Zenger Folkman blog

October 31, 2014

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By The Numbers: Superior Leadership Produces Higher Return Than Superior Talentby Jack Zenger

forbes_logoDecades ago the sage Peter Drucker was talking about his work as a consultant to large organizations. He noted that senior executives would invariably tell him their organization had attracted extremely talented people, and this accounted for their success. He then went out to meet these extraordinary people. After meeting with many people throughout the organization, he came back to the senior people and told them that their work force did not seem significantly different from all the others that he’d encountered. They were about average as far as he could tell. The difference he noted was that some organizations operated in ways that enabled ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.

Charles A. O’Reilly and Jeffrey Pfeffer elaborated the same theme in their book Hidden Value: How Great Companies Achieve Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People. They highlighted nine companies from various industries that had demonstrated a strong track record of success. Their fundamental conclusion was that these organizations had cracked the code on how to build healthy cultures in which people flourished.

While conventional wisdom would argue that success comes from being in the right industry, creating economies of scale, being at the forefront of technology, being a low cost provider or assembling extremely talented people; these companies had done just the opposite, and their results speak for themselves. Southwest Airlines receives more than 150,000 job applications annually for every 4000 available jobs. The SAS Institute receives 27,000 job applications for 900 openings and has an annual turnover rate of 2.3%. … Continued on Forbes.com.


October 16, 2014

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Why Leaders Give Innovation Low Marksby Joe Folkman

forbes_logoOne Saturday afternoon my son and I were given an impossible task by my wife to “remove the hideous hedge” from her sight. We sat on the porch gazing at the uninspiring sight of the pick and shovel that lay before us and dreading the hours of hard labor to come. “This is a really terrible idea,” my son said to me. “I know,” I said as my wife drove away blowing kisses, “but we don’t have choice.”

As we began the arduous process my mind was opened to a vision of my rusty 1988 Ford F250 truck. It is a wonderful vehicle that looks like junk, but has the heart of a lion. I stopped my son, “I have an idea. What if we back up the truck, attach my trusty tow rope to it and then we wrap it around those shrubs to rip them out.” A slow grin spread across my son’s face as he replied, “That will be fun.”

We were given a really hard, boring task that afternoon, but when we introduced innovation into the mix it suddenly turned into fun. It was still hard work and I won’t go into the damage we may have inflicted. But what I learned from this experience was that innovation has the ability to inspire and motivate all involved in a powerful way. … Continued on Forbes.com.


October 9, 2014

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What Do Your Employees Need And Value The Most?by Joe Folkman

forbes_logoHave you ever received a gift that you both needed and valued? I remembered receiving a wheelbarrow for Father’s Day some years ago. I needed a wheelbarrow, but it seemed like the implied message of this tool was; “Now you have no excuse for not doing the yard work.” The gift was needed but not valued. Conversely, my wife frequently wanted back massages, but because I was frequently traveling I rarely satisfied the need, so I bought her a massage chair. This gift was both needed and valued and years after I gave the gift, I still receive frequent thanks.

As leaders try to improve employee engagement and commitment, several things become clear. First, they can’t fix everything. No one has sufficient time or resources. Second, leaders hear a great deal about what employees need, but it’s more difficult to know what improvements would be the most valued. Sometimes the fixes that are needed the most are not highly valued by employees. … Continued on Forbes.com.


September 26, 2014

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When It Comes To Assessing You, Who Knows You Best?by Jack Zenger

forbes_logoWho understands you best? Who knows how well you perform? Who can most accurately predict your strengths and weaknesses? Some gurus contend that only you truly know you. They believe the best person to identify what you are good or bad at is you. After all, they argue, don’t you understand your motives, intentions and aspirations better than anyone else?

The temptation to mix personal intentions and actual behavior is one major downfall of any individual’s ability to accurately know themselves. After receiving a 360-degree feedback report, an executive in a workshop jokingly commented, “If only people rated me on my intentions! I would like to be viewed as genuine, kind, respectful, considerate and fair. Unfortunately, people rate me on my actual behavior.” … Continued on Forbes.com.


September 11, 2014

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Want To Become A Great Leader? Here’s The Keyby Joe Folkman

forbes_logoBy now many people are aware that as a leader, merely fixing your weaknesses will not make you great. However, for some the message has not quite taken hold. So today I am sharing some research that should give you pause when you’re tempted to focus on your faults instead of building upon what’s going right.

A few years ago, several groups of executives went through our company’s program, The Extraordinary Leader, at a large bank. A few months later we asked them to participate in a follow-up survey. We found that 88% of the participants indicated they were focused on building strengths. We then compared the responses of those focused on building strengths to those who were fixing weakness and found some interesting results. … Continued on Forbes.com.


September 1, 2014

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9 Habits That Lead to Terrible Decisionsby Zenger Folkman

hbrSeveral years ago we came up with a great idea for a new leadership-development offering we thought would be valuable to everyone. We had research demonstrating that when people embarked on a self-development program, their success increased dramatically when they received follow-up encouragement. We developed a software application to offer that sort of encouragement. People could enter their development goals, and the software would send them reminders every week or month asking how they were doing, to motivate them to keep on going. We invested a lot of time and money in this product.

But it turned out that people did not like receiving the e-mails and found them more annoying than motivating. Some of our users came up with a name for this type of software. They called it “nagware.” Needless to say, this product never reached the potential we had envisioned. Thinking about the decisions we had made to create this disappointing result led us to ask the question, “What causes well-meaning people to make poor decisions?”

Some possibilities came immediately to mind – people make poor decisions when under severe time pressure or when they don’t have access to all the important information (unless they’re are explaining the decision to their boss, and then it is often someone else’s fault). …Continued on Harvard Business Review.


August 18, 2014

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How To Uncover The 3 Hidden Talent Pools You Already Haveby Jack Zenger

forbes_logoExecutives in every company we work with express concerns about their ability to attract and retain managerial talent. The solutions for most organizations are to either recruit young workers directly from school and invest in their development, pirate leadership talent from competitors, or to find it internally. Of these alternatives, we strongly advocate organizations first take a close look inside.

How can companies identify individuals in their ranks who are capable of stepping into these leadership positions? We direct them to examine three groups of highly talented and underutilized individuals who would be strong candidates for these future leadership roles: Women, young supervisors, and individual contributors.. … Continued on Forbes.com.


July 30, 2014

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The Skills Leaders Need at Every Levelby Joe Folkman

hbrA few weeks ago, we were asked to analyze a competency model for leadership development that a client had created. Its was based on the idea that at different points in their development, potential leaders need to focus on excelling at different skills. For example, in their model they proposed that a lower level manager should focus on driving for results while top executives should focus on developing a strategic perspective.

Intuitively, this makes sense, based as it is on the assumption that once people develop a skill, they will continue to exercise it. But, interestingly, we don’t apply it in athletics; athletes continue to practice and develop the same skills throughout their careers. And as we thought about the excellent senior executives we have met, we observed that they are, in fact, all very focused on delivering results, and many of the best lower level managers are absolutely clear about strategy and vision. This got us to wondering: Are some skills less important for leaders at certain levels of the organization? Or is there a set of skills fundamental to every level?

To see, we compiled a dataset in which we asked 332,860 bosses, peers, and subordinates what skills have the greatest impact on a leader’s success in the position the respondents currently hold. Each respondent selected the top four competencies out of a list of 16 that we provided. We then compared the results for managers at different levels. …Continued on Harvard Business Review.


July 25, 2014

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Most Managers Think of Themselves as Coachesby Zenger Folkman

hbrAs a manager, do you think of yourself as a leader or as a coach? Do you, for instance, feel it’s important that your staff see you as an expert or do you prefer to create an egalitarian environment? Are you the person who solves problems or helps your staff come up with their own solutions? Are you more comfortable being directive or collaborative?

Results of a survey we’ve been conducting indicate a stronger desire to display coaching attributes than we were expecting.

Our assessment consists of 30 items we have tested and correlated to the most important attributes associated either with strong, top-down leadership or excellent coaches. …Continued on Harvard Business Review.


July 18, 2014

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Who Done It: The Danger Of Assigning Ownership To Anonymous Feedbackby Joe Folkman

forbes_logoWhen people receive anonymous 360 feedback there is a natural human tendency to look at the data and attempt to figure out “who done it”. It’s an interesting mystery and often people state with great confidence that they “KNOW.” We often advise our clients that about 50% of the time they are correct but that also means that 50% of the time they are wrong.

Recently, I was reviewing data with a client and came to the results for the competency “Develops Others.” Paul* (names have been changed), the leader receiving the feedback, was a new manager with a lot of potential and enthusiasm but not a great deal of experience. … Continued on Forbes.com.


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