During last week’s first public workshop (these sessions are usually run in-house) of The Extraordinary Coach in Calgary, the lights came on for a manager from a technology company. Like many managers — and especially those in very technical organizations – Dave viewed coaching as directing, advising, and training his direct reports. Since he was promoted because of his deep technical expertise, he defined his role as the top technical problem solver in his team. That commonly held view — by both him and his team members — put Dave into this spin cycle:
Dave was working harder and harder as he tried to stay on top of all the issues in his department. His team members were pushing most of their problems — especially technical ones — up to him. His coaching sessions and performance review sessions, as with many managers, left the ownership of most issues with him. He was increasingly frustrated by team members’ failure to follow through on the commitments and plans Dave set with them.
The lights came as Dave realized he was doing most of the talking — consisting mainly of telling – in these sessions. So the plans set with team members were really his directives. That led to a repeating series of follow up sessions as he prodded and pushed for team members to meet the plans and commitments set with Dave. He now realized he was getting nominal compliance but not real commitment. He was spinning his wheels and looking for a new approach.
Sound familiar? For more on this cycle and breaking out of it see The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders, or our Building Extraordinary Coaching Skills archived webinar. We have just a few seats left in our June 18 and 19 Extraordinary Leader and Extraordinary Coach workshops in Mississauga (15 minutes from the Toronto airport).
In recent keynote presentations and workshops with HR and leadership development professionals, more and more participants have been embracing the approach of building on strengths. When presented with the powerful evidence and logic of strengths-based leadership development, most people are convinced.
But it’s tough to let go of deeply ingrained practices and “conventional wisdom.” One participant recently sent me an e-mail after a session with this comment:
“There is certainly value to building on strengths. However, I rarely notice mention of key competencies required for any management role and the absolute need to demonstrate all of these competencies. The inability to demonstrate key competencies cannot be overlooked, no matter how great one builds on existing strengths.”
I used to think the same way. My leadership books and our decades of leadership development work were built around the same belief: outstanding leaders demonstrate most if not all the skills of a leadership framework or competency model. It’s a bit daunting and exhilarating to be proven wrong with a growing mountain of research and first-hand experience as we work to develop extraordinary leaders.
Skills or competencies vital to a leader’s role often need to be focused on. What’s so revolutionary and powerful about Zenger Folkman’s groundbreaking research on strengths-based leadership development is that leaders don’t need to be superheroes and demonstrate all or even most of the competencies.
If a leader is perceived as seriously deficient in a leadership competency that’s critical to their role, he or she needs to develop that skill. Otherwise this is a “towering weakness” that others can’t see past to his or her strengths.
Fortunately, few leaders are in that position. Our research clearly demonstrates that developing just 3 competencies from good to great (90th percentile) will boost overall leadership effectiveness to the 80th percentile of 50,000 leaders in our database. Taking just two more competencies to great or profound strength (for a total of 5 out of 16) moves that leader to the top 10% of all leaders worldwide! This is part of the mind bending shift in thinking I’ve gone through in the past year. You can read my changing perspectives and big shift in thinking at Manifesto for a Leadership Development Revolution.
This shift from a weakness-focused approach has huge implications for traditional approaches to leadership competency models. I wrote about that in Leadership Competency Models: Why Many Are Failing and How to Make them Flourish.
How would you describe the organizational culture of your dreams? What are its essential elements? How would people treat each other? What core values would shine brightly every day? If you could eavesdrop on members of your team describing their workplace at a family gathering or social event, what would you hope they’d say?
We often lead exercises like this during executive planning retreats. We’ll then gather all the descriptions together and cluster them for key themes. This collage becomes “snapshots of our preferred future” and provides an ongoing and energizing focal point for defining core values, identifying desired and undesired behaviors across the organization, aligning systems and processes and focusing Strategic Imperatives.
This month’s Harvard Business Review features research by Rob Goffee, emeritus professor of organizational behavior at the London Business School and Gareth Jones, a visiting professor at the IE Business School, in Madrid. Their work evolved from three years of research on authenticity and effective leadership. This led to searching for what conditions create the most authentic workplaces. They call that “the organization of your dreams.”
In “Creating the Best Workplace on Earth,” Goffee and Jones report they “found six common imperatives. Together they describe an organization that operates at its fullest potential by allowing people to do their best work … in a nutshell, it’s a company where individual differences are nurtured; information is not suppressed or spun; the company adds value to employees, rather than merely extracting it from them; the organization stands for something meaningful; the work itself is intrinsically rewarding; and there are no stupid rules.”
The six essential elements they uncovered are:
1. Let people be themselves.
2. Unleash the flow of information.
3. Magnify people’s strengths.
4. Stand for more than shareholder value.
5. Show how the daily work makes sense.
6. Have rules people can believe in.
Given all our work with Zenger Folkman and our Strengths-Based Leadership Development System over the past year it’s not surprising to see magnifying people’s strengths is essential to building an extraordinary culture. It’s in the sub-title of ZF’s latest book, How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your Strengths.
Goffee and Jones also report on research showing that highly engaged employees are 50% more likely to exceed expectations than the least engaged. Companies with those highly engaged employees have 54% higher employee retention, 89% great customer satisfaction, and four times the revenue growth. Our research shows even sharper differences in many cases.
We’ve also seen that helping leaders uncover and magnify the 3 – 5 natural strengths that others see in them means moving their effectiveness from good to great (the top 10% of leaders in our global data base). Those leaders create dream teams and extraordinary cultures.
Discover your perceived strengths and develop a personal plan for leveraging them at The Extraordinary Leader public workshop on June 18 in Mississauga, ON (just 15 minutes from Toronto’s international airport). Our May session is sold out and the June workshop is getting close to full. Click here for details and to register.
Leadership likability has many meanings. And the implications go much deeper than whether a leader has lots of “Like” button clicks.
Zenger Folkman’s research shows that leaders who score high on the Likability Index are also rated as being highly effective leaders by their direct reports, peers, manager, and others. These ratings correlate to sharply higher employee satisfaction and engagement, sales, customer service, safety, productivity, quality, and profitability.
In their latest Harvard Business Review blog post, I’m the Boss? Why Should I Care if You Like Me?, Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman refute the common misconception that leaders can be highly effective without being likable. One of their studies involving 51,836 leaders showed that does happen – but only in 1 out of 2,000 cases! Those odds are hard to like! Jack and Joe also outline seven key steps for leaders to substantially increase their likability.
ZF’s Likability Index goes beyond an engaging personality and strong interpersonal skills. It also includes attributes such as integrity, problem solving, inspiring and motivating others, and honesty. Click here to see the complete list and take a self-assessment of your personal likability.
A second set of misconceptions has emerged from this discussion; demanding leaders are less likable – especially if they’re women. This point was raised recently in blog post by Marianne Cooper a sociologist at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. She was the lead researcher for the book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg and declared that “success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.”
To look deeper at this issue Zenger Folkman studied this question in their database of 360 assessments on over 50,000 leaders. This data is based on an average of 13 raters (mangers, peers, direct reports and others) for each leader. The evaluations aren’t abstract constructs but rather real people that the raters know well and work with every day.
For this study ZF’s “Demanding Index” included these items:
Many people would expect to see that the more demanding a leader is the less likable he or she might be. The findings clearly refute that misconception. The graph below shows that demanding leadership has an almost perfect correlation to likability. And there’s virtually no variability between men and women.
Like quality, service, or excellence, likability and demanding are often in the eye of the beholder. How we define those terms has a big impact on our conclusions. If demanding means “pushes too hard,” “manipulative,” “overly aggressive,” or even “bullying” then likability – and effectiveness – will likely plummet.
The data show that extraordinary leaders produce outstanding results through being both highly demanding and highly likable. You’ve got to like those findings.
“Constructive criticism” becomes destructive criticism when it’s poorly delivered by a leader with a very low negativity/positivity ratio. My March blog on The Best Positivity/Negativity Ratio for Peak Performance discussed research on balancing positive to negative statements for optimum personal, team, and organization performance.
CNN recently featured an article on how leaders can most effectively deliver negative feedback. The article reported on the University of Michigan Business School’s study of team performance correlated to the frequency of praise and criticism:
“The best-performing teams used about six times as many positive comments for every negative one. It found that the worst performing teams, on average, used three negative comments for every positive one.”
A similar ratio of positive to negative comments has been found for marriages.
Highly effective leaders don’t pretend all is positive and rosy while ignoring difficult issues (the moose-on-the-table). Corrective feedback that addresses negative behaviors keeps individuals and teams on their pathways to peak performance. Most often the issue is not what is said but how feedback is delivered. It’s been said that 90% of the friction in relationships is caused by the wrong tone of voice.
Can You Cope with Criticism at Work? provides this advice:
All this growing research on maintaining positive and strengths-based relationships sheds new light on the old notion of “relationship bank accounts.” We need to put up to six times more deposits in our relationship bank account to cover just one withdrawal. If we allow these accounts to run big deficits we’ll end up with expensive overdraft charges and likely bankrupt the relationship.
The founder of MacDonald’s hamburger chain, Ray Kroc, was well known for his motto, “when you’re green you’re growing, when you’re ripe you rot.” May is a great time for us in the Northern Hemisphere to reflect on whether we’re greening ourselves with new growth or stagnating and decaying.
Once again this spring I’ll be in the garden looking for and nurturing green growth. But my big personal growth from a year ago is a very different view of how we most effectively grow leadership skills.
For decades my writing, workshops, and consulting work has been focused around the traditional approach that has been widely assumed by most of us in the field of leadership development: growth and development involves finding and fixing weaknesses. Since partnering with Zenger Folkman in using a strengths-based leadership development approach I now realize how limiting and less effective those common and unconscious assumptions are.
The perennial flowers in my garden have a wide variety of characteristics. Some like lots of sun, others prefer shade, and some thrive in either. In wet soil some plants grow vigorously while others rot. Some plants like to be crowded together while others need their space. Some plants need lots of nutrients while others do quite well in depleted soil.
A weakness-based gardening approach would be to “develop” perennials by training and pushing them to overcome their “deficiencies” and learn how to live in the conditions opposite to their true nature. At best, some of these plants might survive and produce a few flowers. More likely they’ll decline, die, and rot.
Tomorrow we publish my April blogs in the May issue of The Leader Letter. The first article is on finding our Leadership Sweet Spot. This is a prime example of using a strengths-based approach to build and develop natural skills, preferences, and abilities. Overlaying a key strength with the leader’s passion and the organizational need for his or her role will produce 2 – 3 times more growth and development than trying to fix weaknesses.
Many of the other topics in the May issue focus on personal, team, or organizational growth. We’ll review how effective use of feedback grows leadership effectiveness. Growing our Likeability Index cultivates our leadership effectiveness. And many leaders will be relieved to learn they don’t need to remake themselves into something they’re not (like a sunflower trying to be a rose) and become charismatic to be an inspirational leader. We’ll also see how preparing for and adapting to unforeseen change is key to growth. And like fertilizer, recognition can burn and brown or nurture and grow.
May you be ever green and growing!
Soundview Executive Book Summaries has released a summary of Zenger Folkman’s new book, How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your Strengths. The summary covers:
• How to pinpoint your best leadership traits and choose the right development target for yourself.
• How to use feedback and action learning on the job to elevate your strengths.
• How to apply Zenger Folkman’s revolutionary cross-training method to escalate your leadership competencies into the top 90th percentile.
• How to ensure that your fully developed strengths are sustainable by building follow-through into your development plan.
To learn more and order the summary in digital, print, or CD format go to http://www.summary.com/book-summaries/_/How-to-Be-Exceptional-summary.
This is a groundbreaking book bringing together all the latest research and how-to methodology on revolutionary Strengths-Based Leadership Development. Click on How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success by Magnifying Your Strengths for my review of this outstanding book.
Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmm on … How to Be Exceptional provides a few excerpts. You can also access a free e-book drawn from the first chapter of How to Be Exceptional featuring video clips of Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman.
When the new book was introduced last fall I did a Strengths-Based Leadership Development webcast with Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman that’s now in our archive.
The Globe & Mail ranked How to Be Exceptional in their top ten business books of 2012. You can read Harvey Schachter’s review at “Counterintuitive tips on how to be exceptional.” Read HR executive and consultant, Dave Crisp’s, review at “Some books deserve a long life: The next Good to Great?”
Our Extraordinary Leader workshop is both drawn from and provides updated research from How to Be Exceptional (a copy is included for each participant). The May session in Toronto has been sold out. We’ve just scheduled an additional session of The Extraordinary Leader on June 18 and The Extraordinary Coach on June 19 right by Toronto’s international airport. Click here for more information, download a brochure, and to register.
Whether training your dog, rats in a lab, or a killer whale at Sea World, treats, praise, and pats on the head are very effective. It’s a classic master-pet manipulation.
Way too many recognition programs are built on this same paternalistic premise. “Be a really good little employee and we’ll give you lots of ‘atta boys’ and treats.” This is not how we build highly engaged teams who feel emotional connections and partnership with each other and their leaders.
Another in a long line of studies on this key leadership and culture issue was just published on Harvard Business Review’s Working Knowledge website. In How to Demotivate Your Best Employees professor Ian Larkin reports on how an attendance program decreased overall productivity by 1.4 percent! A big part of this decrease was from “stellar employees who previously had excellent attendance and were highly productive ended up suffering a 6 to 8 percent productivity decrease.”
How to effectively use rewards and recognition is an issue that cuts to core leadership values and assumptions. The big differences with reward and recognition approaches have to do with how they’re used. Making them manipulative will swing attention away from the meaningful issues of principles and purpose, and move to self-interest and selfishness. You can read more about that and a personal experience I had with team members pushing back and teaching me how to treat them as partners at Reward and Recognition Reinforce Paternalism or Partnerships.
As I outlined in Weak Leaders Try to Use Money as a Motivator, traditional management approaches use rewards and recognition to manipulate, control, and direct behavior. Managers are looking to push motivational buttons with paternalistic pats on the head. Their underlying assumptions are that most employees like to slack off and take shortcuts and need to be “motivated” to perform. Strong and effective leaders with highly engaged teams use rewards and recognition to follow up or reinforce high performance. Leaders work with (rather than doing to) team members in adult-to-adult participative and respectful partnerships. Leaders recognize that performance problems are often rooted on team dynamics, leadership behaviors, and organizational issues like structure, processes, and systems.
I’ve written book chapters, articles, and blogs on this critical leadership issue. You can peruse my articles at Recognition, Celebration, and Appreciation. My past blogs on this topic include a recent one on the Positivity Ratio for peak performance and Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmm on … Recognition, Appreciation, and Celebration.
An interview in this month’s Harvard Business Review looked at yet more research showing the folly of expert forecasting. “‘Experts’ Who Beat the Odds Are Probably Just Lucky” discusses a study by Warwick Business School’s Jerker Denrell who worked with Christina Fang of the Stern School of Business. They analyzed years of experts’ quarterly forecasts for interest rates and inflation published in The Wall Street Journal.
What’s especially fascinating is their finding that the experts “who successfully foresee an unusual event tend to be wrong about the future over the long run…in our study an ability to call many extreme events correctly was an indication of poor judgment. In fact, the analyst with the largest number of accurate extreme forecasts had the worst forecasting record by far.”
This is consistent with the work of Philip Tetlock, professor of psychology, business, and political science at University of California Berkeley, as reported by Dan Gardner in his book, Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail — and Why We Believe Them Anyway. One of Tetlock’s many studies on forecasting inaccuracies involved using Google searches to determine the fame of each of 284 experts. He then correlated their level of fame to the accuracy of their forecast. His finding: “the more famous the expert, the worse he did.”
Yet it’s impossible to escape expert forecasts on any radio or TV news around a breaking news story. Whether it’s terrorism, gun violence, natural disasters, political wrangling, or economic data, experts are asked to prognosticate, opine, and forecast. And the better the expert articulates his or her arguments in forceful and crisp sound bites, the greater likelihood they’re totally wrong.
If we treat expert forecasts like astrology or fortune cookies they can be entertaining and fairly harmless. I change channels or flip the page. The big leadership danger is building strategic plans and budgets around forecasts. But many organizational leaders are as addicted to forecasts as the Commanding General who said he was aware that long term weather forecasts were totally useless but “I need them for planning purposes.”
Expert forecasts have increased as our need for certainty in a very uncertain world keeps growing. The real key is building teams and organizations that are built to change. That calls for developing leadership skills to building highly flexible and rapidly adaptive organizations.
With last week’s death of the “Iron Lady,” former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, many world leaders and commentators looked back on her forceful and charismatic personality. Charismatic leadership is a popular media stereotype of strong leadership. As much as I’ve enjoyed reading Fortune magazine for the past few decades, they keep adding to this misguided leadership view by continually putting larger-than-life CEOs, politicians, and other leaders on their covers and featuring stories on their forceful personalities.
Numerous studies have shown that charisma isn’t one of the key qualities of many highly effective leaders. In Good to Great, Jim Collins’ deeply researched book on leadership and organizational effectiveness, he writes:
” …those of you with a strong, charismatic personality, it is worthwhile to consider the idea that charisma can be as much a liability as an asset. Your strength of personality can sow the seeds of problems, when people filter the brutal facts from you. You can overcome the liabilities of having charisma, but it does require conscious attention.”
A European study just published in Sloan Management Review this spring under the title, “Why Good Leaders Don’t Need Charisma,” reports on “The Downside of Charisma” with this conclusion:
“We found that leaders of the higher-performing companies were often not charismatic — and were, in fact, less likely to be charismatic than the leaders of the lower-performing companies. The problem with charismatic leaders is that exceptional powers of persuasion make it easy for them to overcome resistance and opposition to their chosen course of action.”
Zenger Folkman’s Extraordinary Leader research base identified 16 competencies that most clearly differentiate the best from the worst leaders as measured by employee engagement, productivity, customer service, quality, safety, turnover, and profitability. Charisma isn’t one of the differentiating leadership competencies.
The most requested leadership skill among the 500,000 direct reports, managers, peers, and others in the database is Inspiring and Motivating Others to High Performance. Zenger Folkman’s research shows there are at least six approaches to inspiring leadership. Only one involves what might be considered charisma. The other five are equally effective — and in some cultures superior — to strong and charismatic leadership.
Our research shows that many roads lead to extraordinary leadership performance. There is no one right or best path. The key is leveraging and building on a leader’s perceived strengths as seen by those he or she is leading.
The Extraordinary Leader workshop is an excellent chance to get feedback on perceived leadership strengths and develop a plan for building them further. The Extraordinary Coach workshop provides vital skills to grow and develop others. We still have room in Calgary, but we’ve sold out our May 15 and 16 workshops in Toronto. To handle the overflow we’ve now added new workshops that I’ll be delivering on June 18 and 19. Click here for details and to register.
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