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Zenger Folkman blog

September 23, 2017

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How To Effectively Grow Your Confidence At Workby Zenger Folkman

Someone struggling with their confidence often receives the advice, “Just be more confident!”  The question then becomes, “How?”  I was determined to discover if there were some skills that have more influence over a person’s confidence than others. For those who lack confidence, or those trying to build the confidence of others, what behaviors create a high probability of building their confidence while also making them a better leader?

To understand this question, my colleague, Jack Zenger, and I created two datasets. In the first we compiled the results from a self-assessment of confidence. We collected data on 7,800 individuals from which we created a valid measure of confidence.

The second was an assessment from managers on 49 key behaviors that enable leaders to perform exceptionally well. On this assessment, we collected data from more than 75,000 managers that accurately predicts a variety of organizational outcomes, such as turnover, customer satisfaction, engagement of direct reports, and profit. We matched the two datasets and found 330 cases where the confidence assessment aligned with manager competence ratings on the 49 behaviors.

We then identified 15 behaviors with highly significant correlations, concluding that these behaviors may do more to build a person’s confidence than other behaviors. However, because these finding come from correlations, it is also possible that highly confident individuals simply tend to perform these behaviors more effectively than individuals whose confidence is low. It is impossible in this scenario to sort out cause and effect. What we do know is that improvement on these behaviors will help a person to be a better leader, which should help a person’s confidence rise.

Behaviors that Build Confidence

By factor analyzing the 15 behaviors we identified 10 clusters of items. The clusters are listed by the strength of their correlations.

1. Skilled Communicator. Communication is the most malleable skill, and research shows it is the easiest trait to develop. Many people who have gone through a public speaking class have struggled through their first presentation, but after instruction and practice see significant improvement. Communicating clearly and providing others with a clear direction builds confidence quickly.

2. Clear Priorities. Imagine yourself overwhelmed with a variety of important priorities without clear insight into which was most critical. For most people, this would cause them to be confused, frustrated, and much less confident. Having clear priorities boosts confidence because it provides clear guidelines on how to succeed.

3. Accomplishing Stretch Goals. What happens to a person’s confidence when they accomplish something that seemed impossible? It increases substantially! Many have also experienced failures in which the impossible was, in fact, “impossible.” We believe confidence is built by attempting stretch goals and experiencing both the success and failures from these out-of-the-park efforts.

4. Demonstrate Energy and Enthusiasm. There is an interesting experiment which begins with measuring a person’s happiness. The person was then asked to put a pencil across their mouth and bite down for a short time, which caused them to approximate a smile. After doing this for a short time, people reported being happier. High confidence is strongly associated with the act of showing energy and enthusiasm. If a person can fake it until they make it, their demonstration of energy and enthusiasm builds confidence.

5. Represent the Group. Asking a team member to represent the team in a presentation or meeting can be challenging for some people, but it also sends a message that they are trusted and respected. This is a great way to help people build confidence.

6. Technical Expertise. Do you remember how you felt in school when you knew the answer? A great way to increase confidence in others is to allow them the time and support to become an expert. Many high potential programs use the approach of moving young employees to different functions every few months. This is counterproductive to confidence. While it helps young employees gain a broad perspective in the company, it often sets them up with only general knowledge and no deep expertise.

7. Deliver Results. Give people a piece of work that they can be responsible for and control. When a person delivers the expected results, they become more confident.

8. Coaching Others. Set people up as coaches to others who are still learning. Helping others to learn new skills reinforces the importance of your own knowledge and skills.

9. Become a Champion. Give people the opportunity to be in charge. This implies they are trusted and respected and can boost their confidence.

10. Solves Problems. Most people have had that eureka moment when they were able to solve a difficult problem. Too often managers who know the solution don’t provide direct reports with the opportunity to solve difficult problems themselves. When we allow others to solve problems, they often find unique solutions and innovative approaches, thereby building their confidence.

No matter the age or the experience of a person, there are times in everyone’s life when confidence suffers. Look through the above list and pick at least one behavior that you can improve, then watch your confidence increase.

This article was originally published on Forbes.


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Your Indecision Is Costing Too Much! 8 Proven Behaviors To Help You Be More Decisiveby Zenger Folkman

 As the pace of change increases, the ability of leaders to make high-quality decisions quickly and accurately is a critical leadership capability. One might think with the influx of information available to us today that good decisions would be easy to make. In many ways, a tyranny of choice occurs when leaders have access to so much information and so many potential choices: decisions become more difficult to make. Bad decisions can put organizations in jeopardy for obvious reasons, but delayed decisions can also hurt by losing competitive advantage.  Organizations need leaders who can quickly look at the facts, discuss options, and make a decision. While it seems simple, it is not as clear what skills are needed to enable leaders to develop this skill.To better understand decisiveness, I looked at data from 589 leaders. Each was given feedback on their ability to be decisive and make high quality decisions, and were evaluated using 360-degree feedback collected from their manager, peers, direct reports, and others with whom they worked.  The following four behaviors were used to evaluate their decisiveness:

• Makes decisions and continually moves forward

• Keeps decisions moving forward in an environment of uncertainty

• Balances reflection with decisiveness

• Makes good decisions based on a mixture of analysis, wisdom, experience, and judgment

To examine the impact of decisiveness on a leader’s perceived effectiveness, we first looked at independent potential ratings for the leaders as identified by their organizations.  We then compared those ratings to the overall 360-degree ratings on decisiveness.  The graph below shows the results.  Leaders who were identified as having high potential scored 10 percentile points higher on their decisiveness than those who were identified as promotable, and 20 percentile points higher than those who were assigned to develop in place. All the differences here are statistically significant.

This analysis shows that a leader’s ability to be decisive significantly affects their leadership potential. What can a leader do to become more decisive?

What Enables Leaders to Be More Decisive?

In further analysis of the 360-degree results, I identified the 20 leadership behaviors that were most strongly correlated with decisiveness. Using a factor analysis, I then identified the eight factors that enabled leaders to make decisions quickly and effectively.  Improvement on these behaviors will help a leader to become more decisive.

1. Risk Taking. A leader who is decisive is willing to take risks. Some leaders believe that if they look at all the data, understand all the contingencies, and calculate all the potential problems, the right decision will magically appear. However, when leaders attempt to do all the analytics, many develop “analysis paralysis” and are unable to make a decision. It is good for leaders to analyze data, look at trends, and anticipate problems. However, eventually leaders need to take a risk and make a decision. When leaders recognize that most decisions are risks, they also acknowledge that they might make the wrong one.

2. Communicates Powerfully. Decisive leaders are excellent communicators who continuously keep others informed, while indecisive leaders keep information to themselves. When leaders are effective at sharing information, often other people raise additional questions or push back on assumptions. This helps leaders to become smarter about the decisions they are making.

3. Strategic Perspective. The most decisive leaders were strategic, while the least decisive were tactical. By only looking at a decision from the view of the next few months, leaders have only a short-term perspective.  Many of their decisions can cause a temporary dip in performance.  Taking the long view helps in making a good decision fit into the longer-term strategy of the organization.  Without the long view, leaders often steer away from a good decision which could result in significant competitive advantage.

4. Technical Expertise. It is difficult to make a decision when you are in over your head technically. Most leaders who encounter this problem daily have two choices: dive in and learn quickly, or pull in others and collaborate. The best leaders involve others with deep expertise. This requires humility on the leader’s part, but the process of asking others for help and working together allows the leader’s expertise and technical depth to increase.

5. Courage. When making a tough decision, there is a moment that requires courage and the ability to stand alone. While others may have contributed to a decision, leaders need to be willing to be the accountable person.

6. Drives for Results. When a good decision fails to be implemented, it quickly turns into a bad decision. Leaders who do not follow through, or fail to act quickly, will not have a successful decision. I often refer to this important capability in being decisive as “push.”

7. Inspires. For a decision to be implemented there is also a need for “pull.” Leaders who can inspire and motivate energize others to change, making it far more likely for their decisions to be implemented.

Zenger Folkman offers a self-assessment that measures your preference for pushing or pulling. The assessment can be found at:

8. Integrity. Leaders who have a strong sense of integrity are able to be more decisive. It can be very clear what choice to make when asked the question, “What is the right thing to do?” Often asking that one question can take a very complicated and complex problem and make it very simple.

For leaders who see the value of becoming more decisive, improving a few of these behaviors will have a profound positive impact on their ability to do so.

This article was originally published on Forbes.


September 5, 2017

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Six Keys To Becoming A Great Persuaderby Zenger Folkman

Most of us have been in a situation where we need to persuade others to accept our position or approach. When this happens to me, I will often ruminate in my mind how the conversation might go. I imagine that my colleague will state their position, to which I will respond with such great power and amazing insight that every observer will be persuaded to my position. However, when the time comes to persuade others to my point of view, I typically find that it’s much more difficult than anticipated.

I was recently asked to coach a CEO on his presentation skills in delivering a very critical proposal to a high-ranking official. While I had a lot of ideas and opinions on skills that are important, to provide the best guidance I turned to our research to determine what the most persuasive leaders do.

In one of Zenger Folkman’s assessments, we measure how effective leaders are at clearly communicating and persuading others to their position. Using a dataset of 330 senior leaders in an organization, I looked at which behaviors enabled leaders to be more persuasive. After identifying the top 20 individual behaviors I then used a factor analysis to find the top six dimensions, which reveal that the most persuasive leaders exemplify the following behaviors:

1. More Listening Than Talking. My immediate inclination to persuade others to accept my position is to talk, talk, talk. However, taking the time to listen first is a much more effective strategy. The best persuaders want to understand the opinions and concerns of others before presenting their point of view. Those who try to persuade first often bring out the disagreement from others, causing a debate to occur and people to start choosing sides. Once people are entrenched in their position, persuading them to change is almost impossible. By listening first, leaders understand the disagreements and concerns of others. This gives them the opportunity to either modify their proposal or at least empathize with the concerns of others.

2. More Cooperative Than Competitive. Often leaders who try hard to persuade others to their position create competition between groups or individuals. Rather than looking for an integrated solution, they often create a distinctive solution that only fits the needs of one group. Those who are most effective at persuading others look for ways to cooperate; they create the bigger tent and make sure that it covers everyone. One of the greatest advantages of any organization is its ability to get groups and individuals to work together. The synergy created by collaboration can create significant value for the organization. Leaders who have a strong motive to increase collaborative efforts in the organization are far more persuasive. The lone wolves that set themselves up to win at the expense of everyone else have a difficult time getting support for their proposals.

3. More Strategic Than Tactical. It’s very easy for those trying to persuade others to get tactical early in the persuasion process. This is a mistake! People need to first understand the why before they agree to the how. Taking the time to link a persuasive idea to the strategy and vision of an organization helps everyone understand the big picture along with the pros, cons, and tradeoffs. People are willing to endure a few cons and tradeoffs if they see how this new idea or process helps the organization achieve its strategic objectives.

4. More Pull (Inspiring) Than Push (Hard Driving). Looking at 360-degree assessment data from over 70,000 leaders, we discovered the 76% of leaders were rated higher on their ability to push (drive for results) than their ability to pull (inspire and motivate others). When most people think about how to persuade others their knee jerk reaction is to push harder (e.g., “tell them what to do and give orders”). Pushing results in compliance but often sacrifices commitment. Leaders who are effective at inspiring are able to achieve both commitment and compliance, create excitement and energy in others, and are successful at enlisting others in a mission or cause. People take action and make changes because they want to, rather than they have to. To learn your preferences for pushing or pulling, we invite you to participate in Zenger Folkman’s Preferences for Motivating self-assessment.  To take the assessment visit:

5. More Open Minded Than Closed. The best persuaders keep an open mind. They realize that customers, competitors, preferences, and interests change over time and these changes will impact projects, recommendations, and strategies. When people believe that a leader is not open to new information, often they will not share any opposing information with them, leaving that leader in the dark. Those who are most open-minded thank others for their disagreements and differences of opinion. The open-minded continue to see the value of diverse opinions and perspectives.

6. More Conflict Resolvers Than Conflict Creators. The greatest persuaders resolve conflict rather by maintaining the attitude that disagreements do not necessarily lead to conflict. The best persuaders are great friends with their biggest critics. They engage in healthy debate which may eventually modify their position, or provide the persuader ideas on what might bring those who disagree over to their position.

There will come a time where you want to persuade others to your position. As you look at these six keys, it’s clear that utilizing a few of them will cause others to be less defensive about their position and open to discussion. Perhaps the great persuaders are those who are have the most understanding of both sides of an issue — they may still have a very strong position, but understanding those who disagree puts them in a significantly better position to persuade.


This article was originally published on Forbes.


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7 Tips For Coaching Someone More Experienced Than Youby Zenger Folkman


Today organizations are encouraging more frequent conversations between bosses and their subordinates, which are perceived as being far more effective than the traditional annual performance review. However, many have found that such conversations can become awkward when the subordinate is a seasoned professional; that person is extremely experienced, highly competent, possesses high self-esteem, and nearly always wants to be treated as an equal. Applying the research of Daniel Pink from his book Drive, this individual invariably has high mastery of their work, wants to have greater autonomy, and is longing for greater purpose and meaning from their job.

The business world has adopted the term “coaching” to describe these periodic, frequent discussions between a boss and subordinate. I submit that the first thing that must happen for the boss who is coaching a seasoned subordinate is to develop a totally new mindset regarding the nature and meaning of business coaching.

In the athletic world, coaches are more knowledgeable and experienced in the sport than the athletes. The coach is passing on information to a novice player and is often highly authoritarian. That information is intended to help the player perform at a higher level.

In a business setting, that sports conception of coaching must be dispelled – erased – dramatically reformed. Instead, the definition of business coaching is: "Interactions that help the person being coached to expand awareness, discover superior solutions, and make and implement better decisions." Note that there is no hint of advice giving or instructing. It is about expanding someone’s conception of a practice or problem, discovery by the person being coached of better solutions, and finally, implementation of those better decisions.

Coaching conversations in business typically have two purposes. The first is to improve the subordinate’s future performance. Rather than this happening because of fresh new ideas and suggestions, it is often the outcome of the subordinate developing higher aspirations and leaving the conversation feeling inspired to put forth even higher effort. They also may have considered and selected better ways to accomplish their work, these decisions having come from within, not without.

The second prong of these discussions is about the person’s career. This purpose is to improve this employee’s retention and their career advancement. It includes the manager knowing the individual's career aspirations and how they can assist in this person’s career advancement. It provides an opportunity for the manager to convey interest and concern for the person's long-term career progress.

With the above as a brief backdrop on business coaching, I offer seven tips for ways these objectives can be consistently obtained:

1. Focus on the future. Make the conversation forward-looking versus a look in the rearview mirror. The author Edward Everett Hale described his formula for a happy life as:

“Look up and not down;

Look forward and not back;

Look out and not in;

Lend a hand!”

This is a good perspective for a coaching conversation. Ensuring that the discussion is forward-looking, upward focused, externally oriented, and designed to be helpful will ensure its success.

2. Joint discovery versus a one-way speech. If the coaching process is exploratory and examining the future, there can be no hint of the manager talking down as a high school athletic coach might to a teenage student. It cannot smack of a parent-child relationship. The conversation is ideally completely horizontal; it is a conversation between two peers. One simple measure is the "air time test" which asks what percentage of the time is the manager talking versus the subordinate. Ideally 80% would be the subordinate’s share of the talk time.

3. Emphasize listening. The subordinate talking 80% of the time will be totally useless unless the manager is intently listening to what is said. Listening is not simply being quiet while the other person talks; it necessitates focus and is evidenced by facial expression and body language. In a recent Harvard Business Review article I explained that a great listener is “someone you can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.”

4. Ask insightful questions. These are not "gotcha questions" but sincere inquiries that expand the way both parties can think about the subordinate’s future performance. Nothing conveys true listening better than asking insightful questions.

5. Avoid criticism. Unless the subordinate is being put on a performance plan for faltering performance, the wise coach carefully avoids saying anything that would be interpreted as criticism. Why? Perceived criticism invariably breeds defensiveness, which in turn leads to performance decline. If the purpose of coaching is to elevate performance and enhance the person's career, criticism is best avoided.

6. Seek permission before giving advice and suggestions. As a manager, you may have observed some behavior that gets in your subordinate’s way or something that could be initiated. It will usually be best received if you say something like, “Fred, I have an observation that I think could be helpful to you. Would you like to hear it? Is now a good time?” We know there’s some pressure for the person to say “Yes,” but this is what you might say if you wanted to give a senior executive some useful feedback. It conveys respect and treats them with dignity.

7. Set follow-up discussions. Coaching conversations can be interpreted as merely casual chatter unless the manager conveys a serious desire to have ongoing discussions to ensure that agreements about future actions are indeed going to be implemented. Scheduling further meetings sends a powerful signal that the manager is genuinely interested in this individual’s career and future performance.

Following these seven tips will go far in making coaching conversations with a highly seasoned colleague be productive and set the stage for many more.

To learn more about the specific research behind these seven tips you can download my white paper, Coaching as a Management Style.

This article was originally published on Forbes.


August 28, 2017

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3 Ways To Drive For Results And Still Be Likableby Zenger Folkman

Most bosses want to be a hero, a mentor, and a friend to those that report to them. A recent Bloomberg article told a story of one boss, Richard Laermer, who decided to let his employees regularly work from home.

“"We hire adults, they shouldn't be tied to the office five days a week," said Laermer, who owns a New York-based public relations firm. "I always assumed that you can get your work done anywhere, as long as you actually get it done.” Unfortunately, for his company and situation, he was wrong. “Employees took advantage of the perk,” Laermer said. One was unavailable for hours at a time. Another wouldn't communicate with coworkers all day. “The last straw,” he said, “was when someone refused to come in for a meeting because she had plans to go to the Hamptons.”” Laermer wanted to find a way to keep his employees motivated and happy. Frequently, many find that efforts like this don’t work

There are many leaders that feel if they want to drive for results it will negatively impact their relationships with employees. While being a demanding leader often strains relationships, I’ve found from a recent study that there are ways for leaders to drive for results while remaining likable.

1. Employees like leaders who are able to communicate clear strategy and direction.

People are willing to drive for results when they clearly understand what is being asked of them. Relationships become strained when employees feel confused and frustrated about the vision and strategy.

Florence May Chadwick was the first woman to swim the English Channel. During one of her swims from Catalina Island to the California coastline she ran into trouble. A thick fog rolled in and she could no longer see her end point. As result, she began to doubt herself and gave up. Once out of the water she learned she was only one mile from the coastline. On her second attempt the same fog rolled in, but this time Florence pressed forward with a vision of the coastline that she couldn’t see. That vision helped her achieve her goal.

Just like Florence, employees need to have a clear vision in order to stimulate them to achieve great results.

2. Employees are more driven and fulfilled by stretch goals.

There is a paradox between satisfaction and effort. If you ask people what would make them happier, most will request a break, less work, or a vacation. However, our research has shown that the experiences that do the most to build satisfaction are challenging assignments, accomplishing difficult tasks, and making the impossible possible.

One such leader who excels at setting stretch goals is the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos. The idea of offering free shipping that was fast, predictable, and included in a yearly membership fee not only seemed crazy, but was a nightmare for the logistics department. In the first year Amazon lost millions in revenue and there was no evidence this gamble would pay off. However, the increased site traffic made the marketplace work, and the data they accumulated boosted their sales efforts. This stretch goal shaped Amazon into what it is today.

The easy path isn’t very satisfying or rewarding. To get results, set goals that will truly stretch people.

3. Employees deliver results to leaders who inspire them.

Micromanaging people doesn’t stimulate them to go the extra mile. Leaders who inspire employees can unleash an energy within people to do their best work. It isn’t about pushing people, it’s about pulling them.

In a tale told by Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, during the First World War there was a small group of Hungarian soldiers stationed in the Alps. A younger lieutenant sent a small group out on a scouting mission. Shortly after their departure there was a terrible storm and the group was lost. After three long days the lieutenant was relieved and surprised when the squad returned. “How did you survive and find your way back?” he asked. The leader of scouts explained they were lost in the snow, had given up hope, and resigned themselves to die. Then one of the men found a map in his pocket and with it they believed they could now find their way back. They then handed the lieutenant their valued map – which was of the Pyrenees mountains, not the Alps!

It wasn’t the map that saved this group of people by providing accurate directions. Instead, this group had a leader who used that map to inspire them to keep going and not give up. Often you may think that your ability to motivate others is not perfect or inspiring, but neither was a map of the Pyrenees mountains.

You don’t have to choose between being a results-driven leader and a people person. There are multiple ways to get what you need and still be a boss your employees want to work for. My research has shown that leaders who utilize these behaviors both increase the probability of delivering great results and creating a positive, engaged work environment.

This article was originally published on Forbes.


August 19, 2017

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Listening And Speaking: The Leader’s Paradoxby Zenger Folkman

Picture a well-known exceptional leader. We often think of these leaders within the context of them talking; perhaps giving an inspiring speech that rallies the troops, facilitating a discussion, or providing clear direction. However, Zenger Folkman's research has found that leaders with a preference for listening are rated as significantly more effective than those who spend the majority of their time holding forth.

Although most tend to picture senior leaders as talking rather than listening, my colleague Joe Folkman and I also found that leaders at a higher organizational level preferred listening more than supervisors lower down in the hierarchy. The graph below shows the percentage of leaders with a preference for listening.

Our Research

We recently analyzed the self-assessment results from 577 leaders on their preference for talking versus listening. We identified 104 leaders with a strong preference for talking and compared their results to 135 leaders who preferred listening.

We also collected effectiveness ratings on these leaders, using evaluations from managers, peers, direct reports, and others. On average, leaders were rated by 13 different raters. We measured leadership effectiveness on 16 differentiating competencies and examined the average rating from all rater groups.

We found that leaders with a strong self-preference for listening were rated as significantly more effective on 13 of the 16 competencies. The graph below shows the results for the two groups. All of these data were highly significant.

The Listening Advantage

The data is extremely compelling, showing that a preference for listening (and listening before talking) is directly tied to a leader’s effectiveness. Steven R. Covey, in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, expressed this principle in his advice to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Few doubted the wisdom of this advice; our results provide clear and metric evidence of the power of effective listening.

As we talk to leaders about how to be an effective listener, we frequently find that people know the typical tips and advice for listening better. The question then becomes, “If you know how to listen, why aren’t you doing it better?”

The short answer is, leaders don’t actually know how to effectively listen. To that end, here are a few tips we’ve compiled on ways to be better listeners.

7 Ways to Become a More Effective Listener

  1. When you have something important you want to say, wait for the optimum time. Having a good thought is important; injecting it at exactly the right moment can be important as well.
  2. Ask good questions. Good listening is much more than remaining silent while the other person talks. It requires asking good questions and showing genuine interest in people’s responses as well.
  3. Be a trampoline, not a sponge. Good listening goes beyond being able to repeat exactly what another person says; it also requires providing a new perspective. You are adding energy to the conversation. Become a trampoline by propelling the energy forward.
  4. Ask for feedback from others. The best listeners provide feedback to other people that includes interest, excitement, reactions, disagreements, and suggestions. Because the best conversations are not one-way, the ultimate dialog happens when both parties gain new information and perspective. The highest form of this principle comes from asking for feedback from the other person.
  5. Be curious. At the heart of good listening is the genuine interest that one person has in someone else’s ideas and story.
  6. Be aware of what your face is saying. Everyone has likely had another person read the wrong conclusions into an email or memo. The miscommunication is often cleared up by picking up the phone or, even better, by conversing with someone face-to-face. 80% of communication comes from the tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions that transmit all elements of the communication in whole.
  7. Trust that listening intently, prior to fully stating your position, will get you more than talking.

No matter your place in the organizational hierarchy, the message is clear: effective listening skills will propel your success.

This article was originally published on Forbes.

August 3, 2017

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What Drove Your Last Performance Evaluation?by Zenger Folkman

A great deal is being written today about companies changing their performance management programs. Those companies who’ve abandoned traditional performance appraisals have gained notoriety. However, the overwhelming majority are keeping some form of evaluation of performance. We suspect that there are many reasons for that:

  • Employees want to know how they are doing.
  • Organizations need some measure and record in case of discipline or termination.
  • Organizations seek to reward the highest performing employees with greater compensation, and need justification and documentation for that.

The old form of performance appraisal, however, is vanishing. The practice of reducing an individual’s year-long performance to a single digit or word is falling out of favor. Rather than benefitting the recipient, it often does harm.

Are evaluations ever to be trusted?

An article in Harvard Business Review, argued that most performance evaluations are more an expression of the person doing the rating, then of the individual being evaluated. Researchers have identified bias that creeps into evaluations that the article suggests could account for as much as 62% of the evaluation.

They identified three primary sources of rater errors:

  1. The overall leniency of the person doing the rating. Most of us can identify with having a teacher or professor who was a harsh grader versus one who was easy-going and more generous.
  2. The “halo” effect. The overall perceptions about a person tend to color the rating of each of the specific behaviors and traits that describe that person’s performance. It is easy to have the individual scores in any evaluation process influenced by the overall perception.
  3. Positional influence. We have all heard the observation that “where you stand depends on where you sit.” A manager’s ratings are different from a peer’s or an assistant’s, in part because of the different relationship they have with the person being rated.

Researchers pointed out, however, that while the absolute rating from two evaluators may be quite different, the rank order of each specific score about the individual’s capability and behavior obtained from each rater displayed a remarkable similarity. The high and low scores would generally be the same. The behavior of the person being rated is obviously strongly influencing the scores they receive, even though one rater is measuring in centimeters and another is using inches and feet.

What behavior actually drives a person’s evaluation?

Though it is never perfectly accurate, my colleague Joe Folkman and I strongly support the view of the researchers as they explained that the behavior of the individual being rated is the major driving force behind performance evaluation. Any bias in that process can be greatly reduced simply by having multiple raters participate in the individual’s evaluation. In another Harvard Business Review article we shared that if a manager solicits the opinions of three peers and three subordinates, the combined elements of rater bias are now reduced to 24% of the total score. The performance of the person being rated is now more than two thirds (68% to be exact) of the final score. Using more than seven raters would obviously bring that percentage to an even higher level.

We examined our database of more than 7,000 individual contributors and 5,000 managers. Our quest was to find those behaviors that most strongly influenced the final evaluations made. The behaviors that managers associate with high performance were as follows:

  1. Deliver Results. The strongest and most consistent correlations were skills that focused on achieving results. When individuals were able to achieve goals on schedule and did everything possible to achieve results, managers were impressed. Another critical component was the quality of work. The person needed to deliver outputs that met high standards.
  2. Be a Trusted Collaborator. High performance ratings went with being trusted. Being trusted emanates from good interpersonal skills. Strong collaborators were excellent communicators and were held up as role models. Some individuals strive to stand out by working independently. That way it’s clear who deserves the credit. Our data suggests those individuals typically fail. The highest performers, on the other hand, cooperated with other groups and were trusted in making decisions.
  3. Strong Technical/Professional Expertise. For both managers and individual contributors, technical/professional expertise drove their performance evaluation. People devoid of a deep understanding of the technical issues facing the organization work at a significant disadvantage. Some come into an organization with fresh expertise. Yet, by coasting, over time they become obsolete. Technology changes quickly. Keeping up-to-date is critical.
  4. Ability to Translate Vision and Strategy into Meaningful Goals. The best performers understood the organizational strategy and were able to apply that understanding in their job to make a contribution. Those who did not make the effort to connect their work to the company strategy appear to work in a vacuum. Often their decisions were based on personal preferences rather than being aligned with the vision. Understanding the strategy impacted performance ratings for both managers and individual contributors.
  5. Skilled at Marketing their Work. If someone is frustrated or disappointed with their performance rating, they often lament and think: “My works should speak for itself.” Good products are usually successful because they are not only a good product, and they have been marketed well. The fact is, good work rarely speaks for itself. Managers are surrounded by hundreds of shiny objects seeking to grab their attention. Good work needs a little marketing.

When it came to evaluating the performance of managers, there were two additional qualities that rose to the forefront:

  1. Speed. We have been tracking this dimensions for several years. It’s become a critical factor influencing individual success. The world is speeding up. Information is flowing faster, competitors are coming out with new products, global dynamics are changing preferences and the need to move work at a fast pace is a key differentiator between good leaders and great leaders. In our book, Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution, we found compelling information that leaders who were speedy were rated two times more effective as leaders, had significantly more engaged employees and were more likely to get promoted.
  2. The Ability to Inspire and Motivate Others. We have rated the effectiveness of this skill on more than 85,000 leaders and found that compared to 15 other leadership competencies, this is rated the lowest. Yet when we asked more than a million respondents which competency is most important, “inspires and motivates” ranks number 1. Fifty years ago, people would work for money, but today people need to be inspired.

In summary, then, while performance evaluations are not dead, they are clearly evolving. The strongest organizations can make the process more effective by using multiple raters to reduce bias. The strongest employees and leaders can make their evaluation better by focusing on the five behaviors that can drive their ratings the most. And for managers, in particular, the ability to execute at a faster pace and the ability to inspire and motivate others can serve as the two extraordinary skills that can propel their rise to the top.

This article was originally published on Forbes.

July 27, 2017

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How Coachable Are You? 5 Quick Ways To Improveby Zenger Folkman

Employee being coachable leadershipMost organizations agree that coaching is important, but they do virtually nothing to make employees more receptive to coaching. Moreover, misperceptions about how someone will respond to coaching shuts down a lot of valuable conversations before they’ve even begun. People working in these companies pay a high price. Many develop blind spots, not realizing the seriousness of an underlying performance issue. Keeping up a personal practice of being coachable allows you to stay in touch with your impact on others.

What does it mean to be coachable?

A person who is coachable not only responds well when given feedback, they ask for feedback. They view the input from others as a valuable tool in their development. They also are willing to take actions and make personal changes based on the feedback.

A new mindset required

In a TV interview, I was asked, “Wouldn’t requesting feedback from others cause them to view you as unsure of yourself and being less competent?” I replied, “Whenever anyone asks me for feedback, my impression is that this person is self-assured, competent, and courageous. They want to know how to improve. But perhaps I have been influenced by my research.”

What research tells us about the correlation between competence and coachability?

The graph above is based on results from over 50,000 leaders. Each leader was assessed on their coachability and the perception of their overall leadership effectiveness based on 46 behaviors. The assessment collected feedback from an average of 13 people, including managers, peers, direct reports and others. Those who were rated as being the least coachable (1st to the 10th percentile) had an overall leadership effectiveness rating at the 11th percentile while those who were the most coachable (91st to the 100th percentile) averaged the 92nd percentile.

Impact on promotability

In another study, my colleagues Jack Zenger, Kevin Wilde and I looked at leaders who were rated as having high potential versus all others. Once again, as the graph below demonstrates, the high potential leaders were rated as significantly more coachable.

Becoming more coachable

Here are our specific suggestions for conveying to others your receptiveness to coaching and to practice being more coachable.

1. Ask for feedback. The single most powerful thing you can do is to sincerely ask for feedback from your colleagues, especially your boss. It can be as simple as asking, “Give me one suggestion for what I could do to be more effective in my job.” The important step is to the open the door to feedback.

2. Ensure you understand the feedback. Be sure you understand the seriousness or importance of this message. It could be a casual suggestion, or it could be something that is career limiting. Make certain you know which. If you’re uncertain about the exact meaning of the feedback, seek examples that will illustrate the message.

3. Thank the giver of feedback and confirm your desire for more. Your response to feedback will determine whether this will be the first of many doses of helpful information, or whether it will be the last you’ll ever receive.

4. Request suggestions on how to improve. The giver of feedback may have some useful ideas about how to improve, change your manner, or start doing something that would make you even more effective.

5. Welcome tough or unexpected feedback. Develop a thick skin that accepts such feedback as a learning opportunity, not a personal attack.

Creating a life-long habit of welcoming feedback:

When people first begin their working career, they regularly check in with their boss and ask for feedback. We asked 692,561 people to assess the importance of being coachable along with 15 other leadership competencies. Each person was asked to choose the four competencies out of 16 that were most important. With leaders who were 25 or younger, 22 percent of raters said coachability was one of the top four most important competencies. As the graph below clearly demonstrates, as people age the perceived importance of coachability declines (see the right axis labeled “Importance of Being Coachable”). Keep in mind that this was a forced choice of the four most important competencies. It’s not that coachability is not important, but other competencies become more important as people age. As the graph demonstrates, the effectiveness of leaders on coachability also declines with age (see the left axis labeled “Coachable Effectiveness”).

The lesson we need to learn

Many of us have the assumption that someday life will be easy. We will coast along effortlessly and will be successful. As evidenced above, this assumption causes many to start coasting. But this assumption that it gets easier is not true. It is never true because you change, the organization changes and the business environment is constantly evolving. A successful life means constant change and continuous learning. So set a goal now to remain coachable throughout your career.

This article was originally published on Forbes.

July 20, 2017

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3 Signs You Are A Counterfeit Bold Leader And How To Improveby Zenger Folkman

bold leader red pencil stands out from black pencilsAfter writing several articles about the benefits and positive impact of bold leaders, I received pushback from a number of people who had observed bold leaders that did not create the same positive impression. These leaders were perceived as being bold but created dissatisfaction and frustration within their organizations.

While on the surface these leaders may appear to be bold, I identified three characteristics commonly found among bold leader counterfeits:

1. Aggressive leaders are hyper focused on their own needs and successes. They take extraordinary steps to make themselves look good, often at the expense of others. They will look for ways to blame others and are unwilling to accept responsibility for errors.

2. Autocratic leaders rarely ask for input or advice from others, desiring to make all the decisions alone. They prioritize maintaining control over providing opportunities for others to grow. They expect orders to be followed and no one is allowed to question the decision or solution.

3. Arrogant leaders are always “right.” They are not teachable and believe that others’ decisions and solutions are inferior to their own. Because they resist feedback from others, they become defensive when challenged. Their business decisions are often centered in ego and personal agenda.

Leaders who engage in these behaviors have the façade of being bold, but truly lack the many positive benefits of genuine bold leadership.

In analyzing data from over 50,000 leaders, my colleague Jack Zenger and I discovered that genuine bold leaders were rated as more effective, had more positive performance reviews, and were more likely to be a high potential leader. They also had significantly more satisfied direct reports who were not likely to think about quitting their jobs. Overall, these leaders were very effective, well liked, and generated engagement across the organization.

The reason some leaders utilize the counterfeit bold behaviors of aggression, an autocratic style, or arrogance, is that in the short term these behaviors generate results. However, employees end up being motivated out of fear rather than respect or inspiration and will abandon ship as soon as possible. What we have found in our research is that it is possible for leaders to develop a genuinely bold style, but only if they avoid these three destructive leadership behaviors.

Genuine Bold Leadership

Through our firm’s ongoing leadership research, we came to a consensus that a series of seven behaviors effectively described the characteristics of a genuinely bold leader. The seven behaviors are:

1. Challenges standard approaches.

2. Creates an atmosphere of continual improvement.

3. Does everything possible to achieve goals.

4. Gets others to go beyond what they originally thought possible.

5. Energizes others to take on challenging goals.

6. Quickly recognizes situations where change is needed.

7. Has the courage to make needed changes.

In a further look at our data, we identified the leaders who were in the top 10% in terms of their boldness as rated by these seven behaviors. We then compared the results for these leaders against all other leaders in our database to understand what was different about their behavior. We found that they were rated significantly more positive on the following characteristics:

• Persuaded, instead of demanded, others to stretch.

• Constructively challenged rather than aggressively challenged.

• Inspired and energized others rather than expecting others would accomplish difficult tasks simply because they were assigned.

• Helped others understand rather than simply telling people what to do.

• Found ways to improve others’ new ideas rather than forcing their ideas on others.

Developing genuine boldness is a worthy goal for any leader. It can inspire others to peak performance, invite innovation, and spark new growth for organizations. By carefully assessing if behaviors could be perceived as aggressive, autocratic, and/or arrogant, you will easily be able to identify if a leader, or your own style, is counterfeiting bold leadership. If you are curious about your preferences around bold leadership behaviors, I invite you to take a quick self-survey by clicking here.

This article was originally published on Forbes.

June 29, 2017

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6 Keys To Having It All: Outstanding Results And Engaged Teamby Zenger Folkman

Recently a client mused, “Is it possible to be a high-standards, results driven leader; while at the same time building an engaged, fun-to-work with team?" Many people would contend that doing either of these things well makes it almost impossible to succeed at the other.

To explore this question further, my colleague Jack Zenger and I examined 360 assessments from more than 60,000 leaders. The assessment measured both a leader’s ability to drive hard for results and his or her people skills. We isolated leaders who were in the top quartile on both obtaining results and people skills.

The verdict: We found only 13% of leaders in the overall dataset were in the top quartile on both. We were fascinated to see what insights we would gain from understanding what this group of 7,800 leaders did differently than the other 87%.

Characteristics Of The Rare Group Who Does Both

In a recent Harvard Business Review article we shared that leaders who are under 30 years of age are 2-3 times more likely to be effective at both results and engagement than their older compatriots. Nearly one-third of the group under 30 years achieved both priorities well. At around age 40, it seems, leaders appear to have made their choice between being results driven or interpersonally strong. From there forward, only 10% of leaders in any age group would do both things well.

This prompts some questions. If someone early in their career is able to do both things, could they recapture that ability? Could we preserve that flexibility of being both results oriented and engaged if we began at an earlier age to offer appropriate development?

The Impact Of Position

Supervisors are much more likely to carry both capabilities, we found. In fact, supervisors are twice as likely to do both things well. In this case we did see some decline in both skills with age, but people skills declined more than the “drive for results” as leaders moved from supervisor to top management. Both skills decline with age, and age and position are strongly correlated with each other.

What Makes Leaders Well Rounded

To understand how and why some leaders are able to perform both capabilities well, we compared the results for the group in the top quartile on both skills to all other leaders in the dataset. We analyzed 40 behaviors and performed a statistical test ( t-tests) contrasting both group’s results. Then, by analyzing the items showing the most significant differences, we performed a factor analysis and identified six clustered groups. These appear to be the behaviors that enable that 13% of leaders to consistently use both sets of leadership skills.

We labelled these clusters “Behavioral Bridges,” because the evidence suggests they enable leaders to simultaneously “drive for results” and practice good interpersonal skills. Obviously, these outcomes single leaders out as possessing six powerful skills that allow them to perform at a much higher level than those who lack these traits. 

1. Communicates Clear Strategy And Direction

Drives For Results People Skills
Top results rely on everyone having clarity about the direction and understanding the strategy to achieve it. Confusion leads to frustrated and dissatisfied employees. Leaders who communicate well and provide well-defined direction have a much more involved team.

2.Inspires And Motivates

Drives For Results People Skills
When a leader has the ability to drive hard for results and at the same time to inspire high effort and performance they are much more likely to achieve results. Inspiring behavior unleashes the energy within people to do their best work. Leaders who can inspire and generate loyalty, commitment and enthusiasm in their team members excel at creating a optimistic work environment. 

3. Establishes Stretch Goals

Drives For Results People Skills
If you want to get others to work harder and raise the bar, than get team members to set stretch goals. When stretch goals are collaboratively set with a team, amazing things happen. Everyone is “all in.” People feel valued and competent.

4. High Integrity And Trust

Drives For Results People Skills
Team members who do not trust their leaders struggle to support the stretch goals that they set. A key component of building positive relationships with others is being trusted. To be trusted leaders need to walk their talk.

5. Develops Others

Drives For Results People Skills
Leaders who care about the development of subordinates and who also take the time to develop these people reap the benefits in the results produced. Most people want the opportunity to develop new skills and competencies.   Developing others has the two-fold impact of elevating performance and also creating a culture that is fun and engaging.

6. Coachability

Drives For Results People Skills

Leaders who resist feedback are much like the emperor with no clothes. Since they do not seek or want feedback, people see do not speak up. Problems fall in the cracks. Deadlines are missed.

However, if a leader seeks feedback and is receptive to advice, colleagues will not stand by if they see that leader about to make a mistake.

Leaders who ask for feedback from others and work to make improvements are highly respected. Their coachability is an example to everyone.

The ability to drive for results paired with excellent people skills is a very powerfully combination — so powerful, in fact, these leaders rank in the 91st percentile for overall leadership effectiveness. Your lesson in this should be clear: Identify at least one of two of these “Behavior Bridges” to help you develop these behaviors yourself.

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