Zenger Folkman blog

August 17, 2015

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Which Superpower Would You Choose: To Fly Or To Be Invisible?by Joe Folkman


How much can you learn about someone from a silly question? Since last year we have been collecting data from the business and professional leaders who read our blogs. The question we asked was this, “If you were given a choice of two special powers, which would you prefer? A. Ability to fly or B. Power to be invisible.” Believe it or not, the answer to this question provides some interesting insights into business and professional leaders around the world.

We have collected data from 7065 leaders across the globe. 63% of the data comes from North America, 13% from Europe, 16% from Asia and the remainder from other geographies. With a difference of almost three to one, 72% of our leaders chose the ability to fly over being invisible (28%). When we looked at the data by position we discovered that 76% of top managers selected the ability to fly, as compared to only 71% of individual contributors. Continued on Forbes.com.

July 20, 2015

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7 Things Leaders Do to Help People Changeby Zenger Folkman


Ever tried to change anyone’s behavior at work? It can be extremely frustrating. So often the effort produces an opposite result: rupturing the relationship, diminishing job performance, or causing the person to dig in their heels. Still, some approaches clearly work better than others.

We reviewed a dataset of 2,852 direct reports of 559 leaders. The direct reports rated their managers on 49 behaviors and also assessed the leaders on their effectiveness at leading change – specifically, the managers’ ability to influence others to move in the direction the organization wanted to go. We then analyzed those who had the highest and lowest ratings on their ability to lead change, and compared that with the other behaviors we’d measured. We then analyzed the behaviors that correlated with an exceptional ability to drive change. We found eight that really help other people to change. Continued on Harvard Business Review.

July 3, 2015

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Are We More Productive When We Have More Time Off?by Zenger Folkman


We were recently working with a company in Amsterdam, and having difficulty getting a summer meeting scheduled because of the number of executives who were on vacation. Experiencing some frustration, we began to wonder how this company actually got its work done. But their VP of HR assured us, “I am confident that because of the rest and break from work that our European executives get more accomplished in their working days than those in the U.S. who burn themselves out.”

This seemed worthy of some research. Because European executives get significantly more vacation time than their U.S. counterparts, we theorized that studying the two groups would essentially give us a control group and a test group. (Of course, this is not perfect as there are other cultural differences between countries, but for our purposes it seemed like a reasonable proxy.)

In a dataset of 2,310 respondents, we looked at data from the 20 countries with the most paid vacation days (247 respondents) and compared them to respondents in the United States (1,151). The 20 countries with the most vacation ranged from Australia, with 28 days allotted, to Sweden and Brazil, with 41 days. By contrast, the United States has no law requiring paid time off, and the average full-time worker with a year of service gets 10 paid vacation days (and only 25% of Americans take their full allotment, according to another survey). Continued on Harvard Business Review.

June 25, 2015

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The Best Way To Deliver Tough Feedback: Stop Talking And Start Listeningby Joe Folkman

forbesnobackgroundIf you think that receiving corrective feedback is stressful and difficult for you, then you might be surprised to learn that your leader is experiencing many of the same feelings. All of this stress and anxiety on both sides makes it very difficult to have a meaningful and productive conversation. Let’s examine the assumptions that many bosses make that may be counterproductive to having a successful discussion.

Assumption 1: People don’t realize there is a problem

A recent study by Zenger Folkman, which had a global sample of 3,875 people, asked if employees were surprised or did not know about the problem when they were given negative or redirecting feedback. I was taken back to discover that 74% indicated that they were NOT surprised and already knew about the problem. So often when we see someone performing poorly we say to ourselves, “If they only realized they had a problem then they would do better.” The reality is that in the majority of cases people do realize the problem, but they have not realized how serious it was, or they have not figured out how to do it better.

Assumption 2: It is best to get it over quickly

Because both the person giving the feedback and the person receiving the feedback are anxious, they both want to get it over quickly. The human organism is wired to avoid pain. This leads to a burst of talking and very little listening.

Our article in Harvard Business Review shared a global study were we asked respondents to rate their manager on the extent that they “carefully listened to the other person’s point of view about the problem before giving them feedback.” The graph below shows that respondents who strongly disagreed with this statement rated their manager significantly lower on providing honest and straightforward feedback on a regular basis. Respondents who rated their managers as highly effective at listening felt more positive about the manager’s ability to provide excellent feedback. Continued on Forbes.com.

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.

Download Full Article

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.

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