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Zenger Folkman blog

April 27, 2016

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Do Women Make Bolder Leaders than Men?by Zenger Folkman


A common stereotype is that men have a tendency to be bolder than women. And numerous studies have shown that male business leaders do tend to take more risks. But looking through our database of 360-degree assessments from 75,000 leaders around the world, we noticed that on average the women were bolder than the men.

We created a “boldness index” out of seven behaviors we commonly assess. (If you want to take our assessment based on this index, you can.) Because these are among the behaviors that we assess in our routine leadership assessments, we think they may be more relevant to real managers than studies that assess “risk” either in lab situations or in purely financial terms. Here’s the list:

  • Challenges standard approaches
  • Creates an atmosphere of continual improvement
  • Does everything possible to achieve goals
  • Gets others to go beyond what they originally thought possible
  • Energizes others to take on challenging goals
  • Quickly recognizes situations where change is needed
  • Has the courage to make needed changes

When boldness is defined this way, women on average rank in the 52nd percentile of boldness, a few ticks higher than the average men rating of the 49th percentile. (It’s important to note that because of the imbalanced gender ratio of senior executives, there were nearly twice as many men in our data set as women.) While that doesn’t seem like a huge difference, it stood out to us because “men take more risks” is so ingrained in social science.

We wanted to dig a little deeper, so we looked how this gap played out in different business functions. We saw that different functions had very different “bold scores” — both between functions and between men and women in the same function. Not surprisingly, the sales function showed the highest bold score, while engineering and safety showed the lowest. In every function, the women leaders had higher boldness ratings on average than the male leaders. Continued on Harvard Business Review.

April 12, 2016

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Infographic: The Leadership Leversby Zenger Folkman

Research on over 75 thousand global leaders across all industries shows that there are six critical capabilities, or “Leadership Levers,” employed by those who produce extraordinary business results.

Download the infographic to learn more about our new workshop, Leadership Levers: Building Critical Strengths™.

Download Infographic

Leadership Levers Infographic 3_41116

March 31, 2016

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The No. 1 Reason Most Personal Development Plans Failby Joe Folkman


It is no secret that most individual development plans fail. I’ve been in the leadership development industry for over 40 years and I can tell you that statement is true. But after 40 years of teaching, training, observing and testing some of the best and worst leaders in the world I can also tell you with confidence that I know why so many fail.

Given that most employees appreciate development and organizations need to grow pools of talent, you could expect everyone to feel positively about the IDP process. However, the more I talk with individuals about the process, the more I realize that most see it as a paper-passing, bureaucratic practice with little real value. Worse, managers don’t see the process as doing much to really develop talent. For them, it’s another check-the-box exercise that siphons valuable time. But these aren’t the reasons these plans ultimately fail.

Some may believe failure occurs because employees don’t have time to accomplish their goals or lack a good follow up process. Others note terrible plans for development. These factors all contribute to the problem, but they are not the root cause.

Development plans fail because they are not driven by the individual. Continued on

March 9, 2016


Good Leadership Is Contagiousby Zenger Folkman

We already know that good leadership creates engaged employees and that leaders influence a variety of outcomes such as personnel turnover, customer satisfaction, sales, revenue, productivity, and so on. But if you’re a good leader, do you make the people around you more likely to become good leaders as well? And which behaviors are most readily “caught”?

To answer this question, we examined 360-degree assessments of high-level managers and of their direct reports who were mid-level managers. Matching 265 pairs of high-level managers (HL) and their mid-level manager direct reports (ML), we found highly significant correlations on a variety of behaviors. This video is a summary of the results of our research. Read the full article on Harvard Business Review.

February 17, 2016

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Are You Technical Enough? Here’s How It Affects Your Leadership Skillsby Jack Zenger

Fifty years ago management theorists had an expansive view of the role of general managers. The mantra was, “A manager is a manager and they can manage anything.” They believed a good general manager could move from managing a retail shoe company to functioning as the general manager in a precision auto parts manufacturing company. Management skills are infinitely portable, correct? The GM didn’t need to possess a deep understanding of the business.

Business schools focused on teaching management and the discipline rose to be revered. Notable business leaders like Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld moved from industry into government, bringing along their relentless focus on analytics. This fueled the belief still further that general managers could run organizations effectively based solely on their management skills, including moving from the private sector to the public sector. All this was based on the assumption that a general manager could rely on others to have the deep knowledge of the technology underlying their firm.

Occasionally I continue to see organizations appoint leaders who don’t have depth or expertise in the particular functions they run. The rationale is that in addition to relying on subordinates for necessary technical knowledge, throwing them in the deep end of the pool will require them to quickly learn the necessary expertise they require.

But what’s different in organizations today than 50 years ago? Things have gotten substantially more complex. Technology evolves rapidly. Product life cycles diminish. Change escalates exponentially.

Can a leader with low levels of technical or financial acumen in a particular business be successful today? To answer that question my colleague Joe Folkman and I looked at a dataset of more than 57,000 leaders and measured their technical and financial acumen. We then examined how they were perceived as leaders in general. We were particularly interested in the impact of acumen on top managers. Many people continue to believe that the senior leaders in an organization don’t really need technical depth or knowledge. But the graph below demonstrates that leaders both in general and top managers who were at the bottom 10% in the technical and financial acumen were rated at only the 12th percentile in their overall leadership effectiveness. Leaders in the top 10% were rated at the 84th and 80th percentile respectively. Continued on

February 10, 2016

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Zenger Folkman Receives 3 Top Awards at LEAD2016by Zenger Folkman

20160209-awards-01-stackedDistinguished recipients of the Leadership Excellence Awards for 2016 were named last week for outstanding achievements in leadership development and programs. This year Zenger Folkman received awards in three areas for their renowned leadership programs:

The Extraordinary Leader™
- Best Experienced / Senior Leaders Program
- Best Global / International Leadership Program

The Extraordinary Coach™
- Best Executive Coaching

"Over the past 14 years these programs have helped many organizations increase profitability, productivity, and employee satisfaction by increasing the effectiveness of their leaders," said Joe Folkman, president of Zenger Folkman.

For more than 33 years, Leadership Excellence, now a part of, has identified and recognized the top leadership organizations and their strategies and solutions in a yearly ranking by appropriate category. The prestigious Leadership Awards salute the world’s top leadership practitioners and programs and highlight their roles in developing their most important asset - their people.

"Effective leadership development programs and activities are a must in today’s business," stated Debbie McGrath, CEO of "Without leadership, all other resources are ineffective, whether you are operating a non-profit, educational institution, government department, small business, or a large corporation. Programs and individuals recognized in the Leadership Excellence Awards program have made significant contributions developing leaders."

Zenger Folkman is dedicated to providing research-proven leadership training programs to companies all over the world, ensuring that their leaders are extraordinary—and drive extraordinary results. CEO Jack Zenger, who accepted the company's awards, said: “We are very honored by these awards that validate that our research and programs have truly made a difference in this industry.”

February 4, 2016

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5 Attitudes That Define Great Leadersby Joe Folkman

I typically work with huge datasets and draw conclusions based on thousands of leaders. Recently, however, I was working with a small dataset of just 30 leaders. These leaders work for a high tech company with more than 60,000 total employees. This group of 30 were considered to be some of the highest potential leaders in the company. The average age of these leaders was 43. Twenty two were male; eight were female. In the time I spent with these individuals, it was clear they were a select and impressive group.

We measured their effectiveness as leaders and found that although all were considered high potential, not all were extraordinary leaders. Sometimes potential ratings come from experience, knowledge and expertise as opposed to leadership skills. We assessed their leadership effectiveness using our Extraordinary Leader 360 assessment. On average, 15 assessors rated each person, using assessments from managers, peers, direct reports and others. Overall leadership effectiveness ranged from the 7th to the 96th percentile.

In addition to the 360 assessment we gathered data from each person on 25 attitude questions. We found that five of the attitude questions correlated strongly with overall leadership effectiveness. Leaders who strongly agreed with these particular attitudes also had higher overall leadership effectiveness scores. As I looked through the items, I came to the conclusion it was possible their attitudes on these items may have influenced their effectiveness as leaders. Let me describe these five attitudes and see if you agree. (I have listed them in order of the strength of the correlation, but all were statistically significant.) Continued on

January 5, 2016

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How Age and Gender Affect Self-Improvementby Zenger Folkman


Why do some people react so defensively to critical feedback, while others take it on the chin?

To help us answer this question, over the last year we’ve gathered data on how people react to feedback. We called the defensive tendency “proving” (as in, having something to prove) and the accepting tendency “improving” (as in, being willing to admit improvement was needed). These definitions are close to, though not exactly the same as, the “fixed” and “growth” mindsets discovered by Stanford professor Carol Dweck.

People with a growth mindset tend to focus on improving, learning, and effort; while folks with a fixed mindset assume that our abilities are based more on inborn talents and traits and unlikely to change. The former seek out challenging situations and welcome feedback, including criticism. The latter strive to prove themselves to others, using their existing skills. They tend to avoid feedback and criticism, and usually select tasks at which they can look good and succeed.

We examined roughly 7,000 self-assessments, and focused on a group of questions that measured a “proving” versus “improving” orientation. For instance, we asked people what happened the last time they were given negative feedback – did they challenge it, or listen openly? Did they take it personally or not? When a close friend gave them corrective feedback, did they question its validity, or accept that it was probably true? How did they think their coworkers would describe them – as resistant to corrective feedback, or open to it? Continued on Harvard Business Review.

December 28, 2015

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To Avoid A Legacy Of Bad Leadership, Do Thisby Joe Folkman


Everyone has had a coach, whether in sports, classrooms, lessons, or the workplace. What many don’t realize is that coaches impact much more than an individual’s performance. They influence the way their trainees coach as well. My daughter took voice lessons for years and had one very talented but harsh teacher who always made her cry. She swore she would never become like him, but was shocked the first time one of her own students went home in tears. “I guess I train others the way I was trained,” she said. “It’s the only way I know how to get the same results.” Does this mean that if you have a boss you dislike you are doomed to become the same type of boss?

My colleague Jack Zenger and I were curious as to whether we could measure the impact a leader could have on the skills of their direct reports. (Keep in mind that people learn over a lifetime and our particular research covered only two years. Good and bad habits could have been learned prior to this analysis, and so the impact will be moderated by those experiences as well.)

For this study, we gathered 360 feedback data on more than 6,000 leaders. For this analysis we looked specifically at feedback from direct reports. We were able to match leaders with direct reports who were also managers and had also received a 360 evaluation. Continued on

December 22, 2015

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Infographic: 8 Steps to Being a Better Boss in 2016by Zenger Folkman

It is, as some say, “the most wonderful time of the year.” While workers look forward to festive parties and Holiday gifts, there is one present organizations can provide that rises to the top of the heap. No, it isn’t the latest computing tablet or a bigger and better game station. By far, the best gift to an employee, anytime during the year, is to have a really great boss.

In order to take a closer look at the “best bosses,” we analyzed 360-degree feedback data for some 45,000 leaders. We were struck with the wide variation in perceptions. Employees viewed some bosses as amazing leaders while others were, in a word, terrible.

The bosses who dedicate their limited time to developing others this year not only improves their relationships with employees, but also increases the productivity and profitability of their organizations. As you contemplate your Holiday gifts this year, remember, it’s not too late to strive to be the “best boss”. Pick one of the behaviors above and turn it into a strength. We promise it will be the best gift your employees and organization could receive.

Download the infographic to learn the 8 behaviors that we have found in the best bosses.

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