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Zenger Folkman blog

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.

November 17, 2016

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The Traits of Leaders Who Do Things Fast and Wellby Zenger Folkman

leadership-speedAn exceptional leader we know would occasionally get a question from his direct reports in a variety of forms but with the common message, “Do you want this done fast or right?” His answer was always the same: “Yes!” He chose not to compromise on either dimension. For this leader and for most highly effective leaders we know, making mistakes is not an option. But neither is slowing down.

Over the last few years we’ve been increasingly interested in the impact of a leader’s preference for speed versus a “slow and steady” mode of operation. It’s clear that overall, organizational processes, communications, and human interactions in the world are speeding up. Many organizations are looking for ways to become more agile. Perhaps leaders worry that their organizations cannot move faster if their employees operate slowly.

We created an assessment to measure an individual’s preference for moving at a slow or fast pace. In the assessment, we also measured preference for quality versus quantity. After gathering data on more than 5,000 leaders across the globe, we discovered a strong tendency for those with a fast pace to also have a strong preference toward quantity rather than quality of work. Fifty-eight percent of respondents have this preference. We also noticed that 19% had a stronger quality focus and a slower pace. This group was concerned that working faster could create errors or mistakes. Their tendency was to slow down in order to maintain high quality. (If you would like to evaluate your own pace and see how you compare, you can take it here. It’s free but we ask for your email address.)

We meet many groups that, when challenged to work faster, worry doing so will cause errors and poor quality. The group we were interested in for this research, however, was the people who preferred a faster pace but also had a quality focus. Is this really possible? And what does it take for a leader to have both high quality and fast pace?

To research this question, we turned to another data set, one that includes information on more than 75,000 leaders. This data set contained 360-degree assessments with ratings from an average of 13 raters. In the dataset we measured a leader’s speed and their quality of output. We identified a group of leaders who were in the top quartile on both speed and quality and compared this group to all other leaders in the database. We computed statistical tests on 49 leadership behaviors. We sought to identify the most differentiating behaviors of leaders who were rated as having high levels of both speed and quality. What did they do differently from other leaders? All of the 49 behaviors were statistically significant, so we were searching for those that differentiated most powerfully.

The analysis identified seven unique factors that appear to identify what it takes to combine these two seemingly contradictory critical leadership goals. Continued on Harvard Business Review.


October 21, 2016

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3 Hard Truths About Developing Your Strengthsby Joe Folkman

strengthsbaseddevelopmentEffective leaders have widely different personal styles. There is no one right way to lead. We can approach leadership from many different angles, but the key to success is developing strengths. I often find the concept of “using your strengths” is confusing to some individuals. So today I want to share some truths I’ve found through researching strengths-based development to help leaders gain more knowledge (as well as to clear up a few misunderstandings).

1. Firstly, strengths are not always your passions.

Is a strength something you are zealous about, that you enjoy doing and that energizes you? No. That statement defines your passion. Individuals often confuse strengths with passions. People can be widely passionate about something they are not competent in. How many majors did you cycle through in college? Eventually, students find a “sweet spot” in an area they both like and can excel in. So what is a strength? It is something in which others would consider you exceptional. Research has shown there is a correlation between passion and competence. It’s not surprising that people tend to have more competence in areas where they have stronger passion.

2. Secondly, trying to be perfect in everything results in mediocre leadership.

Leaders who are moderately effective and who preoccupy themselves with incremental improvement of less positive issues will never move from good to great. Great leaders do not standout because they fixed a few minor weaknesses. They prevail because they are extraordinary in certain areas. Many leaders worry that it’s their weaknesses that negatively impact their effectiveness. They believe they’ll be defined or judged by their flaws. But this only becomes true if a person has no strengths. A study I conducted at Zenger Folkman of more than 65,000 leaders showed that those who possess just three standout strengths were rated at the 80th percentile in overall leadership effectiveness. So the good news is that you don’t have to be good at everything. You only need to hone in on a few specific areas to stand out and differentiate yourself as a leader who is great. Continued on Forbes.com.


October 12, 2016

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Why Leadership Development Doesn’t Change Some People (And How To Turn Them Around)by Jack Zenger

leadershipdevelopmentStatistics show that 40% of people are unaffected by leadership development. Here are the steps you should follow to turn the non-responders around.

My firm Zenger Folkman measures leadership effectiveness using a 360-degree feedback process in which 15 or so subordinates, peers, and the boss pool their perceptions of a leader. They complete an on-line assessment and the results are then passed onto the leader who was assessed. By repeating that measurement every 12-18 months, the organization can monitor the collective amount of change that comes from any development program. The difference scores tell you whether or not the leader in question has made significant change.

In examining the data from several large organizations we found that roughly 60% of the participants indeed get better. Some company executives are extremely pleased with that outcome. I, however, am not. Why? Because that suggests that 40% of leaders developed stayed the same, or perhaps became worse. This is frustrating to me because every participant uses the same materials, goes through the same experiences, and has the same facilitator conducting the sessions. The leaders receive the exact same inputs, but produce widely different outcomes. Continued on Forbes.com.


October 5, 2016

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Millennials Managing Boomers: 10 Ways To Bridge The Age/Experience Gapby Joe Folkman

millenialsmanagingboomersYou know that awkward moment when you are telling someone how to improve in a job they’ve held longer than you’ve been in the workforce? Today a lot of newly appointed managers are finding themselves managing direct reports that are 10 or more years their senior. Many find this situation difficult for both the managers and those being managed. What can young managers do to surmount this hurdle?

Looking through our datasets, we identified 1,217 cases where a younger leader was managing a direct report that was 10 or more years older. We separated them into two groups: 1) those whose direct reports had rated them as below average on their overall leadership effectiveness and 2) those who’d been rated above average. The graph below clearly demonstrates the big disparity between young managers rated as below average or highly effective. In spite of the relatively small sample, however, we were highly intrigued to learn what the effective leaders were doing to create this huge difference.

We looked at the effectiveness ratings based on 49 leadership behaviors and identified those that produce the most significant difference—in other words, the behaviors that seem to make the biggest difference in causing older direct reports to feel their younger mangers are doing an excellent job. As an outline, we compiled them into 10 dimensions that can make the job of managing older employees much easier. Continued on Forbes.com.


September 22, 2016

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Opening The Leadership Pipeline: 3 Vital Steps You Should Be Taking Todayby Jack Zenger

960x0 (1)It is not unusual for an organization to worry about finding the right new CEO. However, my concern goes far beyond the CEO replacement. I see a serious problem in the making. The world is about to experience a dearth of effective senior leaders. Why? Several forces have combined, as if it were a perfect storm, to generate this critical situation.

1. The financial downturn slowed retirements. Senior executives stayed on and created congestion at the top. Many organizations have one-half of their senior leadership teams who are immediately eligible for retirement or who will be within the next five years.

2. Companies have pared back investments perceived as unnecessary. In order to meet profit objectives, companies have been operating with a lean mentality. They’ve curtailed rotational assignments that formerly aided in development goals. Development positions such as “two in the box” have been abandoned. Overseas assignments are reduced, despite their proven value for executive development.

3. Formal development programs have been slowed, downsized or totally abandoned. The consulting group Gap International surveyed executives who reported that they believe talent can make or break organizations (85%) yet ironically, fewer than half are investing in leadership development in the coming year. The organizations that have continued their leadership development programs have scaled back. I see corporations providing development for 15-20 participants per year who are selected from a leadership group of 2000 or more. They want to say they are continuing their executive development program, but most realize it as merely a token effort.

These factors have been compounded by the accelerating pace of business. The good and bad news is that beginning now, about four million executives will retire each year. The outflow valve is opening and the flood of upper management vacancies will appear. However, there are serious concerns on the part of senior executives about whether or not the input valve is open that prepares the generation below them to have received the necessary development to take over. Various surveys of senior executives conclude that:

• Sixty percent of companies are facing leadership shortages that impede their performance.

• Thirty-one percent say developing leaders is their largest talent issue (Deloitte).

• There was a 30% drop in appropriately aged managers between the years of 2009 and 2015.

• According to the Ken Blanchard Company’s annual corporate issues survey, executives said there is a skills gap for corporate leadership positions, as well as trained talent at all levels. The top five priorities in order of importance are leadership development, managerial development, supervisory development, coaching skills for leaders and communications skills.

Prior Forbes reporting confirms these conclusions. They noted, “The glass ceiling has been replaced by a ‘gray ceiling’ comprised of baby boomers firmly entrenched in upper management positions.”

A study by Zenger Folkman reported in Harvard Business Review shared that in a group of more than 17,000 leaders, the average age of the participants in a leadership development initiative was 42. More than half of the participants were between 36 and 49. Less thank 10% were under 30, and less than 5% were under 27. Continued on Forbes.com.


September 8, 2016

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The Contagious Effect Of Good And Bad Leaders (How Are You Feeling Today?)by Jack Zenger

960x0I joined an organization early in my career in which the VP of administration was universally described as a terrible leader. He was autocratic, arbitrary, arrogant and harsh in his treatment of others. The organization finally terminated him. Over the next few years I watched every one of his immediate subordinates be let go. The exact reasons varied, but it was rather obvious that every one one of them had acquired a major element of his bad behavior. Even worse, they had lost the ability to initiate anything on their own after being told precisely what to do for so many years. They had suffered an indelible harm that no amount of coaching and development seemed to fix.

This leads to several questions.

1. To what extent does a manager’s behavior impact the engagement of subordinates?

2. How contagious is good or bad leadership? Was this example a fluke or does it represent what generally happens?

3. Does a senior boss’s bad leadership behavior impact only immediate subordinates, or does it keep cascading on down?

To explore the answer to those questions, my colleague Joe Folkman and I started by formulating a theory based on our experience and observations. Continued on Forbes.com.


August 2, 2016

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Why Workplace Feedback Fills Us With Fear (And How To Recover)by Jack Zenger

feedbackWhich would you prefer? Your boss drops by and tells you how much your contribution to the project is appreciated? Or, your boss passes on to you a suggestion about how your contribution to the project could be even greater?

The fact of the matter is that this question has no simple answer. It depends on the level of confidence or self-assurance you have. It depends on how the feedback is delivered by the giver. It depends on the relationship between the giver and you. Generally, what benefits individuals the most is seldom what pleases them at the moment it is given. Finally, what people say they want to receive is not always reflected in their immediate behavior. The simple fact is that a very large percent of the population dreads feedback.

Why? Fundamentally, fear occurs when we believe there is danger. Our brains are wired to keep us from harm. Our innate instincts alert us to danger by signaling us to fight back, flee or freeze. This inherited trait is helpful in many circumstances, but when it comes to managing feedback—particularly critical or corrective feedback—these reactions can be debilitating.

Those of us who fear feedback can often trace our fear to one or more experiences where corrective feedback from a superior or someone who was in authority over us was delivered poorly. The feedback felt so negative our ego was crushed. Experiences like this generate a great deal of anxiety. From then on, the prospect of getting feedback is deemed a traumatic enough experience it becomes the thing we’d go to any length to avoid. Continued on Forbes.com.


July 21, 2016

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The Organizational Epidemic: Is Your Herd Immune?by Jack Zenger

herdimmunityIn 1974, 80% of Japanese children were receiving the vaccine for whooping cough. As a result, there were only 393 cases of whopping cough and no deaths. In the following years the vaccine seemed less important. After all whooping cough wasn’t really that much of a threat. The immunization rates dropped until only 10% of Japanese children were vaccinated.

The result: In 1979, more than 13,000 people in Japan got whooping cough and 41 died. The reason for the outbreak was the lack of “herd immunity.” The success of mass immunization programs hinges on getting a high percentage of individuals inoculated. When a parent fails to immunize a child or you fail to get a flu shot, to some degree, you jeopardize the entire herd.

The concept of herd immunity applies to the leadership of organizations as well. Consider these two scenarios:

A. The organization sponsors 20 different programs and involves 25 people in each. (Think university catalogue and small classes.)
B. The organization sponsors a single and more powerful program and 500 managers participate out of 700 potential attendees.

Which will have the greatest impact? Yes, it is probably obvious that the later solution is best. Yet year after year we see organizations make the choice to send only a select few through a leadership program, or to let everyone pick the one thing they’d like to spend their development dollars on from a menu of options. Then they are surprised when the organization doesn’t change or improve. If organization’s focus is on only 20 people out of 500, there is minimal cultural impact and only the 20 individuals will benefit. You cannot save the herd if you train (immunize) only 4% of your team. Continued on Forbes.com.


July 14, 2016

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What Great Listeners Actually Doby Zenger Folkman

jul16-14-hbr-laura-schneider-communication-02-1200x675Chances are you think you’re a good listener. People’s appraisal of their listening ability is much like their assessment of their driving skills, in that the great bulk of adults think they’re above average.

In our experience, most people think good listening comes down to doing three things:

  • Not talking when others are speaking
  • Letting others know you’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”)
  • Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word

In fact, much management advice on listening suggests doing these very things – encouraging listeners to remain quiet, nod and “mm-hmm” encouragingly, and then repeat back to the talker something like, “So, let me make sure I understand. What you’re saying is…” However, recent research that we conducted suggests that these behaviors fall far short of describing good listening skills.

We analyzed data describing the behavior of 3,492 participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches. As part of this program, their coaching skills were assessed by others in 360-degree assessments. We identified those who were perceived as being the most effective listeners (the top 5%). We then compared the best listeners to the average of all other people in the data set and identified the 20 items showing the largest significant difference. With those results in hand we identified the differences between great and average listeners and analyzed the data to determine what characteristics their colleagues identified as the behaviors that made them outstanding listeners.

We found some surprising conclusions, along with some qualities we expected to hear. Continued on Harvard Business Review.


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