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Zenger Folkman blog

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.

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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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3 Reasons To Recruit And Select More Female Leadersby Zenger Folkman

In the U.S., since 1970, 26% of the growth in GDP has been directly attributable to having more women in the workforce. Hiring women has clearly been beneficial, but the benefits don’t stop with a mere headcount. Companies are in need of strong individuals in key leadership positions. Women are a huge and largely untapped resource that is often not recognized. Vik Malhotra, a senior partner at McKinsey and Co., has said, “For women, the corporate talent pipeline is leaky and blocked.”

The graph below echoes this sentiment that even though women make up more than half of the workforce they are surprisingly sparse at the top.

  1. Women leaders are highly qualified.

A few years ago I shared a study on Harvard Business Review in response to the question “are women better leaders than men?” My colleague Joe Folkman and I looked through our database of over 60,000 leaders and found that according to our 360 analysis, women outperformed men in 12 of the 16 competencies we measured.

This realization was very intriguing and we have spent a good deal of time trying to learn more about women in leadership and how they can better leverage their unique strengths.

Our 360-assessment takes reports from managers, direct reports, peers, and others. It turns out women had the most positive ratings from Managers. In the graph below you can see the difference of men and women in all the rater levels.

2. Women are more likely to seek out opportunities to learn and improve throughout their career.

We looked at men’s and women’s scores on self-development in our assessment and found that early on in their careers there is no significant difference between their scores. However, you can see in the graph below that as their careers progress, females did not decline like males did over time.

Our data showed that increased effectiveness occurred because most women chose to continue to learn and develop. The point is not about males versus females, but rather the power of development and continuous improvement.

  1. Organizations benefit more from a mixed gender workplace.

A study done at MTI showed that teams with mixed gender are more productive and creative. In fact, the economists found that simply moving from an all-male or all-female office to one that was evenly split could possibly increase revenue by 41 percent. How? Their research found that “greater social diversity implies a greater spread of experience, which could add to the collective knowledge of a group of office workers and make the unit perform more effectively.”

Again, my point is not to say that one gender is better than the other. Rather, both are effective and with the rising shortage of senior leaders, both are needed. For example, Kevin Kelly, a CEO of Heidrick and Struggles, found that “40% of executives hired at the senior level are pushed out, fail or quit within 18 months.” Organizations can greatly benefit from putting more emphasis on identifying women in their ranks, and working to develop them for senior roles they can succeed in.

In all, our findings should be clear: Companies need the diversity and benefits women leaders provide. Every company can benefit from placing much greater emphasis on getting more women in its leadership ranks.

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May 10, 2017

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How to Improve at Work When You’re Not Getting Feedbackby Zenger Folkman

Too many managers avoid giving any kind of feedback, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. If you work for a boss who doesn’t provide feedback, it’s easy to feel rudderless. It can be especially disorienting if you’re new in the role, new to the company, or a recent graduate new to the workforce. In the absence of specific guidance, is there any way to know what the average boss would want you to work on?

While everyone will have different strengths and weaknesses they need to work on, when we examined our database of performance evaluation information for more than 7,000 individual contributors and 5,000 managers, we noticed a reliable pattern. There were five behaviors that managers most often associated with high performance:

Delivering results. The strongest, most consistent correlations were skills that focused on achieving results. When individuals were able to achieve goals on schedule and did everything possible to get results, managers were impressed. Another critical component was the quality of work. The person needed to deliver outputs that met high standards.

Being 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, so that 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.

Having 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 but, by coasting, become obsolete over time. Technology changes quickly. Keeping up-to-date is essential.

Translating 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 appeared to work in a vacuum. Often, their decisions were based on personal preferences rather than on being aligned with the vision. Understanding the strategy impacted performance ratings for both managers and individual contributors.

Marketing their work well. If someone is frustrated or disappointed with their performance rating, they often lament and think: “My work should speak for itself.” Good products are successful usually because they are not only a good product — they have been marketed well, too. 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.

As you read through this list, think about how you stack up on each of these. Do you have strong expertise but need to work on your collaborative skills? Are you a great team player who needs to learn to toot your own horn? How much output do you generate, compared with the rest of your team, and how is the quality of what you turn in? You can try asking peers for feedback on these areas if you can’t get any feedback from your boss.

If you’re a manager, our data dive revealed two additional qualities to focus on:

Speed. We have been tracking this dimension for several years. It’s become a critical factor influencing individual success. 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 researching our book Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution,we found compelling information that leaders who were speedy were rated as being two times more effective as leaders, had significantly more engaged employees, and were more likely to get promoted.

The ability to inspire and motivate others. We have rated the effectiveness of this skill for more than 85,000 leaders, and found that, compared with 15 other leadership competencies, this is rated the lowest. Yet when we asked more than 1 million respondents which competency is most important, “inspires and motivates” ranks number one. Fifty years ago, people might have worked for money alone, but today people want to be inspired.

We might also humbly suggest that if you’re a manager, you try to get a little better at giving feedback.

Read the article on Harvard Business Review.

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May 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read the article on Harvard Business Review.

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Advice For Those Who Believe They Give Great Adviceby Zenger Folkman

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

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

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

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

4. I wanted to be a better coach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Leadership Effectiveness

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

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

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

Impact Of Advice Giving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice For Advice Givers

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

Read the article on Forbes.

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March 30, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

Recognizing Your Emotions Through Mindfulness

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

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

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

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

Making Sense Of Your Emotions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the article on Forbes.

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March 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read the article on Forbes.

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March 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of the article on Forbes.

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February 23, 2017

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Companies Are Bad at Identifying High-Potential Employeesby Zenger Folkman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article was originally published on Harvard Business Review.

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