Roselle Leadership Blog

October 17th, 2017

How to Fill Your Company’s Top 5 Leadership Gaps

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.

September 7th, 2017

The ‘Secret Sauce’ of Effective Delegation

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.

August 14th, 2017

5 Keys to Great Collaboration!

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.

July 9th, 2017

6 Life Lessons from a Tunisian Taxi Driver

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.

May 14th, 2017

Nuggets from Leadercast 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?

March 6th, 2017

How to Beat Burnout in 5 Steps!

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.

January 31st, 2017

6 Leadership Lessons from the 2016 Election

Regardless of your political leanings, the United States and the world had the opportunity in 2016 to observe the behaviors of about 20 leaders vying for the highest leadership post in this country.  We read and saw some of the top leaders in the US make the case for why we should choose them.  From these months of media exposure, here are six leadership lessons that can be applied to any leader:

Clarity trumps style.  Think back to when the election primaries started, and there were 18 Republican and 3 Democrat candidates in the presidential race.  What were the slogans for each of these 21 candidates?  Okay, easier question: can you still name everyone who entered the race?

It is clear that very few candidates distinguished themselves by their styles or the clarity of their message. Their slogans or themes were equally hard to remember.   In the end, Hillary Clinton landed on ‘Stronger Together’ as her campaign theme, having cycled through half a dozen others.  Donald Trump started and ended with ‘Make America Great Again.’ Even though his style offended, angered, and worried a large percentage of the voting population, the clarity of his message apparently resonated with disaffected voters desiring change.

Whatever your natural style is as a leader, your people understand that everyone is unique.  They may not find your style to be the most warm, engaging, or witty, but they will follow you, if your vision, strategy, and direction are clear to them.  Clarity trumps style.

Words have consequences. Throughout the campaign, we heard and read the words (and actions) of the candidates on both sides.  Some of those words inspired us to vote in the primaries or the general election, while others convinced us not to ever consider supporting a candidate.  Many believe that James Comey’s words that opened and closed and re-opened and closed the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton had a major impact on the election outcome.  Others felt that the words in John Podesta’s hacked emails had a dramatic impact on the election.  Donald Trump’s words, communicated in a dated Access Hollywood video, various tweets, and debates made some conclude that he was not presidential.  Hillary Clinton’s phrase that Trump supporters fell into “a basket of deplorables ” became the rallying cry for ads, T-shirts, and placards for the other side. Words have consequences.

You may not have the same number of cameras, cell phones, microphones, and other electronic equipment around you to capture your intended and unintended words, but your words matter to those in your employ. They listen to what you say and the manner in which you say it.  Your words matter; choose them carefully to be your audience, and be aware of the potential consequences.

Passion inspires action. From my vantage point, there were two candidates whose passion inspired the most action by their supporters–Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  Sanders inspired waves of young, energized supporters to show up at rallies across the country, as well as to protest at Trump rallies. 

Trump saw thousands attending his rallies, particularly in swing states.  In fact, I was trying to meet with a coaching client in Sanford, FL in October and got caught in a traffic jam about a mile from the airport.  When I finally got to the officer directing traffic, he asked, “going to see Trump?” That was my first clue that all these cars were headed to a Trump rally.  His passion inspired their action.

Your passion can do the same as a leader.  You don’t need to be outrageous, gesticulate wildly, or yell into a microphone to convey passion.  Just tap into your core as a leader, into those beliefs and philosophies about which you are most passionate, and then convey these to those you lead.  Whether it is through ideas, vision, or energy, if it is genuinely you, your passion will inspire action.

All stakeholders matter.  With the electorate in the US evenly split, it is clear that all voters count in elections.  We know the founding fathers set up a Democratic Republic, not a pure democracy, to make sure that election victories would be the result of the most people voting across the most states and towns, large and small, urban and rural.  Typically, the presidential winner takes the popular vote and the Electoral College, but not this year.  In the end, it became clear that Trump’s strategy of ‘rally blitzkrieg’ during the final weeks of the campaign was a winning strategy to connect with the swing voters.  Trump’s campaign seems to have more clearly recognized that all stakeholders matter.

As a leader, you must identify your stakeholders and get to know them.  Your team members, manager, internal/external customers, peers, senior leaders, family, and perhaps others hold a stake in your success–and you in theirs.  Regularly communicate with them, keep them informed, ask for feedback and suggestions, leverage their talents, and help them develop successfully.  All stakeholders matter. 

Direct messages get through. I’ve been observing presidential elections for many decades, since the Nixon-Kennedy debates on black and white TV. Always in the past, politicians have conveyed messages primarily through the news media.  This is the first year I can remember where a candidate, Donald Trump, got his message across mostly by directly talking to people through in-person rallies and Twitter.   People said he spoke what they were thinking.  His direct messages got through and resonated.

Similarly, in your role as a leader, you need to speak directly to people and make sure they understand your message.  Assert your point of view clearly. Make sure that all those involved receive the communication at the same time, and that you do not nuance the message for different audiences to avoid conflict or adverse reactions.  Direct messages get through.

Integrity matters. We saw a number of examples of lack of integrity by candidates.  Kasich, Cruz, and Bush promised they would support the eventual Republican candidate, and then publicly pulled their support when Trump won.  The DNC’s Wasserman Schultz publicly indicated support for both Clinton and Sanders, but  Wikileaks hacked emails showed that she was supported Clinton and undermined Sanders.  When Trump’s vulgar comments were shared in an 11-year old video, he quickly apologized to his wife, family, and the public for these abhorrent comments.  Trump then focused on lack of integrity in Washington with the phrase, “drain the swamp!” People suspected that politicians were corrupt; this phrase supported them in the belief that integrity matters, and that Trump would help restore it.

When you as a leader are confronted with a problem you created, admit it quickly and completely, apologize, and make necessary reparations.  People do not expect you to be perfect, but they absolutely need to trust you.  Trust is built in consistent installments of honest, sincere, open interactions over time.  Speak the truth.  Integrity matters.

January 3rd, 2017

Stop Wasting Time (Recognize the top 5 drains)!

“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?

November 7th, 2016

6 Critical Lessons in Customer Service

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.

October 3rd, 2016

7 Signs You Might be Feeling Like a Fraud!

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:

September 7th, 2016

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

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! 

June 4th, 2016

Key Nuggets from Leadercast 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:

May 16th, 2016

Feeling Like a Fraud: Getting Real Again!

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:


May 3rd, 2016

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

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:


April 4th, 2016

Feeling Like a Fraud: The Big Fat Lie

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:

February 26th, 2016

Feeling like a Fraud: Everything I Know Seems Wrong!

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:

February 9th, 2016

Feeling Like a Fraud: The Dynamics of Learning

Welcome to the second of six installments about the phenomenon of feeling like a fraud in your leadership role. These installments come directly from my new book, The Fraud Factor, to be published by Leader Press in April, 2016. This is less than three months away! Following this current article, the four remaining installments in this series include these topics:

  • Feeling like a fraud: everything I know seems wrong!
  • 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!

Learning comes through change, but change can be difficult for anyone. Depending on the enormity and abruptness of the change, some of us get pushed back on our heels and struggle to respond effectively. We start to feel like a fraud, inadequate to meet the challenge of the change.

A participant in one of our Great Leaders workshop series, Diane experienced this when her job changed from supervising others in the parts department to managing an entire function. When she had worked the parts supervisor job, she could clearly measure her progress and track her success with her team at the end of the day. In her new leadership role, however, the impact of her work was much more intangible. She indicated she had felt like a fraud in the new role for months.

At first, she felt alone in these emotions and was convinced that her peers did not suffer from feeling like frauds. She finally found enough courage one day to mention her feelings of inadequacy to others. To her surprise, all of them, both male and female peers, indicated that they also had moments where they felt like frauds. Despite finding out that this feeling was shared by most others around her, she kept beating up on herself every day. She also lived in fear that her boss would come into her office, shut the door, and say, “you’re fired!”

After experiencing a high degree of upset for several months in the new supervisory role, Diane’s thoughts began to shift in a healthier direction. She thought about the attributes that had earned her this role in the first place. She realized that, having started her career in customer service rather than operations, she actually was quite gifted at taking care of people’s needs and using her common sense to solve problems. She also recognized that at previous jobs in her career, she had stepped into roles for which she was not fully qualified, but she had handled them very well. Using logic and perspective helped her overcome the fear associated with being found out as a fraud.

In this new role, however, she also sat at the senior leadership table for the first time. This intimidated her, because she was now sitting with men and women she had admired and felt were “way beyond” where she was at that point. They were more educated and more experienced at the company; consequently she hesitated to speak up in these meetings. Diane’s story illustrates what happens when individuals feel pushed outside their confidence zone far enough that they become destabilized, at least for a time.

Dissonance versus destabilization. When things change in your role or responsibilities, you need to learn quickly and grow into the new expectations. This typically creates a degree of dissonancea temporary lack of consistency or compatibility between your actions and beliefs in a particular situation. It is a short-term instability that feels unpleasant and motivates you toward resolution. A temporary dissonance brought about by challenging circumstances is usually a healthy road to learning and developing new skills, and often the catalyst for thinking in a new way, or approaching people in a different, more effective manner.

By contrast, destabilization is a deep and lasting instability that undermines and overwhelms your ability to function with consistent actions and beliefs. It disrupts and weakens your capacity to fulfill your role over time.

This dissonance/destabilization distinction forms the basis for a seeming paradox as it applies to creating sustainable growth in people. That is, to show evidence of true growth (like Diane), you must accommodate to new circumstances and demands by changing some of your core beliefs and shifting your behavior. However, to sustain this growth, you must not stray too far from who you genuinely are at the core.

Sustainable learning. To create sustainable growth, then, new learning must occur within the context of your existing personality, abilities, motivators, and thinking—your core. At the same time, true growth seldom occurs unless events or circumstances challenge the basis upon which you think and respond. This is the paradox! You feel dissonance in this kind of situation, and then respond by either finding ways to incorporate new learning, or ignoring the circumstances and continuing in your old paradigm.

However, when you encounter dramatic and discontinuous learning situations, you might begin to feel inadequate inside your existing internal framework (like Diane did, for a while). Instead of just a bit of dissonance, you might feel a much stronger level of destabilization that threatens to undermine your very sense of self. When you become destabilized–feeling upset, losing confidence, or being overwhelmed by the challenges in your environment–you start to feel and act like a fraud. This dynamic tension is a learning dance that takes place throughout your life. It started when you first went off to school, and then continued every time you entered a new school or class. Each one of these experiences probably stretched you, shifted the way you thought or felt about things, and forced you to generate new approaches.

Feeling dissonance is a natural part of the growth process, but it can become immobilizing if this feeling turns into destabilization and threatens the very core of who you are as a person and a leader. Recognizing the feelings you have of being a fraud and how these have changed your behaviors into much less effective ones is the first step in becoming real again as a leader and a person.

January 27th, 2016

Feeling Like a Fraud: The Symptoms

Welcome to the first of six installments about the phenomenon of feeling like a fraud in your leadership role. These installments come directly from my new book, The Fraud Factor, to be published by Leader Press in April, 2016. This is only three months away! The six installments include these topics:

  • Feeling like a fraud: the symptoms
  • Feeling like a fraud: the dynamics of learning
  • Feeling like a fraud: everything I know seems wrong!
  • 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!

Several years ago, as I began to build the chapters of The Fraud Factor and talk to various people about the main focus, the thought began to creep into my mind that I was not the best person to handle this fraud topic. Certainly, there must be an author and speaker who had spent more time in this area, who had better stories, and who would be a much more powerful presenter on the topic than I would. I began to feel like a fraud about being the one writing and speaking on the topic of being a fraud!

This reaction on my part illustrated to me how pervasive and insidious this fraud feeling can be, and how quickly it can surface. It reminded me how fragile genuineness often is, and how events and circumstances can undermine even the most confident and competent leaders.

When I use the word “fraud,” I mean feeling inauthentic, like a phony or charlatan in a particular situation that, in your mind, requires you to pretend to be someone very different from the person you really are.

In this first installment in our Leadersynth series, my hope is that you will come to recognize how the fraud factor undermines your success and that of the people you lead. I hope you will see that, while it is important to build new skills and perspectives throughout your life, you will be most effective when you stay true to who you are at the core. In fact, it is impossible to be highly effective if you stray too far from the nucleus of who you are.

On some level, in certain situations, every leader feels like a fraud. Even the most successful and confident leaders find themselves in settings where they begin to think that someone else would have been a much better choice to handle their duties. This is often the result of circumstances where they are placed in a new role with very challenging expectations, are given unanticipated critical feedback on a 360-degree instrument, or moved under a new manager with a very different approach. Things change, and you suddenly do not feel adequate to the task.

As an executive coach, I see these fraud feelings most frequently in situations where leaders move into a new role with increased scope of responsibility, often over functional areas where they have limited expertise. Sharon is an example of a person in this situation. She came into the department from a parallel position within a business recently acquired by my client company. Though she was put in charge of functions that included her area of technical comfort, she also now had responsibility for several areas about which she knew very little.

Sharon came in wearing heavy spurs and riding hard on the groups for which she was responsible. As she told me later, “During the interview process, I was informed that major changes needed to be made in the groups I managed. It was clear that their previous boss was too hands-off and lenient, and that a laissez-faire attitude had developed within the teams. A couple of the teams were worse than the others, but they all needed strong leadership.” Instead of getting to know each person who reported to her and building a team collaboratively, Sharon quickly began to make dramatic changes in the organizational structure and in the expectations she set for individual members of the teams in her scope of responsibility. This kind of strain on the system would have created a problematic level of stress on the teams all by themselves, but she complicated things with her direct reports by displaying inconsistent behavior and occasional emotional outbursts.

When I first met with her, it became clear to me that Sharon was overwhelmed and anxious in this new role. She made comments to me like, “I’m not really an expert across all areas of my new responsibility, and the company took a bit of a chance bringing me in.” She also said, “I think my boss wants to leverage my confidence and strong leader presence to inspire and drive these teams to greater productivity and, ultimately, better success. However, they don’t seem too motivated to ratchet-up their game.” On another occasion, she confided in me, “I’ve got to show that I am successfully changing the culture in this group, and it has to happen within the first three months.”

Sharon did not want to fail in this new assignment with this new company. Consequently, she felt that she needed to cover her inadequacies by pushing hard to score quick wins. Her self-talk, as in the above examples, undermined her capacity to confidently and genuinely express herself as the leader of this department. This led to behaviors that very nearly undermined her success. I

n her own way, Sharon was feeling like a fraud in the position. What are the symptoms that indicate you might be feeling like a fraud in your current situation? Here are some I’ve encountered:

  • Avoiding situations or people that seem to drain your confidence, ability to think clearly
  • Making quick, somewhat questionable decisions, just to assert your authority
  • Not speaking up in situations where you should weigh in as the leader
  • Trying to aggressively control the situation, drive your own agenda
  • Failing to establish collaborative dialogue as the preferred approach for decisions
  • Feeling tense, anxious, threatened, overwhelmed, or discouraged

We will learn in the next Leadersynth installment that a certain degree of tension helps move you from your current state to a more productive, effective one. However, too much tension can become destabilizing and, consequently, block your effectiveness. The optimal amount of tension pushes you to grow as a leader, and to develop new strategies and approaches, but does not destabilize you.

Weigh in on this topic and let us know what you think on our blog:

October 6th, 2015

Keep ‘Em Once You Find ‘Em!

The Importance of Great Onboarding Increasingly at Roselle Leadership, we are called upon to help leaders new to their positions and new to the organization get off to a good start. There are at least two very compelling reasons to invest in the onboarding process of new leaders:

  • Those new to a position who fail to build and maintain effective team and individual relationships, or who do not recognize quickly enough which are the most important results to pursue, have a higher probability of failing in the role.
  • Those new to an organization who do not feel fully part of it are much more likely to leave after the first year, most probably before their first anniversary.

These two facts put an exclamation point at the end of the phrase, “keep ‘em once you find ‘em!” Here are the data that support the importance of a thorough and engaging onboarding process:

Most leave before their first anniversary. A new Harvard Business Review article (OCT) cites a 2015 study in which it is clear that the greatest percentage of new employees leave after just one year! The conventional wisdom has been that exits tend to occur after four or five years, but these new facts indicate that fully 10 times as many people leave after one year than those who leave at five years, and that these exoduses peak around first anniversary dates.

There is a scarcity of qualified leaders. Recent data from a couple of 2014 studies cited in a recent Training and Development journal indicate that 40 percent of business owners are having difficulty in finding qualified candidates for their job openings across the organization. While this figure lumps all levels within the company into one single pool, a portion of this scarcity effect certainly occurs at the manager/executive level.

Your best talent is easily lured away. It is becoming easier and easier for corporate recruiters to find your new employees through their Internet presence, especially now that the recession continues to fade. Social media and data-crunching tools make it simpler to identify potential candidates on LinkedIn, for example, where someone’s combination of competencies catches the eye of a recruiter or a search algorithm.

Even your leaders who are not actively seeking an alternative to their current roles can be flattered and tempted by an interested recruiter. As the first study cited here pointed out, this can be particularly appealing to leaders who have not had their first anniversary yet, and who are disappointed with their onboarding experience.

Good news: the longer people stay with your organization, the less likely they are to leave. As employment continues to shift from a buyers’ market to a sellers’ market, your organizational leaders must pay closer attention to what job seekers indicate they want. Our own data at RLSI indicates that the new people you hire are looking for a chance to develop new skills, grow in their careers, take on greater responsibility, receive real time feedback and developmental coaching from their boss, and do meaningful work in a culture that fits them.

What are best practices for recruiting and retaining new hires? I discussed this question recently with a principal of a search firm in Minneapolis, and we agreed that the best recruitment/retention strategies typically include the following:

  • Clear and honest job and organizational culture information. In any materials you send out or publish, from as far upstream as possible, let potential hires know exactly what you want them to do in the role and what the culture will be like around them. By the way, this “official” culture description should match the “word on the street” about your organization.
  • Search firm trusted partners to help find candidates who fit. Work closely with a search firm that knows your company very well, or is willing to spend the time upfront to get to know it. Look particularly for firms that offer a kind of guarantee that their placements will stay.
  • In-depth interviews with key stakeholders. Make sure the candidates talk with their manager, manager’s manager, direct reports, and peers at some point during the interview process. This helps your team assess long-term fit, and it helps candidates better assess if this will be a good fit for them.
  • Accurate pre-hire assessments. While multiple interviews can help screen candidates to a degree, they typically don’t provide much objective data. Some candidates interview extremely well, but are poor fits six months down the road, while others interview poorly, but would do great work for you in the actual role. Leverage external psychological assessments to provide a deeper, more accurate picture of the bright and dark sides of candidates, to make sure they will be a good fit over time.
  • Thorough, engaging onboarding process. When you bring new leaders onboard, make sure key stakeholders are present (not travelling, on vacation, meeting with customers, etc.), so that the first 1-2 weeks is filled with meaningful conversations and the beginnings of strong relationships. Encourage new leaders to take the time to fully investigate, influence, and build interrelationships before they try to have real impact in their new role. Tailor your ongoing onboarding process to fit each new hire, making sure there is plenty of dialogue about what each person needs to help him or her feel a part of the organization. Encourage the building of friendships, perhaps with a buddy-mentor who is a peer.
  • Periodic check-ins. At regular intervals, the new hire’s manager and human resources business partner should check in to see how their first year experience is going. Do this at least once a quarter, with particular emphasis on the third quarter of their tenure, since this is just before the time when the most new hires seriously consider leaving.

Please weigh in at with suggestions for keeping talent once you find them. We would love to hear from you!

July 16th, 2015

Rule-Bound Leadership

A few weeks ago, I flew on Delta from Minneapolis to Tampa on business. Over the next two days, I learned a lesson in leadership from the circumstances I encountered with the flight and gate crews.

Originally scheduled to depart at 9 a.m. on a Monday, heavy rainstorms in the Twin Cities and several states between me and Florida delayed the flight several times, until it finally departed more than three hours late. This scuttled my scheduled meeting that afternoon, but it was unavoidable. Thankfully, the gate crew kept us informed as the delay lengthened and the flight crew was apologetic as we boarded.

On my return trip the following evening, there were storm systems still lingering in the area and surrounding States, and, again, my flight was delayed. The gate crew was helpful and understanding as we waited for a plane to arrive which could take us to the Twin Cities. About three hours later, our plane arrived, and it was then that I began to notice the rule at all major airlines).

First, the plane had to be cleaned and the baggage taken off for the arriving passengers. The baggage removal was delayed due to lightning in the area, which apparently is not allowed under THE RULES. After the arriving passengers and their bags were cleared, the gate crew boarded us, the departing passengers. We were greeted in a very friendly manner by the flight crew, who seemed really glad to have us aboard (more on this later).

Then, we sat on the plane. After a while, the pilot came on the intercom and announced that handling our bags was delayed, because there was lightning in the area, which was against THE RULES. I used a method I had learned in junior high school to count how many seconds separated the visual lightning from the accompanying thunder, and figured that the lightning was about three miles away.

Finally, our baggage was loaded, but then the plane needed fuel. The pilot got on the intercom again to inform us that the fueling process would be delayed because THE RULES did not allow fuel to be pumped while there was lightning in the area. We waited some more. Then, the pilot got back on the intercom and warned us that we might not be able to depart after all. You see, the flight crew that was so friendly to us when we came aboard could only work 15 hours in a row, according to THE RULES, and it would take one hour more than that to get to the Twin Cities, after the re-fueling process.

So, they de-boarded the entire plane. There was mass confusion as not on the flight crew or at the gate gave clear instructions as to what our next move should be. I got on the phone with Delta to board another flight as soon as possible, but my original flight had not been cancelled officially. THE RULES did not allow me to find another flight until mine formally cancelled. So I waited.

With me in the aptly named “waiting area” were about 100 others, many of whom had infants, toddlers, and small children in tow. It was now about 10 p.m., and we should have been landing in the Twin Cities. While we waited, our flight crew sat on the plane for another two hours, and then left to go to their hotel rooms, where they probably got a bit to eat and a good night’s rest.

Finally, after midnight in Tampa, a replacement crew arrived from Atlanta. They were not nearly as friendly as our first crew when we boarded, however. I guessed that they had had no intention to spend the night in Minneapolis, and were not happy about being shuttled off on another three hour flight, because THE RULES required them to.

So, we passengers trudged sleepily back onto the plane with an unhappy and unfriendly flight crew, with a pilot who was perturbed about the delay and the actions of the first flight crew, and a gate agent who made it very clear that she blamed the first flight crew, as well, for our pain. In my tired mind, I imagined that there would be some sort of free food and spirits for us after this long series of delays (and because there were no open restaurants or even vending machines at the Tampa airport). But, no, apparently THE RULES prohibited flight crews from offering a small token of food or drink. We arrived in the Twin Cities around 3 a.m., and I was home in bed by 4 a.m., which gave me exactly 7 hours between my head hitting the pillow and me speaking to a group on a leadership topic for 2 hours.

What can we learn from this kind of experience that you can apply to your leadership?

1. Bend the rules when the safety or comfort of others is at risk. As far as I know, THE RULES cited throughout my attempt to get home are Union rules. The FAA rules require only that crew members do not exceed 100 hours in any 672 consecutive hour time period. I would have been willing to risk a spilled drink or dropped peanut bag due to a sleepy flight attendant, in order to avoid waiting another three hours. I’m sure the parents with small children on the flight would have been even more willing to bend the rules.

2. Remember who the customer is. Union rules are not the customer. If there are no paying customers, there are no flight crews or baggage handlers, and there is no Union. The baggage handlers and fueling crews could have used the same equation I learned as a teen to determine how far away the dangerous lightning actually was, and then taken leadership to get the bags and fuel onboard so the flight could take off. I am in favor of protecting workers from lightning strikes, but logic tells me that there is a zero probability of harm when the strikes are more than a mile away. In addition, the flight crew could have sided with the pilot and gate agent and decided to put in 16 hours of duty that day.

3. Encourage people to practice leadership at all levels. Most organizations have rules of conduct, lines of authority, values, and decision-making practices to govern it. However, within those systems and structures, people at all levels can demonstrate leadership. I’m so inspired, for example, that police officers and fire fighters – who also have unions – are often willing to go beyond the Union rules to serve and protect. I’m also impressed by educators who go beyond the rules to meet with parents after school, or give students special attention during their lunch or prep time. These and so many other unionized employees often go beyond the rules to meet the needs they see.