Archive for the ‘HR Strategy’ Category

How to Fill Your Company’s Top 5 Leadership Gaps

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

In August of this year, I spent time with Human Resource leaders from 25 global companies on the topic of assessing and developing key leaders.  At one point, we identified critical leadership competencies across their organizations that were in moderate or low supply in the marketplace, as well as the most difficult to develop.  These constituted their top leadership ‘gaps’.

Using a model developed by Korn Ferry for their Voices 360 instrument, we identified the competencies, below, as the Top 5 Leadership Gaps across their organizations:

  • Develops talent—helping them meet their career goals and the organization’s goals
  • Values differences—recognizing the value that different cultures and perspectives offer
  • Demonstrates self-awareness—using feedback, reflection to gain personal insight
  • Adapts to situations—adapting approach, demeanor to fit shifting demands, situations
  • Builds Effective Teams—developing strong teams that apply diverse skills to achieve team goals

Notice anything that these leadership gaps have in common?  They are all related to interpersonal effectiveness and Emotional Intelligence.  They do not include other leadership factors like business insight, financial acumen, strategic mindset, managing execution, or driving results. They are all on the softer side of leadership competence.  In fact, 35+ years of research into what causes leaders new to their roles to either succeed or fail identified the number one factor as the ability of new leaders to develop effective individual and team relationships.  This same theme is clearly reflected in the top 5 gaps identified by these 25 companies.

The good news.  Having read the emotional intelligence literature and worked on building these competencies in leaders for 30 years, the good news is that all of the top 5 gaps listed, above, can be greatly impacted by selective hiring practices, as well as challenging assignments and executive coaching.  That is, though they are difficult to develop and in short supply, there is much you can do as an organization to build success into your selection and development systems.

What would be the Top 5 gaps in your organization?  That is, what competencies are in low supply among your leaders, and have proven to be the most difficult to develop?  What could you do to hire new people to fill these gaps, or develop your current leaders to fill them?  Two strategies working together can fill the gaps.

Selecting new leaders.  Let’s start with selecting new hires from the outside.  Your organization probably does a relatively good job of interviewing candidates—setting up multiple meetings with people at several levels from across the company —and ensuring that they have the relevant education and experience.  However, you may not dig deeply enough into those ‘top 5 leadership gaps’ that affect your organization and will impact it even more for the future.  Before selecting your next new leader, take these three steps:

  1. Identify desired skills. Use a leader competency framework (perhaps you already have one that reflects your organization’s values) to identify those skills and abilities that are most important to your organization’s future, are in relatively low supply in your company, and are the most difficult to develop through coaching or training.
  2. Create in-depth process. Using your desired skills from step 1, develop a multi-layered screening process that gathers accurate data on candidates. From an intentional, systematic combination of behavioral interview questions, written responses to questions, personality inventories, abilities testing, and sample work situations, look closely at the degree to which candidates have the skills you most desire in your organization.

  3. Troubleshoot the process. Identify 2-3 current employees you believe have some or all of the desired skills and take them through the process you have developed.  The goal in doing this is to determine if the process would have identified these folks as highly desirable hires.  If not, tweak the process in a way that more accurately hones  the most desired skill sets.

Developing existing leaders.  Now, let’s look at what you can do to develop people already working inside your organization.  Assuming the leadership gaps your organization identifies are similar in some ways to those identified by the 25 global companies mentioned earlier, they probably mostly reflect competencies related to building and maintaining individual and team relationships, developing greater resiliency to changing situations, accepting and applying feedback, and building diverse teams. 

Again, the good news is that most of these ‘softer skills’ are amenable to development through training and coaching.  For example, when I deliver my Great Leaders workshop series or engage in individual executive coaching, I am mostly working within a curriculum that develops muscles in these soft skill areas.  The process of creating positive change usually involves these three steps:

  1. Provide accurate feedback. Typically, leaders at all levels receive little to no in-depth feedback on their level of skill across a core set of competencies.  Oh, there might be some perspective shared at annual performance reviews, but this usually is not enough to actually create behavioral change.  On the other hand, using a 360 degree feedback instrument, like my FULLVIEW Feedback Inventory, or the Voices instrument previously mentioned, is a very powerful way to build insight and perspective.  It also injects a shot of motivation to change the negative perspectives reflected in the developmental needs sections of such reports.  In many cases, just receiving accurate, in-depth, unbiased perspective on how they’re being perceived is enough to change a leader’s behavior.
  2. Build desired skills. Use a combination of on-the-job learning that involves assignment to tasks and responsibilities designed to stretch and build muscle in the desired skillset.  Arrange an internal mentor who can provide additional perspective, or hire an outside coach who can help the individual work in-depth on new skills, as well as on the internal obstacles within the leader that stop him/her from growing these new skills.  Use classroom or online training available inside and outside the organization to help cement these new skills.

  3. Give follow-on feedback on progress. Use informal feedback from the coach or mentor, from key stakeholders, and from others to ensure that progress is being made toward the desired skill set. Make sure the individual continues to be motivated to build the skills and complete the course of work required to get there.

Bottom line.  Every organization has leadership skills gaps, and some of these are very difficult to fill. Using a combination of selective hiring and intentional development can mitigate the impact of gaps.

The ‘Secret Sauce’ of Effective Delegation

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

More leaders struggle with effective delegation of tasks and responsibilities than any other single skill in their day to day work.  They often hold on to more than they should, swoop in to take tasks back, or dump the tasks on others with little context or follow through.  Are you one of those leaders?

In a recent coaching conversation with a senior leader, we focused on delegating more thoroughly to her team in order to more effectively manage her time.  She gave me a quizzical look when I brought up ‘delegation’, because she had defined her coaching issue as ‘time management’.  I explained that, in order to manage time in a win-win-win strategy, she needed to become great at delegating work. She gave me another quizzical look.  I explained that delegation is the only strategy I am aware of that creates a ‘win’ for her, the team members, and the organization.  The three wins are these:

  • Leader wins by freeing up time for higher priority tasks that are important, but not as urgent
  • Team member wins by learning new skills, growing in perspective, positioning for the next level
  • Organization wins by pushing decisions down to the lowest level, getting most bang for the buck

The light started to go on in her eyes now.  But quickly, she began to raise questions like these:

  • What if my direct report doesn’t do the task well?
  • What if they approach it in a way I know won’t work?
  • How will I keep my finger on the pulse of the work, if I give it away?
  • How will my boss know the work is being done to her satisfaction?

These are examples of what I call ‘faulty beliefs’ about delegation, ones that are fear-based and undermine a leader’s capacity to delegate fully.  (See my 2006 book, Fearless Leadership for more on faulty beliefs and underlying fears). Most leaders have a version of them in their minds as they hesitate to delegate, not trusting the outcome.  This leader added a relatively new twist, however, when she asked, “Won’t my team members just think I’m being lazy and arrogant, dumping work tasks on them that I consider beneath me?”

I laughed and thought about it for a minute.  Then, I suggested that she use this strategy: “If you can’t think of how a task will benefit your direct report, don’t delegate it.” This puts the emphasis on the requirement that a delegated task or responsibility must have some clear benefit to the person being handed it.  She smiled now, as she recognized that this simple rule would counteract her primary faulty belief about delegation.

How about you as a leader?  Do you use delegation as effectively as you could?  Is your boss pressuring you to take on other tasks and responsibilities, but your plate is too full to accommodate them? Are you grooming your replacement by making sure this person and others on your team are continually challenged to stretch in their work tasks and approaches? When you delegate, do you make your expectations clear and provide the optimal amount of support?

In another situation, this one from my first coaching conversation with the leader of a growing ministry, the issue of delegation came up again.  He showed me an email he had crafted to his Executive Committee that outlined potential changes in his role.  These changes were designed to free up his time, but I wasn’t sure he was focusing on the highest priority items or building in enough development for his direct reports.

I asked him what he thought were the components of his executive director role that only he could or should focus on.  He identified these as the key aspects of his role:

  • Casting the vision and making sure it was clearly understood by staff and other constituencies
  • Being the point person, with other key staff, in connecting with other organizations and individuals who could help support the programs of this ministry
  • Managing his staff and helping to guide their programs
  • Leading a couple of specific ministry programs that were especially dear to his heart

This was a very good start, and I encouraged him in the thinking he had done so far.  However, I also asked, “What about developing people who are in key roles right now, as well as those who could be groomed to fill these roles in the future—including your own?” That stumped him for a moment, and I saw that now familiar quizzical look on this new face.

As in my first example, the identified issue was managing time and feeling too stretched to meet all the demands, and, again, the solution was to delegate more effectively.  In particular, the solution was to identify the highest priority tasks that only he should handle, and to find ways to develop others on the staff to take on more of the responsibilities he currently controlled. 

So, what is the ‘secret sauce’ of effective delegation?  Here are the key ingredients:

  • Determine how much support versus challenge you will provide for tasks delegated to each person on the team, based on your sense of their competence and confidence.
  • Make your expectations and work direction clear on the front end as you delegate tasks; make sure they understand by asking them to tell you what their understanding is. This makes it much easier to hold people accountable downstream.
  • Determine the decision-making latitude with this person on this particular task. That is, should they only take implementation steps after checking with you, make recommendations for the decisions and steps, decide and inform you before taking, or just decide and inform you later?
  • Monitor progress on delegated tasks, giving feedback that encourages and provides correction as needed. Use an action plan that they create, with specific priority steps, check-in times, and due dates where needed.
  • Never, ever swoop in to take tasks back in order to get them done right!

And remember that, if you are having problems with time management, first take a critical look at how effectively you are delegating to your team.

5 Keys to Great Collaboration!

Monday, August 14th, 2017

In my work with leaders across a wide range of industries, functions, and levels, I’ve seen that they often run into situations that require collaborative problem solving approaches.  I have found that the collaborative approach—while preferable in most situations–has predictable downsides and rabbit holes.  These five components should minimize the times that your collaborative approaches derail!

Invite the right people to the table.  As the leader of a collaborative problem solving meeting, it is important to make sure that all the relevant perspectives are represented around the table.  Often, this involves bringing in an outside voice to the discussion, someone who can provide a ‘contrarian’ perspective and can ask about the unknowns that the group thinks they already know about.  To ensure the right folks are at the table, ask the first participants you identify, “Who else needs to be at the table to solve this problem?” Lacking all the right people can undermine the collaborative result. 

For example, when consulting with the head of IT at a major window manufacturer, my coaching client identified the problem for his IT department as, “we need to find outside offices, because there is not enough space for our team to sit together in the HQ building.”  This led him to exploring outside office space in the area and signing a lease on a set of offices.

That’s when the person in charge of corporate branding got wind of the solution and stepped in to label the outside office space ‘substandard’, not consistent with the brand.  Though my coaching client had invited engineering, facilities, and others to the table, he had not asked who else should be involved and he did not seek out contrarian points of view.  This led, predictably, to identifying the solution he had in mind at the beginning–to find outside space.  He then was forced to go back to the drawing board and to invite a broader spectrum of people to look at this space problem.

Ask the right questions.  In many collaborative problem situations, you just need someone to ask the right question, framed in a way that sheds light on the situation.  As a leader, you can encourage contrarian questions, tap people you know will freely speak their minds, and focus on input, rather than solutions at this stage. The most effective types of questions to use and encourage in others are those known as open-ended, which cannot be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example, asking questions like, “how can we best meet our mutual needs?” or “what do you think our biggest challenges will be in 10 years?” usually leads to many ideas and possibilities.

One factor that works against us in collaborative problem solving is that our brains are designed to actively screen out unimportant information and focus only on the most critical stuff; they also fill in gaps between things so that they make sense.  However, often the most helpful information is that which our brains do not think is the most critical, and often the most insightful questions exist in the gaps that we normally just fill in.

For example, how many times have you read over an email and then sent it, only to discover that it was missing a word in the context of a sentence, or you had inserted the wrong word that started with the same letter of the word you wanted to use?  These both happen when our brains automatically fill in gaps; we literally need to read emails word for word to double check them.  A number of years ago, a colleague and I were working with Buick to help them think about how to engineer their dealerships to be more customer-focused.  To accomplish this, we used hidden cameras to capture interactions with salespeople.  At one point, we turned off the visual and just listened to the various sounds on the video.  Up until that point, the annoying background sounds were not part of the data to which our brains were attending.  With just the audio, however, it became apparent how the noise negatively affected the overall customer experience.

Agree on the problem.  In almost every problem solving situation, the participants have pre-conceived ideas about what the problem is and how to solve it.  Most participants arrive at a collaborative problem solving session already enamored with a particular solution.  For my coaching client at the window manufacturer previously mentioned, it was “to find space outside the building for my team.” To make sure that every collaborative discussion is framed accurately, start by asking each participant to write down what they think the problem is.  The way each describes the problem will usually be written in a way that suggests a particular solution, like needing to go outside the building to find office space. 

As the leader, ask clarifying questions to help get down to the underlying problem the group needs to solve.  For example, when someone indicates that the problem is, “I need space outside the building to house my team,” you can ask, “why is that a problem?” The response might be, “because I want the team to be in one location, and there is no space available in the building large enough to accommodate them.” Okay, so the underlying problem is that the team needs to be in one location, right?  Assuming that all participants around the table agree that this is the problem, they can then start generating solutions to this problem.  One of those solutions would be to find space outside the building, but other solutions could include: constructing a building expansion for this and perhaps other teams that have outgrown their space, using shared desk space and working from home a couple days a week, or finding a group that has more space than it needs right now to switch with your team. 

Apply the solution.  After generating several options to the agreed upon problem, the next step is to choose a solution and apply it to the problem.  For the window manufacturer, exchanging places between IT and engineering groups was the option that worked.  Both groups had adequate room in the near term with this option, and corporate branding was happy.

Accept the consequences.  Though we can usually identify the facets that we know are important, and the facets that we think are important, but we don’t know enough about them, it is difficult to identify the ‘unknown unknowns’.  As a result, we often are in a position where we need to move forward on a decision, knowing that there are unknown unknowns that might have consequences.  Being unexpectedly wrong is not a place that most leaders want to be, but this cannot be totally avoided. 

The key here is to accept the consequences, and then to quickly recognize the bad decision and adjust the strategy going forward.  Recognize that, even if you asked all the questions perfectly and involved the perfect group of collaborators on the front end, the decisions you reach will not be right much more often than successfully calling ‘heads’ in a coin toss.  However, if you use these five keys to great collaboration, you will have made the best decision possible, under the circumstances.

6 Life Lessons from a Tunisian Taxi Driver

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

In Chicago on business recently, I took a taxi from the airport to my downtown client.  On the trip, I didn’t talk more than a couple of words with the driver, just to confirm the address.

When my several hours of meetings were complete, I headed out to the street to hail a cab for the trip back to the airport and a taxi was parked at the curb.  When I opened the door, I recognized it was the same driver who had dropped me off four hours earlier!  He also recognized me.

We both were struck by the coincidence, laughing at the unlikely event.  He indicated that he thought “it was God” that we would connect again.  He explained that airport trips were much more lucrative than short, inconsistent rides within the city, and that he felt blessed that day to have two such rides.  I noticed his taxi license this time; his name was Walid.

On the way back to the airport, this time in much heavier traffic, we started a conversation.  I learned that Walid was originally from Tunisia, but had wanted to leave because there were no opportunities there.  Six years ago, he was chosen by lottery to be able to come to the U.S. on a temporary work visa.  He was now within a few weeks of taking an exam to become a legal citizen.

Still living in Tunisia, Walid had a wife and small daughter whom he travelled back to see every several months. He also had extended family, all of whom had difficulty making ends meet with the lack of jobs and opportunities there.  It was a depressing story of hardship that mirrored the grey Chicago sky–families broken up and separated, years of hard work and scrimping.  What struck me most, however, was his infectious smile and positive attitude.

This taxi driver from Tunisia was college educated, but was reduced to picking up fares and hoping for long runs here in the U.S. And he was smiling.  He missed his wife and daughter terribly, but recognized that his goal was bigger and longer term—to create a life of opportunity for his precious child.  He smiled with a slight tear in his eye.  He lived in a small apartment in a not so great part of town, but it was hundreds a month cheaper than one closer to the center of the city.  He smiled again as he thought of creating a better life for his family.

When he dropped me off at the ticketing door, Walid smiled broadly and shook my hand, and I wished God’s blessing on him and his family.  He thanked me, and I walked into the airport, knowing that I would likely never see him again.

But I thought about the Tunisian taxi driver for much of my flight and realized that Walid represented the kind of individual that I do not read much about, nor meet in my day to day life.  This cab ride had been a special moment for me, a glimpse into the life of someone I would otherwise have never met, a degree of insight that I would otherwise not have had. 

It occurred to me that Walid represented 6 lessons for any life:

Choose to be upbeat.  From my perspective, Walid’s life seemed rather difficult—leaving his home, wife, and daughter to work in a foreign country; having to learn a language unfamiliar to him and work a job beneath his college degree; living in minimal housing and working long hours.  Somewhere along the way, however, he seems to have discovered that life and work go much better when one smiles and approaches people with warmth and energy.

Focus on life’s priorities.  Walid’s priorities were clear–to send financial support to his wife and daughter, as well as his extended family still in Tunisia.  He saved enough money to also visit them every several months and recommit to his love for them. His work and career were important, but being there for his family and building for their future was the most important–except, perhaps, for the next lesson.

Trust in God.  I still don’t know how he ended up sitting in the right spot at the right time in front of my building, waiting for me when I left my meetings four hours after he dropped me off.  Had he sized me up—not carrying a suitcase, only a shoulder bag—as someone who would be back at the curb in several hours? Or was it, as he said, a God thing?  He trusted in God to guide his steps and his cab stops.  It seemed to give him perspective, faith that things would work out for him, and support in the tough times.

Chip away at your goals.  With most people I know, chipping away at goals and making only gradual, sometimes zero progress toward them is frustrating and discouraging.  For Walid, however, he continued to focus on the goal of a better life for his family, and, at some point, having them join him in the U.S.  Every day, he counted on the fares he would make that day, and then planned his strategy for the next day, when he would chip away some more.

Be patient with obstacles.  Walid had waited almost six years to take his citizenship test. Each one of those years was an obstacle that separated him from his family, yet he displayed an amazing and unusual degree of patience and faith that he would get past the obstacles.  He was ready to take on his last hurdle–the test–in the next couple of months. I got the sense that, even if he failed the test, he would wait patiently for the next testing date.

Be thankful for your blessings. I asked Walid if he qualified for any public assistance or other aid, and though he was still smiling, he seemed a bit offended that I would ask.  “Oh, no,” he said, “I know I could get money in this way, but there are so many others who need it more.  I am okay; I’m doing just fine without it.” What a refreshing attitude, much like the early immigrants to this country, who viewed the U.S. as a land of opportunity and were thankful just to be living here.

As I look back on my 40 minutes with Walid, I am inspired and humbled by his story.  I hope you are, too.

Nuggets from Leadercast 2017

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

The Leadercast simulcast from Atlanta to host sites across the U.S. this year focused on the theme “Powered by Purpose.”  This year’s speakers included Andy Stanley, mega-church planter and author; James McKelvey, co-inventor of Square; Daniel Pink, best-selling author; Suzy Welch, best-selling author and wife of Jack Welch; Tyler Perry, successful director/actor, author, and entrepreneur; and Henry Cloud, best-selling author and leadership expert.

From these presenters and three others on the stage in Atlanta came a great deal of wisdom and insight about the impact of purpose in one’s life and work.  From my notes during the six-hour day, I have captured these nuggets to share with you:

  • Studies indicate that, when people can clearly see the reasons/impact/purpose for their work, they are much more engaged, productive, and satisfied. There are two kinds of purpose: a life purpose, which is making a difference, having meaning, and transcending; and making a contribution in your day to day work, which is important to your ongoing psychological well-being.
  • To take action on your purpose, think and talk about the ‘why’, rather than the ‘how’. Thinking about the end of your life, determine how you want to write the sentence that describes who you were, what you did, and how you fulfilled your purpose. This will bring clarity to your sense of purpose.

  • Your purpose is wrapped around problems you encounter in life. Working toward a clear solution provides internal satisfaction.  That is, knowing you’ve solved a problem, even when no one else knows about it, provides a sense of fulfilled purpose for you.

  • Purpose is a means to an end, a path to meaning, and not the outcome. (Would you rather be the shovel, or the hole?) Those who devote themselves to themselves will have nothing but themselves to show for themselves.  However, if you devote yourself to more than yourself, you will ultimately have more than yourself to show for yourself. Your starting question should be, “who am I here for in life?”

  • Look at what you currently do through the lens of ‘means’, the process of getting to a desired end. Your greatest contribution may be through someone you raise, rather than yourself.  Pay attention to what stirs your heart, and surround yourself with ‘on purpose’ people.

  • To create meaningful work, you are not forced to choose between making a living and making a difference. Create the work you wish existed, learn as you go, and execute with purpose (not perfection).

  • Be authentic—there’s no such thing as a happy, phony life. Bit by bit, presenting your false self to others drains the joy out of your life.

  • Great leaders do five things well: cast a vision for the desired future state, engage talent, develop a strategy/plan to get there, measure the right stuff and hold people accountable, and fix and adapt as problems arise.

  • The truth about feedback: a wise person adjusts himself to the feedback, a fool adjusts the truth of the feedback, and an evil person attacks you for speaking the feedback.

  • Correction and compassion need to walk side by side when you are leading others and providing coaching/feedback.

  • In business, never despise small beginnings, because great things can grow from these.

  • What happens along the way on your leadership/life journey is more important than the outcome. It’s the little moments that can create big outcomes in our lives.

  • Selfishness and selflessness are both contagious; the point of your purpose is to determine how you will serve others, how you will contribute to them—not how you will serve yourself.

What kind of leader will you be in 2017, in order to live out your purpose?

How to Beat Burnout in 5 Steps!

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Have you thought that you might be suffering from a degree of burnout?  In the past year, I recognized that three of my executive coaching participants from different client organizations were experiencing the symptoms.  All three happened to be in the finance departments of their organizations.

One individual described his situation in this way, “I have lots of direct reports, more than in the past, and most of them are not very friendly.  I don’t usually know what’s coming my way, or how to handle it.  There’s just so much uncertainty and confusion in my mind.”  Another said, “I feel like I’m always on call, where something could go wrong at any moment.  It feels like an abyss that I’m in danger of falling into.  I can’t live in the moment or experience happiness there, because it’s up to me to figure out what the developing problems might be.

A third coaching client noted, “I’m having trouble getting past feeling overwhelmed, and I often feel attacked when people make comments about my team.  When others dump stuff on me, I feel frustrated and confused. At the same time, I feel like I must take full accountability for everything, because I can’t trust anyone else to actually help me.”  Do any of these statements sound like you? If you look closely, you will see four components they have in common—these are the signs of burnout:

Taking on the weight of total responsibility.  Do you pride yourself on taking full accountability for your work and stepping in when others drop the ball?  Do you feel like you are the only one who seems concerned about work being done correctly and accurately, or who gives tasks full attention?  You can manage this for limited periods of time, but, if you will discover that you can only dance so fast, and then you start to trip and fall.  In coaching one of the persons, above, I asked if the CEO, CFO, or COO spent as many hours at the job as she did, and if they seemed as concerned about the company problems that were keeping her awake at night.  This question seemed to give her some perspective that, if the company founders and top leaders were not stressed about a particular situation, maybe she should take on less personal responsibility.

Being stuck in the moment, with no time to plan ahead. A bit like the arcade game called ‘Whack a Mole’, do you feel like stuff just keeps coming at you and there’s no time to think about your future actions– only time to react quickly to the next thing that pops up? This is the kind of short-term experience  you expect when starting a new job, getting through a seasonal work crunch, or covering for someone who has left and not been replaced yet.  However, when this mode becomes the norm and your adrenaline constantly flows, there is a high probability you will suffer from burnout.  Even firefighters get burned out (pun intended) when they are constantly putting out fires. 

Reacting to others with frustration, anger.  Often, the most visible sign of burnout is the ‘edge’ with which you interact with others. Some might describe this aspect as feeling cynical and detached from people, not connecting affectively with others as you do the work. Has this happened to you?  I was initially called in to coach all three of these individuals to help soften their edge with others, because of the degree of frustration and detachment they evidenced with their team and peers.  The longer you carry the weight of responsibility and find yourself constantly in reactive mode, the more ‘brittle’ your approach and sense of humor become.  People then react to your attitude, and they become even more angering and frustrating to you. 

Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, confused, exhausted, incompetent.  Have you ever felt like this?  When feelings like this appear, it is a sign that your mind and body,  exhausted with the stress,  are starting to shut down.  You feel incompetent and powerless to affect any meaningful change, which creates a sense of hopelessness.  You lose any sense of accomplishment, because you are inundated with tasks that never seem to get completed.  I’ve seen this in all three of the clients, above, with each wondering if their job or the company were right for them.  They were so pessimistic that they began to conclude they just needed to fire everyone on the team, or quit themselves.

How to beat burnout!  Here are five steps you can take—and help others take–to avoid burnout:

  1. Take the signs seriously. Sit back for a moment and assess yourself on these four signs of burnout.  Name it burnout and take them seriously—you can’t address what you don’t recognize.  Often, what underlies burnout is irrational fear that others will not accept or respect you, or that your job is not safe.  Recognize that these fears lead to taking on too much accountability, reacting rather than responding, and feeling confused and hopeless (I discuss this in by 2006 book, Fearless Leadership).
  1. Build a support network. Find people at work, at home, or in your community you can talk to about what is happening at work, so that they can understand and provide helpful perspective.  This network can include spouse, siblings, parents, friends, peers in other organizations, or professional counseling help.  Ask them to give you reasonable perspective on the situations, but don’t ask them to tell you what you should do—they just need to listen.
  1. Be good to your mind/body/spirit. Often, the first things to be dropped when you feel stressed by a time crunch are: regular exercise, eating wholesome foods, prayer/meditation, down time with family/friends, and sleep.  All of these help you build resilience in the areas of mind, body, and spirit. Don’t try to compensate with caffeine, sugar, alcohol, or other unhealthy substances. 
  1. Turn work over to others– let it go. This is a great way to free time for higher priority, future oriented tasks, as well as to teach skills to team members, so they can take on greater responsibilityWith all three of these coaching clients, I encouraged them to delegate as much as possible, to push back on timelines imposed by others, to identify superfluous meetings they could skip, and to block planning time on their calendars.  I helped them see how they could take more control over certain aspects of their work, so that they would have greater margin for the crises and surprises.
  2. Establish realistic limits.  I encouraged all three of these clients to take action and accountability in situations over which they had control, but to let go of those over which they had little or no control.  You need to know when to ask for help, when to bounce something back to your manager, and when to say you’ve reached your limit. No one will step in and set limits for you.

Stop Wasting Time (Recognize the top 5 drains)!

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

“Wow, I can’t believe how much I got done this week—it was phenomenal!” When is the last time you heard yourself saying words like this? Based on my informal poll of managers across various organizations, you may never have heard yourself say these words!

In a recent national poll, more than 90 percent of managers admitted that they wasted time in carrying out their job responsibilities. Time is easy to waste, especially if you are not highly focused on its passage. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “You may delay, but time will not.” The problem with time is that it keeps on ticking away, whether you notice it or not.

Time is not only fleeting, it is costly for an organization. When I deliver leadership training to groups of managers, I always remind them at the beginning of the series of courses that their organization is investing a great deal of money in their development. No, I tell them, not because of my fee, but because of the cost of four hours of time for a group of 20 managers, times six monthly meetings. That’s an organizational investment of nearly 500 hours of salary and benefits! Your time costs money.

TOP 5 DRAINS. So, how do most organizational leaders waste time? From my executive coaching conversations, here are the top five time wasters and ways to counteract them:

1. Superfluous meetings, emails. In coaching Dan, a high potential manager working for a major construction company, he confided in me that he put in 65-70 hours a week and it was killing him. Already knowing the answer to my question, I asked what the norm was for leaders at his level at the company; he answered “50”. The problem in most organizations, including Dan’s, is that people who are known to work that many extra hours are seen as ‘unproductive time wasters’, rather than ‘hard-working heroes’.

When we mapped out his typical week on a piece of paper, it was clear that Dan was spending far too much time in meetings where he already had a representative there from his team, where he was only observing in case something came up, or where he only had critical input for a portion of the meeting time. Moreover, he was included on too many email strings that were superfluous. Dan’s most important steps toward stemming the waste of his time was to only attend meetings where his input was critical to the shaping and decision-making of the group, and where his boss considered it a priority; immediately cut himself off most email strings. This eliminated about 50 percent of the meetings he previously attended and 25 percent of the emails, freeing up time to focus on strategic and operational issues.

2. Unnecessary interruptions. It is widely accepted that when unanticipated interruptions disrupt your train of thought, it takes 10-15 minutes for that train to get back on track. Most of these interruptions are unnecessary, in that the person knocking on your door usually could hold the issue until later in the day or the next day. This appeared to be the case with Renata, the controller for a high tech manufacturer. She complained in our early coaching meetings that her hours were stretched so thin and her frustrations were coiled so tightly that she tended to explode at various times throughout the day or week. 

The biggest problem she identified as a time waster was people on the team, her peers, and senior leaders who had ‘emergencies’ she was forced to handle. We talked about how she was likely wasting two to three hours a day in lost concentration on those days with constant interruptions. I suggested she be assertive about her time in these ways: set specific hours during the day when her door was open for drop-ins, work from home or an obscure conference room when she needed to focus for lengths of time, and reschedule time for those who still dropped in without warning.

3. Unimportant tasks. Too often, leaders spend a great deal of time focused on the wrong tasks. This is akin to working very hard to climb a ladder, only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall. What are the right tasks? These are usually the highest priority ones your boss is asking you to focus on, the ones most directly related to accomplishing your team and individual goals, and the ones that are likely to have the greatest impact for the organization. For most of us, it feels great to check off a bunch of tasks from our administrative to-do list, to plow through a large number of unread emails, or to organize those files we’ve been trying to get to. As a self-employed consultant who only gets paid when I’m working on billable projects, the cost of spending chunks of time on the wrong tasks is very clear. The key step here is to ask continuously, “is this the best use of my time right now?” Posing this questions and being brutally honest in your answer will minimize focusing on the unimportant tasks.

4. Procrastination. Some leaders wear procrastination as a badge of honor, believing that putting things off leads to better results in the long run. However, I help them understand that procrastination is actually perfectionism in disguise, and its roots actually are underlying irrational fears. One of my coaching clients, Gerry, asked himself questions like, “What if it’s not done perfectly enough for the client?” “Suppose new information comes along tomorrow, and I’ve already made the decision today?” These are examples of fear-based thinking that delays critical decisions. And, as we usually discover, if you put off a decision long enough, someone else or the marketplace conditions makes the call for us. The antidote here is to recognize that the underlying motivation usually is to avoid making a mistake and that the driver is irrational fear. Ask yourself, “What’s causing me to be afraid of making this decision or moving this project forward; how big a deal is it if I decide now, and then change my mind with new information later?”

5. Delegation avoidance. Perhaps the most insidious and common of time drains, this one undermines a majority of my coaching clients. Oh, they usually have reasons that seem legitimate to them—“My people are too busy–I’ll just do it myself,” or “It’s too menial to hand off,” or my favorite, “It will be quicker to just do it myself.” While these and other reasons for not delegating have some truth to them, the net result is leaders spending too much of their time on detailed tasks, and direct reports not learning or developing enough through delegated work. This represents what I like to call a lose-lose-lose, where neither the leader, nor the direct reports, nor the organization benefit. The solution here is to inspect each task on your to-do list and determine (honestly) if it is a task you could delegate to someone else; would delegating it free time on your calendar for higher priorities, as well as provide a learning experience to someone on your team?

6 Critical Lessons in Customer Service

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Last month, my wife and I decided to celebrate our wedding anniversary in a way reminiscent of when we first got married—by taking week long driving trip with no plan. We knew we would need to start by driving somewhere, so we decided to go to Betty’s Pies, North of Duluth, MN, and then choose the next step from there. Big decisions are always easier on a stomach filled with pie!

Three adventure-filled days later, we arrived in Bayfield, WI where we needed a place to stay for two nights. After trying a couple of places that were already booked, we walked into Greunke’s—a place that promised food and lodging.  We told the tall, lanky guy with the man-bun that we needed a room for two nights.  He seemed confused and somewhat agitated about finding a room for both nights, but eventually, after looking at his paperwork explaining several options, offered their Studio room. 

The room was a large, sprawling space that, though a bit tired-looking, would work just fine for two nights. I handed him the credit card, he booked the room, and we headed off to dinner. We were excited to be staying just across the street from the shuttle boat to Madeline Island, where we intended to spend the whole next day on rented bikes.

After a picture-perfect day on the island, we came back to our hotel room tired and needing a shower. We headed straight up to our room.  The door was unlocked when we opened it, but everything looked like it had been straightened up and cleaned.  Upon closer inspection, we realized that it was too clean—ALL of our stuff was gone, including suitcases, hanging clothes, and my guitar.  The room had been stripped of our belongings!

I quickly made my way downstairs to the same guy in the man-bun standing behind the counter and blurted out to him that the door had been left open by the cleaners, and that all our stuff had been stolen! He gave me that same confused look I had seen the night before, and then, instead of offering apologies, accused me of leaving our stuff in the room that he had made VERY CLEAR was available for only ONE night! His staff had been forced to empty all of our stuff from the room when we failed to check out on time.

The ensuing conversation was civil and without expletives, but also without any admission on their part that they might have made a mistake or miscommunicated when booking us. He kept saying, “But, the receipt says it was for ONE night, and it was NOT available for the second night, so I could NOT have rented it to you!” After about 10 minutes of continued one-way dialogues that involved his mother (the owner or manager, I assumed), the man-bun guy, and a wait staff person, I decided it was time to retrieve our stuff and find a different lodging with better customer service orientation.

That’s when I discovered ‘the straw’ that pushed me over the edge. When removed from the room, our belongings had been literally stuffed into one large black trash bag—personal pillows, hanging clothes (that had been dry cleaned and pressed), toiletries, and snacks all balled up together.  I was furious!  I confronted man-bun’s mother about it, and she simply said, “Well, we had guests coming in and you folks had not checked out by 11, so we had to get everything out of the room.”  I asked why no one had called my cell number that was on the registration form to determine why we had not checked out, and I got another of those blank stares I had become accustomed to from her and her son.  No apology, no offer to compensate me in some way for the inconvenience or miscommunication.  We drove away.

So, what did I learn from this adventure in Bayfield that can be helpful to you as you try to manage or influence customer service in your organization? Here are six critical lessons that form the foundation of great customer experiences (hint: they are the opposite of what I experienced at Greunke’s):

  • Understand the need fully. Listen deeply, ask clarifying questions, and summarize what you think you have heard to insure that you, in fact, understand the customer’s needs completely. My wife and I needed a room for two nights, and that need did not change from when we first expressed it.

  • Assert your limitations clearly. Let the customer know how your internal policies, lack of resources, etc. create boundaries on what you can and cannot provide to meet the needs expressed. Make certain that the customer understands and accepts these limits. In our case, the management of Greunke’s never said in our first interaction, “I’m sorry, but we do not have a room for two nights.”

  • Communicate problems quickly. At about 10:45 the next morning, when it was clear that my wife and I were not intending to be out of the room by 11, the front desk could have called my cell and talked to me or left a message to communicate the dilemma they faced in getting the room ready for a guest who had reserved the room in advance. The sooner we were informed about the issue, the more help we could have provided in resolving it.

  • Assume positive intentions initially. This is crucial, and it is the point at which the Greunke experience began to really unravel. From my interaction with them later when we returned from the island, it was clear that they assumed: we had purposely NOT checked out, when we knew that we were supposed to check out; we had intentionally stuck them with handling our stuff, which was totally inconsiderate on our part. This apparent assumption on their part colored every action they subsequently took, including throwing our pressed, hanging clothes into a garbage bag and dumping everything on a dirty storage closet floor.

  • Accept responsibility readily. From their perspective, the only responsibility they had was to fill out the room form correctly, charge the credit card, and get our stuff out of the room before 11 a.m. They apparently accepted no obligation to listen to what we wanted, assert their inability to fulfill our request, communicate with us when they identified a problem, assume positive intention on our part, or accept a share of the responsibility for the miscommunication. They did offer to call around to help us find other lodging, but at that point, it was too little, too late.

  • Compensate for inconvenience generously. After we had phoned a nearby bed and breakfast to stay the second night and had moved our stuff into the car, I went back to the counter to return my room key (which they had not requested from me) and to see if, perhaps, they would offer some compensation for our inconvenience. Nope, the owner/manager just took the key and looked away, in a clear non-verbal signal that we were done.Stuff happens all the time in customer interactions, but these critical lessons should help you resolve things in a way that keeps customers coming back. The one question that underlies all customer interactions is this one, “What can I do to make sure this customer interaction goes well?” Asking this question at every stage of customer communication leads you to each of these six critical lessons.

Stuff happens all the time in customer interactions, but these critical lessons should help you resolve things in a way that keeps customers coming back. The one question that underlies all customer interactions is this one, “What can I do to make sure this customer interaction goes well?” Asking this question at every stage of customer communication leads you to each of these six critical lessons.

7 Signs You Might be Feeling Like a Fraud!

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

Just like you, on some level, in certain situations, every person feels like a fraud. Even the most successful and confident individuals find themselves in settings where they begin to think that someone else would have been a much better choice to handle their duties. Does that surprise you?

In working with organizational executives, business entrepreneurs, and consultants, I have found this underlying feeling of inadequacy, and I have come to call it ‘the fraud factor’. These symptoms are thoroughly described in my new book, The Fraud Factor (Leader Press: Minneapolis, May 2016).

In this book, the word ‘fraud’ means feeling inauthentic, like a phony or charlatan in a particular situation that, in your mind, requires you to pretend to be someone very different than whom you really are at the core. The most effective individuals function genuinely from their core personality, abilities, motivators, and beliefs; they get into trouble when they stray too far from that core.

How can you know if you are feeling like a fraud? Here are some typical symptoms:

7 Signs You Feel Like A Fraud

1. You consistently avoid certain people and situations that make you feel inadequate.

2. You believe that you need to explain your actions, prove yourself to certain others.

3. You often think that others are better, more qualified, or more successful than you.

4. You believe that nobody would understand or accept you if they really knew you.

5. You believe that you must act/behave very differently from who you really are in order to be acceptable or successful in a particular environment.

6. With friends and family, you are relaxed and confident, but at work, you feel a level of tension or anxiety (or the opposite—relaxed at work, but tense at home).

7. You often feel like you have not prepared fully enough for a task or responsibility at work or home, and you worry about failing.

These 7 signs reflect someone who has a deflated sense of self as a result of feeling inadequate. Sometimes, however, people respond to fraud feelings with an inflated sense of self. Here are some examples of these symptoms:

1. You hold unrealistic, positive beliefs about your own capabilities

2. You minimize or ignore critical feedback from others

3. You blame others for the problems that occur at home or work

4. You feel like you must inflate and/or promote your own results to get adequate credit

5. You believe that others do not appreciate what you bring to the table or undervalue your work

It is more difficult to recognize these inflated self-symptoms when you look at yourself in the mirror. It helps to receive 306 degree feedback, or at least to have others who are willing and courageous enough to give you honest perspective on yourself.

Whether you experience an inflated sense of self or deflated sense of self, these signs, and other specific ones you may be experiencing, can undermine your confidence and success. When a situation or set of circumstances pushes you off balance and creates a level of dissonance or destabilization in your life, what can you do to overcome this feeling of being a fraud? Here are 5 steps you can take to Get Real Again:

1. Recognize what it is about the situation/circumstance that makes you feel inadequate

2. Identify the fraudulent behaviors you are engaging in that actually undermine your effectiveness (avoiding, trying to prove yourself, blaming others, etc.)

3. Pinpoint the Big, Fat Lie you are telling yourself (why you are not adequate in this situation/circumstance)

4. Reconnect to your core attributes that have helped you succeed in the past (signature personality traits, unique abilities, positive motivations, values/healthy beliefs)

5. Leverage this insight to become authentic again!

What does it look like when you are genuinely and authentically yourself, at work and at home? For most people, being real has these components:

  • You present yourself to others in a relaxed, confident, and authentic manner
  • You are well aware of who you are at the core—personality, abilities, motivators, and beliefs 
  • When new, unexpected situations arise, you confidently respond to them, rather than react anxiously, fearfully
  • You are open to others’ feedback, and regularly solicit it from them
  • You accept yourself, and you are realistic about your talents and limitations

Bottom line—the most effective you will ever be occurs when you leverage fully the talents and abilities you have been given. That means that you develop deep self-awareness, are thankful for your talents, accept your limitations, and work hard to minimize fraud feelings.

To order your copy of The Fraud Factor before the first printing sells out, you can go directly to the book distributor, Atlas Books, at:

4 Things Master Liars Do (and How to Spot Them)

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

As a leader at any level across a wide variety of organizations, you likely will run into a direct report, peer, customer, or other who appears to be stretching the truth, or outright lying. If you are like me, you struggle at times to discern what is truth and what is fiction in their story.

Recently, I had the experience of meeting and trying to help someone on the streets of Minneapolis; that interaction helped shed light on this question. I will call him Big Roy. He was a drug dealer and user, and my wife, a couple of friends, and I befriended him as part of an outreach in the inner city. Warm, personable, and friendly, Big Roy was quite the opposite of the kind of person I thought I would encounter hanging out at 10 p.m. on the street. After our first meeting, in which we talked with him for about an hour, we met him on several more occasions where we talked, laughed, cried, prayed, and shared food with him.

Toward the end of the first week of our interaction with Big Roy, we began to be a bit suspicious about whether the stories he told us were true. We wanted to be trusting and loving with this guy, and he convinced us that he earnestly desired to turn his life around and work a legitimate job—maybe as an addiction counselor, or even a pastor.

Finally, after more than a week, we began to talk with others we had begun to identify—family members, case workers, staff—who had known Big Roy for many years. Their stories came into stark contrast with his stories. When I gently but directly confronted Big Roy about the inconsistencies in his stories, he became angry and belligerent, demanding to know who I had talked with and who had authorized me to call his sister. That’s when I simply shook his hand, wished him good luck, and parted company with Big Roy. It was clear that he had been masterfully lying the whole time.

Street smarts education. It was quite an eye-opening experience for me that provided a valuable education. In my four decades of coaching and counseling experience, I had never met someone who could lie with such a straight face, cry with real tears in a way that feigned brokenness, and manipulate people so smoothly to get what he wanted from them. I decided to share what I learned from my brief but intense relationship with Big Roy by focusing on what I discovered about people who lie. My hope is that this perspective from someone who is a Master Liar will help you spot less adept liars you run into as a part of your work and personal lives.

What really adept liars do to get their needs met. Here are four things Master Liars do:

  • Obfuscate the lies with truth. Instead of spinning a yarn that is totally false, they interweave components of truth with lies. This way, they keep you guessing which pieces are true and which are false. They make vague statements that can be easily misunderstood and easily denied later when you question them. “Oh, I didn’t say that, I said this…,” or, picking out a piece that actually was true, “This IS true, it’s exactly what I said.” Sometimes, they will bring in other people to corroborate their stories, but these people will only know about PART of the story, and the liar then uses this true piece to validate the whole story.

  • Foster gratitude. To soften your heart, they will do something or take some action that is, or appear to be, genuinely altruistic and aimed at helping those they are manipulating. It might be a small gesture, something that shows they care about you or are looking out for your best interests, with no thought to their own safety or benefit. In Big Roy’s case, he very assertively escorted us off the street that first night and into our car, explaining later that some gang members had arrived and we were no longer safe.

  • Win you over with their charm. You are more likely to believe a liar if they stay friendly and upbeat, even when you begin to question their veracity. If liars engage you in such a way that you develop a genuine liking and compassion for them, then it becomes more difficult for you to ask the tough questions and become skeptical of the liar’s words and actions. Big Roy shared stories about his kids, showed genuine interest in our families, joked with waitresses when we took him out to eat, and expressed gratitude for all we were doing for him.

  • Feign a genuine heart change. The crowning achievement for a liar is to get you to believe that they are genuinely sorry for their past actions and words, that they are truly repentant and broken about what they have done in the past, and that they have done a complete turnaround because of your interest in them. This takes an actor or actress of sociopathic proportions, one who can cry real tears of remorse, sadness, pain, or happiness when telling whopping lies. In the end, my wife and friends agreed with me that his real calling was not drug dealer, addiction counselor, or pastor, but actor.

How you can protect yourself from liars. In the first year of so of my career, I made the conscious decision to trust people until I discovered they were being deceitful, rather than distrusting them and discovering later that they were being truthful. You might take the opposite stance, but, either way, you can use this brief guide to help you respond appropriately and protect yourself to a degree:

  • Trust, but verify: be warm and friendly when others give you their version of what happened in a particular situation; ask questions to get their whole story. When details seem vague, ask more questions, or find out who else can verify the facts. With these additional people, make sure you ask enough questions to determine the truth of what they are telling you.

  • Listen to your gut: when people seem ‘too good to be true’ in their actions and words, too friendly too soon for the circumstances, too charming, or too quick to shed tears and selfdisclose, begin to put up a protective barrier. If a little voice in your head or a feeling in your heart begins to question the veracity of a story or explanation, don’t ignore it. Ask follow on questions. If they become belligerent or defensive, begin to question your trust in the situation.

  • Insert accountability: continue to be helpful, but make sure you insert some parameters that require them to take steps on their own, to take responsibility to help themselves. See if they become resistant or defensive when this shift occurs.

Bottom line, there are people like Big Roy working in organizations like yours who have become very proficient at lying to protect themselves and get their way. Hopefully, the insights from my recent ‘street education’ can be applied in your work.

Click Below to read the latest Business Journal entry! 

Key Nuggets from Leadercast 2016

Saturday, June 4th, 2016

I attended the Leadercast 2016 simulcast event this year and staffed a booth with copies of my new book, The Fraud Factor, and my previous book, Fearless Leadership (2006). This was my third year attending and hosting a booth, and this was the best year so far.

I decided to share a few key nuggets from the speakers that day, who included: Kat Cole, Nick Saban, Andy Stanley, Henry Cloud, James Brown, and Steve Wozniak. Quite an all-star cast from a wide variety of industries! The primary theme in this conference was on vision, integrity, clarity, and authenticity as a leader.

Here are the seven nuggets that stood out the most to me from the simulcast:

  • Nugget I: Leadership is helping others achieve their goals, not the other way around. If you have been thinking that being a leader gives you access to people to help you achieve YOUR goals, you are missing the most important emphasis. Not that others, in achieving their goals, help you achieve yours, but the focus should be on helping them. That is, notice what they do and reinforce them in their work. Work to affect one person at a time in order to impact the whole team. Show them how what they are doing affects them, their goals, the team goals, and the overall success of the organization.

  • Nugget II: There are several places you can be in your communication as a leader:
    • no connection with others
    • bad connection with others (feeling inadequate as a leader)
    • feel-good connection (feels fine, but no depth of connection, no real trust)
    • real connection (being who you truly are, surrounded by others who are genuine, in part because you have encouraged them to be so).

The most important component of real connection is to be authentically who you are, and to bring out the best, most genuine side of others. I address the importance of this nugget in my new book, The Fraud Factor, which helps the reader move from feeling inadequate to being authentic.

  • Nugget III: Be generous with your time and money, since they belong to God. He provides what comes to you through your work, and He gave you the attributes and abilities in the first place. So, none of it really belongs to you. The research shows that doing the right thing ethically is always the best thing for the business in the long run. Business decisions, like all decisions, should be made on biblical principles, not on situational circumstances. Leadership should be based on clarity about who you are, and then leading from that authentic place.

  • Nugget IV: Though integrity is critically important in being a leader others trust, clarity trumps integrity. When you exhibit clarity in where you are taking the team, what you expect, and how you intend to get there, the result is influence.

  • Nugget V: Vision is the ‘what’ an organization is pursuing, not the ‘how’. Vision should engage the heart of others. Vision should be simple, convincing (in that it solves a problem that others recognize must be solved), and celebrated (when people get it right).

  • Nugget VI: When working to make improvements as a leader, focus on those things that are small enough to change and big enough to matter. Determine the number one priority, after which all the other priorities fall into place.

  • Nugget VII: As a leader, your job is to help others see what is possible, so they can buy into the vision, or help recast it in a way that engages them. Ask yourself, “If a hotshot was sitting in my seat right now, what would they change on their first day on the job?” Then ask yourself, “Why am I not making that change today?”

I hope you find these seven nuggets as provocative and insightful as I did in first hearing them. You can find more information about Leadercast at the following website: M2AS1&FORM=QBIR&pq=leadercast%202016&sc=8-15&sp=4&qs=AS&sk=IM2AS1

And information about ordering my new book, The Fraud Factor–that helps leaders move from inadequate to authentic–at Atlas Books:

Feeling Like a Fraud: Getting Real Again!

Monday, May 16th, 2016

In this last installment of a six-part Leadersynth series, we focus on how to move past your fraud feelings and get real again. These installments come directly from my new book, The Fraud Factor, now available on Amazon and through bookstores near you.

Earlier in this series, I introduced the idea that to be as effective as you can be as a leader, you must lead from the core of who you are. Your core is the essence of who you are as a person, your fundamental nucleus of unique characteristics that are consistent and enduring over time. Trying to be like someone else very different from you that you admire as a leader, or trying to minimize your key attributes because you think they are not acceptable, are recipes for leadership disaster. As hard as you might try to change your stripes and become someone very different than the person you are, it will be a very frustrating and ultimately fruitless exercise.

I first discovered this as a college freshman, walking down the street in Evanston, IL. As I walked to the library and considered my experience so far in college, it occurred to me that I did not need to be limited by my past from high school. Nobody from my graduating class had chosen Northwestern University; consequently, I had no baggage of previous impressions to limit me. Instead of being introverted and socially awkward, I could be outgoing and effervescent. Instead of being serious and studious, I could be fun-loving and unconcerned about grades. In short, I could choose to change my personality to become someone fundamentally different from the person I had been up to that point, and nobody would even know.

At the time, I smiled at the picture I had painted inside my head on the way to the library. Now, thinking back to that moment, I am not smiling so much as laughing at myself for being so naïve! The days and weeks after coming to my revelation in college showed me that, regardless of the circumstances around me and my desire for a fresh start, I remained the same at the center of my being. The characteristics, traits, and capacities that defined me did not change, for the most part. In that sense, I could not be anyone I wanted to be; I could not cut myself off from the past and create a new person from the ground up. Instead, I needed to embrace more fully the person I was at the core, and then I needed to more completely and confidently express myself as that person.

Since then, I have discovered a similar thought process in leaders I coach, especially those who are new to a position, taking on greater scope of responsibility, newly hired into an organization, or any combination of factors that makes them feel like they must be someone very different to be successful. With each of them, as with myself earlier in my life, I help them see that they are products of their past, and to get real again, they must reconnect with their: Personality, Ability, Spirit and Thinking.

As I have discovered since my musings on the way to the library, I function best in the present when I leverage my PAST. You are a product of your PAST, as well, and it is the key to your future. At your core is a combination of personality characteristics, feelings, intellectual and physical abilities, and a responsive spirit. At the center of who you are, there are also thoughts, beliefs, and opinions that you hold to be true, and that you have developed since early childhood.

Whether or not you are fully conscious of these factors at your core, they exist and they powerfully influence your behavior every day. Though it is possible in many ways to leave the past behind–through forgiving others, letting go of hurts, moving on in relationships, etc.–it is not feasible to leave your PAST behind. Wherever you go, your core personality traits, abilities, spirit, and thinking go with you. Let me describe each of these in greater detail, so that you can better understand and apply them to yourself.

Personality. Representing the first letter of the word PAST, personality (P) is a word that most people recognize. However, few agree on a definition. When people say, “she has a great personality,” or “his personality just doesn’t click with mine,” we have a vague concept of what they mean. We usually need to ask for clarification to make sure we have an unambiguous understanding of the meaning. That is due to the broad and sometimes confusing nature of the term “personality.”

The word personality comes originally from the Latin word “persona,” which refers to an individual’s identity. Personality is a dynamic and organized set of traits or characteristics that influence the way people think, feel, and behave. There is little theoretical agreement among psychologists, let alone the general population, on what personality actually is. For the purposes of your own self-analysis, think about the aspects of your personality that uniquely define you. This includes characteristics like your approach across various situations, your intensity of observable energy, your degree of self-discipline, and other “signature” qualities that are consistent and distinct in you.

Abilities. Included in this part of your PAST are your innate talents, gifts, natural physical capacity, motivated strengths, cognitive intelligence, and emotional intelligence. The primary distinction we will make here is that abilities are innate capacities, not learned ones. Certainly, people develop their abilities over time, and those that receive the most attention tend to be their strongest, most recognizable abilities. However, we draw a clear line to distinguish between knowledge and skills you develop, versus abilities, talents, or gifts you have possessed from an early age. Skills and knowledge can shift dramatically over your lifetime, but your fundamental abilities do not change much. What are your unique abilities?

Spirit. The word spirit perfectly captures the essence of what I want to convey here, yet it is an awkward and easily misunderstood term. It represents the “S” in your PAST. Most people can describe the feeling they get when their spirit is uplifted by an event or circumstance around them, just as they can describe the feeling they have when their spirit is downcast or pessimistic. Spirit is something you can feel when it is moved by events or circumstances around you, but it is difficult to put into words. Your spirit develops from a very early age—perhaps at birth or even in the womb—and grows to become an integral aspect of your core being. What events, people, activities, etc. affect your spirit?

Thinking. Unlike these first three, the thinking aspect of your core tends to change throughout life as you encounter new information and perspective that no longer can be explained or understood by your previous ways of thought. Of the four core components of a leader, thinking is the one you can consciously develop to the greatest degree. Thinking is the last letter of your PAST, and the aspect of your core that is typically most apparent to people around you.

This component includes your beliefs, values, and opinions based on your learning and experience. It includes your attitudes toward things, the way you make sense of the world, and the primary basis upon which you make decisions. Thinking includes logic and intuition, creativity and originality, common sense, and the recognition and understanding of others’ feelings and needs. In short, thinking includes any function within your core that involves thought processes.

In my coaching work with leaders at multiple levels across a wide variety of organizations, I have found that this area of thinking offers the most possibility for new growth. It is here that you can develop healthier beliefs and identify those self-limiting beliefs that undermine your effectiveness. Thinking is also the lever you can work to improve the problem solving of others. Helping people on your team think differently, consider other options, and question their own self-limiting talk can nurture their growth into more effective leaders.

Please weigh in with your thoughts on who you are at the core, and how you use this insight to stay genuine and authentic in your work and life:

And please look for The Fraud Factor at Amazon, or order it through our website:


Feeling Like a Fraud: Who am I at the Core?

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

In this fifth of a six-part Leadersynth series, we focus on how reconnecting to your core can help you move past feelings of inadequacy and move toward authenticity. These installments come directly from my new book, The Fraud Factor, to be available on Amazon later this month. The one remaining installments in this series is: Feeling like a fraud: getting real again!

So, what is your core? It is the essence of who you are as a person, your fundamental nucleus of unique characteristics that are sustained, consistent, and enduring over time. In my 30 years of coaching experience, I have never seen a set of circumstances where the best solution to a poor job fit was to attempt to change who the individual was at the core. Let me say that again, for emphasis, in a slightly different way. Changing who you are at the core is never the best way to handle a set of circumstances or personalities in your work.

The best strategy is almost always to figure out who you are as a person, and then lead confidently from that genuine foundation. We will take a deep-dive look at your core attributes in the sixth and final installment in this Leadersynth series.

The right fit. At some point, figuring out who you are at the core might lead you to a decision to find a better fit, but this is not a conclusion you should jump to right away. In situations where individuals are viewed as a poor fit in a particular position, management usually considers terminating or demoting them. If this has been an unaddressed problem for a number of years, then taking him or her out of the role might be the best solution.

Because terminating an individual for poor fit is an expensive conclusion that involves paying severance and conducting a search for another person to fill the vacated role, it should not be reached lightly. However, the emotional and financial costs of keeping someone in a role in which he or she cannot succeed are even more painful.

As we introduced earlier in this series of articles, in order to create new growth, you must experience situations, perspectives, and circumstances that challenge you, rattle your core, and perhaps require a bit of reorganization of your internal beliefs and approaches. Often, your growth as a person requires you to seek out new experiences, take on new responsibilities, get involved in cross-functional task forces, or learn new information and perspective.

Early on in these kinds of assignments that stretch you, it may not seem like the right fit at all. You might even convince yourself that you can never be successful in the existing circumstances, and that your only choice is to quit. Though you might feel this way, the best outcome in such a situation can sometimes be to stay and make it the right fit through your own growth and development.

These kinds of situations force you to adapt your approach to one that is more effective. However, to sustain such growth and make sure that the roots of your new perspective go deep, the internal brain ‘reorganization’ you experience must remain consistent with the essence/core of who you are. If the new growth and perspective is overwhelming, undermining your confidence in your fundamental attributes, the resulting destabilization you feel can unleash a long-term version of the fraud factor.

The right fit, then, is one that is consistent with your core attributes, but also forces you to stretch a bit. For most people, heading off to freshman year in college creates a degree of destabilization. Students often discover in the first several weeks that what they thought were good study habits in high school, what they assumed were beliefs and values that most people held, and how they approached making friends, are perspectives not adhered to by everyone on their dorm floor.

Other major life events like marriage, death of a loved one, or the birth of children can force people to accommodate internally in order to take into account dramatically different circumstances. The similarity across these types of events is that our internal cognitive framework cannot incorporate the new circumstances, and we must restructure our beliefs and thinking to fit. Often, these types of situations can seem overwhelming at first, and the stress we feel can undermine our effectiveness.

The answer, however, is not to seek out situations where you never experience any level of stress or arousal. Situations where you are disinterested or detached might feel relaxing on some level for some length of time, but you usually cannot generate enough energy to be highly effective in what you are doing. The key, as in the story of the three bears and Goldilocks, is to have a level of emotional arousal that is “just right.”

The sweet spot. Most people would agree that there is a level of alertness that leads to their best performance, whether in sports, artistic endeavors, public speaking, or facilitating a team discussion. If you experience a low level of attentiveness or preparedness, you might come across as rather flat in your energy level. On the other hand, if you experience an enormous level of vigilance and tension before a particular situation, your performance will suffer. Somewhere in between is your “sweet spot”.

Psychologists would call this sweet spot the optimal level of arousal. This is your apex of alertness, the place where you function with the utmost confidence and competence. Here, you are the most motivated and alert, and the fraud factor has very little effect on your successful achievement of desired outcomes. Because you function most effectively and comfortably in this sweet spot, you have a tendency to want to remain there and tap its full potential. Usually, that is a good thing and it feels like the right fit.

However, the right fit can evolve into the wrong fit over time. Sometimes you hunker down too long in this sweet spot of confidence and competence. You become complacent and stop stretching and growing. Because you experience your greatest feelings of success in your sweet spot, you tend to want to stay within these comfortable walls.

Please weigh in on our blog with your experiences with this phenomenon of feeling like a fraud:


Feeling Like a Fraud: The Big Fat Lie

Monday, April 4th, 2016

In this fourth of a six-part Leadersynth series, we focus on how dramatic changes can make you believe that you are not adequate to the situation you are facing. This is the Big, Fat Lie. These installments come directly from my new book, The Fraud Factor, to be published by Leader Press in late April, 2016. This is only one month away, and pre-sales of the book are available on right now! Following this current article, the two remaining installments in this series include these topics:

  • Feeling like a fraud: who am I at the core?
  • Feeling like a fraud: getting real again!

In general, what is the Big Fat Lie? It is simply the belief that you are not adequate in the situation or circumstances you face. This false belief often occurs when you face new, unfamiliar challenges that make you begin to doubt your ability to handle them. When the changed circumstances seem extremely challenging to you, and you feel overwhelmed and paralyzed, you might begin to think that everything you know is wrong and you are totally inadequate to the task (see our last post on this topic). You might start to doubt yourself and your abilities. You might even experience a level of destabilization at the core of your being.

In David’s case, for example, he experienced dissonance in his new role. When David and his manager first met with me to talk about starting a coaching relationship, several factors were clear immediately. David was an extremely bright VP who had grown up in the finance part of the high-tech manufacturing company in which he was employed. He was personable in an introverted sort of way, displaying an easy smile and a wry, somewhat random, sense of humor.

In the first meeting with David and his manager, she described him as, “someone who struggles a bit taking a strong, definitive stand in the midst of uncertainty. That is, he often seems uncomfortable going with a hunch when he doesn’t have what he feels is a sufficient amount of data to support his conclusions.” His manager indicated that the most important challenge in David’s new role was for him to influence leaders more broadly within the organization, to create the right vision and plan so that others would follow, and to empower his team to make decisions and take action. From her perspective, he needed to move more quickly to explain the core of the issues and help frame the discussion so that others could get up to speed and on board with his thinking.

For his part, David admitted that he tended to not ask for help until he was in deep water, believing thathe could “just work my way out of it.” He described himself as, “the kind of person who stubbornly refuses to admit defeat,” and who, instead, would “crank up my hard work ethic and put in more hours until I get the job done.” This behavior tended to push his team away when they could have been of the most help, and it took time away from his more important role of influencing the thinking of internal and external customers.

It also contributed to his feelings of being a fraud, because he thought that, “If I’m smart enough to be in this role, I should be able to figure out the answers without needing someone to step in and save me.” Because he could not always figure out a way to work through the problems he faced, he began to feel inadequate as a leader.

Senior management in the organization was keen to support David in his new role. They viewed him as having all the right stuff to be promoted even further, yet needing to change some fundamental ways in which he operated, as reflected in the feedback he received from his manager and his 360-degree results. After reading his feedback from others, and recognizing that he was not as successful with internal and external customers as he expected himself to be, David wondered whether, in fact, he was the right fit for his new role and responsibilities.

Identifying the lie. David and I had met a couple of times in our coaching engagement before he was comfortable enough to confide in me that he felt like a fraud in his role. He did so by sharing his version of The Big Fat Lie, “I need to be someone totally different to really be successful in this role.” His peer, Faye, was in a similar product management role, and David began to believe that he needed to fashion his approach to match Faye’s personality and style.

As David described it, “Faye comes from a marketing and sales background, so her personality is naturally much more outgoing and verbal, and way more engaging with customers than mine. She’s also extremely confident interacting with internal and external customers, with much greater finesse at casting a vision and enrolling them through her charisma.” David had tried to emulate Faye, but felt like he had failed miserably. This just underscored in his mind that he was a fraud in the role.

Despite the fact that he was chosen for the role and had been fulfilling it with relative success for nearly two years, David had somehow still harbored the lie that he was not fit to be in the role. Consequently, everything he saw about himself in the role was filtered through this Big Fat Lie, and he continually felt like a fraud, particularly when he was with clients and potential clients.

This initial conversation led to many others as David and I fleshed out what his core personality characteristics, abilities, motivations, and beliefs were, and strategized how to leverage these fundamental characteristics to maximize his effectiveness. We discovered together that he tends to be most comfortable in a role when he can act as a ‘guide’ or ‘helper’ to the people around him. I challenged him to think of ways he could shift his approach in his current role so that he could function primarily as a guide or helper with his team and his customers. He began to shift his approach to fit his core style, and began to experience success with his team and clients.

The problem for David–and for you–is that the Big Fat Lie, while it seems to explain things on some level, also acts in a self-fulfilling way to inhibit your effectiveness. The misperception that you must act differently than whom you are at the core undermines your ability to be successful. To what extent has a Big, Fat Lie limited your success in your career? What lie do you believe right now about yourself that makes it difficult for you to be completely effective in your work?

Please weigh in on our blog with your own experiences with this phenomenon of feeling like a fraud:

Feeling like a Fraud: Everything I Know Seems Wrong!

Friday, February 26th, 2016

In this third of a six-part Leadersynth series, we focus on how dramatic changes can make you believe that everything you know seems wrong. These installments come directly from my new book, The Fraud Factor, to be published by Leader Press in April, 2016. This is only two months away! Following this current article, the four remaining installments in this series include these topics:

  • Feeling like a fraud: the big fat lie
  • Feeling like a fraud: who am I at the core?
  • Feeling like a fraud: getting real again!

You may have had experiences in your life and work where everything you knew seemed wrong. As we discussed in the last Leadersynth article, being confronted by new information, situations, and perspectives that radically differ from your prior understanding of how things work can make it seem that everything you know is suddenly insufficient to the problems at hand. This type of situation nearly always generates some dissonance, but when you actually develop a deep belief that everything you know IS wrong, it can destabilize you and stir up fraud feelings.

Such was the case with Burt, a 50-something clinical researcher who had been enjoying his role as the team lead, until, suddenly, a new boss stepped onto the scene. It felt abrupt because Burt thought that he would continue to lead the clinical trials team. However, senior management decided to create a new level of leadership to which Burt and the rest of the clinical team would report. Burt was not considered as a candidate for this new role. In a sense, Burt had received his first demotion in nearly 10 years of work at this company, and in almost 30 years in the industry. His reaction to the new circumstances was to feel destabilized and overwhelmed, and to employ a hide and avoid strategy.

His new boss, Yolanda, was at least 10 years younger than Burt, and had moved quickly up the ranks in her previous company. She was smart, well educated, and personable, but she and Burt got off to a poor start when, in her mind, the dynamics between them seemed more competitive than collaborative. Based on the information she had been given by Burt’s previous boss, as well as her early observations of him, she did not see any evidence of him functioning like a leader in this organization. He seemed to be in denial and unable to step in to lead his smaller functional role. Burt, for his part, felt like a fraud in his new role, and he thought that Yolanda wanted him to be someone very different from who he was.

The problem. Since Burt had been in the lead role before Yolanda arrived, he continued to receive emails and voicemails from the team asking for his expert perspective weeks after his boss had started. Unfortunately, he simply answered many of their questions and weighed in on problems without thinking that he was overstepping the boundaries of his boss’s new role. He explained that, “Others don’t know her well enough to have confidence in her, so they come to me as they have in the past. I’m trying to not overwhelm her with decisions, but she thinks I’m being secretive.”

Part of the problem was that, in fact, he was not certain what responsibilities his new role and the boss’s role now included. In the absence of specifics about his new job description, he interpreted his role as simply filling in the blanks and protecting Yolanda’s backside from potential problems. However, whenever he stepped in and deflected the impact of some of the early decisions she made, she interpreted this as resistance, not protection.

Because Burt had always been certain of the scope and expectations of his jobs in the past, not knowing these things created in him a destabilizing tailspin. The harder he tried to figure out who Yolanda wanted him to be, the closer he came to crashing. Consequently, he began to stay in his office and dig into details that, unfortunately, were not priorities to his boss.

Sensing that I did not have much time to turn this around as his coach, I began to work with Burt immediately. He was a deer in the headlights when we first talked, still trying to understand how he ended up in this smaller role, and highly suspect of what my coaching function was. The more he revealed to me in our first meeting, the clearer it became that, while Burt was understandably resistant about this new situation into which he had been thrust, he was also approaching the new circumstances with the same ineffective tools and perspective that he had used in the old role. In fact, he was using the same tools and perspective that he had used for most of the last 20 years of his career.

The assessment. I decided that it was time to help him see that, in some ways, everything he knew WAS wrong. We started with 360-degree feedback and personality tests, and the picture from these data was quite clear. I summarized the results by saying, “Burt, the good news is that you are viewed as a technologically savvy scientist who is steady and predictable emotionally, assertive in your communication, and empathetic in your relationships. The bad news is that you are not viewed as a strong team player, nor someone who can inspire others or generate enthusiasm, and you tend to be a bottleneck for work the team is trying to complete on time.”

My blunt assessment of these 360-degree data surprised Burt, and he became red-faced and defensive about the comments and ratings. He was having a hard time assimilating them into his view of himself as a leader; consequently, he could only dismiss or debate them. He was obviously flummoxed about others’ perspective on him, and this seemed to stir up even more fear about being a fraud. Over the course of our in-person meetings, as well as phone calls or emails between sessions, I deliberately supported the validity of the 360 degree data and, at the same time, affirmed the value of who he was at the core as a person and a leader. We worked together to make this a growth experience for him.

The solution. Burt’s story illustrates clearly the phases we each must pass through in order to grow from feeling like a fraud–because everything we know seems wrong:

  1. Gather accurate information from several sources to gain a true perspective on the situation
  2. Compare those data with your own perspective, feelings, interpretations to find disconnects
  3. Provide as much clarification as needed, so that all involved agree on expectations, roles, etc.
  4. Facilitate the growth process through coaching/mentoring /teaching toward a better approach
  5. Huddle periodically to make sure progress is being made, expectations are clear, etc.

Please weigh in on our blog with your own experiences with this phenomenon of feeling like a fraud:

Why Leaders Fail – Part 2

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

In our last Leadersynth article, we raised the question, “Why do leaders fail?”  We discovered that the reasons for leader failure fall into three broad categories of dysfunction:

  • Poor relationships with people (not handling problems, too emotional, not considering needs of others, abrasive, blaming)
  • Inadequate results (problems with planning/organization/execution, not strategic enough)
  • Inappropriate guidance (over-controlling, failing to manage/nurture talent, not building/maintaining team)

In part, this dysfunction can occur because strengths that get managers promoted can become liabilities in more senior roles, weaknesses tolerated at lower levels can create obstacles at higher levels, and events outside a leader’s control can undermine results.  While no leader is strong in all the core competencies of effective leadership, our goal as organizations should be to pick the best talent for our culture, make sure that new leaders receive feedback early on, and address problematic behavior immediately. BEST PRACTICES.  What are the best practices other organizations use that can help you dramatically reduce the extent of leader failure in your organization?

  1. In the pre-hire process, screen candidates for potential derailing characteristics
  2. In the on-boarding process, help new hires acclimate, acculturate
  3. After six months on the job, conduct multi-rater feedback
  4. Confront any behaviors that appear to be dysfunctional when they arise
  5. Provide coaching/mentoring to mitigate any problematic behaviors

Pre-hire screening.  Create a process that screens candidates for negative characteristics like poor interpersonal skills, reactive behaviors, lack of organizational skills, inadequate team/talent management.  There are several screening mechanisms you can employ to accomplish this; keep in mind that no combination of screening tools will be completely fool-proof.

First, expose candidates to multiple interviews internally.  Keep them occupied with interviews, lunch, and other interactions over the course of a day to see how well they “wear” over time.  Make them come back for several interviews on different days with the same people, so that you can look for inconsistency in their behaviors.  Assign a “homework” assignment between interview days to generate an example of their critical/strategic thinking and organizational skills.

Employ an outside selection assessment service, such as that offered by Roselle Leadership (RLSI), to ensure the advantage of standardized tests and behavioral interview questions.  Using personality inventories, tests of critical thinking and numerical/verbal reasoning, and behavioral interview questions applied to thousands of candidates over the years, firms like RLSI provide a deeper perspective and a clearer picture of how candidates will likely behave six months down the road.

On-boarding processes.  Though the best strategy for minimizing leadership failures is to pick the perfect candidate every time, this does not typically happen.  Every candidate has flaws that do not show up in the pre-hire screening; the hope is that they will be minor flaws.  Even very good candidates, however, can get off on the wrong foot and end up cross-wise with their boss, their team, or others.

One way to minimize this is to develop a six-month on-boarding process that emphasizes the importance of the new hires getting to know their team members over a number of weeks, building relationships with their boss and peers, and becoming acculturated to your organization.  Too many leaders feel the pressure to deliver major results within the first 90 days, and that tends to generate dysfunctional behaviors and undermine their success in leading others.  A strong on boarding process will help new leaders acclimate to their new roles, even if they are internal candidates that have been promoted.  Using outside coaches who know your organization’s cultural expectations can also help.

Multi-rater feedback.  After new hires have been in their roles for six months, conduct a multi-rater feedback process.  Either use a strong internal mechanism, like an employee survey,  for accomplishing this, or employ an outside resource like RLSI’s FULLVIEW Feedback Inventory™.  The purpose is to provide early feedback to new leaders, whether hired from the outside or promoted from within, on how their direct reports, peers, boss, and others view their approach so far.  Six months gives coworkers enough time to formulate an informed impression, while still being early enough to make any changes recommended by the feedback.

Dysfunctional behavior.  Using the 360-degree feedback or other informal feedback on their behavior and its impact so far, sit down with the new leader and address potentially dysfunctional behavior.  Focus in particular on their success in establishing relationships, building a team, organizing and executing the work for which they are responsible, the quality of their results, and the capacity to manage their own emotions and respond to the needs of others.  Any behaviors that appear to be dysfunctional and could lead to derailment should be identified immediately and clearly.

In providing this feedback, watch for reactions that suggest they are not taking ownership and, instead, are blaming others, trying to create a smoke-screen, or becoming defensive.  These are serious warning signs typically associated with leaders who are on the path to failure.  Consider using an outside resource to provide this feedback and confront any defensive reaction to it.  Look for a genuine commitment to change potentially derailing behaviors and attitudes, before you invest in support.

Provide Coaching/Mentoring.  If the new leader responds positively to the feedback by taking ownership and asking for help turning the corner in this new role, provide a combination of internal mentoring and external coaching.  Most of the behaviors identified in this article as dysfunctional and leading to failure (being abrasive or emotional, not considering others’ needs, failing to organize/deliver or think strategically, managing and nurturing talent in overly-controlling and ineffective ways, not building a functional team) can be significantly improved through coaching.

As in most situations in life, however, the dysfunctional leader must be committed to the process for any real change to occur.  If you, or an outside coaching resource, are working harder than the new leader is to become more effective in your culture, it is probably time to sever the relationship.

Why Leaders Fail – Part 1

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Why do leaders fail? This is a critical question, and the answer to it is important because, in most situations, as leaders go, so goes the organization. The good news is that empirical studies in the last several years have shed ample light on this question.

But, let’s begin with a brief look at why leaders succeed. An increasing body of research and practical experience suggests that highly effective leaders create motivated followers, and that these engaged employees make the difference between the organization that thrive, rather than just survive. At Roselle Leadership Strategies, our research and experience suggest that the most effective leaders exhibit strengths in three basic pillars of competence: building relationships, achieving results, and applying resourcefulness. These “Three-R’s” of leadership form the basis for our FULLVIEW Feedback Inventory™, and include such behaviors as driving for results, inspiring and motivating others, providing strategic perspective, coaching and developing, influencing decision makers, and collaborating across groups.

It is not necessary for leaders to possess strengths in all three of these buckets in order to be successful. In fact, most leaders do not have the perfect “trifecta” of strong relationships, results, and resourcefulness. However, it is imperative that their weaknesses are not so large that these overshadow their strengths. When dysfunctional, toxic behaviors dominate leaders’ behaviors, their strengths become almost unnoticeable.

Recent research from a consortium of executive coaches and talent management consultants shows that one in four externally hired executives and one in five internally promoted executives do not perform as expected, even after two years on the job. They concluded that in most of these underperforming executives, the most critical factors in their failure were lack of interpersonal and leadership skills. Other factors cited as contributing to these failures were: organizational structural problems, conflicting goals with more senior management, and poor fit with the new role.

These are important data, because the failure of leaders at multiple levels in organizations typically has as a component lack of interpersonal/relationship skills. Across a variety of studies using different methodologies in various organizations and cultures, unsuccessful leaders were found to display poor judgment, inability to build effective teams, difficulty building relationships, and little evidence of learning from their mistakes. They fail to address the gaps that others point out to them in feedback, do not thrive in changing situations, lack self-insight, and/or exhibit flaws in their moral character.

Other research over the last 30+ years shows an average rate of leader failure at about 50 percent, with a range across various studies from one third to two thirds. When top leaders fail, it is usually a very expensive problem to resolve. One cost is the actual financial impact. Various studies have estimated the range in cost from $500K to more than $2M, depending on the size of the organization and the level of the failed leader within it. These figures do not include the value of pre-negotiated severance packages, or missed business objectives.

Other costs, less tangible and measurable, include the stress and unhappiness that dysfunctional leaders cause in their team members and peers. Organizational climate surveys consistently show about 75 percent of working adults indicating that the most stressful aspect of their job is their immediate boss. In human resource exit interviews, the reason most frequent cited by those leaving is poor relationship with their manager. The costs in decreased productivity, negative acting-out behaviors at work, and employee turnover is considerable. Overall, the costs associated with toxic leaders may represent the greatest profitability opportunity for most organizations.

The initial studies of leader failure primarily focused on U.S. males. However, subsequent studies replicated the results in females and across various European and American samples. Three themes that consistently seem to rise to the top in their impact on leader failure are: problems with interpersonal relationships, difficulty adapting to changing dynamics, and poor business performance. Earlier in this paper, we described the three pillars represented in our 360-degree instrument, the FULLVIEW Feedback Inventory™, as reflecting the Three-R’s of relationships, results, and resourcefulness. The studies of leader failure clearly parallel the need for a degree of capability across these three.

Within the last five years, other researchers have identified nine categories of destructive leader behaviors and found no differences between males and females. The nine included issues like: persistent people problems, over-controlling with others, under-controlled in their own emotions, poor planning/organization/execution, inappropriate use of information/rumors, failure to manage/nurture talent, and failure to consider human needs. This last factor, failure to consider human needs, was found to have the most devastatingly toxic impact on staff morale. Within the last 10 years, research has identified specific behaviors that can potentially result in leader derailment. They include the following four major problem areas:

  • Building/maintaining team (micromanaging, autocratic, poor morale/motivation)
  • Non-strategic perspective (too detailed, reliant on technical skills, unable to prioritize)
  • Working relationships (insensitive, abusive, blames others, not politically astute)
  • Inappropriate behavior (over-reacting, poor integrity, easily stressed, gossip/rumor mongering)

If you reduce the types of problems identified across the various research studies into broad categories, you find that poor relationships with people (not handling problems, too emotional, not considering needs of others, abrasive, blaming), inadequate results (problems with planning/organization/execution, not strategic enough), and inappropriate guidance (over-controlling, failing to manage/nurture talent, not to building/maintaining team) are the three fundamental issues that stand out. Again, this set of recent findings parallels the Three-R’s of leadership from Roselle Leadership: relationships, results, and resourcefulness.

This first of two Leadersynth papers on the topic of Why Leaders Fail is designed to pull key finding from research and experience to identify behaviors most associated with derailment, dysfunction, and leader failure. In the next paper, we will explore what organizations like yours can do to minimize the likelihood of selecting dysfunctional leaders and mitigate the effects of the toxic leaders already employed there.

Everyone Looks Good on Paper!

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

With all the books on writing resumes and cover letters, and all the professional services out there that
actually write job search paperwork for candidates, I’ve come to the realization that everyone looks
good on paper. The question that leaders like you need to answer accurately is, “how will this person
look in six months?”

Some of our client organizations use psychological assessments to help them hire candidates, others do
not. In the current marketplace, with multiple candidates for every open position, you might decide
that it’s a “buyer’s market” out there and every candidate is a great one. You might conclude that your
current hiring process already does a good job of filtering out the worst candidates and netting the best
ones. If that is your firm mindset as you begin reading this, you can stop right now; this Leadersynth
edition will not be helpful to you!

On the other hand, if you look at the success rate for your new hires over the last several years and think
“there must be a better way,” you might learn something here. This is the story of a recent hire for a
client organization that illustrates an effective series of steps to insure the best hires.
TQX, a mid-sized manufacturing company, was looking to hire a senior design engineer. At the
beginning of their search, they were contacted by Tom, an engineer from a competitor, about possible
job openings at TQX. The COO and CEO were somewhat familiar with Tom and his career at the
competitor. In fact, the COO lived near him; their kids attended the same high school and had played in
the same soccer league growing up. The COO knew Tom as a friend and neighbor, and she was
favorably inclined to hire him. However, the CEO had a nephew who worked at Tom’s current
employer, and the nephew’s sense of Tom was that he was arrogant and difficult to work with,
sometimes responding with inappropriate emotion when upset.

TQX called me in to conduct a pre-hire psychological assessment. The COO, CEO, and I met up front to
discuss the position and what their desires were for the successful senior design engineer candidate. I
left with a clear sense of what they wanted in the position and what they liked and disliked about Tom
from their first interview, as well as their knowledge of him from other sources.

We sent a couple of personality tests and a critical thinking assessment to Tom as pre-work, and then I
met in person with him to conduct an in-depth behavioral interview. In particular, I focused on his
challenges, successes, and failures in previous roles and projects, as well as the aspects of his work that
had motivated him throughout his career. At one point, we talked about the last couple of years at his
current employer, and it was clear that he had been involved in a project that did not go well and had
caused him a great deal of stress. He obviously had not felt supported by senior management in the
project, and, in fact, there had been legal issues for which he was called to testify in court. It had been
very unpleasant for him.

At another point in the interview, I asked him what was motivating him to leave his current employer.
As he answered, he began to tell me about how his wife had been involved in a serious car accident
about a year ago, and how stressed he felt traveling out of town for projects and leaving his wife and
kids at home as she recuperated. At this point, tears began to well up in his eyes and his voice became
choked with emotion.

He was able to finish the interview, and, after he left the office, I thought about these new data points
he had shared. First, it was clear that he was on the rebound from a very negative work experience in
which he felt unsupported by his management. Second, it was clear that he had a tendency to become
overwhelmed and uncomfortable reaching out for help when he needed it on projects. Third, I began to
understand why others might have experienced him as arrogant and difficult to work with, with all the
upset related to his wife’s recovery and his extensive travel schedule.

After writing a report describing the key attributes of this candidate, I met again with the CEO and COO
to discuss the report and dig more deeply into our collective overall impressions. They found it helpful
to ask questions and hear me elaborate on his potential strengths and development areas. In particular,
they were a bit surprised that Tom became emotional in the interview. I described him in the report as
someone who expresses his feelings openly, in part due to my interview observations, but also due to
several scales on the personality tests. This discussion helped us pull together the various bits of data
from his workplace, the interview, and the test results that supported the notion that he was likely to
wear his feelings on his sleeve.

Other than these couple of concerns, however, Tom was a very strong candidate. He was smart,
personable, strategic, creative in problem solutions, and a hard worker. Just the kind of person they
wanted in the senior design engineer role. To allay any lingering concerns, they circled back to Tom to
discuss their perceptions of his style under pressure. They liked his responses and decided to hire him.
This story, for which the names and other specifics were changed, illustrates several key steps to build
success into any organizational hiring process:

  • Be clear upfront what you want/need in a candidate for a particular position
  • Conduct initial interviews internally to narrow down your list and screen out poor candidates
  • Use additional resources to screen candidates beyond internal behavioral interviews. In this
    case, it involved using an external psychologist to administer tests and an additional interview; it
    also included data from an insider at the individual’s current job and the perspective of a
    neighbor in the community. Using standardized tests, particularly personality and abilities
    assessments, can provide a helpful norm-based perspective for hiring.
  • Discuss the candidate in the light of all the data and use the discussion to explore the possible
    meanings of the data you have on the candidate. Use this time to identify development areas
    for the candidate that, if you hire the individual, you can begin to address when he/she first
    begins to work.
  • Circle back to the candidate to discuss potential concerns and see how he/she responds
  • Make your final decision

Remember: everyone looks good on paper, and most people can manage to look good for at least a first
screening interview. Use objective and standardized sources of data to help you paint a picture of what
a candidate will really be like six months after being hired! Roselle Leadership Strategies offers valuepriced
Selection Assessments to help build success into your hiring and promotion strategies. With all the books on writing resumes and cover letters, and all the professional services out there that actually write job search paperwork for candidates, I’ve come to the realization that everyone looks
good on paper. The question that leaders like you need to answer accurately is, “how will this person
look in six months?”

Throw Away “The First 90 Days”!

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Since I have lived most of my life in the Midwest, I typically moderate strong feelings I might have on any topic. In fact, I usually just get so mad that I ALMOST SAY SOMETHING! However, in this case, it’s time someone stood up to The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins. When I suggest that you throw away the book, what I really mean is that you either read and apply the whole thing, or throw it away. Since my experience tells me that most leaders who try to apply the concepts in the book do so selectively and with disastrous effects, I still think throwing it away is the best course of action. I will leave that to you to decide for yourself.

Let me explain by telling the story of Joe, a new VP of client services at a large advertising communications firm. As he entered this new role, the President of the firm informed Joe that there were productivity problems in the Account Services department, which was accustomed to a “country club” atmosphere. Joe was directed to “kick butt and take names later” as he established himself as the new sheriff in town. So, that’s exactly what he did, wanting to please his new boss and to have a large impact in his first 90 days. He had read the book, you see.

Joe had been applying this strategy for about two weeks when I received a phone call from the VP of Human Resources. She knew that many of the folks in Joe’s department already had their resumes on the street and were looking to bail as quickly as possible. I called Joe and set up a meeting within the next couple of days to discuss the situation.
When we met, Joe basically said he was just doing what he was told to do. He had accepted the President’s assessment of the situation without gathering his own data and had not made any attempt to get to know people before he started criticizing their work and making changes. In his mind, having read the The First 90 Days, he did not have much time to make a huge impact.

Fast forward to earlier this year when Diane, an individual I had coached in the past, accepted a new position at a competitor that offered a two‐level promotion. Before she began her new role, we sat down to discuss how she should approach her team as she came on board, and I suggested this strategy:

  • Gather as much information as possible about the team and the situation, the challenges and opportunities. You could do some of this in advance, but the bulk of it by meeting individually with team members and learning about them, establishing rapport.
  • Begin to develop relationships with team members and your boss, listen to them and how they perceive things. Learn what they want you to accomplish in the role, what they need from you and hope you can provide.
  • Then, work on building interconnections and coalitions with key stakeholders within the organization. Begin to create a vision and strategy, based on what you are hearing, and start to enroll others in the approach you intend to take.
  • Finally, after thoroughly listening and using others’ input and perspective to inform your strategy, begin to implement the plan and look for early wins. Continue to work at enrolling and actively involving key stakeholders as you roll it out.

I knew it was a great strategy. I had seen it work impeccably recently at another client organization when a new CEO took the reins, and I shared this success story with Diane. When we parted that day and she headed off to her new role, I was convinced that she would get off to a terrific start. I suggested that she take the first four to six months to work on the first three bullets, and then begin to look for early wins in the implementation.

Unfortunately, she also spent time talking with a few people from her previous employer. Having read The First 90 Days, to a person, they recommended that she dive in quickly, size up the situation in the first week or two, and then begin to implement large‐scale changes. She thought to herself, “Okay, I’ve got to do something big here in the first three months, but I’m not sure what that should be.” The weight of their suggestions obliterated my ideas, and she dove into the deep end—or perhaps, went off the deep end. After about three weeks of this approach, her new boss confronted her and asked pointblank what happened to the person he had seen during the interviewing process. She had so insulted people by ignoring what had been accomplished up to this point and pushing to affect changes with no input that her new boss was now second‐guessing his hiring decision.

In fairness to Watkins, his book does suggest things like “accelerate your learning,” “build your team,” “create coalitions,” and “match strategy to situation,” but these chapters do not focus enough on the importance of simply spending time with people and listening. In the mind of those who have used this book to affect change from a new position, the compelling chapters are those that prod you to “promote yourself,” “expedite everyone,” and “secure early wins.” It seems that most people, like Diane’s well‐intentioned friends and former coworkers, become fixated on the “early wins” chapter. Watkins’s recipe for success quickly becomes a concoction for disaster.

The answer. So, what should effective leaders do in situations where they step into a new role with a group that needs to quickly reach a higher level of performance? First, recognize that no matter how negative the perception is of a team’s functioning, they are trying to be successful and are proud of their accomplishments. The true story in any situation usually includes layers of complexity that you can only discover and appreciate by meeting with people and listening deeply to them. Withhold your judgment, ask insightful questions, and take good notes. Be encouraging as you observe them, keep your mind open, and do not share your early conjectures. Appreciate the obstacles they have overcome to get to their present level of effectiveness. Do not say anything negative about their former bosses or the decisions that led them to where they are.

As much as possible, follow the four bulleted suggestions I gave Diane. If you start telling yourself what a waste of time all this listening is, keep in mind that you will need an engaged team behind you when you roll out your changes. The best way to do that is to ask their perspective, use their ideas in developing the new direction, bring in a healthy dose of your own thoughts to shape the strategy, and give each team member an important role in implementation. Ignore your inner voice, and perhaps your boss’s voice, about driving change quickly.

The good news is that it is never too late to do the right thing. After rough beginnings, both Joe and Diane circled back to their teams, asked good questions, listened deeply to the answers, and used the information to build a new strategy. This time, they had the team on board, and they took the right amount of time, about 180 days, to do it.
I think they both decided to throw away their copy of Watkins’s book.

To Coach or Not to Coach?

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Earlier today, I talked with a manager in a financial institution who was struggling with a particular direct
report. She wanted to know if coaching would be beneficial for this person. After we talked and I
answered her questions and gave her my perspective, it occurred to me that others might have the same
questions as her. This Leadersynth edition focuses on how to determine whether or not an individual is
appropriate for executive coaching.

It is important to note on the front end that most of our client companies at Roselle Leadership use
executive coaching as a development tool for high potential individuals and key leadership roles. Most of
the time companies refer leaders to us for coaching, it is something the individuals have requested for
their own development and there are no “derailing” issues involved. This was true for the situation
described here, as well.

The most important questions. In deciding if coaching is the right choice for an organizational leader,
there are four key questions that I always ask, even before I meet the individual. These are the four questions I
asked this particular manager, and the order in which I posed them:

1. “Is this person a valuable contributor, someone worth the investment?” That is, if the coaching
resulted in positive change on those dimensions that seem to get in the individual’s way, would it be
worth the effort in time and money? She indicated that he was a solid leader on many dimensions,
and that his contributions were very strong. However, he approached situations in a way that was too
focused on day-to-day issues, like he was fighting fires. Also, his interpersonal style was rather
aggressive with others on the team.

2. “Is the individual likely to value from coaching?” This is a more complicated question, which takes
a good deal more probing. For example, I asked her what she, as his manager, thought he needed to
work on to become more effective. She quickly identified these needs:

  • Be more visionary and big picture, more strategic
  • Prioritize more effectively, with greater emphasis on achieving results before moving on
  • Be less combative, competitive, quick to debate with team members
  • Exhibit more patience, emotional control

We talked through each of the identified needs, and I used them to give her a framework to better
understand which issues were coachable and which were not. Becoming more visionary, for example, is
typically not something amenable to coaching. I indicated that I would help him address this need by
asking better, big picture questions and identifying others on the team who could help raise strategic
questions. However, I noted that he would probably never be strong at this if she had not seen it so far.

As for prioritizing, we talked about how his personality characteristics, like on a Myers-Briggs, might be
more P than J, more open-ended than planful. This would mean that he was not naturally inclined to plan
the work and work the plan, push for closure, or start early on tasks. However, he could learn more
effective strategies and techniques to keep himself and his team organized. I could help him do that in
coaching, and it would likely shore up this weak area enough that it was no longer problematic.

I told her that my approach would be similar for the issue of his combative, competitive style. She had
already indicated to me that his StrengthFinders results showed highest scores in Command, Significance,
Competition, Achiever, and Focus. With such a profile, it was unlikely he would ever fade into the
background in a discussion. However, if I helped him develop insight about how extreme his style was
and probed to find some faulty beliefs that might drive his extreme behaviors, I might be able to move the
needle enough that he would just come across as “assertive.”

The patience issue, I informed her, takes a different depth of coaching. People who are impatient are
usually perfectionistic and driven by beliefs like, “If I don’t get things done very quickly, others will not
think I am competent,” or “If I don’t deliver at the highest level of quality, my job is in jeopardy.” I
indicated that, for this issue, I would probe his underlying irrational fears and faulty beliefs about what it
means to be successful and competent, and help him develop a more realistic, healthy perspective. From
past experiences, I know that such an approach would help reduce the “edge” that others experience with
him. (For complete perspective on this topic, see my 2006 book, Fearless Leadership).

3. “Does the person take responsibility for what’s getting in the way?” I asked his manager if she had
sat down with him and communicated clearly how his style and approach created obstacles to his
success. She said that she had done so, but had probably not given a direct, hard message in most of
her past communication. When she recently had a “these things need to change” conversation with
him, he seemed to take it in and listen. She was not sure if he actually took full, personal
responsibility yet, but he at least did not react defensively and blame others. This was a positive sign
to me that he would take personal responsibility and be amenable to coaching.

4. “Is the individual committed to becoming more effective?” This is the final question I like to pose,
and often it cannot be answered until I actually meet with the individual to discuss the possibility of
coaching. Of course, I asked the manager what her opinion was, and she said she knew he wanted to
be promoted and was probably motivated to improve in his weakness areas. My perspective is that,
even though I primarily focus on leveraging core strengths and personality characteristics in
coaching, it is important to minimize the impact of weaknesses. Once an individual recognizes how
his or her attitude, beliefs, techniques, and approaches become obstacles, the weaknesses typically are
mitigated enough to let the strengths shine through. As this happens, the commitment to become
more effective gets reinforced.

The decision. To coach, or not to coach? It’s an expensive question either way. If you decide NOT to
coach an individual and that person becomes more toxic and problematic, you risk others on the team
leaving. People who stay despite the toxic behaviors often do “work arounds” and try to avoid the
individual. The loss of productivity and motivation on the team can be quite costly, but hard to measure.
If you choose to provide coaching, either internally or from an external source, you could invest
thousands of dollars in the hope of affecting change in a leader, with no tangible success at the end. You
can minimize the likelihood of this by making sure the coach sets clear, mutually agreeable objectives on
the front end and includes regular feedback to the organization during the engagement.

The bottom line is that you should chose to provide coaching to leaders who are worth the investment,
who take responsibility for the behaviors that get in their way and are committed to improving, and who
would value from a coaching engagement. Choose a coach who is experienced, well-educated, and who
either knows your organization, or can get up to speed quickly about the important nuances. Then, build
in feedback points to help create a successful outcome.