There’s No Shortcut to Success

There is no elevator to success

There’s no such thing as overnight success. You have to put in the effort and hard work, and it doesn’t hurt to have some luck and good timing on your side.

“There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.” -Zig Ziglar

Jackie Hermes (Founder & CEO of Accelity, a company helping B2B SaaS startups and scaleups grow with customer acquisition & lead generation) said on her podcast (The Art of Entrepreneurship) that success requires four things: 1) a smart plan, 2) the dedication to work hard, 3) consistency, and 4) patience.

I agree. But, let’s take it a few steps further.

Picture a canopy tent. The four tent poles suggested by Jackie (have a plan, work hard, be consistent, and have patience) provide support for the tent top covering (which is where a success definition resides). Thus, in addition to having the four tent poles, I would add that we need to think about our success canopy (the top covering), and we need to define what success is and what it is not.

Steve Nguyen’s Definition of Success:

Success is not about being famous, influential, powerful, or wealthy. It’s not about having material possessions or impressive job titles or noteworthy accolades. Success is not about financial wealth, although it does mean having financial stability like being able to take care of your monthly bills, setting aside money for retirement, and covering emergencies.

Success is about discovering joy, satisfaction, meaning, and contentment in your life. Success means you are at a place in your life — financially, mentally, socially, emotionally, spiritually — where you feel safe, secure, loved, and at peace because you don’t feel the need to compare or compete with anyone. Success is when you can finally and honestly say, “I’m happy with my life and there’s nothing anyone else has that I want because I’m content.”

In his book, Happiness at Work (2010), Srikumar Rao wrote:

“The vast majority of people are not happy. Even those who seem to have it all — great career success, financial prosperity, a picture-perfect spouse and accomplished children, a sterling reputation — are not happy. They are not brimming with joy. Anxiety is a frequent and unwelcome guest in their lives. There is always an undercurrent of stress, and it overwhelms them all too often” (p. 70).

I have often witnessed this exact unhappiness scenario (that Rao described) with people in my life and I always find it so sad that they have so much on the outside (material wealth) but yet lacking so much on the inside (happiness, peace, enjoyment, contentment, satisfaction).

Thus, my definition of success is based on this context and is derived out of this lived experience. And it is the reason why I do not define success in terms of only financial wealth.

“The happiest people in the world are people who love what they are doing, regardless of whether wealth, fame, power, and elevated social status ever come their way. The most fulfilled people are individuals who delight in their work, whatever it might be, and strive to do it well. They are people who derive rewards from the intrinsic enjoyment of what they are contributing to life, come what may. And they are people who relish the challenge to pursue excellence in their activities, as well as in themselves. The people who attain true success in their lives are people who enjoy a good measure of both fulfillment and happiness as they invest themselves in worthwhile pursuits” (Morris, 1994, p. 32-33).

For me, reaching my success (based on my own definition of success) meant that I needed to first “own it” and then to “work at it” constantly and consistently. “Owning” my success meant that I needed to listen to my gut and my heart and go after what I had always wanted. For many years, what I wanted was adventure, excitement, and something different from my life in Dallas, Texas. In 2004, I took a job working for a school system over 7,000 away on a tropical island called Saipan, a career decision that ultimately changed not only my career but also my life (Nguyen, 2021).

Making that decision and taking that plunge was one of the SCARIEST and BEST decisions of my life! That job led me to crisis training, which ultimately helped me to make a career pivot into leadership & talent development and learning & development, the space within which I work today.

People who don’t know my story might assume that I somehow became an “overnight success.” However, my overnight success took over a decade plus another decade prior to that (which included multiple career pivots). All total, I became an overnight success after more than 20 years of confusion, headaches, heartaches, hard work, sweat, failures, disappointments, fears and tears, determination, and luck.

What I have learned and continue to learn is that we MUST always be adaptable, to not only grow but to survive. The old outdated mentality of having only one lifelong job working for a stable, profitable company and retiring with a full pension no longer exists. The new VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world of work requires us to constantly pivot to ensure that (a) we have the knowledge and skills to remain relevant, (b) we engage in job crafting, and for some people (c) start a “side hustle.”

Sadly, there are some very intelligent and capable professionals who continue to languish and stagnate in their careers, or who have been made redundant, because they were either unable or unwilling to be flexible and adaptable to shift their thinking and acquire new skillsets to allow them to adjust to the demands of a new world of work. The new VUCA world demands and favors those who are bold & willing to take risks, who are always learning & growing, and who are adaptable.

Along with adding a success definition (the tent top) to Jackie’s four success ingredients (the four tent poles), I want to further extend our tent metaphor by introducing four tent “stakes” to ground our tent. These stakes are: (1) being adaptable to change, and (2) being open to learning. These two components help to ensure that you not only become successful, but that you remain successful. In addition, and perhaps surprisingly, I’m also including two other, often overlooked but important, stakes to the mix. They are (3) luck and (4) good timing.

(1) Difficulty Adapting to Change
Indeed, according to Compass (2017), a coaching and development guide from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), one of the critical career derailers is “Difficulty Adapting to Change” (cannot adjust to, learn from, and embrace change as necessary for future success).

Those who are unable (or unwilling) to accept, embrace, and champion change (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017):

• are intimidated by change or challenge
• don’t see the need to change in order to stay relevant
• don’t believe they need to learn and grow

(2) Blocked Personal Learner
A person is a “blocked personal learner” if he or she (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014):

• Is closed to learning new personal, interpersonal, managerial, and leadership skills, approaches, and tactics.
• Prefers to stay the same, even when faced with new & different challenges.
• Is narrow in interests and scope.
• Doesn’t seek input.
• Lacks curiosity.
• Is not insightful about him/herself.

Why a Person Is a Blocked Personal Learner (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014):

• Hangs on, hoping to make it without changing.
• Low risk taker.
• Narrow in scope and interests.
• Not open to new approaches.
• Prefers the tried and true.
• Self-learning/development interest is low.

“The bottom line is, those who learn, grow, and change continuously across their careers are the most successful. The skills someone has now are unlikely to be enough in the future. Acquiring new skills is the best way to navigate an uncertain future. . . . You look to grow from experience. Seek out feedback and are open to what you hear. Challenge yourself in unfamiliar settings. Try out new skills. Learn from others. . . . Development is a personal commitment. You make the choice” (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014, p. 355).

I share these tips not to suggest that I’m somehow perfect or infallible or that I know everything or have things all figured out. On the contrary, I share these based on my experiences of failing countless times. My hope is that by learning from my mistakes and heeding my warnings that you will avoid some of the pitfalls that befell me.

There’s one last dual component of success I wish to share — that many people (especially in Western societies) attribute to hard work and sheer determination — which is luck and good timing.

(3) Luck and (4) Good Timing
In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success (2008), Malcolm Gladwell revealed that two of the secrets to success are luck and good timing!

“Bill Gates’s first great opportunity was a convergence of wealth, privilege, and extraordinary good fortune and timing: he had easy access to a computer in the 1960s, decades before computers became mainstream. This stroke of good luck and timing gave Gates the opportunity to become an expert at computer programming well ahead of his time, which later put him in the perfect position to start Microsoft at the dawn of the personal computer revolution” (Winner, 2015, Analysis para. 9).

How many teenagers in the world had the kind of luck, opportunity, and experience that Bill Gates had? (Gladwell, 2008). Not many! In fact, Gates said he would be stunned if there were even 50 in the world who had the kind of experience he had (Gladwell, 2008). As Gates, himself, acknowledged: “I was very lucky” (Gladwell, 2008, p. 55). “I had a better exposure to software development at a young age than I think anyone did in that period of time, and all because of an incredibly lucky series of events” (Gladwell, 2008, p. 55).

“That doesn’t mean Bill Gates isn’t brilliant or an extraordinary entre­preneur. It just means that he understands what incredible good fortune (luck)” he had (Gladwell, 2008, p. 55). “For Bill Gates, the lucky break was being born at the right time and getting the gift of a computer terminal in junior high” (Gladwell, 2008, p. 267). Gladwell found that “many of the most successful entrepreneurs of the computer age were born in or around 1955, placing them at the right time (and at the right age) to ride the wave of the personal computer revolution” (Winner, 2015, para. 1).

Let’s return to my own story and how luck and good timing both played key roles in helping me to pivot in my career. If I had not been unhappy and restless with my life and career path, my third “crystallization of discontent” moment in 2003 (Nguyen, 2021), and if that job position in the school system in the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) had not *still* been available at the end of 2003 (because I initially turned down the role) and had the timing not been right to launch a crisis intervention training workshop (Nguyen, 2011) while I was there in Saipan, Rota, and Tinian from 2004 to 2007, then things might have turned out very differently for me.

There’s no doubt in my mind that luck, opportunity, and experience during my years in the Northern Mariana Islands converged to provide me with the life perspectives and work experiences necessary to begin my career transition from mental health counseling to industrial and organizational psychology (I-O psychology) and leadership & talent development (Nguyen, 2021).

But long before that, as a son to a Vietnamese physician father (who was first an otolaryngologist, an ear, nose, and throat [ENT] doctor, in Vietnam and later a psychiatrist in the United States), I greatly and fortunately benefited from receiving a bachelor degree from Baylor University and a master degree from Texas Woman’s University (thanks to my family’s financial support). I would later receive a doctorate degree from Capella University in 2013 (motivated, in part, by my father’s lifelong emphasis of higher education).

Was I lucky to be born into a family with the financial means to send me off to college here in the United States? Definitely. Was I lucky to have a family, and especially a dad, that emphasized the importance & relevance of a college degree (beyond a bachelor’s)? Unquestionably. Was it good fortune (luck) and good timing that I ended up in the role in the school system in the Northern Mariana Islands where I was able to launch a crisis intervention workshop? You betcha!

In summary, my criteria for success include: (1) a smart plan, (2) the dedication to work hard, (3) consistency, (4) patience, (5) being adaptable to change, (6) being open to learning, (7) luck, (8) good timing, and (9) definition of what success means.

Takeaway: There is no shortcut to success. There never was a shortcut. You have to take it one step at a time. Reaching “success” takes time. Sometimes, it takes a few years. Other times, it takes a few decades. Whatever goal you set out to achieve, be sure that you (1) have a solid plan; (2) put in the hard work, (3) are consistent, (4) are patient, (5) are adaptable, (6) are open to learning & improving, (7 & 8) understand & acknowledge the role that luck and good timing play, and (9) define what success means to you & what success looks like.

“If you cannot find peace within yourself, you will never find it anywhere else.” -Marvin Gaye

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Barnfield, H. C., & Lombardo, M. M. (2014). FYI: For your improvement – Competencies development guide (6th ed.). Korn Ferry.

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The Story of Success. Little, Brown and Company.

Hermes, J. (2021). The Art Of Entrepreneurship (Episode 17: What are the key ingredients to success?). https://the-art-of-entrepreneurship.captivate.fm/episode/what-are-the-key-ingredients-to-success

Morris, T. (1994). True Success: A New Philosophy of Excellence. Berkley Books.

Nguyen, S. (2011, January 14). Less Talk, More Action-The PAR Technique. https://workplacepsychology.net/2011/01/14/less-talk-more-action-the-par-technique/

Nguyen, S. (2014, July 26). I Will Teach My Daughter Not to Be Afraid. https://workplacepsychology.net/2014/07/26/i-will-teach-my-daughter-not-to-be-afraid/

Nguyen, S. (2021, January 26). I Felt the Fear and Did It Anyway – The Risk I Took to Blossom. https://workplacepsychology.net/2021/01/26/i-felt-the-fear-and-did-it-anyway-the-risk-i-took-to-blossom/

Nguyen, S. (2021, April 26). Self-Insight Is Sparked by “Crystallization of Discontent” Moments. https://workplacepsychology.net/2021/04/26/self-insight-is-sparked-by-crystallization-of-discontent-moments/

Rao, S. S. (2010). Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful – No Matter What. McGraw-Hill.

Scisco, P., Biech, E., & Hallenbeck, G. (2017). Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching. Center for Creative Leadership Press.

Winner, K. (2015, July 21). Outliers. LitCharts, LLC. https://www.litcharts.com/lit/outliers

How to be a Good Internal Consultant

balance

As an internal consultant and a member of an internal consulting team (although “internal consultant” or “internal consulting” is not in our “official” job titles), my colleagues and I are often called on to lead, support, and offer coaching, consultation, or facilitation services on wide-ranging areas, projects, and initiatives including culture, change management, conflict management, leadership development, organizational development, learning & development, onboarding, and so much more. Indeed, now more than ever, today’s HR professionals play the role of internal consultants (Miller, 2016).

The Association of Internal Management Consultants (AIMC) says that an internal consultant provides various client support services within the enterprise. They may be in a variety of areas (e.g., project management, quality management, human resources, information technology, training & development, finance, supply chain management, process improvement, etc.).

According to Phillips, Trotter, and Phillips (2015), “The rapid rate of change coupled with heightened competition on a global basis is increasing the need for companies and public sector organizations to develop effective internal consulting capabilities” (p. 3).

Important competencies to be a successful internal consultant (Phillips, Trotter, & Phillips, 2015) include communication skills, feedback skills, problem-solving & analytical skills, and organizational skills. Additionally, several core consulting skills (AIMC, 2017) are needed, such as business acumen, business process optimization, change management, coaching & consulting skills, and project management.

If you want a company to value you as an indispensable internal consultant — especially in the human resources, talent management, and leadership development space — here are a few tips I’d like to share based on my work and experience as an internal consultant.

First, it doesn’t matter how smart or knowledgeable you are or how much experience you have or bring. If you want to excel as an internal consultant and have top corporate decision-makers listen to you, you’ll need to master the art of influence & persuasion — how to sell your ideas and convince leaders to go along with you. Leaders are short on time and attention. You must master the ability to be concise, to-the-point, and ensure that your timing is right. For instance, if you are advocating for a specific program or agenda, but it does not align with your organizations’ goals or senior leaders’ mindsets, it will be very unlikely your proposal will ever have a chance of getting off the ground. The ability to both gain senior leadership buy-in and support and navigate an organization’s hierarchy, politics, and culture is absolutely critical to an internal consultant’s success (Zentis, 2018).

Second, learn to be interpersonally savvy because it is “an essential part of getting things done within organization” (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014, p. 235). “Interpersonal savvy helps you read and address relationships appropriately and at the right time” (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017, p. 261). I have seen individuals with graduate education and degrees (i.e., knowledge) be terribly ineffective at internal consulting because they were unable or unwilling to move out of their comfort zone (i.e., relying solely or mostly on knowledge or technical skills, rather than being savvy enough to read the situation and the relationship and understand what others need and respond accordingly).

Third, a positive attitude goes a very long way in helping you gain social capital, as well as getting you to the table of these decision makers. Regardless of how smart, talented, or experienced you are, if you have a bad attitude and cannot get along with others, you will struggle to get senior executives to listen to you. They may accept your work or ideas but will never see you as a leader or a person with the potential to become one. You have to play nicely with others. Even if you are the resident “genius” and you know how to do everything, if your attitude sucks, no one will care what you have to say, even if you’re right.

Earlier, I shared important competencies needed to be a successful internal consultant. These included Communication Skills, Feedback Skills, Problem-Solving & Analytical Skills, Organizational Skills, Business Acumen, Business Process Optimization, Change Management, Coaching & Consulting Skills, and Project Management.

Here are 8 competencies (some of these will be identical, similar to, or complement the ones previously outlined, while others will be new and different) you can incorporate into your repertoire to help become an effective internal consultant:

From CCL Compass (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017):

1. Communication (p. 9) – “Listen, convey your ideas and emotions with clarity and authenticity, and adapt your personal speaking as needed for the situation and audience to foster an environment of trust.”

2. Interpersonal Savvy (p. 261) – “You need interpersonal skills to recognize and assess what others need. These skills involve not only listening to others, but also include noticing social cues that communicate how others are thinking and feeling, even if they don’t say so outright.”

3. Influence (p. 17) – “Your greatest leadership asset is your ability to understand and persuade others. Influential leaders know how to get others to work with them, whether or not formal authority exists.”

4. Tolerating Ambiguity (p. 401) – “[I]n today’s business environment, ambiguity is pervasive and affects leaders at all organizational levels. . . . Learn to handle ambiguity comfortably and confidently and learn to anticipate situations rather than simply react to or retreat from them. Make peace with ambiguity and gain greater control over how you handle key decisions in daily situations and over your career.”

From Awaken, Align, Accelerate (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011):

5. Business Acumen (p. 159) – A leader with strong business acumen understands the global environment, business model, and key drivers of the organization, and leverages this understanding to recommend alternatives and measure performance.

6. Building Collaboration (p. 285) – A collaborative leader participates with and involves others, promotes cooperation, builds partnerships, and resolves conflicts.

7. Creating Alignment (p. 57) – An effective change leader creates alignment by ensuring the structure, systems, people, and processes are aligned in support of organizational goals.

From Bernholz and Teng’s Harvard Business Review article (2015):

8. Be Entrepreneurial & “Be Scrappy” – In Bernholz and Teng’s article, in which they offered recommendations on how to build an in-house consulting team, one of their suggestions is “be scrappy” and adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. At EMC Information Infrastructure (EMC II, which has since been acquired by Dell), an information technology, storage & protection company, Bernholz (now VP, Head of Corporate Strategy at Adobe) and Teng (now VP of Global Business Transformation at Commvault) knew they didn’t have the luxury of having extensive support staff that external firms often enjoyed. So they made up for the staffing shortfall “by assigning all [internal EMC] consultants to an “office development” team, such as recruiting, training and onboarding, knowledge management, or social committee. Though these require time commitment beyond project-work, they offer team members the opportunity to shape the group’s operations and culture, instilling an entrepreneurial mindset among [internal EMC’s] consultants.”

Takeaway: Here’s my advice to those who wish to be outstanding internal consultants to organizations. To increase your chances of success: (1) Take a few steps back (figuratively) to really understand the issue or problem and absorb (like a sponge) everything you see, hear, and experience; (2) Build and maintain solid long-term relationships throughout the company; and (3) Work to connect the dots by thinking about and asking these questions: (a) “Why has this issue been a recurring one?” (b) “How many people or departments have an influence over this or play a key role?” (c) “Who truly holds the decision-making power and who are the influencers in the organization?”, and (d) “If others (inside & outside the company) have come up with a solution, why has it not worked?” By talking and listening to others, you will be in a great position to better know and understand the organization and the industry in which it sits. Finally, learn to get along and work well with others and be nice. If you are a jerk, you will have a very hard time providing internal consulting services.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Association of Internal Management Consultants (AIMC). (2017). AIMC Core Consulting Skills Certification Program (CCSCP) Overview. https://aimc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Core-Skills-Certification-4-page-details.pdf

Barnfield, H. C., & Lombardo, M. M. (2014). FYI: For your improvement – Competencies development guide (6th ed.). Korn Ferry.

Bernholz, M, & Teng, A. (2015, September 11). Why and How to Build an In-House Consulting Team. https://hbr.org/2015/09/why-and-how-to-build-an-in-house-consulting-team

Miller, A. (2016, July 12). Yes, HR Professionals, You Are Consultants. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/consultation/pages/yes-hr-professionals-you-are-consultants.aspx

Nelson, S. E., & Ortmeier, J. G. (2011). Awaken, Align, Accelerate: A Guide to Great Leadership. Beaver’s Pond Press, Inc.

Phillips, J. J., Trotter, W. D., & Phillips, P. P. (2015). Maximizing the Value of Consulting: A Guide for Internal and External Consultants. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Scisco, P., Biech, E., & Hallenbeck, G. (2017). Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching. Center for Creative Leadership Press.

Zentis, N. (2018, March 2). Role of the Internal Consultant: Consulting on the Inside. https://instituteod.com/role-internal-consultant-consulting-inside/

Small Acts of Kindness Can Matter So Much

kindness quote_harold kushner

Kindness From a Stranger

This is the first time I’ve shared this story. It’s not earth-shattering, traumatic, or dramatic, just a small act of kindness that meant a lot to me at a time when I REALLY needed an extra serving of kindness.

Many years ago, during a time period when I was looking for a job and was really struggling (financially, mentally, and emotionally), my wife and I went to a fast casual restaurant chain that serves home-style meals. This one lets you choose the food items (entree, side items, etc.) you like and the person behind the counter places those items onto your plate.

When I told the restaurant employee which food items I wanted, he did something that meant so much to me. He smiled and placed a little extra serving of the entree item on my plate and said, “It looks like you could use a little bit extra.”

I’m not sure if it was because I’m thin and tend to lose weight when I’m stressed, so I might have looked even thinner that day than I naturally am. I’ve always been thin, and have been this way my whole life. Maybe something prompted him to show some kindness toward me. Whatever the reason, I was so grateful to have received it that day.

I thanked him and we paid for our food. We enjoyed our early dinner and afterward went to our car. On the drive back to our place, I started to cry. My wife was really concerned and thought something was terribly wrong. I collected myself and began sharing with her about that simple, small act of kindness from a stranger at the restaurant. As I talked and recalled how he was kind to me, I starting getting choked up again with emotions.

It was a small act of kindness, but it came at a time and on a day when I so desperately needed some kindness and I got it, not from family or friends but, from a complete stranger. I’m fairly sure that nice man had no idea I really needed some kindness that day, but he gave it anyway.

Kindness Is Contagious

In a Scientific American article, psychology professor Jamil Zaki (2016) wrote that kindness is contagious and it can cascade across people. “[A]n individual’s kindness can . . . trigger people to spread positivity.”

In their studies, Zaki and his colleagues found that people do not “even need to see others do anything in order to catch their kindness.” In a follow-up study, people were asked to read stories about the suffering of homeless individuals. “After each story, they saw what they believed was the average level of empathy past participants had felt in response to its protagonist. Some people learned that their peers cared a great deal, and others learned they were pretty callous.” At the end of the study, participants were given a $1 bonus, and the chance to give as much of it as they wanted to a local homeless shelter. “People who believed others had felt empathy for the homeless cared more themselves, and also donated twice as much as people who believed others had felt little empathy.”

In Zaki’s book, The War for Kindness, he explained that empathy “refers to several different ways we respond to each other. These include identifying what others feel (cognitive empathy), sharing their emotions (emotional empathy), and wishing to improve their experiences (empathic concern)” (p. 4).

“We catch one another’s empathy” (Zaki, 2019, p. 121).

“We are not merely individuals fighting to empathize in a world of cruelty. We are also communities, families, companies, teams, towns, and nations that can build kindness into our culture, turning it into people’s first option” (Zaki, 2019, p. 122).

“Empathy’s most important role . . . is to inspire kindness: our tendency to help each other” (Zaki, 2019, p. 4).

Here’s another story about the kindness of strangers from Reader’s Digest: “While going through a divorce, my mother fretted over her new worries: no income, the same bills, and no way to afford groceries. It was around this time that she started finding boxes of food outside our door every morning. This went on for months until she was able to land a job. We never did find out who it was who left the groceries for us, but they truly saved our lives.” —Jamie Boleyn, Emmett, Idaho

In reflecting back on that day at the restaurant, perhaps the employee identified (from my face and body language) what I was feeling and wished to improve my dining experience as well as maybe brightening up my day. And he acted on his empathy by being kind and offering me just a bit more food on my plate. At the time, although it was really tough, I had unemployment income that helped us survive. BUT, I was feeling really down and even ashamed that I could not provide for me and my wife. So I kept to myself as the stress, anxiety, guilt, and so many other worries piled on. That small act of kindness helped me make it through that day and gave me hope to keep going, even when things felt overwhelming.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small is ever wasted.” -Aesop

Kindness In Organizations

In her book, People Not Paperclips: Putting the human back into Human Resources, Kath Howard asserts that in our organizations and workplaces, we have forgotten to treat people with kindness and compassion that they deserve. Instead, we treat them more like paperclips, commodities that are easily replaced. She says we can be wholehearted, authentic, and caring and connect with people and their needs in a truly human way.

She writes, “Lead by example in displaying compassion, no matter what ‘level’ of the organisation you’re employed at offer help and support to others, and condolences when they’re going through a hard time. This creates a ripple effect of kindness. People who are treated with kindness, often seek to ‘pay it forward’ and to offer kindness to others in return” (Howard, 2020, p. 98).

Kindness Toward Strangers

And one last thing, don’t rush through life or always be in a hurry. Despite having good intentions to be kind and help others, when we’re pressed for time and in a rush, we tend to bypass, overlook, or even step over a person in need to meet our goal. As the classic 1973 experiment by social psychologists John Darley and Daniel Batson revealed, even seminary students on their way to deliver a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan (a Bible story about helping strangers in need) failed to stop to help someone in need when they were in a hurry versus when they were not in a hurry (Lyons-Padilla, n.d.).

“A person not in a hurry may stop and offer help to a person in distress. A person in a hurry is likely to keep going. Ironically, he is likely to keep going even if he is hurrying to speak on the parable of the Good Samaritan, thus inadvertently confirming the point of the parable. (Indeed, on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way!)” (Darley & Batson, 1973, p. 107).

Takeaway: In your life and daily interactions with other human beings, be more empathetic, and remember to be kind. You never know how a simple, small act of kindness can matter so much to someone who’s really hurting.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Darley, J. M., & Batson, C. D. (1973). “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27(1), 100-108.

Howard, K. (2020). People Not Paperclips: Putting the human back into Human Resources. Practical Inspiration Publishing.

Lyons-Padilla, S. (n.d.). Take Time to Be a Good Samaritan. Stanford SPARQ. https://sparq.stanford.edu/solutions/take-time-be-good-samaritan

Reader’s Digest Editors. (2021, April 10). 30 Stories About the Touching Kindness of Strangers That’ll Make You Tear Up. https://www.rd.com/article/kindness-strangers/

Zaki, J. (2016, July 26). Kindness Contagion: Witnessing kindness inspires kindness, causing it to spread like a virus. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/kindness-contagion/

Zaki, J. (2019). The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World. Crown.

Book Review — Influence and Impact: Discover and Excel at What Your Organization Needs From You The Most by Bill Berman and George Bradt

influence and impact

“What we have found, again and again, is that people tend to underperform because they do what is comfortable, what is familiar, or what they desire, rather than what is most important to the organization. The majority of people we have coached believed they were doing the right things, but they did not understand the organization’s top priorities.” -Bill Berman & George Bradt (Influence and Impact, p. 11)

What Influence and Impact by Bill Berman and George Bradt Is About

Influence and Impact by Bill Berman and George Bradt is about how you can overcome the frustration and lack of satisfaction in one’s job by focusing on the job that your company and its organizational culture want you to do. On the inside front cover of the book, it states: “regardless of your formal job description, your real occupation is meeting the needs and expectations of the people around you” (Berman & Bradt, 2021). Excel in your role by discovering and excelling at what your organization needs from you the most. The key is to move beyond job descriptions and focus on the real-time needs and expectations of the people who depend on you every single day.

“. . .people lose their ability to influence others and impact the organization because they are not focused on the most essential, mission-critical business and cultural priorities. They usually do not even know what those are! Often, organizations and managers are not as explicit as they should be about the focus of their employees’ work, the culture of the organization, or their own needs and expectations” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 2-3).

“The really great news is that despite these common challenges, you can enhance your influence and impact by focusing on the mission-critical parts of your role (the business) without anyone explicitly telling you what they are. You can be more effective by learning about and adapting to the behaviors, relationships and mores of the organization (the culture)—or you may realize, after reading the first parts of this book, that it’s just not a fit and you would flourish more in a different organization” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 2-3).

Berman and Bradt (2021) wrote: “For a large majority of people, the struggle to have influence or impact and satisfaction in their work comes, not from external factors, but rather from something that they are able to manage and change” (p. 2).

“What has become clear to us, through our work with people from CEOs to first-line managers, and even individual contributors, is that many people are unintentionally misunderstanding critical aspects of their job. When organizations send clients to us for executive coaching or onboarding, we look carefully at how they spend their time, how they think about their job, and how they do that job” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 2).

“Many times, we find that they are not focused on the essential elements of their job. They may be doing someone else’s job unintentionally. They may be trying to do their colleagues’ jobs, either implicitly or by making a premature power grab to take on greater scope or responsibility. Sometimes, they are only doing one part of their job—the part they like, or the part that is most familiar” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 2).

“What is influence? What is impact? How are they different? Influence is the indirect or intangible effect you have on others, based on what you do, how you do it, how you communicate it, and who you are. Impact is the direct and observable effect you have on the entities you deal with—your manager, your team, your organization. We are particularly focused on helping you improve the effect you have on others—your influence—in ways that result in a significant or major effect on your manager, your team, and your organization—your impact. This is the key to professional success in organizations: Doing the job that is needed, in the way that is needed, consistently and effectively” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 3).

“People work for different reasons. For some, it is simply to have enough money to live their life the way they want. For others, it is a passion, something they do to feel fulfilled. But whatever the reason, having influence on others, and an impact on the organization you work for, is going to make you feel good about what you are doing. One of the major sources of job satisfaction is feeling that you make a difference, that you have an effect on the people you work with and the organization you work for. Whether you are looking to climb the corporate ladder, or find gratification in your current job, having influence and impact on others will boost your happiness and gratitude” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 3).

Under the heading, “What Gets in the Way?” Berman and Bradt (2021) wrote:

“So, what is the disconnect between you and what your organization needs from you most? What causes you to feel stuck, or stalled, that you aren’t having the impact you want? How can you bring more value to your company and meaning for yourself? In many situations, you are making one or two simple but consequential mistakes: You are not focused on the mission-critical parts of your responsibilities, or you are not doing them in the way that the organization can understand and embrace” (p. 11).

Influence and Impact

“What we have found, again and again, is that people tend to underperform because they do what is comfortable, what is familiar, or what they desire, rather than what is most important to the organization. The majority of people we have coached believed they were doing the right things, but they did not understand the organization’s top priorities” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 11).

You can enhance your influence and impact by identifying and consistently focusing on the mission critical parts of your role and the essential aspects of the culture of your organization. The steps to building your influence are (Berman, 2021):

  1. Start by learning about yourself – your strengths, your values, and your preferences.
  2. Learn about what your job really is – by having conversations with stakeholders (including your manager) and observing yourself, your manager, and your colleagues carefully.
  3. Understand the culture of your organization – by listening, observing, and reflecting on your actions and attitudes relative to others.
  4. Write out your working job description – the one that others need from you, not what you think it is.
  5. Decide if you want to commit to that job. If you do, then make a plan to adjust to what is really expected. If you do not, consider what alternatives there may be, in your organization or somewhere else.

Your Framework (your working job description of what’s essential to your job) Should Explain (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 60):

  • What drives our work? What matters to the organization? To the owners?
  • What are the norms, rules-of-the-road, and operating principles? How do people interact, make decisions, allocate resources?
  • What is your manager responsible for? How are they evaluated?
  • What does your manager need and expect from you? What can you expect from your manager, based on your data?
  • What do your stakeholders need from you? What do you need from them?
  • What is your working job title, which accurately describes your responsibilities, independent of what your organizational title is today?
  • What are your essential priorities?
  • What do you need from your team? What does your team need from you?

“[Y]ou may realize that you are struggling because what is expected and needed by your organization does not fit with your strengths, values, and interests. This will lead to the big decision you have to make . . . Do I stay and commit? Or do I look for something different?” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 60).

Part I [The Disconnect: What Your Organization Wants You to Know (But Hasn’t Told You!) (includes Chapters 1 and 2)] explains what you are doing that interferes with your influence and impact, why that is hurting your job satisfaction, and how to resolve it. We help you identify what distracts you, and why. Once you understand the disconnect between what you are doing and what the organization needs, you can commit to making the changes that will allow you to succeed, flourish and be recognized for doing important work” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 4).

Part II [The Solution: Discover Your Levers of Influence (includes Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6] is designed to help you sort out what your boss, your team, and your organization really need from you, both from a business and a cultural perspective” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 4).

Part III [Plan A: Grow Your Influence and Impact (includes Chapters 7, 8, and 9)] describes the path you take if you want the job you are in. This section takes you through the nuts and bolts of creating a Personal Strategic Plan to implement critical changes to your priorities, tone, and behavior . . .” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 4).

Part IV [Plan B: If You Don’t Want This Job, Find a Better Fit (includes Chapters 10, 11, and 12)] is the path you take if you realize that the real job your organization wants you to do is not what you want or can do. For some people, they really like the organization they work for, but the specific job is a bad fit, or they just can’t find a way to work happily with their manager. For others, this process helps them to realize that both the job they are doing and the context in which they work are not acceptable to them” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 5).

Part V [Helping Others Build Their Influence and Impact (includes Chapter 13)] is “a primer for managers who want guidance on how to coach others to great influence and impact . . . . [It] is designed to help you guide your people toward what you and your organization need from them the most” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 5).

WHAT’S OK BUT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER

The “Key Takeaways” at the end of each chapter is OK but way too short. I would have liked to see a much more comprehensive summary instead of a way-too-brief 3-5 sentences paragraph.

WHAT I DISLIKED

The use of font sizes is very inconsistent and the line spacing is very poor. The font size is too small for the body text and should have been larger. The font size is too large for the chapter title (as in bizarrely large) and should have been much smaller. Also, it would have been better to reverse the font sizing and swap out the sizing use in the References section for the font size used in the body text.

As I thumbed through the physical copy of the Influence and Impact book, (I do this when I first look at a book), I noticed how tightly packed the fonts were. Although a book review should never be about the style and appearance of the words (e.g., font styles & sizes and use of spacing) on the pages of a book (i.e., its “typography”), it’s worth pointing out, however, that typography impacts readability. In Influence and Impact, the small type (or font) size and the tight line spacing combined made it challenging to read.

In fact, the book itself is quite short at 181 pages (not counting References and Index), but it feels much longer and heavier due to its tight layout, smaller font size, and poor use of spacing. I mostly find this layout and typography in college textbooks so I was quite surprised to see it used in a business book. Rather than packing everything so tightly into 206 total pages, it would have been better had the publisher and authors stretched it out to 236 pages by using a larger body text font size, better line spacing, and better layout (translation: make it look less like a college textbook). Strangely, the chapter title font size is HUGE!

This regrettable flaw — the dreadful typography — makes the reader “work” to read it, instead of making it enjoyable to read. I truly hope this will be corrected in future updates. That said, when I focus and block out the distracting layout with its small font sizing and poor line spacing, it’s actually chock-full of goodness!

Indeed, good typography can mean the difference between a visually great reading experience, a mediocre, or even a terrible one. I’ve picked up and quickly put down books before based solely on a quick glance of its layouts, spacing, and fonts — in other words, the typography.

WHAT I LIKED

I absolutely loved Chapter 13. A Primer for Managers. In four pages, Berman and Bradt provided a CliffNotes version (i.e., a short summary) to business managers and leaders on how to execute and apply the actionable insights they shared throughout the book. All business books should have a section like this!

Here are two valuable tips to help their team members improve their influence and impact:

“The first step in improving others’ influence and impact is finding out what their job really is supposed to be. If you take the time, you and your colleagues can tell them most of the information they need. Other information is best obtained by encouraging them to observe what people do, how they respond, who succeeds and who struggles. What are their essential priorities? Are they totally focused on those priorities? What do they need from their team? What does their team need from them?” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 178).

“Help them know the business. To ensure they understand what the organization is all about, give them access to documents, including the organization’s mission, vision, and purpose, business strategies, cultural norms, and the like. It is surprising how few people pay attention to a public company’s financial statements or attend to quarterly reports. This is one of the best ways to help them think about the larger goals and objectives” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 178).

I also liked a few, but not all, of the guest contributors sections (like Leo Flanagan, Hy Pomerance, and Joe Garbus). The stories provided by Flanagan, Pomerance, and Garbus offered real-life examples and further enhanced each of the respective chapters in which they were featured.

Here’s an example. For Chapter 10, Leo F. Flanagan, Jr., Ph.D., shared a great story about “Jim” a VP of Finance, who took a CFO job in Chicago, IL. The catch was that he and his family (including wife and 3 teenagers in high school) lived in Scotch Plain, NJ.

Jim thought he could juggle family priorities with his work priorities but soon discovered that he really struggled to do both. He wanted to be there for his kids for their sporting events and he wanted to be available to his CEO for any urgent meetings. He thought that by taking a “super-demanding job half-way across the country,” he could “still be connected to my kids.” So how did that work out for Jim? “My kids and wife feel I let them down. It turned out that for the CEO ‘getting the job done’ meant being available and focused seven days a week. It didn’t work at all—for anybody.”

After being fired from his CFO role, he had a chance to reset his priorities. “Jim took a job as controller of a pharmaceutical company 40 minutes from home. He invested in rebuilding his relationships with his wife and kids. He got to the office every morning by 7 a.m. to ensure he could leave in time for any of his kids’ events, with the blessing of his CFO and the support of his admin” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 144).

OVERALL

Influence and Impact by Bill Berman and George Bradt is a FANTASTIC book that’s packed with useful and actionable insights. The tips and strategies offered throughout make this book a “must have” for leaders, managers, employees, and those about to enter the workforce. Influence and Impact is great for any professional, at any level (whether you’re an executive, manager, or frontline employee), who want to get a better understanding of what is expected and needed of them. You will gain and exert influence and impact when you’re able to focus on the most essential, mission-critical business and cultural priorities as well as meet the needs and expectations of your managers, stakeholders, coworkers, and teams! The key to your professional success in your organization is to effectively and consistently do the job that is asked of you and to do so in a manner that is needed. In tandem with this is the understanding and development of your influence (the effect you have on others) and your impact (the effect on your manager, your team, and your organization).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Berman, B. (2021, June 21). What Your Organization Really Needs from You: Influence and Impact. https://www.leadershipnow.com/leadingblog/2021/06/what_your_organization_really.html

Berman, B., & Bradt, G. B. (2021). Influence and Impact: Discover and Excel at What Your Organization Needs From You The Most. Wiley.

Disclosure: I received a hard copy of Influence and Impact as a complimentary gift in exchange for an honest review.

Book Summary & Review — Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done by Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton

According to Adrian Gostick, one of the main reasons for writing the book had to do with his (now) 25-year-old son, Anthony (Tony) Gostick, who had been struggling with anxiety since high school and had always wanted his dad to write about this topic. Tony soon realized that he wasn’t alone and that many of his peers and even his managers were also feeling anxiety.

As Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, his friend and coauthor, traveled the world talking and working with organizations and their executives, the theme that kept coming up again and again was that of anxiety in the workplace and what leaders can do to help their employees deal with anxiety — how to help (i.e., having the tips & tools) employees feel more supported and more resilient in the workplace. 

The book is organized by eight sources* of anxiety in the workplace, with a chapter for each strategy (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 26):

  • Employees’ uncertainty about the organization’s strategy contending with challenges, and how it affects job for security.
  • Work overload and the need for managers to help balance loads and help prioritize.
  • A lack of clarity about prospects for career growth and development, as well as the need for clarity in everyday work situations.
  • How perfectionism has become the enemy of getting things done.
  • Fear of speaking up, contributing, and debating issues.
  • Feeling marginalized as “others” for women, people of color, those on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and religious minorities.
  • Being excluded socially by team members, with the sense of alienation from working remotely an emerging variation of this problem.
  • A lack of confidence and feeling undervalued.

*To get some clarity, I emailed Gostick and Elton to inquire about the citation(s) of these “eight leading sources of anxiety in the workplace.” This was Adrian Gostick’s reply: “Those 8 are our conclusions of leading sources of anxiety in the workplace based on our research and interviews. They are proprietary. It didn’t seem right to use someone else’s list as our conclusion. . .” Within each of the 8 are sources [he’s referring to the hodgepodge of sources in the “Notes” section] to back up the claims. With that said, we aren’t claiming this is an exhaustive list, but our conclusion based on experience, research and interviews.”

**Although I’m disappointed to not have received greater clarification on how these “eight leading sources of anxiety in the workplace” came to be, I do understand The Culture Works’ (a Utah-based global training and consulting company founded by Gostick & Elton) reluctance (like many other private consultancies) to disclose their research data.

At the end of each chapter is a very handy chapter summary.

Chapter 1 The Duck Syndrome – Highlights (no summary page)

“Despite a great deal of coverage in the media about rising anxiety levels, the stigma at work remains potent. Most people aren’t willing to discuss what they’re going through with anyone but their closest family and friends, and often not even with them” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 10).

“Only one in four people who suffer from anxiety say they have talked about it to their boss. The rest? They hide their symptoms. Many have been doing it since their school days” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 11). 

*This is not from the book, but I really like Arifeen Rahman’s description of the duck syndrome (below):

“At Stanford the term ‘Duck Syndrome’ describes students struggling to survive the pressures of a competitive environment while presenting the image of relaxed California chill. Imagine a calm duck gliding across a fountain. Underwater, the duck’s feet are paddling furiously – against the terrifying possibility that it may sink or even worse: be revealed as trying too hard” (Rahman, 2019).

Gostick and Elton (2021) say that this Duck Syndrome is alive and well in the workplace. They wrote that, similar to these struggling college students who appear fine, at work, “many people who might seem to be doing fine are, in reality, in danger of going under” (p. 11).

“According to a study by Stanford Graduate School of Business and Harvard Business School professors, workplace stress and anxiety may be a contributing factor in more than 120,000 deaths annually. In short, tens of billions of dollars, massive employee burnout, and the mental and physical well-being of our workforces are all at stake when considering how to mitigate anxiety” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 13).

Gostick and Elton (2021) stated: “we are not suggesting leaders should try to become therapists” (p. 20). However, they contend that, “managers must take responsibility and do what they can to alleviate some of the strains work life is placing on so many of their people” (p. 22).

“Are managers willing to be present with an employee as that person makes sense of their mental health issue? Do they know how far to help without it becoming a counseling session? This is vital knowledge for managers these days” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 22).

Good summary of Anxiety at Work:  

“The hopeful news this [Anxiety at Work] book offers is that leaders of teams can adopt a set of eight simple practices we’ve [Gostick and Elton] identified that can greatly reduce the anxiety their people are feeling. Using these practices and the lessons throughout the book will help any leader convey that they genuinely care about those they are privileged to lead—sending them home each night feeling a little more valued, listened to, and included” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 23-24).

“Working to make team members feel understood, accepted, and secure is an extraordinary team-bonding opportunity. Research leaves not the slightest doubt that it’s also a powerful productivity booster. Devoting a little extra time and attention to this new way of managing will pay off in spades, and that is a great anxiety reliever for leaders as well, many of whom are concerned with their own job security” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 28).

In today’s workplaces, the pace of change is intensifying and competition ever-present. Managers will never be able to completely stop their employees from feeling anxious, stressed, or worried. And there’s not much managers can do about the challenges that batter the workplaces (Gostick & Elton, 2021). However, “within our teams, we can go a long way to relieving tensions, providing support, inspiring enthusiasm and loyalty, and creating a safe place for people to spend their days” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 28-29).

Chapter 2 Summary – Lead through Uncertainty (p. 67)

* Uncertainty can trigger various responses in people, often with negative consequences on performance. The most common uncertainty for today’s employees is whether or not a job will last.

* Uncertainty is exacerbated when managers don’t communicate enough about challenges facing their organizations and how those issues may affect their people and their teams.

* A good deal of employee uncertainty is about their own performance and development, i.e., How am doing? and Do I have a future here? By meeting one-on-one regularly to evaluate performance and growth opportunities, leaders can help team members avoid misreading situations while enhancing their engagement and commitment to the organization.

* Leaders can use a set of methods to help reduce uncertainty: 1) make it okay to not have all the answers, 2) loosen your grip in tough times, 3) ensure everyone knows exactly what’s expected of them, 4) keep people focused on what can be controlled, 5) have a bias to action, and 6) offer constructive feedback.

Chapter 3 Summary – Help with Overload (p. 95)

* Leaders often fail to appreciate that constantly demanding more and more work in less and less time will lead to employee frustration, rising anger levels, and eventually anxiety and burnout.

* Managers may believe it is an individual failure when an employee is overwhelmed, and yet more than 90 percent of employees feel burned out at least some of the time. The problem is often organizational.

* Most approaches businesses take to helping people cope with crushing workloads are aimed at fixing the person instead of focusing on underlying issues with the amount of work assigned and with the ways in which employees are managed.

* When employees feel anxiety from overload, managers can start by helping them break work into optimal chunks.

* Other methods to help team members better cope with workload expectations and reduce anxiety levels include: 1) create clear roadmaps, 2) balance loads, 3) rotate people, 4) closely monitor progress, 5) help people prioritize, 6) avoid distractions, and 7) encourage R&R.

Chapter 4 Summary – Help Chart Career Development (p. 124)

“Of course, classes and virtual training in foundational business skills can be quite valuable, but the learning that will most excite employees, and make the most immediate impact on their performance, is about how to tackle the specific challenges they’re facing in their work day-to-day” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 116).

* Research shows younger workers are more eager to move up or out, and more than 75 percent of Gen Zers say they believe they should be promoted within their first year on the job. Creating more steps on the career path can help.

* Some 90 percent of younger workers “highly value” career growth and development opportunities, and organizations that effectively nurture their people’s desire to learn are 30 percent more likely to be market leaders.

* Some 87 percent of millennials ranked job security as a top priority when looking for a job. That is more than likely going to be even higher in the post-pandemic world.

* Following a set of methods can reduce employees’ anxiety about where they’re heading in their careers. They include: 1) create more steps to grow, 2) coach employees about how to get ahead, 3) help employees assess their skills and motivations, 4) use a skill development flow, 5) make learning real-time, 6) tailor development to the individual, 7) carefully calibrate growth opportunities, and 8) encourage peer-to-peer support.

Chapter 5 Summary – Manage Perfectionism (p. 149)

* There are certain jobs when flawless execution is vital. Perfectionism isn’t about a rational quest to get things right when they have to be; it’s a corrosive impulse to appear perfect, and often to push others for flawlessness as well.

* Studies have found perfectionists have higher levels of stress, burnout, and anxiety. They can also spend so much time tinkering or deciding on a course of action that they get little done.

* A key difference between unhealthy perfectionism and healthy striving is being able to define realistic expectations and knowing when to say “that’s good enough.”

* To identify someone who might have perfectionist tendencies, look for those who seek excessive guidance, seem loath to take any sort of risk, and treat most decisions as if they were a matter of life and death. Perfectionists can also tend to become overly defensive when criticized, and they can become preoccupied with their missteps or the mistakes of others.

* A series of methods can help lead those with perfectionist tendencies, including: 1) clarify what good enough is, 2) share the wisdom of innovators, 3) treat failures as learning opportunities, 4) regularly check in on progress, 5) team them up, and 6) discuss the issue openly.

Chapter 6 Summary – Manage Healthy Debate (p. 170)

* Many people today are conflict-avoidant—sidestepping uncomfortable situations and holding back on giving honest feedback.

* The best work groups are places of high trust and high candor, where team members debate to drive problem-solving. When employees are free to speak up and know their voices will be heard, it can increase engagement, enhance psychological safety, and bolster self-confidence and a sense of ownership.

* Leaders facilitate this by encouraging debate in a safe environment. They set ground rules and encourage all voices to be heard, de-escalate quarreling, ask team members to clarify their opinions with facts, and create clear plans and timelines for moving forward.

* Managers can spot employees who may be conflict-averse if they shy away from difficult conversations, try to change the topic or flee the scene when things get tense, get uncomfortable during debates, or resist expressing their feelings or thoughts during meetings.

* Methods that managers can use to coach their employees to find their voices and work through difficult conversations include: 1) address the Issue, Value, Solution, 2) don’t delay, 3) stick to facts, 4) use your words, 5) assume positive intent, 6) have plan, 7) give and take, and 8) get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Chapter 7 Summary – Become an Ally (p. 188)

* There has been a historic pattern of anxiety in particular groups within the workplace—those too often made to feel like “others.” Of particular concern are women, people of color, those on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, members of religious minorities, and those with disabilities.

* Many in these communities must hide their true identities. But when managers create cultures where people feel comfortable being themselves, dramatic performance gains can be unlocked as everyone is able to focus all their attention on work.

* Many leaders do not understand the level of implicit bias that occurs in our work cultures. Microaggressions are biases that reveal themselves in often subtle ways and leave people feeling uncomfortable or insulted. They can take a psychological toll on the mental health of recipients and can lower work productivity and problem-solving abilities.

* Methods to help those who are marginalized feel valued and included in any team include: 1) listen up, 2) sponsor, 3) stand up, and 4) advocate.

Chapter 8 Summary – Build Social Bonds (p. 209)

* Exclusion can be toxic to anxiety levels. Fear of missing out (FOMO) may harm mental well-being since humans have such a strong need to belong. Some 71 percent of professionals say they have experienced some degree of exclusion within their team.

* There is much team leaders can do to spot those who may seem to be left out—all the more important when some or all of a team works remotely: Which person is regularly cut off during group discussions? Who doesn’t seem to be interacting with anyone? Regular one-on-ones are the best way to understand what’s really going on.

* Leaders can encourage inclusion by ensuring that all team members can contribute in meetings and have their voices heard in a calm and organized manner, buddy new hires up with friendly seasoned employees, and spend time in every meeting recognizing contributions.

* Other methods for helping move a team from exclusion to connection include: 1) build camaraderie, 2) find a common core, 3) foster connections and friendships, 4) provide frequent validation, and 5) include remotes.

Chapter 9 Summary – Build Confidence with Gratitude (p. 226)

* One of the simplest and most effective ways to motivate employees to achieve is by regularly expressing gratitude. Research shows offering positive reinforcement produces impressive boosts in team performance and significantly reduces anxiety levels in team members.

* Leaders don’t express gratitude to their people about work well done anywhere nearly as frequently or effectively as they should.

* High-performing employees are often gratitude sponges and perceive a lack of attention from a manager as a sign that things are not good; silence can cause worry to creep up on even the best of workers.

* Regular expressions of gratitude are like deposits in a Bank of Engagement. They build up reserves for when an employee’s work has to be corrected. Research shows gratitude also helps people develop a greater capacity to handle stress.

* Other practical methods to turn doubts into assurance include: 1) make gratitude clear, specific, and sincere, 2) match gratitude to magnitude, 3) preserve gratitude’s significance, 4) provide gratitude to high-flyers, too, and 5) keep gratitude close to the action.

How Anxiety Fills the Gap

“Leaders often shy away from discussing hard truths. They fear that such a discussion might dishearten their workers or cause them to bolt. And yet, there’s something exhilarating for employees about facing facts head-on. Such inclusion helps people feel like they are being brought into the inner circle to brainstorm solutions to challenges. Ambiguity either prolongs inevitable bad news or widens the trust gap. Or both” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 62).

How to Turn Less into More

“To lessen anxiety, we’ve found some good questions to ask in these individual check-ins include: (1) Do you feel like you can complete the project by deadline without having to work unreasonable hours? (2) Is there anyone else on the team who could help so you could meet the deadline? (3) Is there any part of this project that might be delayed? (4) Do you need any additional training or resources to be successful? (5) What have you learned that we might do differently next time we are up against a task like this?” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 87).

Clear Paths Forward

“If leaders are seeking to retain the best young workers, and reduce unnecessary career anxiety in their people, then addressing concerns about job security, growth, and advancement are vital” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 100).

How “It’s Not Perfect” Can Become “It’s Good, I’ll Move On”

“Jared, you’ve got high standards, just like me. I see that you always try to make sure all the details are attended to and everything is done exactly right. That can be a good thing. Now, as I want you to progress in this organization, I’ll tell you something I had to learn. Focusing on improving things from 95 percent to 100 often bogs down opportunities. It’s easy to get tunnel vision in getting something perfect that can cost more than it does to move on to the next project. Let me give you an example I saw where you might have applied this lesson” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 146).

From Conflict Avoidance to Healthy Debate

“Managers should address mean-spirited tensions head-on, and team members who stir up hostility should be coached. But there is a big difference between hostility and debate” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 152).

In high-performing teams with high trust and high candor, team members welcome debates and report that disagreements and strenuous debates help “drive inventive problem-solving, and can be highly motivating” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 152).

“When managers perceive that a conflict-avoidance issue may exist, they can do a great deal to address it by working with employees to stand up for themselves. They may also help them take time to consider their own opinions before agreeing to anything that might violate their values, and stick to their guns when challenged” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 154).

Becoming an Ally

“As we spoke with individuals in marginalized communities, a few things they wanted managers to understand about addressing bias included: 1) Don’t try to convince a person from a marginalized group of all the things that have gone wrong in your life to better relate to their issues (you were poor, your parents died, you have a learning disorder, etc.); this is not a competition. 2) Don’t ante up by saying that your daughter is gay or that you have lots of Black friends. 3) Be compassionate but don’t be “shocked” by racism or other forms of bias; if you are, you have been actively ignoring what’s been happening because it did not affect you directly. 4) Don’t preach about your “wokeness” to the issue; show it” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 179).

Transform Exclusion into Connection

“There’s actually quite a lot that team leaders can do to encourage inclusion; for instance, looking carefully for anyone on the team who may seem to be left out (all the more important when some or all of a team works remotely), which person is regularly cut off during group discussions, who is regularly chatting with whom, and who doesn’t seem to be interacting with anyone. By watching, a manager can gain awareness and insight” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 191).

Turn Doubts into Assurance

“One of the most effective ways leaders can combat anxiety is to foster an attitude of gratitude throughout their organizations—not just top-down, but peer-to-peer” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 218).

“When leaders align rewards with the level of achievement, they help those who are anxious make more positive assumptions about their work. For small steps forward, verbal praise or a note of thanks is appropriate, but bigger achievements require a tangible reward presented in a timely manner” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 221).

WHAT I REALLY LIKE

By following the strategies, tips, and techniques provided by Gostick and Elton in Anxiety at Work, leaders will not only become better at reducing the stress and anxiety on their teams and in their employees, but they will also become better leaders. Inherent in many of these suggested practices is the assumption that one is already a capable boss and that these anxiety-reducing practices for leading your team will make you an even better boss. And, if you’re a subpar leader, Gostick and Elton’s recommendations will most certainly help raise your leadership skills.

For example, in Ch. 2, Gostick and Elton wrote (2021, p. 67): “A good deal of employee uncertainty is about their own performance and development, i.e., How am doing? and Do I have a future here? By meeting one-on-one regularly to evaluate performance and growth opportunities, leaders can help team members avoid misreading situations while enhancing their engagement and commitment to the organization.” In Ch. 3, they stated (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 95): “Leaders often fail to appreciate that constantly demanding more and more work in less and less time will lead to employee frustration, rising anger levels, and eventually anxiety and burnout.” In Ch. 6, the authors maintained (p. 170): “The best work groups are places of high trust and high candor, where team members debate to drive problem-solving. When employees are free to speak up and know their voices will be heard, it can increase engagement, enhance psychological safety, and bolster self-confidence and a sense of ownership.” In Ch. 8, Gostick and Elton said (p. 209): “There is much team leaders can do to spot those who may seem to be left out—all the more important when some or all of a team works remotely: Which person is regularly cut off during group discussions? Who doesn’t seem to be interacting with anyone? Regular one-on-ones are the best way to understand what’s really going on.” Finally, in Ch. 9, they declared (p. 226): “One of the simplest and most effective ways to motivate employees to achieve is by regularly expressing gratitude. Research shows offering positive reinforcement produces impressive boosts in team performance and significantly reduces anxiety levels in team members.”

These are all classic management and leadership advice! I LOVE it!

CAUTION/CAVEAT:

As a former mental health professional, I want to make two important points. 

Point Number One: 

There’s an implicit assumption in Anxiety at Work that the “anxiety at work” is work-related and that managers and leaders need to have tips and tools to help their employees who are experiencing anxiety at work. What is very important to understand, however, is that individuals who experience anxiety also experience anxiety in other areas of their lives OUTSIDE of work. 

There was no clearly explained causes of anxiety mentioned in Anxiety at Work (I’m referring to the clinical definition & diagnosis of anxiety). According to the American Psychiatric Association (2017), “the causes of anxiety disorders are currently unknown but likely involve a combination of factors including genetic, environmental, psychological and developmental. Anxiety disorders can run in families, suggesting that a combination of genes and environmental stresses can produce the disorders.” In general, for a person to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the fear or anxiety must: (1) Be out of proportion to the situation or age inappropriate, and (2) Hinder ability to function normally (APA, 2017). 

As Dr. Edmund Bourne (a clinical psychologist who has specialized in the treatment of anxiety disorders and related problems for 30 years) explained in The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (2015, p. 8): “Anxiety is an inevitable part of life in contemporary society. It’s important to realize that there are many situations that come up in everyday life in which it is appropriate and reasonable to react with some anxiety. If you didn’t feel any anxiety in response to everyday challenges involving potential loss or failure, something would be wrong.”

“Anxiety disorders are distinguished from everyday, normal anxiety in that they involve anxiety that 1) is more intense (for example, panic attacks), 2) lasts longer (anxiety that may persist for months or longer instead of going away after a stressful situation has passed), or 3) leads to phobias that interfere with your life” (Bourne, 2015, p. 8).

Point Number Two:  

Seek appropriate mental health help for anxiety disorders (see APA, 2016; APA, 2017; NAMI, 2017). Gostick and Elton (2021) wrote: “for employees feeling anxiety symptoms at any level, referral to a company employee assistance program (EAP) or licensed counselor can be extremely helpful” (p. 20). Anxiety at Work is written with the primary focus on helping managers and leaders aid their employees, rather than providing an individual worker with the tools to cope with anxiety.

If you experience anxiety that is (1) hard-to-control, (2) where you excessively worry about a host of issues—health, family problems, school, money, work—that results in both physical and mental complaints (e.g., muscle tension, restlessness, easily tired and irritable, poor concentration, and trouble sleeping), and (3) you experience it on most days for 6+ months, PLEASE seek appropriate, qualified, and licensed mental health help (see APA, 2016; APA, 2017; NAMI, 2017).

In addition to seeking clinical help, I would strongly suggest reading books that specifically address anxiety, such as:

  • “The Anxiety Toolkit: Strategies for Fine-Tuning Your Mind and Moving Past Your Stuck Points” by Alice Boyes
  • “The Anxiety Skills Workbook: Simple CBT and Mindfulness Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety, Fear, and Worry” by Stefan G. Hofmann 
  • “Anxiety Happens: 52 Ways to Find Peace of Mind” by John P. Forsyth and Georg H. Eifert
  • “The Anxiety First Aid Kit: Quick Tools for Extreme, Uncertain Times” by Rick Hanson, Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, Martin N. Seif, Sally M. Winston, David A. Carbonell, Catherine M. Pittman and Elizabeth M Karle
  • “Coping with Anxiety: Ten Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, Fear, and Worry” by Edmund J. Bourne and Lorna Garano

Takeway:

Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton’s Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done is a fantastic contribution to the field of management and leadership as well as occupational health psychology (a field of psychology concerned with the health, safety, and well-being of employees, and covers four connected areas: the employee; the job environment; the organizational environment; and the external environment). In Anxiety at Work (2021), Gostick and Elton utilized stories and examples of real managers and their employees “to create a simple guide for managers that they can read very quickly” (p. 25) and included recommended practices that leaders can implement immediately (Gostick & Elton, 2021). Anxiety at Work is an important resource and guide for managers and leaders of teams, functions, and organizations. The tips and practices are great for helping leaders create and maintain a lower-stress work environment.

However, it is important to note that Anxiety at Work is not a guide for those experiencing anxiety at work and in other domains of life. Anxiety at Work is not a replacement for seeking help from a licensed and trained mental health clinician nor can it adequately help employees (on an individual level) better deal with and manage anxiety. The book is written to target the job and the organizational environment (i.e., what managers & leaders can do and need to do), not the individual employee.

With that caveat in mind, I really like Anxiety at Work and highly recommend it for leaders at all levels of an organization.

As Gostick and Elton (2021) wrote, you must acknowledge “the frantic duck-paddling going on under the surface in your team” (p. 227) and “begin to minimize anxiety, offer support for people to work through their feelings, and build resilience for challenges to come” (p. 227). Anxiety at Work helps leaders better understand that mental health and employee well-being are just as important as sales quotas and customer satisfaction.

Best of all, Anxiety at Work provides leaders with practical solutions: (1) to help reduce uncertainty; (2) to help team members better cope with workload expectations and reduce anxiety levels; (3) to reduce employees’ anxiety about where they’re heading in their careers; (4) to lead those with perfectionist tendencies; (5) to coach their employees to find their voices and work through difficult conversations; (6) to help those who are marginalized feel valued and included in any team; (7) to help move a team from exclusion to connection; and (8) to turn doubts into assurance.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2017, January). What Are Anxiety Disorders? https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders

American Psychological Association (APA). (2016, October 1). Beyond worry: How psychologists help with anxiety disorders. https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/disorders

Bourne, E. J. (2015). The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (6th ed.). New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Bourne, E. J., & Garano, L. (2016). Coping with Anxiety: Ten Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, Fear, and Worry (2nd ed.). New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Forsyth, J. P., & Eifert, G. H. (2018). Anxiety Happens: 52 Ways to Find Peace of Mind. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2021). Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done. Harper Business.

Hanson, R., McKay, M., Davis, M., Eshelman, E. R., Seif, M. N., Winston, S. M., Carbonell, D. A., Pittman, C. M., & Karle, E. M. (2020). The Anxiety First Aid Kit: Quick Tools for Extreme, Uncertain Times. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Hofmann, S. G. (2020). The Anxiety Skills Workbook: Simple CBT and Mindfulness Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety, Fear, and Worry. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). (2017, December). Anxiety Disorders. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders

Rahman, A. (2019, July 26). Duck Syndrome. https://www.kqed.org/perspectives/201601138907/duck-syndrome

Disclosure: I received a print copy of Anxiety at Work as a complimentary gift in exchange for an honest review.

What Burnout Is and Why It Isn’t Confined To The Occupational Sphere

What Is Burnout?

Burnout isn’t just being tired or “fed up” with work. “Burnout is far more than feeling blue or having a bad day. It is a chronic state of being out of synch with your job, and that can be a significant crisis in your life” (Leiter & Maslach, 2005, p. 2). With burnout, a person is no longer able to work (exhaustion) and no longer wants to spend effort at work (distancing). Burnout is characterized by exhaustion, mental distancing, and impaired cognitive functioning, such as poor attention and concentration, and a poor working memory (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020).

In their book, Banishing Burnout, Leiter and Maslach (2005) wrote that: 

Burnout is lost energy. You are constantly overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted” (Leiter & Maslach, 2005, p. 2).

Burnout is lost enthusiasm. Your original passion has faded and been replaced by a negative cynicism” (Leiter & Maslach, 2005, p. 2).

Burnout is lost confidence. Without energy and active involvement in your work, it’s hard to find a reason to keep going” (Leiter & Maslach, 2005, p. 3).

Burnout has become serious enough that the World Health Organization (WHO, 2019) included it in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon, though not a medical condition. According to ICD-11: “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

According to psychology professors, Michael Leiter, Christina Maslach, and Wilmar Schaufeli (2009): “burnout is a psychological syndrome in response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. The three key dimensions of this response are an overwhelming exhaustion; feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job; and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment” (p. 90). 

Another definition of burnout is that it is: a work-related state of exhaustion occurring among employees. Burnout is characterized by extreme tiredness, reduced ability to regulate cognitive and emotional processes, and mental distancing. These four core dimensions of burnout are also accompanied by depressed mood and by non-specific psychological and psychosomatic distress symptoms (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020).

Although there are varying perspectives on the definition of what constitutes burnout, what is common to all definitions is that, “burnout occurs at an individual level; that it is an internal psychological experience involving feelings, attitudes, motives, and expectations; and that it is a negative experience for the individual, in that it concerns problems, distress, discomfort, dysfunction, and/or negative consequences” (Maslach, Leiter, & Schaufeli, 2009, p. 89). 

And while burnout is an individual phenomenon, the impact of burnout can reverberate throughout an entire team or even department. In their book, Anxiety at Work, Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton talk about how work overload can have an effect on not just one individual, but also the entire team: “Allowing overload to escalate into anxiety and burnout can have negative ricocheting effects on an entire work group” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 75).

Symptoms of Burnout

4 Core Symptoms of Burnout:

1. Exhaustion: severe loss of energy that results in feelings of both physical (tiredness, feeling weak) and mental (feeling drained and worn-out) exhaustion. Specific symptoms include; lack of energy to start the new working, feeling completely used-up after a whole day of working, feeling tired quickly even after spending minimal effort at work, and inability to relax after work (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27).

2. Emotional impairment: manifests itself in intense emotional reactions and feeling overwhelmed by one’s emotions. Specific symptoms include; feeling frustrated and angry at work, irritability, overreacting, feeling upset or sad without knowing why, and feeling unable to control one’s emotions at work (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27).

3. Cognitive impairment: indicated by memory problems, attention and concentration deficits and poor cognitive performance. Specific symptoms include; difficulties to think clearly and learn new things at work, being forgetful and absent-minded, indecision, poor memory, attention and concentration deficits, and trouble staying focused at work (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27).

4. Mental distance: Psychologically distancing oneself from the work is indicated by a strong reluctance or aversion to work. One withdraws mentally – and sometimes even physically – from work and avoids contact with others, for example with customers, clients, and colleagues. Indifference and a cynical attitude are characteristic of mental distance. Little or no enthusiasm and interest for the work exists and one feels that one functions on autopilot (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27).

3 Secondary Symptoms of Burnout:

1. Psychological distress. This refers to non-physical symptoms that are the result of a psychological problem, such as sleep problems, worrying, feeling tense and anxious, feeling disturbed by noise and crowds, and weight fluctuations without being on a diet (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27-28).

2. Psychosomatic complaints. This refers to physical complaints that cannot be explained by a physical disorder, but are exacerbated by or result from some psychological problem. Examples are, palpitations and chest pain, stomach and intestinal problems, headaches, muscle pains and getting sick often (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 28).

3. Depressed mood. This refers to a gloomy and sad mood and to the inability to experience pleasure. Depressed people feel powerless, suffer from guilt and are disappointed in themselves. Please note that depressed mood is a normal, temporary reaction to disappointment or loss and should be distinguished from mood disorder, which is a psychiatric syndrome (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 28).

Burnout is caused by an imbalance between high job demands and not enough resources. Issues outside of work as well as personal vulnerability may facilitate the onset of burnout. Burnout also leads to feelings of being incompetent and poor performance at work (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020).

Six Areas of Person-Job Mismatch

Leiter and Maslach (2004) proposed that six areas of job-person mismatch are the critical sources of burnout. From surveys and interviews of more than 10,000 people across a variety of organizations in different countries, Maslach and Leiter (2005) found most person-job mismatches fall into six categories: work overload (too much work, not enough resources); lack of control (micromanagement, lack of influence, accountability without power); insufficient rewards (not enough pay, acknowledgment, or satisfaction); breakdown in community (isolation, conflict, disrespect); absence of fairness (discrimination, favoritism); and value conflicts (ethical conflicts, meaningless tasks).

Both individuals and organizations can use the six-category framework to diagnose which categories are especially troublesome for them, and then to design interventions that target these problem area (Maslach & Leiter, 2005).

According to Maslach (2017), the six positive “fits” to tackle the person-job mismatches and promote engagement and well-being are (1) a sustainable workload; (2) choice and control; (3) recognition and reward; (4) a supportive work community; (5) fairness, respect, and social justice; and (6) clear values and meaningful work.

Burnout Is Not Confined To The Occupational Sphere

Some researchers (e.g., Bianchi, Truchot, Laurent, Brisson, & Schonfeld, 2014; Hallsten, 1993; Kristensen, Borritz, Villadsen & Christensen, 2005; Pines, Neal, Hammer & Icekson, 2011; Pines & Nunes, 2003) have argued that burnout is not just job-related and should not be confined only to the workplace, and that we need to move away from a work-specific to a generic, cross-domain or context-free approach to better understand burnout (e.g., Hallsten, 1993; Kristensen, Borritz, Villadsen & Christensen, 2005; Pines, Neal, Hammer & Icekson, 2011; Pines & Nunes, 2003). They contend that the fundamental cause of burnout is unresolvable, chronic stress and, as such, burnout can be developed outside of the workplace (Bianchi, Truchot, Laurent, Brisson, & Schonfeld, 2014). “Burnout can only be considered a multi-domain syndrome, given that chronic stress is not a job-restricted phenomenon” (Bianchi, Truchot, Laurent, Brisson, & Schonfeld, 2014, p. 359).

Indeed, even Maslach (2006) has acknowledged that, “Although burnout has been identified primarily as a phenomenon in the world of work, the significance of the social context and interpersonal relationships for burnout suggests that burnout might be relevant to other domains of life” (p. 39). 

Researchers who support burnout as an occupational phenomenon (e.g., Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001; Schaufeli & Taris, 2005; Schaufeli, Desart, & De Witte, 2020) have extended the definition of work to also include athletes, volunteers, and even students. They maintain that because work refers to all structured, goal-directed activities that are mandatory in nature, athletes, volunteers, and students also “work” and, as a result, may also suffer from burnout (Schaufeli, Desart, & De Witte, 2020). 

Other researchers openly support the view that burnout extends beyond and outside the workplace. For example, Mikolajczak, Gross, Stinglhamber, Lindahl Norberg, and Roskam (2020) have presented a case for why parental burnout is distinct from job burnout. These researchers (e.g., Mikolajczak, Gross, & Roskam, 2019) have described parental burnout as an overwhelming exhaustion related to one’s parental role, an emotional distancing from one’s children, and a sense of parental ineffectiveness). There’s also a parental burnout assessment (PBA) in which the parental burnout phenomenon is reconstructed based solely on the testimonies of burned-out parents (Roskam, Brianda, & Mikolajczak, 2018). Although both parental burnout and job burnout share common consequences, such as problematic alcohol use, problem sleeping, somatic complaints, there are specific consequences for job burnout versus parental burnout. Specific consequences for parental burnout include parental neglect and parental violence, while a specific consequence for job burnout includes intent to leave the company.

Another type of burnout is caregiver burnout. “A caregiver can be any relative, partner, friend or neighbor who has a significant personal relationship with, and provides a broad range of assistance for a child or an adult with a chronic or disabling condition. These individuals may be primary or secondary caregivers and live with, or separately from, the person receiving care” (American Medical Association, 2018).

“Caregiver burnout is defined as a state of physical, emotional and/or mental exhaustion that can create negative and unconcerned caregiver attitudes. Caregiver burnout can occur when caregivers don’t get the help or support they need, and when the demands on a caregiver’s mind, body and emotions are overwhelming, leading to fatigue and sometimes hopelesness. Serving as a caregiver for a loved one is often mentally and physically demanding, making it difficult for the one providing care to tend to their own needs. Once the individual begins to feel the effects of burnout, it becomes difficult to care for themselves, as well as the patient in their charge” (American Medical Association, 2018).

Research studies have suggested that family caregivers (also referred to as informal caregiving) of adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia may also suffer from burnout (Almberg, Grafström, & Winblad, 1997; Alves, Monteiro, Bento, Hayashi, Pelegrini, & Vale, 2019; Chan, Cheung, Martinez-Ruiz, Chau, Wang, Yeoh, & Wong, 2021; Yilmaz, Turan, & Gundogar, 2009). James and Paulson (2020) recently developed the Informal Caregiver Burnout Inventory (ICBI), a measure of burnout for informal caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

If we accept that a fundamental cause of burnout is chronic stress (Bianchi, Truchot, Laurent, Brisson, & Schonfeld, 2014; Maslach et al., 2001), and if we agree that chronic stress can exist outside of one’s job or workplace, then “burnout cannot be confined to the occupational sphere because chronic stress is not confined to the occupational sphere” (Bianchi et al., 2014, p. 359). 

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Almberg, B., Grafström, M., & Winblad, B. (1997). Caring for a demented elderly person—burden and burnout among caregiving relatives. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 25(1), 109-116.

Alves, L., Monteiro, D. Q., Bento, S. R., Hayashi, V. D., Pelegrini, L., & Vale, F. (2019). Burnout syndrome in informal caregivers of older adults with dementia: A systematic review. Dementia & Neuropsychologia, 13(4), 415-421.

American Medical Association (AMA). (2018). Caring for the caregiver: A guide for physicians. https://www.ama-assn.org/sites/ama-assn.org/files/corp/media-browser/public/public-health/caregiver-burnout-guide.pdf

Bianchi, R., Truchot, D., Laurent, E., Brisson, R., & Schonfeld, I. S. (2014). Is burnout solely job-related? A critical comment. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 55(4), 357-361.

Chan, C. Y., Cheung, G., Martinez-Ruiz, A., Chau, P., Wang, K., Yeoh, E. K., & Wong, E. (2021). Caregiving burnout of community-dwelling people with dementia in Hong Kong and New Zealand: A cross-sectional study. BMC Geriatrics, 21(261).

Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2021). Anxiety at work: 8 strategies to help teams build resilience, handle uncertainty, and get stuff done. Harper Business.

Hallsten, L. (1993). Burning out: A framework. In W. B. Schaufeli, C. Maslach & T. Marek (Eds.), Professional burnout: Recent developments in theory and research (pp. 95-113). Taylor & Francis.

James, N., & Paulson, D. (2020). Development of a novel measure of informal caregiver burnout. Innovation in Aging, 4(Suppl 1), 477. 

Kristensen, T. S., Borritz, M., Villadsen, E. & Christensen, K. B. (2005). The Copenhagen Burnout Inventory: A new tool for the assessment of burnout. Work & Stress, 19, 192-207.

Leiter, M. P., & Maslach, C. (2004). Areas of worklife: A structured approach to organizational predictors of job burnout. In P. L. Perrewé & D. C. Ganster (Eds.), Research in occupational stress and well-being: Vol. 3. Emotional and physiological processes and positive intervention strategies (p. 91–134). Elsevier Science/JAI Press.

Leiter, M. P., & Maslach, C. (2005). Banishing burnout: Six strategies for improving your relationship with work. Jossey-Bass.

Maslach, C. (2017). Finding solutions to the problem of burnout. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69(2), 143-152.

Maslach, C. (2006). Understanding job burnout. In A. M. Rossi, P. Perrewe, & S. Sauter (Eds.), Stress and quality of working life: Current perspectives in occupational health (pp. 37-51). Information Age Publishing.

Maslach, C. & Leiter, M. P. (2005). Reversing burnout: How to rekindle your passion for your work. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 3(4), 42-49.

Maslach, C., Leiter, M. P., & Schaufeli, W. (2009). Measuring burnout. In S. Cartwright & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of organizational well-being (pp. 86-108). Oxford University Press.

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B. & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422.

Mikolajczak, M., Gross, J. J., & Roskam, I. (2019). Parental burnout: What is it, and why does it matter? Clinical Psychological Science, 7, 1319-1329.

Mikolajczak, M., Gross, J. J., Stinglhamber, F., Lindahl Norberg, A., & Roskam, I. (2020). Is parental burnout distinct from job burnout and depressive symptoms? Clinical Psychological Science, 8(4), 673-689.

Pines, A. M., Neal, M. B., Hammer, L. B. & Icekson, T. (2011). Job burnout and couple burnout in dual-earner couples in the sandwiched generation. Social Psychology Quarterly, 74, 361-386.

Pines, A. M. & Nunes, R. (2003). The relationship between career and couple burnout: Implications for career and couple counseling. Journal of Employment Counseling, 40, 50-64.

Roskam, I., Brianda, M.-E., & Mikolajczak, M. (2018). A step forward in the conceptualization and measurement of parental burnout: The Parental Burnout Assessment (PBA). Frontiers in Psychology, 9, Article 758.

Schaufeli, W. B., Desart, S., & De Witte, H. (2020). Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT)—Development, validity, and reliability. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(24), 9495.

Schaufeli, W. B., De Witte, H. & Desart, S. (2020). Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT) – Version 2.0 Test Manual. KU Leuven, Belgium: Unpublished internal report.

Schaufeli, W. B. & Taris, T. W. (2005). The conceptualization and measurement of burnout: Common ground and worlds apart. Work & Stress, 19, 256-262.

World Health Organization. (2019, May 28). Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases. https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases

World Health Organization. (2020). International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems (11th ed.). https://icd.who.int/

Yilmaz, A., Turan, E., & Gundogar, D. (2009). Predictors of burnout in the family caregivers of Alzheimer’s disease: Evidence from Turkey. Australasian Journal on Ageing, 28(1), 16–21.

Self-Insight Is Sparked by “Crystallization of Discontent” Moments

“The twists and turns of your life can be so unexpected, and that’s a good thing to learn.” -Christina Baker Kline (American novelist)

In The Power of Moments (“Defining moments shape our lives, but we don’t have to wait for them to happen. We can be authors of them” [Heath & Heath, 2017, p. 5]), Chip and Dan Heath (2017) talk about self-insight, “a mature understanding of our capabilities and motivations” (p. 116).

“[S]elf-insight rarely comes from staying in our heads. Research suggests that reflecting or ruminating on our thoughts and feelings is an ineffective way to achieve true understanding. . . .Better to take a risk, try something, and distill the answer from experience rather than from navel-gazing. Action leads to insight more often than insight leads to action” (Heath & Heath, 2017, p. 117).

Lea Chadwell had always dreamed of starting her own company, so she took a risk and opened a bakery she named, “A Pound of Butter,” which makes custom cakes for birthdays and weddings, and pastries to local restaurants. However, the charm of owning her own business began to fade. “Baking cakes for her own family was fun. But baking cakes for demanding customers was stressful” (Heath & Heath, 2017, p. 115).

One weekend, as she was rushing against a deadline to finish a wedding cake, she loaded the cake into her car and was about to drive off when she remembered that the front door of her bakery was left wide open. “It was her lightning-bolt moment: I’m making myself crazy being this stressed out. And she realized, ‘I wasn’t in love with baking anymore,’ she said later. ‘It was like this albatross of butter around my neck’” (Heath & Heath, 2017, p. 115).

Being a business owner made her miserable and she felt overwhelmed. She closed her bakery business after 18 months. The experience taught her about her capabilities and her values. Chadwell doesn’t regret starting or having to close her bakery. “What she gained was the insight that comes from experience. She came to accept. . .some qualities that made her the wrong person to run her own business. ‘I’m unorganized. Impractical. Fickle. . . . While these traits make me a great candidate for a Wacky Friend, they are just awful to try to form a business around. I suspect if I hadn’t quit, I’d have failed, and it actually really sucks to admit it. But, there’s the painful lesson I’ve learned. I’m great when I’m working for others; they rely on me. Working for myself? I’m a terrible boss’” (Heath & Heath, 2017, p. 116).

“Chadwell’s self-insight was sparked by a classic “crystallization of discontent” moment—the moment when she almost drove away from her bakery with the door wide open. In an instant, the fragments of frustration and anxiety she’d experienced were assembled into a clear conclusion: I’m not good at this. It’s not me” (Heath & Heath, 2017, p. 116).

The crystallization of discontent occurs when “contradictory events link together to form a large pattern of negative, dissonant thought” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 304). “These negative feelings and doubts have become linked to a broader pattern of meaningful relations that contradicts the high-level beliefs, instead of being a mere collection of isolated feelings and misgivings that in themselves seemed minor and that bore no relationship to one another” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 304).

The crystallization of discontent “typically initiate some serious reconsideration” whereby a person “assesses the options and alternatives, and many people will actively begin searching for alternatives” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 305). “The crystallization of discontent prompts a reassessment of the relationship or commitment. Isolated problems, frustrations, and bad days can be ignored as low-level setbacks that do not reflect negatively on one’s overall level of satisfaction and commitment. But a large pattern of problems and frustrations brings one up to a broader level of meaning and raises the issue of whether the positives outweigh the negatives. The person’s calculation of whether the involvement is worthwhile can no longer ignore the large body of problems” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 306).

“Baumeister (1991, 1994) claimed that people arrive at life changing decisions by first experiencing a crystallization of discontent. He portrayed the crystallization of discontent as part of a subjective process in which the individual concludes that the negative aspects of a certain life condition outweigh the positives. Until that point, the individual engages in maintaining the view that the positives outweigh the negatives (e.g., by contextualizing or otherwise minimizing the importance of the negatives), thereby enabling the person to keep a rosier big picture and to maintain the current life condition. But when the person perceives bad days as turning into bad years, the person is more likely to conclude that the future will contain much of the same. At this point, the person arrives at a crystallization of discontent and is motivated to make a major life change” (Bauer, McAdams, & Sakaeda, 2005, p. 1182).

In the crystallization of discontent — “The negative aspects link up with each other to form a broad, undesirable pattern: this is not just a bad day, but a bad year. When the problems were regarded merely as isolated exceptions, there was no reason to expect more of them, but once one sees them as part of a broad negative pattern, then further unpleasant develoments can be anticipated. The positive aspects must now be compared against an accumulated set of interrelated negative aspects, rather than being compared against the isolated negative aspects one at a time” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 325-326).

“Sometimes, at least in retrospect, a single and possibly minor incident will seem to stimulate this crystallization of discontent. It symbolizes a latent, broad set of dissatisfactions. The negative feelings about the involvement are thus recognized at a higher, more meaningful level; whereas once they were merely a temporary, brief, even one-day matter, now they are part of an ongoing pattern that reflects badly on the involvement over months or years. After the crystallization of discontent, each small frustration is no longer just another isolated problem but can readily link up to the broader context of general dissatisfaction. Each grievance reminds you of past grievances and warns of more to come” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 326).

“Connection reveals the very essence of meaning, which is to link things—objects, events, possibilities, other ideas—together. Meaning influences events by enabling people to see them as interrelated and hence to respond differently to them. The crystallization of discontent [is] perhaps the clearest example of this. A person’s life may contain exactly the same amount of problems, costs, and unpleasant facts after this crystallization as before it. What changes, however, is that these negatives are seen as one large pattern rather than a collection of isolated exceptions that are unrelated to each other. Connecting them, through meaning, is a crucial step in major life change. As long as these facts can be kept unconnected, the person is much less likely to initiate a major change” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 360).

Researchers have found that insight is an important and positive predictor of well-being (Harrington & Loffredo, 2011). “Insight was the most robust positive predictor” (p. 50) of well-being and “powerfully predicted both the subjective and eudaemonist constructs of well-being” (Harrington & Loffredo, 2011, p. 51).


I’ve experienced several “crystallization of discontent” moments in my life, all of which required me to stretch (oftentimes uncomfortably so) and, in the process, I learned more and more about myself each time.

One “crystallization of discontent” moment happened in my early 20s, as an undergraduate student working on my Bachelor’s. It was the summer of 1992 and I was supposed to be preparing to take the MCAT (medical school entrance exam). My parents even hired a tutor to help me master Organic Chemistry. But, at the last minute, I took action and called my tutor and canceled, telling her that I never wanted to become a medical doctor and that I was too cowardly to tell my parents and had just gone along for three years with what they wanted me to be. 

Another “crystallization of discontent” moment occurred in my early 30s. Having spent almost five years in a Master’s program and soon graduating with a graduate degree in counseling psychology, I experienced a very powerful “crystallization of discontent” moment in 2003. I “knew” very clearly in my head and heart that although I had spent years studying counseling and practicing how to be an effective counselor, I really did not enjoy counseling nor could I picture myself being a counselor and doing counseling as a long-term career. It was a frightening realization and stunning admission because how could I still be unhappy and dissatisfied when I had already pivoted away from another career field and had finally (I thought) found a career in mental health counseling?” In hindsight, there were a number of signs of my discontent throughout my time in the counseling Master’s program, but I ignored them each time. 

My “crystallization of discontent” moment in 2003—starting shortly before and continuing on after getting my graduate degree in counseling psychology—was, perhaps, the most powerful because it led me to the intentional decision to apply for a job in a school system (i.e., took action) over 7,000 away on a tropical island called Saipan, a career decision that ultimately changed not only my career but also my life. In fact, it was this decision that eventually led me to the training/learning & development and leadership & talent development space. And it was on the island of Saipan that I met and married my wife (who experienced her own “crystallization of discontent” moments that led her to leave Tokyo and seek out jobs in Sydney, Australia, and on the islands of Guam and Saipan).

Takeaway: 

Chip and Dan Heath (2017) observed that, “Self-understanding comes slowly. One of the few ways to accelerate it—to experience more crystallizing moments—is to stretch for insight” (p. 117-118). My “crystallization of discontent” moments in 1992 and 2003 were moments of insights that my journey in life includes many winding paths, twists, and turns; that I have to make multiple course corrections and pivots (i.e., take action) to find my bearings, and this is OK!

This perfectly captures my experiences with my own “crystallization of discontent” moments: “Often, what looks like a moment of serendipity is actually a moment of intentionality. What . . . [the people featured in the Power of Moments book] experienced as the shock of an insight was actually . . . the whiplash caused by realizing they could ACT and then willfully jolting their lives in a new direction. They were not receiving a moment, they were seizing it” (Heath & Heath, 2017, p. 262).

Have you ever had “crystallization of discontent” moments? Did you recognize and seize these moments?

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Bauer, J. J., McAdams, D. P., & Sakaeda, A. R. (2005). Crystallization of Desire and Crystallization of Discontent in Narratives of Life-Changing Decisions. Journal of Personality, 73(5), 1181-1213.

Baumeister, R. F. (1991). Meanings of life. The Guilford Press.

Baumeister, R. F. (1994). The crystallization of discontent in the process of major life change. In T. F. Heatherton, & J. Weinberger (Eds.), Can personality change? (pp. 281-297). American Psychological Association. 

Harrington, R., & Loffredo, D. A. (2010). Insight, rumination, and self-reflection as predictors of well-being. The Journal of Psychology, 145(1), 39-57.

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2017). The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. Simon & Schuster.

How to Give Direct and Clear Feedback

From front-line leaders all the way up to C-suite leaders, I have seen, time and time again, how managers have made a mess in delivering feedback to their employees.

In this article, I will:

    • Clarify the difference between coaching and feedback;
    • Highlight and explain the Situation Behavior Impact Model (SBI);
    • Share Brené Brown’s “Engaged Feedback Checklist”; and
    • Wrap up with Dianna Booher’s five feedback tips.

Many managers misunderstand feedback, with most calling it “coaching.” Feedback is not coaching, and it is important to not mistake feedback for coaching (Semple, 2018). There’s a “coaching” model & process and there’s a “feedback” model & process that should be and can be a part of coaching, but this “feedback” can also be standalone model & process.

Those who confuse and fail to differentiate between “feedback” and “coaching” are at risk of delivering ineffective and even destructive “feedback” and cause recipients to recoil whenever they hear the word “coaching.”

International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

Here’s my coaching definition, which I like much better, based on an amalgamation from these books: Leading at a Higher Level; Coaching for Performance; You Already Know How to Be Great; and Psychological Dimensions of Executive Coaching.

Coaching is a deliberate process of using focused conversations to help people to access their best self, remove interference, and free themselves to perform at their highest level. It’s about unlocking people’s potential so they can optimally make decisions, commit to actions, and produce breakthrough results. Effective coaching involves growth and change, whether that is in perspective, attitude, or behavior (Miller & Blanchard, 2010; Whitmore, 2017; Fine, 2010; Bluckert, 2006).

Feedback communicates to others about what their strengths are, specifies which of their skills are valuable to the team and/or organization, and explains to them where you believe they have the ability to change and improve (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999).

“Effective feedback provides the necessary information people need to build on their strengths and to shore up weaknesses. It’s a powerful tool for accelerating learning and for developing mastery” (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 7).

Therefore, it is absolutely critical that leaders and managers learn when and how to give effective feedback to subordinates.

When to Give Subordinates Feedback, according to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 11):

    • Often
    • On Time
    • As an Opportunity for Development
    • To Solve a Performance Problem

The Situation Behavior Impact Model (SBI) by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) is great feedback model:

    • Situation – Describe the situation. Be specific about when & where it occurred.
    • Behavior – Describe the observable behavior. Don’t assume you know what the other person was thinking.
    • Impact – Describe what you thought or felt in reaction to the behavior.

“Called SBI for short, this simple feedback structure keeps your comments relevant and focused to maximize their effectiveness. Essentially, SBI means you describe the Situation in which you observed the employee, you describe the Behavior you observed, and you describe the Impact of that behavior on you and others present in that situation” (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 12).

Here’s one example from CCL (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 12):

Jim, I saw that presentation you made to the Excelsior group
(Situation). I liked how you picked up on their questions. I noticed
that you were able to move out of your prepared presentation to
address their concerns without missing a beat (Behavior). They
were all nodding their heads in agreement when you answered that
question about the delivery time frame. You made me confident that
you were in control of all the material and information. Joel Smythe
told me afterwards that our company seems to have a much better
understanding of Excelsior’s situation than anyone else on their
short list (Impact).

Here’s another example of the SBI method:

    1. Situation: Describe the specific situation in which the behavior occurred. Avoid generalities, such as “Last week,” as that can lead to confusion. Example: “This morning at the 9 a.m. team meeting…”
    2. Behavior: Describe the actual, observable behavior. Keep to the facts. Don’t insert opinions or judgments. Example: “You interrupted me while I was telling the team about the new leadership development initiative,” instead of “You were rude.”
    3. Impact: Describe the results of the behavior. Because you’re describing exactly what happened and explaining your true feelings—not passing judgment—the listener is more likely to absorb what you’re saying. If the effect was positive, words like “happy” or “proud” help underscore the success of the behavior. If the effect of the behavior was negative and needs to stop, you can use words such as “troubled” or “worried.” Example: “I was impressed when you addressed that issue without being asked” or “I felt frustrated when you interrupted me because it broke my train of thought.”

In her book, Dare to Lead, Brené Brown says one of the biggest issues for leaders is having tough conversations:

“We avoid tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback. Some leaders attributed this to a lack of courage, others to a lack of skills, and, shockingly, more than half talked about a cultural norm of “nice and polite” that’s leveraged as an excuse to avoid tough conversations. Whatever the reason, there was saturation across the data that the consequence is a lack of clarity, diminishing trust and engagement, and an increase in problematic behavior, including passive-aggressive behavior, talking behind people’s backs, pervasive back-channel communication (or “the meeting after the meeting”), gossip, and the “dirty yes” (when I say yes to your face and then no behind your back)” (Brown, 2018).

Brown (2018) declares: “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”

“Feeding people half-truths or bullshit to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind. Not getting clear with a colleague about your expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering is unkind. Talking about people rather than to them is unkind” (Brown, 2018).

Brown shares a readiness checklist — Engaged Feedback Checklist — to contemplate before you sit down to give someone feedback.

I know I’m ready to give feedback when (Brown, 2012):

    1. I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you.
    2. I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it toward you).
    3. I’m ready to listen, ask questions, and accept that I may not fully I understand the issue.
    4. I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes.
    5. I recognize your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges.
    6. I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you.
    7. I’m willing to own my part.
    8. I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticize you for your failings.
    9. I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity.
    10. I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you.

“[P]sychological safety makes it possible to give tough feedback and have difficult conversations without the need to tiptoe around the truth” (Amy Edmondson, 2012).


Dianna Booher, a communication strategist and author, has some terrific and useful tips on giving feedback. She writes, “The best managers learn how to lead team members to assess their own performance so that feedback flows naturally. As a result, resistance decreases and performance improves” (Booher, 2021).

According to Booher, leaders and managers should try embedding feedback within coaching conversations. She recommends (2021) keeping these steps in mind:

(1) Lead the Person to Assess His or Her Own Performance – You are coaching for improved performance so begin the conversation with open-ended questions. For example (Booher, 2021): “How do you think this last product launch went over with our route drivers? Did you get the sense that they really understand the difference between this new formula and what we had on the market last year?”

(2) Ask About Lessons Learned – Instead of lecturing, ask what your team member has learned. For example (Booher, 2021): “What do you think you’ll do differently with the drivers on the next launch?” (Then listen to them elaborate on changes they already have in mind after self-assessing the outcomes that were less than desirable.)

(3) Acknowledge Their Perspective – If the team member has good self-awareness & self-assessment of their performance or the situation, you can confirm positively what s/he has said (Booher, 2021): “I agree with what you’ve said about…” “I think you’ve identified the trouble spots and have the right approach to correcting them for the next time.” (Notice that you’re giving credit for identifying and correcting their own performance.)

(4) Add Your Own Observations – Booher says that, while acknowledging the team member’s point of view, the leader/manager can share their observations (2021): “I have a few things to add about the situation. “I have a different take on what happened during the launch.” “I have a different viewpoint about why the route drivers walked away from the launch meeting confused. Let me add my observations to what you’ve said.”

(5) Be Direct, Clear, and Optimistic About the Future – Booher advises (2021): “Be direct. You never want to sugarcoat bad news or poor performance. But focus on the future rather than on the past. End the conversation by “looking forward” to the changes or improvements the team member will be making in the process, situation, or performance.”

Key Takeaways:

“To succeed in your leadership role, you must learn how to make feedback a part of developing your subordinates to their full potential. More than that, you must learn how to provide effective feedback that is empowering, not damaging; that is constructive, not debilitating” (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 7).

“Positive feedback will make the recipient feel better, reinforce good behavior, and build confidence. But negative feedback points out improvement opportunities and ways to build competence—and employees remember it longer” (Lane & Gorbatov, 2020).

“A manager’s inability to give feedback in a way that holds employees accountable for their performance, or that effectively delivers the message that their work outcome is poor, will lead to talent drain and drop in productivity overall” (Lane & Gorbatov, 2020).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Bluckert, P. (2006). Psychological Dimensions of Executive Coaching. Open University Press.

Booher, D. (2021, February 16). Coaching With Feedback That Actually Works. https://www.tlnt.com/coaching-with-feedback-that-actually-works/

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Random House.

Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Penguin/Gotham.

Buron, R. J., & McDonald-Mann, D. (1999). Giving Feedback to Subordinates. Center for Creative Leadership.

Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). (n.d.). Immediately Improve Your Talent Development with the SBI Feedback Model. https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/hr-pipeline-a-quick-win-to-improve-your-talent-development-process/

Edmondson, A. C. (2012). Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy. Jossey-Bass.

Fine, A. (2010). You Already Know How to Be Great: A Simple Way to Remove Interference and Unlock Your Greatest Potential. Penguin Group.

Lane, A., & Gorbatov, S. (2020, March 30). The Feedback Fallacy. https://www.talent-quarterly.com/the-feedback-fallacy/

Miller, L., & Blanchard, M. H. (2010). Coaching: A Key Competency For Leadership Development. In Blanchard, K. (Ed.). Leading at a higher level (pp. 149-163) (Revised & Expanded Edition). FT Press.

Semple, R. (2018, August 30). Don’t Mistake Feedback for Coaching. https://www.flashpointleadership.com/blog/dont-mistake-feedback-for-coaching

Whitmore, J. (2017). Coaching for Performance (5th ed.). Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

I Felt the Fear and Did It Anyway – The Risk I Took to Blossom

“And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” -Anaïs Nin

Today — January 26, 2021 — is a day of personal celebration for me because 6210 days or 204 months or 17 years ago, exactly to the day, I took a job on a tiny island (I started on January 26, 2004) that forever changed my life, both professionally and personally.

From 2002 to 2003, I went through my SECOND career identity crisis around the time that I was about to graduate from a Master’s Counseling Psychology program in the spring of 2003. It was a very scary and confusing time for me because I had, at least I thought, already gone through my FIRST career identity crisis a few years before that when I finally decided to become a mental health counselor. Now, as I’m nearing graduation from my Master’s program and having actually counseled people, I realized that I didn’t really like listening to people’s problems all day long and I was so afraid that I would spend the rest of my career life doing something that would be emotionally draining.

After much soul searching, praying, and reflection, I decided to take a job in a school system on an island in the North Pacific Ocean called Saipan (on the other side of the world from my home in Dallas, Texas [USA]). In late January 2004, after a 20+ hour flight and traveling almost halfway around the world, I landed on a tiny island in the North Pacific Ocean, and for the next few years experienced some amazing adventures, did some pretty exciting things, and got to see and do something very different.

In 3½ years on Saipan, I played beach volleyball with professional players, saw guys husk coconuts with their teeth, flew on airplanes not much bigger than a Hummer, learned Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) from an MMA fighter, created my first website, trained over 800 teachers and professionals on Crisis Intervention and Classroom Management, was invited to offer testimony to the CNMI Legislators on Assisted Outpatient Treatment, helped research and edit the CNMI Assisted Outpatient Treatment Act, produced a “School Crisis Response Handbook,” and had my School Crisis Response Training presentation videotaped. Oh, I also met a wonderful woman who, despite my shortcomings, agreed to become my wife.

Making that decision and taking that plunge was one of the SCARIEST and BEST decisions of my life! That job led me to crisis training, which ultimately helped me to make a career pivot into leadership & talent development and learning & development, the space within which I work today.

The funny thing is that the people who helped me the most were actually strangers on an Internet forum about computers! I had shared that I was yearning for adventure, excitement, and something different and a few people told me that I might regret it if I didn’t do something about it. In essence, they were my sounding board and they echoed back to me what I had been telling myself but could not hear over all of my internal interference.

The advice I would give someone in a similar situation is that, oftentimes, the “answers” to our problems are right inside of us. We usually “know” what to do, but we’re just too afraid to do it. Whether it’s changing careers, make some tough choices, etc. – we know what we should do or need to do, we just let our fears and doubts interfere with us taking action.

For me, the most AMAZING part of all of this (far beyond career success) is that the Saipan island job led me to meet my now wife (who was also tired of life in Tokyo and wanted adventure). And because I took that huge career pivot, even when I was scared, I’m now sitting here looking at my 6½ year-old-daughter — who would never have existed had I let my fear paralyzed me and I had stayed in Dallas.

I love this quote:

“The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.” -Susan Jeffers

I found this to be so true! It is terrifyingly liberating to be doing something you’re afraid of. This is an important life lesson for me and I will share it with anyone who will listen. It is also a lesson that I will share often with my daughter.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Jeffers, S. (2006). Feel the Fear . . . And Do It Anyway: Dynamic Techniques for Turning Fear, Indecision and Anger into Power, Action and Love (20th Anniversary Edition). Ballantine Books.

Nguyen, S. (2014, July 26). I Will Teach My Daughter Not To Be Afraid. https://workplacepsychology.net/2014/07/26/i-will-teach-my-daughter-not-to-be-afraid/

Resilience Is Adapting Successfully to Adversity, Hardship, and Tragedy

“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.” -Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven

Looking Back at 2020

As 2020 comes to an end and as we reflect back on this year, humanity has gone through one of its most trying ordeals—the COVID-19 pandemic—since, perhaps, the Spanish flu of 1918. The words “resilient” and “resilience” have been used often to characterize our ability to continue to press onward despite the severe ramifications the coronavirus has caused.

To everyone who has been impacted by tragedy, trauma, hardship, adversity, disaster or other significant life stressors, this post is for you. Whether it’s losing a loved one, losing a job, losing your home, or way of life, few of us have been spared. But know this: Human beings are incredibly resilient creatures. For centuries, we, individually and collectively, have overcome unbearable misfortunes and defied impossible odds to push on. And, despite the adversities, hardships, and tragedies, we have learned and continue to learn to adjust, adapt, and even thrive to our new circumstances.

Resilience Isn’t “Bouncing Back”

A very common description of resilience is that it’s “bouncing back” from adversities or difficulties. However, this “denies the reality of working through difficulties. Anyone who has faced a major obstacle in life will have been changed by it. They move forward with a different perspective, with changed values, and with hard-won learning. The word ‘bounceback’ does not reflect how tough that process can be” (Pemberton, 2015, p. 2-3).

Resilience Is Coming Back Rather than Bouncing Back

In his book, Developing Resilience: A Cognitive-Behavioural Approach, Michael Neenan explains how resilience isn’t about bouncing back, but rather coming back:

“Coping with hard times usually involves pain and struggle as you push forward to find a brighter future. As part of the self-righting process, you need time to adapt to the new realities in your life and to process your feelings about the changes and losses you’re experiencing. This process of adjusting to new conditions suggests that coming back, as opposed to bouncing back, from adversity is the more realistic response. Bouncing back presents a picture of a rapid, pain-free, almost effortless return from adversity. Also, if you pride yourself on being the bouncing back type, you’re more likely to put yourself down if your latest ‘bounce’ doesn’t take off. For example, faced with an unfamiliar situation where your usual problem-solving skills are proving ineffective, you conclude that you’re not making progress because you’re weak or incompetent and feel ashamed that your failings have been exposed for all to see” (Neenan, 2018, p. 175).

Definitions of Resilience

“Resilience is the human ability to adapt in the face of tragedy, trauma, adversity, hardship, and ongoing significant life stressors” (Newman, 2005, p. 227).

“Resilience comprises those inner strengths of mind and character—both inborn and developed—that enable one to respond well to adversity, including the capacities to prevent stress-related conditions, such as depression or anxiety, or their recurrence; recover faster and more completely from stress and stress-related conditions; and optimize mental fitness and functioning in the various areas of life” (Schiraldi, 2017, p. 2).

The Key To Resilience Is Hardiness

Dr. Salvatore R. Maddi and his team of researchers at the University of Chicago worked with 450 employees at Illinois Bell Telephone (IBT) before, during, and after the greatest divestiture in history. By the end of 1982, IBT had downsized from 26,000 to 14,000 employees. About two-thirds of the employees in the study suffered significant performance, leadership and health declines due to the extreme stress. However, the other one-third actually thrived during the upheaval despite experiencing the same amount of disruption and stressful events as their co-workers. They remained healthy and vigorous by seeing the workplace changes as opportunities rather than disaster. They performed better than their less hardy coworkers and found creative ways to professionally advance, despite ongoing workplace changes. Those who thrived had three key attitudes (the 3Cs) of commitment, control, and challenge that Maddi and colleagues came to call hardiness (Maddi & Khoshaba, 2005).

“Hardiness is a pattern of attitudes and skills that provides the courage and strategies to turn stressful circumstances from potential disasters into growth opportunities instead” (Maddi, 2007, p. 61).

Three Resilient Attitudes

Resilient people have the hardy attitudes of the 3Cs: commitment, control, and challenge (Maddi & Khoshaba, 2005).

1. COMMITMENT. People who are strong in the commitment attitude get involved with (instead of withdraw from) what’s happening, despite how stressful it may be, seeing this as the best way to learn from their experiences (Maddi, Khoshaba, Harvey, Fazel, & Resurreccion, 2011). They view their work as important and worthwhile enough to warrant their full attention, imagination, and effort. They stay involved with the events and people around them even when the going gets rough (Maddi & Khoshaba, 2005).

Strategies to Develop Commitment in Yourself (HRG, 2019):

    • Establish a support system that will help you to prevail
    • Commit to yourself
    • Quiet your mind and focus
    • Recognize and appreciate that this process is going to be a challenge & stay the course

Leader Actions to Foster Commitment in Others (HRG, 2019):

    • Give recognition, awards, praise for accomplishments
    • Be visible; spend time with team and peers
    • Support individual professional development (education, learning opportunities)

2. CONTROL. People who are strong in the control attitude believe that making an effort to influence outcomes by the decisions they make is more likely to lead to meaningful outcomes (Maddi, Khoshaba, Harvey, Fazel, & Resurreccion, 2011). Instead of allowing themselves to sink into passivity and powerlessness in the face of stresses, they do their best to find solutions to problems. When considering where to apply their efforts, they recognize the situational features that are open to change and accept those outside of their control (Maddi & Khoshaba, 2005).

Strategies to Develop Control in Yourself (HRG, 2019):

    • Don’t entertain more negativity
    • Develop coping mechanisms
    • Break tasks down into manageable chunks
    • Recognize (what is creating the anxiety)
    • Create healthy boundaries
    • Increase your release of endorphins get physically active

Leader Actions to Foster Control in Others (HRG, 2019):

    • Provide tasks that are challenging but within employees’ capabilities to achieve
    • Provide resources and time needed to accomplish goals

3. CHALLENGE. “People who are strong in the challenge attitude believe that stress is normal and that fulfillment is not to be found in easy comfort, security, and routine but rather in the continual growth in wisdom through what is learned from the negative and positive experiences of an active, changing life” (Maddi, Khoshaba, Harvey, Fazel, & Resurreccion, 2011, p. 370). They confront stressful changes, try to understand them, learn from them, and solve them. They embrace life’s challenges, not deny and avoid them. (Maddi & Khoshaba, 2005).

Strategies to Develop Challenge in Yourself (HRG, 2019):

    • Become an expert
    • Actively seek feedback
    • Be realistic
    • Be open to continuous learning
    • Try new things
    • Recognize lessons in failures

Leader Actions to Foster Challenge in Others (HRG, 2019):

    • Always emphasize value of change for learning
    • Model enjoyment, fun in variety
    • Treat failures as chance to learn

Viktor Frankl: Purpose and Meaning

“People who sense that their lives have meaning and purpose are generally happier and more resilient” (Schiraldi, 2017, p. 155).

Viktor Frankl (the Austrian psychiatrist, author, and Holocaust survivor), in his books Man’s Search for Meaning and Recollections: An Autobiography, reminds us that we can learn to deal with anything in life if we can find meaning in it.

“Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that 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. Dostoevsky said once, ‘There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.’ These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom – which can not be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful” (Frankl, 1984, p. 87).

“But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned to him. But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life” (Frankl, 1984, p. 88).

“There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life. There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: ‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how'” (Frankl, 1984, p. 126).

“I am convinced that, in the final analysis, there is no situation that does not contain within it the seed of a meaning” (Frankl, 2000, p. 53).

“By knowing we have choices in life, have a purpose, and can execute those choices, we become stronger, more resilient—hardier in our lives. This hardiness gives us added strength when we encounter our next life challenge” (Stein & Bartone, 2020, p. 22).

Never forget: “Humans are remarkably resilient in the face of crises, traumas, disabilities, attachment losses, and ongoing adversities. In fact, resilience to stress and trauma may be the norm rather than the exception” (Southwick, Litz, Charney, & Friedman, 2011, p. xi).

“What you’ve been through will help somebody else get through it.” -Joel Osteen

“One day you will tell your story of how you’ve overcome what you’re going through now, and it will become part of someone else’s survival guide.” -Unknown

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Frankl, V. E. (1984). Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. Washington Square Press. (Original work published 1959)

Frankl, V. E. (2000). Recollections: An Autobiography. Basic Books.

Hardiness Resilience Gauge (HRG). (2019). Hardiness Resilience Development Debrief. Multi-Health Systems Inc.

Maddi, S. R. (2007). Relevance of Hardiness Assessment and Training to the Military Context. Military Psychology, 19(1), 61-70.

Maddi, S. R., & Khoshaba, D. M. (2005). Resilience at Work: How to Succeed No Matter What Life Throws at You. AMACOM.

Maddi, S. R., Khoshaba, D. M., Harvey, R. H., Fazel, M., & Resurreccion, N. (2011). The Personality Construct of Hardiness, V: Relationships With the Construction of Existential Meaning in Life. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 51(3), 369-388.

Neenan, M. (2018). Developing Resilience: A Cognitive-Behavioural Approach (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Newman, R. (2005). APA’s Resilience Initiative. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 36(3), 227-229.

Pemberton, C. (2015). Resilience: A Practical Guide for Coaches. McGraw Hill.

Schiraldi, G. R. (2017). The Resilience Workbook: Essential Skills to Recover from Stress, Trauma, and Adversity. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Southwick, S. M., Litz, B. T., Charney, D., & Friedman, M.J. (2011). In S.M. Southwick, B.T. Litz, D. Charney, & M.J. Friedman (Eds.), Resilience and Mental Health: Challenges Across the Lifespan (pp. xi-xv). Cambridge University Press.

Stein, S. J., & Bartone, P. T. (2020). Hardiness: Making Stress Work for You to Achieve Your Life Goals. John Wiley & Sons.

Can video conferencing apps mimic or replace human-to-human connection?

I was contacted by a journalist writing a story about workplace communication, why human beings need human-to-human connection in the office, and whether technology can mimic or replace face-to-face human-to-human connection. She wanted to know if video teleconferencing apps and technologies are getting better at mimicking or even replacing face-to-face human-to-human connection. I am reposting my responses below.

1. Are video teleconferencing apps and technologies capable of replicating and feeding that human connection that you say is so essential to our brains?

As much as we would like to think that human beings are capable of duplicating and mimicking physical human connection, the answer is no. Human beings have not been able to virtually replicate the in-person connection. Perhaps the biggest reason is that, according to social psychologists, our human brains were created and wired to connect and interact with others and to do so in physical proximity to one another.

We can see how, during the COVID-19 pandemic, people were Zoom-fatigued. That is, we “connected” online and virtually—seeing each other’s faces and hearing one another talk—but at the same time feeling that it’s just no where the same as doing so in person. Indeed, researchers have found that the greatest bonding experience actually occurs during in-person interaction rather than by video chat, audio chat, and instant messaging.

2. What are the nonverbal cues that enrich our communication? Why are they so important to connecting and getting work done?

The nonverbal cues that help further enrich human communication include gestures, body language, as well as tone, pauses, inflection, and volume.

According to communications experts, nonverbal communication is important because it tends to be perceived as more believable than verbal communication. For instance, if you say “I’m fine,” but your body language communicates something different (such as you are grimacing, with the corners of your mouth turned down), people will most likely not believe what you told them (your verbal communication) and instead believe your nonverbal communication.

3. Are there times when face-to-face is not necessarily right?

I believe that there may be times when it may not be in the best interests of either or both parties to meet face-to-face. This can be when emotions run extremely high, when there’s protracted interpersonal conflict, or when there’s risk to psychological or physical safety. In these scenarios, a third party mediator might need to step in to de-escalate and diffuse the situation prior to meeting in person.

4. Will the push to recreate human-to-human connection via apps and video conferencing change our brains? Can we find the same kind of psychological connection through online groups like Slack and Facebook groups?

I don’t think our brains will “change” because of the use of apps and video conferencing softwares. The same applies to online group chats such as Slack or Facebook groups. Our minds adapt to a new/different way to communicate but the need to connect—physically—will always be there. As I mentioned in my answer to #1, researchers have discovered that the best and greatest bonding experience happens during in-person interaction, followed by video chat, audio chat, and instant messaging.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

Blocked Personal Learners Don’t See Value in Self-Development

“Growth is the great separator between those who succeed and those who do not. When I see a person beginning to separate themselves from the pack, it’s almost always due to personal growth.” ―John C. Maxwell

Blocked Personal Learner
According to Barnfield and Lombardo (2014), a person is a “blocked personal learner” if he or she:

  • Is closed to learning new personal, interpersonal, managerial, and leadership skills, approaches, and tactics.
  • Prefers staying the same, even when faced with new and different challenges.
  • Is narrow in interests and scope.
  • Uses few learning tactics.
  • Doesn’t seek input.
  • Lacks curiosity.
  • Is not insightful about him/herself.

Reasons Why a Person Is a Blocked Personal Learner (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014):

  • Hangs on, hoping to make it without changing.
  • Low risk taker.
  • May block change for others.
  • Narrow in scope and interests.
  • Not open to new approaches.
  • Perfectionist.
  • Prefers the tried and true.
  • Self-learning/development interest is low.
  • Too busy to learn anything new.
  • Too comfortable.

If others describe you as someone who is often stuck or living in the past. If you often resist change or anything new or different and you’re one of the last people to get on board with a new initiative, consider this: “You can’t survive today without keeping you and your skills fresh. There’s not much room anymore for someone stuck in the past” (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014, p. 471).

“I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”-Abraham Lincoln (16th President of the United States)

Perhaps the reason blocked learners are “closed to learning” (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014, p. 472) is because they just don’t see the value in developing themselves. After all, why would they if their scope and interests are narrow and they’re comfortable with the way things are?

Being a blocked learner is harmful to one’s career. Barnfield and Lombardo (2014) list it as one of ten “Career stallers and stoppers” [Stallers and stoppers are behaviors generally considered problematic or harmful to career success” (p. ii)].

Living In the Past
Have you noticed that some people live in the glory of the past? If you listen to them talk, they’ll often reminisce about how life was 20 or 30 years ago. They’ll recall facts and events almost as if they’re happening in the present moment. There’s a sense of longing to relive their past and feelings of regrets about missed opportunities or steps not taken.

The key is to reflect on your past and learn from it, rather than to relive it or ruminate on your past.

Learning From Your Past
Nancy Koehn, a Harvard professor, historian, and author of the book Forged in Crisis, wrote in one of her “Leading yourself in crisis” posts on LinkedIn (Insight #151): “If you cannot learn from and then let go of past missteps, you cannot hone your talents and advance your mission. [Abraham] Lincoln became a great communicator because he kept moving beyond what went wrong in his speaking and writing.”

“Forgive yourself first. Release the need to replay a negative situation over and over again in your mind. Don’t become a hostage to your past by always reviewing and reliving your mistakes. Don’t remind yourself of what should have, could have, or would have been. Release it and let it go. Move on.” -Les Brown

Self-Development
“Great leaders push themselves to learn, evolve, and adapt. Once leaders stop pushing themselves, their chances of continued success are greatly diminished. Self-development is a key ingredient for leaders who want to stay on the forefront in their professions” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 17).

What’s blocking you from taking on the commitment to and the work of self-development (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017)?

  • You’re overwhelmed by how much you have to learn.
  • You lack curiosity.
  • You have been successful in the past and don’t see a need to change.
  • You believe self-development calls attention to your weaknesses.
  • You believe training time takes you away from your work.
  • You’re satisfied in your current role and don’t want to take on another.
  • You’re unable to fit your developmental commitments into your life.
  • Your work priorities crowd out your attempts to develop new leadership skills.

“The bottom line is, those who learn, grow, and change continuously across their careers are the most successful. The skills someone has now are unlikely to be enough in the future. Acquiring new skills is the best way to navigate an uncertain future. . . . You look to grow from experience. Seek out feedback and are open to what you hear. Challenge yourself in unfamiliar settings. Try out new skills. Learn from others. . . . Development is a personal commitment. You make the choice” (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014, p. 355).

Growing from the InsideOut
In his book, You Already Know How to Be Great, Alan Fine (2010) writes that much of what holds us back from our full capacity or potential (i.e., high performance or being our absolute best) is interference. Interference is anything that keeps us from high performance (InsideOut Development, 2019); anything that gets in the way of higher performance (InsideOut Development, 2018); or anything that blocks progress (InsideOut Development, 2019).

For blocked learners and those who don’t believe or invest in self-development, their interference or the things that block progress or get in the way of their high performance include: fear of taking risks, not being open to new learning or approaches, being complacent, being arrogant, being defensive, being unsure what to do, and being afraid to fail or fearful that others may see their shortcomings.

It Takes Ownership to Have a Breakthrough
In order to become unblocked and begin a journey of learning and self-development, these individuals must want to change and be motivated to change. They must take ownership for and accountability of their own learning and development.

“Accountability is doing what needs to be done because someone expects it. Ownership is doing what needs to be done because you expect it yourself.” ―Alan Fine

Seize the Opportunities
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell shares some interesting facts about the Beatles. For instance, many Americans thought that the Beatles were an overnight sensation when the band came to the United States and put out a string of hit records. However, the Beatles had been playing together for a while and had many years of experience under their belt. As a matter of fact, “By the time [the Beatles] had their first burst of success in 1964, . . . they had [already] performed live an estimated twelve hundred times” (Gladwell, 2008, p. 50). 

Gladwell points out that “the time that elapsed between their founding and their arguably greatest artistic achievements—Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles [White Album]—is ten years.” 

Gladwell (2008) reminds us that, “success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. . . .Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them” (p. 267).

“Extraordinary achievement is less about talent than it is about opportunity.” ―Malcolm Gladwell

Takeaway: Success belongs to individuals who seize opportunities in front of them or, if there aren’t any, they seek out opportunities. Regardless of how intelligent or talented you are, you will not succeed if you don’t invest in time to develop yourself and hone your skills. Never stop learning. Keep your skills fresh, be open to learning, and learn from your past to improve yourself. Even if you are a genius or lucky or both, you can still very easily squander your talents if you don’t seize on the opportunities that are presented to you. Your success depends on the opportunities presented to you, along with a bit of good luck. But above all, success is about putting in the effort and hard work and using your imagination and creativity to act on the opportunities that might not be so obvious or even hidden.

“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing.” -Pele

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Barnfield, H. C., & Lombardo, M. M. (2014). FYI: For your improvement – Competencies development guide (6th ed.). Korn Ferry.

Fine, A. (2020, March 25). Working amid Coronavirus: 3 ways coaching can help. Retrieved from https://www.chieflearningofficer.com/2020/03/25/working-amid-coronavirus-3-ways-coaching-can-help/

Fine, A. (2010). You Already Know How to Be Great: A Simple Way to Remove Interference and Unlock Your Greatest Potential. Penguin Group.

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. Little, Brown and Company. 

InsideOut Development (2018, November 13). How to Get Executives Invested in Your Coaching Initiative. Retrieved from https://blog.insideoutdev.com/how-to-get-executives-invested-in-your-coaching-initiative

InsideOut Development (2018, November 26). Intro to the GROW Model and Performance Wheel. Retrieved from https://blog.insideoutdev.com/intro-to-the-grow-model-and-performance-wheel

InsideOut Development (2019, August 13). Interference: The Impediment of Performance. Retrieved from https://blog.insideoutdev.com/interference-the-impediment-of-performance

InsideOut Development (2019). The State of Workplace Interference: An InsideOut Development Research Report. Retrieved from https://resources.insideoutdev.com/articles/the-state-of-workplace-interference

Nelson, S. E., & Ortmeier, J. G. (2011). Awaken, Align, Accelerate: A Guide to Great Leadership. Beaver’s Pond Press, Inc.

Scisco, P., Biech, E., & Hallenbeck, G. (2017). Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching. Center for Creative Leadership Press.

Three Leadership Derailing Behaviors

Leaders exhibit common bad habits and researchers have pinpointed specific behaviors that can derail a person’s career (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2009). For two great coaching and development guides, consult FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2009) and Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017).

Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) define derailing behaviors as negative characteristics or flame-out factors that derail an individual’s career. According to the Center for Creative Leadership (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017), “A derailed leader is one who, after having reached a level of success in the organization, is fired, demoted, or involuntarily reaches a career plateau. Before these managers derailed, their organizations saw them as having high potential for advancement, having an impressive track record of results, and holding an established leadership position. But then something happened.”

Statistics about failure or inadequate success experienced by executives in new leadership positions (in the first 18 months) range from 38% to over 50% (Riddle, 2016).

Here are three common leadership derailing behaviors I see in leaders in organizations:

  1. The overwhelming desire to always add their two cents (i.e., their unsolicited opinion) to every discussion (Goldsmith, 2007).
  2. Not listening (Goldsmith, 2007).
  3. Not taking extreme ownership (Willink & Babin, 2017) [Note: I’m including Goldsmith’s “Refusing to express regret” (inability to take responsibility or admit you’re wrong), “Making excuses” (stop making excuses), and Passing the buck” (blaming everyone but ourselves) under the not taking extreme ownership derailing behavior].

Always Adding Your Two Cents

Marshall Goldsmith, a world-renowned executive coach, shared a story where he witnessed this very bad habit of “adding too much value” in action during dinner:

“The two men at dinner were clearly on the same wavelength. One of them was Jon Katzenbach, the ex-McKinsey director who now heads his own elite consulting boutique. The other fellow was Niko Canner, his brilliant protégé and partner. They were plotting out a new venture. But something about their conversation was slightly off. Every time Niko floated an idea, Katzenbach interrupted him. “That’s a great idea,” he would say, “but it would work better if you . . .” and then he would trail off into a story about how it worked for him several years earlier in another context. When Jon finished, Niko would pick up where he left off only to be interrupted within seconds by Jon again. This went on back and forth like a long rally at Wimbledon” (Goldsmith, 2007, p. 48).

“Imagine you’re the CEO. I come to you with an idea that you think is very good. Rather than just pat me on the back and say, “Great idea!” your inclination (because you have to add value) is to say, “Good idea, but it’d be better if you tried it this way.” The problem is, you may have improved the content of my idea by 5 percent, but you’ve reduced my commitment to executing it by 50 percent, because you’ve taken away my ownership of the idea. My idea is now your idea—and I walk out of your office less enthused about it than when I walked in. That’s the fallacy of added value. Whatever we gain in the form of a better idea is lost many times over in our employees’ diminished commitment to the concept” (Goldsmith, 2007, p. 48-49).

Not Listening

Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) wrote that people who are unskilled at listening tend to cut others off, try to finish other people’s sentences, and interrupt to make a pronouncement or render a solution or decision. As a result, those poor at listening do not learn much from their interactions with others.

Goldsmith worked with a group of executives of one of the world’s most respected research and development organizations that had a problem retaining young talent. They had a very visible and annoying way to show that they weren’t listening.

“During presentations everyone in senior management had developed the annoying habit of looking at their watches, motioning for junior scientists to move it along, and repeating over and over, “Next slide. Next slide.” . . . Have you ever tried to make a presentation while a manager grunted at you and kept telling you to move it along? Well, that’s how the junior scientists at this company felt” (Goldsmith, 2007, p. 87).

Not Taking Extreme Ownership

The best and most concise description of taking ownership is from the book, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win (Willink & Babin, 2017):

“On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win. The best leaders don’t just take responsibility for their job. They take Extreme Ownership of everything that impacts their mission” (Willink & Babin, 2017, p. 30).

“The irony, of course, is that all the fears that lead us to resist apologizing—the fear of losing, admitting we’re wrong, ceding control—are actually erased by an apology. When you say, “I’m sorry,” you turn people into your allies, even your partners” (Goldsmith, 2017, p. 84).

“If we can stop excusing ourselves, we can get better at almost anything we choose” (Goldsmith, 2017, p. 79).

“A leader who cannot shoulder the blame is not someone we will follow blindly into battle. We instinctively question that individual’s character, dependability, and loyalty to us. And so we hold back on our loyalty to him or her” (Goldsmith, 2017, p. 94).

I love this quote:

“Be humble to see your mistakes, courageous to admit them, and wise enough to correct them. The most difficult obstacles to remove are the ones that you create for yourself. If you cannot see your mistakes, you cannot fix them.” -Amine Ayad

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Goldsmith, M. (2007). What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Hyperion.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For your improvement: A development and coaching guide (5th ed.). Lominger International.

Riddle, D. (2016). Executive Integration: Equipping Transitioning Leaders for Success. Retrieved from https://www.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/ExecutiveIntegration.pdf

Scisco, P., Biech, E., & Hallenbeck, G. (2017). Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching. Center for Creative Leadership Press.

Willink, J., & Babin, L. (2017). Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. St. Martin’s Press.

To Engage and Retain Employees Provide a “Mini” Job Rotation During Employee Orientation


Have you noticed that, in many companies, employees often have no clue what many of the other employees in other functions do to support the overall organization? When you look at how companies typically onboard new employees and the lack of follow-up employee development training, it’s not at all surprising that so many employees struggle with not fully understanding what their colleagues do and how their companies operate.

As a result, these employees, their teams, and leaders unintentionally and detrimentally create and maintain silos, often pitting one or several functions against each other. For example, in one organization, corporate staff and sales staff do not know what it is that each of the respective functions do to support the overall firm. Each group, failing to grasp how interconnected and interdependent they are to one another and the overall organization, operates and wages a daily battle of “us vs. them.” Sadly, they undermine not only their “opponent” but also their own efforts to help themselves and the larger organization.

To improve job learning and experience, why not include a “mini” job rotation as part of a 2-week new employee orientation*?

*NOTE: The new employee orientation must be part of a larger, well-designed onboarding program (Allen, 2020). Good onboarding begins before a person reports for the first day of work and extends to the end of the new employee’s first year (Workforce, 2011).

In a job rotation, an employee (spending anywhere from several weeks to several months) rotates and does different jobs within an organization to increase their breadth of knowledge (Aamodt, 2016; Riggio, 2018). Of course, my recommendation of a “mini” job rotation during the new employee orientation means a much shorter time period.

Companies can pilot a 5-day job rotation (part of a 2-week new employee orientation) in which new employees will rotate into, learn as much about, and practice doing only the most critical jobs/functions that enable the company to operate (e.g., critical roles within Finance, Operations, Human Resources, Sales/Business Development, and Customer Service).

Here’s one example of a 5-day job rotation integrated into a 2-week new employee orientation:

New Employee Orientation – Week 1:

  • 1-day new employee orientation (company history, mission, culture & stories, organizational structure & functions, benefits, payroll, company policies, employee ID, tour of workplace, introducing new employees to senior corporate and team leaders, etc.)
  • 3-day job rotation for Wk. 1 (one day in Finance, one day in Operations, one day in Human Resources)
  • 1-day debrief for Wk. 1 (Q&A); Preparation for Capstone Project Presentations*

New Employee Orientation – Week 2:

  • 2-day job rotation for Wk. 2 (one day in Sales/Business Development, one day in Customer Service)
  • 1-day debrief for Wk. 2 (Q&A); Overall Wk. 1 & 2 debrief; Preparation for Capstone Project Presentations*
  • 1-day Capstone Project Presentations*
  • 1-day New employee orientation wrap-up

*NOTE: This recommendation to do a Capstone Project Presentation is based on advice from Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich (2004) regarding using projects to help ensure new hires grasp the contributions that different functions make within the organization. To demonstrate their understanding of the contributions that different functions make, small teams of 3-4 new hires will do a Capstone Project Presentation. The Capstone Project Presentations will require new hires to work in small teams (of 3-4 people) to learn about the work and contributions of the most critical functions and apply that knowledge to resolve a real-life situation that the organization is facing].

“The basic premise behind job rotation is to expose workers to as many areas of the organization as possible so they can gain a good knowledge of its workings and how the various jobs and departments fit together” (Riggio, 2018, p. 195).

“Job rotation is especially popular for managerial training because it allows a manager trainee to experience and understand most, if not all, of the jobs within the organization that his subordinates will perform” (Aamodt, 2016, p. 305).

What many companies so often forget is this: “Job rotation is also commonly used to train nonmanagerial employees. Aside from increasing employee awareness, the main advantage of job rotation is that it allows for both lateral transfers within an organization and greater flexibility in replacing absent workers” (Aamodt, 2016, p. 305). Thus, if one employee suddenly quits or is absent, another person will have already been trained (also known as “cross-training”) to step in to perform the job (Riggio, 2018).

To help employees satisfy their need for growth and challenge, one of the easiest and most common things organizations can do is provide job rotations (Aamodt, 2016). “Research has shown that job rotation not only increases learning, but it also has positive effects on employees’ career progression and development” (Riggio, 2018, p. 195). Another benefit of job rotation is that it can “alleviate the monotony and boredom associated with performing the same work, day in and day out” (Riggio, 2018, p. 267).

Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich (2004) cautioned that if the goal is to introduce employees to on-the job knowledge, targeted training (i.e. training as a student) is more effective than job rotations. And, “If the goal is really to understand the contributions that different functions make, then projects are far and away the most powerful source of how those skills are applied to real-life situations” (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004, p. 329-330).

In addition, rather than simply offering a traditional orientation that highlights only job requirements and information about the company or one that’s focused solely on the elements of the organization that foster pride, orientation that is focused on new employees’ personal strengths and how they can bring them to their work results in lower turnover and greater customer satisfaction (Levy, 2017). Obviously, this approach requires not only time and effort, but also dedicated staff, cost, and resources devoted to ensuring that the employee orientation experience (part of a larger onboarding program) and “mini” job rotation are well-designed and implemented (e.g., having a mentor, internal trainer, or supervisor/trainer at each step of the job rotation plan [Heathfield, 2019]).

It’s important to note that, while there are many great benefits to having a job rotation, there are also some things to consider. According to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) article: “Job rotation may increase the workload and decrease productivity for the rotating employee and for other employees who must take up the slack. This may result in a disruption of work flow and a focus by line managers on short-term solutions to correct these problems” (SHRM, 2020). Another factor to consider is cost — “costs associated with the learning curve on new jobs, including time spent learning, training costs and errors that employees often make while learning a new job” (Campion, 1996).

So, with these cautions in mind, let’s return to job rotation benefits. Researchers have discovered that “people who are starting out in their careers typically are more eager to demonstrate their willingness to learn, to advance and to take on increasing responsibilities to enhance their skill development. And, overall, they have more to learn and benefit more from rotation experiences” (Campion, 1996). Thus, it makes sense to incorporate a “mini” job rotation into the employee orientation period.

Takeaway: If planned well and done correctly, a “mini” job rotation (during the new employee orientation) can result in tremendous benefits for the new employees, for the teams and departments they are joining, and for the larger organization. This includes exposure to different business areas [for the individual, team, and organization]; fresh perspectives to existing roles [for the team(s), department(s), and organization]; acceleration of professional development [for the individual, team, and organization]; enhancement to recruiting and retention [for the team and organization]; and career satisfaction, involvement and motivation in one’s career [for the individual].

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2016). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (8th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Allen, T. (2020, April 2). The Key Difference Between Employee Onboarding and Orientation. Retrieved from https://trainingindustry.com/articles/onboarding/the-key-difference-between-employee-onboarding-and-orientation

Campion, L. (1996, November 1). Study Clarifies Job-rotation Benefits. Retrieved from https://www.workforce.com/news/study-clarifies-job-rotation-benefits

Eichinger, R. W., Lombardo, M. M., & Ulrich, D. (2004). 100 things you need to know: Best people practices for managers & HR. Lominger Limited.

Heathfield, S. M. (2019, June 5). 6 Keys to Successful Job Rotation. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/keys-to-successful-job-rotation-1918167

Levy, P. E. (2017). Industrial/organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (5th ed.). Worth Publishers.

Riggio, R. E. (2018). Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology (7th ed.). Routledge.

Robert Half. (2016, May 27). Job Rotation for Your Staff: Why Letting Go Could Mean Holding On. Retrieved from https://www.roberthalf.com/blog/management-tips/job-rotation-for-your-staff-why-letting-go-could-mean-holding-on

SHRM [Society for Human Resource Management] (2020). How do I implement a job rotation program in my company? Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/whatisjobrotation.aspx

Workforce. (2011, September 7). Dear Workforce Who Has a Good Blueprint for Creating an Onboarding Program? Retrieved from https://www.workforce.com/news/dear-workforce-who-has-a-good-blueprint-for-creating-an-onboarding-program

What You Should Know About Leadership Development Training

I’ve spent more than a decade working in three related and intersecting fields: Training, Learning & Development, and Leadership Development. One can certainly make a case that these all fall under Talent Development. In my current role, I am a Leadership Development Manager & Advisor. I partner with senior leaders and top decision-makers on ways to improve human behaviors in the workplace and on how to make people and organizations more effective (e.g., leadership development, training & development, etc.). I’m involved in developing and implementing key initiatives, training, and programs to create and sustain a high-performing organization. Finally, I’m often tasked with developing, designing, and delivering leadership development training.

I want to talk about some common issues and challenges in leadership development training. I’m sharing best practices drawn from various resources and lessons learned from my own experience working within organizations in the hope that it will help you avoid missteps and prevent catastrophes as you design and execute leadership training in your own organizations.

The Biggest Challenge Leaders In Organizations Face Today

Based on my experiences and observations, one of the biggest challenges leaders in organizations face today is how to recruit, develop, and sustain leaders in the company, and how to ensure that there’s a pipeline of leaders who will be able to move into leadership roles. The need for this is what all organizations experience or face, which is the need to have effective leadership, not only at the very top, but also at the mid-level and front-line level of the organization.

Leader Development, Leadership Development, and Leadership Training

Leader development focuses on developing individual leaders whereas leadership development focuses on a process of development that inherently involves multiple individuals (e.g., leaders and followers or among peers in a self-managed work team) (Day, Fleenor, Atwater, Sturm, & McKee, 2014).

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines leadership development as “formal and informal training and professional development programs designed to assist employees in developing leadership skills” (SHRM, 2020).

Leadership training programs are programs that have been designed to enhance leader knowledge, skills, abilities. They include all types of leader, managerial, and supervisory training/development programs and/or workshops (Lacerenza, Reyes, Marlow, Joseph, & Salas, 2017).

“Leader development is broadly defined as the expansion of a person’s capacity to be effective in leadership roles and processes. For organizations, developing leaders includes enhancing their performance in current roles, improving their ability to carry out the tasks of leadership in ways congruent with changing organizational realities, and, for some, expanding their capacity to take on higher positions” (McCauley, Kanaga, & Lafferty, 2010, p. 29).

Three Mistakes about Leadership Training

The first and biggest mistake is not doing a needs assessment. Too many organizational leaders blindly dive in and begin developing a leadership training program without ever doing a needs assessment. They think that once you have someone or some team design a leadership development program that it will automatically—by sheer willpower and wishful thinking—become successful just because it was created. Leadership development does not work in a vacuum or silo. It has to be a part of an organization’s DNA and corporate culture and mindset. The leadership training program is but one event that must be part of a larger strategic plan to grow and sustain leaders for the company’s current and future needs.

The second mistake is a tendency to try to cram too much content into the training and expecting participants who attend the leadership development program to instantly become an instant expert or a “leader” (i.e., meeting all the objectives of the program) once the program ends. In some ways, they treat it like a hot dog eating contest — the faster and more you consume in the allotted time the better. Instead of a seamless, connected, and well-organized program, what results is often a confusing and disjointed hodgepodge of courses and sessions.

The third mistake is failing to evaluate the leadership training program. One of the fears to training evaluation is that evaluating will yield unwanted or unfavorable information about the training program (e.g., audience, design, delivery, presenters, instructional contents, etc.). Another fear to evaluating is struggling with when to evaluate and how to isolate the effects of training. However, rather than fearing evaluation, we should think of it in this manner: “Training evaluation provides a way to understand the investments that training produces and provides information needed to improve training. . . Training evaluation provides the data needed to demonstrate that training does offer benefits to the company” (Noe, 2017, p. 249).

We’ll delve into more details about evaluation in the Training Evaluation section.

Leadership Training

“[E]vidence suggests that [leadership training] improves learning, transfer, and organizational outcomes by up to 29% (Lacerenza et al., 2017). Thus, not only do these programs affect leaders participating in the programs (i.e., by increasing learning and their ability to utilize concepts on the job, which is known as transfer), but they also influence desired subordinate outcomes as well (e.g., subordinate job satisfaction, turnover; Lacerenza et al., 2017)” (Lacerenza, Marlow, Tannenbaum, & Salas, 2018, p. 521).

Researchers have suggested that “leadership training developers should pay close attention to the desired outcome (e.g., organizational results, transfer, learning) because leadership training programs may be more effective for some than others. While leadership training typically shows positive results for affective learning and affective transfer, they tend to be even stronger for cognitive learning, cognitive transfer, skill-based learning, and skill-based transfer . . . [W]hen designing a leadership training program, it might be more beneficial to include (and evaluate) cognitive and/or skill-based content” (Lacerenza, Marlow, Tannenbaum, & Salas, 2018, p. 522).

Key Questions Leaders Should Ask About Training (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012):

Steps to Effective Training (Davies, 2007)

[For information on how to develop and implement a coherent training strategy, consult The Training Manager’s Desktop Guide (2nd ed.) by Eddie Davies]

Step one: Identify the training need
Instead of jumping in and solving the immediate problem, you need “to investigate to identify the true cause. This will help you decide if the problem is one that can be solved by training or will other remedies be more effective” (Davies, 2007, p. 101).

Step two: Design/choose the training/development intervention
Influences on the design of training to consider include: Training facilities available (space and equipment); time available; type of trainee; organization’s culture; learning objectives; skills of trainer; principles of learning; group size; budget (Davies, 2007).

Step three: Implement the event
“Senior management will need to be seen to be backing the programme. In addition to the customary chief executive’s letter of support, try to ensure that all senior managers that are due to attend come on the early courses. . . . In addition to gaining the explicit commitment of senior managers you will also need to make sure that the immediate line managers of the participants are also involved in the process. They will form an important role in raising trainee’s expectations before they attend. An equally essential activity will involve them in de-briefing the trainees when they return to work. This discussion should focus on how the new learning can be applied to make a real difference to both the individuals and organization’s performance” (Davies, 2007, p. 108-109).

Step four: Follow-up the training/development
“Training does not start and end in the training room. It is a widely reported phenomenon that whilst trainees learn in the classroom they sometimes fail to translate their learning back to the workplace. . . [Y]ou should also be thinking about this transferability of skills as part of the overall design. Individual sessions should end with time for reflection and review, and the participants should return to work with an action plan they can discuss with their managers” (Davies, 2007, p. 109).

Step five: Evaluate the outcome
“This final stage will involve you in going back to the start of the training cycle. The whole process was started because someone identified a need that could best be addressed through training. For the training department to survive and prosper it must show that it has been of benefit by providing the solutions in an efficient, effective and economical way” (Davies, 2007, p. 110).

Training Evaluation

An area in the leadership training space that requires particular attention is training evaluation or, rather, the lack of or inadequate measurement of leadership development training. As mentioned earlier, one of the fears and obstacles to training evaluation is deciding when to evaluate and how to isolate the effects of training (Kraiger, 2002). Another fear, often understood but not openly discussed, “for not conducting more rigorous evaluations is that the training function may have everything to lose and nothing to gain from the data” (Kraiger, 2002, p. 340).

Two strategies for increasing the impact of training evaluation practices (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012):

(1) Begin training evaluation efforts by clearly specifying one or more purposes for the evaluation and should then link all subsequent decisions of what and how to measure to the stated purposes. STEP: Clearly specify the purpose of evaluation. ACTION: Determine what you hope to accomplish by evaluating the training and link all subsequent decisions back to the purpose (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012).

(2) Use precise affective, cognitive, and/or behavioral measures that reflect the intended learning outcomes. STEP: Consider evaluating training at multiple levels. ACTIONS: (a) Consider measuring reactions, learning, behavior, and results. (b) Use precise affective, cognitive, and/or behavioral indicators to measure the intended learning outcomes as uncovered during the needs assessment (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012).

As Kraiger (2002) explained: The art of training evaluation springs from knowing why. What’s the purpose for evaluation (is it for decision making, feedback, and/or marketing)? How will the results be used to make decisions affecting training courses or the training function?

We need to know what to measure but to also be able to place it into a larger context in which success indicators and reasons why the evaluation is being conducted are considered.

The training evaluation outcomes table (Table 6.1) from the Noe textbook (2017) is helpful. Training outcomes are grouped into six categories: reaction outcomes, learning or cognitive outcomes, behavior and skill-based outcomes, affective outcomes, results, and return on investment.

“Table 6.1 shows training outcomes, the level they correspond to in Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model, a description of each of the outcomes and how they are measured, and the question that each outcome can help answer. Kirkpatrick’s original evaluation model included only four levels (reaction, learning, behavior, and results) but recent thinking suggests a fifth level, return on investment (ROI), is necessary to demonstrate the financial value of training. Both level 1 and level 2 outcomes (reactions and learning) are collected at the completion of training, before trainees return to the job. Level 3 outcomes (behavior/skills) can also be collected at the completion of training to determine trainees’ behavior or skill level at that point. To determine whether trainees are using training content back on the job (i.e., whether transfer of training has occurred), level 3, level 4, and/or level 5 outcomes can be collected. Level 3 criteria can be collected to determine whether behavior/skills are being used on the job. Level 4 and level 5 criteria (results and return on investment) can also be used to determine whether training has resulted in an improvement in business results, such as productivity or customer satisfaction” (Noe, 2017, p. 252).

“A useful taxonomy of content and design dimensions for assessment was provided by Lee and Pershing (1999), and is shown in Exhibit 11.1. The exhibit lists ten potential assessment dimensions, along with the specific purpose for the dimension (what is to be learned, and how that information is useful), and sample questions” (Kraiger, 2002, p. 344).

Avoiding Leadership Training Mistakes

One important tip to always remember is this: Not all participants who attend leadership development training will be successful after training and this is to be expected. The reason is because of two things:

(1) The motivation, attitudes, and expectations of the learner are absolutely critical to training effectiveness (Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992). If an employee is unmotivated to learn, doesn’t believe in their own abilities, and is not goal-oriented during training then the chances of this employee learning and applying the knowledge and behaviors taught will be negligible (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012).

(2) The support and encouragement from the employee’s supervisor is also key to training success. Research shows that one of the biggest determinants to whether training is successful or not is the amount and degree to which each participant’s manager will provide support and offer a chance to practice once the participant is back in his/her role after training (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012). So be sure to ask and have the answers to these post-training questions: (a) How much support and encouragement will they get from their managers/supervisors once they return to their roles after training? (b) Will there be on-the-job training to further support their growth?

It’s very demoralizing for an employee to return from leadership development training to a boss who doesn’t support, encourage, or provide an opportunity for that employee to put into practice the things he or she learned in leadership development training. Indeed, one of the major reasons employees leave an organization is due to the lack of growth and advancement opportunities (Branham, 2012).

Therefore, make sure that the culture of the overall organization and within each department is one that values, supports, and encourages growth of each employee. I would recommend surveying leaders and employees throughout your organization about the amount and level of support they believe they get for training and employee development learning from the overall organization and from within their own teams and departments.

Conducting a “PreMortem” Exercise

A great way to anticipate problems, prior to implementing a leadership development program, is to use what’s called a PreMortem. The purpose of a PreMortem is “to find key vulnerabilities in a plan” (Klein, 2004, p. 98). In a PreMortem, the group tries to anticipate a plan’s weaknesses through the simulations of different disaster and failure scenarios. The group’s job is to then find “ways to counter the weaknesses they have pinpointed” (Klein, 2004, p. 99).

“PreMortem begins with the assumption that the plan has failed. The attitude of complacency and the false sense of security is punctured, at least temporarily, and is replaced by an active search aimed at preventing trouble later on” (Klein, 2004, p. 101).

The PreMortem is designed to provide a safe “format that supports a productive critique of a plan” (Klein, 2004, p. 99). In a PreMortem, the team members independently list everything that worries them about a new plan or project. This method challenges the complacency of the group which can sometimes masquerade as harmony (Klein, 2014).

The PreMortem is used in a project kickoff meeting. The project team has reviewed the plan the members developed. “In the PreMortem exercise, the team is told to imagine that it is now some time in the future — say 6 months from now. We are looking in a crystal ball, and what we see is terrible. The plan has been a disaster. Each person in the room has the next two minutes to write down all the reasons he/she can think of to explain what went wrong. Once the two minutes are up, the facilitator captures what the team members wrote down — a blueprint for failure” (Klein, 2015).

“As a by-product of using the PreMortem exercise, team members will become better at mentally simulating how a plan or project is likely to play out. They will learn from each other about ways that plans can fail, and thereby increase the patterns they can recognize and their mental models, which in turn strengthens their intuitions. These skills enable people to produce better plans and avoid pitfalls” (Klein, 2004, p. 99).

Leader Self-Development

There are various ways to develop a person’s leadership capacity. One type of leader development is leader self-development. “Leader self-development refers to activities that leaders take upon themselves in order to develop their leadership capacity” (Simmons, 2017).

Here’s something to think about:

“Although learning and training are related, they are not the same. Some training fails to produce any learning, and a great deal of learning occurs outside of training. Learning is a desired outcome of training—a process of acquiring new knowledge and behaviors as a result of practice, study, or experience. It involves relatively permanent changes in cognition, behavior, and affect” (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012, p. 77).

What this means is that, even after a weeklong “training” program, a person might not “learn” much or even anything at all. A trainee’s motivation, attitudes, and expectations strongly influence training effectiveness (Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992). What’s more, only 7 to 9 percent of skill acquisition comes from formal training. Instead, leaders (both formal and informal) are key factors in learning—as they greatly influence what people actually do on the job. Obviously, trainees must continue to learn on the job after they’ve attended “training” (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012).

Self-development is learning beyond the classroom and individuals who commit to this learning mindset will grow as a leader (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017).

Leader Development Is Personal Development

“[A]ll people can learn and grow in ways that make them more effective in the various leadership roles and processes they take on” (McCauley, Velsor, & Ruderman, 2010, p. 3). Leader development is about the process of personal development that improves leader effectiveness (McCauley, Velsor, & Ruderman, 2010).

I like the Center for Creative Leadership’s view that leader development is synonymous with personal development (McCauley, Velsor, & Ruderman, 2010): “developing the individual capacities needed for effective leadership—such as self-management, social skills, and work facilitation capabilities—is synonymous with what is often labeled ‘personal development'” (McCauley, Velsor, & Ruderman, 2010, p. 26).

A suggestion I share with leaders (when they seek my advice about self-improvement) is to choose what they want to work on and focus on just that one thing or two things. You don’t need to be perfect and you don’t need to be everything to everybody. You just need to be you, not a “perfect” you, just a “better” you.

“You can’t set goals for every leadership competency you want to develop. Narrow your goals to those that you feel passionate about, those that benefit you or can reduce mistakes, and those that are not too difficult to achieve but still stretch your abilities” (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017, p. 349).

Marshall Goldsmith (2007) has similar advice: “Pick one issue that matters and ‘attack’ it until it doesn’t matter anymore. If you’re a bad listener, choose to become a better listener—not the best listener in the world” (p. 192-193).

Takeaway: Everyone in an organization — from rank-and-file employees to mid- and senior-level, and C-suite members — needs to understand that leadership development is self-development and requires taking an honest and humble examination of yourself. Leader self-development means adopting a “learning beyond the classroom” mindset. Remember, you do not need to be a “perfect” you, just a “better” you. Each of us must continually learn, own up to our mistakes, acknowledge that we do not know enough, and accept that part of learning means to change something about ourselves, even changing something we don’t think needs changing.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Branham, L. (2012). The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave (2nd ed.). AMACOM.

Davies, E. (2007). The Training Manager’s Desktop Guide (2nd ed.). Thorogood Publishing.

Day, D. V., Fleenor, J. W., Atwater, L. E., Sturm, R. E., & McKee, R. A. (2014). Advances in leader and leadership development: A review of 25 years of research and theory. The Leadership Quarterly, 25(1), 63-82.

Goldsmith, M. (2007). What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Hyperion.

Klein, G. (2004). The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work. Currency.

Klein, G. (2014). Different Tactics for Making Discoveries: Each path to insight calls for its own techniques. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/seeing-what-others-dont/201403/different-tactics-making-discoveries

Klein, G. (2015, October 21). The Pro-Mortem Method: Creating a blueprint for success. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/seeing-what-others-dont/201510/the-pro-mortem-method

Kraiger, K. (2002). Decision-based evaluation. In K. Kraiger (Ed.), Creating, implementing, and maintaining effective training and development: State-of-the-art lessons for practice (pp. 331-375). Jossey-Bass.

Lacerenza, C. N., Marlow, S. L., Tannenbaum, S. I., & Salas, E. (2018). Team development interventions: Evidence-based approaches for improving teamwork. American Psychologist, 73(4), 517-531.

Lacerenza, C. N., Reyes, D. L., Marlow, S. L., Joseph, D. L., & Salas, E. (2017). Leadership training design, delivery, and implementation: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(12), 1686-1718.

McCauley, C., Kanaga, K., & Lafferty, K. (2010). Leader Development Systems. In E. V. Velsor, C. D. McCauley, & M. N. Ruderman (Eds.), The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development [3rd ed.] (pp. 29-61). Jossey-Bass.

McCauley, C. D., Velsor, E. V., & Ruderman, M. N. (2010). Introduction: Our View of Leadership Development. In E. V. Velsor, C. D. McCauley, & M. N. Ruderman (Eds.), The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development [3rd ed.] (pp. 1-26). Jossey-Bass.

Noe, R. A. (2017). Employee Training and Development (7th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Salas, E., Tannenbaum, S. I., Kraiger, K., & Smith-Jentsch, K. A. (2012). The science of training and development in organizations: What matters in practice. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(2) 74-101.

Scisco, P., Biech, E., & Hallenbeck, G. (2017). Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching. Center for Creative Leadership Press.

SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management). (2020). Developing Organizational Leaders. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/developingorganizationalleaders.aspx

Simmons, M. J. (2017). Leader self-development: An emerging strategy for building leadership capacity. [Doctoral dissertation, Kansas State University]. K-State Research Exchange. https://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/handle/2097/38200

Tannenbaum, S., & Yukl, G. (1992). Training and Development in Work Organizations. Annual Review of Psychology, 43, 399-441.

The Science of People at Work