Zenger Folkman blog

October 16, 2013

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The Truth About Bad Bossesby zengerfolkman

Originally posted by The Wall Street Journal by Rachel Feintzeig on October 16, 2013

BN-AA222_1016th_F_20131016101836It’s Boss’s Day, but for many workers, there’s little cause for celebration.

There’s the boss who’s never there, the boss who tries to be everyone’s best friend (and forgets to give her new BFFs any structure or direction), the boss who is perhaps not as smart as her underlings and rarely has a clue what’s going on.

There’s also the boss who’s eccentric and upbeat, a whirlwind of energy who somehow never seems to find more than two minutes to talk to her direct reports. And then there’s the “hurry up and wait” boss who orders workers to go full speed on projects–but then nothing ever comes to fruition.

Most of these characters have been around for the last 15 or 20 years, says Tom Gimbel, the chief executive of LaSalle Network, a Chicago staffing firm that worked with 1,500 hiring managers last year. Technology has brought with it more ways to be a bad boss. As an example, he cites the email-loving boss, who refuses to engage in face-to-face conversations or brainstorming, instead always communicating from behind a computer screen.

Jack Zenger, CEO of leadership consultancy Zenger Folkman, says the image that pops into many people’s minds when they think “bad boss” is of Michael Scott, the fictional paper company regional manager played by Steve Carell in the former NBC sitcom, The Office.

Scott is inappropriate, inept and bumbling, yet most real-life bad bosses aren’t nearly as entertaining, they just lack vision and direction, Zenger says. He adds that most bad bosses sin by omission, failing to articulate clearly what they want or failing to confront others when things are amiss. They’re not good at collaborating with other people in the organization and they’re not transparent with their groups. …Continued on The Wall Street Journal.

October 10, 2013

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The 6 Secrets Of Successfully Assertive Leadersby Joe Folkman

forbes_logoFrom the time my children were small I encouraged them to be “go getters.” I told them not to wait for things to happen, but to make them happen, and that one of the keys to success in life was to be assertive.  Sometimes I like to test my own advice, so I decided to see what impact assertiveness really has on great leadership. Is there a difference between those managers who carefully weigh their options, and those who just “go” and “do”?…continued on Forbes.com.

October 4, 2013

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Pssst: Want To Know If You’re About To Be Fired?by Jack Zenger

forbes_logoRecently, our company conducted research with a large consumer food company that had decided to eliminate 150 leadership positions.  What an interesting dilemma.

A layoff is a hard reality for all involved. But in the hopes something positive could come from the unfortunate scenario, we examined the historical 360-degree feedback data on this company’s leaders. We wanted to see if our earlier data would provide useful clues about which leaders the company retained, and which got the axe.  We were particularly interested in whether the individuals removed had been given strong warning signs of deficient performance that could lead to their termination.  But beyond these obvious signs, were there any other clues that could have warned these unfortunate leaders that they were in a vulnerable place? … continued on Forbes.com.

September 19, 2013

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Solving The Decisiveness Dilemma: The 4 Step Process For Making An Excellent Choiceby Joe Folkman

forbes_logoRecently I was working to prepare a keynote address on decisiveness and had a real problem, ironically, determining what to present. Although I had some excellent research I had done myself as well as insights from other authors, there were many issues I had little or no information about.

Another concern was that I did not know my audience well at all.  Subsequently, I only had a short amount of time and was not sure what information would be most useful to them. Decisions are difficult because we are, in effect, predicting the future. If I had all the facts and could accurately predict the future, it would have been easy to make an excellent choice…. continued on Forbes.com.

September 12, 2013

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Nice or Tough: Which Approach Engages Employees Most?by zengerfolkman

hbr-logo-smIt’s probably no news to most people who work that poor leaders produce disgruntled, unengaged employees. Our research also shows convincingly that great leaders do the opposite — that is, that they produce highly committed, engaged, and productive employees.

And the difference is cavernous — in a study of 160,576 employees working for 30,661 leaders at hundreds of companies around the world, we found average commitment scores in the bottom quarter for those unfortunate enough to work for the worst leaders (those leaders who had been rated in the bottom 10th percentile by their bosses, colleagues, and direct reports on 360 assessments of their leadership abilities). By contrast, average commitment scores for those fortunate enough to work for the best leaders (those rated in the 90th percentile) soared to the top 20th percentile. More simply put, the people working for the really bad leaders were more unhappy than three quarters of the group; the ones working for the really excellent leaders were more committed than eight out of ten of their counterparts.

What exactly fosters this engagement? … continued on Harvard Business Review.

September 6, 2013

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The Plague Of The Pessimist Leader: 8 Tips To Make You More Optimistic Todayby Joe Folkman

forbes_logoThere is an abundance of research that indicates optimists experience better health, reduced stress and are more successful in life. Optimists tend to live longer, make more money and have better marriages. Recently we looked at 200 managers who were assessed on their level of optimism.  What we found was an extremely strong correlation between a leader’s perceived optimism and their effectiveness as a leader. The most pessimistic leaders were rated at the 19th percentile while the most optimistic leaders were rated at the 89th percentile… continued on Forbes.com.

August 22, 2013

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The Big Lesson About Leadership From Steve Jobsby Jack Zenger

forbes_logoA great deal has been written about the co-founder of Apple Computer in the aftermath of his passing. Colorful stories abound about his brilliance at developing products that millions of people have fallen in love with. This week a feature film was released about his life. A vibrant life. At the same time, the film documents Steve Jobs’ darker side as well.  Is there a valuable lesson we can extract from his storied career?…. continued on Forbes.com.

August 1, 2013

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3 Reasons To Practice Optimistic Leadershipby Bob Sherwin

optimismI’m really lucky.  In looking back at my career, I can’t recall ever having a boss who was a negative pessimist.  Many of you are not so lucky.  It’s not hard to argue that having a negative, pessimistic leader is a bad spot in which to find yourself.  There are numerous explanations why most people don’t like working with pessimists generally, and certainly don’t like being led by them.  Here are three reasons why we instead naturally seek leaders who are optimists.

1.  Optimists are problem solvers who try to improve the situations they’re in.  We want leaders who’ll face obstacles head on, analyze them and formulate solutions, and then lead us around them.  Researchers Michael Scheier and Charles Carver looked at the implications of optimism on outcomes in their groundbreaking 1985 study, “Optimism, Coping, and Health: Assessment and Implications of Generalized Outcome Expectancies”.  When interviewed in a 2012 Hans Villarica’s article in The Atlantic Home, Scheier said of their research results: “We know why optimists do better than pessimists. The answer lies in the differences between the coping strategies they use.  Optimists are not simply being Pollyannas;  they’re problem solvers who try to improve the situation . . . Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to deny, avoid, and distort the problems they confront, and dwell on their negative feelings.  It’s easy to see now why pessimists don’t do so well compared to optimists.”

2.  Optimists are more resilient in the face of failures and setbacks.  Failures are a part of life and the workplace.  A common business adage goes something along the lines of, “if you’re never failing, you’re not taking enough initiative.”  But when those failures do come, we want leaders who can adapt to setbacks, get the team moving forward again, and get us back on track.  Nobel prize winning economist, Daniel Kahneman, discussed his research of optimists and their ability to lead others in the face of setbacks in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow.  In it he said it’s the resilience of optimists in the face of failure, their ability to adapt and rebound, that sets them apart from everybody else.  Interestingly, he also points out that their optimism can sometimes lead them to underestimate dangers and take more risks than others.  But in spite of that, Kahneman’s conclusion is that the benefits of having optimistic leaders outweigh their costs: “Their confidence in their future success sustains a positive mood that helps them obtain resources from others, raise the morale of their employees, and enhance their prospects of prevailing.  When action is needed, optimism, even of the mildly delusional variety, may be a good thing.”

3.  Leaders’ behaviors are infectious, and we’d rather our leaders spread optimism.   We know that the behaviors of leaders and the outlooks they have will impact everyone around them, especially their followers.  Early in my career I had a boss who was optimistic and generous in nature but, depending on the day, could come in cantankerous and angry.  We learned to be on the lookout each morning when he entered the office, and word quickly spread as to his mood.  Whatever it was that day – positive or negative –  it’s impact was infectious.  It immediately suppressed or lifted the atmosphere across the entire office.

Researchers from the University of California at San Diego and Harvard University published an interesting study on this topic of “emotional contagion” in 2008.  The research had a simple conclusion:   people who are surrounded by those who are happy will in all likelihood become happier themselves. Not only that, but the clustering effect of happy and unhappy people they observed was not a result of people simply electing to hang out with others having a similar emotional outlook.  In fact, they found that it occurred as the result of the spreading of the happiness emotion.   The study found that if Person A’s friend – Person B – lives within a mile and Person B becomes happy, it increases the probability of Person A becoming happy by 25%.  Just as fascinating was their research finding that the impact extended up to 3 degrees of separation, meaning all the way to the friends of one’s friend’s friends.  That’s quite a reach, for sure.

So, what does this emotional contagion research mean for leaders?  It’s likely that the impact of a leader’s outlook, whether positive or negative, optimistic or pessimistic, is going to spread just as it did in the case of my optimistic, generous, but sometimes cantankerous former boss.

I’ll close by leaving you with three questions to consider relative to your own level of leadership optimism.  The first question is, “where do others see me on the ‘outlook’ spectrum, am I perceived as a terribly negative pessimist on one end, a wildly positive optimist on the other, or somewhere in between?”  Second, “wherever it is others see me on that spectrum, what are the consequences of my expressing that kind of an outlook?”  And finally, “should I be doing something about it?”

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity;  an optimist the opportunity in every difficulty.” — Winston Churchill

Bob Sherwin
COO, Zenger Folkman

July 25, 2013

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Exceptional Leaders: Are They The Friend Or The Enemy?by Joe Folkman

forbes_logoIn politics, business, religion, community, or in any other area of life leaders have struggled with the balance of being feared and loved. Do leaders who shut off their emotions and push others to get the work done have better results? Or are the inspiring, likable leaders who are very concerned with every individual get more from their “loyal subjects”? Which is more important for a leader?… continued on Forbes.com.

July 16, 2013

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Throw Your Old Plan Away: 6 New Ways To Build Leadership Development Into Your Jobby Jack Zenger

forbes_logoEvery leader I know is extremely busy getting their job done.  At the same time, they also realize that investing effort in their own leadership development is good.  The problem is that when faced with a choice, work seems to always trump personal development.  Everyone runs fast and hard, and personal development is put off as executives wait and hope for a break in the schedule… continued on Forbes.com.

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