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Zenger Folkman blog

May 3, 2017

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Why Do So Many Managers Avoid Giving Praise?by Zenger Folkman

One of the most difficult parts of a manager’s job is giving feedback. In a survey of 7,631 people, we asked whether they believed that giving negative feedback was stressful or difficult, and 44% agreed. When talking with managers about giving feedback we often hear comments such as, “I did not sleep the night before,” “I just wanted to get it over quickly,” “My hands were sweating and I was nervous,” and “They don’t pay me enough to do this job.” We find that because of this anxiety, some managers resist giving their direct reports any kind of critical feedback at all: when we asked a different group of 7,808 people to conduct a self-assessment, 21% admitted that they avoid giving negative feedback.

Given how unpleasant giving critical feedback can be, perhaps that isn’t surprising. But what we were surprised to see is that even more people admitted that they avoided giving positive feedback! 37% of the people who took our self-assessment conceded that they don’t give positive reinforcement.

We can only conclude that many managers feel that it’s their job to tell their direct reports bad news and correct them when they make a mistake, but that taking the time to provide positive feedback is optional.

We think this is a mistake. Our research suggests that colleagues place a great deal of emphasis on receiving positive feedback – and that it colors their relationship with one another even more than does negative feedback.

We compared 328 managers’ self-assessments with results from 360-degree feedback surveys. Each leader was rated by an average of 13 respondents on a variety of behaviors, including “Gives honest feedback in a helpful way.” The raters who thought a person was effective in giving feedback were most influenced by the leader’s comfort and willingness to give positive reinforcement. Whether the manager gave negative feedback did not make a big difference — unless the leader avoided giving positive feedback. This was also true when we looked only at the ratings of direct reports.

When we looked only at the managers’ self-assessments, however, we saw a different story. There was a strong correlation between people who believe they give “honest, straightforward” feedback and those who give negative feedback, regardless of whether they also give positive feedback.

Leaders obviously carry some incorrect beliefs about the value and benefits of different forms of feedback. They vastly underestimate the power and necessity of positive reinforcement. Conversely, they greatly overestimate the value and benefit of negative or corrective feedback. In all, they misjudge the impact negative feedback has on how they are perceived by their colleagues, bosses, and direct reports. Giving only negative feedback diminishes a leader’s effectiveness in the eyes of others and does not have the effect they believe it has.

Perhaps in an effort to provide employees with what they believe is direct, honest feedback, managers who prefer giving negative feedback may come across as only looking for what’s wrong. Some employees have described this as, “Quick to criticize and slow to praise.” While our findings don’t tell us why managers are so hesitant to give positive feedback, our work with leaders suggests that there could be a variety of reasons. Perhaps it starts with the perception that the really good managers are the tough graders who are not afraid to tell people what’s wrong. Possibly they believe that giving people positive feedback will encourage a subordinate to let up or coast. Maybe they are emulating their prior bosses who gave little praise, but who pointed out any mistake or weakness. Some may believe it a sign of weakness to praise subordinates. Maybe they just don’t know how to effectively deliver appreciation or praise. Or maybe they intend to give kudos, but feel so busy that the days slip by and they never quite remember to send out that note of praise for a job well done.

Giving positive feedback is really quite simple. It’s OK if it’s brief – it just needs to be specific, rather than a general remark of “good job,” and ideally occurs soon after the praise-worthy incident. Of course it’s also best when it’s sincere and heartfelt.

Our findings suggest that if you want to be seen as a good feedback-giver, you should proactively develop the skill of giving praise as well as criticism. Giving positive feedback shows your direct reports that you are in their corner, and that you want them to win and to succeed. Once people know you are their advocate, it should also make giving criticism less stressful and more effective.


Read the article on Harvard Business Review.

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Advice For Those Who Believe They Give Great Adviceby Zenger Folkman

You’ve probably encountered many situations in which you’ve had a strong desire to give another person advice. Your motive may have been one of the following:

1. I wanted to show the person I truly cared.

2. I thought the advice would help the person develop.

3. I thought my suggestion would help improve their performance.

4. I wanted to be a better coach.

5. I was trying to improve their ideas by giving them another perspective.

6. I hoped I could inspire and motivate this person.

These are positive motives. But perhaps you had other motives, such as showing this person you were more knowledgeable. Or perhaps you wanted to demonstrate your ability to spot problems or trends early.

I’ll start this discussion by making a bold statement: Giving advice does not accomplish any of the above. Despite having any or all of the positive motives I’ve listed, giving advice will produce an effect that is opposite of what you’d probably hoped.

Recently, Zenger Folkman identified a database of 577 leaders who’d taken a self-assessment measuring the extent to which they preferred giving advice versus allowing others to discover an insight themselves. Using the self-assessment, we identified 133 who had a strong preference for giving advice. We compared their results to 123 leaders with a strong preference for allowing others to experience independent discovery.

We also collected effectiveness ratings on all of these leaders, with evaluations from managers, peers, direct reports and others. On average, leaders were rated by 13 different raters. We examined the average rating from all rater groups.

Overall Leadership Effectiveness

Some may believe that giving others advice would raise other’s perceptions of a leader’s overall effectiveness. After all, doesn’t it demonstrate their knowledge and insights? No, it does not.

To arrive at our conclusion, we measured leaders’ overall effectiveness at utilizing 16 competencies and then looked at the average of those competencies combined.

The chart below shows the comparison of overall effectiveness scores for “advice givers” with those who allowed discovery. Note that leaders with a strong preference for giving advice were rated significantly lower in their overall leadership effectiveness. (This difference is statistically significant (t=2.538, Sig. 0.012)

Impact Of Advice Giving

With the 16 competencies, each leader was rated on 49 behaviors. Only three of the behaviors were rated more positively for those who preferred to give advice, but none of the three were statistically significant. The remainder of the 46 behaviors ranked more negatively for those who prefer to dispense good advice. Twenty two of the 46 items were found to be statistically significant. We analyzed the top 17 that were highly significant (e.g., 0.02 or lower) and performed a factor analysis to understand the themes of these behaviors to group the results into six themes that describe the negative impact of giving advice, as follows.

1. Shows less concern for others and is less trusted. Those who had a strong preference for giving advice were rated significantly lower on their concern for others, their interest in staying in touch and the level to which they were trusted by others as compared to those with a strong preference for individual discovery. Advice was often perceived by others as an attempt by leaders to prove their intelligence and experience or require things be done “their way” than a demonstration of interest and concern for others.

2. Less interest in receiving feedback from others or willingness to change. Those with a strong preference for giving advice were rated much lower on actively looking for feedback and willingness to change based on feedback from others. People felt the leaders who allowed discovery were significantly more willing to create an atmosphere of continual development and improvement.

3. Less effective at developing others, coaching and giving feedback. The motive for many people who give advice is to help others develop, but their significantly lower ratings are a tell-tale sign this it’s clearly not the way the message is getting received. Just as those who prepare to teach a class learn more than their students, strong leaders who develop others spend a great deal of time listening and supporting others in their personal discovery as opposed to telling them what to do.

4. Discourage new ideas and approaches. In our research, we found that leaders with a stronger preference for giving advice were rated significantly lower on encouraging others to consider new options and tended to get stuck in a “one right way” approach. Rather than improving on the ideas of others, they discouraged them. In a nutshell, those who gave advice were much more interested in their own ideas than those of others.

5. Less effective at inspiring and motivating. Some people have imagined that once they give others their advice, the recipients will be inspired and motivated because their advice is so amazing. In reality, when someone gives advice, others are only passively or politely interested. Most inspired ideas come from discussions, not lectures. In order to inspire others, we need to understand their concerns, frustrations and passions. This understanding comes from leaders who listen much more than they talk.

6. Less effective at communicating. Even though advice givers frequently had much more to say, they were rated significantly lower at helping others to understand, and also received lower scores on their ability to communicate insights. This is a result of their lack of understanding the perspectives, needs and concerns of others. Those with a strong preference for giving advice are communicating from their own perspective, the study revealed, and have little concern for the perspective of others.

Advice For Advice Givers

Before giving others advice, take time to understand the other party and the challenges they face. Ask a number of questions to gain further understanding. Resist the temptation to give them your solution. Once you understand the problem, ask them what they would like to do to get it resolved. Then ask them for another solution, and finally, a third. At that point you might ask, “Would you like to hear a prospective additional thought?” And once you’ve offered your suggestion, invite them to select the solution that will work best for them. They may not select the solution you offered. But in the process of the discussion, they will feel you are concerned, can be trusted, and are interested in their development. This will inspire them as much (or more) than anything else you may have to say.

Read the article on Forbes.

March 30, 2017

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Emotional Agility: How To Master Inner Challenges Without Getting Derailedby Zenger Folkman


Does being “professional” in the workplace mean employees should check their emotions at the door? There has been a long-held belief that suppressing your emotions is the right thing to do in business — that you shouldn’t bring your personal life into work.

But Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg disagreed when she somewhat famously said, “Bring your whole self to work. I don’t believe we have a professional self Monday through Friday and a real self the rest of the time. It is all professional and it is all personal.” I agree with Sandberg. You should bring all of yourself into business. The key, however, is to develop the emotional agility that will help you to bring your whole self forward in a positive and appropriate way.

How do we find that right balance? I recently interviewed Susan David, a psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and CEO of Evidence Based Psychology. She explained that in organizations, and in everyday life, we have thousands of thoughts, emotions, experiences, and inner-stories. How we deal with these drives everything we do: our relationships, our jobs and projects. It drives how we lead, and how we interact with the world around us.

Emotional agility is fundamentally the ability to be with and be healthy with our thoughts, emotions, and stories — even ones that might be troubling or concerning. If we do that, then we can still take action that is in accordance with how we want to live and lead in the world. The key is to learn from all of our emotions, including the most difficult ones.

Recognizing Your Emotions Through Mindfulness

I believe the path to emotional agility begins with mindfulness. I confess that when I first heard about it, I was skeptical. It sounded squishy. The more I read and practice it, the more it makes sense. A special report from Harvard Health publications describes mindfulness as:

• “The practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment—and accepting it without judgment."

The main point is that you pay attention to the present, focus on what’s going on inside of you, observe that as if you were a person off to the side, and not be judgmental about what you’re observing.

Some achieve this through meditation, but as a small step forward you can begin by simply focusing your attention on moment-to-moment sensations during everyday activities. You do this by single-tasking—doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. It involves silencing the noise and activity around you to become more aware of what you are doing and experiencing.

Making Sense Of Your Emotions

Emotional agility isn’t a natural or inherent quality within people. However, you can acquire and strengthen this ability through practice. In my interview with Susan, she described how leaders can take charge of their emotions: “Showing up to emotions is the idea of not struggling with them. Instead of saying, ‘I’m stressed,’ recognize that there is a difference between being stressed versus being angry, disappointed, or sad. When we label our emotions, especially our difficult emotions, in a more precise way, we are able to make choices that are intentional and more connected with what we are really feeling.”

In her book Emotional Agility she shares questions that leaders who struggle to make sense of their emotions can ask themselves to assess where they stand.

1. “I might be right, but is my response serving me, the organization, or the team?” Most leaders I know get hooked into the need of being right. It is helpful to remember that if the entire world agreed that you were right, you’d still have a choice as to how you are going to act.

2. “Is what I’m doing workable(Interpret workable to mean enduring or long-lasting.) Leaders often get stuck in situations in which they need to have a difficult conversation. They take action that satisfies the immediate need but fails to address the long-term issue. They get immediate relief. The idea of workability is that there are some actions that feel good in the short-term, but don’t serve us long term. They do not bring us closer to being the leader, employee, or person that we want to become over time. Emotional agility enables us to recognize when we’re taking a short-term out, because it is easier and more comfortable, rather than taking a more difficult long-term step.

3. “I know what my task is, but what is my objective?”By asking this question, we are moving ourselves away from the idea that we need to check things off of our lists. We can then elevate our thinking to determine what we are really trying to achieve. In a meeting, you might be trying to get through a particular task but your more important objective could be to develop the team’s problem solving skills or to ensure that the team stays highly motivated.

In conclusion, all leaders, managers, employees are human beings who at times feel a full range of emotions. When executives don’t have the ability to be open to the full range of emotions that their team or organization is feeling, they undercut and undermine change and diminish motivation, engagement that drive the organization’s success.

In short: slow down, stop multitasking, take time to recognize what you are feeling and consider how those emotions are affecting your own work and the people around you.

Read the article on Forbes.

March 16, 2017

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Beware: All May Not Be Well With Your Company’s High Potential Programby Zenger Folkman

Identifying high potential employees is a high priority for many companies. These individuals are the ones you will presumably count on to move to senior positions in the organization and ultimately enable to make the most important strategic decisions. They are the people you assume will possess strong leadership capability. In sum, they are the best and brightest, most capable, and highly motivated. So naturally, the company will groom them for positions of responsibility and power.

But what if companies are unclear about what they are seeking? Are these people all potential C-Suite executives? Or are they better aligned for one or two levels beyond their current role? But what if the organization is using the wrong yardstick to measure potential? Or worse still, what if you identify the wrong people?

My colleague Joe Folkman and I had our own concerns when we began analyzing data from three large, highly-respected organizations. Our analysis showed the following:

1. In a recent Harvard Business Review article we shared that more than 40% of individuals in Hi-Po programs may not belong there. We determined this by collecting information on 1,964 employees from three organizations who had identified these individuals as their high potential picks. We measured their leadership capability using a 360° feedback assessment that consists of feedback from their immediate managers, peers, direct reports and in some cases former colleagues or employees who had worked with them from two levels below them. On average, each leader had been given feedback from 13 assessors.We know this leadership assessment is a valid predictor of a leader’s effectiveness, because it has been highly correlated with organizational outcomes such as employee engagement, lower turnover and higher productivity in all three organizations. In fact, 12% of these individuals were in the bottom quartile and 42% were below average on their scores of overall leadership effectiveness. That is a long way from the top 5% to which they supposedly belong.

2. These individuals appeared to have been chosen primarily for current performance instead of long-term potential. In fact, we found three common characteristics these individuals possessed across all three organizations:

• Technical/Professional Expertise. Having deep knowledge and expertise goes a long way in terms of getting a person noticed and valued. When you are the only person with specific understanding and experience in an area, you are valuable to the organization.

• Takes Initiative and Delivers Results. When a person can be counted on to achieve objectives and deliver results they are viewed positively by senior leaders. When we asked more than 85,000 managers what was most important for their direct reports to do to be successful, their number one choice was “Drive for Results.” This was also the number one choice of secondary managers. Senior leaders in an organization appear to be willing to look beyond unproven leadership skills when they identify a person who consistently delivers results.

• Consistently Honored Commitments. When these people say, “It will be done,” it is done. Inevitably, this creates trust and a willingness to look beyond other skills that are not excellent.

In addition to these skills, we found that possession of a specific trait that fits well with the unique culture of the company and creates a positive impression is another factor that often plays a role in selection as a Hi-Po. One organization, for example, had a cultural trait of highly valuing “nice” people. Employees in this organization who showed high consideration and concern for others were often considered Hi-Po’s even though they lacked other leadership skills. Two of the organizations we examined valued people who would volunteer and become a champion for new programs or initiatives.


Read the article on Forbes.

March 2, 2017

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The 6 Key Secrets To Increasing Empowerment In Your Teamby Zenger Folkman

A few weeks ago I was sitting at a restaurant watching waiters step around some food that was spilled on the floor. This went on for almost 10 minutes before the restaurant manager came out with a mop and bucket to clean up the spill. I am fairly certain that cleaning the floors is not part of the restaurant manager’s job description.

The incident reminded me of how much I loved having dinner with my family when we had teenagers. As soon as they would finish their meals, they would excuse themselves and exit quickly from the dining room only to hear their mother say, “Pick up your dishes!”

As a manager, do you sometime feel your employees are acting like teenagers? They focus on their part of the job, but rarely identify the work around the edges or the messes that need to be cleaned up. What can you do to create more empowerment and accountability in your team so that team members move from talking about their work, their job and their goals to our work, our project and our objectives? What can you do to help avoid the never-ending excuse making when deadlines are missed and to have an employee acknowledge, “I missed the deadline; it’s all on me!” Having employees who feel accountable and empowered creates a much more pleasant and productive workplace.

To confirm the impact of empowerment, I looked at data from more than 7,000 employees where we measured empowerment along with employee engagement. Employees who felt a low level of empowerment were rated with engagement at the 24th percentile, whereas those with a high level of empowerment were at the 79th percentile. Clearly, empowerment counts.

Read the rest of the article on Forbes.

February 23, 2017

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Companies Are Bad at Identifying High-Potential Employeesby Zenger Folkman

A high-potential employee is usually in the top 5% of employees in an organization. These people are thought to be the organization’s most capable, most motivated, and most likely to ascend to positions of responsibility and power. To help these employees prepare for leadership roles in a thoughtful, efficient manner, companies often institute formal high-potential (HIPO) programs.

And yet, according to our data, more than 40% of individuals in HIPO programs may not belong there. We collected information on 1,964 employees from three organizations who were designated as high potentials, measuring their leadership capability using a 360-degree assessment that consisted of feedback from their immediate manager, several peers, all direct reports, and often several other individuals who were former colleagues or who worked two levels below them. On average, each leader had been given feedback from 13 assessors. Previous work we’d done with these organizations had shown that this assessment technique was highly correlated with organizational outcomes such as employee engagement, lower turnover, and higher productivity. The higher the leader scored, the better the outcomes.

But when we looked at the participants in the HIPO programs, 12% were in their organization’s bottom quartile of leadership effectiveness. Overall, 42% were below average. That is a long way from the top 5% to which they supposedly belong.

So how were these individuals chosen? What we found was that, in all three organizations, there were four characteristics that these individuals possessed:

  • Technical and professional expertise. It is often said that the person most likely to be promoted is the best engineer, chemist, programmer, or accountant. Having deep knowledge and expertise goes a long way in terms of getting a person noticed and valued. And it’s true that technical expertise does matter for managers. However, it’s essential to understand that what got you invited to the party is not enough to keep you at the party. People who are skilled technically but lack excellent leadership capabilities need to develop those skills.
  • Taking initiative and delivering results. Senior leaders in an organization were willing to look beyond poor leadership skills for a person who was consistently self-motivated and productive. Perhaps this is not surprising — when we asked over 85,000 managers what was most important for their direct reports to do to be successful, their number one choice was “drive for results.” Results do matter, but sometimes a top individual contributor should stay an individual contributor and not become the boss.
  • Consistently honoring commitments. When they say “It will be done,” it gets done. Inevitably, this creates trust in an individual and a willingness to look past other skills that are not excellent. There is no apparent downside to this skill until a person gets promoted and they become overwhelmed with too many assignments they have committed to achieving. We find that people who lack leadership skills don’t trust direct reports enough to delegate assignments and involve others. This leaves them drowning in commitments.
  • Fitting in to the culture of the organization. In addition to these skills, we found that underperforming people in HIPO programs tended to emphasize a specific trait valued by their organization. One organization, for example, had culture that placed a great deal of weight on being nice. Employees who showed consideration and concern for others would occasionally be considered HIPOs even though they lacked other leadership skills. The other two organizations valued people who volunteered for new programs or initiatives. People with that attitude were rewarded by being included in the HIPO program, even when they weren’t effective in other parts of their jobs. Paying attention to what is valued in an organization can help an individual get noticed.

We also noticed that the underperforming HIPOs were especially lacking in two skills: strategic vision and ability to motivate others. When filling their HIPO programs, organizations should look for people who show signs of having these skills — which are very important as you climb the organizational ladder — and not place quite so much emphasis on things like cultural fit and individual results.

For the organization, there are several risks to filling your HIPO program with people who don’t actually possess leadership potential. Leaders may well be lulled into assuming that they have an adequate leadership pipeline when in reality they have less than half the pipeline they thought. Just as bad, the organization may be missing out on the people who would make great leaders, even if they don’t fit the stereotype of a high-potential leader.

The situation is hardly any better for the people in the HIPO program who aren’t likely to flourish in senior management roles. These people may assume that their career is on track when in reality they may have been steered in a career direction that is less than ideal for them. These misplaced members of the HIPO group were often extremely effective individual contributors, even if they weren’t equipped for a senior role. These are people the organization wants to retain (which may be another reason they’d been funneled into the HIPO program — perhaps senior management has no more imaginative way to reward top contributors). When organizations push their top contributors into management roles in which they won’t thrive, however, they are running the risk of losing a top individual contributor and demotivating the people who are now reporting to an incompetent boss — and losing them as well.

But all is not necessarily lost. The underqualified people in the HIPO program who truly do aspire to senior positions in the organization should focus on learning and practicing the leadership skills required. We strongly believe that HIPOs with leadership deficiencies can eventually develop excellent skills, but the majority of those with poor skills don’t realize their deficiency. Being part of the HIPO program masks their shortcomings. So take an honest look in the mirror at what you need to learn.

As for the managers running the HIPO program and selecting people to be in it, we suggest they be a little more careful in whom they anoint.

Article was originally published on Harvard Business Review.

February 10, 2017

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Newly Hired? Here’s How To Be Sure You Succeedby Zenger Folkman

In the medical world, “transplant rejection” occurs when transplanted tissue is rejected by the recipient's immune system, destroying the transplanted tissue. Not surprisingly, this concept applies to a sizable portion of executives hired from outside an organization as well. These executives are hired because of their stellar records and experience in another organization, but the tendency in most organizations is to subtly and unintentionally reject the new hire.

The graph below shows 360 evaluations of executives by years of experience in their organization. Even though these new executives walked in the organization with excellent credentials, the newest hires were consistently rated as significantly below average by their managers, peers, direct reports and other respondents. For executives who are thinking about making a transition (or those who recently have made a transition) this is a significant concern. Typical estimates for failure rates of newly hired executives can range as high as 40% or more.

As I looked at the data on this group of 31 newly hired executives I discovered that not all of them were rated poorly. Four were rated in the top quartile in overall leadership effectiveness, but 11 (more than a third) were rated in the bottom quartile. Note that it generally takes at least three years for the newly-hired executive to overcome the negative bias of being new and no longer viewed with suspicion.

I was curious about what the executives who made successful transitions did differently from those who were rated the lowest, so I analyzed the data. While this is not a large sample, the results identified 10 useful clues about making a successful transition from one organization to another.

1. Is a role model and honors commitments. Leaders who were highly rated were perceived as having high levels of honesty and integrity. When they made a promise to others they kept it. When a new leader takes over an organization, people worry about job security and the ways they may be personally impacted by the new leader. While it’s seldom spoken aloud, people fear that you will treat them badly. The best leaders made a strong and visible effort to be candid and honest and to treat others fairly.

2. Willing to go above and beyond. For many people, when they reach a senior position in an organization they feel they can rest a bit on their laurels and don’t need to hustle like they did in their early career. Unfortunately, the hustle you displayed in your previous organization doesn’t count in your new position. You are starting fresh, and you need to earn the respect of others. Leaders who took initiative and hit the ground running were rated much higher than those who did not.

3. Is trusted by others. Trust must be earned and moving into an executive position in a new organization automatically puts you into an inherent place of mistrust. This is not to be confused with being distrusted. The best executives worked hard to build positive relationships with others, to be consistent in their words and actions, and to leverage their insights and knowledge to earn trust as quickly as possible over time.

Read the rest of the article on Forbes.

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3 Simple Ways To Improve Your Innovation Skillsby Zenger Folkman

A careful analysis of Zenger Folkman’s database of more than a million 360 degree feedback instruments revealed that a leader’s speed was a powerful predictor of overall leadership effectiveness. It goes without saying, that being quick is of little value, unless accompanied by doing things right. But once the necessary quality standard is met and maintained, then an increased pace produced high dividends. I’ve called that combination “leadership speed." These leaders set themselves apart from the rest in a number of ways. For example:

1. Those leaders who were rated in the top quartile on our speed index, were rated substantially higher in their overall leadership skills. Those who were in the top quartile on speed were rated on their overall effectiveness at the 83rd percentile, whereas those leaders who were below the top quartile were at the 40th.

2. Leaders who were in the lowest 10% on speed had 16% of their employees who described themselves as highly committed to the organization; whereas those in the top 10% had 64% of their employees who rated themselves as highly committed to the organization.

3. More than two-thirds of employees at all levels agree with the statement “If this organization were to move faster, it would substantially influence our success.”

How do these leaders accomplish their work quickly and with high quality? In further examining the database, my colleague Joe Folkman and I looked for the behaviors that went hand-in-hand with this optimum combination of speed and quality. We discovered that the most highly correlated other behavior was “innovation.” Innovation appeared to strongly impact the speed and efficiency of everyday work.

What are the qualities that are the precursors to some people being highly innovative and not being confined by the past? Something prompts them to break out of the mold, to see their world in new and fresh ways, and to have the courage to try something new. There are obviously many opinions on this question. Our data provides three insights:

1. Willingness To Change

It starts with a restlessness and willingness to to consider change. Many people can think of a new, faster, more efficient way to get things done. However, change takes energy, discipline, and a willingness to do something never done before. For many activities that will ultimately make us more efficient, there is a learning curve. When we change from a method we’ve mastered to a new process, we are invariably awkward at first. The new tool makes us feel at best uncomfortable and at worst incompetent. It takes time and practice for us to return to our previous level of skill, but over time we see the value of change and perhaps even wonder why we labored so heavily on inferior approaches before. This willingness to change is often driven by a fearless loyalty to doing what’s right for the organization and customer. Pleasing the boss or some other higher level executive takes a back seat to doing the right thing for the project or the company. One respondent said, “For innovation to exist, you have to feel inspired.” This comes from a clear sense of purpose and meaning to their work.

2. Not Settling For Good Enough

The people who were most likely to be innovative were those who weren’t satisfied with good performance but were relentlessly looking for ways to raise the bar. They had a philosophy of “you commit suicide when you settle for second best.” They recruited exceptionally talented people who would challenge them and their organization. They avoided bumblers, wheel spinners, and phonies. However, the most innovative people were constantly looking for better methods and options. They excelled by setting stretch goals. These goals required people to go far beyond working harder, but required them to find new methods in order to achieve the goal. The challenge of meeting the goal was often framed as “getting to the next level.”

Think about your own situation. Which activities take more time than they should. How could they become more efficient?

3. Assembling An Innovative Community

The Medicis were a very prominent, well-to-do family of bankers. In the fifteenth century they brought together and funded many of the great artists, philosophers, architects, and financiers in Florence, Italy. The Medici Effect refers to the burst of innovation and creativity that results from bringing together great people from a variety of different fields. The innovative works of many of these individuals launched the Renaissance. Few innovations are original ideas that no one else has ever had in times past. Many innovations are ideas or approaches borrowed from one discipline and applied to another. Exposing yourself to new and diverse fields can profoundly impact your ability to discover an innovative approach that will increase your speed or the pace of an organization. The success of this community relies on a climate of reciprocal trust. The highly innovative leaders were differentiated by their warm, collaborative relationships within their group. They made themselves highly accessible. Colleagues knew that their leader would cover their back versus stabbing them in the back. People were never punished for honest, well-intended mistakes.

The wonderful thing about using innovation to increase speed is that when you implement it well, it becomes an independent and powerful force that propels the organization forward. It augments leaders and increases their performance. Knowing this, a key question to ask yourself in 2017 is: “What is holding me back from being more innovative?” Your delay may be limiting you more than you know.

Read the article on Forbes.

January 16, 2017

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Steal These 3 ‘Speed’ Strategies For Leadership And Business Successby Zenger Folkman

“You just don’t understand” a manager from a university said. “Our situation is different. We are all doing the jobs of two people.” I turned to the rest of the audience I was speaking to and asked, “How many of you are being asked to do more work with less staff?” Every hand went up. Clearly his situation was not unique. Across all industries and countries, employees are being asked to do the same thing, Universally, people are being asked to accomplish more in less time and with fewer resources.

The Need For Speed

Recently, when analyzing Zenger Folkman’s 360-degree feedback data for several clients, searching for clues about what distinguished their stronger leaders from those who were less effective, we noticed a new factor consistently emerging: Speed. The better leaders moved at a quicker pace. They more rapidly saw trends. They were quick to identify and solve problems.

However, to be more precise, my colleague Joe Folkman and I determined that what made these leaders so effective was not merely that they acted quickly. Instead, it was the combination of operating at a fast tempo and simultaneously producing work of high quality. Their creation of greater value came from a quicker pace that didn’t compromise quality.

I was surprised at how frequently this showed up as a power predictor, not only for a leader’s effectiveness but also for the entire organization’s success. With so many leaders feeling the pressure of “too much to do and not enough time,” could speed be the answer? It is even possible for people to consciously increase their speed?

We've studied 51,137 leaders on two dimensions: the leaders’ ability to do things fast, and to do things right. Leaders who were effective at doing things fast (above the 75th percentile), but not highly effective at doing things right (below the 75th percentile), had a 2% probability of being one of their organization’s leader in the top 10 percent in overall effectiveness.

On the other hand, those leaders who were rated highly at doing things right (above 75th percentile), but not doing things fast (below 75th percentile), had only a 3% probability of being in that top decile category.

But now for the unexpected kicker: Leaders who were rated highly at doing things fast) and right(top quartile on both) had a 96% probability of being an extraordinary leader.

Speed alone is of little advantage. Work must be accurate. It was this combination of doing things fast and right that created the magic.

How Speed And Quality Differ

Speed and quality are both important, but they are different. We are emphasizing the importance of speed and spending less time talking about quality. Why? Because we see quality as akin to an “on and off” switch. You either have it or you don’t. If you have the required quality to satisfy a customer’s requirements and expectations, then doing a lot more often doesn’t create more value.

Speed, on the other hand, is a rheostat. It can be turned up to a higher and higher level and so long as quality is not compromised, it continues to produce ever increasing value for the firm. We think increasing speed is something the huge majority can do.

Accelerating Pace

If you want to truly understand how to increase pace without comprising quality, then you need to learn from those leaders who do it best. The research from Zenger Folkman’s database on more than 75,000 leaders shows many different successful approaches to improving leadership speed.

Read the rest of the article on Forbes.

December 19, 2016

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Great Leaders Move Fastby Zenger Folkman

There is a saying, “It takes two to tango.” That is true in many areas of life, and it happens to be true about an important dimension of leadership — speed. But that speed is not effective unless it is accompanied by a second dimension — quality.

Consider the following data to paint a more precise picture. In a study of more than 51,000 leaders, Zenger Folkman examined two dimensions: the leader’s ability to do things fast and the leader’s ability to do things right.

Leaders who were effective at doing things fast (above the 75th percentile) but not highly effective at doing things right (below the 75th percentile), had a 2 percent probability of being an extraordinary leader, defined as being in the top 10 percent of leaders.

On the other hand, leaders who were rated highly at doing things right (above 75th percentile), but not doing things fast (below 75th percentile), were nearly the same. This group had a 3 percent probability of being an extraordinary leader. However, those leaders rated highly at doing thing both fast and right had a 96 percent probability of being an extraordinary leader.

However, these two elements are not cut from the same cloth. Quality needs to exist to a certain level. Once that standard is met, there is usually no payoff in constantly improving quality. For example, if an automotive plant is stamping out door panels, and each panel meets the standard for measurement, contour and lack of surface blemishes, further quality emphasis does not produce greater value. Speed, on the other hand, is different. It has the potential for nearly limitless improvement. As long as the plant maintains quality, producing door panels at a faster rate does indeed create greater value.

Applying this principle to leadership behavior is not difficult. If a leader moves at an extremely rapid pace to get things done, but is sloppy or makes subpar decisions, that leader creates little value. Speed alone is of little advantage. Work must be accurate.

However, leaders who execute, respond and make decisions quickly and correctly will be perceived as more effective leaders than those who do not. In contrast, the leader who makes sound decisions, but who moves at a plodding pace, may create some value. But that level of value creation is far below a comparable leader in the same role who makes decisions, takes initiative, reacts to customers and drives better work processes at a brisk, ever increasing pace.

Read the rest of the article on CLO Media.

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