Zenger Folkman blog

June 19, 2015

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Infographic: BOLD Leadershipby Zenger Folkman

Are the leaders in your organization timid or bold? We examined 360-degree reports on more than 50,000 leaders in all industries and from around the world and have identified leaders who exhibit bold behaviors and researched their effect.

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Bold Leadership Infographic 6.18.2015

June 18, 2015

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Bold Leadership: The 4 Steps That Take Leaders To Another Levelby Joe Folkman

Bold Leaders and Engaged EmployeesIn college, my daughter was dating the man she wanted to marry, but he hadn’t made his mind up about her. He was dating another girl and my daughter at the same time. After a few weeks of this split relationship my daughter confidently told him, “I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me. You need to make a choice.” This bold move had a big effect on him, and turned what would have been a long and painful journey of indecision into a successful relationship that ended in marriage. Think of the decisions, statements, arguments, and challenges bold leaders have made in your organization. What powerful changes can result from bold leadership?

Bold leaders are those who are willing to take a risk by developing a new product. They speak up on controversial topics. In fact, they will sometimes take a position contrary to higher-ups on a contentious topic. Typically they seek to move at a faster pace than others and are willing to take personal responsibility for an unpopular decision. Bold leaders are comfortable with thinking big, setting extremely high goals, or tackling a large project. They are not afraid to pick a fight with a powerful competitor. Instead of avoiding feedback from others they seek it. They think in unconventional ways and are not afraid to invest in an unproven idea. By examining 360 degree reports on more than 50,000 leaders in all industries and from around the world I have identified leaders who exhibit bold behaviors and have researched their effect.

Continued on Forbes.com.

June 11, 2015

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Age, Gender And Ability To Listen: Who Listens Best?by Jack Zenger


I’d like to test some assumptions with you:

First, I’d like you to predict the answers to the following questions that our company has researched. Jot down on a piece of paper your answers to these questions:

1. What group is generally better at listening? Men or women?

2. As people move from their mid-twenties to 60 years of age, do they become better or worse at listening?

3. If you were to rank listening skills by different geographies, how would you rank order the following areas in terms of listening skills:

South America
United States

4. Of the many functional areas in an organization, which one would include the best listeners and which would include the least effective listeners?

Administrative, Clerical
Customer Service
Facilities Management, Maintenance
Finance and Accounting
General Management
HR, Training
Information Technology
Product Development
Quality Management
Research and Development

5. As people are promoted to higher positions in the hierarchy of a company do they become better or worse listeners?

So Who Really Is A Better Listener?

Continued on Forbes.com.

June 4, 2015

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Talent Quarterly: Can 360-degree Feedback Predict Potential?by Zenger Folkman

Medical researchers are thrilled when a molecule that they have been studying in the pursuit of one therapeutic effect is discovered to have other positive outcomes. For example, discovering a molecule that alleviates pain, reduces inflammation and lowers a person’s temperature is an obvious winning combination.

This article raises the hope that when implemented thoughtfully and carefully, a process that has been successfully used for leadership development, may also be used for two other purposes, the assessment of a person’s leadership potential and for performance management.

Using 360 Data for Development
360 assessments have been found to be a valuable tool that leaders have used to develop key skills and capabilities. Our studies have shown that leaders can make significant increases in leadership effectiveness by identifying competencies that need to be improved or strengthened, creating a plan for improvement and executing on that plan. In a study of 882 leaders at five different organizations we found the majority of the leaders made significant improvements.

Throughout the years Zenger Folkman has been a strong advocate of using 360 as a developmental tool. To that end we have generally encouraged organizations to provide feedback to the participant engaged in a development process and advocated that the data not be accessed internally for any form of performance management, selection for promotion or compensation decisions.

We estimate that 85% of Fortune 1000 companies use 360 degree feedback as part of their development process for leaders. It is working well and could easily remain a prime example of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” group of activities in our lives.

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May 28, 2015

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Can Working Faster Reduce Stress?by Jack Zenger


I’ve read a great deal about the increased pace of work and the stress it places on people in business today. We were curious about where the pressure is felt most and what might be done to alleviate it.

My colleague Joe Folkman and I conducted a global assessment with more than 2,300 individuals in which we asked the following question:

Generally I feel…
a. Overwhelmed with too much to do.
b. I have things under control and can accomplish the important priorities.

To no-one’s surprise, approximately a quarter of the overall workforce described themselves as feeling overwhelmed. We found no real difference by gender. On the other hand, the overwhelmed were on average two years younger than those who were not feeling overwhelmed. The functional areas in which more people felt overwhelmed were:

R & D
Information Technology

Continued on Forbes.com.

May 21, 2015

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5 Reasons Your Self-Development Efforts Are Failingby Joe Folkman

By analyzing and observing the leaders that were in the 90th percentile and 10th percentile of effectiveness in this competency I have found six reasons why people fail at self- development.

By analyzing and observing the leaders that were in the 90th percentile and 10th percentile of effectiveness in this competency I have found six reasons why people fail at self- development.

In between my oldest son’s undergraduate degree and his Masters he worked at my company. After his experience I asked him if he thought he would continue in the field of leadership development and he told me, “No.” I was a little surprised by his answer so I asked him “Why?” He firmly replied: “I know people can change and improve, but most of the time they don’t consider it enough of a priority.”

My son is not the only one who has observed leaders’ aversion to self-development. In the 360 assessments that I’ve done with more than 50,000 leaders I had them rank the importance of 16 differentiating competencies. At every level these leaders marked “self-development” as dead last.

Practicing self-development is the gateway for improving every competency, and it should not be ignored. Why do leaders avoid it? And why do they fail? Continued on Forbes.com.

May 14, 2015

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Nine Behaviors That Drive Innovationby Jack Zenger

Screen-Shot-2015-05-13-at-9.23.26-PMEarlier this year the Conference Board released the results of a survey of CEOs to identify their most critical challenges. The hands-down winner was the challenge of human capital, especially leadership. Second was the challenge of innovation. For every region of the world, innovation was among the top five issues identified. Asia placed it first.

Innovation is an ascending issue around the world. In our own practice, we believe these two challenges are intertwined. Peak levels of innovation are extremely dependent on the quality of leadership in the organization. When leadership is strong, these organizations seem to invariably lead on the innovation dimension as well.

One finding from the research my colleague Joe Folkman and I have done on approximately 60,000 leaders who had received 360-degree feedback data from nearly 830,000 colleagues was that innovation usually sits in the middle of the competencies we measure. However, the bosses of our participants placed it lower. They consistently ranked innovation at 13 out of the 16 competencies we most frequently measure.

What do successful leaders do that elevates innovation to a higher level? By parsing out the people who received the highest scores on innovation, we were able to see what other behaviors align with high innovation. Because nearly every organization seeks to escalate innovation , this understanding is a valuable insight.

We found several behaviors that appear to drive innovation. Continued on Forbes.com.

April 30, 2015

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The Assumptions That Make Giving Tough Feedback Even Tougherby Zenger Folkman

APR15_30_Andersson_feedbackWhat’s it like to be on the delivering end of a tough feedback conversation? In a recent conversation we had, a leader described his experience:

Q: What do you do to prepare when you have tough feedback to deliver to a subordinate?

A: I am super focused. I keep telling myself “be honest, and be totally direct.”

Q:Is it easy to be totally direct and honest with another person about their performance?

A: No, I want to tell them what they want to hear, but they need the truth. They need to clearly understand what’s really going on and how that affects me and everyone else in the team.

Q: Are you assuming that they don’t realize there’s a problem?

A: Of course! If they realized there was a problem then I would not have to straighten them out.

Q: Are you nervous? Do you find this difficult?

A: This is the absolute worst part of my job – I really have a hard time doing this. I can’t wait for it to be over.

Q: What’s your plan for the feedback session?

A: Shock and Awe! Get in the room, deliver my message, tell them what needs to change, and then get them out of my office!

When you consider how difficult it is to receive corrective feedback and then how hard it is for your boss to deliver it, you begin to see how truly challenging it is for both of you to have a meaningful and constructive conversation. A good place to start, we believe, is to examine some of the unwarranted assumptions our research shows many bosses have made that make the job even harder than need be. Continued on Harvard Business Review.

April 28, 2015

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Sense And Nonsense In Leadership Developmentby Jack Zenger

StethoscopeThere is a great deal of nonsense that has been written about leadership. It includes meaningless statements such as, “Managers do things right; leaders do the right things,” or, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way,” and goes downhill from there. The torrent of clichés and non-actionable ideas is never ending.

If we are to really advance the practice of leadership, I believe we must adopt the fundamental premise that propelled the reform of medical practice as well. In 1972, Dr. David Eddy began a crusade to bring more science to the practice of medicine. Estimates had been made by objective observers that only 15% of what physicians did was based on scientific evidence. Eddy, who had been a practicing cardiologist, decided to return to school, obtain a degree in applied mathematics and statistics and led the charge on moving that number to a higher level.

Medicine had been strongly shaped by practitioners passing on their ideas and treatments to their colleagues. Some of these ideas were sound; but a good many were not. As an example, an obstetrician believed strongly that once a woman had a child delivered by Caesarean section, she could never give birth in the traditional way. He lectured at obstetrics and gynecological seminars and taught this idea for years. There were many examples to the contrary, and there was no scientific basis to support his belief, yet the notion persisted for years.

So what percentage of what we do as leadership development practitioners is based on good science? Continued on Forbes.com.

April 10, 2015

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Why You Should Watch Out for Your 5-Year Job Anniversaryby Zenger Folkman

APR15_10_186875275_sMost of us begin a new position with energy and a desire to impress. Our effort is high. Our passion is infectious. Our enthusiasm helps us to excel quickly.

But for some, work becomes mundane and repetitive. They lose some of their passion, and their work can begin to feel like a chore. Eventually some of those executives who had initially loved their careers enter the dimension we call the “day prison.” As they enter their workspace, they feel the metaphorical bars close around them in a zone where they are unmotivated, dissatisfied, and much less productive than they could be.

To better understand this phenomenon we examined data from 970 such people in a single organization. They were between 35 and 44 years old (the typical range for the onset of a mid-career crisis), and they all rated their engagement at work in the bottom 10%.

How did these “day prisoners” compare with the rest of the organization? Continued on Harvard Business Review.

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