I 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.
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:
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?
As 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 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:
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.
There’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.
Since 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:
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.
It’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.
Customer service and quality is one of todays most talked about and least understood concepts. Service/quality is a very slippery concept. It’s exasperatingly difficult to define and a source of great confusion to many managers. There’s a wide range of differences in premises, concepts, and even in the meanings of key words.
Definitions of “service/quality” depend heavily on the mind set of servers/producers, their support groups, management, and especially on the culture of the organization. In some organizations, just showing up for work every day, in never mind how snarly a mood, is considered a good performance. A receptionist under siege on the switchboard might consider connecting the caller to the right department, regardless of how long they’ve been holding, as good service/quality.
High sales and marketing costs are an organization’s tax for low levels of service and quality. As Ted Levitt, former professor at Harvard Business School and author of the classic book, The Marketing Imagination, points out “The organization must learn to think of itself not as producing goods and services but buying customers, as doing those things that will make people want to do business with it.” Where’s the customer’s view in your definition of service/quality? Do you know (with facts and data) what your key internal partners and/or external customers expect from your team/organization? Is their definition of service/quality your starting point?
Organizations need a clear, well understood, consistent — and customer-centered — agreement on what service/quality means and how to deliver it. If people throughout your organization can’t consistently define service/quality, how can you measure it? And if you can’t measure it, how can you achieve it? Most managers and team members want to improve service/quality, but they are not all reading the same road map. But then again, they’re not even all heading to the same place. How about you and your team?
• Click Customer Service blog posts for further blogs and a series on our Three Rings of Perceived Value model defining service/quality from the outside in.
• Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance
Surveys show that when we’re asked to rate our own driving skills, over 75% of us score ourselves as above average. Similar self-assessment distortions show up when managers are asked to rate their own coaching effectiveness.
In researching and developing The Extraordinary Coach development system, Zenger Folkman identified four powerful reasons for asking coachees for their feedback on the coach’s effectiveness:
1. Asking for input significantly changes the nature of the relationship from parent-child to adults talking with each other.
2. Being asked for input changes the coachee’s feelings of being in control and having power.
3. The feedback changes the coach’s behavior.
4. Being asked for input changes the coachee’s attitude toward and ratings of the coach’s effectiveness.
That last point on perceptions of the coach or leader’s effectiveness is clearly illustrated in this data from our data base of 50,000 leaders being assessed by over 500,000 raters:
You can start your coaching effectiveness feedback by viewing the recording of the webinar Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman recently conducted on becoming a better coach, as well as our Coaching Attributes and Perspectives Assessment on the same page.
Happy motoring and good coaching!
In an organizational survey at a large telecom company, managers were asked to rate how well they coached the people reporting to them. They scored themselves high. The people reporting to those managers were asked to rate the coaching they received. They scored their managers very low.
A big part of the problem is around the definition of coaching. Many managers call training (skill development or giving information) and mentoring (providing advice or sharing experience/wisdom) coaching. Many also confuse daily updates, task assignments, or problem solving for coaching.
I reviewed Jack Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett’s outstanding book, The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow, years before The CLEMMER Group became Zenger Folkman’s partner. It’s by far the best book on coaching available today. In the book and our Extraordinary Coach workshops we see these common coaching traps ensnaring many managers:
• Lack of preparation – one big reason commercial aviation has an incredible safety record is because pilots don’t just strap themselves in and take off.
• Not clarifying what the coachee wants from the conversation – this determines whether it’s an adult to adult collaborative conversation and who’s going to own the action plan.
• Too much air time — more than 25% of the talking — we use the acronym WAIT — Why Am I Talking as a reminder for the coach to ask powerful questions to expand the conversation.
• Offering advice way too early in the conversation – training or mentoring is about giving advice. Coaching is about drawing out insights and actions from the coachee.
• Not exploring multiple alternatives – research shows that when conversations push for at least three options much higher quality solutions emerge.
• Failing to determine commitment to change – this leads directly to the manager trap “how’s my solution working for you.”
Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman recently conducted a webinar on becoming a better coach. You can viewing the recording of the webinar and participate in our Coaching Attributes and Perspectives Assessment afterward at no cost to see how you compare to outstanding coaches.
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