An Overview of Key Insights from “The Extraordinary Leader”

Key Insights from The Extraordinary LeaderThis week I am attending my third Extraordinary Leadership Summit in Park City, Utah. This Zenger Folkman annual conference is a wonderful time to reconnect with ZF’s great people and international partners. These conferences provide updates of ZF’s new and revised programs and services. They also feature Clients outlining their successful approaches, plans for further work, and challenges they’re working to overcome.

Zenger Folkman’s foundational research and approach is The Extraordinary Leader named after their highly acclaimed and bestselling book by the same title. Recently we published a white paper detailing these key insights from this seminal publication and body of work:

1. Great leaders make a huge difference, when compared with merely good leaders.
2. One organization can have many great leaders.
3. We have been aiming too low in our leadership development activities.
4. The relationship between improved leadership and increased performance outcomes is neither precisely incremental nor is it linear.
5. Great leadership consists of processing several “building blocks” of capabilities, each complimenting the others.
6. Leadership culminates in championing change.
7. All competencies are not equal. Some differentiate good from great leaders, whereas others do not.
8. Leadership competencies are linked closely together.
9. Effective leaders have widely different styles. There is no one right way to lead.
10. Effective leadership practices are specific to an organization.
11. The key to developing great leadership is to build strengths.
12. Powerful combinations produce nearly exponential results.
13. Greatness is not caused by the absence of weakness.
14. Great leaders are not perceived as having major weaknesses.
15. Fatal flaws must be fixed.
16. Leadership attributes are often developed in non-obvious ways.
17. Leaders are made, not born.
18. Leader can improve their leadership effectiveness through self-development.
19. The organization, with a person’s immediate boss, provides significant assistance in developing leadership.
20. The quality of leadership in an organization seldom exceeds that of the person at the top.

Click here to download a complimentary copy of An Overview of Key Insights from The Extraordinary Leader and read more about these points. Canadian readers can find links to purchase discounted copies of The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders from McGraw Hill through our book store. It’s also available as an e-book from Amazon, Apple, and other retailers.


Video Clip: Towering Strengths Overshadow Weaknesses

Towering Strengths Overshadow WeaknessesAs I outlined in “Exceptional Leaders Aren’t Well Rounded” and “Outstanding Major League Baseball Players Aren’t Well Rounded” extraordinary leaders aren’t defined by the absence of weaknesses but the presence of a few profound strengths. In The Extraordinary Leader workshop we help participants uncover the power of leadership perception from their own experiences with a simple Best Leader/Worst Leader exercise.

Click on Towering Strengths Overshadow Weaknesses for my three minute video clip explaining the essence of this exercise.

Even the greatest leaders have weaknesses. Think of historically great leaders like Churchill, Gandhi, Kennedy, Lincoln and the like. These were not perfect human beings. Many had big weaknesses. We outlined more recent examples in “Steve Jobs Showed How Towering Strengths Overshadow Weaknesses“.

Despite the growing evidence and our own experiences, building on strengths is a counterintuitive way to develop leadership skills. Many leadership development approaches have big “Struggles with Wasting Time on Weaknesses“.

Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmm from … “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning“… everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“… the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him — mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.”

“Under the same conditions, those who were oriented toward the future, toward a meaning that waited to be fulfilled — these persons were more likely to survive. Nardini and Lifton, two American military psychiatrists, found the same to be the case in the prisoner-of-war camps in Japan and Korea.”

“One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate.”

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

“Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.”

“As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

Book Review: “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl

Man’s Search for MeaningI often find biographies of accomplished leaders or thought pioneers inspiring and instructive. Having read the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl’s, classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning years ago I recently came across his autobiography Viktor Frankl Recollections. I enjoyed reading about his story and it drew me back to reread Man’s Search for Meaning. Meaning is far more inspiring and relevant than his meandering, disconnected, and poorly written autobiography. Maybe something was lost in translation.

The first part of Man’s Search for Meaning focuses on the horrific ordeals he suffered in Nazi concentration camps of the Second World War. He witnessed humankind at its very worst and its very best. After suffering severe starvation, beatings, back-breaking labor, freezing temperatures with no shoes or warm clothing, and nearly being sent to the gas chambers a few times, he emerged at the end of the war to learn most of his family including his wife had been killed.

The second part of his book outlines the thinking that kept him from joining the many prisoners who died of despair or committed suicide in the camps. In an inspiring example of turning tragedy into triumph Frankl emerged to find a new form of psychotherapy called “logotherapy.” Logos is a Greek word denoting “meaning.”

Building on Nietzsche’s words, “he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,” Frankl advises “we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”

This search for meaning is very consistent with the most recent research on positive psychology as outlined by the movement’s founder, Martin Seligman, in his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, “Human beings, ineluctably, want meaning and purpose in life. The Meaningful Life consists in belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self.”

A key part of logotherapy that Frankl first practiced in the Nazi death camps was focusing on the future through visioning or positive imagery. He imagined himself speaking in a lecture hall about his experiences and sharing the key lessons he learned to help others alleviate their suffering.

A major message woven through Frankl’s powerful personal example and this book is that life is all about choice. It’s not what happens to us as much as what we do about it.

Is your Leadership Audio in Sync with Your Video?

Is your Leadership Audio in Sync with Your Video?
It’s really annoying to watch a video with the audio slightly out of sync. Too often this is what people see from their leaders in matching their behaviors to their bold proclaimed core values.

Here are a few examples of how leaders in extraordinary organizations ensure they’re role models of the organization’s values:

  • The CEO of a contact lens manufacturer begins each executive team meeting with a report from each executive on what they have personally done to advance the service/quality improvement effort in the past two weeks.  This includes such activities as senior vice presidents leading major process improvement initiatives, CEO lunches for top performers, each executive calling at least three customers a week who’ve experienced a problem, and executives kicking off every one of the dozens of service/quality introductory education and awareness sessions running throughout the company.
  • One executive team realized the “humorous” barbs VPs were throwing at each other had become a thinly disguised form of “sniping” that rippled through the organization with departments taking shots at each other as well.  To give the “sniper” feedback and help form more constructive team patterns, executives now clang a pen on their water glasses or coffee cups whenever one executive “snipes” at another team member.
  • A fine‑paper manufacturer, a large hospital, a producer of medical devices, and a federal government department demonstrated their clear commitment to development by making the budgets for these efforts “sacred and off‑limits” during painful budget cuts.
  • To dramatize the importance of clean bus depot restrooms, the president of a bus line warned his managers he would drop into any depot on an hour’s notice and dine in the washroom.  Within weeks he was getting photos of managers dining in spotless washrooms.
  • Executives at an insurance company developed their own unique approach to “management by wandering around” and signaling called PEET — Program to Ensure that Everybody’s Thanked. Each of the fifteen executives receives a monthly PEET sheet, which lists the names and leader of three they are to visit to discuss the core values.  After the visit, the executive notes the visit’s highlights and sends the PEET sheet to Culture Team Central. A monthly summary of highlights and trends is compiled and circulated to the executive team.
  • Senior executives are the instructors for major coaching and team leadership skills development efforts that equip every manager and supervisor to live the new culture.
  • A high tech manufacturer was running at capacity to meet escalating demand. One of their hottest products was slightly off specifications, yet the desperate customer said he would take them anyway. But the plant manager refused to ship a product that wasn’t up to standard.  The CEO reports “It took about five seconds for the people in the plant to understand that he was serious about quality. Those are the things that have to happen because people are always asking, ‘What do you want? Quality or profit?’ The answer is ‘Both’.”
  • Executives of a clothing manufacturer spend one Saturday a month on the sales floor of major retail outlets selling their products. “It’s quite an eye‑opener to sell our own brand and watch people decide to buy other people’s clothing,” says one senior manager.

Do the people you’re leading feel your values rhetoric matches your leadership reality? What’s your feedback loop? Do know whether they feel your video is synced with your audio?

An Hilarious Illustration of How Perceptions of Fairness and Equality Are Relative

Two Monkeys Were Paid Unequally: Excerpt from Frans de Waal's TED TalkAs part of a larger culture development effort, we’ve worked with dozens of executive teams over the years to articulate or revise their core values. An almost universal core value is some variation of respect, integrity, or equality, or fairness.

Whether our espoused or aspirational values become the real or lived values to everyone inside an organization is all about perception. That’s especially true with equality or fairness. How does the individual or team feel they’re dealt with relative to how others are treated is the critical question.

So I might be perfectly fine with my current pay and benefits package and see it as fair compensation for the work I do. But if someone else is doing the same job and getting paid more my perception of fairness and equality will change. I am no longer OK with my compensation. I may even feel exploited and come to resent how I am being treated.

A very funny two and a half minute clip from Frans de Waal’s TED talk shows an experiment when Two Monkeys Were Paid Unequally. This humorously illustrates how commonly we decide on the fairness of how we’re treated by comparing how peers or others are dealt with.

We often judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions. But as the French writer, Antoine de Saint Exupery, once pointed out “the meaning of things lies not in the things themselves, but in our attitude towards them.” Most leaders strive to be fair and equal. We need to find ways to continually get feedback and understand how those we lead perceive how they’re treated relative to others.

Talent Management and Global Leadership Development

Global Leadership Development Whitepaper
Talent Management including succession planning, developing high potentials, and attracting and retaining top people is now a critical issue. During the financial crisis and economic downturn of the last few years organizations slowed or stopped leadership development. As executives now face a wave of retiring Baby Boomers and take a longer term view, “leadership bench strength” has become a choking constraint to organizational growth.

We’ve recently published a Zenger Folkman white paper on Global Leadership Development. The paper reports on one of our studies on the topic that looked at senior executives rated in the 90th percentile in the globe perspective. The factors that most differentiated these top leaders from their peers were strategic perspective, customer focus and understanding, spotting trends, engaged team, willingness to take risks, and deep knowledge and expertise.

Whether developing local or global leaders these skills align with Talent Management best practices in developing future leaders for more senior leadership roles. The steps for implementing a long-term global leadership development strategy also apply across the range of Talent Management approaches:

  1. Create a new mindset and awareness among the senior leadership team.
  2. Establish a new culture and context that will support the creation of global leaders.
  3. Identify the unique capabilities required of a global leader for your organization.
  4. Begin developing future global leaders early in their careers.
  5. Utilize the most proven development techniques.
  6. Devise ways to better identify global leadership potential.

A key factor that’s emerged in this and our previous research is the need to develop leaders much earlier in their careers. As outlined in this white paper, more than three-quarters of managers don’t get any formal leadership development in their first position. Many don’t get leadership training until they’ve been in leadership roles for over ten years.

Click here to download a complimentary copy of Global Leadership Development.

In our CLEMMER Group planning session last week we recognized just how vital Talent Management is becoming. We’re planning a series of webinars, executive briefings, and workshops to address this issue in the next six months. Watch this space for details and how you can participate.


Coaching and Feedback are Vital to Continuous Improvement

Coaching and Feedback are Vital to Continuous ImprovementThere’s an old story about a man walking into a drugstore to use the pay phone: “Hello, ABC Company, sometime ago you had an opening for an operations manager.  Is the position still available?”  After a slight pause, he continued: “Oh, you have.  Six months ago, huh?  How’s he working out?” A somewhat longer pause. “I see.  Well, thank you. ‘Bye.”  The druggist, having overhead the conversation said in sympathy; “I am sorry you couldn’t go after that job.”  The man, surprised, turned and said; “Oh, I’m not looking for a job.  That was my own organization.  I was calling to see how I was doing!!”

We all want to know where we stand.  Decades of research shows that we want recognition for our skills and accomplishments, feedback that tells us when we have accomplished something that someone else values, some input to the decisions that affect our work, and the chance to grow and develop.  One of the outstanding characteristics of an effective coach is the frequency and quality of the feedback he or she provides to reinforce, support, and help others continue to improve.  Feedback is an absolutely critical issue all across the organization.  Organization improvement can’t happen without it.  Operating without feedback is like blindly shooting at targets and never seeing or being told whether you hit the bull’s eye or missed altogether.  You can’t improve when you don’t know how you’re doing.

Organizations with effective feedback loops have cultures that view continuous feedback as continuous learning opportunities.   And the cultural feedback patterns are set by management.  If most teams and their members are being well coached, they will come to view feedback as a positive and much needed step in the continuous improvement process.

Coaching traps, research, assessment, and asking for feedback are featured in tomorrow’s publication of our June blogs in the Leader Letter. And the quality of coaching along with a coaching culture determines the levels of customer service — another key topic in this issue. Finally, we look at the need to break free of learned helplessness and The Pike Syndrome. The burgeoning practice of Cognitive Psychology provides powerful evidence for just what we can change or break free from and what we can’t.

Here’s to busting self-imposed barriers and using coaching and feedback skills to liberate and develop others.

Learned Helplessness: The Pike Syndrome

Canadian and American Independence: Busting BarriersSince the mid-sixties, there have been a large number of experiments with animals and people revealing that helplessness can be a conditioned or learned response. An early experiment with learned helplessness was demonstrated with rats. When they were put directly in ice water, they could swim around for forty to sixty hours. But if the rats were held until they stopped struggling and then placed into the ice water, they gave up immediately and drowned.

In another case, scientists put a pike in a large aquarium with smaller fish that it feeds upon. However, the pike was separated from its tasty meals by a layer of glass. At first, the pike continuously smashed its head against the glass to reach its prey.  Eventually it abandoned the painful and futile attempts. It sank to the bottom of the tank and just lay there. At that point, the scientists removed the glass partition. But the pike now ignored the smaller fish, even when they swam right next to it. Eventually, the pike starved to death, despite its meals being right in front of its pointy nose. This behavior came to be known as “The Pike Syndrome.”

Many wallowing people, teams, and sometimes entire organizations choose to become victims of The Pike Syndrome. Here are common examples:

Personal Helplessness

  • That’s just the way I am…
  • There’s nothing I can do…
  • He/she makes me so mad…
  • They won’t allow it…
  • Nobody ever listens to me…
  • I am no good at….

Collective Helplessness

  • Forget it! We tried that before…
  • The collective agreement won’t let us…
  • Management/staff/head office/customers/operations/sales … don’t listen to us…
  • The systems/policies won’t let us…
  • It’s deeply ingrained in our culture…

Statements like these are sometimes a legitimate, healthy acceptance of barriers or limitations blocking the way. We may be better off to just drop it and move on to something else. But in most cases, statements like these are just excuses to give up.  Generally, these permanent, pervasive, and personal explanations are conditioned responses from past failures or setbacks. Like the pike, we may have smashed our noses against the glass ceiling or wall a few times and stopped trying. When conditions change and those barriers are removed or reduced, pessimistic people and teams still wallow helplessly and give up.

Leadership is an action, not a position. Leaders refuse to be victims or spend much time wallowing in negative situations.

Are You Using Your Customer’s Yardstick?

Using Your Customer's YardstickIt’s all about perception. Eons ago the ancient Greek Philosopher, Epictetus, mused “What concerns me is not the way things are, but rather the way people think things are.” We so easily mouth the words “perception is reality.” But do we seek out and work from our customers’ reality? Or do we tend to dismiss key internal partner or external customer expectations as “unrealistic.” Or “that’s not reality, that’s just their perception.”

In high service/quality organizations there’s little doubt or debate. Service/quality is defined by the customer. Period.

A major driver of the enduring service/quality leadership and success of the Four Seasons international hotel chain has been their definition of service/quality through the eyes of the customers they serve. One of their senior executives explains, “Customers don’t buy a product, they buy what the product does for them. Quality in product or service is not what we think it is. It’s what our customers perceive it is — and what they need and want. If we don’t give customers what they expect, they’ll perceive our service as poor. If we give them what they expect they’ll perceive it as good. If we give them more than they expect they’ll perceive it as excellent. Perception is largely a matter of expectation.”

All too often we’ve found that the features, attributes, or service/quality expectations of the customer are out of sync with what the organization considers to be important and is focused upon delivering. As customers, we have all dealt with organizations that have done an outstanding job delivering a service or product feature we could care less about. So as the salesperson prattles on about that “wonderful” feature, or the company heavily promotes some “unique” service, we’re being driven crazy by the lack of attention to some other feature or service that the company obviously considers trivial or much less important.

One reason for customer and organization perceptions of value to be out of sync is that customer expectations are changing so quickly today. Teams/organizations not tuned into their customers often miss these shifts — until someone else bursts onto the scene with more customer-responsive products or services. We must continuously improve and change our service/quality levels in step with those we serve or we risk being changed.