior managers personally lead campus teams at top universities around the world. These executives are held accountable for hiring only graduates with outstanding track records in both academic and nonacademic performance (such as summer jobs, clubs, and entrepreneurial activities). To bolster ties with these institutions, the campus team leaders also fund research, make technology gifts, participate in the classroom, and judge case study competitions.

As for HSBC, a conversation with Green makes his engagement immediately clear. Green has a remarkable knowledge of the company’s day-to-day people processes and can speak at length about how the company approaches recruitment, where managers are deployed, how their careers are progressing, and what they will need to do to continue advancing. Down through the ranks, line engagement in talent management is ensured by specific policies and practices, such as the requirement that each unit have a talent implementation strategy. These plans explicitly link a unit’s growth objectives to its people development, so the company won’t be surprised by any deficits. Barbara Simpson, HSBC’s group head of talent, works closely with each unit to develop its proposal and presents the aggregated plans to the group head office, highlighting any gaps in talent to meet the firm’s growth objectives. This process keeps talent management high on the agendas of line and corporate leaders and prevents them from getting distracted by seemingly more pressing problems. What’s more, talent management, succession planning, international moves, and senior-executive development are standing agenda items at meetings of business executive committees and the group’s board.

The bank fosters engagement in new hires by sending them to the United Kingdom for a seven-week training program, typically in groups of 30 to 40, whose members represent about 20 nations. At these sessions, held several times a year, new employees have a chance not just to meet one another and members of the leadership team—Green or his most senior colleagues spend some time with them—but also to share their own ideas about the bank. 

Ensuring accountability.

Talent factories hold all stakeholders (including talented employees themselves) accountable for doing their part to make systems and processes robust. At P&G, Lafley claims ownership for career planning of all the general managers and vice presidents and for the talent pools that comprise what he refers to as the company’s “top 16s”: P&G’s preeminent 16 markets, 16 customers, and 16 brands. He reviews the top talent assignment and succession plans for each business and region annually. Along with the company’s vice chairs and presidents, he personally sponsors and teaches all the leadership development courses for the company’s most senior 300 leaders, signaling that talent management is both a leadership responsibility and a core business process. All of P&G’s managers and executives understand that they will be held accountable for identifying and developing the firm’s current and future leaders. They are evaluated and compensated on their contributions to building organizational competence, not just on their performance.

HSBC’s Green holds his group management board, which comprises about a dozen executives, accountable for the company’s talent pools. Each member is responsible for a region, a customer group, or a product. Members oversee the list of people in their own business in the regional talent pool as well and select managers for the group pool. 

Any company aiming to grow—and, in particular, to grow on the global stage—has little hope of achieving its goals without the ability to put the right people on the ground, and fast.

Executives are also held accountable for maintaining honesty in the talent management process, which is easier said than done, says Green. “We’ve had people who got into talent pools who shouldn’t have. You can either let it ride, or you have that hard conversation saying, ‘Sorry, this wasn’t right,’ or ‘You were a legitimate member of the talent pool but you started to coast and lost it a bit.’ You don’t do people a favor by being nice all the time.”

Leaders have long said that people are their companies’ most important assets, but making the most of them has acquired a new urgency. Any company aiming to grow—and, in particular, to grow on the global stage—has little hope of achieving its goals without the ability to put the right people on the ground, and fast. Companies apply focus and drive toward capital, information technology, equipment, and world-class processes, but in the end, it’s the people who matter most.

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How to Stop Micromanaging Your Team

Micromanaging is a hard habit to break. You may downplay your propensities by labeling yourself a “control freak” or by claiming that you just like to keep close tabs on your team, but those are poor excuses for excessive meddling. What can you do to give your people the space they need to succeed and learn? How should you prioritize what matters? And how do you get comfortable stepping back?

What the Experts Say
If you’re the kind of boss who lasers in on details, prefers to be cc’ed on emails, and is rarely satisfied with your team’s work, then—there’s no kind way to say this—you’re a micromanager. “For the sake of your team, you need to stop,” says Muriel Maignan Wilkins, coauthor of Own the Room and managing partner of Paravis Partners, an executive coaching and leadership development firm. “Micromanaging dents your team’s morale by establishing a tone of mistrust—and it limits your team’s capacity to grow,” she says. It also hampers your ability to focus on what’s really important, adds Karen Dillon, author of the HBR Guide to Office Politics. “If your mind is filled with the micro-level details of a number of jobs, there’s no room for big picture thoughts,” she says. As hard as it may be to change your ways, the “challenge is one that will pay off in the long run,” says Jennifer Chatman, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “There may be a few failures as your team learns to step up, but ultimately they will perform much, much better with greater accountability and less interference.” Here are some pointers on how to let go.

Reflect on your behavior
The first step is to develop an awareness of why you micromanage. “You need to understand where this is coming from,” says Dillon. “Most likely it’s because of some insecurity—you’re afraid it will reflect badly on you if your team doesn’t do something exactly the way you would do it or you’re worried you’ll look out of touch if you’re not immersed in the details, so you overcompensate,” she says. Wilkins recommends “asking yourself: what excuses am I using to micromanage?” Common justifications include: “It will save time if I do it myself.” Or “Too much is at stake to allow this to go wrong.” She advises focusing on “the reasons why you should not micromanage”—it’s bad for your team as they don’t learn and grow—“and the benefits you’d derive if you stopped,” chiefly more time to do your own job.

Get feedback
“Often there is a significant disconnect between what leaders intend and what the team is actually experiencing,” says Chatman. You may merely suspect you have a problem while your team members are already annoyed by your constant hovering “Feedback is essential to see how significant the issue is.” To get a handle on what your direct reports really thinkand whether it lines up with your intentions, she recommends “undertaking a cross-evaluation assessment.” Gather confidential data from your people—or better yet, have a third party do it—and aggregate those results so employees know you can’t find out exactly who said what. What you hear may be sobering, “but it’s critical to understanding the broader patterns and reactions and the impact [your micromanaging has] on your team,” she says.

Prioritize what matters—and what doesn’t
“A good manager trains and delegates,” says Dillon, and you can’t do that if you’re taking on everything—regardless of how important the task is—yourself. Start by determining what work is critical for you to be involved in (e.g. strategic planning) and what items are less important (e.g. proofreading the presentation). Wilkins suggests looking at your to do list “to determine which low-hanging fruit you can pass on to a team member.” You should also highlight the priorities on your list, meaning “the big ticket items where you truly add value,” and ensure you are “spending most of your energy” on those, she adds. Remember, says Chatman, “Micromanaging displaces the real work of leaders, which is developing and articulating a compelling and strategically relevant vision for your team.”


Talk to your team
Once you’ve determined your priorities, the next step is communicating them to your team, says Dillon. “Have a conversation about the things that really matter to you—the things that they’ll need to seek your guidance and approval on—so your direct reports can get ahead of your anxiety,” she says. Tell them how you’d like to be kept in the loop and how often they should provide status updates. “Be explicit with your direct reports about the level of detail you will engage in,” adds Wilkins. At the same time, enlist their help in making sure you don’t fall back into your old micromanaging ways. Chatman suggests: “Tell them you are trying to work on this” and ask targeted questions such as: How can I help you best? Are there things I can do differently? Are our overall objectives clear to you and do you feel you have the support and resources to accomplish them?

Step back slowly
Fighting your micromanaging impulses might be hard at first so pull back slowly. You need to get comfortable, too. “Do a test run on a project that is a bit less urgent and give your team full accountability and see how it goes,” Chatman says. “Recognize that your way is not the only, or even necessarily, the best way.” The acid test of leadership, she says, “is how well the team does when you’re gone.” Another way to ease out of micromanaging is to discretely seek feedback from other coworkers about how your team is operating, says Dillon. “Ask a colleague you trust: ‘How’s that project going?’” The answer will provide valuable information, says Dillon. “You may feel better knowing that everything is fine, or you may realize you pulled back too much.” In the latter case, you need to “find a way [to support the work] that doesn’t involve peering over your employees’ shoulders.”

Build trust
Because your team members are used to you not trusting them, they may want to come to you for approval before taking charge of a project. “Acknowledge this is a growth opportunity for the person and say that you know in your heart of hearts he or she will rise to the challenge,” says Dillon. This is more than a pep talk. You’re in effect “giving your employee the psychological power to lead.” Making sure your team members know you trust them and have faith in their abilities is actually “very simple,” says Wilkins. “Tell them so. Say, ‘I fully trust you can make this decision.’” And then, “walk the talk,” she says. Don’t excessively scrutinize. Don’t insist on being cc’d on every email. And don’t renege on your vote of confidence. “Let them do it and don’t back pedal and change everything they did.”

And if things don’t go exactly as you’d like, try your hardest not to overact. Take a breath; go for a walk; do whatever you need to do to come “back from that agitated micro-managerial moment,” says Dillon. After all, does it really matter if the memo isn’t formatted exactly to your liking? “For most things, nothing is so bad it can’t be corrected.”

Know your employees’ limitations
“Some people will over correct by pulling away too much; but it’s smart to give appropriate support,” says Dillon. “Talk about how you will help them problem solve and how you’ll support them” even if you’re not deeply involved in a particular project or task. At the same time, keeping a closer eye on certain projects or certain employees is sometimes warranted, she adds. If “your report is junior,” say, or “not yet ready to be trusted,” you will need to keep close tabs on her work. Similarly, says Wilkins, “when the deliverable is urgent and high stakes” it may make sense to intervene or ask to be kept regularly apprised of things. “In this case, it’s helpful if you explain to the person why you are being so hands on,” she says. “You should also give feedback to the employee and coach them, so they can complete the task on their own over time.”

Principles to Remember


Ask yourself why you micromanage and reflect on your need for control Refine your to do list by prioritizing the tasks and projects that matter most to you Talk to your team about how you’d like to be kept apprised of their progress


Renege on your vote of confidence—tell your reports you trust them and let them do their jobs Overact when things don’t go exactly as you’d like them to—take a breath and figure out a way to correct the situation if it’s truly necessary Go too far—you don’t want to become a hands-off boss

Case Study #1: Clarify your priorities
Jordan Fliegel, the founder and CEO, of CoachUp—the Boston-based startup that connects athletes with private coaches, learned to deal with his micromanaging tendencies after a bad experience early in the life of his company.

It was fall 2013—CoachUp’s second year of business. The company’s summer interns had completed a big blogging project, and CoachUp’s content team was responsible for editing the posts and tagging them for maximal search engine optimization. Given that the company was experimenting with blogs for the first time and the fact that Jordan is a formidable writer in his own right, he says he “felt attached to the project.”

The content team, however, was not moving fast enough on the project. He figured it would be easier and faster if he did it himself. “I took me three weekends to finish the work.”

When he presented the completed product to his team, his employees responded with a mixture of annoyance and puzzlement. “Their reaction was, was this really the most important or high-impact thing you could have been doing with your time? And, if you really thought this project was that important you should have told us,” he recalls.

Jordan understood that by completing the project he had, in effect, been doing other people’s jobs—which is a sure way to “undermine their creativity and drive,” he says.

He now knows to be more explicit about his reasons when he’s delegating certain tasks. “I realize that if I want something to get done, I need to explain the context and the return on investment to the team,” he says. “If there’s pushback—meaning that the team disagrees that it should be a priority—there can be a debate. But I shouldn’t shy away from saying what I think needs to get done.”

He attributes his earlier meddling to his newbie CEO status. “I hadn’t had a lot of experience managing people at that point,” he says. “And as the founder, I was used to doing everything myself. It was hard to let go. When it’s your business—your baby—you want to be involved.”

Today, Jordan is much more hands-off and tries to focus on “working on the business and not in it.”

Case Study #2: Explain why you’re being hands on
Mike Faith, the founder and CEO of Headsets.com, the San Francisco-based headset supplier, says that sometimes micromanaging can be a necessary part of leadership—especially when it comes to training new hires. “I’ve come to the conclusion based on experience that I need to stay close to new employees early on to give encouragement, correction, and learning,” he says. “I can’t let the fear of being called a micromanager prevent me from staying close at first.”


Mike is explicit about his management style with new recruits. “It’s important that they know what to expect. I tell them ‘I am going to check in with you early and often’ and then I follow through and do just that. Once they reach a level of confidence and competence, I am more comfortable pulling back.”

This policy occasionally applies to longtime executives, too. Recently, Mike and his VP of Marketing embarked on a big new project related to how Headsets.com handles online advertising. His VP will handle the day-to-day operations of the project, but Mike has a keen interest in its progress. “I told him that for now, we’re going to stay close to each other and learn as we go. I will be checking in with him daily, and I want him to be checking in with me,” he says.

Mike told his VP that the constant need for status updates wouldn’t be required forever. “I told him that once we get the hang of it and we’re hitting our numbers, we’ll check in with each other monthly or just as needed. There is no perfect recipe or perfect formula,” he says.

Mike also offered his support. “I told him that I had confidence he can do it,” he says. “I said: ‘We are going to try our damndest, and I’ve got your back.”

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How to Handle a Boss Who Doesn't Think Highly of You

One of the most disheartening things that can happen at the work place is having a boss who makes life difficult for you.

The scenario where you’ve got the perfect job that aligns with your notion of an ideal work profile. You have a smooth arrangement of a bunch of co-operative colleagues and also receive satisfying compensation. Everything is simply great. However, you’re doomed with an immediate supervisor or boss who is patronizing in his ways. This one aspect makes everything else that’s going great go for a complete toss.

It breeds negativity, derails performance and once it escalates to insufferable levels, ends with you wanting to file your resignation letter. However, reaching that point and exiting the job is not at all a wise call since finding an ideal mix of all other factors is not that straight forward.  It makes sense to rather take steps to mend the issue and re-establish a professional work environment.

In case you’re suffering from this problem, let go of the stress since you’re not the only one. This is a very rampant workplace issue and the good part is that it can be fixed with little effort and tact. It’s just important to recognize and take control of this before it gets out of hand.

Here are the three best ways to handle the above workplace commonality.

Introspect & Empathize

Anuj Tiwari, a bestselling novelist, TedX Speaker and receiver of several national and international awards shared from his early corporate experience, a great thought on overcoming work place condescension. He emphasized on the importance of practicing empathy for seniors at the workplace.

“Sometimes the problem is not necessarily with the other individual, but something that we might have unknowingly created or caused.  So it’s very important to introspect and analyze our own behavior and see if we’re making a fundamental mistake, such as not meeting the expected targets, which the boss on the other side of the table has the right to be annoyed by,” says Tiwari and further suggests, “Leadership and Management always look for figures and numbers because they have multiple tasks to work on. So as an individual, you have to be good with justifying with the data and think with respect to the organization.”

We need to put the organizational interests on the highest pedestal and judge the boss’s behavior & expectations from that perspective.

He adds, “You will get millions of reasons to complain about your boss but you need to find one reason to push yourself a little to do more. You'll be happy. You just need to understand their perspective. “

So looking inward should be the first step. In case one still feels that his/ her boss’s behavior is not justified, direct communication should be the way forward.

Be Open to Communication 

One of the best ways to handle the condescension of a boss is to tactfully engage in direct communication. Silence and frustration only aggravates the problem. Systematic and planned communication instead resolves it.

Entrepreneur India also spoke to Farzana Suri, victory coach for senior management and individuals across reputed companies. Suri points out, “Workplace bullying can be handled in different ways depending on your personality type. The assertive type may want to get confrontational and the timid may prefer to take a milder route.

According to her, there are 3 ways one can handle this depending on his/ her personality type.

1.  “If you are the assertive type, when the boss belittles you, you can ask sweetly, "Hey is something I'm doing bothering you? I notice you seem to be picking on most of the tasks I'm assigned. Do tell me, so I know."

She says she’s applied this herself and realized that doing so puts the boss in a very awkward position and most of the times, they end up toning down their behavior.

2. “If you are the timid sort, reach out to the higher ups or the human resource department, but be sure to keep a record of all your achievements and testimonials from co-workers and clients as evidence of your work.”

It is important to note the need to lay out one’s own credibility before pointing out anybody else’s mistake.

3. Lastly, incase this behavior still continues, she recommends,“Seek a private meeting and tell your boss that in no uncertain terms will you tolerate the specific behavior. Assert that you have a right to a professional environment at work. Make sure to specify the change in behavior you desire from him/her. Let them know that bullying and belittling you displays their weakness. Sometimes, they may not be aware of their own behavior.”

Initiating small steps consistently towards building relations can sometimes mend the most difficult dynamics with ease, undo any damage of the past and ensure continued harmony.

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This is Why People Leave Your Company

When Carly Guthrie was running HR for Per Se, one of the hottest restaurants in New York, the General Manager gave her a piece of advice: “You know, Carly,” he said. “If we’re doing our job as leaders, a performance review should only be two columns: Column A is what you do great and Column B is what you do not-so-great. Now, here’s how we move things from Column B to Column A.”

This approach stuck with Guthrie as she left the restaurant world to head up people operations for tech companies. It shocked her that these types of candid conversations were hardly ever happening, and people left as a result. “There’s a mercenary mentality in tech right now — an idea that there’s always going to be something hotter, faster, more groundbreaking,” she says. “And yet, there’s very little internal discussion about how to keep people.”

Guthrie has been watching employees take and leave jobs for over 15 years. Turns out, the reasons people love and hate their work are largely the same across sectors. Step one to retention: Understanding why and how it fails. In this exclusive interview, Guthrie shares what she’s learned about why people quit, and what startups can do after an employee’s first day to make sure they stay happy, engaged in their work, and committed to your company (and to deleting every email they are most certainly receiving from recruiters).


You don’t respect their time.

In Guthrie’s experience, employees will follow up with recruiters and other job offers if they're even slightly angry, bored or dissatisfied. “Usually the hours are wearing on them or their spouse is on their case because they’re never home,” she says. “A really good CEO thinks about the bigger picture and realizes people have lives outside of work. That’s the number one way to prevent people from feeling like they might want to be somewhere else.”

But it’s easier than you think to be thoughtless. For example, Guthrie has seen countless companies throw weekly happy hours that start at 4:30 p.m. every Friday. The result: People feel like they have to stay until 6 to be a good co-worker, then they get a slow jump on traffic, they get home later and they’re tired, when they really want to just go do their own thing. “Just moving the happy hour to Thursday would show a tremendous amount of awareness and make people feel that much better about the company and leadership,” she says.

On the flipside, there are many companies that like to emphasize their rigorous hours by hosting early-bird staff meetings on Monday mornings. Guthrie has seen these get as early as 7:30 a.m. “No one wants a Monday meeting at 7:30 a.m. No one. This forces people with kids to juggle like crazy to get them to school on time. And even if you don’t have kids, you want to get the most out of your weekend. You don’t want to go to bed early every Sunday.” Even if you don’t mean it, this kind of practice communicates that you don’t really care about employees as people.

From 5 p.m. on Friday to 9 a.m. on Monday should be people's own time, not the company's.

It should be people’s choice to work on the weekends or not. When you provide this level of freedom, it makes it that much more reasonable to say, “I’m going to ask the sun and stars from you the rest of the time.” If you’re worried that your startup needs to move faster than that, consider the following:

1) People who love their job and the company will work all the time anyway. If you’ve hired good fits, you’ll see this happen.

2) People do better work when they have lives of their own. “That’s not always a popular opinion, but I’ve seen how true it is over and over again,” says Guthrie. “It’s not just people with kids or spouses. Everybody has a community outside of the office. So few employers respect that — if you make it a point to, that will bind your employees closer to you.”

Some companies are beginning to take these best practices a step further and mandate one or two weeks of vacation time without access to company email or tools. That’s right, literally turn their email off for the duration of their vacation.

“It’s not punitive, it’s for good employees. You can remove the worry from spending time with your family or traveling abroad.” But what if something goes awry? “We’re all adults, we can problem solve,” says Guthrie. While this strategy might not work at the earliest stage, if you’re large enough, it shows a deep respect for an employee’s time. For most employees, “Time is more important than things.”

Employees usually don’t leave because of their boss.

There’s a persistent trope in the HR world that the main reason people leave is because they don’t get along with their manager. Despite its prevalence in the corporate zeitgeist, “That’s actually pretty rare,” says Guthrie. Generally, almost everyone gets a sense of mismatched chemistry during the hiring process. If someone leaves because of their boss, that’s a failure in the company’s hiring process — an employee didn’t get enough exposure to their boss during the process, or alternatively, if there’s a history of subordinates leaving, their boss was the bad hire in the first place.

There is, however, one big reason employees may leave on account of their manager: Loss of confidence — in them or the company. “Let’s say you’ve had a couple of pivots and you just don’t believe in the company or concept anymore. You lose confidence in the marketability or leadership,” says Guthrie. A company’s leadership needs to be aware of these potential undercurrents in their organization, and should deal with them head on. Otherwise, your best and brightest will be on the lookout for opportunities to jump ship.

If you’re making a counter-offer, you’ve probably already lost.

Often, to prevent brain drain, a startup will make a counteroffer to someone who says they might depart. But at that point, the battle for that employee is pretty much over anyway. “When you tell an employer you’re leaving, you’re saying, ‘I’m unhappy. You may be able to buy me for another six months, but mostly, it’s the end of the chapter,’” says Guthrie.

“If you're happy, you're not even looking at other jobs.”

Employers often forget that looking for a job is an exhausting process, and people only consider that route if they’re truly not content where they are. “If you’re really happy at work, you’re not interested in going down that road. You want to go home. You want to have dinner with your friends. You don’t want to figure out how to arrange your work schedule to take an interview. Nobody wants that if they’re already satisfied.”


Recognizing and protecting against employee departures is only one piece of the puzzle. The best retention strategy involves more than protecting against employee disaffection. You have to be proactive about cultivating happiness and good will. Below, Guthrie speaks to the strategies startups can employ, beyond the coarser (albeit necessary) foundations of money and equity.

Build a community with purpose.

First and foremost, you have to create a community where people want to spend a great deal of their time. “I’ve seen environments where people are so engaged in the product and with one another that they really do feel like they’re part of something bigger and important,” she says.

“Your goal should be to make people feel like, 'We're all in this together and have a huge opportunity as a team.'”

As head of HR and Operations at student network ReadyForce, Guthrie saw a team become incredibly bonded — to the extent that many are still good friends even though some eventually moved to new companies. This type of community enhances talent and collaboration and makes it very difficult to leave.So how did ReadyForce do it?

The same three people would interview everyone for a particular role so that they were comparing apples to apples. Then they would convene and show thumbs up or thumbs down. If there was disagreement, they’d talk about why and foster healthy debate about candidates. “This really forced everyone to form an opinion and be thoughtful about every person they met. Would they go to bat for the person? Why? What would it be like to actually work with them?” As a result, candidates were only selected if everyone was extremely excited about them joining.

One big difference is that the company didn’t approach recruiting from a purely skills-based perspective. “Honestly, we placed a high price on ‘hilarious’ and hired wonderful people, I think partially because we were willing to work with people who were awesome culture fits even if they had a steep learning curve ahead of them.”

Conversely, that meant filtering out people who may have been exceptionally skilled but not culture matches. Put bluntly, Guthrie suggests you ignore the “brilliant jerks.” Your company culture cannot be created by top-down edict — it’s always going to be a reflection of the collected personalities. Every single person you hire will make a difference. Also important to note: Brilliant jerks are harder to remove because it’s nearly impossible to justify their dismissal if they’re delivering good work. But they have a pernicious effect on culture that far outlasts their physical presence at the company.

On top of running a very detailed, comprehensive onboarding process, ReadyForce also adopted a unique attitude toward group activities. “At so many companies, you see this ‘mandatory fun’ thing happening whether anyone wanted to do it or not. At ReadyForce, I think a lot of our experiences were special because they were organic — they came out of people’s personal interests. And the leadership provided the resources and room to do more creative things based upon those interests.”

You have to balance the importance of community against the personal freedom of allowing remote work.

A popular retention strategy companies use to keep employees happy is flexible scheduling, particularly by letting employees — and especially engineers — work from home. But how can you reconcile “WFH” with the need to cultivate a sense of community and unified culture?

“There's no hard and fast rule when it comes to working from home. It really depends on your culture.”

While there’s rarely an easy answer, Guthrie offers two tips for companies looking to strike the right tone:

1) Make sure managers trust their employees. It’s human nature to think, ‘I don’t see this person in the office, so I subconsciously assume they don’t work as hard.’ Managers need to communicate clearly to employees (and themselves) that they are results-oriented, while employees need to trust that it’s important and justified when managers ask for them to be in the office. It’s all about both sides respecting each other’s time and abilities — and, perhaps most importantly, communicating this mutual respect.

2) If you offer “WFH” options for engineers, you should offer it to everyone. Employees often get resentful if a remote work policy is perceived to be unfair. “Can salespeople make calls from home too? Unfair treatment is what gets employees hung up,” says Guthrie. It’s best to craft a policy that preserves serendipitous camaraderie in the office while offering the opportunity for all employees to reap the recharging benefits of occasional remote work.

Structure a mentorship program that people actually want.

Providing a good mentor, and making that relationship natural and easy, goes a long way toward keeping people in a role. It shows the employee that the company is invested in their personal growth, and that there’s someone (other than their manager) looking out for their best interests. But you can’t force it. Like mandatory fun, pairing people with mentors arbitrarily rarely works.

“You definitely don’t want to just introduce your new hire to someone random and say, ‘Here’s your buddy,’ but that happens all the time,” Guthrie says. “It’s unclear what that even means or what you should do. Instead, look for skills that are outside of the new person’s wheelhouse that you know they want to learn. Find someone who has those skills to pair them with and explain the connection.”

“Mentorship needs to be more organic than we've typically forced it to be.”

“Think about people who wouldn’t have the opportunity to work or interact with each other otherwise. Would it benefit them to know each other from a learning perspective? Maybe pair them together. Ask every new employee, ‘What do you want to achieve in this job? What other skills do you want to learn or sharpen, and how can we help you do that?’”

Just asking this question can convince someone they made the right choice by joining your company. The critical thing is to follow through. If a marketing hire says they want to learn Ruby, or an engineer says they want to learn presentation skills, don’t let it drop. Record it somewhere, and then make the best introductions you can. Don’t stop there either. Go the extra mile to suggest how these people might work together to make learning possible. Perhaps advise that they meet a certain number of times a month for a time-bounded period. That makes it sound low-lift, and if they do become close and everything is working well, they can decide to continue the relationship. Keep in touch with the mentor on the progress the employee is making, and then give them a chance to show off their new skills where you can.

Mentorship can also become a useful vector for shortening feedback cycles outside of typical manager-to-employee relationships, which will help you spot potential retention issues earlier. During her time with the Mina and Thomas Keller restaurant groups, Guthrie says she grew to appreciate just how much instant feedback flowed between senior and junior chefs. “In restaurants, there’s just this instant loop. Items don’t make it to the pass at the same time? Not set up for service? You’re going to hear about it right then and there.”

“Good mentors have a very clear sense of what you're supposed to be accomplishing and won't wait to give you feedback.”

Startups could benefit from using mentorship as an opportunity to shorten their own feedback cycles, without making people nervous about their performance. Especially when there is no formal reporting structure involved, employees are also far more likely to be candid with their mentors and share if they're looking for other opportunities.

Bringing in good HR early can make a decisive difference.

“It’s a bummer that people think HR is all about rule thumping — it’s got a bad rap,” says Guthrie. “That’s why it’s even more important to have an HR person or representative who is relatable and trustworthy. People should feel like they can ask anything, even the really dumb questions. And you, as a founder or manager, should feel like you can trust them with the deepest, darkest secrets of the organization.”

“Who do you want in your bunker with you? That should be your HR person.”

“For all these reasons, you need to choose someone you like. HR is not about algorithms. There’s a whole lot of humanity involved, and that gets messy. You need empathy on your team. You need someone who can say, ‘I might not agree with your choices, but I will put myself in your shoes and try to understand where things went off the rails.’”

These are all great qualities, but the single most important trait a good HR person can have is the ability to effectively train managers to handle similar questions and issues, Guthrie says.

“The hallmark of a healthy culture is that people feel comfortable bringing up problems with and offering feedback to their leaders and vice versa,” she says. “There’s this joke that HR reps are like paid assassins, because if you walk into a room and an HR person is there, nothing good is about to happen. If this is the mood at your company, it’s management’s fault. They haven’t communicated clearly.”

The need to train management and provide a sounding board is a strong argument for bringing HR (or someone who fulfills these duties) into your company earlier than later.

“When your company is your baby, you've already lost perspective.”

The thing is, that’s okay, Guthrie says. “Hire or contract someone who has the ability to tell you hard things you don’t necessarily want to hear — someone you can trust to give you a good reality check when you need it.” Many times, HR is a good choice to serve this purpose given the confidentiality and bird’s-eye view of the business.

Sometimes, especially if you’re running an early-stage company with limited funds, contracting can be the best way to go because that person exists outside the company and has no skin in the game. “When that’s the case, this person is really there just to help you. Then, when you get to 40 people, you’ve already figured out what your relationship with People Operations should look like. Being a founder can get extremely lonely. I think it’s easy to forget that. But bringing in someone who sees the things you don’t, and who puts your people front and center can make it a little less lonely.”


There are a number of ways to keep your best people, but no silver bullet. As you think through your own retention strategy, remember the following:

Recognize that employees have lives outside of work — cultivate a deep respect for employees’ time.

When employees leave because of their boss, it rarely comes from personality mismatches; it stems from a lack of confidence.

Counteroffers are (an expensive) band-aid; they won’t fix an employee’s fundamental unhappiness.

Building a genuine sense of community is crucial to employee retention. Make sure your hiring process incorporates and heavily weighs cultural fit.

Hashing out a concrete “work from home” policy can improve employee happiness/retention, but it’s largely dependent on your organization’s needs. Make sure you’re being fair across the board.

Good mentorship happens organically, and should be directed by employee interests and growth. It also creates another opportunity for a natural, short feedback loop you can definitely use.

It’s never too early to invest in good HR, whether it’s processes or people. This can absolutely include HR contractors. An outside perspective can be invaluable for founders who need big-picture reality checks.

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The Leadership Development Trends in 2018

We've been hearing a lot over the years about the "war for talent," "talent retention" and "talent management" as being the most critical issues for companies, and these problems don't seem to be going away. In fact, as global economies continue to evolve and grow, and processes and procedures become more and more automated, who and how we hire is even more important. Corporations, globally, are desperate for educated, solidly skilled and well-trained employees.

The problem is not all talent comes prepared with all the necessary skills to be successful. 

According to a study done by LinkedIn, 27 percent of North American businesses are going to spend more on internal learning programs in 2017. Specifically, the research showed that the subjects both small and large companies most want to focus on are 1) management and leadership skills, 2) technical skills and 3) career development.

Here's my take on what is most required, wanted and useful for companies today:

Management and Leadership Skills

Top management must continue to learn to inspire, motivate and empower their leadership teams. Listening to what's needed "on the ground," maybe even spending more time there, will give leaders the information they need to direct the company's mission. Spending time developing for the first time, or revisiting the firm's culture and values, allows leaders to standardize policies, systems, and best practices - particularly globally. And most importantly, communication is vital. The messages leadership sends virtually and in person are essential to creating a positive and productive atmosphere.

A leader doesn't have to be dynamic and charming--just highly communicative and transparent.

Understanding diversity, especially generations, culture, and gender will be a top priority in 2018. How do diverse cultures perceive leadership? Who's job is it to make decisions? How will the up and coming workforce relate to hierarchy, organizational structure, etc.? What kind of work lives do they see for themselves? And then there's gender. What types of organizations support more gender balance? How do we encourage more women to go for the top (if that's what they want)?

Technical Skills

With rapid advancements in digitalization, technical skills will, while still relevant, take a back seat to "soft skills." That means knowing "soft skills" (which I think are hard) will be even more critical for frontline managers and those new to management. Studies have shown that 47 percent of managers don't receive any training when they take a new leadership role. This lack of training can be especially detrimental to technical teams because now one of their leading techies just got promoted to management and suddenly their job shifts from expert to leading experts. If communication and delegation skills aren't in place, there could be a real lack of knowledge transfer.

Technical skills are still necessary today. A firm may need to invest in more extensive and specialized training to remain competitive in sourcing talent.Assessing an employee's abilities in critical thinking, analytical skills and the state of their technical experience is crucial to know what talent you can leverage and what training needs to be done. 

Career Development

A staggering 93 percent of managers feel they need training on how to coach their employees. Giving advice, mentoring, and delivering feedback are all routine aspects to management, but more and more direct reports need to take responsibility for solving problems, taking steps to action, and managing their own careers. Gone are the days of traditional career paths and step-by-step advancement. If a manager acts as a good coach, they not only take the pressure off of themselves to provide all the answers, avoid constant back and forth, they also empower their team to set and achieve their own goals - those that matter most to them.

My favorite model to use for coaching is the G.R.O.W. Model. Managers can easily learn and adapt this to their daily interactions with direct reports. The secret to coaching is to ask questions and reframe. As opposed to answering and solving. Marshall Goldsmith's book, Coaching for Leadership, is an excellent resource for coach training. Also, the book I'm coming out with this year - The New Global Manager- will give practical advice and share the best methods how to manage across diverse personalities, globally. Also on Twitter an excellent resource for understanding what managers and employees go through in the career development process is https://twitter.com/askamanager.

With the continuing need for superb talent, trained employees and excellent managers, learning programs need funding, strong attention to detail and expert instructional designers. The programs I have developed and run for organizations like SAP, LinkedIn, SpaceX, and SMA Solar are all focused on strong communication and interaction--the people skills we need both locally and globally.

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10 Leadership Resolutions for a Successful 2018

Leading Yourself

Stay healthy. We know you hear this a lot around the New Year, and you probably think about it more, too. Your personal performance — and therefore your effectiveness as a leader — are heavily influenced by your health.

Healthier people have more energy, can think more clearly, focus for longer periods, and are less likely to get sick. There are 4 key practices:

Eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. Get adequate, high-quality sleep. Engage in physical activity regularly. Manage pressure so it doesn’t turn into negative stress.

Related article: 4 Components of Good Health That Enhance Leadership

Succeed at digital learning. Being a leader doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Leaders must continue to acquire new skills, new areas of knowledge, and new leadership tools.

With limited time and resources, some of that learning will take place via digital learning. So how can you make the most of your time?

First, make sure you commit. Set real deadlines and block out time on your calendar.

Second, just practice the new skill or find a way to apply your new knowledge. Real learning doesn’t happen until you actually use it.

And third, celebrate your success. This reinforces the value of ongoing learning.

Related article: How to Succeed as a Digital Learner

Leading Others

Stop wasting time in meetings. We’ve all complained about time spent in a meeting that just wasn’t worth it. So how can you make sure that the meetings you set are productive? Here are 3 tips to start:

Only hold a meeting if it’s necessary. Can this be handled via email? Make sure all attendees are really present. Invite only those required and enforce behavior standards to keep everyone engaged. Decide in advance what the purpose of the meeting will be and how you’ll achieve its goals.

Related article: Stop Wasting Time: Use These 3 Characteristics of Mindful Meetings

Make better group decisions. We’ve all heard — and many of us have said — that several minds are better than one. But actually making good decisions as a group is challenging.

Here’s how groups can make better decisions about things such as work processes:

Define the task. Choose the best fit for decision making. Set decision-making criteria. Brainstorm at least 3 alternatives. Select the best alternative using the agreed-upon method. Develop action plans. Take action. Evaluate decision effectiveness. Repeat until complete.

Related article: How to Make Better Group Decisions and Avoid Common Mistakes

Support your employees in their development efforts. Professional development is important for everyone on your team. Our research has found that the primary predictor of the success of leadership development programs is the degree to which participants’ bosses support them.

So how can you support your people?

Set the stage for an effective program by discussing with your direct reports their goals — areas they should focus on and how they can get the most out of each opportunity. Give them permission to focus fully on the training by allowing them to fully disengage from normal responsibilities. Find out what support they’ll need when they return. Follow up after the training by meeting with your team members to discuss what they learned, how they’ll apply it and what you can do to continue supporting them.

Related article: How Bosses Can Support Their Employees Development

Lead your team through change. Change is the one thing we can be certain of. For leaders, it’s also a virtual certainty you’ll need to lead your team through change.

Even when leaders and organizations know what the change is, they may still hesitate, fail to act, or act slowly. Here’s how to overcome the inertia:

Know what you want to achieve. Observe the current state of your team or organization. Accept that this is where things are and that change won’t happen unless you take action. Communicate your intent and why — again, again, and again. Demonstrate your personal commitment to the change. Offer a better vision based upon your intent. Reward those who move forward.

Related article: How to Take Control and Lead Your Team Through Change

Leading the Organization

Help frontline managers master their roles. In most organizations, frontline managers are critical.

A recent McKinsey study found that more than 70% of senior managers were unhappy with frontline manager performance, and more than 80% of frontline managers are dissatisfied with their own performance.

The first step in fixing this problem is to understand what skills frontline managers need. There are 6 they should master to be effective:

Self-awareness Political savvy Learning agility Influencing outcomes Communication skills Motivating others

These 6 skills should form the core of development programs for frontline managers.

Related article: What Frontline Leaders Need to Succeed

Create an environment where women can excel. Research shows that gender diversity benefits the bottom line. So how can your organization attract and retain more women? The first step is to understand what ambitious, talented women want from employers.

Women want to find their calling. That is, they want their jobs to connect with their values and purpose.

Women want flexibility in where, when, and how they work. Women rated paid-time off and flexible schedules as 2 of the most valuable benefits.

Women want real leadership opportunities. But women are more wary of some leadership opportunities, perhaps because research suggests that they’re more likely to be offered roles with fewer resources or high-stakes, high-risk opportunities.

Related article: What Do Successful and Talented Women Want From Work?

Understand and manage millennials. For all the commentary about millennials, younger workers are not a mysterious tribe that can’t be understood or managed by older leaders. Here’s what you need to know:

Millennials place a high value on their team, boss, mentors, and friends at work. They want to feel like their managers genuinely appreciate them. They also want their managers to coach and mentor them. Millennials want work to be interesting and meaningful — but they don’t want to be plugged in 24/7. Work-life balance is also important. Millennials want to grow. They’re interested in opportunities for development, promotion, and feedback. They want to advance, and they want help doing so.

Related article: How to Understand and Manage Millennials at Work

Nurture innovation instead of squashing it.  Innovation is important, but few companies are really good at it. Why? In part because leading innovation is different from leading ongoing business operations.

Managers and individual contributors responsible for innovation need more emotional support to take the risks and give innovation efforts all their knowledge, skill, and energy.

Leaders must practice 3 critical behaviors to support innovators:

Demonstrate trust in innovators to empower them. Keep the purpose of the innovation front-and-center to motivate, inspire, and focus innovators. Partner with innovators as equals to contribute and share the risk.

Related article: How Leaders Can Successfully Drive Innovation

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The Seven Essential Leadership Capacities That Help You Shape the Future

In my previous article I introduced Otto Scharmer's Theory U and how it can help both individuals and groups develop the ability to sense and shape the future. Now I'd like to take you on a journey through the U to help you develop seven essential leadership capacities as well as share some practices from my own experience with this process.

To begin, it helps to imagine the U as a map, starting from the top left as you begin your journey of transformation. Moving down the left side of the U requires individuals and groups to open up and handle the resistance of habitual thought, emotion, and will, that keeps us stuck in the past; moving up the right side requires the integration of thinking, feeling, and will in the context of learning by doing and turning vision into reality.

  1. Holding the space of listening

The foundational capacity of the U is listening. It involves suspending your voice of judgment and keeping an open mind as you listen to others, to your own inklings, and to what is emerging from the collective."Transform the fields of conversation from downloading and debate to dialogue and collective creativity."

2. Observing

"Observe, observe, observe," as Brian Arthur advised. Journey into unfamiliar territory - a new city, a contemporary art gallery, and into nature, to open up your senses.

3. Sensing

As you listen and observe, be mindful of your senses. Opening up to future possibilities requires the tuning of an open mind, an open heart, and an open will to break from past conditioning. Scharmer says, "With an open mind we can suspend old habits of thought. With an open heart we can empathize, see a situation through the eyes of someone else. With an open will we can let go and let [the new] come."

4. Presencing.

Presencing --the capacity to connect to the deepest source of self and will --takes us to the bottom of the U. Here we "retreat and reflect, allowing inner knowing to emerge." What wants to emerge here? and how does that relate to the journey forward?" What new story for the future is emerging, and how can we let go of a past that no longer serve us?

5. Crystallizing

As we move up the right side of the U we begin crystallizing vision and intent At this stage we are open to letting in aha moments of insight that lead us to an emerging reality.

6. Prototyping

The prototyping phase integrates head, heart and hand to help us translate insight to concrete form. Scharmer tells a story in his book Theory U from the film "The Legend of Bagger Vance;" When helping a golfer who has lost his swing, the master coach in the novel and film advises, "Seek it with your hands-- don't think about it, feel it. The wisdom in your hands is greater than the wisdom of your head will ever be." Sketch your ideas, role play, or build models out of clay and other low-tech media to make thoughts visible, and get feedback from others.

7. Performing

Violinist Miha Pogacnik once said that he couldn't simply play his violin in Chartres cathedral; he had to "play" the entire space, what he called the "macro violin," in order to do justice to both the space and the music. Scharmer says organizations also need to perform at this macro level: "they need to convene the right sets of players (frontline people who are connected through the same value chain) and to engage a social technology that allows a multi-stakeholder gathering to shift from debating to co-creating the new."

Theory U is an invitation to step into the future.

 "The future shows up first in our feelings and through our hands, not in our abstract analysis,"says Scharmer. I find it helpful to follow his advice to attend to the crack--the openings, the challenges, and the disruptions where you feel the past ending, and the future wanting to begin. To take a deeper dive into Theory U, explore the free resources at the Presencing Institute. 

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What Kind of Leader Do You Need to Be to Create Change and Shape the Future?

Have you ever wondered why we are stuck in so many quagmires as we attempt to make major change in business, organizations and even society itself? We might find an explanation from Einstein through his well-known observation that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them, but how do we do that?

Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer at MIT, argues in his book,Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges (2nd edition 2016) that we not only require a new way of thinking, we need a new consciousness as well. He asserts "the cause of our collective failure is that we are blind to the deeper dimension of leadership and transformational change. This 'blind spot' exists not only in our collective leadership but also in our everyday social interactions." We are blind to what Scharmer calls the "source dimension" from which effective leadership and social action come into being. He points out, "we know a great deal about what leaders do, and how they do it, but we know very little about the inner place, the source from which they operate."

 "Successful leadership depends on the quality of attention and intention that the leader brings to any situation. Two leaders in the same circumstances doing the same thing can bring about completely different outcomes, depending on the inner place from which each operates." --Otto Scharmer

Theory U speaks to me because it is both a framework for creativity, and a roadmap for transformational leadership. I am also fascinated by how Theory U came into being via interviews with business leaders on accessing deep states of awareness and attention. Brian Arthur, the founding head of the economics group at the Santa Fe Institute, and Visiting Researcher in the Intelligent Systems Lab at PARC (formerly Xerox Parc) illuminating insights have formed the basis for Theory U.

According to Arthur there are two fundamentally different sources of cognition. One is the application of existing frameworks (downloading) and the other is accessing one's inner knowing: "All true innovation in science, business, and society is based on the latter, not on 'downloading.'"

Accessing your inner knowing is based on three movements of perception which sound very much like the practices of a Zen artist, and if you examine how the most successful creative people work in any domain, you will see that they follow this pattern:

The U process in three movements

The first movement is to "observe, observe, observe." Arthur says we need to stop downloading and start listening. It means to abandon our habitual ways of operating and immerse ourselves in the places of most potential for the situation we are dealing with. "The real power comes from recognizing patterns that are forming and fitting with them."

The second movement is to "retreat and reflect: allow the inner knowing to emerge." This requires going to the inner place of stillness where inner knowing comes to the surface. We listen to everything we learned while "observing," and we attend to what wants to emerge. "In a sense, there is no decision making, he says, "what to do becomes obvious. you can't rush it. Much of it depends on where you're coming from and who you are as a person. This has a lot of implications for management...what counts is where you're coming from inside yourself."

The third movement is about "acting in an instant." Prototype the new in order to explore the future by doing, to "create a little landing strip of the future that allows for hands-on testing and experimentation."

Scharmer calls this whole process the U process, because it can be depicted and understood as a U-shaped journey. "Presencing;" (a blend of the words "presence" and "sensing") is central to the journey. Presencing is about accessing inner knowing and bringing into presence, into the present, your highest potential and the future that is seeking to emerge.

Presencing signifies a heightened state of attention that allows individuals and groups to shift the inner place from which they function. "When that shift happens, people begin to operate from a real future possibility that is seeking to emerge." Being able to facilitate that shift is, according to Scharmer, the essence of leadership today. 

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Many people stop actively learning after college — and it's hurting their success

Getting the most out of life begins with constantly seeking new ways to educate yourself.  There are common obstacles to personal growth, such as time-management issues and apathetic contentment.  It is possible to overcome these hurdles by exploring ways of making continual learning work with your individual lifestyle.

What would you say the odds are that a person who left college after just one year to take a job for $57 a week as a stock clerk in a department store would one day grow up to become a millionaire at 31, become the vice president of a major corporation, speak around the world to hundreds of thousands of people, author 17 books, and mentor the likes of Tony Robbins and T. Harv Eker?

However improbable that may seem, how likely is it that a college dropout would go on to become one of the most vocal public figures speaking on the topic of learning and personal development and would attribute his continual self-improvement as the key to his success. Listen to what he has to say on the subject:

"Learning is the beginning of wealth. Learning is the beginning of health. Learning is the beginning of spirituality. Searching and learning is where the miracle process all begins." "Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune." "Work harder on yourself than you do on your job." "Don't wish it were easier, wish you were better." "If someone is going down the wrong road, he doesn't need motivation to speed him up. What he needs is education to turn him around." "The book you don't read won't help." "Miss a meal if you have to, but don't miss a book."

Jim Rohn gave the credit for his success to his philosophy of personal development and lifelong learning. He said to get more in life, you must become more. You must learn and grow. And the process of personal growth isn't a one and done thing. It doesn't end with a degree.

There are millions of people who graduate from college and think that's it. Their time with books is over. I can't tell you the number of people I know who haven't read a book in the past year. The excuses start to sound cliche.

"Life just gets in the way."

"I'm too busy."

"When I get home from work, I just want to relax."

"I don't know what to read."

"Books are expensive."

"Non-fiction books are boring."

Have you heard (or said) any of these excuses? The real problem when it comes to learning and self-improvement has to do with overcoming the obstacles. What are they?

Obstacles to learning

1. Contentment

We are content with our life as it is. Contentment is like a cozy warm blanket on a cold night. It surrounds you with something you feel is right but at the same time, it prevents you from going out into the cold.

When I was a kid, I used to have this rickety, home-made go-cart that my parents bought for me at a yard sale. It was pretty fun for a while, but it had a governor on the engine that prevented it from going as fast as it should. When I first got it, the novelty of riding in it was enjoyable. That is until I realized that my friends could outrun me on foot. In limiting my speed to a safe level, that governor took away all my interest in driving the go-cart.

Now contentment acts in much the same way  —  it works as a force pressing back upon our ambition. Whenever we begin to have an idea or desire to do something more, contentment presses back, and we start to realize that things are good enough as they are.

If you've seen the movie the Matrix, contentment acts like the Oracle and sort of talks us out of whatever it was that we were starting to believe about the possibility of what we might one day become.

So, first, you must become dissatisfied to overcome the complacency of contentment.

2. Difficulty

Learning isn't easy. But it's not that hard. Most of the time, it's just an inconvenience, but additionally, it forces us to do something against what we have been conditioned to do. Technological progress has given us things that make our life easier. That's the purpose of technology  —  to make things faster, easier, and more efficient. But in doing so, it has created an environment that has rewired our neurological circuits.

While the internet has given us all of the information we want, the technology itself (the hyperlinks, the images, the ads on the page) have all contributed to a decline in our ability to intensely focus on a subject. Nicholas Carr discusses this in his book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

The reason learning is difficult is because it requires our brains to do things that they have been programmed not to do. To sit down and read for an hour requires certain neurological powers that our technological society has robbed from us. To focus on a subject and follow an extended, linear line of argument like you get in a book is foreign to us because the technological tools we use each day have conditioned us against that very skill.

The good news is we have another superpower at our disposal. Neuroplasticity shows that our brains can change. Our neuro-circuitry, which has been conditioned in ways which make learning and reading challenging, can be re-wired. It just takes effort, time, and consistency to make that happen.

3. Time

One of the biggest excuses that we give when it comes to making time for personal development is that there's no time. Life is too busy. We say things like, "when I get home from work, I need some time for myself  —  to be entertained, or to watch my favorite series on Netflix  —  instead of spending that time working more."

There's no doubt that time is precious and the reason it's precious is due to its limitations. There are only 24 hours in a day. And that amount applies to everyone on the planet. You can't make more time. You can only rearrange or re-prioritize the time you have available to you. You have to be willing to make some sacrifices if you want to learn. And this leads to the idea of priorities  —  what's important to you.

You might say, "My entertainment is important to me."


Entertainment is pleasant and enjoyable. We all need entertainment in our lives. The question here might be "how much?" Do you need to binge-watch your shows for 3–4 hours a day and all day on weekends? That might be a little out of balance. Prioritization means knowing what the most important things are for you, and then putting those things in order. In a sense, it's about how to live in balance, and a life of balance must include learning.

One way to find time is to get up earlier each day. I recently watched a video on the 5 AM club and the discipline of getting up at 5 AM every day to read, focus, and learn.

You might say "I could never get up at 5 AM." Here's a question for you. Would you get up at 5 AM every day for 10 million dollars?? Would you change your life and get up every day for $10,000,000?

Most everyone would say sure.

Well, it's not a question then if you can get up early, it's just a question of what would it take to motivate you to get up early. I'm not saying that getting up early will get you 10 million dollars, but the point is that you can get up early if you wanted to do it. The lack of time isn't an excuse for not developing the habit of continual learning.

How to build the habit of continual learning

But why is it so important? Learning isn't necessary to live in this world, but it is necessary for success in this world. So, how can you develop a habit of continual learning?

1. Understand the value of continual learning

Why is it that some of the most successful people in the world are continual learners? Is it merely a coincidence? Here are some examples:

Warren Buffet spends 5–6 hours a day reading several different newspapers. Bill Gates reads 50 books a year. Billionaire David Rubenstein reads up to 8 newspapers a day and six books a week. Mark Cuban reads more than 3 hours every day. Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons , reads 2 hours a day.

American presidents were avid readers as well:

Teddy Roosevelt was said to have read a book a day. Thomas Jefferson read voraciously, not only in English — but French, Italian, and Spanish. He even designed a rotating book stand so he could consult five books at once. George W. Bush read from 1–2 books a week in his presidency, and even read the Bible from cover to cover each year.

And the list goes on.

In fact, a study of 1200 wealthy people found that all of them had reading as a common practice. And they don't read for entertainment. The study showed that they all read for self-education.

Continual learning is a constant among successful people. You might argue with that, but the research backs it up. It doesn't mean that if you commit to a life of continual learning that you will become Warren Buffet, but it pretty much means that if you don't develop the habit of continual learning, you will never become Warren Buffet. In other words, continual learning doesn't guarantee your success; it just puts you into an elite category with the other successful people.

2. Find ways to cultivate your curiosity.

Learning is as much an attitude as it is a discipline. And it begins with some simple questions. Why? How? What?

Have you ever watched a toddler when they are experiencing something for the first time? Their natural curiosity can overwhelm them. They investigate and play with and question. I remember the questioning from my children when asking me the "why" question over and over in their effort to understand something and get to the bottom of their curiosity.

What happened to us? How did we lose that desire to learn? How did that natural curiosity disappear? Maybe we learned too much in school  —  just enough to think we know it all. Maybe we've gotten too cynical. Maybe we've just been stuck in the ruts of life.

Get out of it!

Ask questions.

Demand answers.

There's so much to learn, and when you learn something new, you start to get a grasp of all that's out there that you don't know or understand. We live our lives with these "black boxes"  —  things that just happen, that we take for granted but don't understand. How does a smartphone work? How does a nuclear bomb work and what are the devastating effects? What does it mean to live? How can we agree on what's right and wrong, good and bad? Philosophy, anthropology, theology, medicine the list goes on and on. There's so much to learn, but it begins with a shift in our mindset  —  a change in attitude.

3. Develop practices for continual learning.

Beyond understanding the value and changing your perspective on learning, you need to establish some practices  —  you need to develop some habits. This means doing something on a regular basis that puts you on the path of learning. You can start by writing a personal development plan, but beyond that, you need to take the steps necessary to form an intentional habit.

As they say, it takes 66 days to develop a habit. Here are a few tips:

Read a book a week. Now while you may not think you're capable of reading a book a week, I'm going to share with you how I do it. As the Pareto Principle tells us 20% of the book gives 80% of the content, it's just a matter of knowing where that content is located. Here's what to do. Read the introduction in its entirety  —  this explains the purpose and the basic outline of the book Read the first and last paragraph of each chapter  —  this gives an overview and summary of each chapter Read the first sentence of each paragraph  —  this gives you an idea of the flow and argument of the book Read the last chapter  —  this gives you another summary of the book

Now while you might say that's cheating, let me tell you where I got that technique from… my professor during my Ph.D. work. He told me that in doing Ph.D. work, you can't read it all, but you must find a way to get the content out that you need. This was just one way of doing it.

So if Ph.D.'s are doing it, it's ok for you. Want to know where to start? Here's a list of some of my top books on the planet  —  focus away from the fiction (though you can and should read fiction also).

Commit time to learning. To accomplish #1, you need to set aside time. Start with a regular time each day (or 5 days a week) where you can give 15–30 minutes to reading. You can do it in the morning or the evening, just do it. Find a partner. When we read or learn with someone else, it keeps us accountable and helps with our motivation. If George W. Bush did it, maybe it could even help us. Join a book club, find a friend, put it out there on the internet or social media…whatever works for you, but get someone to join you on the journey. It also helps to talk to someone and digest what you're learning. Conclusion

Continual learning as a skill can be a huge benefit in your life, and it stands as one of the common elements among some of the smartest and most successful people in history. It isn't as much about IQ as it is about hard work. So join in the Great Conversation, learn, grow, and become a better you!

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3 Great Leadership Lessons I Learned Sitting by a Campfire With a Navy SEAL

Rorke Denver is a bear of a man. Not because he's a decorated Navy SEAL. Or that he served tours of duty in some of the most intense and treacherous battle spaces in recent U.S. warfare (Al Anbar province, 2006). Or that he ran all elements of the legendary SEAL training program.

He literally resembles a bear.

Into his mid-forties, Denver is hardly settling into middle age. Barrel chested with arms that otherwise loose fitting flannels can barely contain, he still looks the part.

If the apocalypse occurs, I'm angling hard to be included on Team Denver.

However, don't let the warrior exterior fool you. Beneath it all lies a strategic mind with keen insights into the ethos of leadership. As the author of two books on leadership, he's been one of the few veterans to transition from decorated battlefield leader to corporate consultant and speaker.

He's been known to quote his idol Winston Churchill, who he credits with the spark to join the SEAL Teams and serve his country.

His newest project is called Campfire Sessions, part of his Ever Onward platform that he describes as "a brand designed to use Navy SEAL principles to call leaders to action, to suffer, and to be bold so they can perform at their very highest levels." Campfire Sessions is just what it sounds like: A select few get to hang out around a campfire and listen to a Navy SEAL talk battlefield stories, leadership, bourbon, cigars and America.

I got an invite to the first session. Another several thousand joined on a webcast. As we gathered around the fire in the chilly Colorado foothills, Denver opened with a gripping story from his time leading troops in Iraq. A team of SEALS, a unit of Iraqi troops, an ambush and a gun fight. We were all on the edge of our camp chairs.

The evening had a mix of stories and off-the-cuff Q&A. You didn't have to try too hard to buy in to his message of character, leadership, bravery and service. There were 100 lessons. Some stories and their lessons you'd label unbelievable save for the storyteller.

Here are three that really stood out:

1. Trust your junior leaders.

Denver's unit was on patrol in the outskirts of Habbiniyah when his point man called him to the front. "I don't like this. Something's not right," he said.

Denver had spent countless hours in training with his team. He'd been on daily patrols and missions. He'd developed a level of trust over time, blood, sweat, and tears. He immediately halted the patrol and deployed to cover. As it turned out, there was an ambush planned.

Developing trust with your junior leaders on the battlefield multiplies the eyes and ears on scene. And, allows senior leaders to accomplish more by seizing opportunities and, in this case, avoiding disaster.

2. Use training as inoculation.

The rigor in training among SEAL Teams is legendary. From Hell Week to the ongoing evolutions and workups, a SEALS' training program is never finished and always tough. Perhaps the toughest. It's been described as brutal. This, according to Denver, is very intentional.

The program is designed to "inoculate" SEALS for the super human demands of their missions. It goes beyond the physical hardships of training. Training should create thinkers.

"We'll send SEALS on a training mission and almost from the start throw monkey wrenches at them to see how they handle it," Denver says. And the idea that you can step up at game time? False, he says. "You'll most likely fall back to your level of training."

3. Earn it every day.

Embedded within the Navy SEAL ethos is this powerful line: "By wearing the Trident I accept the responsibility of my chosen profession and my way of life. It is a privilege I must earn everyday."

This syncs with this more famous SEAL line: "The only easy day was yesterday."

You get the sense from Rorke Denver, even with all he has accomplished, that he views himself as unfinished. He has not declared victory on his journey. This perhaps personifies his code more than any idea. There's always a new mission.

As leaders, we should be bound to this idea of being unfinished, the product of which is the quality that all great leaders possess: Humility.

If you get the chance to hang by a campfire with a decorated Navy SEAL, you probably should. You might find three lessons or one hundred.

In the quest to earn it every day, one lesson just might be enough.

Ever Onward.

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6 Signs to Instantly Identify Someone With True Leadership Skills

Here are six defining traits that keep surfacing over and over again in leadership bestsellers.

What are the defining attributes of great leaders? That's the age-old question thought leaders and scholars galore have been attempting to answer in mountains of books and literature. 

While great leadership, to an extent, can be personal and subjective to the follower, there are universal principles you can't argue with (but you can try). Speaking of those thought leaders and scholars, here are six traits that keep surfacing over and over again in the leadership literature and best-sellers.

1. They challenge their own assumptions.

Great leaders may be smart and know a lot, but they are humble enough to recognize there are smarter people in the room that they can learn from. They don't restrict themselves from opinions and input outside of their own. They surround themselves with diverse perspectives to help them answer questions like, "How do I know my decision is the right one?" or "Is there a better course of action here?"

2. They are radically transparent and model it for others.

Transparency promotes an open culture of respect, openness, and dignity void of the usual toxic corporate metaphors like backstabbing, gossip, and throwing people under the bus. The business case for it has and always will be about the team -- about strong relationships, collaboration and, lest we forget, getting results. But transparent leaders go beyond self-transparent behaviors: They allow others to voice their opinion and encourage emotional honesty and uncomfortable conversations in board rooms and conference rooms. 

3. They are learning machines.

Great leaders recognize that we are in an age of unprecedented technological advancement. They develop their own competency by continuously learning and gathering expertise across multiple fields, not just their own. They also champion a "learning spirit" within the organization, sending a clear message to knowledge workers that "growing our people is one of our highest priorities."

4. They have mentors and pick them carefully.

Great leaders surround themselves with sages they can approach for wisdom and honest feedback. They also choose their mentors carefully because receiving advice from the wrong people could potentially be career-limiting and a bad move. They find tried-and-true mentors with a high degree of integrity they, and others, admire and would like to emulate. 

5. They build strong relationships.

Leadership practitioners like myself preach this ad nauseam, yet it often falls on deaf ears. For those that do value authentic relationships, they'll see tremendous differences in how employees and customers alike respond. Margaret J. Wheatley, renowned management consultant and author of Leadership and the New Science, which has been lauded as "one of the top ten business books of all time," gave timeless advice to point new leaders in the right direction: "We will need to become savvy about how to build relationships, how to nurture growing, evolving things. All of us will need better skills in listening, communicating, and facilitating groups, because these are the talents that build strong relationships."

6. They serve others.

Leadership is not dictating, commanding, or imposing. It is being of service to others (yes, to your customers but especially to your employees). It is empowering others to achieve their goals, bringing out the best in people, putting their needs ahead of your own, and helping people develop and reach their highest potential. We call this servant leadership--one of the highest platforms to launch your leadership success.

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7 Core Beliefs Of Great Bosses

Great bosses change us for the better. They see more in us than we see in ourselves, and they help us learn to see it too. They dream big and show us all the great things we can accomplish.

Great leadership can be a difficult thing to pin down and understand. You know a great leader when you’re working for one, but even they can have a hard time explaining the specifics of what they do that makes their leadership so effective. Great leadership is dynamic; it melds a variety of unique skills into an integrated whole.

One thing is certain—a leader’s actions are driven by his beliefs. It’s through a leader’s actions—and ultimately her beliefs—that the essence of great leadership becomes apparent.

“I am just a common man who is true to his beliefs.”   –John Wooden

Great leaders inspire trust and admiration through their actions, not just their words. Many leaders saythat integrity is important to them, but only those leaders who truly believe it walk their talk by demonstrating integrity every day. Harping on people all day long about the behavior you want to see has only a tiny fraction of the impact that you achieve by believing so deeply in the behavior that you demonstrate it yourself.

Great bosses believe in their people, and this belief drives them to create an environment where people thrive. Let’s explore some of the driving beliefs that set great bosses apart from the rest of the pack.

1. Growth should be encouraged, not feared. Average bosses fear their smartest, hardest-working employees, believing that these individuals will surpass them or make them look bad. They hesitate to share information or to enable authority. Exceptional bosses, on the other hand,love to see their employees grow. They are always grooming their replacements and doing whatever they can to create leaders. Research shows that the number-one thing job seekers look for in a position is growth opportunity and that 80% of all job growth occurs informally, such as in conversations with managers. Exceptional bosses want their best employees to maximize their potential, and they know that good feedback and guidance are invaluable.

2. Employees are individuals, not clones. Average bosses lump people together, trying to motivate, reward, and teach everyone in the same way. Exceptional bosses treat people as individuals, respecting the fact that everyone has their own motivation and style of learning. Something different makes each employee tick, and the best bosses will stop at nothing to figure out what that is.

3. Employees are equals, not subordinates. Ordinary bosses treat their employees like children; they believe that they need constant oversight. These bosses think that their role is to enforce rules, make sure things run their way, and watch over people’s shoulders for mistakes. Exceptional bosses see employees as peers who are perfectly capable of making decisions for themselves. Rather than constantly stepping in, exceptional bosses make it clear that they value and trust their employees’ work and only intervene when it’s absolutely necessary.

4. Work can and should be enjoyable. Ordinary bosses see work as something that everyone has to do, whether they want to or not. They believe that their role is to make sure that their employees don’t slack off or grow lazy. They say things like, “If it weren’t for me, nothing would ever get done around here.” However, exceptional bosses love their jobs and believe that everyone else can too. They give people assignments that align with their strengths, passions, and talents. They celebrate accomplishments and douse people with positive feedback when they do good work.

5. Diversity, not like-mindedness, bears fruit, Average bosses want their employees’ ideas to align with their own, and because of this, they try to hire like-minded individuals. They encourage their employees to think similarly and reward those who “just put their heads down and work.” Exceptional bosses actively seek out a diverse range of individuals and ideas. They expose themselves and their companies to new ways of thinking.

6. Motivation comes from inspiration, not agony. Ordinary bosses think that strict rules and rule enforcement drive employees to work effectively. They believe that people need to fear layoffs, explosions of anger, and punishment in order to operate at 100%. People then find themselves in survival mode, where they don’t care about the product, the company, or the customer experience; they only care about keeping their jobs and appeasing their boss. Exceptional bosses motivate through inspiration—they know that people will respond to their infectious energy, vision, and passion, more than anything else.

7. Change is an opportunity, not a curse. Ordinary bosses operate by the motto, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” They believe that change is unnecessary and that it causes more harm than good. Exceptional bosses see change as an opportunity for improvement. They constantly adapt their approach and embrace change to stay ahead of the curve.

Bringing It All Together

If you’re currently a boss, is this how your employees would describe your beliefs? If not, you’re leaving money, effort, and productivity lying on the table. You’re also probably losing some good employees, if not to other jobs, then at least to disengagement and lack of interest.

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If You Multitask During Meetings, Your Team Will, Too

Managers have hard jobs. They coordinate the work of their teams, align this work with company goals, serve as a primary source of professional development for their employees, deliver results, and many other critical tasks (all while keeping people engaged). We’ve previously written about what great managers do differently, but even great managers are not fully aware of how their work habits can impact those they supervise. Our latest research allows us to begin quantifying how these habits can cause significant — and often undesirable — ripple effects.

The transition from individual contributor to manager expands the influence of a person’s work habits. The more senior they become, the more this influence is amplified. Unfortunately, managers typically have very limited visibility into what their own behaviors may be signaling to their team and how the team might be reacting. Microsoft Workplace Analytics allows us to analyze the digital signals from anonymized and aggregated data from meetings, email, HR, and other data sources to better understand these impacts. We’ve used this technology to study the behaviors of tens of thousands of managers in several large companies and found some consistent patterns.

This article outlines two common signals that manager work habits unintentionally send to their teams, their impact, and recommendations for lessening unintended consequences.

Working After Hours

This sends the signal, “When I’m on, you need to be too.” We’ve found a significant and consistent correlation between the amount of time managers send email and organize meetings after-hours (think late nights, weekends, etc.) and the amount of time their direct reports do the same.

In one Fortune 100 technology company, for example, we found that every hour that people managers spend after-hours translates to 20 minutes of additional direct report time spent after-hours. The numbers vary, but we’ve found significant correlations hold true for several other companies as well.

Analyzing Sunday night email patterns highlights one way this plays out. It’s not uncommon for people to get a head start on their week by catching up on Sunday evenings, and typically, people do this with no intention that email recipients will read or respond right away. Unfortunately, that’s often not what happens. Our analysis suggests that when managers start their work week on Sunday night, so do their direct reports.


Intentionally or not, managers that frequently work late nights are signaling an expectation of similar behavior to their teams, and their teams are responding in kind. This may not be a good thing. According to the General Social Survey, 48% of employees say that work sometimes or often interferes with family life; this habit is likely a strong contributing factor. The negative impacts are further illustrated by recent Gallup research concluding that “U.S. workers who email for work and who spend more hours working remotely outside of normal working hours are more likely to experience a substantial amount of stress on any given day than workers who do not exhibit these behaviors.”

What you should do: 

Talk to your team about expectations. Make it clear that just because you choose to work nights or weekends, you do not expect that of others. Be mindful of sending mixed signals such as encouraging people to go dark, then expecting immediate responses after hours. Authenticity and consistency are essential. When you’re processing emails at night, schedule them to go out in the morning or simply save them in a draft folder until the next day. Minimize the number of people on your distribution list. This is a good habit any time, but particularly after hours. As the scenario below demonstrates, the small step of reducing the number of people on an email chain has a dramatic impact on your organization.


Multitasking in Meetings

This sends the signal, “It’s OK to not pay attention.” Managers that frequently send emails during meetings are, according to our analysis, are 2.2 times more likely to have direct reports who also multi-task in meetings.

The ready explanation is that multi-tasking is a necessary survival strategy in days filled with back-to-back meetings. Yet the data does not bear this out: multi-tasking seems to be a choice or habit, not an inevitability. In the chart below, each dot represents a manager. The X axis in the number of hours they spend in meetings each week and the Y axis is the percentage of time they multi-task. This analysis shows a wide variance in the multi-tasking rates from 0% to over 70% that appear unrelated to the number of hours in meetings. Managers with 10-15 hours of meetings are just about as likely to multi-task as those with over 30 hours of meetings.


While multitasking can, at times, be an efficient way to work, most of us have had the experience of sitting next to the person busy clattering on their keyboard during a meeting. It’s distracting. And, ultimately, multitasking is task switching. When we shoot off a quick email during a meeting, we miss that part of the conversation. We – and others – may not even notice, but it means we have gaps in our understanding of what took place. That can lead to different interpretations of a decision, missed opportunities to provide critical guidance, or inconsistent follow through on action agreements. Beyond that, multitasking can signal to others that we don’t value their time or their contributions. When you and your entire team engages in this behavior, little good can come from it.

What you should do:

For a week or two, take note of when you multitask and why. If it is because you’re not essential to the purpose of the meeting, ask the meeting owner to remove you. Convert 60-minute meetings to 45 minutes. By shortening them, you get the dual benefit of a more focused discussion and an extra 15 minutes each hour to catch up on emails. Cluster your meetings during portions of the day or days of the week. That leaves chunks of time open for getting focused work done or being available to your team for a quick five-minute conversation that would otherwise turn into a complicated email thread or 30-minute meeting Take 10 minutes in your next staff meeting to discuss this with your direct reports. Make a shared commitment to show up more fully present to meetings for that week and debrief the experience in a subsequent staff meeting. Use video conferencing during web conference calls to reduce the temptation to multitask.

Every manager, even the best, can fall into the evening-emailing and multitasking-at-meetings traps. These behaviors may seem harmless on the surface, but our research shows that even the small things can have outsized effects on a team. Every leader should be cognizant of this when they’re about to check their email or hit “send” at all the wrong times.

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Actions reflect leadership — not words

If you’re looking to improve your management style, consider how action-oriented your leadership style is.

“It’s not what you say that matters — it’s what you do.”

I observed the truth of this old adage, firsthand, about six years ago.

At the time, I wasn’t CEO of Know Your Company. I was an employee at another company.

As an employee, I remember making a suggestion to our CEO about how we should market a new program…

I’ll never forget how casually it was brushed aside.

I remember asking our CEO a question via email about a new idea I had, and if it was something he’d be open to…

I’ll never forget that he never responded to my email.

I remember pitching a new approach to thinking about our website to our CEO…

I’ll never forget how defensive he got about why things were the way things were.

The dismissal, inaction, and defensiveness said to me loud and clear: I don’t want your feedback. I don’t plan to do anything with it.

We often forget as leaders how much our actions say — or don’t say.

Suffice to say, I never spoke up and offered honest feedback after those instances, going forward.

Studies have found that the biggest reason for why people don’t speak up at work is because they believe it is futile. Employees don’t think anything will happen with their feedback… so they don’t give it.

I am living proof of that statistic.

If you want honest feedback, you must act on the feedback you’ve gotten in some way. Prove to employees it’s worth their effort to be honest with you.

No matter how many specific questions you ask or how well you receive the feedback, what you do with that feedback will always carry more weight than anything else.

“Lead by example” or “Lead from the front” are common sayings we like to read in management books and nod our heads to. But do we internalize and actively practice those sentiments enough?

If you’re wrestling with the questions of how to better retain your employees, how to improve your company culture, how to cultivate more honest feedback from your employees… Action is the answer.

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7 Things Great Leaders Always Do (but Mere Managers Always Fear)

Are you a great leader or a mere manager?

When I think about the difference between great leaders and mere managers, I think back to a day when I put my foot in my mouth.

I was working as a lawyer for a giant government bureaucracy then. One of my bosses had a fancy title, but everyone referred to him simply as a "manager." One day, he was grumbling a bit about his role. He was caught in a sort of bureaucratic no man's land--uninvolved in the big policy decisions, but also no longer doing the fun part of our work (trying cases in court).

Without thinking, I said something like, "That's why I'd never want your job. Just because they call someone a manager doesn't mean they get to be a leader." 

This was a pretty stupid thing for me to say, but I still think my point was right. In some organizations, almost anyone can get promoted to management if they put in the time and play the right politics. Instead of trying to become a mere manager, therefore, why not aspire to become a great leader? Here are a few of the key differences:

1. A great leader connects daily work with great goals. A mere manager focuses only on the short-term.

It's easy to get caught focusing on things that are urgent, rather than important. A mere manager spends most energy on the daily grind, and harangues his people for not achieving short-term goals, regardless of their long-term importance.

A truly great leader on the other hand, could hardly care less about TPS reports, or whatever the equivalent is in his or her workplace (and probably has to work to hide his or her contempt for such bureaucratic goofiness). What matters most to him or her--it is what truly matters most.

2. A great leader thinks of people as people. A mere manager sees only titles or organizational charts.

If you catch yourself referring to people on your team by their job titles as often as by their names, beware--you're on the road to becoming more of a manager than a leader. A real leader thinks of people individually and holistically, and tries hard to understand strengths and weaknesses, goals and interests.

I saw this all too often in the military, for example, where great leaders grew to know their soldiers, and lesser leaders referred to them generically, either by their ranks or occupational specialties. There might be nothing less humanizing than to hear an officer refer to his troops as a bunch of "11-Bang-Bangs" (slang for "11-Bravo," which is in turn the bureaucratic designation for an infantry soldier).

3. A great leader wants to earn respect. A mere manager wants to be liked.

Great leaders aren't always the most likable people. In the long run, great leaders recognize that their job is to get people to do things the might not want to do, in order to achieve goals they want to achieve.

Contrast that with "mere managers," who either want to be liked or try to convince themselves that they don't care. Great leaders know that cordiality is necessary, but also that they might sometimes have to sacrifice short-term likability in favor of long-term respect.

4. A real leader is thrilled when team members achieve great things. A mere manager is threatened.

In the grand scheme of things, a mere manager doesn't have much. He or she hasn't aspired to enough in life, and has taken on a bureaucratic role. Yet that's all he or she has, and as a result, the fear of losing it can be overwhelming. Thus, when a team member outgrows her role, a manager worries first about being outshone.

A true leader, on the other hand, takes his or her team members' accomplishments as a point of pride, and recognizes that the mark of a great leader isn't creating followers--but instead developing other leaders.

5. A great leader empowers people with honesty and transparency. A mere manager parcels out information as if it costs him personally.

We've all seen likely this issue firsthand. A great leader understand that all else being equal, transparency shows respect for your team and helps them do good work.

A mere manager, however, fears that sharing information can be tantamount to giving up leverage. So he or she holds cards close to the vest--and undermines the team's performance in the process.

6. A great leader understands that if the team falls short, he is responsible. A mere manager blames the team.

Once more, it all comes down to fear. A mere manager hasn't actually earned anyone's respect, and so he or she is constantly afraid of losing power. If the team doesn't accomplish its goals, the mere manager is primarily concerned about losing his or her role on an organizational chart.

A true leader, on the other hand, recognizes that no matter why the team falls short, he or she is to blame. Even if he or she believes that a specific team member might have been the cause, the true leaders shoulders the blame and spurs the team to do better.

7. A great leader cares mainly about results. A mere manager is more concerned with process.

To be fair, some organizations' management positions are designed to protect processes, not to empower people. Still, if you're reading this, I'm going to assume that we have something in common, and that this kind of role holds little appeal for you. Seriously, who cares about process when the results are positive?

You might also realize that this puts you in the minority of leaders. Regardless, the main rule that a true leader lives by is that it's better to be resourceful, and that it's always easier to get forgiveness than permission.

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3 Things Great Leaders Do That Achieve Amazing Results

How engaged, excited and empowered is your team?

When it comes to leadership, it's good if you have great personal qualities such as authenticity, integrity, humility, etc., but at some point, you have to achieve results.

Results are the benchmark of success and to do that you have to be able to inspire your teams to achieve great things.

So how do great leaders achieve that?


Everything starts with engagement. If your teams are not engaged, then they are just turning up, taking the money and doing the bare minimum.

And when you look at the statistics for employee engagement that covers a very large percentage of the work force, as 68 percent of US employees are disengaged, and 65 percent of managers are disengaged.

Employee engagement is a contact sport. You cannot engage people from behind your desk or via emails. You can't engage them if you are not engaged.

You need to get out there showing your passion and enthusiasm, clarifying the objectives, explaining the purpose and aligning the goals and desires of the teams with the goals of the initiatives.

Companies with engaged employees perform 147 percent better than those with disengaged employees.

As the leader is your job to engage them, it's not their job to be engaged!


Once teams are engaged, the next step is to excite them. Everyone wants to work for a successful team and feel like they have done a great job, so if you can show them how they will be successful, this will get them fired up and ready to work hard towards the goals and objectives.

People are not afraid of hard work; they are afraid of failure. By showing them how success can be achieved will help increase their confidence and belief that they will be successful, which is a great inspiration.

An engaged and excited team is a powerful team that can achieve great things. To help ensure that this results in the success you need to empower them.


Empowered teams take ownership, and when things start to go awry, they will look for solutions to ensure that the desired outcomes are met.

Too often leaders want to retain a tight grip on the controls, but if that grip is too tight, then you need to be involved in everything, giving approval for even the smallest of changes.

You become a limitation on what can be achieved!

To empower your team, you need to give them the flexibility to make the necessary corrections if things start to slip. You need to delegate some of the control that you hold, but with clear boundaries, so that they understand when they can make decisions, and when they need to refer back to you for approval.

The more you can empower your teams the more committed they will become. Empowerment is a delicate balancing act, but it's one that you get better at with practice, and it will be appreciated by many of your staff.

When you can create engaged, excited and empowered teams not only will it help you achieve the goals and objectives, but it will make others want to come and work with you and for you. It will separate you from the other leaders in your organization, putting you in demand and presenting great opportunities to you.

How engaged, excited and empowered is your team and what are you going to do to help improve in these three areas?

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How Leaders Create and Use Networks

When Henrik Balmer became the production manager and a board member of a newly bought-out cosmetics firm, improving his network was the last thing on his mind. The main problem he faced was time: Where would he find the hours to guide his team through a major upgrade of the production process and then think about strategic issues like expanding the business? The only way he could carve out time and still get home to his family at a decent hour was to lock himself—literally—in his office. Meanwhile, there were day-to-day issues to resolve, like a recurring conflict with his sales director over custom orders that compromised production efficiency. Networking, which Henrik defined as the unpleasant task of trading favors with strangers, was a luxury he could not afford. But when a new acquisition was presented at a board meeting without his input, he abruptly realized he was out of the loop—not just inside the company, but outside, too—at a moment when his future in the company was at stake.

Henrik’s case is not unusual. Over the past two years, we have been following a cohort of 30 managers making their way through what we call the leadership transition, an inflection point in their careers that challenges them to rethink both themselves and their roles. In the process, we’ve found that networking—creating a fabric of personal contacts who will provide support, feedback, insight, resources, and information—is simultaneously one of the most self-evident and one of the most dreaded developmental challenges that aspiring leaders must address.

Their discomfort is understandable. Typically, managers rise through the ranks by dint of a strong command of the technical elements of their jobs and a nose-to-the-grindstone focus on accomplishing their teams’ objectives. When challenged to move beyond their functional specialties and address strategic issues facing the overall business, many managers do not immediately grasp that this will involve relational—not analytical—tasks. Nor do they easily understand that exchanges and interactions with a diverse array of current and potential stakeholders are not distractions from their “real work” but are actually at the heart of their new leadership roles.

Like Henrik (whose identity we’ve disguised, along with all the other managers we describe here), a majority of the managers we work with say that they find networking insincere or manipulative—at best, an elegant way of using people. Not surprisingly, for every manager who instinctively constructs and maintains a useful network, we see several who struggle to overcome this innate resistance. Yet the alternative to networking is to fail—either in reaching for a leadership position or in succeeding at it.

Watching our emerging leaders approach this daunting task, we discovered that three distinct but interdependent forms of networking—operational, personal, and strategic—played a vital role in their transitions. The first helped them manage current internal responsibilities, the second boosted their personal development, and the third opened their eyes to new business directions and the stakeholders they would need to enlist. While our managers differed in how well they pursued operational and personal networking, we discovered that almost all of them underutilized strategic networking. In this article, we describe key features of each networking form (summarized in the exhibit “The Three Forms of Networking”) and, using our managers’ experiences, explain how a three-pronged networking strategy can become part and parcel of a new leader’s development plan.

The Three Forms of Networking Managers who think they are adept at networking are often operating only at an operational or personal level. Effective leaders learn to employ networks for strategic purposes.

Operational Networking

All managers need to build good working relationships with the people who can help them do their jobs. The number and breadth of people involved can be impressive—such operational networks include not only direct reports and superiors but also peers within an operational unit, other internal players with the power to block or support a project, and key outsiders such as suppliers, distributors, and customers. The purpose of this type of networking is to ensure coordination and cooperation among people who have to know and trust one another in order to accomplish their immediate tasks. That isn’t always easy, but it is relatively straightforward, because the task provides focus and a clear criterion for membership in the network: Either you’re necessary to the job and helping to get it done, or you’re not.

Although operational networking was the form that came most naturally to the managers we studied, nearly every one had important blind spots regarding people and groups they depended on to make things happen. In one case, Alistair, an accounting manager who worked in an entrepreneurial firm with several hundred employees, was suddenly promoted by the company’s founder to financial director and given a seat on the board. He was both the youngest and the least-experienced board member, and his instinctive response to these new responsibilities was to reestablish his functional credentials. Acting on a hint from the founder that the company might go public, Alistair undertook a reorganization of the accounting department that would enable the books to withstand close scrutiny. Alistair succeeded brilliantly in upgrading his team’s capabilities, but he missed the fact that only a minority of the seven-person board shared the founder’s ambition. A year into Alistair’s tenure, discussion about whether to take the company public polarized the board, and he discovered that all that time cleaning up the books might have been better spent sounding out his codirectors.

One of the problems with an exclusive reliance on operational networks is that they are usually geared toward meeting objectives as assigned, not toward asking the strategic question, “What should we be doing?” By the same token, managers do not exercise as much personal choice in assembling operational relationships as they do in weaving personal and strategic networks, because to a large extent the right relationships are prescribed by the job and organizational structure. Thus, most operational networking occurs within an organization, and ties are determined in large part by routine, short-term demands. Relationships formed with outsiders, such as board members, customers, and regulators, are directly task-related and tend to be bounded and constrained by demands determined at a higher level. Of course, an individual manager can choose to deepen and develop the ties to different extents, and all managers exercise discretion over who gets priority attention. It’s the quality of relationships—the rapport and mutual trust—that gives an operational network its power. Nonetheless, the substantial constraints on network membership mean these connections are unlikely to deliver value to managers beyond assistance with the task at hand.

As a manager moves into a leadership role, his or her network must reorient itself externally and toward the future.

The typical manager in our group was more concerned with sustaining cooperation within the existing network than with building relationships to face nonroutine or unforeseen challenges. But as a manager moves into a leadership role, his or her network must reorient itself externally and toward the future

Personal Networking

We observed that once aspiring leaders like Alistair awaken to the dangers of an excessively internal focus, they begin to seek kindred spirits outside their organizations. Simultaneously, they become aware of the limitations of their social skills, such as a lack of knowledge about professional domains beyond their own, which makes it difficult for them to find common ground with people outside their usual circles. Through professional associations, alumni groups, clubs, and personal interest communities, managers gain new perspectives that allow them to advance in their careers. This is what we mean by personal networking.

Many of the managers we study question why they should spend precious time on an activity so indirectly related to the work at hand. Why widen one’s circle of casual acquaintances when there isn’t time even for urgent tasks? The answer is that these contacts provide important referrals, information, and, often, developmental support such as coaching and mentoring. A newly appointed factory director, for example, faced with a turnaround-or-close-down situation that was paralyzing his staff, joined a business organization—and through it met a lawyer who became his counsel in the turnaround. Buoyed by his success, he networked within his company’s headquarters in search of someone who had dealt with a similar crisis. Eventually, he found two mentors.

A personal network can also be a safe space for personal development and as such can provide a foundation for strategic networking. The experience of Timothy, a principal in a midsize software company, is a good example. Like his father, Timothy stuttered. When he had the opportunity to prepare for meetings, his stutter was not an issue, but spontaneous encounters inside and outside the company were dreadfully painful. To solve this problem, he began accepting at least two invitations per week to the social gatherings he had assiduously ignored before. Before each event, he asked who else had been invited and did background research on the other guests so that he could initiate conversations. The hardest part, he said, was “getting through the door.” Once inside, his interest in the conversations helped him forget himself and master his stutter. As his stutter diminished, he also applied himself to networking across his company, whereas previously he had taken refuge in his technical expertise. Like Timothy, several of our emerging leaders successfully used personal networking as a relatively safe way to expose problems and seek insight into solutions—safe, that is, compared with strategic networking, in which the stakes are far higher.

Personal networks are largely external, made up of discretionary links to people with whom we have something in common. As a result, what makes a personal network powerful is its referral potential. According to the famous six degrees of separation principle, our personal contacts are valuable to the extent that they help us reach, in as few connections as possible, the far-off person who has the information we need.

In watching managers struggle to widen their professional relationships in ways that feel both natural and legitimate to them, we repeatedly saw them shift their time and energy from operational to personal networking. For people who have rarely looked outside their organizations, this is an important first step, one that fosters a deeper understanding of themselves and the environments in which they move. Ultimately, however, personal networking alone won’t propel managers through the leadership transition. Aspiring leaders may find people who awaken new interests but fail to become comfortable with the power players at the level above them. Or they may achieve new influence within a professional community but fail to harness those ties in the service of organizational goals. That’s why managers who know they need to develop their networking skills, and make a real effort to do so, nonetheless may end up feeling like they have wasted their time and energy. As we’ll see, personal networking will not help a manager through the leadership transition unless he or she learns how to bring those connections to bear on organizational strategy.

Strategic Networking

When managers begin the delicate transition from functional manager to business leader, they must start to concern themselves with broad strategic issues. Lateral and vertical relationships with other functional and business unit managers—all people outside their immediate control—become a lifeline for figuring out how their own contributions fit into the big picture. Thus strategic networking plugs the aspiring leader into a set of relationships and information sources that collectively embody the power to achieve personal and organizational goals.

Operating beside players with diverse affiliations, backgrounds, objectives, and incentives requires a manager to formulate business rather than functional objectives, and to work through the coalitions and networks needed to sell ideas and compete for resources. Consider Sophie, a manager who, after rising steadily through the ranks in logistics and distribution, was stupefied to learn that the CEO was considering a radical reorganization of her function that would strip her of some responsibilities. Rewarded to date for incremental annual improvements, she had failed to notice shifting priorities in the wider market and the resulting internal shuffle for resources and power at the higher levels of her company. Although she had built a loyal, high-performing team, she had few relationships outside her group to help her anticipate the new imperatives, let alone give her ideas about how to respond. After she argued that distribution issues were her purview, and failed to be persuasive, she hired consultants to help her prepare a counterproposal. But Sophie’s boss simply concluded that she lacked a broad, longer-term business perspective. Frustrated, Sophie contemplated leaving the company. Only after some patient coaching from a senior manager did she understand that she had to get out of her unit and start talking to opinion leaders inside and outside the company to form a sellable plan for the future.

What differentiates a leader from a manager, research tells us, is the ability to figure out where to go and to enlist the people and groups necessary to get there. Recruiting stakeholders, lining up allies and sympathizers, diagnosing the political landscape, and brokering conversations among unconnected parties are all part of a leader’s job. As they step up to the leadership transition, some managers accept their growing dependence on others and seek to transform it into mutual influence. Others dismiss such work as “political” and, as a result, undermine their ability to advance their goals.

Several of the participants in our sample chose the latter approach, justifying their choice as a matter of personal values and integrity. In one case, Jody, who managed a department in a large company under what she described as “dysfunctional” leadership, refused even to try to activate her extensive network within the firm when internal adversaries took over key functions of her unit. When we asked her why she didn’t seek help from anyone in the organization to stop this coup, she replied that she refused to play “stupid political games….You can only do what you think is the ethical and right thing from your perspective.” Stupid or not, those games cost her the respect and support of her direct reports and coworkers, who hesitated to follow someone they perceived as unwilling to defend herself. Eventually she had no choice but to leave.

The key to a good strategic network is leverage: the ability to marshal information, support, and resources from one sector of a network to achieve results in another. Strategic networkers use indirect influence, convincing one person in the network to get someone else, who is not in the network, to take a needed action. Moreover, strategic networkers don’t just influence their relational environment; they shape it in their own image by moving and hiring subordinates, changing suppliers and sources of financing, lobbying to place allies in peer positions, and even restructuring their boards to create networks favorable to their business goals. Jody abjured such tactics, but her adversaries did not.

Strategic networking can be difficult for emerging leaders because it absorbs a significant amount of the time and energy that managers usually devote to meeting their many operational demands. This is one reason why many managers drop their strategic networking precisely when they need it most: when their units are in trouble and only outside support can rescue them. The trick is not to hide in the operational network but to develop it into a more strategic one.

One manager we studied, for example, used lateral and functional contacts throughout his firm to resolve tensions with his boss that resulted from substantial differences in style and strategic approaches between the two. Tied down in operational chores at a distant location, the manager had lost contact with headquarters. He resolved the situation by simultaneously obliging his direct reports to take on more of the local management effort and sending messages through his network that would help

Operational, personal, and strategic networks are not mutually exclusive. One manager we studied used his personal passion, hunting, to meet people from professions as diverse as stonemasonry and household moving. Almost none of these hunting friends had anything to do with his work in the consumer electronics industry, yet they all had to deal with one of his own daily concerns: customer relations. Hearing about their problems and techniques allowed him to view his own from a different perspective and helped him define principles that he could test in his work. Ultimately, what began as a personal network of hunting partners became operationally and strategically valuable to this manager. The key was his ability to build inside-outside links for maximum leverage. But we’ve seen others who avoided networking, or failed at it, because they let interpersonal chemistry, not strategic needs, determine which relationships they cultivated.

Just Do It

The word “work” is part of networking, and it is not easy work, because it involves reaching outside the borders of a manager’s comfort zone. How, then, can managers lessen the pain and increase the gain? The trick is to leverage the elements from each domain of networking into the others—to seek out personal contacts who can be objective, strategic counselors, for example, or to transform colleagues in adjacent functions into a constituency. Above all, many managers will need to change their attitudes about the legitimacy and necessity of networking.

Mind your mind-set.

In our ongoing discussions with managers learning to improve their networking skills, we often hear, “That’s all well and good, but I already have a day job.” Others, like Jody, consider working through networks a way to rely on “whom you know” rather than “what you know”—a hypocritical, even unethical way to get things done. Whatever the reason, when aspiring leaders do not believe that networking is one of the most important requirements of their new jobs, they will not allocate enough time and effort to see it pay off.

The best solution we’ve seen to this trap is a good role model. Many times, what appears to be unpalatable or unproductive behavior takes on a new light when a person you respect does it well and ethically. For example, Gabriel Chenard, general manager for Europe of a group of consumer product brands, learned from the previous general manager how to take advantage of branch visits to solidify his relationships with employees and customers. Every flight and car trip became a venue for catching up and building relationships with the people who were accompanying him. Watching how much his boss got done on what would otherwise be downtime, Gabriel adopted the practice as a crucial part of his own management style. Networking effectively and ethically, like any other tacit skill, is a matter of judgment and intuition. We learn by observing and getting feedback from those for whom it’s second nature.

Work from the outside in.

One of the most daunting aspects of strategic networking is that there often seems to be no natural “excuse” for making contact with a more senior person outside one’s function or business unit. It’s difficult to build a relationship with anyone, let alone a senior executive, without a reason for interacting, like a common task or a shared purpose.

Some successful managers find common ground from the outside in—by, for instance, transposing a personal interest into the strategic domain. Linda Henderson is a good example. An investment banker responsible for a group of media industry clients, she always wondered how to connect to some of her senior colleagues who served other industries. She resolved to make time for an extracurricular passion—the theater—in a way that would enhance her business development activities. Four times a year, her secretary booked a buffet dinner at a downtown hotel and reserved a block of theater tickets. Key clients were invited. Through these events, Linda not only developed her own business but also learned about her clients’ companies in a way that generated ideas for other parts of her firm, thus enabling her to engage with colleagues.

Other managers build outside-inside connections by using their functional interests or expertise. For example, communities of practice exist (or can easily be created on the Internet) in almost every area of business from brand management to Six Sigma to global strategy. Savvy managers reach out to kindred spirits outside their organizations to contribute and multiply their knowledge; the information they glean, in more cases than not, becomes the “hook” for making internal connections.

Savvy managers reach out to kindred spirits outside their organizations to contribute and multiply their knowledge; the information they glean, in more cases than not, becomes the “hook” for making internal connections.

Re-allocate your time.

If an aspiring leader has not yet mastered the art of delegation, he or she will find many reasons not to spend time networking. Participating in formal and informal meetings with people in other units takes time away from functional responsibilities and internal team affairs. Between the obvious payoff of a task accomplished and the ambiguous, often delayed rewards of networking, naive managers repeatedly choose the former. The less they practice networking, the less efficient at it they become, and the vicious cycle continues.

Henrik, the production manager and board member we described earlier, for example, did what he needed to do in order to prepare for board meetings but did not associate with fellow board members outside those formal events. As a result, he was frequently surprised when other board members raised issues at the heart of his role. In contrast, effective business leaders spend a lot of time every day gathering the information they need to meet their goals, relying on informal discussions with a lot of people who are not necessarily in charge of an issue or task. They network in order to obtain information continually, not just at formal meetings.

Ask and you shall receive.

Many managers equate having a good network with having a large database of contacts, or attending high-profile professional conferences and events. In fact, we’ve seen people kick off a networking initiative by improving their record keeping or adopting a network management tool. But they falter at the next step—picking up the phone. Instead, they wait until they need something badly. The best networkers do exactly the opposite: They take every opportunity to give to, and receive from, the network, whether they need help or not.

A network lives and thrives only when it is used. A good way to begin is to make a simple request or take the initiative to connect two people who would benefit from meeting each other. Doing something—anything—gets the ball rolling and builds confidence that one does, in fact, have something to contribute.

Stick to it.

It takes a while to reap the benefits of networking. We have seen many managers resolve to put networking at the top of their agendas, only to be derailed by the first crisis that comes along. One example is Harris Roberts, a regulatory affairs expert who realized he needed a broader network to achieve his goal of becoming a business unit manager. To force himself into what felt like an “unnatural act,” Harris volunteered to be the liaison for his business school cohort’s alumni network. But six months later, when a major new-drug approval process overwhelmed his calendar, Harris dropped all outside activities. Two years later, he found himself out of touch and still a functional manager. He failed to recognize that by not taking the time to attend industry conferences or compare notes with his peers, he was missing out on the strategic perspective and information that would make him a more attractive candidate for promotion.

Building a leadership network is less a matter of skill than of will. When first efforts do not bring quick rewards, some may simply conclude that networking isn’t among their talents. But networking is not a talent; nor does it require a gregarious, extroverted personality. It is a skill, one that takes practice. We have seen over and over again that people who work at networking can learn not only how to do it well but also how to enjoy it. And they tend to be more successful in their careers than those who fail to leverage external ties or insist on defining their jobs narrowly.

Making a successful leadership transition requires a shift from the confines of a clearly defined operational network. Aspiring leaders must learn to build and use strategic networks that cross organizational and functional boundaries, and then link them up in novel and innovative ways. It is a challenge to make the leap from a lifetime of functional contributions and hands-on control to the ambiguous process of building and working through networks. Leaders must find new ways of defining themselves and develop new relationships to anchor and feed their emerging personas. They must also accept that networking is one of the most important requirements of their new leadership roles and continue to allocate enough time and effort to see it pay off.

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What Is A Thought Leader?

It’s a truism that thought leaders tend to be the most successful individuals or firms in their respective fields. Furthermore, in the research literature, there’s a general consensus that being a thought leader whether you’re an individual or employed at an organization and you want to grow the business, or even an association seeking new members as well as more generous sponsors, being a thought leader can make a very significant and positive difference.

When you think of the term thought leader, what comes to mind? With all the definitional dispersion around the phrase, as a starting point it’s usually very worthwhile to define just what a thought leader is and, sometimes more importantly, what a thought leader is not.

What we've found is that some people take a very expansive view of the term, wrapping internal strategy and corporate culture into their definition. Other individuals are more constrained in their definition. Bluntly, there are many definitions of the term.

The way we conceptualize and define thought leadership highlights and emphasizes the potential exponential rewards of being a thought leader. In fact, that it’s the exponential rewards that is very much the focal point of our thinking and consulting in the field. From our perspective, no one can possibly be a thought leader unless they’re capitalizing on the dramatically enhanced brand equity attained by being a thought leader.

Based on decades of working with professionals, their firms and other types of organizations, we have a two-part definition of what constitutes a thought leader:

Definition—Part One

A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.

Considering the title of this column, what we’re talking about in Part One of the definition is “brilliance.” What’s essential to understand is that brilliance doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s a total waste of time to debate whether it’s authentic or not. Brilliance is a function of acclaim, created where others bestow the accolades. We now move to the second part of the definition, the commercial component:

Definition—Part Two

A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognized as such.

People are in businesses to make money. By and large, their objective whether through products, services or both is to do a top-notch job for their clients. Still, it’s fair to say, they want to be well compensated to the extent possible. Being a thought leader is very much about making money, which is also evidenced in the title for this column.

Let’s consider a tax accounting firm that wants to become a thought leader. A new law comes out that will have a dramatic effect on how to address the depreciation of certain corporate assets. For the tax accounting firm to appear as a thought leader, the tax partners have to do a lot more than merely regurgitate the new law. However, in most situations with professionals, simply repeating the basics tends to be the norm.

To become a thought leader, the tax accounting firm needs to do a deep dive concerning the new law. The partners must determine just how the law will impact various companies. Furthermore, the tax accountants must develop distinctive insights and actionable planning strategies based on the new law. There have to be recommendations attached to the analysis that can prove beneficial to the impacted companies. It’s of critical importance that the tax accounting firm communicates that it’s the go-to expert concerning these distinctive insights and actionable strategies. As the go-to expert, the accounting firm will have structured the means to more effectively garner new clients and do more business with current clients with the result being a larger bottom-line. Being selectively renowned can be very rewarding, but being wealthy as well is immensely better.

For any individual or any organization to be a thought leader it’s especially critical that they monetize their state-of-the-art thinking by increasing their ability to source, work with and profit from their target markets. In effect, being a thought leader absolutely includes the ability to garner radically above-average returns for the investment and effort. Becoming a thought leader is about making money and making history.

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What is Thought Leadership and why do you need it?

What is thought leadership and why do you need it? These are questions I get asked all the time.

Executives want to know how to build it. Marketers want to know how to deploy it. Sales people want to learn how to convert it.

Thought leadership is also an important component to an effective content marketing strategy. So here I will share some of the insights from the discussion as well as 5 steps to create thought leadership that drives real results…

What is Thought Leadership?

To me, Thought Leadership is all about having the answers to the biggest questions on the minds of your buyers. It can also include your unique perspective on hot topics relevant for your customers. The key here is that the agenda is set by your audience. They determine what is important.

It can be difficult to give up this control over to your buyers. But the fact is that they already have the control. And we can all benefit when we allow our audience to set the agenda and then just go with it.

Thought leadership becomes effective when the passion and expertise of the thought leader coincide with the interests of the audience you are trying to reach.

Why is Thought Leadership important?

Thought leadership is important for both B2C and B2B companies but I think it is especially important in B2B. This is because of the complexity of the decision-making process in B2B environments and the large number of people involved. Thought leadership content can help anyone involved in the business decision making process to gain alignment across their company regarding the problems they are facing. It can help them to “name” the problem.

For marketers, Thought Leadership allows us to define the category of our solution. Branding on today’s digital age is all about being associated with the questions our buyers are asking.

Where does Thought Leadership come from?

Thought Leadership can come from any source – executives, customers, product managers, designers, customer service reps, sales people. We all have knowledge, experience and a point of view.

But ultimately, thought leaders need to inspire our buyers to act – to take the next step in their journey. Of course, the challenge is in the telling!

What are the benefits of Thought Leadership?

The benefits of Thought leadership start with brand affinity. By communicating thought leadership you become part of the conversation, early in the buying journey. You allow your audience to get to know you.

Thought Leadership can drive engagement with larger numbers of potential customers. It’s easy to quantify the number of people searching on your product’s category terms than on your product names. Speak to those folks in the early stages and you will see the contribution of conversion to real revenue directly from your website sky rocket.

Ultimately, Thought Leadership is one of the outcomes of a Content Strategy. And content is bigger than marketing. Leaders are everywhere. Expose your thought leaders and you begin the process of becoming a social business – real people with real faces talking to real customers and buyers.

How do you create Thought Leadership that drives real results?

According to MarketingProf’s, here are 5 ideas for creating thought leadership content that drives sales:

Conduct and share research: she says “providing research allows your company to become a source of information and online content.” Entertain and Delight: Megan advises marketers to “inject personality and humor into your content. Prospects will be more likely to remember you, and, when they do decide to evaluate solutions, you’ll be top of mind.” Interview the Product Team: to develop trust in your organization and provide some of the interesting back story on products. Invite Customers to Participate: I love the idea of interviewing customers to create content.

Remove the curtain between thought leaders and customers: as Megan says, “nothing says “I’m a leader” better than having a few dozen people seek your advice in a group setting.”

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The Golden Rules For Creating Thoughtful Thought Leadership

Firms large and small want to be thought leaders. Thought leadership extends from strategic differentiation, a proof point, a demonstration of differentiation. Amid the cacophony of corporate voices, those found to be additive to the dialogue, rather than distracting, can be considered thought leaders. Given our complex world, there are many things that need to be considered, so providing true thought leadership can be as valuable to a brand as the products or services it sells.

Successful thought leadership does not arrive with a published idea linked to a hope that someone will recognize brilliance and sweep your firm from obscurity into industry prominence. Establishing a firm or an individual as a thought leader requires consistent, diligent effort. Thought leadership is cumulative. Although thought leadership can and should have tactical elements that reveal the evolution of an idea from concept toward implementation, all thought leadership should be strategic at the onset. Thought leadership should be about a big idea that changes how people perceive the world.

If an organization invests in the communication or “creation” of thought leadership, it should know what it wants from those who will consume that thought leadership. Most of the time the answer should be respect and recognition, though marketing may well have greater revenue-related ambitions. Thought leadership should also be an entry point to a relationship. Thought leadership should intrigue, challenge, and inspire even people already familiar with a company. It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships.

After many years of developing thought leadership for companies large and small, I have discovered these 10 golden rules that can elevate thought leadership, from an organization talking to a small audience about small things, to an organization using whatever platform the market affords them to shape people’s perception of their company, their products, even their shared futures.

1. Don’t sell anything except ideas. Selling during a thought leadership presentation, discussion, or post is the number one sin, and therefore, “not selling” is the number-one rule. The target audience for thought leadership represents the most sophisticated of information consumers. The consumer of thought leadership knows that the company delivering them the insight is a commercial firm, and that they are in the business of making money. Don’t tell them that during the course of an article about the future of health care that you have the best answer to the problem, and then rattle off a bunch of product names or put up a bevy of logos to convince them of your leadership position. If your ideas are valuable and meaningful, buyers will come to you. They will ask how you uniquely deal with the problems you illuminate. When that happens, the thought leadership conversation becomes a pre-sales conversation and then you can shift into a more traditional sales relationship. But remember, thought leadership delivered the relationship, it brought the person to you, so don’t abandon it once they knock on the door (see rule 9).

2. Always give it away. Thought leadership is not a revenue stream unless you work for a thought leadership company (like an analyst firm). For most companies, from banks to retail, from health care to energy, thought leadership should be freely available. I even cringe at using it for lead generation because that context broadcasts a future sales call. Create your thought leadership with an eye toward accrual of brand value, not revenue. The dividends may be intangible, but when thought leadership flips from push to pull (writers are seeking out your opinion, conferences are inviting you to present), then you will know that you have a thought leadership hit.

3. Have a unique perspective. Two rules in and we finally get to a content-oriented rule. A unique perspective means taking a position on something meaningful and interpreting it for others. That’s pretty vague, and it needs to be, because you don’t want to place narrow constraints on thought leadership. Apple doesn’t produce a lot of white papers on design, yet they are seen as a thought leader in hardware design. The result reflects their thought leadership.

4. Focus on one thing at a time. Individuals as thought leaders may be disjointed and avant-garde; companies, especially public ones, need to be focused. Companies need to focus on creating a new context or lens through which investors or consumers perceive the company, its brand, its products or its services. Microsoft, for instance, hosts the “Microsoft Home” on its campus, where it gives tours of a home where engineers demonstrate how software might change tomorrow’s living experience. The “Microsoft Home” doesn’t include how to use the next version of Excel to create grocery lists, but rather how interactive surfaces and software can integrate recipes directly into the cooking experience. The “Home” focuses on consumer innovation.

And this leads to one caveat for these rules when applied to conglomerates and holding companies: individual businesses or brands can and should demonstrate thought leadership within their domains, separate from whatever corporate thought leadership exists. Down the hall from the “Microsoft Home,” for instance, lies the “Center for Information Work,” which demonstrates future office scenarios.

Like Microsoft, GE clearly needs to convey different thought leadership across various units like medical devices, aircraft engines and energy generation. GE’s corporate thought leadership takes place at the imagination level. They want to be seen as innovative. On their website, innovation, which leads to stories and research, precedes their product menu. Again, those who want to buy wind turbines will go to the Energy page. But those who want to understand a potential supplier of wind turbines before committing will likely go to the innovation pages first–perhaps more importantly, people who only know GE as a light bulb company can start a very different relationship with the company through its innovation pages.

5. Address a specific audience. Thought leadership only matters if people read it. It is, therefore, created for people–and most people live a life, work in a job, and have very little bandwidth to take in new ideas unless those ideas improve their life or work. Thought leadership, therefore, needs to help people with their life or work. I often advise those developing thought leadership to “go vertical or go home.” There is very little generic thought leadership that is useful. The best thought leadership helps people in an industry, or more likely, in a role within an industry, do something better or gain insight that helps them better understand their market, or their job. Talking to banking people about manufacturing usually raises a big yawn. Good thought leaders know how to craft their messages for their audience. Like rule 4, you may want to concentrate on one, or just a few audiences, rather than get spread thin trying to find a way to attach to all markets, unless of course, you have the budget and the will to go big.

6. Get involved. If an organization cares passionately about something, then it should get involved in its passion. This does not imply just social issues. Project management companies need to be at project management societies. Workforce planning companies need to participate in workforce planning conferences. Electronics firms need to sponsor academic programs. You get the idea? And participate does not mean sponsor, not exclusively. It means run workshops, give presentations, host parties, run panels, lead societies, join standards bodies. But that is the easy stuff. Getting involved may also mean starting a not-for-profit that redefines an idea and creates a platform where other like-minded firms can invest. The bottom line for get involved: don’t just say, do.

7. Admit what you don’t know. Another way to say this: be humble. I’ve lost track of the number of times audiences award kudos to presenters who admit they don’t know something. I don’t mean uninformed defensive posturing–I mean the legitimate, sincere expression of uncertainty. A software company that admits it doesn’t know what the future of communications will look like, that actively and thoughtfully explores a number of possible evolutions does a much bigger service to the industry than one who places a shaky stake in the ground to align its vision with its product roadmap. Thought leadership isn’t about making the bet early and hoping you’re not wrong; it’s about actively pursuing possibilities and sharing that enthusiasm for exploration with customers and partners. Thought leadership should excite, and noting excites more than going on a journey into the unknown, be it to a cavern where a dragon named Smaug purportedly lives, or trying to figure out how people should work in the next decade.

8. Make your audience feel smarter. Thought leadership can be at its most effective when it is not only free, but has a perceived personal value. Think about a manager who attends a thought leadership session on social media in marketing and then comes back with some great ideas for his or her team. The person sharing his or her learning expresses a certain level of trust in the source, which they may well return to should any of the ideas stick, thus transforming a learning experience into a purchase. Those “transactions” can’t be counted upon, but if the recipients of the thought leadership don’t believe it somehow enhances what they know, then they are either the wrong audience, or the content isn’t valuable. And if the individual recipient of thought leadership doesn’t perceive value, they won’t pursue a relationship.

9. Market thought leadership like a product. This rule may appear at first to be counterintuitive because it seems so crassly self-serving. The fact is, thought leaders can’t be thought leaders if they aren’t heard. A single speech at a conference, unless it goes viral (and chances are it won’t), is much like placing a single advertisement on the television in one time slot and hoping that people catch it. Thought leadership needs to be turned into a campaign: tweeted, Facebooked, webinared, even advertised. Thought leadership shows up in the op-ed pages of the New York Times. Thought leadership shows up in the pages of Fast Company in executive interviews. If you have a thought leadership team that thinks the ideas themselves will produce uptake, they will probably be disappointed. Most thought leadership isn’t viral, it is marketing, and because it probably isn’t directly related to a product, it needs to be treated like a product, and marketed in its own right, internally and externally.

10. Hire thought leaders. Some, like Shel Israel (“What Makes a Thought Leader?”), believe that thought leaders are people, not companies. I disagree.

Companies create a context and they permit thought leaders to thrive, but few thought leaders end up running the company and leading industry disruption. The people who understand CEOs at IBM may be big names in their circles, but their thought leadership accrues to the brand. IBM, through investments in CEO Global Study, the Center for the Business Government, or the Center for Social Business, employ thought leaders, and the output of those thought leaders shapes the dialogue. Those individual thought leaders may bring their own disruptive forces inside a company, but part of thought leadership involves the risk of allowing new ideas to flourish, and being brave enough to have smart people challenge assumptions and chew away at the status quo.

OK, 10 isn’t enough…this one desires its own call-out anyway:

Thought leaders should be thoughtful leaders. Being a thought leader, is quite frankly, a term that one has bestowed on them. They may aspire to be a thought leader, but the consumers of their speeches, rhetoric and writing ultimately determine if they are one or not. Organizations, be they public sector or private, retail or Rotarian, need to be thoughtful leaders. Because of their position, those creating perspectives and content have a leadership role, what they choose to do with their platform defines how they are viewed by consumers.

Being a thoughtful leader also means being a patient leader. Thought leadership does not immediately increase retail transactions, software license sales, or fill the consulting pipeline. Over time, thought leaders build trust, and build a following, but how long that takes depends on industry, investment, and perhaps most importantly, the value of the ideas and their commercial success. Thought leadership also requires perseverance and dedication, as well as a willingness to honestly examine why something you think should work isn’t working, and then, to refashion the idea into something more consumable, or abandon it for a new, better position.

If you want your organization to be a thought leader, you need to make sure that what you create comes infused with the DNA of the organization, and that it finds its way back into that DNA. To extend the metaphor, thought leadership can be considered a way of introducing positive mutations into an organization. Individual thought leaders can, and often are, independent standouts against the status quo. Successful organizations that exude thought leadership attract and retain customers, drive revenue, and get invited to all the best parties (like Davos) because they not only express thoughtful ideas and act as a thoughtful leader, but because their organizations reflect the thought leadership in how they behave, what they create, and how they treat their customers.

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4 Questions to Ask When Thinking of Thought Leadership

Far too many people dismiss thought leadership as a buzzword devoid of real substance, which is unfortunate -- because it’s not just a buzzword. But, what is it really? When should you consider using it, and how do you balance the talent and experience of your team with the humility and authenticity that today’s audiences demand?

Let’s start by getting on the same page with these four questions: 

1. What is thought leadership?

At its core, thought leadership is a type of content marketing where you tap into the talent, experience and passion inside your business, or from your community, to answer the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience on a particular topic.

The source is not as important as the content. Thought leadership doesn’t mean a big name from a big school, it means you provide the best and deepest answers to your customers’ biggest questions in the formats your audience likes to consume them.

Thought leadership is a key component of content marketing, but it’s important not to fall into the unique-point-of-view trap. I have heard more than a few executives delay betting on content marketing by focusing on the unique point of view. They say, "There is so much noise in the marketplace. We can only compete if our content is differentiated."

Your audience isn’t looking for your content to be differentiated all of the time. They are just looking for the best answers to the questions. Or as Bryan Rhoads at Intel likes to say, “You have to win the internet every day.” Of course you want to differentiate your point of view when it’s appropriate. Differentiate with your visual design. But mostly, differentiate by becoming an authority and by helping your customers with different types of content, every single day.

We have to be careful with how we use the words thought leadership though. Wikipedia actually calls it business jargon and defines it as content that is recognized by others as innovative, covering trends and topics that influence an industry.

2. When should you consider a thought leadership approach?

One of the best ways to establish authority on your topic is to produce deep research on the subject. You have to present a depth of knowledge that no one else has.

You also have to define all of your customers challenges, and define the best ways to overcome them. Many brands think this is an opportunity to talk about their products and how they are better, but this isn’t an effective approach. As soon as you start promoting yourself, your audience will start to tune out, and you will lose the trust you worked so hard to build.

3. What are the benefits of thought leadership?

The benefits of thought leadership start with brand affinity. By communicating thought leadership, you become part of the conversation early in the consumer journey. You allow your audience to get to know you.

Ultimately, thought leadership is one of the outcomes of a solid content strategy. And content is bigger than marketing. Leaders are everywhere. Expose your thought leaders, and you begin the process of becoming a social business -- real people with real faces talking to real customers and buyers.

4. How do you create thought leadership that drives results?

Identify a topic that is closely associated with your brand. Are you an authority on that topic. A simple Google search can help you answer that question. Often we find that brands are not just competing with their direct competitors. You are competing with everyone. Anyone who publishes content in your space is competing for mind share and authority.

You also need to identify the questions your customers are asking. Identify them all, make a list and prioritize them. Answer those questions across multiple formats and multiple channels in a way that adds value to your audience. Start with the most important and work your way down the list. Seek to be the best answer to those questions.

Finally, create your thought leadership content in an engaging way. Viral cat videos and listicles are great, but you shouldn’t dismiss any content types that your audience might be interested in. You need to educate them, but we are all human and none of us mind a little humor. Use lots of examples, facts and quotes. I love the idea of interviewing customers to create content or curating content from other sources while adding your own perspective.

Your audience is looking for help. Are you willing to give it to them? And tell me, what do you think? What does thought leadership mean to you?

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5 Research-Based Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination

Chances are that at this very moment you’re procrastinating on something. Maybe you’re even reading this article to do so.

A while back, I took a year to experiment with every piece of personal productivity advice I could find. In becoming hyperaware of how I spent my time, I noticed something: I procrastinated a lot more often than I had originally thought. In one time log I kept, I found that over the course of one week, I spent six hours putting off tasks — and that’s just the procrastination that was apparent from my time log.

This got me thinking: why do we procrastinate, even though we know it’s against our best interests? How can we overcome it, preferably without hating ourselves or the techniques we use in the process?

To answer these questions, I spoke to researchers, and spent time digging through dozens of academic journal articles. The advice I gathered became the foundation for part of my book and, fortunately, I discovered that a lot of it works.

Why we procrastinate

One of the first things I learned was that procrastination is a human condition. About 95% of people admit to putting off work, according to Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation. And I’d argue the remaining 5% are lying.

As for the phenomenon of putting stuff off, it’s “a purely visceral, emotional reaction to something we don’t want to do,” says Tim Pychyl, author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle. The more averse you find a task, the more likely you are to procrastinate.

In his research, Pychyl identifies a set of seven triggers that make a task seem more averse. Bring to mind something you’re putting off right now — you’ll probably find that task has many, if not all, of the characteristics that Pychyl discovered makes a task procrastination-worthy:

Boring Frustrating Difficult Ambiguous Unstructured Not intrinsically rewarding (i.e., you don’t find the process fun) Lacking in personal meaning

On a neurological level, procrastination is not the slightest bit logical — it’s the result of the emotional part of your brain, your limbic system, strong-arming the reasonable, rational part of your brain, your prefrontal cortex. The logical part of your brain surrenders the moment you choose Facebook over work, or decide to binge another episode of House of Cards when you get home.

But there’s a way you can give the logical side of your brain the upper hand. When you notice an approaching showdown between logic and emotion, resist the impulse to procrastinate. Here are the best ways I’ve discovered in my research to do that.

Reverse the procrastination triggers. Consider which of Pychyl’s seven procrastination triggers are set off by an activity you’re dreading. Then try to think differently about the task, making the idea of completing it more attractive.

Take writing a quarterly report. If you find this boring, you can turn it into a game: see how many words you can crank out in a 20-minute time period. Or if you find a work task ambiguous and unstructured, create a workflow that lays out the exact steps you and your team should follow each month to get it done.

Work within your resistance level. When a task sets off procrastination triggers, we resist doing it. But just how resistant are we?

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Larry Kim’s leadership secret everyone should know.

“I once worked at a company where the leadership was very aggressive, causing a ripple effect where everyone was very defensive,” Larry tells us. 

“Employees were constantly looking to blame others when things went badly and were very reluctant to take risks.”

Larry Kim, as is all too common, once worked in a toxic environment with bad company culture. Since then, he’s gained some valuable insights on what it takes to build and maintain good company culture.

Today, Larry Kim is CEO of Mobile Monkey, Founder of WordStream, Inc. Magazine Columnist and Editor of Marketing and Entrepreneurship with over 200k followers. Since 2004, Larry has worked in SaaS, Venture Capital, Market Consulting and built his own entrepreneurial visions.

Back when Larry worked in this particularly negative company culture, he observed what ended up being “a vicious cycle that alienated productive employees who would eventually quit as a result of dissatisfaction.” 

But the problem wasn’t that this company only managed to hire aggressive employees. New employees were actually unknowingly adopting this unproductive company culture from their leaders. 

The influence leaders had on company culture stuck with Larry as he went on to build two successful entrepreneurial ventures and advise on countless more.

“Employees take cues from the top.”

When Larry Kim founded WordStream, he noticed new employees would show up wearing business attire but within a few weeks, it would devolve to cargo pants and flip-flops. 

“But why?” we asked.

Larry had an unconventional leadership story to share with us.

He conducted an office experiment where he would dress in business attire, everyday for several months. The intention? To see how much he can change his company’s culture.

Sure enough, within a few months of Larry’s shift in office attire, the rest of the company gradually started dressing more formal again.

Larry realized that leaders can make define changes by demonstrating company values by example. 

“Employees take cues from the top,” he tells us.

But at the end of the day, employees always hold the power to decide whether or not to take cues from the top. Employees that don’t agree with values demonstrated by leadership usually end up leaving the company. 

“Culture is largely a reflection of the people you recruit.” 

—Larry Kim

So while Larry discovered how to drive change with employees that shared similar values—by leading from the top—this approach ultimately didn’t retain all talent. Larry needed a way to recruit employees that fit the company culture from the get-go.

Retaining the best talent.

Retaining top talent comes hand in hand with how you recruit.

But what’s an effective way to recruit employees that are less likely to leave?

“As early as possible, it’s important to settle in on your company core values,” Larry tells us. “In this way, hiring managers can figure out which candidates are a good culture fit and we are more likely to retain top talent.”

Larry used this proactive recruiting approach at Mobile Monkey, following his time building WordStream.

He also devised a plan to keep these valuable employees engaged once they were recruited. Each department at Mobile Monkey nominated a member to represent them in an internal committee. This committee would go on to compile feedback from their departments in order to come up with engaging company activities. 

This experience draws on one of the most important lessons Larry shared with us from his experiences of both culture successes and failures. As a leader, it’s important to lead from the top, but a sustainable culture is always employee driven.

Lead from the top.

You’re always going to be leading by example whether you like it or not.

“Serious leaders understand that both by design and default, they’re always leading by example.”

—Michael Schrage, Researcher at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business

That being said, it comes down to your leadership style and actions that ultimately determine how you lead by example. 

One effective way, as Larry advised, is making the change from the top because the rest of the organization is always taking cues.

Leading from the top has helped Larry build company cultures that lower barriers to entry to having the toughest conversations and making the change. Employees found their time at work much more fulfilling and stayed with the company because their leader continues to be a walking example of the expectations that have been set out for everyone.

It’s a journey that starts with you, the leader. Demonstrating from the top, what it’s like to work in your team that recruits top talent and ultimately retains them.

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Why sleep is the deciding factor of your leadership style

Academic research has proved that sleep deprivation can lead to bad leadership behaviour. Leaders who do not sleep soundly tend to be hostile; and on the other hand, those who sleep well are found to be charismatic.

Absence of time to engage in the most primitive activity of eating has become so universally acceptable that it has given birth to a whole new liquid food industry in the Silicon Valley. It is as if Maslow’s pyramid has been inverted, and the basic human needs (of survival) have become the least of concerns for people. Another such activity is sleeping. The average sleeping hours of 40% of the population is less than 7 hours, which is far from ideal. In India, a study has said that 93% people are sleep-deprived. Even if you reverse the numbers at the ones and tens places, it still stays a worrisome figure. 

Overworking has taken away sleep off of people’s schedules, and the higher up the hierarchy you go, the more people you find overworking. A body of academic research has been studying the causality between sleep and leadership behaviour. In this article, we extract the findings of a series of such academic researches and share how sleep deprivation affects leadership behaviour. 

Three different research studies, all done by Christopher Barnes, Associate Professor of Management at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business in collaboration with other fellow researchers, examine the impact of sleep deprivation on particular leadership behaviours. We share the findings of those research studies highlighting what sleep deprivation does to leadership behaviours.

Sleep deprivation:

Triggers abusive behaviour in leaders

Every leader follows her own leadership style – some believe in ‘Command & Control’, while one faction believes in ‘Ask & Inspire’. Independent of the belief and style of leadership, there are many leaders who oscillate between being nice and abusive on different days. On some days, they show characteristics associated with one style of leadership; on other days, they show characteristics associated with a different style of leadership. Building on his initial research on sleep’s importance in restoring one’s ability to exert self-control, Barnes conducted another study which hypothesized that “a lack of self-control on a given day would leave leaders more likely to engage in the negative behaviours associated with abusive supervision.”

The research concluded that the quality of sleep (not necessarily the quantity) influenced “the leader’s self-control abusive supervision behaviour”; which was further responsible in determining the engagement levels of that leader’s subordinates.

A leader’s quality of sleep influences the leader’s self-control abusive supervision behaviour

Makes leaders less inspiring

Managers manage, and leaders lead. What distinguishes leaders from managers is their ability to use their charisma to inspire people. Research has shown though, that sleep-deprivation robs leaders of their charisma. Sleep-deprived leaders cannot regulate their displays of positive emotion as effectively as the ones who sleep soundly. This makes them less charismatic. 

The research had another interesting facet to it. It studied the perception capabilities of sleep-deprived followers and compared it against followers who sleep soundly. The research found that the individuals who are sleep deprived find it hard to absorb positive emotions and thus, the ones who sleep effectively get inspired easily when compared. Hence, encouragement to overwork by leaders can be counter-intuitive because it tarnishes their charisma in front of their own people, which results in the latter losing motivation and effectively productivity.

Introduces hostility in a leader-follower relationship

The latest paper, entitled “Lack of sleep and the development of leader-follower relationships over time”, published by Barnes, co-authored with Cristiano L. Guarana, concludes that “leader sleep deprivation undermined the follower’s perception of the quality of their working relationship” The research found that sleep-deprivation lead to the expression of hostility which translated into damaged working relationship between employees and their managers. Sleep-deprived followers also developed a negative perception of the leader and the quality of their work relationship. 


Leader sleep deprivation undermined the follower’s perception of the quality of their working relationship

A hostile work relationship damages trust, diminishes mutual respect, making it difficult for the manager and reportee to work effectively and with cohesion. The eventual impact is on the productivity of the employee, and the ripple effect is felt by the team and ultimately the business. Harmony in working relationships of leaders and followers is essential for any business to thrive. While there are a lot of uncontrollable variables at play which make a working relationship hostile – sleep is one such variable which is well in control of all the stakeholders. The only question is – Do the stakeholders acknowledge it? Maybe findings from this academic body of research can be enough proof.

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Emotional Agility

Sixteen thousand—that’s how many words we speak, on average, each day. So imagine how many unspoken ones course through our minds. Most of them are not facts but evaluations and judgments entwined with emotions—some positive and helpful (I’ve worked hard and I can ace this presentation; This issue is worth speaking up about; The new VP seems approachable), others negative and less so (He’s purposely ignoring me; I’m going to make a fool of myself; I’m a fake).

The prevailing wisdom says that difficult thoughts and feelings have no place at the office: Executives, and particularly leaders, should be either stoic or cheerful; they must project confidence and damp down any negativity bubbling up inside them. But that goes against basic biology. All healthy human beings have an inner stream of thoughts and feelings that include criticism, doubt, and fear. That’s just our minds doing the job they were designed to do: trying to anticipate and solve problems and avoid potential pitfalls.

In our people-strategy consulting practice advising companies around the world, we see leaders stumble not because they have undesirable thoughts and feelings—that’s inevitable—but because they get hooked by them, like fish caught on a line. This happens in one of two ways. They buy into the thoughts, treating them like facts (It was the same in my last job…I’ve been a failure my whole career), and avoid situations that evoke them (I’m not going to take on that new challenge). Or, usually at the behest of their supporters, they challenge the existence of the thoughts and try to rationalize them away (I shouldn’t have thoughts like this…I know I’m not a total failure), and perhaps force themselves into similar situations, even when those go against their core values and goals (Take on that new assignment—you’ve got to get over this). In either case, they are paying too much attention to their internal chatter and allowing it to sap important cognitive resources that could be put to better use.

This is a common problem, often perpetuated by popular self-management strategies. We regularly see executives with recurring emotional challenges at work—anxiety about priorities, jealousy of others’ success, fear of rejection, distress over perceived slights—who have devised techniques to “fix” them: positive affirmations, prioritized to-do lists, immersion in certain tasks. But when we ask how long the challenges have persisted, the answer might be 10 years, 20 years, or since childhood.

Clearly, those techniques don’t work—in fact, ample research shows that attempting to minimize or ignore thoughts and emotions serves only to amplify them. In a famous study led by the late Daniel Wegner, a Harvard professor, participants who were told to avoid thinking about white bears had trouble doing so; later, when the ban was lifted, they thought about white bears much more than the control group did. Anyone who has dreamed of chocolate cake and french fries while following a strict diet understands this phenomenon.

Effective leaders don’t buy into or try to suppress their inner experiences. Instead they approach them in a mindful, values-driven, and productive way—developing what we call emotional agility. In our complex, fast-changing knowledge economy, this ability to manage one’s thoughts and feelings is essential to business success. Numerous studies, from the University of London professor Frank Bond and others, show that emotional agility can help people alleviate stress, reduce errors, become more innovative, and improve job performance.

We’ve worked with leaders in various industries to build this critical skill, and here we offer four practices—adapted from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), originally developed by the University of Nevada psychologist Steven C. Hayes—that are designed to help you do the same: Recognize your patterns; label your thoughts and emotions; accept them; and act on your values.

Fish on a Line

Let’s start with two case studies. Cynthia is a senior corporate lawyer with two young children. She used to feel intense guilt about missed opportunities—both at the office, where her peers worked 80 hours a week while she worked 50, and at home, where she was often too distracted or tired to fully engage with her husband and children. One nagging voice in her head told her she’d have to be a better employee or risk career failure; another told her to be a better mother or risk neglecting her family. Cynthia wished that at least one of the voices would shut up. But neither would, and in response she failed to put up her hand for exciting new prospects at the office and compulsively checked messages on her phone during family dinners.

Jeffrey, a rising-star executive at a leading consumer goods company, had a different problem. Intelligent, talented, and ambitious, he was often angry—at bosses who disregarded his views, subordinates who didn’t follow orders, or colleagues who didn’t pull their weight. He had lost his temper several times at work and been warned to get it under control. But when he tried, he felt that he was shutting off a core part of his personality, and he became even angrier and more upset.

These smart, successful leaders were hooked by their negative thoughts and emotions. Cynthia was absorbed by guilt; Jeffrey was exploding with anger. Cynthia told the voices to go away; Jeffrey bottled his frustration. Both were trying to avoid the discomfort they felt. They were being controlled by their inner experience, attempting to control it, or switching between the two.

Getting Unhooked

Fortunately, both Cynthia and Jeffrey realized that they couldn’t go on—at least not successfully and happily—without more-effective inner strategies. We coached them to adopt the four practices:

Recognize your patterns.

The first step in developing emotional agility is to notice when you’ve been hooked by your thoughts and feelings. That’s hard to do, but there are certain telltale signs. One is that your thinking becomes rigid and repetitive. For example, Cynthia began to see that her self-recriminations played like a broken record, repeating the same messages over and over again. Another is that the story your mind is telling seems old, like a rerun of some past experience. Jeffrey noticed that his attitude toward certain colleagues (He’s incompetent; There’s no way I’m letting anyone speak to me like that) was quite familiar. In fact, he had experienced something similar in his previous job—and in the one before that. The source of trouble was not just Jeffrey’s environment but his own patterns of thought and feeling. You have to realize that you’re stuck before you can initiate change.

Leaders stumble when they are paying too much attention to their internal chatter and allowing it to sap important cognitive resources that could be put to better use.

Label your thoughts and emotions.

When you’re hooked, the attention you give your thoughts and feelings crowds your mind; there’s no room to examine them. One strategy that may help you consider your situation more objectively is the simple act of labeling. Just as you call a spade a spade, call a thought a thought and an emotion an emotion. I’m not doing enough at work or at home becomes I’m having the thought that I’m not doing enough at work or at home. Similarly, My coworker is wrong—he makes me so angry becomes I’m having the thought that my coworker is wrong, and I’m feeling anger. Labeling allows you to see your thoughts and feelings for what they are: transient sources of data that may or may not prove helpful. Humans are psychologically able to take this helicopter view of private experiences, and mounting scientific evidence shows that simple, straightforward mindfulness practice like this not only improves behavior and well-being but also promotes beneficial biological changes in the brain and at the cellular level. As Cynthia started to slow down and label her thoughts, the criticisms that had once pressed in on her like a dense fog became more like clouds passing through a blue sky.

Accept them.

The opposite of control is acceptance—not acting on every thought or resigning yourself to negativity but responding to your ideas and emotions with an open attitude, paying attention to them and letting yourself experience them. Take 10 deep breaths and notice what’s happening in the moment. This can bring relief, but it won’t necessarily make you feel good. In fact, you may realize just how upset you really are. The important thing is to show yourself (and others) some compassion and examine the reality of the situation. What’s going on—both internally and externally? When Jeffrey acknowledged and made room for his feelings of frustration and anger rather than rejecting them, quashing them, or taking them out on others, he began to notice their energetic quality. They were a signal that something important was at stake and that he needed to take productive action. Instead of yelling at people, he could make a clear request of a colleague or move swiftly on a pressing issue. The more Jeffrey accepted his anger and brought his curiosity to it, the more it seemed to support rather than undermine his leadership.

Act on your values.

When you unhook yourself from your difficult thoughts and emotions, you expand your choices. You can decide to act in a way that aligns with your values. We encourage leaders to focus on the concept of workability: Is your response going to serve you and your organization in the long term as well as the short term? Will it help you steer others in a direction that furthers your collective purpose? Are you taking a step toward being the leader you most want to be and living the life you most want to live? The mind’s thought stream flows endlessly, and emotions change like the weather, but values can be called on at any time, in any situation.

When Cynthia considered her values, she recognized how deeply committed she was to both her family and her work; she loved being with her children, but she also cared passionately about the pursuit of justice. Unhooked from her distracting and discouraging feelings of guilt, she resolved to be guided by her principles. She recognized how important it was to get home for dinner with her family every evening and to resist work interruptions during that time. But she also undertook to make a number of important business trips, some of which coincided with school events that she would have preferred to attend. Confident that her values, not solely her emotions, were guiding her, Cynthia finally found peace and fulfillment. It’s impossible to block out difficult thoughts and emotions. Effective leaders are mindful of their inner experiences but not caught in them. They know how to free up their internal resources and commit to actions that align with their values. Developing emotional agility is no quick fix—even those who, like Cynthia and Jeffrey, regularly practice the steps we’ve outlined here will often find themselves hooked. But over time, leaders who become increasingly adept at it are the ones most likely to thrive.

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The Impact Of Leaders' Transformation Knowledge Gap

Too many transformation initiatives aiming at breakthrough performance hit critical roadblocks that can quickly spiral into costly delays or even a failed initiative. Why is that? The primary problem that afflicts initiatives is the knowledge gap in leaders’ understanding of the nature of the transformation journey and what it requires. The usual focus of discussion among leaders at the outset of a major transformation is “Can we do it?” This is the wrong question. Instead, the focus should be on “What will it take to do it?” Here are three tips (among many others) on what it takes.

Ensure Executive Ongoing Commitment To Complex Change 

There is no “silver bullet” for a journey in which your company will reconceive the value it delivers to customers and end users as well as how it delivers that value. Often, leaders believe that changing only one or two components of the business will drive the desired impact. Their mistaken mindset underestimates the scale, complexity and cross-functional nature of the necessary change. The level of change encompasses many elements of the business model.

Your company’s executives must identify the constraints that could prevent senior leaders and employees from acting on the change. The constraints will arise from company policies, company philosophies, organizational structures, personal incentives, organizational incentives, and a host of other things.

Senior leaders and executives must commit to challenging organizational boundaries as well as existing policies and processes to achieve the strategic intent. This commitment must continue through the entire journey. Lack of full buy-in from leadership and lack of stakeholder commitment for the ongoing journey is a common failure point.

Many companies don’t take the time at the outset to syndicate and discuss the strategic intent. Leaders need to robustly debate it and thoroughly discuss the implications. This debate is essential for uncovering what is necessary to drive the change. Without this robust discussion, the initiative will lack adequate support and executive commitment to overcome the status quo and stakeholder resistance as issues arise during the journey.

Executives need to watch for indications of inadequate support for the initiative – symptoms of unwillingness to challenge the culture, underlying assumptions and status quo. One such indication is individual leaders trying to adjust the initiative’s goals to align with their own goals and objectives. Their suggestions for “adjustments” will undermine the overall initiative and avoid the hard choices that are required for success.

Avoid Traditional Change Management Tools

Traditional change management efforts focus on minimizing resistance and maximizing engagement so projects can be delivered on time and in budget. Most companies attack the digital transformation challenge by using the same methodologies and tools they used in other change programs plus implementing new digital technologies. This leads to a failed initiative because the path to new digital models and performance breakthrough is not a predictable path.

A much more aggressive change management effort is required for digital transformation and breakthrough performance. Because many factors and challenges are unknown at the outset of a multiyear journey, it is necessary to use techniques that de-risk the journey. De-risking requires an agile approach rather than a rigid waterfall and detailed roadmap approach.

Due to the strategic intent, you will know the direction your company wants to head; but you won’t know precisely where it will land. Nor will you know how long it will take to get there, how much it will cost or what resources the journey will require. Funding the journey and managing the journey requires a flexible approach.

My advice is to take an iterative approach like the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach that is so successful today among software start-ups and venture capitalists. Instead of developing a detailed road map up front, they break a project down into a series of gates (or milestones or phases). The company goes through the gates or phases as the transformation journey evolves. They develop a detailed plan only for the range of where the company currently is up to the next gate. And they associate funding per gate.

Despite the typical executive mindset of wanting to accelerate the time to value, it is necessary to go slow up front to de-risk the journey. I’ve blogged before about the analogy of car brakes as a de-risking strategy.

Empower Teams to Attack Status-Quo Constraints

I mentioned earlier that leaders need to identify the potential constraints that can derail the transformation journey. The changes that will be necessary to the existing status quo are some of the unknown factors that cannot be totally understood at the outset and may not be understood until challenges arise on the journey. Therefore, it’s also necessary to empower teams to attack the status-quo constraints so your company can continue to progress toward its desired outcome.

Resistance to changing the status quo can block the desired outcome or, at the least, prevent moving fast. Status-quo issues can sap energy and momentum and can result in increased costs. If the leaders don’t manage these challenges, it can make the transformation objective unattainable.

The status quo locks people into their current behaviors, often due to a web of incentives and constraints ranging from organizational philosophies and policies to a common vision. Driving transformational change to a business model is likely to lead employees to feel their jobs are threatened. Similarly, managers may also feel personal risk, as they may be compensated according to factors that will change.

Again, I cannot overemphasize the need to spend time up front to understand what the journey will involve – what it will take to do it and what may be the constraints. Spend time at the outset to get everyone on board with the high degree of change. Aim to get employees making suggestions such as “here’s how we can do that” and coming up with ideas of how to get over the hurdles.

Resistance to change in the status-quo is a contributing factor to organizational fatigue, which often derails a transformation initiative midway in the journey. And the more disruptive the change is, the more resistance occurs. Stakeholders often want to slow down the pace of change. In addition, change is painful, so people naturally want to revert to the old ways unless they buy in at the outset to the need to change.

Achieving Anticipated Value From Transformation

Unfortunately, as the demand for digital transformation accelerates, I often see companies setting out on a multiyear transformation journey with leaders having a big gap in knowledge of the depth of change required to achieve the desired outcome. Typically, leaders start out with an idea of implementing digital technologies to gain new capabilities, but they lack understanding about how the business will need to change to achieve the promise of those technologies. Incorporate the above tips when designing the approach to the journey will eliminate many risks and failure points.


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21 Things Bosses Say That Are Total Nonsense

How many have you heard (or suffered through)?

It's one thing if your boss uses certain words incorrectly, and looks kinda dumb. It's one thing if your boss describes himself (because it's always guys who do this) in a certain way, and looks kinda pretentious.

When that happens, you may roll your eyes. But what about when your boss says things that are total nonsense?


1. "I would like to give you a raise, but (insert any old nonsense here)."

Imagine you're sitting with your boss and he says, "I would like to give you a raise, but ... "

Do you walk away feeling good about yourself? After all, he really, really wants to give you a raise, but his hands are tied, so he can't.

That's like saying, "I don't want to fire you, but I have no choice." You're still fired. And you're still not getting a raise.

If the employee hasn't earned a raise, say why. If the company can't afford to increase salaries, explain why. But don't tell someone what you would do. If you're the boss, the only person you're trying to make feel better by saying that is yourself.

2. "This is probably not what you want to hear."

It sucks to hear bad news, no doubt. But when you say that something isn't what I want to hear, you shift the issue over to my side of the table. Somehow it's become my problem.

Don't shift. Explain why you made a decision. Explain the logic. Explain your reasoning.

I still may not want to hear it, but that way the focus remains on the issue and not on me.

3. "Let me check into that and get back to you."

How many times have the people who told you they would "check into that" actually gotten back to you?

Still trying to remember a time?

"I'll check into that" is a polite way of saying, "I have better things to do than talk about this."

If you do need to check into something, explain what you will do, when you will do it, and when you will follow up.

And then hold yourself to that commitment -- because to the employee, it is truly a commitment.

4. "I need to treat everyone equally."

Every employee is different. Some need a nudge. Others need confidence boosts. Others need a kick in the pants.

Some employees have earned greater freedom. Others have not.

Equal treatment is not always fair. People care a lot more when they know a reward or discipline is based on what is right, not just what is written.

5. "Work smarter, not harder."

What happens when you say that to me?

One: You imply I'm stupid. Two: You imply whatever I'm doing should take a lot less time and effort than it has been taking. And three: After you say it, I'm kinda pissed off.

If you know I can be more efficient, tell me how. If you know there's a better way, show me. If you think there's a better way but don't know what it is, say so. Admit you don't have the answer, and then ask me to help you figure it out.

Most important, recognize that sometimes the only thing to do is to work harder. So get off your butt and help me.

6. "There is no 'I' in 'team.'"

Sure there is. There are as many I's as team members. And those individuals -- the more "individual" the better -- serve to make the team stronger. The best teams are often a funky blend of the members' individual talents, perspectives, and goals.

If you want a team to achieve more, make sure each person feels she is forwarding not only the team's goals but also her own. Figure out how each member of the team can do both, instead of taking the lazy way out by simply repressing individuality in the pursuit of the collective.

7. "I guess it just wasn't meant to be."

Fate had nothing to do with it. Something went wrong. Figure out what it was and learn from it.

"It wasn't meant to be" places responsibility elsewhere.

"Let's figure out what we can do next time" is empowering and places the responsibility where it should be: on you.

8. "That's just Joe being Joe."

Typically used to explain away someone's poor behavior, like the top salesperson who treats people badly or the great engineer who is rude during meetings. The loose translation of this statement is, "Even though it's my job as a boss to address this issue, and I wouldn't let anyone else behave that way, I don't feel like dealing with it."

Maybe Joe is just being Joe, but Joe still needs to meet basic expectations, especially where his treatment of other people is concerned.

9. "We're in the middle of a paradigm shift."

Actually, we're experiencing a change you don't know how to deal with and "paradigm shift" sounds a lot better than "I have no idea what the (heck) is going on."

If you don't know, just say so. And ask for help.

10. "Perception is reality."

Yeah, yeah, I know: How I perceive something is my version of reality, no matter how wrong my perception may be.

But if other people perceive a reality differently from you, work to change that perception. Make reality the reality.

Besides, perceptions are fleeting. Reality lasts forever, or at least until a new reality comes along to replace it.

11. "(So and so) works for me."

Maybe it's just me, but I never like when bosses say, "Joe works for me," especially when Joe is within hearing distance.

Good bosses feel their employees work with them, not for them.

Great bosses feel they work for their employees; they feel their job is to serve, not to be served.

12. "Feel free to give me feedback."

You see and hear a similar line everywhere: websites, signs, meetings.

If you really do want feedback, don't be passive. Don't just make it "easy" for people to give you feedback. Go get it. Be active.


People who really want feedback take responsibility for getting it -- they don't wait to receive it.

13. "You need to square the circle."

I actually don't know what this is supposed to mean. A boss of mine used it all the time, and we just nodded.

14. "Let's do it now and apologize later."

This statement doesn't make you a bold, daring risk taker. It makes you someone who takes shortcuts. If the idea is good, people will rally around it. If they don't, the problem usually isn't them: It's you.

Don't take the easy way out. Describe what you want to do. Prove it makes sense. Get people behind you.

Then, whatever you do will have a much better chance of succeeding.

15. "Failure is not an option."

This one is often used by a leader who wants to shut down questions about a debatable decision or a seemingly impossible goal: "Listen, folks, failure is simply not an option." (Strikes table or podium with fist.)

Failure is always a possibility. Just because you say it isn't doesn't change that.

Don't reach for a platitude. Justify your decision. Answer the hard questions.

If you can't, maybe your decision isn't so wise after all.

16. "You're putting lipstick on a pig."

If I actually could, it would be quite an achievement.

17. "We need to pay attention to the optics."

Because if people figure out what we're really doing, how will that look?

18. "We don't need to reinvent the wheel."

I'm all for using a perfectly good wheel. But too often this statement is used to shut down new ideas, especially those that run counter to a boss's ideas.

After all, your wheel might turn out to be a better wheel, which means his wheel wasn't so great.

And he can't have that.

19. "We need to manage their expectations."

Because, you know, just telling them the truth might be a problem.

Even so. Tell the truth.

20. "We need to focus on adding value."

Shouldn't we have been doing that all along? Shouldn't everything we do provide value?

If it doesn't, why are we doing it?

21. "It is what it is."

Here's another shutdown statement. Usually, it means, "I'm too lazy to try to make it different, so for gosh sakes, stop talking about it."

"It is what it is" is only true if you take the easy way out by letting "it" remain "it."

Never let "it" remain "it" when "it" could be better.

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7 Confessions That Saved Me From The Darkside of Leadership

What I learned from my leadership mistakes that helped make me a better leader.

I'd love to say that my leadership journey has been perfect and that ever since I stepped into my first leadership role, I was successful, but that would just be an out and out lie.

Not only have I made my fair share of mistakes, but I have probably also made enough to cover for several other people too, many times over.

Sure I got results the required results, but in leadership, while you might think the end justifies the means, it does lead to sustainable leadership practices, ones that make people want to work for you.

Here are seven mistakes that I confess to making which hampered my early leadership career, and almost cost me my job.

1. I believed I had all the answers

I believed there was a good reason that I had been put in charge and that was because I was better than everyone else. Now while this might have been true for the leadership role, (although I doubt it), it definitely wasn't true for the many roles that reported into me.

That, however, didn't stop me from having an opinion on everything and wanting to be involved in every single decision that needed to be made.

The downside of this was that it showed a lack of respect for the people in my teams, it also took away their desire to be accountable, as they were now only bit players in the decision-making process, which also undermined their commitment.

Now one of my favorite quotes comes from Ken Blanchard "none is as smart of all of us."

It took me a while to learn this, and also that the role of the leader is to get the greatness out of their teams, not to put it into them.

People are so much more committed when they are involved and are more likely to take ownership if you delegate both the work and authority to them. It shows trust, which will, in turn, increase their trust in you.

2. I reacted, rather than responded

I have always been a passionate leader, driven by my emotions, and wearing heart on my sleeve.
I thought that this was good authentic leadership, people could see me for who I really was.

But when you let your emotions drive you, you can react too quickly to situations, and this can lead to mistakes, or even worse outbursts, which can damage your credibility.

Yes, you can always show good emotional intelligence by apologizing later, but the damage is done.

We get hired because of our IQ, our ability to get things done, but ultimately it's our EQ our emotional intelligence, that will determine whether we will be a success over the long-term.

Leadership does require passion, but it also requires calmness, it demands that we control our emotions so that we respond rather than just react. When we respond, it allows us to be measured, to consider all the information available and come up with the right response, the best response for the situation, rather than just our first response.

Good EQ allows us to be consistent, which helps our teams predict how we will behave, rather than just spontaneously reacting which can lead to unpredictability, which can undermine a teams self-confidence.

3. I believed in my own PR

There is a big difference between confidence and arrogance.
One helps to build trust; the other destroys it.

Once I started to believe my own PR, I started to lean more towards arrogance which started me down a path that nearly ended in tears.

More than once I took on projects which were very risky, believing that I was capable of delivering anything, often ignoring sage advice of others who I saw as timid, or less capable than myself, which almost ended in disaster.

Failure can be quite humbling experience, it makes you feel mortal, and it also shows how dependent we are on others to be successful.

Being a leader is also about being a team player too. We rely on our teams to help deliver success, and often they have great insights which can help.

It took me a couple of years to understand this, but as the African proverb says "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

It doesn't matter how good we think we are, no leader does it all on their own.

4. I focused on instant success

Achieving success is what makes you a great leader right. I was laser-focused on achieving success, being successful, and trying to achieve it as fast as possible. The challenge here is that success which is achieved quickly is often lost just as quickly.

I had to learn that leadership is a marathon, not a sprint, and that if you want to drive change and achieve sustainable results, then it often takes more time, and requires us to take the harder route.

5. I confused stubbornness with determination

I always believed that "Winners never quit, and quitters never win" and I prided myself on my tenacity, determination, and my will to win.

However, you're bordering on stubbornness if your approach is failing, but you refuse to change it. You're also flirting with insanity too because to do the same thing the same way and to expect different results is one definition of madness.

It's good to be firm on your goals, but you need to be flexible in your approach, and if it's not working, then you need to be prepared to change it.

6. I was a Master of MicroManagement

When I first took on a management I found it hard to trust everyone to just do their job, part of this was because I hadn't yet master engagement or getting buy-in into what we were doing.

But instead of focusing on fixing those deficiencies I chose the path of micromanagement, keeping a close eye on everyone, checking up every 15 minutes to see how they were doing, how they were progressing.

Micromanagement is one of the worst ways you can manage your teams because firstly people hate to be micromanaged. It's not a good experience for them, and it's also not very good for you because it limits your scope of control to the number of people you can directly manage.

I had to learn to trust my teams, to give them room to do their job, but also be on hand to provide support when they needed. Yo do have to review progress, but you need to give people the time to make progress, and to do the reviews from a position support, not one of micromanagement.

7. I didn't play well with others

As my leadership started to improve and I learned a lot of lessons that helped me better inspire my teams and achieve results, I still had a blind spot that was stopping both me and my team from achieving our full potential.

I was 100 percent focused on my team, so much so, that I was constantly looking downwards, looking for ways to help my team, that I forgot that leadership is a 360-degree discipline. Not only do you have to have good relationships with your team, but you also need to foster good relationships with your peers, with their teams, and also with your boss.

This can often put a strain on things, because sometimes what is good for your team is not great for your boss or your peers, and vice versa. You have to get that balance right; you need to see the bigger picture, take a holistic view and do whats best for everyone, not just whats best for your team.

This transformation didn't happen overnight, and the journey was often a painful one, not just for my teams, but also for me too.

Fortunately, I learned from my mistakes, and I am not afraid to admit to them and to share them in the hope that others can learn from them too so that they can steer their leadership away from the dark side, and become better leaders who achive sustainable success.

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Putting lifelong learning on the CEO agenda

In an open letter to business leaders, a Harvard Business School professor and a learning engineer at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative present an emphatic case to make learning a corporate priority.

If you are anything like most corporate leaders we know, you say (and mean) the right things when it comes to learning, such as “Our people are our most valuable asset, and their development is a top priority.” But if you are honest with yourself, you also know that your actions often emphasize financial over human capital, and you may leave it to individuals to find the learning opportunities they need. That worked, sort of, when people spent most of their time “doing” rather than “thinking,” “creating,” or “deciding.”

But times are changing. Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are facilitating the automation of a growing number of “doing” tasks. Today’s AI-enabled, information-rich tools are increasingly able to handle jobs that in the past have been exclusively done by people—think tax returns, language translations, accounting, even some kinds of surgery. These shifts will produce massive disruptions to employment and hold enormous implications for you as a business leader.

Both of us are educators, with decades of experience working with businesses. We write this letter not to criticize but to make the case for why a new emphasis on lifelong learning is going to become increasingly central to your job: maximizing the value and impact of your organization.

We are not seers. Still, one thing is clear. In the future, more and more of your people will need to use complex cognitive skills for more and more of their time. Some are already comfortable with this; some are not. As stewards of your company’s value, you need to understand how to get your people ready—not because it’s a nice thing to do but because the competitive advantage of early adopters of advanced algorithms and robotics will rapidly diminish. Simply put, companies will differentiate themselves not just by having the tools but by how their people interact with those tools and make the complex decisions that they must make in the course of doing their work. The greater the use of information-rich tools, the more important the decisions are that are still made by people. That, in turn, increases the importance of continuous learning. Workers, managers, and executives need to keep up with the machines and be able to interpret their results.

Challenges ahead

You may be wondering if you can adapt to changing technology simply by finding new people who can do the new stuff. The answer is no. There is a kind of Moore’s law at work, in which the capacities of these information tools are doubling every couple of years or less. You can’t “fire and hire” your way to success if you have to turn over people every 9 to 18 months to bring in new skills.

There are other problems to keep in mind as well. One is that we live in a world where companies must adapt their strategies rapidly in response to competition, structural changes brought on by digitization, and counterintuitive insights revealed by advanced analytics. That means that the old split between strategy development and execution, if it ever made sense, is outmoded: organizations have to adapt continually, and therefore they have to learn while executing.

In that kind of world, the future of learning is not in the classroom. It’s in the field—finding ways to do better while doing the work. This won’t happen by chance. You need to model learning behaviors and invest in the development of learning processes and tools. You need to take an appropriately humble stand about the challenges ahead—for you as a leader and for your organization. There is simply no room for arrogance in a highly dynamic and uncertain world. You also need to create a psychologically safe environment in which people feel comfortable taking the risks that come with experimentation and practice; giving and receiving candid feedback; asking questions; and acknowledging failures. Learning must be built into every aspect of the organization.

Another inconvenient truth is that the education and training sector, historically, has not done well in terms of implementing evidence-based, iterative improvements in the learning processes and outcomes it emphasizes. Learning science does exist. It’s just not always, or even often, applied in the workplace. There is very little “learning engineering.”

As a senior leader, then, you have to rethink how to continuously improve the skills of your employees beyond conventional training and education. You need to insist on experimenting with new learning methods and look for approaches that are based on good evidence. And you need to identify and support learning leaders who are deeply connected to learning science and who can make the case for implementing the right measures.

‘Soft’ priorities

When we talk about learning, the emphasis is often on “hard” skills, such as coding, analytics, and data science. While these skills will be critical, they are only part of the story. The dynamics we described at the outset, in which information-rich tools become ubiquitous and people are a differentiator, paradoxically, increase the importance of such “soft” attributes as collaboration, empathy, and meaning making.


In most organizations, teamwork will be more important and valuable than ever. In both scientific discovery and commercial innovation, for example, the size of innovating teams has grown larger and the skills brought together are more diverse than ever. This is because, as knowledge expands, expertise both deepens and narrows—necessitating collaboration across fields to produce great results.

In a way that would have seemed far-fetched 20 years ago, building a car requires integrating cross-disciplinary expertise in artificial intelligence, computer science, advanced lighting, and materials, in addition to the classic automotive-engineering disciplines of design and manufacturing. Or consider the rescue of the Chilean miners in 2010. The miners themselves formed an extraordinary team to support their mutual survival. But they also needed the cross-disciplinary expertise of the team of above-ground rescuers who integrated expertise from geologists, engineers, physicians, and naval special forces.

Teamwork doesn’t necessarily mean collaborating within teams in the classic sense of bounded groups of people working together on specific tasks. Instead, it’s often about teaming—communicating and collaborating with people across boundaries, such as expertise or distance, spontaneously and continuously. Your people need to have, or develop, the skills for effective teamwork.


Global marketplaces can threaten the ability to spontaneously empathize, especially when we cannot see other people’s faces—for example, in geographically dispersed workforces or through remote service encounters. Genuine human connections can be made, and broken, quickly. Customers and employees alike feel deep loyalty to organizations that treat them with respect.

To some extent, empathy can be taught—through perspective-taking exercises and through quick but profound exchanges between people. For that to happen, leaders at all levels of your organization have to be engaged and model the right behavior. This can start with something as simple as asking your managers to put themselves in the shoes of others in a given situation. Offer experiences where you can succeed only by practicing empathy. Some companies encourage this by requiring managers to work on the front lines—at the retail counter or on the factory floor—before putting on the white collar.

You also should monitor feedback blogs. Praise your staff, in public, when they get things right. Observe your customers and how they interact with your company. Use design-thinking tools such as empathy maps as a starting point for conceiving new products and features and for identifying customer pain points. In an era of customization, empathy matters more because it requires putting yourself in the minds of many different kinds of customers, not just the familiar ones for whom a product or service was designed.

Meaning making

Meaning making in the AI era starts with an appreciation of what machines can and cannot do. It may be possible, for example, for a machine to make certain kinds of diagnoses more accurately than a person can. But it will be up to nurses, doctors, and therapists to help patients understand the implications and manage the consequences. It’s the difference between knowledge and meaning.

The search for meaning informs many kinds of decisions: it could be a work challenge overcome, a way to advance a career, a resolution to a personal issue, or matters related to health and wellness. As information-rich tools help provide better solutions to complex situations, organizations will need to understand what matters for each person. Meaningfully connecting decisions, even those made by algorithms, to individual circumstances is likely to be the work of skilled people for a long time to come—if we prepare our organizations to think like this.

You, and your people, can all be meaning seekers and meaning makers. Tapping into this fundamental human quality is your best strategy for winning hearts and minds, within and without. And it’s also good for business. People who come to work believing that what they do matters—that in some small way it contributes to making the world a better place—are more committed to their organizations, more passionate about serving customers, and more resilient in the face of challenges. Good leaders have always played this role; when they don’t, people are more apt to act in ways that maximize self-interest and minimize effort. We would assert, though, that articulating the purpose of your organization (and evolving that message as technology and customer needs change) is about to become an even more crucial part of your job.

Hard results

Although the importance of “soft” skills may be growing, you should think about investments in learning and development in the same way you think about any investment: What is the value? How do I know I’m getting it? How can I make it more efficient? The only way to answer questions like these is to identify how employees’ decisions add value to the organization or subtract value from it. The costs and benefits of the decisions made by many high-volume, high-value, high-variability groups of employees, such as sales staff or project managers, are often unknown. It’s up to you to determine what measures matter, such as close rates or error costs; then you need to communicate these priorities. For example, tracking error rates for nurses—and the decisions that lead to them—and then taking action can translate into shorter hospital visits, fewer lawsuits, and better health outcomes. Once you have decided what metrics to track, four steps should follow:

First, find the best performers, and prepare to be amazed by how much more value they add with their decisions compared with the median performer. This sets a benchmark for the value that could be generated with the right training. (It can be large!) Second, analyze what these top performers decide and do. That’s not easy, because much of it is unconscious. Still, it is important to learn as much as possible. On that basis, ensure that best practices are the focus of training and development programs. One study of helicopter pilots, for example, found that the best ones had a specific, albeit unconscious, way of using their eyes during a landing. The study also found that novices could be easily taught to consciously approximate those same gaze directions—and thus reduce the rate of crashes in simulations. Third, with these targets in mind, insist on well-designed training, based on insights from learning science, and support high-quality evidence gathering about results. Getting a return is, after all, the point of any investment. You will want to compare the work of those who have had new training to that of others who have not and to look for material differences in value. Finally, commit to continuing this cycle of tracking expertise, improving training, and gathering evidence over time to make sure that you continue to capture value. Training is no longer a matter of “one and done,” if it ever was. Rapidly changing workplaces mean continuous improvement has to be the norm.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it’s going to become a competitive necessity. The rapid development of information-rich tools, together with the brisk pace of change in every facet of society, mean that the decisions and organizational roles left to people matter more than ever. You must therefore focus more, and spend more of your time, on upgrading your employees’ skills and mastering the collaboration, empathy, and meaning making that will help your organization thrive.


About the author(s)

Amy Edmondson is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School. Bror Saxberg is vice president of learning science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

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Feedback: You Need To Lead It

Practice is everything, right? Well, actually it’s nothing if you’re practicing the same wrong moves over and over again.

Feedback is a crucial element for success, and that is the crux of an enlightening new book called Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become and Expert in Just About Anything by Ulrich Boser.

While Boser, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, shows how feedback can be applied to athletics, music and art, it’s the business aspect of this that is particularly fascinating. After all, most people are accustomed to the idea of a teacher or coach who is there to correct your mistakes. And we live in the era of Yelp where everything we consume is up for review. Criticism — corrective and otherwise — is everywhere.

But in the office? Usually it’s sink or swim with the occasional scheduled reviews from a superior.

Studies show, though, that a successful office encourages a culture of feedback at every level of the hierarchy, and not just at prescribed moments. A culture of feedback, where peers feel comfortable sharing, asking for and receiving analysis of their performance, even on a daily basis, really changes how an office operates.

Officevibe statistics strongly support the value of feedback: “four out of 10 workers are actively disengaged when they get little or no feedback;” 82% of employees appreciate positive and negative feedback; and 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week as opposed to 18% of low engagement employees.

But here’s the rub: You can’t just tell your employees to start doling out feedback and expect improvement. It’s one thing to tell someone what you like about how they handle their duties. It’s another to tell them they aren’t doing something quite right. In fact, if a lot of the latter is going on in your office, you might end up with a hostile environment.

According to Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School: “As I discovered in recent research I conducted with Paul Green of Harvard Business School and Brad Staats of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, people tend to move away from those who provide feedback that is more negative than their view of themselves. They do not listen to their advice and prefer to stop interacting with them altogether. It seems that people tend to strengthen their bonds with people who only see their positive qualities.”

Gino makes it clear that we only will improve if we’re willing to really hear others point out our weaknesses. Yes, that’s a difficult task, and it’s highly stressful to all involved.

But if you introduce your team to the concept gradually, it is possible to implement, even in an office that previously had no or very little open opportunities for such an exercise. Studies show that a team’s ability to collectively reflect upon team objectives, strategies and processes can improve learning, creativity and innovation. When peers feel comfortable sharing ideas, asking for help and receiving analysis of their performance, it changes how an office operates and what can be accomplished.

Creating a culture of feedback at every level of the hierarchy, and not at just prescribed moments between managers and employees, is critical in realizing these benefits. Start, for example, by pointing out an example of when you personally stumbled in giving feedback — that sends a big message that you are serious about changing behavior. I often tell people that when I first started giving feedback, I was too insensitive. For example, sometimes at Goldman Sachs I would see people in the hall and offer my opinions, without taking account of who else could hear. This often had the result you'd expect of triggering defensiveness. Once I realized this, I changed course: quietly ask employees first if they are up for a little constructive criticism. If they say yes — which invariably they do — dispense it in private. They were far more receptive to my suggestions in this scenario.

There are a lot more excellent tips out there on how to offer feedback — the nice kind and the tough variety — and how to receive it. In fact, first steps really involve offering them plentiful opportunities to run through the skill, such as an hour on “Feedback Fridays.” And ask yourself from time to time: What is the most valuable feedback I’ve received in the last year? Why was it so valuable? Maybe it's time to let that person know how valuable you found it. These practices, too, support a strong feedback culture.

Everything takes practice. And you as a leader need to provide the practice field.

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5 Unusual Facts About Google's Odd (and Wildly Successful) Management Practices

These people practices are terrifying for companies with traditional, command and control, leadership styles. But they work for Google.

One of the things I truly admire about Google's management approach is that, like the rest of Google, their HR leaders look at real world data to engineer their people practices and guide their decisions.

Is it any wonder, as odd and counter-intuitive as some of their practices may be to the outside world, they've been ranked the No. 1 place to work for the eighth time in 11 years?

Laszlo Bock, Google's brilliant HR boss, has shared extensively in book form and various media outlets, about Google's leadership and people practices. Here are my favorites that stand out:

Be consistent, not all over the place.

Ever worked for a management team where, as they say, "the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing?" Perhaps they show favoritism, change strategic direction every few days, or don't have a clear vision.

Well, Google found that when leaders are consistent and fair in making decisions, and there's an element of predictability, people experience way more freedom which leads to a great employee experience.

The reason, says Bock, is that employees know that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want. If a manager is all over the map, employees can't get a reading on what they can and cannot do. This ends in a very restrictive, and frustrating experience, for most.

Have a moral, not business, mission.

Google's mission is the first cornerstone of their culture: "To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." What's distinctive about it, in comparison to other mission statements, is that there's no mention of profit, market, shareholders, or users. You don't see why this is their mission, or to what end they pursue their goals.

According to Bock, "this kind of mission gives individuals' work meaning, because it is a moral rather than a business goal."

Bock references history, adding, "The most powerful movements in history have had moral motivations, whether they were quests for independence or equal rights."

This is attractive to talent looking for work that is both aspiring and inspiring. And nothing is more powerful than knowing that your work is making a positive difference in the world. Google's "moral mission" provides that platform for work that matters.

Share everything.

At Google, transparency is the second cornerstone of their culture. As an example, a newly hired software engineer gets access to almost all of their code on the first day. Employees have access to product roadmaps, launch plans, weekly status reports, employee and team quarterly goals, and everyone can see what everyone else is working on. They share everything because they trust each other to keep the information confidential.

The ultimate benefit from so much openness is profoundly scary for traditional, command and control, hierarchies that obscure information across teams. That is -- everyone at Google knows what's going on. This sharing of information fosters a healthy team spirit, which reduces competing agendas, back-stabbing and politicking. Bock says this practice "allows everyone to understand the differences in goals across different groups, avoiding internal rivalry."

He succinctly frames the argument for an open culture like this: "If you're an organization that says 'Our people are our greatest asset' (as most do), and you mean it, you must default to open. Otherwise, you're lying to your people and to yourself." He adds, "You're saying people matter but treating them like they don't."

Give employees a real say in how the company is run.

At Google, "voice" is the third cornerstone of their culture. It means having the belief that the people you hired are inherently good and trustworthy, so you allow for them to give input into decisions. Terrifying for most companies, yes, but at Google, many of their people practices actually originated with their employees.

In 2009, "Googlers" (as their employees are affectionately known) complained about how it was becoming harder to get work done due to their explosive growth. And their executive team acknowledged that they were right. As Bock tells it, Google's CFO decided to put the power in Gogglers' hands by launching "Bureaucracy Busters," a program where Googlers identify their biggest frustrations and help fix them. This drastically boosted morale, as Googlers organized to improve systems and processes and make things better.

When hiring, high G.P.A's and test scores don't matter.

Relying heavily on data crunching, Bock told The New York Times a few years back that G.P.A.'s and test scores are worthless as a criteria for hiring, unless you're an entry-level grad. They found that they don't predict anything.

As Bock tells The Times, "after two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different. You're also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently."

Consequently, it's not uncommon to find 14 percent of some Google teams made up of people who've never attended college.

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The 5 C's of Great Leaders

Want to be a stronger leader? Build a stronger team on these five principles.

Upward movement is a challenge, especially for women competing to ascend the ranks in a male-dominated company. Instead of fighting so hard to get to the top, there's another approach to becoming a great leader that is much more rewarding and less lonely: Surround yourself with great people.

But how do you find and cultivate great people?

Gallup 2016 Employee Engagement reports 70% of workers in the US are not engaged. That number becomes more discouraging worldwide where only 13% of workers feel engaged.

These figures are staggering and have a disastrous impact on organizational success, not to mention the effectiveness of leaders.

To inspire greatness in employees, leaders must look within. How clear and communicative are you as a leader? What is your leadership style? Do you practice what you preach? Keep the promises you make?

Many of us have experienced a boss who "speaks out both sides of his mouth," creating a culture of suspicion and mistrust that is detrimental to employee engagement. If people mistrust you as a leader, forget trying to convince anyone to act.

A great leader establishes an important foundation of credibility and trust. When people trust you, you inspire their loyalty--critical when challenges arise or when you need to rally the troops to success.

Strong leaders build strong teams on these five principles:

1. Collaborate

She who tries to move mountains by themselves, fails. Those that use a competent workforce (and perhaps some technology) wins.

2. Communicate

Give clear direction. Just because there is a job description does not mean people comprehend what needs to be done to reach results. Don't assume you and your employees are on the same page. Build check points and speak to them often to ensure success.

3. (Be) Candid

Being honest sounds fundamental to being a great leader, yet people often withhold what's really on their minds because they don't want to hurt someone's feelings. When important things go unsaid, no one on the team learns from the mistakes. Reinstate an employee's value by coaching them to be better through honest communication.

4. Connect

Establish the value of feedback--giving and sharing alike. As leaders, we may gather very little truthful feedback. If people feel their voice is important, their ideas valued, they are more likely to stay engaged. Make sure when you receive feedback, that you follow up on the feedback you receive. Even if you do not choose to act on it, let them know it was important and you value what they had to say.

5. Care

People want to feel valued. One way you can foster that is by asking them about their life. What do they enjoy? How is their family? Did they find time to relax on a recent vacation? Work is not everything in life, and people feel a sense of loyalty when a leader cares about them as a person, not just a workhorse.

Shaping Change

Time and again, great women leaders have attributed their success to the strong individuals and teams they are surrounded by. Creating a strong team starts with a leader investing their time. Look to your people. When they feel their voice is important to the organization and their leader, they are more engaged. As you connect with your people, know what motivates them, what they enjoy so that they know you care. As a leader, we are only as good as our people. Forging strong relationships early pays off throughout your career. Learn and use the 5C's every day, Collaborate, Communicate, (Be) Candid, Connect and Care.

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7 Bad Habits You Need to Kill to Be a Better Leader

Why are some people in the workplace, so...dysfunctional? It may be due to a lack of self-awareness.

Just about any leader or entrepreneur who's ever failed at some point understands the importance of inviting feedback.

Yes, it's powerful because gaining new perspective and wisdom from, perhaps, someone further down the path of success, helps you develop something else: Self-awareness.

You see, with self-awareness accountability blooms. Leaders learn more responsibility of owning up to "their stuff" when "their stuff" is at fault.

Increasing self-awareness is what will lead to the behaviors that everyone wants; it fosters respect, collaboration, and mutual trust. This is an emotionally-intelligent leader.

The Flip Side

Why are some people in the workplace so, well, I hate to say it...dysfunctional? The reason, quite simply, is because they have dysfunctional thinking patterns (i.e., low EQ and a lack of self-awareness), which will certainly lead to poor decision making.

I've seen many distorted thinking patterns that damage relationships in the workplace. Perhaps you work with or for someone that displays these really awful thinking patterns?

Very negative.

Seeing things in black and white, and blowing things out of proportion. The glass for this person is usually half empty as they dwell heavily on the worst possible outcome. They "should" on others, placing expectations of how their colleagues "should" be, thereby limiting their ability to accept others how they are, leading to negativity and the tendency to criticize.

Very demanding.

These low EQ peers or managers will want things their way without consulting with the team. They have narrow-minded expectations -- should I say 'false expectations'? -- that cloud a sense of reality and sabotage work processes.

Very judgmental.

What a judgmental attitude will do is alienate colleagues at work. The best solution for this individual, if they're open to shifting and self-awareness, is to stop jumping to conclusions before hearing all the facts, and start listening intently to improve his communication skills. If this is you, remember this: When we judge, we invite judgment upon ourselves.

Very obsessed.

Do you work with or for someone unable to budge or view things differently? Do they persevere relentlessly about something that is out of their control? Take note: This obsessed person can wreak havoc in the workplace and bring a team down.

Very intolerant.

This is a colleague or manager having a need to have things the way they "should be." They find it difficult to have patience and tolerance for differences that don't fit with their ideal needs and expectations.

Very perfectionistic.

Having a need to be "right" and not make mistakes, as that would mean one is inferior or a failure; having permeating low self-esteem.

Very indecisive.

The inability to make decisions, especially when it counts, hurts the team. These people may suffer from "analysis paralysis." They think too much, get stuck in their heads and intellectualize things too much. Learning to use their intuition and go with their "gut" is a much more effective way to make decisions than to get stuck in analysis paralysis. It's empowering, and peers and colleagues will look at them in a whole new way.10.

As you review some of these scenarios above, which aspects may be the hardest to deal with when faced with a manager or colleague lacking self-awareness? Leave a comment.

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To Be More Successful In Your Career -- Cultivate The Skill Of Mindfulness

Hearing the term “mindfulness” might conjure up a smiling guru sitting peacefully in a quiet, meditative posture. But mindfulness is no longer just for gurus. Mindfulness is a skill you can cultivate to help you be successful in your career.

A wide range of companies, including Intel, Google, Target, General Mills and Aetna, have embraced mindfulness programs, believing the courses will have a positive impact on their employees and on their bottom line.

Universities are also encouraging the practice of mindfulness. David Mick is a marketing professor at the University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce who teaches a “Wisdom and Well-Being” course that equips business students with philosophical concepts and mindfulness practices that can improve their professional and personal lives. Each week, students apply readings on philosophy and mindfulness to business cases and to their lives.

Professor Mick defines mindfulness as a present-oriented, non-judgmental state of being. “Your mind is not running to the future or ruminating on the past. You are in the moment, present in whatever conversation you are having or activity you are doing,” he says. “Secondly, you are nonjudgmental, which is very hard because being judgmental is almost built evolutionarily into who we are.”

Identify stressful situations and analyse your responses. Think about the last few weeks and identify three stressful events. Now, study how you responded to each of those events. Did you get angry? Did you avoid dealing with the incident? Did you take a deep breath and go for a walk outside to clear your mind?

Consider which behaviours helped you cope better with the stress than others. “Study your body’s response, because we tend to respond physically to stressful events,” Mick says. “When you are mindful of that, you can recognize stress, mitigate certain automatic responses and have more choice in how you respond.”

Benefit: The better you become at recognizing stressful situations, the more control you’ll have to choose the best way to respond.

Practice patience. There’s an old saying that “patience is a virtue” but in today’s hyper-paced, technology-driven work environment, there is a tendency to want instant gratification, even in decision-making.

While you might think making instant decisions will provide a competitive advantage, it isn’t always the case. “Sometimes sitting with a decision, seeking more information and finding new points of view is important,” Mick warns.

How can you practice patience? Mick recommends using the acronym “STOP” as a reminder — Stop, Take a breath, Observe and Proceed.

Benefit: Practicing patience will help you reframe situations to see the bigger picture and other viewpoints. You’ll make more informed decisions and give yourself time to analyse how your decisions will impact others before moving forward.

Cultivate humility. Professor Mick recommends reflecting on situations that have humbled you and distinguishing between what he calls “submissive humility” and “self-assured humility.”

Mahatma Gandhi is an example Mick uses of an iconic figure who was renowned for his wisdom and who was self-assuredly humble. “Reflecting on times you were humbled reminds you not to be submissive, but simply to realize that what we do not know dwarfs what we know.”

 Benefit: Practicing humility will help you accept who you are along with all your strengths and weaknesses. Humility will help you see others for who they are (without being judgmental) and curb overconfidence and arrogance.

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5 Keys to Building and Scaling Company Culture

If there is one area of your business to invest in, it's your culture. Culture drives employee engagement, leading to greater employee productivity and a stronger business overall.

But culture is an abstract concept that's difficult to define, and even more challenging to measure. Eighty-seven percent of organizations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges. With unclear metrics on the effect of culture on the bottom line, many companies are tempted to focus their efforts elsewhere.

However, while executives are unsure how to establish culture successfully, they are aware of its value. In fact, 91% of executives believe improving their company's culture would increase the company's value. Yet, only 15% of them say their company culture is where it needs to be.

That's why I set out to find out how top executives and human resources professionals establish a strong company culture and grow it. One of the top thought leaders on culture transformation, Hung Pham, is no stranger to struggles with culture.

Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that brings together hundreds of culture champions and thought leaders to share actionable insights and strategies on building culture from the bottom up. He founded the conference in 2014 to solve his own challenges with career disengagement.

Together, Pham and I worked to gather insights from HR leaders at top tech companies to understand what makes a great company culture, how executives can build it within their own teams and how to continue to grow that culture and improve over time. Here are five key takeaways from our research.

1. Focus on people

According to Janelle Gale, VP of HR at Facebook, "To scale company culture, you should focus first on your most important product - your people."

The people that make up your company are your most valuable resource. Yet, according to Gallup, only 32% of U.S. employees were engaged at work in 2015. You need to make sure your employees are the right fit for your team and feel like they belong to a community within your company, have what they need to thrive, and are focused on the success of your business.

For Facebook, this starts when a new employee comes on board. Gale says, "Each new person who joins the company goes through the same orientation program where they hear from our leaders and we tell them: this is your company now. This is a signature moment that connects every new employee to Facebook's mission, vision, values and culture."

2. Define your brand story

Your brand story is a powerful tool not just for attracting customers, but also for creating culture. A brand story shapes how your employees see the company and their place within it. It gives them a purpose for what they do.

"Employees want to be part of the story of your company - so you have to define that story through common language as you grow," says Dan Spaulding, VP of people & culture at Zillow Group. "Whether it is core values, company mission, or workplace norms, you have to intentionally make sure that people at all levels understand and embrace the concepts."

He adds, "They can't be words on a wall - they need to start every meeting, anchor business decisions and show up in your daily habits. Doing this well reminds your longtime employees of what they set out to do, and helps your new employees feel confident they know how to navigate your culture."

3. Establish a team mentality

Your culture brings all of your employees together and encourages them to think as a team, rather than as individuals. Especially when conflicts arise, it's important that everyone does what's best for the team and the company.

Tatyana Mamut, head of product at Amazon Web Services, believes having a common vision keeps top leaders aligned.

Of her own experience, she says, "We've needed to learn how to disagree productively and keep our teams moving forward in a unified way, even when our experiences and perspectives clash. No matter what our individual interests are, it's important to stay focused on a consistent culture in the face of fast growth, so the leadership has to have a unified vision and common set of values and principles."

4. Keep culture consistent

Change is inevitable, especially as companies grow and evolve. Your culture needs to be able to grow along with you. "While culture can and should be fluid, your company values should remain constant and consistent over the course of time," says Gina O'Reilly, COO at Nitro.

"Ultimately, your values will define your culture," she continues. "Since culture is the sum of how your employees behave, the right talent and team are crucial to shaping a positive culture. Rather than seeking good 'culture fit' during the hiring process, which can mean different things to different people, focus on how prospective candidates align with your core values in order to ensure you're making the best decisions for your business."

5. Prepare for growth

"The core of great culture is your values and the stories you tell," says Didier Elzinga, CEO at Culture Amp. "As you scale, one of the key things to do is make sure you actually listen to your people. Growing fast is really, really hard and can lead to what we call the 'Culture Crunch.' One of these effects is how people adjust to changes in the scope of their role as the organization changes."

Be prepared for things to change as your company grows and scales, and let your culture guide you and your employees through the transition. "You can't make your culture go up and to the right," says Elzinga, "but you can peer around the corner and see what challenges await you so you are better prepared for them."

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How to Communicate Clearly During Organizational Change

A former colleague liked to remind leaders of their impact by telling them, “There are children you’ve never met who know your name.” The point was simple: Their followers were also moms or dads who were going home and talking about their day in front of their children. And you, their leader, had a starring role in that story. As leaders, we are far more visible than we realize, and we are sending signals to followers all the time — even when we don’t realize it.

And while sending the right signals to our followers is important at any time, it is especially important during times of strategic change, when followers are trying to make sense of a new “ask” from the organization, in the context of all the existing asks they are grappling with.

Why, then, is it so hard for leaders to send clear, effective signals to followers?

In my experience of working with leaders, and in my research asking followers what they need during times of strategic change, there are three main ways in which leaders too often send confusing signals to their organizations. Get them right, and you can signal clearly and effectively; fail to pay attention to how and what you are signaling in these three modes, and you will have confusion at best — and at worst, the opposite of the strategic changes you’ve asked for.

Signal No. 1: Telling your organization what you want

You’d think this would be the easy bit, but the evidence suggests that this is where leaders most shortchange their organizations. Too many followers tasked with delivering strategic change report that their leaders weren’t clear enough about what they wanted the change to achieve or about what it would entail.

It seems the reasons for this are twofold: Leaders too often express what they want in terms not of outcomes, but of tasks, and they rarely, if ever, make clear the full extent of the change they are asking for.

One client I worked with recently — let’s call it Sales and Product Co. — was trying to make its business more customer-centric. Its leaders had expressed what they wanted as a list of activities that their middle managers would be asked to work on. There were nine projects. The list gave middle managers clarity about what to do, certainly, but it told them nothing about why they were doing it, or how their myriad activities might fit together to create a cohesive program. So we worked with them to re-express what they wanted as outcome-level targets. “Conduct exit interviews with all departing customers” became “reduce the customer attrition rate,” for example. A target to improve cross-selling rates through more outbound calls per month became, simply, “improve profit per customer.”

And because the middle managers now knew the targets outcomes leaders wanted, within months they were able to identify better, smarter, and cheaper ways to deliver them. Instead of nine projects, they settled on just two, which drove alignment across activities as well as accountability for them. And because the two were chosen by people close to the business, who understood the interactions of customer data and processes far better than the senior management team could (or should), the projects had a far better chance of delivering their outcomes. When asked why they knew it was these particular two projects they should work on, the middle managers said, “Well, we knew what the outcomes had to be. And we know how the business works, so it’s not that hard.” The importance of specifying outcomes for followers, rather than choosing activities for them, was clear.

Why is this signal so hard to get right? Leadership teams I’ve worked with have an almost primal urge to give their middle managers a list of activities. It makes them feel like action is being taken and that they are helping their hard-pressed middle managers by telling them exactly what to do. It’s also much easier to jump from “We need to change” to “Here’s what to do” than it is to thrash out the difficult trade-offs involved.

Left to their own devices, many leadership teams shortchange the questions of what they want the change to achieve, and why. When we work with leaders, we often have to push them to continue thinking about these questions and to answer them with sufficient clarity. But even as we do, we regularly have someone in the leadership team come up to us in a coffee break and say something along the lines of, “So, all this is great, but when are we going to get down to it? You know, talk about what we’re actually going to do.” It usually takes several conversations, and stubbornness, to help them see that this is what they as leaders needed to “get down to” — and, conversely, that until this is done, any scoping out of activities is premature.

In particular, there are four questions that senior teams often skate through too quickly:

Why do we need to change, and why now? What are the imperatives driving this change? Why is the previous strategy no longer good enough? Where on the P&L are we feeling, or anticipating, pain?  Are you sure you want X to change, even if it means you can’t have Y anymore? What is the full extent of the change we need? Don’t underestimate the extent of the change you need, either privately or publicly. However tempting it is to tell people that this is just an incremental change — when it is nothing of the sort — or however politically expedient it seems to underplay the extent of the change required, a lack of clarity about the extent of the change required will make subsequent conversations about resources and priorities much harder. If we figure out 1 and 2, what should improve as a result? How will we measure the improvement we’ve been targeting ? And perhaps most overlooked of all: How does this new strategy or change link to previous strategies? Answering this question is critical if leaders are to reduce the confusion that a cumulative overload of strategic or change initiatives — another year, another “strategy” — and their potentially conflicting targets can cause. If leaders can’t explain these links clearly, then you need to revisit the need for this change (Questions 1–3) or phase out some of the existing initiatives.

Once you have sufficiently clear answers to these four questions, you have the first ingredient for successful signaling.

Signal No. 2: Personally living the change you’ve asked for

Living the change you want to see means much more than modeling any behaviors you’ve asked for; it also means making a myriad of decisions that support the change. It is what David Nadler and Michael Tushman, in their 1990 exploration of how change becomes institutionalized, called “mundane behaviors.” It means changing how you spend your time. How you choose to use your most precious, finite resource (your own diary) is a critically important signal you send as a leader. If you’re not giving time to the change you’ve asked for, followers will interpret this as the latest change not really being important, and will act accordingly. For Sales and Product Co, this meant the C-suite routinely scheduling time to discuss progress, and leaving enough space in their diaries to be available to discuss issues and blockages as the need arose.

It also means changing the agenda of senior team meetings and board discussions. For Sales and Product Co, this meant putting “customers” literally at the top of the agenda for every senior team meeting. Before the seemingly tiny change, the C-suite had talked about customer issues after sales, products, and regulation, and just ahead of “any other business.” This order had often meant that customer issues didn’t get discussed at all, or were rushed through by tired execs eager to close the meeting. In an organization that sought to become more customer-focused, this couldn’t go on. Talking about customers early in every meeting gave them the priority, and attention, they deserved. It also meant that never again would followers ask their C-suite exec, “What did you discuss at the board meeting?” to hear the answer “We didn’t get to the customer stuff.”

Why is this signal so hard to get right? Two reasons. It’s partly because carving out time, and making sure you always have spare time in your diary for strategic issues as they arise, is so much easier than it sounds. You may also have to make this time available for years on end, given how long strategic change takes to embed. That means having to say no to a lot of other people and their priorities, if you are to keep time available for this priority.

And there will be many times when your old, “usual” issues will feel like such urgent priorities that you will be tempted to get them out of the way first, before turning your attention to the more important “strategic” stuff. This is a trap. Sort out the most important issue first — and sort it properly. Your business will then be in fundamentally better shape on the urgent issues.

But the second reason why personally living the change is a hard signal to send is that sending this signal effectively is a full-time job. Managing yourself — day in and day out, even when you don’t feel like it — is hard. One of the leaders I’ve worked with describes this as “an out-of-body experience,” where he is trying to be simultaneously in the moment with someone, listening to them and thinking about the issue, and also external to himself, deliberate about how he is showing up and conscious of the impact he is having on those around him. Like all mundane behaviors, it is very easy to not notice that you are not doing them — and that, of course, is precisely when your followers are looking most closely at you.

Signal No. 3: Resourcing and measuring the change you’ve asked for

How your organization spends its resources (capital, people, capabilities) and what it chooses to measure are the final critical ways it signals what is important. As a leader, you disproportionately shape these decisions, and therefore the clarity of these signals. This means finding the resources needed to deliver the change you’ve asked for. It doesn’t just mean money — though that is important. It also means allocating the right people, with the right level of seniority, experience, and political connections, to work on the change. These are all ways you can signal to the organization that the change is important.

It also means making changes to what you measure, and making these changes early on in the change. All too often, a new change spends its first few quarters being undermeasured because the existing suite of metrics the organization uses haven’t been overhauled to reflect the new priorities. If what gets measured is what gets managed, give the change its best chance by signaling as early as possible that new metrics will be introduced to measure, and therefore embed, the change you’ve asked for.

Why is this signal so hard to send? Part of the problem is that reallocating resources and changing metrics aren’t the glamorous work of strategic change. Rarely are mundane, instrumental, transactional leadership endeavors (such as resourcing or measurement) given much air time in popular management literature or airport books. The result is that these more mundane aspects of leading change are still regarded as less important by leaders — although they remain some of the most critical signals for followers.

And, of course, making changes to resourcing and metrics takes time. The announcement of the strategic change might have missed the annual planning and budgeting round. While it’s painful to face up to, announcing a major change might mean asking people to redo this grunt work. And while those asked to do it may not be immediately enamored with the request, they know the alternative is that they, and everyone else in the organization, will be second-guessing the change until this grunt work is done.

Now, it may take several months to define, agree, baseline, and then measure these new metrics, so start this work early (and just as important, talk about the fact that you’re doing it), that way you signal to the organization what’s coming and that the change is not a passing fad. Put your money where your mouth is, and send the signal that this change is your priority — and that it will be resourced and measured accordingly.

Signals matter to followers, so signaling needs to matter to you. Followers are looking for signals to help them make sense of what they should do. As a leader, you have disproportionate power to shape these signals — or not. And that’s especially important when you’re asking for change. So supply people with what they need to make sense of it. And be the story you want their children to hear.

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10 Habits of the Most Successful People

Are you doing what the most successful people do on a daily basis?

It only makes sense that many of the world's top companies are lead by the greatest leaders--Elon Musk, Arianna Huffington and Bill Gates, for example. It takes great leadership to create a world-changing vision and inspire the people necessary to execute on that vision. Both your personal success, and the success of your company, are based on your ability as a leader.

But how, as an entrepreneur, do you make the move from dreamer to leader? While many leaders possess innate leadership skills, the rest of us become great leaders by adopting the mindsets and habits that great leaders share.

Here's a list of habits and behaviors that remarkable leaders make a part of their daily life.

1. They put their customers first

Successful companies are run by leaders that put customers first, even ahead of profits. Confident leaders know that doing the right thing by their customers will result in great outcomes for their business. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is a great example of this.

2. They know life's ultimate goal

The best leaders are not driven by external validation. Their ultimate goal is living a life of personal growth and fulfillment. They know that progress is made over time, and that they are works in progress themselves.

3. They live with integrity

Good leaders gain the trust and respect of their team members by consistently doing what they say, and saying what they do. Don't underestimate this point. Trust is everything when leading a team or company.

4. They're confident

Strong leaders are confident in their purpose and capabilities. They walk right to the edge of their comfort zones because they're confident in their ability to deliver.

5. They hire other leaders

Look next the most successful entrepreneurs and you'll see an elite team of talented leaders standing beside them. True leaders hire and train leaders, not simply someone who can fulfill the duties of a position.

6. They welcome feedback

The strongest leaders don't just listen to the opinions of their team members, they welcome them, knowing that in the long run extra input will lead to improvement.

7. They learn from mistakes

Good leaders acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes, even them. Whenever they make a misstep, they own it and find the gift in the experience.

8. They strive for self-growth

A good leader never stops looking for ways to improve, both as a leader and as a person. It's no surprise that many of the best leaders (Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Oprah, etc.) are voracious readers. Here's a list of great books you should add to your collection.

9. They delegate

Good leaders aren't afraid to delegate projects or tasks. They give their employees the freedom to take on new challenges and create successes for the company. 

10. They value a strong company culture

You reap what you sow when it comes to company culture, which is why good leaders put in the time and effort to create a culture that uplifts employees and empowers them toward a shared goal.

Final Word

Try using this same approach and adopting these top behaviors as you become a better and more successful leader. Approach your development as a work in progress, making consistent improvements over time. Before too long, you'll look back and marvel at how far you've grown.

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How to Effectively Harness Behavioral Economics to Drive Employee Performance and Engagement

How to Effectively Harness Behavioral Economics to Drive Employee Performance and Engagement


The Incentive Research Foundation’s (IRF) Using Behavioral Economics Insights in Incentives, Rewards, and Recognition presents new insights—and challenges long held assumptions—on what makes employees work their hardest.

Offering practical takeaways to apply immediately in incentives, rewards, and recognition (IRR) programs, the IRF’s report highlights proven behavioral economics approaches that make sense of—and capitalize upon—the powerful role of emotions in employee performance.

Emerging in recent years as a discipline in its own right, behavioral economics has long been overshadowed by the more readily accepted traditional economics which suggests, among other things, that:

            People tend to act rationally and in their own best interests when making decisions

            Money is the most effective motivator of employees

However, because behavioral economics recognizes that 70% of human decision-making is emotional—as opposed to rational—it proves to be a more useful tool than traditional economics in helping employers understand what actually motivates employees, why some incentives are more effective than others, and how they can strategically apply these principles to their own businesses.

Studies indicate that typically only about one-third of employees care about their work. But companies that incorporate proven techniques from behavioral economics into employee motivation programs and other aspects of their business models have a competitive edge and enjoy higher levels of productivity, engagement, and retention among employees than those relying solely on traditional monetary incentives. In most cases, an understanding of the person being incentivized and an appropriate experiential or merchandise reward will result in a far more memorable and impactful reward than cash.

How do IRR professionals decide which rewards to use and how exactly to use them? It’s hardly a surprise that factors like an employee’s age, income, and family status all play into how strong an impact a particular reward has on that particular employee. For a truly effective incentive campaign, IRR professionals should also give careful consideration to these subtle, though perhaps seemingly inconsequential variables:

            Ease of selection:  Is the incentive system user-friendly for the employees being rewarded? Do employees need to make multiple decisions or fill out multiple forms? Are there too many rewards to choose from? Are there enough?

            Reward type: e.g., experience, merchandise, or monetary

            Motivation type: e.g., internal vs. external; cooperative vs. competitive

              How can the reward be made most meaningful for and therefore most effective at motivating this particular employee? Who does the recognizing? Does the recognition seem to come from an HR representative, an executive level manager, direct supervisor, or the rest of the team?             How frequently should rewards be given? What time of year is best to recognize employees? Does it depend on the type of reward? Should the employee know about the reward in advance or should it be a surprise?

            Desired impact: What are the long-term goals of the IRR program? How will these be tracked? How can employers and IRR professionals work together to achieve these goals?

The IRR community might be astounded by some of the IRF’s findings, many of which are downright counterintuitive. However, the study also sheds light on how to best use these findings and proposes numerous ways to successfully apply these insights in the constantly evolving workplace.

Top Recommendations

Here are the top recommendations, and the rationale behind them, from Using Behavioral Economics Insights in Incentives, Rewards, and Recognition:

Ease of Selection

            Incentive programs should focus on using nudges (subtle incentive tools/practices) to make the reward system user-friendly and to maximize the program’s emotional impact. Emotionally compelling rewards hit the mind harder, are remembered longer, produce quantifiably better results from employees, and influence the internal brand the most.

Reward Type

            Employers need to move beyond programs that rely solely on monetary rewards. For large rewards in particular, experience-type programs involving travel tend to generate warm memories and appeal to more than two-thirds of an IRF survey’s respondents over the cash equivalents.

            IRR programs should offer material items and formal recognition more frequently while using intense experiential rewards more sparingly. Experiential rewards (e.g., a tropical getaway or box seats at a premiere sporting event) and material rewards such as plaques each have their own unique value as reward types and should be used in strategic combination to complement each other. One type tends to deliver more intense happiness, while the other serves as a more permanent reminder of appreciation.

Motivation Type

            Reward a top performing team as opposed to using a system in which members of a team all compete against each other for a single reward. In today’s workplace, cooperative incentives are more effective and valuable than competitive incentives. Emotional pressures cause people to do things they don’t really want to do; but it doesn’t cause them to do those things well.

            Don’t underestimate the value of rewards that reinforce internal motivation. Intrinsic rewards increase the recipient’s self-esteem by establishing or affirming a sense of purpose, fueling a desire to live up to expectations of peers and social norms, or helping the recipient master new skills. Intrinsic rewards create a long-lasting desire to perform well. For instance, simply celebrating reward-earners publicly by listing their names has measurable, favorable effects on productivity.



            Employers need to depart from a generic, one-size-fits-all model and incorporate creativity and personalization (based upon what matters to the individual and his or her peer group) into rewards. For instance, a “working vacation”—toiling, for a fee, at a family farm, bakery, vineyard, brewery, or in another romanticized trade—is an increasingly popular example of a reward that incorporates both intrinsic and extrinsic elements. These “vacations” which include mentoring by experts and impart a new specialized skill upon participants are often a far more appealing choice to individuals who might get restless and bored on a beach vacation.

            Who does the recognizing and how personalized or public that recognition is can have an impact on the employee’s emotional response and ultimately the employee’s productivity. One employee may value and appreciate public recognition while another might respond more favorably to private acknowledgement from an esteemed colleague.


            Surprise the employee with the reward after the goal has been achieved to avoid the entitlement effect and make it more meaningful. A reward that is explicitly promised in advance to an employee if he or she achieves a particular goal loses its impact much more quickly than a reward received unexpectedly by the same employee in recognition of reaching said goal.

            Use hyperbolic discounting to determine the optimal distribution of bonuses. Hyperbolic discounting refers to humans’ tendency to prefer smaller payoffs now over larger payoffs later. In other words, individuals tend to disregard the future when it requires sacrifice in the present. IRR professionals can make the most of this nearly universal phenomenon, by offering initiatives with titles such as “fast start" which accelerate payouts of incentives in the first few months of the program, making the incentives more tangible and generating more early excitement about the incentive opportunity.

Desired Impact

            Implementing emotionally meaningful incentives in IRR programs has benefits that extend beyond just improving employee productivity. The more valued a company’s employees feel, the better the internal brand impression. Internal brand impression will be talked-up on social media and thereby attract the most talented employees. Eventually, high-performing employees turn into brand ambassadors who extoll the company’s virtues to non-employees—including current and potential customers, vendors, and media.

            Ideally, every incentive and reward program will align to purpose and meaning in some way. If employees believe in the company and its purpose, freely invest in the company, trust their leaders, and develop caring relationships with the people they work with, then the employer becomes an asset in the employees’ ledgers that they will instinctively protect. In this situation the employee feels like an owner as opposed to a renter and will act accordingly.

            Rewards programs that prove you truly care about your employees are the most effective ones. This last insight from the paper ironically draws upon a principle of traditional economics—nothing ventured, nothing gained. Many of these recommended practices for designing a rewards system based on behavioral economics require employers to actually care about their people—something that can’t be faked. Pulling off emotionally meaningful rewards, in other words, may require a cultural change and a mind-set change on the part of the board, executives, managers, and superiors.


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5 questions that reveal if a company has a healthy workplace culture

Everyone says, “It’s great working here.” But is it really?

“How do you know if a company’s culture is good?”

Last week, a friend who’s looking for a new job asked me this. She’d been doing a few interviews, and was trying to figure out what questions to ask during her interviews to discern if a potential employer’s workplace culture was healthy.

In each interview, she’d ask a version of: “What’s it like to work here?”

Without fail, the person on the other side of the table would tell her: “It’s great!”

But is it really?

How do you know if a company’s culture is what they say it is?

Instead of asking “What’s it like to work here?” these five questions are what I recommended she ask at the end of her next interview…

#1: When is the last time you had a 4-hour block of uninterrupted time?

Our most productive, creative work happens when we have a large block of uninterrupted time. Yet how many workplaces make that a reality regularly for their employees? Ask a question about the last time your interviewer had an uninterrupted period of time to get work done and listen closely to the answer. Your interviewer may scoff and tell you: “We like to stay busy, busy, busy — meetings all the time, messages constantly on Slack…” Or she may sit there, a little stumped by the question, before slowly answering: “Hmmm… I’m not sure.” Both bring to light a clear truth: The company does not have a culture that values a calm environment where employees’ time is protected for them to do real work.

#2: When is the last time you argued about something with someone?

Healthy company cultures have a penchant for heated debate. People who are a part of them are not afraid to voice dissenting opinions and they treat opposing views with consideration and care. You want to dig to see if this is the case at the company you’re interviewing with. Do they suffer from a “culture of nice,” where everyone is conflict-averse and afraid to step on anyone’s toes? Or are people abrasive, tone-deaf and handle conflict without any tact? Arguments are unavoidable. They will happen in whatever company you work in next. What’s important is figuring out if those arguments will be handled well. You want a culture where people are upfront and honest when they disagree, and come to a resolution civilly.

#3: When’s the last time you had a conversation with the CEO one-on-one?

(Or, if you’re interviewing with the CEO, you can ask her: “When’s the last time you had a conversation one-on-one with [a person in your role]?”)

As an employee, you want to gauge the accessibility of the leadership team — and of the CEO in particular. Sure, when you’re in interviews, many companies will point out how their CEO’s desk is out in the open with everyone else’s, or that her office door is never closed shut. Does that mean she frequently gets up from her desk or out of her office, and seeks out perspectives from the front lines? If you have a concern, will it be difficult or seen as uncouth to try get a hold of her? Asking a question about the last time the interviewer spoke one-on-one with the CEO will give you an idea of how seriously the company takes openness, access to leadership, and a desire to hear from everyone in the company.

#4: When have you felt most proud to be at the company?

This question can uncover what people at the company truly value. For example, someone might say in an interview, “Everyone here is a team-player and we all care about accomplishing our company’s mission.” But if you ask them, “When have you felt most proud to be at the company?” they might tell you their proudest moment was hitting a personal sales goal and winning an individual award in the company. While that’s no doubt an accomplishment anyone should be proud of, it does reveal a fondness for individual recognition. Compare that to, say, the interviewer telling you their proudest moment was when the company won an industry-wide award or when a customer raved about the company, etc. Either way, you’ll learn if what makes people proud to work there is about themselves or about the company. And it will give you a sense of if the same thing would make you proud to work there too.

#5: When’s the last time someone went above and beyond the call of duty at the company?

When people across departments and disciplines are willing to do favors with one another, pitch in to resolve an issue, and not worry about who’s getting credit for what — that’s the kind of company culture you want to be a part of. If you’re in a bind at work, you don’t want selfish office politics to get in the way. To clue into whether this is true for your prospective employer, ask about a time someone went “above and beyond the call of duty.” In your interviewer’s answer, you may hear her struggle to think of even one instance of this (uh oh) or you may hear her rattle off a whole list. From this, you’ll gain an understanding of how people at the company actively help and support one another… if at all.

If you’re on the job hunt, try a few of these questions at the end of your next interview. You’re bound to learn so much more than asking, “What’s it like to work here?”.

But if you’re not — if you’re an employer who’s actively recruiting new hires — ask yourself these questions.

Do you like your own answers to them?

Your company culture may not be as healthy as you’d like to say it is.




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The 9 questions that uncover the most surprising insights from employees

When’s the last time you had a one-on-one or performance review with an employee… and you learned something completely new?

Don’t think too hard :-) If you’re like most CEOs and managers, getting new, surprising insights from employees doesn’t happen very often. Oftentimes, when we’re asking for honest feedback, we simply receive a confirmation of what we want to hear.

We learn, “Oh okay, it seems like everything is fine” or “I already knew that was an issue, so it’s all good there.”

But what about the stuff you don’t know? How do you discern if an employee has an idea to improve the company that she hasn’t brought up yet? How do you figure out if an employee is frustrated with her manager? Or, how can you tell if she’s thinking about leaving?

That’s where we at Know Your Company come in. We’ve spent the past three years researching, writing and refining hundreds of questions across almost 300 companies with 15,000 employees in 15+ countries.

From our 312+Know Your Company questions, below are the best nine that we’ve found to yield the most interesting insights for companies…

#1: “Are you afraid of anything at work?”

Our findings: 67% of employees said, “Yes, I’m afraid of something at work” (753 employees answered this across 89 companies) when asked through Know Your Company. This result caught me off guard (almost 70% of employees are afraid of something at work!) but it goes to show the importance of showing vulnerability as a leader and digging deep to uncover the areas of the company (or people in the company) that employees may feel intimidated by.

#2: “Have you seen something recently and thought to yourself ‘I wish we’d done that’?”

Our findings: 75% of employees said, “Yes, I’ve seen something recently, and thought to myself, ‘I wish we’d done that’” (1,338 employees answered this across 221 companies) when asked through Know Your Company. Clearly, employees are noticing what competitors are doing and may have ideas for you to improve the business. Asking this question helps bring to light what those ideas are.

#3: “Is there something we should measure in the company that we currently don’t?”

Our findings: 78% of employees said, “Yes, there’s something we should measure in the company that we currently don’t” (286 employees answered this across 78 companies) when asked through Know Your Company. This reveals a need to more closely examine the metrics we use to run our businesses, and ask employees if there’s anything not being measured that should be.

#4: “Is there any part of the company you wish you were able to interact with more?”

Our findings: 81% of employees said, “Yes, there’s a part of the company I wish I were able to interact with more” (507 employees answered this across 72 companies) when asked through Know Your Company. An overwhelming majority of the employees we surveyed feel silo-ed. By asking this question, you’ll learn exactly which parts of the company they’d like more interaction with, be it a specific department or office.

#5: “Are there any benefits we don’t offer that you’d like to see us offer?”

Our findings: 76% said “Yes, there are benefits we don’t offer that I’d like to see us offer” (1,807 employees answered this across 179 companies) when asked through Know Your Company. You may be thinking, “Ugh, of course most of my employees want more benefits”… However, what’s most revealing with this question is which benefits your employees are looking for. Many of the companies who asked this specific question have added key benefits that have helped retain employees, or even gotten rid of benefits no one is using. You never know unless you ask.

#6: “Is there an area outside your current role where you feel you could be contributing?”

Our findings: 76% of employees said, “Yes, there’s an area outside my current role where I feel I could be contributing” (814 employees answered this across 135 companies) when asked through Know Your Company. This result is surprising, considering that most managers feel their employees are slammed and are already at capacity. Thus, this question all the more important to ask: You’ll learn very tactically where your employees want to contribute more to help push your business even further.

#7: “Is there anyone at the company you wish you could apprentice under for a few weeks?”

Our findings: 92% of employees said, “Yes, there’s someone at the company I wish I could apprentice under for a few weeks” (2,217 employees answered across 190 companies) when asked through Know Your Company. This shows how much employees crave learning and developing their skills — especially from others within the company. Asking this question will expose to you if this is similarly the case within your own company.

#8: “Have you seen someone here do great work that’s gone unnoticed?”

Our findings: 76% of employees said, “Yes, I’ve seen someone here do great work that’s gone unnoticed” (1,485 employees answered across 209 companies) when asked through Know Your Company. Based off this data, it’s highly-likely that employees in your company may feel under-appreciated. The answers to this question can help you discover which exact projects or areas of the company that employees would like more gratitude and recognition shown in.

#9: “Are there things you don’t know about the company that you feel you should know?”

Our findings: 55% of employees said “Yes, there are things I don’t know about in my company that I feel like I should know” (3,197 employees answered this across 702 companies) when asked through Know Your Company. Employees want to know more about the company —the company’s vision, people’s roles, why certain policies exist, etc. When you ask this question, you quickly get to the core of what those things are.

How many of these 9 questions are you asking in your own company? The next time you go grab coffee with an employee or have a quarterly one-on-one, consider asking one (or all!) of these questions. I guarantee you’ll learn at least one insight that is completely new and surprising.

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6 Onboarding Tips to Keep Employees From Quitting

Good companies hire employees and take the time to train and guide them in the hopes that they will stay at the company and become long-term assets. Unfortunately, that’s where most companies stop. Some don’t even have a process of onboarding or training at all.

Growing employee loyalty starts with the onboarding process. You need to make sure new hires feel welcomed, important and engaged so that they don’t quit after the first couple of months. Follow these six onboarding tips to make your way from “average” or “good” to “great.”

1. Start on the right foot during pre-boarding.

Most companies forget that onboarding starts before even the offer letter. Employees get a feel for a company’s culture from the start of the recruitment process. Your recruitment team sets the tone for positive office culture even before applicants become employees.

To ensure a good first impression, train your recruitment and HR department on how to properly interact with applicants. Anyone interacting with prospective hires should keep all interactions friendly and professional (even if the candidates do not).

Once employees sign on the dotted line, make sure to give clear instructions on what they can expect on their first day, including when they should arrive, what they need to bring (and wear!), and whom they will be meeting with upon arrival. These guidelines will help them feel more at ease and ready for their first day.

2. Plan your new hire’s first days.

First days of work are for introductions, orientations, completing information forms and adjusting to the new role. Giving your new hires a full workload immediately will make it harder for them to adjust, and it may set them up for failure. The first few days should be welcoming, and new hires should be given work at a healthy but reasonable pace as they settle in.

Observe a few employee onboarding rules and strategies to ensure that employee orientations are effective. Focus on the content that affects them, such as benefits, opportunities for promotion, pay, and rules and policies. Don’t forget to make sure you have a desk or cubicle set up for your new hire, complete with working computer and a company email address.

3. Assign a company ambassador.

People, especially new hires, are greatly influenced by their coworkers. On the first day, assign someone to show the new hire around the office to help them feel more welcomed and also give them a person to whom they can ask questions.

The company ambassador should be someone who knows the ropes and is friendly and patient. If new hires feel like the person they are shadowing is unapproachable, it will be difficult for them to ask questions.

Consider assigning them a buddy or mentor from the team they are joining, if that’s a different person than the company ambassador. This person should be skilled at training new employees and emulate the company culture and ideal performance.

4. Communicate consistently.

It’s not enough to have a great onboarding process for the first few days. Employees need open communication, beyond the initial start period and in several forms. Here are some tips:

Ensure that your employees know that their manager and/or HR department is always available if they have problems in the workplace. Teams should also hold regular meetings to discuss project progress, with a bit of chitchat in between. Remember that communication is a two-way street. When giving feedback to your new hires, encourage them to ask questions and give feedback about the company as well.

5. Continue wooing your employees.

During pre-boarding, you wowed your applicants with a compensation plan, growth opportunities or work perks. During the first few months, you maintained a friendly atmosphere and open communication. However, just because your employees have been working for you for a while doesn’t mean you should stop wooing them.

Continue giving your employees a glimpse of what they can gain if they stay at the company through a performance review process and an employee engagement or recognition program.

6. Keep an eye out for “quitting” behaviors.

Employees don’t quit suddenly. They typically exhibit signs that they’re losing interest in their work for months. Sometimes, managers don’t see it coming, because the employees are still doing well. However, onboarding shouldn’t just focus on how productive employees are but also on how engaged they are.

Maybe your employee used to go the extra mile but now does the bare minimum. Maybe your employee who used to speak up in company meetings has become a wallflower. Then there’s the classic sign of the employee who now bolts out of the office at 5 p.m., when he or she used to be the first to stay late and help. Once an employee starts acting like he or she doesn’t care about the job and the company, it’s time to have a face-to-face meeting to confront these issues head-on.

Most companies view onboarding in a very narrow sense, which is why most employees become disengaged as time goes by. Onboarding isn’t just about the first few days of work – it starts at the recruitment phase and goes on each day, in the form of employee engagement and recognition. Onboarding does not only mean taking steps to ensure that the employee fits in and feels appreciated in the company. It also means taking steps to maintain or improve your company's image so that your employees are happy with their workload, management and the company itself.

(Christy Hopkins, PHR, is a writer at Fit Small Business and a human resources consultant for 30 small business clients across the United States. Her areas of expertise include recruiting, performance management, organizational change and implementing HR systems.)


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Lessons from a life coach: how to get what you want, now

Lessons from a life coach: how to get what you want, now

People turn to life coaching because they are unclear about the direction their life is going in, they feel there is something missing. It’s my job as a coach to help them work out what that something is, and how they can find it. All coaches have a series of tools at their disposal to help them do this, over the next few articles I’m going to be sharing some of these for you to use.

We all have secret worries and fears that we don’t want to share with our social circle but when you’re worried that your aspirations or goals will be judged by your closest friends you can start to hold yourself back. You might find yourself blocking your own goals. If you’ve started assuming that what you want simply isn’t possible, that you don’t deserve to go for it or that you should put others’ needs and desires before your own, then you’re probably not getting the most out of your life. Putting our needs behind those of others is something we do in all aspects of our lives. From work, to our families, to sex - we can get caught up in trying to please other people and ignore our own needs.

One way I ask clients to think bigger about what they want is through future-self exercises, these are exercises that encourage you to think as if you had already achieved what it is you’re working towards. This isn’t about being your ‘best’ or ‘perfect’ future self, God knows there is already so much pressure to be this. This is about giving yourself time to explore what’s possible and being really honest about what you want.

Here’s one exercise that I ask clients to do early on in coaching, it’s an effective way to clearly show what you need to do to achieve your goals. Write a letter and imagine where you want to be a year today. Imagine what your life looks like, what you’ve achieved and what you’ve had to do to get there. Then write a letter from your future self to your present self. You want this letter to resonate so here are three steps to getting it right:

Write down your goals and what your life looks like when you’re not tolerating it and you are completely happy and you’ve achieved everything you want to. You can be as creative as you like, you’re the only person who will read this so don’t hesitate to put in everything you want. When writing the letter take yourself out of your day to day environment and go somewhere that allows you to dream big. Go somewhere you find inspiring and beautiful to write the letter, take your time and write without editing or censoring. Don’t cross things out or start again, this isn’t about a writing competition, nobody is grading you on your grammar or the realism of your work. Don’t judge what you have written as good or bad, possible or impossible. It’s just what’s here right now. Holding back this judgement opens to the door to being honest with yourself about what really makes you happy, and what you really have to do to achieve it. When you read the letter back to yourself, we want for you to feel inspired and energized by what you have written – this doesn’t want to feel like pressure, more like hope.

Now you’ve completed the letter, there are a few things you can do to bring it alive. Keep it where you can see it regularly, and re-read it from time to time to remind yourself of your goals. You can break it down, maybe try splitting the year into quarters with goals for each month. Something I like to do is to share my letter with someone I trust – a coach or a close ally who will champion me and hold me accountable. And there’s a great website called futureme.org – if you post your letter on there, you will get it sent back to your inbox in one year from the date you posted. Good luck and enjoy!


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5 Types of Music That Increase Your Productivity

Music has a way of permeating through empty corners and filling up environments with substance. It can help you relax, make you well up in tears, or feel alive.

But can it make you more productive?

We use music to set the tone of our environment and our mood, whether we’re unwinding after work or throwing a party. But in an age when many of us spend our time staring at a computer screen, music has also become a mode of escape from outside distractions or dull tasks.

So how useful is music when it comes to focusing on your work?

Let’s take a look at the science behind music and productivity.

Does Music Make You More Productive?

Teresa Lesiuk, an assistant professor in the music therapy program at the University of Miami, does research on the effect of music listening on work performance. According to Dr. Lesiuk’s research, those who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and had better ideas than those who didn’t overall.

But there are some types of music that worsen productivity. Several studieshave shown that popular music interferes with reading comprehension and information processing.

Based on these studies then, music can have a positive effect in your work. However, its effect on productivity depends on the situation and type of music.

So, What Type of Music Doesn’t Work?

When I work, I find it very hard to concentrate when people are talking. Similarly, listening to music with lyrics is almost as distracting.

It turns out I’m not alone. Music can be considered a form of multi-tasking, where the listener is switching back and forth between a task and the music, as opposed to the music simply playing a background role.

Once again, this depends on the type of music and the listener’s habits. Dr. Haake does research on music listening at work, and she identified certain factors that could determine whether music is distracting:

Complex musical structure. Songs with a more complex musical structure, such as Frank Zappa’s “Muffin Man” can be more distracting to listeners when compared to songs with a simple three-chord structure, such as John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”. Lyrics. Lyrics can distract, as they cause you to focus on the message of the song and interrupt your train of thought. Listening habits. If someone is used to listening to music while working, it’s often more beneficial than distracting. The reverse is true as well. Difficulty of tasks. If a task requires more thought and focus, music can make it more difficult to work efficiently. Control. When music is imposed upon someone, it’s usually more distracting than if the person has a choice in the matter.

While it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario, there are certain types of music that are better to listen to while you work. Let’s look at their effects and how they impact you.

What Type of Music Works? 1. Classical Music

When we think of classical music, composers such as Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel come up in our thoughts. In a study, seven out of eight radiologists found that baroque music increased mood and concentration on their work. If you’re looking for where to begin, try Vivaldi’s quick-tempo “Four Seasons”.

2. Nature Music

Listening to the sounds of nature can enhance cognitive function and concentration. Soothing sounds such as flowing water, rainfall, and rustling leaves work well, while jarring noises such as birdcalls and animal noises can be distracting.

3. Epic Music

Epic music can make you feel like you’re doing something grandiose to change the world. It empowers and lifts you up. So if you’re feeling tired and uninspired during your work, try listening to some epic music to give you that extra boost of motivation.

4. Video Game Music

Music from video games is a great choice because the compositions are specifically designed to enhance your gaming experience. After all, it’s pretty crucial you dodge that fire, or skillfully maneuver your way through hordes of enemies. For starters, try the Bastion soundtrack, or one of the SimCity soundtracks, to name a few.

5. Ambient soundtracks

If you’re feeling stressed out at work, give ambient music a try. As Brian Eno, creator of Music for Airports, says:

“Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”

Other Types of Music

There’s a number of other types of music you can listen to during work, such as meditation music, blues, or jazz, to name a few. If you just want to get rid of your chatty coworkers or the nearby printer, use “white noise” to cancel them out.

Experiment and see what works. Soft and mellow may help you to focus on your work, while a high energy piece can keep you motivated.

And of course, there are those times when silence is golden.


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How To Look In The Mirror And See Greatness

We all doubt ourselves at one time or another. The temptation to believe that we are not enough or that we somehow “must” be so much more plagues us all.

We look in the mirror and see disappointment and our forever aging bodies. We have this so-called “ticking time bomb” of things we must get done today, tomorrow and in the years to come. We see our face in the mirror and try not to take a glimpse for too long.

We think that we are only worthy of truly looking at ourselves in the mirror when we have earned the recognition we believe we deserve. The goal posts always change, though, and we run the risk of never having the opportunity to look at ourselves and be proud of who we are.

We’re all becoming something each and every day. For the vast majority of us, I believe that we’re all becoming something special. We all have hopes and dreams, and we’re doing our best to achieve them.

For me, things started to change when I was able to look in the mirror and see greatness. Things changed when I was able to honestly believe that I was going to change the world in some meaningful way and that my life mattered.

This same experience that I have been lucky enough to have is something that I want for everyone. That’s why I wrote this article in the first place. I want you to know what that feeling is like when you look in the mirror and see how phenomenal you really are.

Here’s how to see greatness in yourself:

1. Ignore the voices “There are voices in your head that are there to make you survive”  

These voices tell you that it’s easier not to try or that you’re not ready. For you to see greatness, I want you to start ignoring them. I want you to question those voices like you were a police officer interrogating someone accused of murder.

These voices often lie to us and help us make comfortable decisions. What you should follow is your heart and your intuition.

Try ignoring the voices in your head for a while and see what it does to your life. I promise you that you’ll be surprised with the outcome.

2. Focus on your best trait

We all fall into the trap of focusing on our weaknesses. The truth is we can’t be good at everything so why bother trying to be. I’ve tried in my life to be good at so many things and failed. Instead of focusing on the failures, I’ve started focusing on my single best trait.

Right now, that’s writing inspirational articles to help people in their life. That’s what I believe I’m good at and that’s what seems to be resonating with people in my friendship group. Trying to put my attention into lots of different pursuits all at the same time hasn’t worked.

It’s the same with productivity. If you read every book ever written on productivity, you’ll see that there will be at least one part of the book dedicated to focusing on just a few things.

When you allow one of your strongest traits to get even stronger, you start to believe that you are great at something.

That one trait that has excelled beyond your others gives you a belief that maybe anything is possible. Once you experience this feeling with a single trait, the greatness feeling spreads to other areas of your life. It becomes a snowball effect.

3. Imagine you are like your heroes already

For a long time, I thought that my heroes were very different to me. I thought they had these superhuman lives that maybe were out of reach from an “average Joe” like myself.

As I got to know a few of these heroes, I realized that they are in fact not that much different to me. It’s the one percenters that they do slightly different to me that gives them all of their massive success.


Adopting the belief that you are already like your heroes changes your perspective. You begin to feel differently and like you’re significant. This significance can be turned into confidence that allows you to break through fear.

I’ve started to study my heroes and mimic their habits. Because I believe I can achieve the same as them, taking risks is now a given. Knowing that I’ll achieve my goals has become a must.

“You have to believe first before anyone else can start to believe in you”

How you feel about yourself matters. Those ridiculous insults you say to yourself are blocking the true person inside of you from escaping and unleashing all the passion, and talent that the world has to offer. You’re more talented and smarter than you think.

Your dreams are not impossible; all you have to do is believe.

4. Say “I Love Myself”

I read a book about a man who had lost it all including his very prosperous Silicon Valley startup. He thought his life was over and that the only thing he could do was commit suicide. Somehow he stumbled across the idea that if you look at yourself in the mirror and say “I Love Myself,” you can turn your life around.

He did this consistently every day, and now he’s written a best-selling book and gives talks all around the world about this simple life hack.

So I thought to myself “What the heck I should try this.” So I did, and the results were amazing. I started the day with more confidence, more energy and stopped focusing on my problems. I stopped thinking about the failed relationship I had just ended and focused on the idea that I am enough.


I’m not stupid, I’m not unlovable, I’m not insignificant, I’m just me. The same applies to you. I want you to take the challenge of looking at yourself every morning in the mirror and saying “I Love Myself.” At the start, it will feel like BS, but as you do it, the belief will build.

As you get to the next level, try and say “I Love Myself” with passion like you mean it. Embody the feeling of what it would be like if you really did love yourself. You’ll be surprised to learn at the end of this experiment that you can love yourself just the way you are.

This outcome then transcribes into the belief that your imperfections should be embraced. The things that you always thought were things to be ashamed of, actually make up who you are.

You’re not flawed; you’re just human. It’s amazing to learn as Daft Punk said it that we are “Human After All.”

Don’t forget that fact the next time you look in the mirror and feel anything but greatness. Start believing. Start manifesting. You are enough. You are great.

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These 25 Productivity Principles Will Change How You Work Forever

According to a recent McKinsey report, today’s workforce spends 61% of their time managing work rather than doing it. That’s insane. We can do better than that.

Productivity is fairly simple, in theory. Even if you have an overwhelming amount to do, the steps aren’t hard to figure out: Pick something important to work on (a task from your most important project, perhaps).

Focus exclusively on that task for a bit, finish it if you can. Take a few minutes break. Pick another important task after that, and repeat. But it’s not that simple, because no matter how focused you are, there will always be distractions. Everyone struggles to get work done everyday. Here is a summary of all you need to know and do to get real work done everyday without losing your mind.

1. Work on your MITs first thing in the morning

Your MIT is the tasks you most want or need to get done today. They should be identiied the evening or night before the morning. I limit MITs to three. There will be more that I do during the day, but my focus will be to finish at least three MITs.

Do your MITs first thing in the morning.

If you put them off to later, you will get busy and run out of time to do them. Get them out of the way, and the rest of the day is gravy!

2. Limit your list

Make a long list of all the tasks you need to do … then make a short list of 1–3 things you really want to get done. Choose so that, if you got only these tasks done, you’d be proud of what you did today. Start with the most important task, before checking email or reading online.

3. Fewer tasks are better than many

With the overwhelming amount of information coming at us, there’s also an overwhelming amount of requests and things to do. It’s just not possible to get to react to all tasks every day especially when you have your own MITs to deal with.

And it’s not even desirable to do a huge task list — you’re just spinning your wheels. Instead, focus on the few tasks that make the most difference — to your company, to your career, to your life.

4. Write a stop doing list

Every productive person obsessively sets To Do Lists. But those who play at world-class also record what they commit to stop doing. Steve Jobs said that what made Apple Apple was not so much what they chose to build but all the projects they chose to ignore.

5. Set and stick to daily goals

Without a clear focus, it’s too easy to succumb to distractions. Set targets for each day in advance. Decide what you’ll do; then do it. Keep your to-do list close to you to remind you of what needs to be done today. Whatever you do, stick to it and make sure you get it done.

6. Use the first 90 minutes rule

The basic principle of the first 90 minutes rule is to start your day by spending the first 90 minutes on your most important task.

The human body operates on cycles called “ultradian rhythms.” According to research, during each of these cycles, there is a peak when we are most energized and a period when we are exhausted. You are most active in the morning.

Do your best work when you have the most energy and willpower! 7. Do the worst first

To defeat procrastination learn to tackle your most unpleasant task first thing in the morning instead of delaying it until later in the day. This small victory will set the tone for a very productive day. Plus, you are more productive and have a lot of brain energy in the morning.

Or better still, identify your peak cycles of productivity, and schedule your most important tasks for those times.

Work on minor tasks during your non-peak times. 8. Use the Pareto Principle

In every area of your life, you can work out the few things that are really important to you and the few methods that give you what you want.

There are lots of simple, painless ways to start this “stripping back” process so that you can begin applying the 80/20 Principle and reaping the practical benefits in your everyday life.

The Pareto principle is the 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of the value of a task comes from 20% of the effort. Focus your energy on that critical 20% to get a lot more done every day. Your productive time should be spent on tasks that deliver the most results.

The key to making the 80/20 Principle work for you is FOCUS! 9. Putting accountability to work

Put structures and systems in place to measure and record your progress. Schedule regular appointments to check in. It can be over email, mobile or in person. If possible, schedule these times in advance so that they’re not lost or forgotten in the busyness of everyday life.

Move beyond mere talk and commit to specific actions that will move your goals forward, and agree with someone else to hold you accountable. 10. Don’t work on a task more than once

Starting now, don’t set things aside hoping you’ll have time to deal with them later. Ask yourself “What do I need to do with this” every time you pick up something from your email list, and either do it, schedule it for later, defer it to someone else, or file it.

Don’t put things on hold only to deal with them again later. Learn to handle incoming tasks once and move on.

How many times have you opened the same email only to close it and open it again at another time?

Once something new gets your attention, if it’s not on your list of things to do within the day you should delegate it or reply, especially if it takes not more than five minutes to respond to it.

11. Find your flow

Identify your peak cycles of productivity, and schedule your most important tasks for those times. Work on minor tasks during your non-peak times.

It’s important to organize your day around your body’s natural rhythms, says Carson Tate, founder and managing partner of management consultancy, Working Simply.

Tackle complex tasks when your energy’s at its highest level. 12. Slice and dice

Break complex projects into smaller, well-defined tasks and focus on completing just one of those tasks at a time. Give yourself a fixed time period, like an hour, to complete the task. Don’t worry about how far you get. Just put in the time and get started.

13. Use the Pomodoro technique to slice and dice

The Pomodoro Technique, strictly about time-management was developed by Italian entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo.

It focuses on working in short, intensely focused bursts, and then giving yourself a brief break to recover and start over.

The technique requires a timer, and it allows you to break down your large complex task into manageable intervals. Once you break your work into focused time blocks, you can manage it for the rest of time allocated for it.

The act of timing can boost your productivity, not to mention what you learn about your real time usage. When you measure, you can optimise where necessary.

14. Use the Eisenhower Method

The “Eisenhower Method” stems from a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

Separate the truly important tasks from the merely urgent and those that are not important.

Allocate blocks of time to work on your most urgent and important tasks and spend less time on rarely urgent and not important tasks. 15. Set mini-milestones

When you begin a task, identify the target you must reach before you can stop working. For example, when working on a book, you could decide not to get up until you’ve written at least 1000 words. Hit your target no matter what. And move on to the next one after a short break.

Embrace small chunks of time. Work in small blocks. 16. Focus, don’t crank

Today, more and more people are realizing that when you constantly switch between tasks, you get very little done. You actually tend to procrastinate on the important stuff, and use multi-tasking as a way to postpone doing things.

Instead of cranking through a lot of tasks and multi-tasking, learn to focus on important tasks and single-task. 17. Write shorter emails

If email takes up a lot of your day, the simple change of limiting yourself to 4–5 sentences per email will make a big difference. First, it’ll drastically shorten the time it takes to write or respond to emails. And second, it’ll shorten responses to your emails, which means you’ll spend less time reading email. Never send an email that’s more than five sentences long.

Take the number of words you think your email should be, cut that number in half, and that’s what your word count should be. 18. Don’t plan meetings that require more than thirty minutes to complete

Seriously, cut out all the unnecessary meetings. If you do have a crucial meeting in mind that requires a long time-span, it’s better to split the meeting into two or more parts.

And stop scheduling that 4 p.m meeting. Most employees mentally check out after 4 p.m!

Don’t waste your productive time in meetings that end up with more things to do. 19. Keep meetings lean

The traditional way of doing business includes company meetings throughout the day, taking an hour or more usually. This can eat up half of your day or more. Add to that individual meetings — at lunch, or having drinks, or just a one-on-one in the office — and you’re meeting more than you’re producing.

Meeting (usually) suck!

Meetings can be vital for discussing goals and establishing a forward vision. Left unchecked, they become bloated affairs, eating up hours (or in extreme cases, even days ) of your time without anything important being decided.

20. Plan to Optimise

Identify the processes you use most often, and write them down step-by-step. Refactor them on paper for greater efficiency. Then implement and test your improved processes. Sometimes we just can’t see what’s right in front of us until we examine it under a microscope. Repeat and stick to productive routines and processes that work best for you.

21. Learn to delegate

Learn to trust people with critical tasks in all areas of your life. When you learn to effectively delegate tasks you actually find that it is easier to keep the stuff you cannot delegate better organized.

22. Start a gap reading habit

Use reading to fill in those odd periods like waiting for an appointment, standing in line, while the coffee is brewing and commuting to and from work. If you consistently stick to it and read at least one article every day on a subject that means a lot to you or even on personal growth articles, that’s 365 articles a year. You can use Pocket to save articles for later reading.

23. Procrastinate consciously Delay non-critical tasks as long as you possibly can. Many of them will die on you and won’t need to be done at all. 24. Do it now!

Recite this phrase over and over until you’re so sick of it that you cave in and get to work. Embrace the “Now” habit.

25. Whatever you do, don’t overload yourself!

Work doesn’t have to be monotonous and done in 8-hour shifts — it can be fun, and done in productive bursts.

People tend to pile too much on themselves for a single day, overestimating how much they can actually do. Get into the habit of choosing only two or three most important tasks to do for the day and take time to refresh for another day.

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How to be 1% Better Every Day (The Kaizen Approach to Self-improvement)

“Compounding is the greatest mathematical discovery of all time.” — Albert Einstein

The quest to become a better version of yourself often feels like a roller coaster ride. It’s hard. And it’s usually so uneven. You can end in failure. But life is a journey, not a marathon, so you always have another opportunity to restart and improve.

Many people practically look out for secrets, tricks, and hacks that will make EVERYTHING better right now. But unfortunately life doesn’t work that way. There are no “overnight successes”. Think of all the incredible people you truly admire. They didn’t succeed becasue of one giant move, but rather a series of small and consistent actions over time.

Stop aiming for radical personal change!

“Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.” — Stephen Covey

A magic bullet cannot save you! You’ve got to embrace the process and enjoy it. You can’t escape the hard work it takes to get better. Every incredibly successful person you know today has been through the boring, mundane, time-tested process that eventually brings success. So, stop looking for “quick hacks” that bring faster results.

Instead of reading every self-improvement post for the one golden tip that will make you superhumanly efficient, focus on doing the actual work that needs to be done. You can inspire yourself to take action. The hard, long process is the only way though. You can’t achieve tremendous life success with a quick fix. Nobody gets it that easy.

Your big, audacious goals are not inspiring you!

“Whoever wants to reach a distant goal must take small steps.” — Helmut Schmidt

Your attempt to be better usually ends in failure because you life-changing goals overwhelm you into inaction instead of inspiring you into action. Unrealistic goals make it insanely difficult to make any progress. You will get “stressed” over what is supposed to help you take action.

Your performance and ability to get things done is inextricably bound to brain performance. A big, audacious goal looks scary to your brain. And when your brain encounters scary, it goes into “freeze” mode. You don’t want that. If you constantly overstretch yourself, you will lose the required energy you need to take the necessary action to get better.

Setting a goal, no mater how simple is always the easy part. Everyone has goals. The real challenge is not determining if you want the result, but if you are willing to accept the sacrifices required to achieve your goals.

If you want to achieve your goals at all times, create a system that works. Instead of a goal, design a great system or process. That way, you will always win. Even when your short-term goals are achieved, your next goal won’t be a struggle. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process makes a huge difference.

James Clear explains:

We place unnecessary stress on ourselves to lose weight or to succeed in business or to write a best-selling novel. Instead, you can keep things simple and reduce stress by focusing on the daily process and sticking to your schedule, rather than worrying about the big, life-changing goals. When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time.

Self-improvement is not a destination!

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily”— Mike Murdock

Learning should not end after formal education. Lifelong learning, the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge can enrich your life and make you a better person every day.

Self-improvement isn’t a destination. You’re never done. Even if you have some success, and you want to maintain it, you have to keep doing the things you were doing that got you that success in the first place.

Your first step to improving your life and becoming the best version of your self won’t be easy. Nobody can promise you that things will be easy but they will get better. It pays to take a small action–any action–and grow from there. Remember, you are better off trying and crawling than anyone else who isn’t trying.

The Kaizen Approach and how it works

“Little strokes fell great oaks.” –Benjamin Franklin

Kaizen — Japanese for continuous improvement

It was developed by Depression-era American business management theorists in order to build the arsenal of democracy that helped the U.S. win World War II. The Japanese took to the idea of small, continual improvement right away and gave it a name: Kaizen — Japanese for continuous improvement.

While Kaizen was originally developed to help businesses improve and thrive, it’s just as applicable to our personal lives.

The idea here is to focus on consistent improvements in your life, every day, not matter how small the step you take to be a better you than you were yesterday.

According to Brett and Kate McKay of The Art of Manliness:

“Instead of trying to make radical changes in a short amount of time, just make small improvements every day that will gradually lead to the change you want. Each day, just focus on getting 1% better in whatever it is you’re trying to improve. That’s it. Just 1%.

It might not seem like much, but those 1% improvements start compounding on each other. In the beginning, your improvements will be so small as to seem practically nonexistent. But gradually and ever so slowly, you’ll start to notice the improvements in your life. It may take months or even years, but the improvements will come if you just focus on consistently upping your game by 1%.”

Here is why Kaizen works

“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens, it lasts.” — John Wooden

The Kaizen approach is a reminder that all improvements must be maintained if we wish to secure consistent gains. Think of the smallest step you can take every day that would move you incrementally towards your goal.

Becoming 1% better every day is a simple, practical way to achieve big goals. 1% seems like a small amount. Yes, it is. It’s tiny. It’s easy. It’s doable. And it’s applicable in most things you want to do or accomplish.

It feels less intimidating and is more manageable. It might feel less exciting than chasing a huge win, but its results will be stronger and more sustainable.

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Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Oprah Winfrey All Use the 5-Hour Rule

Top business leaders often spend five hours per week doing deliberate learning.

In the article "Malcolm Gladwell Got Us Wrong," the researchers behind the 10,000-Hour Rule set the record straight: Different fields require different amounts of deliberate practice in order for someone to become world-class.

If 10,000 hours isn't an absolute rule that applies across fields, what does it really take to become world class in the world of work?

Over the past year, I've explored the personal histories of many widely admired business leaders, including Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg, in order to understand how they apply the principles of deliberate practice.

What I've done does not qualify as an academic study, but it does reveal a surprising pattern.

Many of these leaders, despite being extremely busy, have set aside at least an hour a day (or five hours a week) over their entire career for activities that could be classified as deliberate practice or learning.

I call this phenomenon the five-hour rule.

How the best leaders follow the five-hour rule

For the leaders I tracked, the five-hour rule often fell into three buckets: reading, reflection, and experimentation.

1. Read

According to an HBR article, "Nike founder Phil Knight so reveres his library that in it you have to take off your shoes and bow."

Oprah Winfrey credits books with much of her success: "Books were my pass to personal freedom." She has shared her reading habit with the world via her book club.

These two are not alone. Consider the extreme reading habits of other billionaire entrepreneurs:

Mark Cuban reads more than three hours every day.

Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot, reads two hours a day.

Billionaire entrepreneur David Rubenstein reads six books a week.

Dan Gilbert, self-made billionaire and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, reads one to two hours a day. 2. Reflect

Other times, the five-hour rule takes the form of reflection and thinking time.

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong makes his senior team spend four hours per week just thinking. Jack Dorsey is a serial wanderer. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner schedules two hours of thinking time per day. Brian Scudamore, the founder of the $250 million company O2E Brands, spends 10 hours a week just thinking.

When Reid Hoffman needs help thinking through an idea, he calls one of his pals: Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, or Elon Musk. When billionaire Ray Dalio makes a mistake, he logs it into a system that is public to all employees at his company. Then, he schedules time with his team to find the root cause. Billionaire entrepreneur Sara Blakely is a long-time journaler. In one interview, she shared that she has more than 20 notebooks in which she logged the terrible things that happened to her and the gifts that have unfolded as a result.

3. Experiment

Finally, the five-hour rule takes the form of rapid experimentation.

Throughout his life, Ben Franklin set aside time for experimentation, masterminding with like-minded individuals, and tracking his virtues. Google famously allowed employees to experiment with new projects during 20 percent of their work time. Facebook encourages experimentation through Hack-a-Months.

The biggest example of experimentation might be Thomas Edison's. Even though he was a genius, Edison approached new inventions with humility. He would identify every possible solution and then systematically test each one of them. According to one of his biographers, "Although he understood the theories of his day, he found them useless in solving unknown problems."

He took the approach to such an extreme that his competitor, Nikola Tesla, had this to say about the trial-and-error approach: "If [Edison] had a needle to find in a haystack, he would not stop to reason where it was most likely to be. He would proceed at once with the feverish diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search."

The power of the five-hour rule: improvement rate

People who apply the five-hour rule in the world of work have an advantage. The idea of deliberate practice is often confused with just working hard. Also, most professionals focus on productivity and efficiency, not on improvement. As a result, just five hours of deliberate learning a week can set you apart.

Billionaire entrepreneur Marc Andreessen poignantly talked about improvement rate in a recent interview. "I think the archetype/myth of the 22-year-old founder has been blown completely out of proportion ... I think skill acquisition, literally the acquisition of skills and how to do things, is just dramatically underrated. People are overvaluing the value of just jumping into the deep end of the pool, because the reality is that people who jump into the deep end of the pool drown. There's a reason there are so many stories about Mark Zuckerberg. There aren't that many Mark Zuckerbergs. Most of them are still floating face down in the pool. And so, for most of us, it's a good idea to get skills."

Later in the interview he adds, "The really great CEOs, if you spend time with them--you would find this to be true of Mark [Zuckerberg] today or of any of the great CEOs of today or the past--they are really encyclopedic in their knowledge of how to run a company, and it's very hard to just intuit all of that in your early 20s. The path that makes much more sense for most people is to spend five to 10 years getting skills."

We should look at the five-hour rule the same way we look at exercise

We need to move beyond the cliché, "Lifelong learning is good," and think more deeply about the minimum amount of learning the average person should do per day to have a sustainable and successful career.

Just as we have minimum recommended dosages of vitamins and steps per day and of aerobic exercise for leading a healthy life physically, we should be more rigorous about how we as an information society think about the minimum doses of deliberate learning for leading a healthy life economically.

The long-term effects of not learning are just as insidious as the long-term effects of not having a healthy lifestyle. The CEO of AT&T makes this point loud and clear in an interview with The New York Times; he says that those who don't spend at least five to 10 hours a week learning online "will obsolete themselves with technology."

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This Leadership Value Is the Most Important Trait of Any Successful Business

Culture reflects leadership. And one of the most essential components to leadership is to model the culture the company needs to succeed.

Success comes from good leadership--there's no argument there, but leaders are mainly in the driver's seat, navigating a route and steering the company towards success. However, no leader or company is going to get very far without a reliable engine to power it.

What's the engine? Your people. And whether you have a good or bad engine will determine how fast you'll get there or fail to get there at all--and that's where employee engagement comes into play.

When your people are engaged, the very best flows from them and the company's work will be done more effectively, efficiently, and with more success.

On the dark side of engagement, Gallup reported that actively disengaged employees costs the U.S. between $450 - $550 billion per year.

With figures like that, it should come as no surprise then that improving employee engagement is on the minds of leaders everywhere, raising the question, "How do I get my people more engaged?"

Fueling Employee Engagement

We've all experienced the standard approaches of companies trying to increase engagement through incentives, perks, compensation and rewards. But this form of "bribe 'em" engagement has very limited appeal and a short shelf-life.

What, then, increases employee engagement? In a word: Culture. Culture is the fuel for the organizational engine.

Companies with high levels of employee engagement tend to have organizational cultures where:

People take accountability for results. Employees are open and candid in respectful yet deliberate ways. People feel empowered to take ownership and find ways to overcome obstacles that inevitably arise.

These cultures typically provide purpose, foster innovation, and enjoy a healthy level of trust at all levels of the organization.

Culture Reflects Leadership

How can leaders manage culture and provide the right types of experiences that sustain the right culture over time?

One essential component is to model the very culture the company needs in order to succeed.

Turning back to Gallup, another study found that there is a trickle-down effect of employee engagement, known as a "mediation effect," which suggests that engagement cascades down from senior levels to the frontline.

Managers led by highly engaged executive teams are 39% more likely to be engaged than managers who are led by disengaged executive teams. Frontline employees led by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those with less engaged managers.

How does this influence work? Leaders create experiences that foster beliefs among employees. Those beliefs determine what people choose to do and not do; how to show up in a staff meeting; what level of effort and ownership they'll demonstrate and how to interact with supervisors and direct reports.

When a leader models the behavior they want their people to demonstrate, people tend to follow suit--whether positive or negative. If a leader rules with an iron first, regardless of the short-term results this approach brings, it could lead to a toxic work environment, resulting in poor engagement at multiple levels.

If a leader leads with purpose, integrity, and accountability, people will experience this, inviting the right mindset and behaviors that flow from that thinking.

Modeling in this way is leading by example and creates expectations for others to follow.

Manage Culture to Fuel Engagement

We'd like to propose three tips for leaders to help shape culture and, ultimately, fuel engagement.

1. Model the Right Culture

Start by asking yourself: "What type of team and company culture engages me?" "What type of leader do I want to follow?" and "What is it about that leader's style that draws me in?"

Write down your thoughts and determine how and where you'll demonstrate those same traits.

2. Clarify Purpose at All Levels

Help your people understand the purpose of the organization, the team, and their own connection to the business results of the company by using tools such as storytelling and recognition to reinforce how the right actions impact company performance.

Water what you want to grow!

3. Make Feedback Real

Create a feedback-rich culture by inviting feedback that flows both up and down. Ask for feedback every day; even from people you normally wouldn't ask. Demonstrate that you want honesty through your own example of open and candid feedback exchanges.

Every person in an organization impacts engagement, but it's culture that truly fuels engagement, and culture is shaped by you and leaders at every level. By shaping the culture you want through modeling, purpose, and feedback, you'll increase engagement and fuel your company engine to accelerated performance.