All posts by Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Book Review: The Self-Evolved Leader

“The Self-Evolved Leader was written to take you on a journey, from making the critical shift in perspective needed to break the cycle of mediocre leadership, to building a foundation for effective leadership, strengthening the disciplines you need to deliver great leadership, and ending with a plan for mastering and sustaining leadership” (McKeown, 2020, p. 10).

In The Self-Evolved Leader, McKeown contends that for too long leaders have mistakenly assumed that the value they bring to their organization is to play the role of the hero, someone has all the answers and swoops in to save the day. However, as heroic leaders, they also swing for the fences (i.e., attempt to satisfy high aspirations that are very difficult to achieve), tend to confuse busyness with progress, and will move from one crisis to another putting out fires. By being/playing the hero, the leader creates a sense of learned helplessness in their team, and as a result, they end up creating a cycle of mediocrity.

I like what McKeown (2020) says about our society’s misguided reliance on heroics:

“We’ve heard time and again in movies, literature, and sports of the lonely hero who embarked on a personal journey of discovery and managed to steal victory from the jaws of defeat, save the day, and emerge transformed. These mythical stories have infiltrated their way into our perception of an effective leader. Yes, there are times when we need diving catches and acts of heroism, but if that’s what your success as a team or organization is built on, then you have a shaky foundation. There are only so many superheroes you can hire. Instead, it’s more sustainable to build a foundation of great leadership that’s based on shared accountability rather than heroics. Building deep ownership allows your team to have flurries of heroism, without the heroics becoming the defining feature” (p. 6).

“In being an overwhelmed leader who is taking on too much and trying to save the day, you reinforce the belief that your team isn’t quite good enough, that it requires something special or magical from you to make it just so. That in itself puts a brake on your team’s desire to go above and beyond what’s necessary, and instead to sit back and wait for you to bail them out” (McKeown, 2020, p. 23).

McKeown describes a vicious cycle wherein the leader creates learned helplessness in their team, which leads to members feeling disempowered and which then creates a sense of urgency requiring the leader to swoop in and play the hero.

McKeown says, “In the long run, learned helplessness leads to disempowerment. Over time your team slowly cedes authority to you. They subconsciously elect not to make a tough call, so as to defer to your wisdom, to give you the final say” (p. 24).

McKeown argues that, “there’s a way to break out of the Cycle of Mediocrity, with a new set of patterns and behaviors that move toward a new cycle, the Cycle of Excellence” (p. 25).

In the Cycle of Excellence, the building of shared accountability and the development and empowerment of your team will propel you and your team to greater levels of success.

As you empower and grant your team more decision-making authority and responsibility, “you’ll discover that some members of your team will grow through the experience of handling the increasingly more complex challenges and problems you give them” (McKeown, 2020, p. 28).

As leaders elevate their focus toward the important, not the urgent, they’ll find “more time to have conversations focused on team members’ development and more clarity to assess their individual challenges” (McKeown, 2020, p. 28).

The most crucial shift in perspective to become a Self-Evolved Leader is to see “that your value comes not from saving the day but from equipping your people to deliver on the day-to-day tactics and grow into the best version of themselves so that you can focus on the medium- and long-term direction of your team” (p. 10-11).

Before leaders can work on improving their teams they must first work on improving themselves. To do that they have to adopt the characteristics and behaviors of the Self-Evolved Leader.

“Every transformation starts from within, and this one is no different. Before you can make a material impact on your team and organization, there are some internal characteristics that need to be nurtured” (McKeown, 2020, p. 32).

Internal Characteristics of Self-Evolved Leaders (p. 32-38):
1. Push for Growth
2. Demonstrate Vulnerability
3. Practice Empathy
4. Feel a Sense of Connectedness
5. Operate from Locus of Their Control

Developing the 5 internal characteristics bring about the following external behaviors.

External Behaviors of Self-Evolved Leaders (p. 38-39):
1. Set Common Goals
2. Help Their Team Achieve Those Goals
3. Focus on the Development of Their People
4. Focus on the Long-Term Direction of Their Team
5. Move From Pull to Push

What the Self-Evolved Leader Achieves (p. 39-41):
1. More Time and Space
2. More Clarity
3. Better Agility
4. High-Performing Teams
5. Balance

Self-Evolved Leader’s mantra (p. 42):
“My focus is to help those on my team achieve our shared goals and in doing so to help them become the best version of themselves.”

After you’ve committed to breaking out of the mediocre mentality and the cycle of mediocrity and have hit reset with your team, you are ready to tackle the Key Elements of Self-Evolved Leadership:

1. VISION: Create a compelling vision to inspire your team — A compelling vision brings alignment, a shared purpose, and a North Star for decision-making. The vision should be clear, excite the team, present your why, and be connected to the organization’s vision.

2. PULSE: Build a pulse for implementation — Building an implementation pulse is a proactive way to protect your own and your team’s time to focus on what’s important.

3. DISCIPLINE: Develop and work through six micro disciplines to dramatically accelerate the impact you have on your team — 1. Take a pause, 2. Exist in the present, 3. Set context, 4. Be intentional, 5. Listen first, 6. Push for clarity. These six micro disciplines serve as the foundation of the five core disciplines of Self-Evolved Leadership: Reclaim Your Attention, Facilitate Team Flow, Support High Performance, Have Symbiotic Conversations, and Build Shared Accountability.

In Part 3 of the book, McKeown discusses the five key leadership disciplines of self-evolved leaders:

1. Reclaim Your Attention — “Allowing other sources to have a hold on our attention is sapping our ability to stay present in our interactions and draining our cognitive ability to make high-quality decisions” (p. 102).

2. Facilitate Team Flow — “is about coming to grips with the numerous inputs to your team from the wider organization or marketplace, assigning a quick prioritization, putting the most appropriate people to work on it, and then passing back the output in a smooth, efficient fashion. The goal is to give your team more authority and responsibility over the projects and tasks that come your way and to keep you focused on those areas that you can impact in the most powerful way” (p. 119).

3. Support High Performance — Supporting high performance, rather than trying to manage it, “involves helping your team identify the root cause of the issues they face, sorting through the solutions in front of them, and then assisting them in deciding on a plan of action” (p. 146).

4. Have Symbiotic Conversations — “Having symbiotic conversations involves assuming positive intent, mapping a path to your desired outcome, and ultimately giving others the choice about what they wish to do next” (p. 160).

5. Build Shared Accountability — “The main characteristic of a group with deep accountability is that there is enough trust, respect, and desire to see each other succeed that they’re able to spur one another on toward achieving their common goals” (p. 164).

“Accountability and ownership cannot be taught; you can only provide the environment for your team to want to take it. Building shared accountability is a natural outflow of setting a clear vision, building an implementation pulse, and mastering the key disciplines” (McKeown, 2020, p. 175).

In Part 4 (Sustaining Self-Evolved Leadership), there’s a 15-week program (Ch. 11) that guides you in charting your own journey to becoming a Self-Evolved Leader as well as implementing the practices within your own team.

I especially like Week 3 “Map Your Pulse” (p. 186-192) where you are shown five different vantage points that you should plan with your team [annual review (50,000 feet), quarterly review (30,000 feet), monthly review (10,000 feet), weekly review (5,000 feet), and daily review (runway)].

McKeown ends the book (in Ch. 12) by extending Self-Evolved Leadership at the team level to the rest of the organization. He talks about building a shared vocabulary, aligning visions across the organization, creating a shared pulse, and having a collective focus on mastering the disciplines.

What I Did Not Like:
My one criticism of the book is McKeown’s coverage of the “Self-Evolved Organization” (the last chapter). I was disappointed in the hasty ending and it felt very rushed and seemed insufficient since Chapter 12 is just 8 pages long. Because it summarized the other chapters, it would have been better to label Chapter 12 under the heading “Conclusion” or “Summary” and tie those chapters together and mention how they contribute to a Self-Evolved Organization.

At the end of each chapter is a “What to Remember” (brief summary) and “What to Try” (actionable insights) section. There’s also a URL to a video summaries of the chapters (https://resources.selfevolvedleader.com/). To access the video summaries, you must register on the site.

Takeaway: The Self-Evolved Leader is a short book and even shorter if you don’t count the workbook portion (Ch. 11, which is about 40 pages). This is not a bad thing because it makes for a very easy and quick read. McKeown does a good job being concise and getting to the point without rambling and being long-winded.

Overall, The Self-Evolved Leader is an enjoyable and practical book. McKeown does a fine job providing advice, guidance, and tools to help seasoned executives as well as newly promoted leaders become their best. I appreciate the 15-week road map for implementing the Self-Evolved Leadership philosophy and practices. And I applaud the “What to Remember” and “What to Try” section summarizing almost every chapter. I’ll be using this book for my own development and sharing it with other leaders. Highly recommended!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

Reference

McKeown, D. (2020). The Self-Evolved Leader: Elevate Your Focus and Develop Your People In a World That Refuses To Slow Down. Greenleaf Book Group Press.

*Note: The page numbers referenced in this post refer to the Advance Reader’s Copy of The Self-Evolved Leader. For the most part, they are identical to the final copy. However, there are still some errors. For example, in the final print copy, Ch. 12 starts on p. 217, whereas in the advance reader’s copy, Ch. 12 begins on p. 219. Another mistake is on p. 11 in the advance copy, under “Mastering the Self-Evolved Leadership Disciplines,” it states: “This section of the book is a deep dive into six key leadership disciplines . . .” However, it was corrected in the final version to say five key leadership disciplines. This is why I dislike reviewing a galley or advance copy of a book.

Disclosure: I received an advance reader’s copy of The Self-Evolved Leader as a complimentary gift.

Steve Jobs Had Moderately Low Emotional Intelligence

I thought this might be an interesting case study. I’ve come across many articles where writers (both lay and scholars) have stated that they believe Steve Jobs had high emotional intelligence (EQ).

Let’s start by defining emotional intelligence:

Emotional intelligence is the “ability to perceive and express emotion, assimilate emotion in thought, understand and reason
with emotion, and regulate emotion in the self and others” (Mayer, Salovey, Caruso, & Cherkasskiy, 2011, p. 532).

Emotional intelligence is “a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way” (Multi-Health Systems, 2011).

Here’s my position: Steve Jobs’ emotional intelligence was very unbalanced, so much so that I believe his overall EQ score was moderately low to moderate.

In this article, I have included extensive passages, statements, and stories and quoted them verbatim from the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson as well as from a few other sources to support my viewpoint. This is done intentionally as rewording or paraphrasing would dilute the writings and storytelling and I didn’t want to do that.

There’s no doubt that Steve Jobs was a visionary genius who, over three decades, brought some incredible products (e.g., Apple II, Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and many others) to market, and who transformed entire industries (Isaacson, 2011).

While he was very effective in some leadership areas, he was extremely lacking in others. Therefore, I would argue that Steve Jobs had a very unbalanced emotional intelligence which contributed to his moderately low overall emotional intelligence.

I will use the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i) 2.0. The EQ-i 2.0 measures emotional intelligence. More specifically, the EQ-i 2.0 measures a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way individuals: (1) perceive and express themselves, (2) develop and maintain social relationships, (3) cope with challenges, and (4) use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.

The EQ-i 2.0 is made up of 5 composites: Self-Perception, Self-Expression, Interpersonal, Decision Making, and Stress Management. Each of the composites contains 3 subscales.

  1. Self-Perception: Self-Regard, Self-Actualization, Emotional Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Expression: Emotional Expression, Assertiveness, Independence
  3. Interpersonal: Interpersonal Relationships, Empathy, Social Responsibility
  4. Decision Making: Problem Solving, Reality Testing, Impulse Control
  5. Stress Management: Flexibility, Stress Tolerance, Optimism

If we’re going by the EQ-i 2.0 and its 15 subscales, Jobs had extremely high self-regard, self-actualization, and self-awareness. He was also very assertive and optimistic.

However, a strength overdone or overused can become a weakness. In FYI: For Your Improvement (a guide for coaching and development), Lombardo and Eichinger (2000) cautioned that, “Sometimes a strength used to extreme turns into a weakness” (p. vi).

Too much Self-Regard can be or look/sound:

  • Arrogant
  • Vain & conceited
  • Narcissistic
  • Over-confident
  • Burdensome with thoughts of superiority

Too much Self-Actualization can be or look/sound:

  • Perpetually dissatisfied with the status quo
  • Overly goal-driven—too intense
  • Overly exuberant with your activities and points of passion
  • Self-centered—blind to the needs and interests of others

Too much Emotional Self-Awareness can be or look/sound:

  • Self-consumed—seeing things unrelated to you only through your own emotional filters
  • Self-centered and self-indulgent
  • Hypersensitive to your own emotions
  • Insensitive to others’ needs

Too much Assertiveness can be or look/sound:

  • Aggressive
  • Abusive
  • Militant or bossy
  • Self-centered (commanding the spotlight and excessive air-time)

Too much Optimism can be or look/sound:

  • Blind to reality and danger
  • Prone to viewing bright sides and opportunities that do not actually exist
  • Known to let an unrealistic belief in a positive outcome take the place of effort

On the opposite end, Jobs had very low interpersonal relationships, low empathy, low impulse control (even describing himself as “mercurial”), low flexibility, and low reality testing.

Low Interpersonal Relationships can be or look/sound:

  • A loner
  • Socially withdrawn
  • Cold and unfriendly
  • Hard to like or get to know

Low Empathy can be or look/sound:

  • Inattentive
  • Uncompassionate, unfeeling, or inhumane
  • Emotionally detached or distant
  • Selfish and self-centered

Low Impulse Control can be or look/sound:

  • Lacking in self-control
  • Impulsive
  • Explosive
  • Overly talkative—monopolizing conversations
  • Short fused, quick to anger

Low Flexibility can be or look/sound:

  • Rigid in your thinking
  • Set in your ways and opinions
  • Lacking curiosity
  • Change-resistant
  • Slow to start new project or efforts

Low Reality Testing can be or look/sound:

  • Unrealistic and overly dramatic
  • Impractical & untrustworthy
  • Dishonest—prone to exaggeration

For Steve Jobs, his Emotional Expression was much higher than his Empathy. He focused much more (almost exclusively) on the expression of his emotions, thoughts, and feelings than on being empathic toward others. Balancing these facets required that Jobs listened carefully to the ideas of others and be attentive to their feelings. Because these facets were often out of balance, Jobs was never able to gauge whether the intensity and timing of his expression was appropriate for the situation.

Job’s Assertiveness was also quite high compared to his low Empathy score. Because these scores were out of balance, people viewed and experienced him and his behaviors as abrasive.

Finally, another area where Jobs’ emotional intelligence was out of balance was related to his low Empathy and high Emotional Self-Awareness. This meant that although he understood how he felt about a particular situation, he had the tendency to not spend enough time uncovering how others felt.

Steve Jobs used the handicap parking space as his own personal parking spot (Isaacson, 2011). He frequently berated and yelled at others and threw temper tantrums. He also tended to distort reality and was well-known for his reality distortion field (“He has his own way with the truth” [Isaacson, 2011, p. 185]). It was the key people in his life who helped to soften his unpleasant treatments of others as well as soothe his volatile behaviors.

For his Steve Jobs biography, Walter Isaacson conducted more than forty interviews with Jobs over two years. Isaacson also interviewed more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues of Steve Jobs.

Here are some passages from Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography:

“Ann Bowers became an expert at dealing with Jobs’s perfectionism, petulance, and prickliness. She had been the human resources director at Intel, but had stepped aside after she married its cofounder Bob Noyce. She joined Apple in 1980 and served as a calming mother figure who would step in after one of Jobs’s tantrums. She would go to his office, shut the door, and gently lecture him. “I know, I know,” he would say. “Well, then, please stop doing it,” she would insist. Bowers recalled, “He would be good for a while, and then a week or so later I would get a call again.” She realized that he could barely contain himself. “He had these huge expectations, and if people didn’t deliver, he couldn’t stand it. He couldn’t control himself. I could understand why Steve would get upset, and he was usually right, but it had a hurtful effect. It created a fear factor. He was self-aware, but that didn’t always modify his behavior”” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 121).

“[Steve Jobs] had always been temperamental and bratty. At Atari his behavior had caused him to be banished to the night shift, but at Apple that was not possible. “He became increasingly tyrannical and sharp in his criticism,” according to Markkula [the first big Apple investor; also a father figure to Jobs]. “He would tell people, ‘That design looks like shit.’” He was particularly rough on Wozniak’s young programmers, Randy Wigginton and Chris Espinosa. “Steve would come in, take a quick look at what I had done, and tell me it was shit without having any idea what it was or why I had done it,” said Wigginton, who was just out of high school” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 81-82).

Many people who worked at Apple “were afraid of Jobs “because of his spontaneous temper tantrums and his proclivity to tell everyone exactly what he thought, which often wasn’t very favorable”” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 113).

Jobs never apologized for treating people, especially those around him and people who worked for him, poorly. He thought it was his “job to be honest” because “I know what I’m talking about, and I usually turn out to be right” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 569).

There’s a useful Management Blind Spots Self-Evaluation created by Michael Timms of Avail Leadership. Out of the 15 common undesirable management tendencies (and their associated behaviors), Jobs easily checked off 13 of the 15 undesirable management tendencies!

  • Micromanage
  • Know-It-All
  • Dictatorial
  • Impersonal
  • Fail to Develop Others
  • Untrustworthy
  • Blame Others
  • Steal Credit
  • Provide Unclear Direction
  • Demanding Taskmaster* (Timms used the term “Slave Driver,” but I renamed it)
  • Emotionally Volatile
  • Overly Negative
  • Play Favorites

“Research has shown that people are five times more sensitive to their manager’s unconscious negative actions than to their manager’s efforts to motivate them. In other words, much of what managers do to motivate their staff is being undone by their thoughtless negative actions” (Timms, 2016).

The reason why people tolerated Jobs was because they “realized that despite his temperamental failings, Jobs had the charisma and corporate clout that would lead them to “make a dent in the universe”” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 112).

And to be very clear, Steve Jobs was successful despite his moderately low emotional intelligence because he had people around him [like Joanna Hoffman (his right-hand woman), Ann Bowers and her husband Bob Noyce (who were surrogate parents to Jobs) and Laurene Powell Jobs (his wife)] who had a strong, commanding, and/or calming influence on Jobs and who kept him in line.

Isaacson described Laurene Powell in this manner: “Smart, yet unpretentious. Tough enough to stand up to him, yet Zen-like enough to rise above turmoil. Well-educated and independent, yet
ready to make accommodations for him and a family. Down-to-earth, but with a touch of the ethereal. Savvy enough to know how to manage him, but secure enough to not always need to” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 267).

According to Joanna Hoffman, one of Steve Jobs’ right hand woman, Jobs can be very obnoxious because he thinks he can “get away with anything” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 184). While on a business trip in Italy, he became so nasty and was so mean to the waiter at a restaurant that Hoffman threatened that if Jobs didn’t calm down that she would pour hot coffee on him (Isaacson, 2011).

Apple’s manager in France, Jean-Louis Gassée said this about Steve Jobs: “The only way to deal with him was to out-bully him” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 185). “I remember grabbing his lapel and telling him to stop, and then he backed down. I used to be an angry man myself. I am a recovering assaholic. So I could recognize that in Steve” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 185).

Andy Hertzfeld, who worked with Steve Jobs at Apple in the early 1980s said: “The key question about Steve is why he can’t control himself at times from being so reflexively cruel and harmful to some people” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 5).

This part aptly summarizes Steve Jobs as a leader:

“There were some upsides to Jobs’s demanding and wounding behavior. People who were not crushed ended up being stronger. They did better work, out of both fear and an eagerness to please” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 121).

“Was all of his stormy and abusive behavior necessary? Probably not, nor was it justified. There were other ways to have motivated his team. Even though the Macintosh would turn out to be great, it was way behind schedule and way over budget because of Jobs’s impetuous interventions. There was also a cost in brutalized human feelings, which caused much of the team to burn out” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 123-124).

When Walter Isaacson, the biographer, asked Jobs: “Why are you sometimes so mean?” Jobs replied, “This is who I am, and you can’t expect me to be someone I’m not” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 565).

What Ann Bowers said about Steve Jobs is my main argument for why I believe Steve Jobs’ emotional intelligence is moderately low: that although he was very self-aware (i.e., he knew exactly what he was doing), he really didn’t care how he acted or treated others.

Walter Isaacson, who interviewed Jobs extensively and interviewed many of his friends, colleagues, and family for the biography, concluded that Jobs “could have controlled himself, if he had wanted. When he hurt people, it was not because he was lacking in emotional awareness. Quite the contrary: He could size people up, understand their inner thoughts, and know how to relate to them, cajole them, or hurt them at will” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 565).

“Most people have a regulator between their mind and mouth that modulates their brutish sentiments and spikiest impulses. Not Jobs. He made a point of being brutally honest. “My job is to say when something sucks rather than sugarcoat it,” he said. This made him charismatic and inspiring, yet also, to use the technical term, an asshole at times” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 564).

These stories and descriptions do not describe a person with high emotional intelligence. On the contrary, they describe some with low emotional intelligence.

Some have claimed that emotional intelligence is “not about being nice. Rather it’s about the ability to use the right emotion at the right time to get the right result. It requires the ability to read the other person, know how far you can push their buttons, and knowing when to back off and when to persist. If it is done with good intentions, even though unpleasant at the time, the payoff can be rewarding” (Stein, 2017, p. 49).

This sounds an awful lot like people who know how to read others and then use that knowledge and skill to manipulate others into doing what they want. When you are selfish and you use your talents to manipulate others, that’s not emotional intelligence. That’s just being manipulative.

As Isaacson wrote (2011, p. 312): “Jobs could seduce and charm people at will, and he liked to do so. People such as Amelio [Apple’s CEO who brought Steve Jobs back to Apple officially in January 1997 as a part-time advisor] and Sculley [Pepsi executive recruited by Jobs in 1983 to be Apple’s CEO; he clashed with and ousted Jobs in 1985] allowed themselves to believe that because Jobs was charming them, it meant that he liked and respected them. It was an impression that he sometimes fostered by dishing out insincere flattery to those hungry for it. But Jobs could be charming to people he hated just as easily as he could be insulting to people he liked.”

While it’s true that Steve Jobs inspired Apple employees to create ground-breaking products and instilled in them a belief that they could do what seemed impossible at times, the result was that many people experienced burnout and left. Those who worked for and/or with Jobs stated that it was one of the most stressful times of their lives.

Even Jony Ive admitted this about Steve Jobs:

“He has this very childish ability to get really worked up about something, and it doesn’t stay with him at all. But there are other times, I think honestly, when he’s very frustrated, and his way to achieve catharsis is to hurt somebody. And I think he feels he has a liberty and a license to do that. The normal rules of social engagement, he feels, don’t apply to him. Because of how very sensitive he is, he knows exactly how to efficiently and effectively hurt someone. And he does do that” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 462).

A Wired article talked about a reunion of former Apple employees. More than 1,300 ex-Apple employees showed up. Not surprisingly, many people shared stories about Steve Jobs as a demanding and hot-tempered leader. “Everyone has their Steve-Jobs-the-asshole story,” one of the attendees said (Kahney, 2003). “Everyone dreads getting caught in an elevator with him,” said another attendee (Kahney, 2003).

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said that Steve Jobs drove away some of Apple’s most talented employees (Bauter, 2014; Gibbs, 2014):

“Some of my very best friends in Apple, the most creative people in Apple who worked on the Macintosh, almost all of them said they would never, ever work for Steve Jobs again,” said Wozniak in an interview with the Milwaukee Business Journal. “It was that bad.”

Katie Savchuk (2019) wrote that narcissistic CEOs weaken collaboration and integrity, and while some may be bold leaders, they nevertheless create a dangerous corporate culture. “Success for such leaders is often attributed to their bold vision, extreme self-confidence, and determination to win at all costs. Less palatable qualities of the narcissistic personality type — including entitlement, hostility when challenged, and a willingness to manipulate — are seen as part of the package,” writes Savchuk.

Having high emotional intelligence does not mean being manipulative, mistreating others, deriving pleasure from hurting others, or justifying your own bad behaviors.

In an influential article that became the hallmark of the emotional intelligence theory, professors Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990) wrote:

“The person with emotional intelligence can be thought of as having attained at least a limited form of positive mental health. These individuals are aware of their own feelings and those of others. They are open to positive and negative aspects of internal experience, are able to label them, and when appropriate, communicate them. Such awareness will often lead to the effective regulation of affect within themselves and others, and so contribute to well being. Thus, the emotionally intelligent person is often a pleasure to be around and leaves others feeling better” (Salovey & Mayer, 1990, p. 201).

Therefore, a person who is “smug, willful, brazen, demeaning, volatile, vindictive and manipulative” (Wasylyshyn, 2011), someone who’s a jerk, throws temper tantrums (Jobs’ temper has been described as “legendary” [Isaacson, 2011]), is childish and takes license to hurt others (Isaacson, 2011), and doesn’t care how he treats others or his “negative effects on others” (Wasylyshyn, 2011) is not a person with high overall emotional intelligence. In fact, anyone who engages in behaviors like these—regardless of being moderately emotionally intelligent or not—isn’t a very nice person.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Bauter, A. (2014, Jun 24). One-on-one with ‘Woz’: Steve Wozniak talks Steve Jobs (Video). https://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/news/2014/07/02/one-on-one-with-woz-steve-wozniak-talks-steve-jobs.html

Gibbs, S. (2014, Jul 8). Steve Wozniak: No one wanted to work under Steve Jobs ever again. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jul/08/steve-wozniakr-steve-jobs-apple

Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster.

Kahney, L. (2003, September 15). Apple Memories Not Sweet as Pie. https://www.wired.com/2003/09/apple-memories-not-sweet-as-pie/

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2000). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (3rd ed.). Lominger Limited, Inc.

Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., Caruso, D. R., & Cherkasskiy, L. (2011). Emotional Intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg & S. B. Kaufman (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of intelligence (pp. 528-549). Cambridge University Press.

Multi-Health Systems (MHS). (2011). EQ-i 2.0 User’s Handbook. Multi-Health Systems.

Salovey, P. & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 185-211.

Savchuk, K. (2019, November 4). Narcissistic CEOs Weaken Collaboration and Integrity. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/narcissistic-ceos-weaken-collaboration-integrity

Stein, S. J. (2017). The EQ Leader. John Wiley & Sons.

Timms, M. (2016). Management Blind Spots Self-Evaluation. Avail Leadership. https://www.availleadership.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Avail_Leadership_Management_Blind_Spots_Self-Evaluation.pdf

Wasylyshyn, K. M. (2011, November 1). The Real Lessons from Steve Jobs’ Career. https://chiefexecutive.net/the-real-lessons-from-steve-jobs-career/

People with Secure High Self-Esteem Don’t Need or Seek External Validation

The older I get, the more reflective and observant I become. It might be because I’m older and a bit wiser, but I think it’s more about me learning important life lessons, appreciating and valuing what I have, not looking around comparing myself to others, or seeking other people’s approval or validation, and most of all being the best version of me.

Individuals who are self-assured and have secure high self-esteem aren’t bothered when others criticize their appearance, attack or make fun of their work, or try to humiliate them. Why?

If you are a Secure High Self-Esteem person, you:

  1. Know and stand firm in the belief that you do not want, need, or seek approval or validation from others;
  2. Recognize that the attacks unleashed on you or directed at you often have nothing (or very little) to do with your message, project, product, service, or who you are as a human being; and
  3. Always respect and accept yourself. You understand and appreciate your strengths, but you also acknowledge your weaknesses.

I see so many people who constantly struggle because they either see themselves as victims of life, that life is a dogfight with only a winner and a loser, or they try desperately to seek approval or validation from other people. I can relate because I once saw myself as a victim (woe-is-me mentality) and, before I finally found my voice and myself, I also sought approval and validation from others around me. I truly believe the best gift you can give yourself is self-validation.

“Something remarkable happens when you truly stop seeking other people’s approval, you automatically gain it, and find that others will then seek your approval.” -Steve Aitchison

Secure self-esteem comes from inside you. It is associated with high self-determination, knowing who you really are, and behaving independently (Vonk, 2006). What’s more, researchers have also found that even with “high” self-esteem, there’s an important distinction between someone with a stable high self-esteem vs. someone whose high self-esteem is unstable and contingent (Kernis, Lakey, & Heppner, 2008).

Secure high self-esteem involves “favorable feelings of self-worth that arise naturally from successfully dealing with life challenges, being authentic and expressing one’s true self in everyday life, and having relationships in which one is valued for whom one is and not for what one achieves” (Kernis, Lakey, & Heppner, 2008, p. 479).

People with secure high self-esteem are happy with themselves and like who they are, warts and all. Their sense of self-worth is stable and they’re able to accept their weaknesses. They “do not feel a need to be superior to others; for these individuals, high self-esteem is a given and does not need to be validated on an everyday basis” (Kernis, Lakey, & Heppner, 2008, p. 479).

Stephen Covey, in his classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (2004), talked about the Abundance Mentality vs. the Scarcity Mentality.

Abundance Mentality is the belief that there’s plenty out there for everyone. Scarcity Mentality is the thinking that there’s only so much and that there’s not enough for everyone. Those with a scarcity mindset believe “if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else” (Covey, 2004, p. 219).

Those with a Scarcity Mentality will hoard or even steal recognition and credit, and power or profit. They’re unhappy for or jealous about the success or happiness of others around them.

“It’s almost as if something is being taken from them when someone else receives special recognition or windfall gain or has remarkable success or achievement” (Covey, 2004, p. 219).

It’s very sad because, instead of seeing their lives as being filled with abundance, they see themselves as lacking.

Covey (2004) said this is because the sense of self-worth for those with a scarcity mindset “comes from being compared, and someone else’s success, to some degree, means their failure” (p. 219).

“People with a Scarcity Mentality harbor secret hopes that others might suffer misfortune — not terrible misfortune, but acceptable misfortune that would keep them ‘in their place.’ They’re always comparing, always competing. They give their energies to possessing things or other people in order to increase their sense of worth” (Covey, 2004, p. 219-220).

The author of The EQ Difference (2005) uses “The Famine Voice” in place of a Scarcity Mindset, and “The Abundance Voice” rather than a Abundance Mindset.

I especially like how The Abundance Voice is described (Lynn, 2005): “[T]he abundance voice proclaims that, indeed, life’s riches are plentiful. She believes that somehow there will always be enough, and she refuses to be ruled by thoughts of scarcity. She can convince you that a crumb of bread, when served with a smile, is indeed a feast” (p. 67).

Takeaway: Secure High Self-Esteem people (1) Know and stand firm in the belief that they don’t need or seek approval or validation from others; (2) Recognize that attack(s) directed at them usually have nothing to do with their project, product, service, or who they are as a human being; (3) Always accept and respect themselves. They understand and appreciate their strengths, while also acknowledging their weaknesses; and (4) Have an Abundance Mindset. They believe there is plenty of riches to go around and that life isn’t a competition, with a winner or loser. They are simply content running their own race.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Free Press.

Kernis, M. H., Lakey, C. E., & Heppner, W. L. (2008). Secure Versus Fragile High Self-Esteem as a Predictorof Verbal Defensiveness: Converging Findings AcrossThree Different Markers. Journal of Personality, 76(3), 477-512.

Lynn, A. B. (2005). The EQ Difference: A Powerful Plan for Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work. AMACOM.

Vonk, R. (2006). Improving Self-Esteem. In M. H. Kernis (Ed.), Self-Esteem Issues and Answers: A Sourcebook of Current Perspectives (pp. 178-186). Psychology Press.

Book Review – An Introduction to Management Consultancy

An Introduction to Management Consultancy by Marc Baaij is a book that really pulls back the curtains and reveals the inner workings of management consultancies. I have never seen a book about management consulting like this before. I actually received a print copy of An Introduction to Management Consultancy to review in late summer 2018 but wasn’t able to find time to do a proper book review so I kept delaying it.

What’s so valuable about this textbook is that its author, Professor Marc G. Baaij, is both an academic (Associate Professor of Strategic Management at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam) and, perhaps even more importantly, a former management consultant, having worked for over four years at The Boston Consulting Group (2 years as a strategy consultant and 2 years as a manager of research).

As Baaij shared in the book, it is very difficult for outsiders (i.e., those not working in a management consultancy) to understand what management consulting is and what management consultancies do due to the secretive and ambiguous nature of these firms and the management consulting industry as a whole.

I love that Baaij devoted an entire chapter (Chapter 2) to covering the origin and development of management consultancy — from the emergence of the management consultancy industry during the second industrial revolution (the first field of management consultancy: Operations Consultancy), to the emergence of the second field of management consultancy: Organization and Strategy Consultancy, and finally to the emergence of the third field of management consultancy: Information Technology Consultancy.

I wish I had this book years ago when I was still in my doctoral program in industrial and organizational psychology. At the time, I thought I wanted to get a job with one of the well-known management consultancies. I had these grand illusions of the incredible prestige, the superb salary, and the importance of the role in providing management consulting advice to clients. And while many of those things are certainly there, what is not there and what is often unspoken and unshared are the way the management consultancies operate, the extremely high demands on your time to travel and work, and the hyper-competitive nature of the work and the constant competition to be a part of every client project, even after you’re hired.

“Management consultancies primarily compete on intangibles: reputation, relations, knowledge, and staff” (p. 236). And in case anyone forgets, Baaij reminds us that the staff is “the ultimate source of sustainable competitive advantage” (p. 236).

Applying to a Management Consultancy

“If you consider applying for a position at a (top tier) management consultancy firm, you will not be the only one. Management consultancy is very popular among MBA and other business students, as well as more experienced people from industry, that is non-consultancy sectors. The prestigious management consulting firms in particular are seen as attractive employers” (Baaij, 2014, p. 274).

“Management consultants should have at least the basic knowledge and skills with respect to the main business disciplines, such as accounting, HRM, organization, IT, marketing, logistics, finance, and strategy. MBA and other business studies are natural training backgrounds for management consultants. However, a business degree is not always necessary” (Baaij, 2014, p. 289).

In the preface, Baaij wrote:

“This book aims to help outsiders with an interest in management consultancy to develop a better understanding of what management consultancy is in order to make an informed career decision and start their consultancy career with an advantage” (2014, p. xiv).

The textbook takes a multi-level perspective to management consultancy and introduces it using four levels: Level 1 – management consultancy phenomenon; Level 2 – management consultancy industry; Level 3 – management consultancy firm; and Level 4 – management consultancy project.

In line with the four levels, the book is divided into four parts.

Part 1 (Chapter 1-3) introduces readers to the phenomenon of management consultancy. Chapter 1 covers the distinguishing characteristics of management consultancy and which professional services belong to the domain of management consultancy. The author reviews the various roles of management consultants, both formal and informal ones. Chapter 2 looks at the history of the management consultancy industry — the origins and the development of management consultancy. It explores both the rise and decline of management consultancy firms. Chapter 3 examines why clients hire management consultancies, both the formal and the informal reasons.

Part 2 (Chapter 4-6) looks at the management consultancy at the industry level. Chapter 4 provides an overview of the global management consultancy landscape. It explores the range of consultancy services, the various client sectors, and the different client geographies. Chapter 5 analyzes the competitive strategies of consultancy firms, and the competitive forces in the consultancy industry. Chapter 6 examines the relationship between management consultancy and the broader (macro) environment. It looks at how management consultants create and disseminate management knowledge, and investigates the impact of macro-economic (business) cycles, globalization, and technological developments on the management consultancy industry.

Part 3 (Chapter 7-9) looks inside the management consultancy firm. Chapter 7 provides a peek inside the firm’s activities. It talks about the value chain of a management consultancy firm and covers the various primary and support activities. Particular attention is paid to marketing and sales activities. Chapter 8 explores the management of the consultancy firm. It investigates the different types of organization, governance, and culture of the various consultancy firms. Chapter 9 is about people and careers in management consultancy. It discusses in detail how consultancy firms deal with recruitment, training, development, promotion (in particular, the up-or-out model which many consultancies use), (involuntary) turnover, and alumni.

Part 4 (Chapter 10-15) walks the reader through a typical management consultancy project. Chapter 10 takes a comprehensive look at client management and other stakeholders inside and outside the client organization. It outlines the development of a project proposal by consultants. It also discusses the consultants’ contractual and moral obligations to clients. Chapter 11 offers a detailed look at how management consultants set up a client project. It talks about the management and organization of a consultancy project. It provides an overview of the phases of a project: initiation, design, execution, control, and closure. It also covers the selection of the project team and the stages of team development. Chapter 12 explains how the world’s top tier management consultancy firms approach complex client problems and opportunities. It lays out a well-illustrated, step-by-step guide to structured problem diagnosis. Chapter 13 describes how top tier consultancies develop solutions for their clients and outlines, in detail, the process of structured solution development. Chapter 14 is about how top tier consultants communicate their recommended solutions to clients. The book provides a structured approach to the design of client presentations and reports. Chapter 15 presents a structured approach to implementation and examines why implementations may sometimes fail to produce the expected results.

One of the things I really appreciate and, in fact, had been trying to learn about for a while now is the breakdown of what a typical week in the life of a management consultant is like (in Table 9.3 A week in the life of a management consultant, p. 298). I had heard that there is quite a bit of traveling but didn’t realize the time it took to work in the management consultancy industry. For instance, it’s common to attend dinner gatherings with colleagues in the evening.

I also like the discussion about the resistance that management consultants face (p. 99-100) from the client organization and employees working in that particular organization.

One of the more interesting aspects of management consultancy is the consultancy project (Ch. 11, pp. 366-397).

“The product of the management consultancy firm is the project. Consultancy firms sell projects to clients. The consulting staff deliver the project (with the support of the support staff)” (Baaij, 2014, p. 259).

As expected, management consultancies follow the typical project management life cycle that includes:

  • Scoping/Initiating – preliminary planning; defining the problem
  • Planning/Designing – developing the plan & solutions; setting the stage
  • Executing – making it happen; getting it done
  • Monitoring and controlling – tracking progress; keeping on course
  • Closing – closeout; transition

Interestingly, regarding the consultancy project team members, Baaij shared that the up-or-out policy (a fixture of management consultancies in which an employee either gets promoted to the next hierarchical level or they are forced to leave the firm) may cause rivalry between consultants. What’s more, because not every management consultant will be promoted, the up-or-out policy can also lead to pressures to engage in unethical conduct. “Colleagues may use each others’ ideas or work without giving them credit. Even though team work is part of the evaluation, each consultant wants to enhance their promotion chances by excelling” (Baaij, 2014, p. 394).

“Most management consultancy firms have a so-called ‘up-or-out’ career policy for consultants. Consultants are evaluated on a regular basis. Based on these evaluations, and the consultancy firm’s vacancies, consultants either get promotion to a higher level or they have to leave the consultancy firm. At regular intervals, consultants have to face the up-or-out decision. Because of the pyramidal organization structure of most consultancy firms, the up-or-out policy implies a relatively high turnover of consultancy personnel and a steady stream of alumni. Management consultancies with an up-or-out policy typically have (much) more alumni than consultants” (p. 172).

“The consultancy firm will have all kinds of disguising jargon [such as up-or-out or grow or go], but it comes down to a dismissal of those employees who do not meet the firm’s expectations. The policy means that if you are not considered for promotion, you cannot stay with the firm. The up-or-out system is the ultimate consequence of a meritocracy. It is not seniority but performance that matters” (Baaij, 2014, p. 303).

Another thing I really appreciate about this book is its critical, but fair, examination of management consultancy.

For instance, in Chapter 3 (Difficulties in Measuring the Effect of Management Consultancy), Baaij (2014) wrote:

“Critical academic literature . . . argues that management consultancy faces ambiguities over the claimed results. Because of the difficulties of investigating the effectiveness, critical academic studies have not focused on the effect of management consultancy. Popular criticism by some journalists and alumni of management consultancies questions the effect of management consultancy” (p. 76).

Baaij (2014) stated that it’s very challenging to isolate the effect of management consultancy on client performance. Baaij points to three methodological issues that make this difficult:

  1. Difficulties in isolating the effect
  2. Lack of comparison
  3. Bias

“The advice, and implementation assistance, of management consultants are among several factors that will influence the performance of clients. Moreover, the effects of consultancy may only materialize some time after the completion of the consultancy project. The causality between management consultancy and client performance is, therefore, difficult to measure” (p. 77).

Regarding reasons for a deviating performance, Baaij said, “The client may implement the consultants’ solution wrongly or with a delay. The client may also lack sufficient resources and capabilities to implement the solution correctly. Actors within the client organization may shirk. Even worse, actors within the client organization who oppose the solution may sabotage the implementation” (p. 77).

Also, “there is the problem of bias. The stakeholders, clients and consultants have an interest in justifying the consultancy project and will, therefore, overrate the effectiveness of the project. Objective measurement will be difficult to achieve” (p. 78).

Under the section titled “Reasons for Hiring Management Consultants” (in Chapter 3), Baaij explained that the reason why management consultancies are hired are not always related to the improvement of the performance of an organization. Management consultants are sometimes hired “to provide knowledge and capabilities to solve problems in an objective and independent way” (p. 83). However, there are other times when companies will retain management consultants in order “to legitimize clients’ solutions which other stakeholders oppose (legitimator), to support clients in political fights (political weapon), and to take the blame for clients’ solutions that are not in the interests of some other stakeholders (scapegoat)” (p. 84).

Indeed, in the preface, Baaij wrote: “This book also takes a critical perspective on management consultancy. We critically reflect on the practices of management consultancy. Moreover, we broaden our perspective to include consultants’ clients, client employees, consultancy firm employees, other stakeholders, and society in general. We consider the effects that management consultancy may have on all these groups. This book acknowledges various conflicts of interests between consultancy firms and these other actors. We are critical not only about consultants but also about clients. We emphasize that both parties may behave opportunistically and unethically. Such behaviour is not reserved for consultants. Clients may manipulate consultants as well.”

Finally, I found the detailed coverage of the structured problem solving method (in Chapter 12 and 13) to be remarkably informative. The book provides a step-by-step guide (in Chapter 12) to diagnose problems (identify the result gap; decompose the gap by drivers; investigate where the gap is; explain why the gap exists; and formulate the problem in the form of a key question). Then, in Chapter 13, the author shows how top tier management consultants develop solutions for their clients’ problems and opportunities. He provides a step-by-step guide for developing solutions in a structured way.

The structured problem solving approach, used by top management consultancy firms, is a two-stage process consisting of problem diagnosis and solution development. The problem diagnosis (Chapter 12) translates a client problem into a single question, while the solution development (Chapter 13) is about answering that question.

“The structured problem solving method is the hallmark of the world’s top tier management consultancy firms, such as McKinsey & Company, the Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, Booz & Co, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, and A.T. Kearney” (p. 399).

Takeaway: An Introduction to Management Consultancy is a marvelous introduction to the world of management consultancy. Marc Baaij did a masterful job distilling the core essence into a substantive yet digestible textbook, while also critically examining management consultancy from all sides. It’s refreshing to be able to bypass the secrecy and ambiguity of management consulting and learn about what’s really going on behind the scene. If you are considering joining a management consultancy or want to learn more about what management consulting firms do, you HAVE TO read this book!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

Reference

Baaij, M. G. (2014). An Introduction to Management Consultancy. London, UK: Sage Publications.

Disclosure: I received a print copy of An Introduction to Management Consultancy as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Pygmalion Effect – A Leader’s Attitude and Expectation Set the Tone

In the book, Extreme Ownership, Leif Babin (a U.S. Navy SEAL officer who was a SEAL instructor overseeing the Junior Officer Training Course in the Naval Special Warfare Training Center) shared a story about the performances of two boat crews during Hell Week. Boat Crew II (which dominated and had a strong leader) and Boat Crew VI (which came in last in almost every race and had an indifferent and inexperienced leader). A SEAL senior chief officer (one of the SEAL instructors) suggested that they swap out the boat crew leaders from the best and worst crews and see what happens. The turnaround was stunning: “Boat Crew VI, the same team in the same circumstances only under new leadership, went from the worst boat crew in the class to the best” (Willink & Babin, 2017, p. 48-49).

As Babin wrote (Willink & Babin, 2017, p. 49): “How is it possible that switching a single individual—only the leader—had completely turned around the performance of an entire group? The answer: leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance. Whether a team succeeds or fails is all up to the leader. The leader’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team. The leader drives performance—or doesn’t. And this applies not just to the most senior leader of an overall team, but to the junior leaders of teams within the team.”

This is a classic example of the Pygmalion Effect. 

The APA Dictionary of Psychology (VandenBos, 2007) defines Pygmalion effect as: “a consequence or reaction in which the expectations of a leader or superior engender behavior from followers or subordinates that is consistent with these expectations: a form of self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, raising manager expectations of the performance of subordinate employees has been found to enhance the performance of those employees” (p. 868).

“The idea here is that if an employee feels that a manager has confidence in him, his self-esteem will increase, as will his performance” (Aamodt, 2010, p. 330). Indeed, leaders often get the performance they expect from their employees.

In a classic Harvard Business Review article (originally published in 1969, reprinted in 1988), Livingston wrote (1988, p. 122): 

  • What managers expect of subordinates and the way they treat them largely determine their performance and career progress.
  • A unique characteristic of superior managers is the ability to create high performance expectations that subordinates fulfill.
  • Less effective managers fail to develop similar expectations, and as a consequence, the productivity of their subordinates suffers.
  • Subordinates, more often than not, appear to do what they believe they are expected to do.

“[S]uperior managers have greater confidence than other managers in their own ability to develop the talents of their subordinates” (Livingston, 1988, p. 126). Superior managers don’t give up on themselves and they definitely do not give up easily on their subordinates (Livingston, 1988).

“Managers not only shape the expectations and productivity of subordinates but also influence their attitudes toward their jobs and themselves. If managers are unskilled, they leave scars on the careers of young people, cut deeply into their self-esteem, and distort their image of themselves as human beings. But if they are skillful and have high expectations, subordinates’ self-confidence will grow, their capabilities will develop, and their productivity will be high” (Livingston, 1988, p. 130).

Takeaway: Leadership is, singularly, the most crucial factor in a team’s performance. What managers expect of their subordinates and the way they treat them significantly determine their performance and career progress. Superior managers create high performance expectations that subordinates fulfill. The best managers have confidence in themselves and in their ability to develop the talents of their subordinates.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2010). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (6th ed.). Wadsworth.

Livingston, J. S. (1969/1988). Pygmalion in management. Harvard Business Review, 66(5), 121-130.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2007). APA dictionary of psychology. American Psychological Association.

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

Coaching vs. Therapy – Referring Coaching Clients with Mental Illness

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, titled “Executive Coach or Therapist? It’s Getting Harder to Tell the Difference” (Bindley, 2019) again renews the debate about the blurred line between where coaching ends and where therapy begins.

But why are personal issues coming up when coaches are hired by companies to do executive coaching (performance improvement or development)?

Here’s a good reason — According to a Hardvard Business Review (HBR) survey of 140 leading coaches, even though organizations don’t hire coaches to deal with personal problems or issues in the lives of their executives, 76 percent of the time when an executive coach is engaged, personal issues are also addressed (Coutu & Kauffman, 2009).

That is a staggering percentage!

I’ve written before about coaching and mental illness, but wanted to do a second post with new coaching guidelines from the International Coach Federation. I also wanted to include some statistics about the prevalence of mental illness among U.S. adults in the workplace.

International Coach Federation – Referral Guidelines
The International Coach Federation (ICF) is quite clear in its guidelines to coaches about when and how to refer a coaching client to therapy (Hullinger & DiGirolamo, 2018). There’s a white paper as well as a one page reference sheet explaining why, when, how to refer, and even signs for referral.

The ICF guidelines for referral talked about the importance of coaches staying within their scope of work and within their level/area of expertise. “A mental health professional is equipped to diagnose and help the individual develop coping skills to manage deep emotions related to difficult situations” (Hullinger & DiGirolamo, 2018, p. 4-5).

Distinction between Coaching and Therapy
“Coaching focuses on visioning, success, the present, and moving into the future. Therapy emphasizes psychopathology, emotions, and the past in order to understand the present. The purpose of coaching is frequently about performance improvement, learning, or development in some area of life while therapy often dives into deep-seated emotional issues to work on personal healing or trauma recovery. Coaching tends to work with well-functioning individuals whereas therapy work tends to be for individuals with some level of dysfunction or disorder” (Hullinger & DiGirolamo, 2018, p. 6).

When Clients Need & Deserve Counseling, Not Coaching
In a Hardvard Business Review (HBR) survey of 140 leading coaches, Coutu and Kauffman (2009) found that although companies don’t hire coaches to address personal issues in executives’ lives, “more often than not, personal matters creep in.” They discovered that 76 percent of the time when an executive coach is engaged, personal issues are also addressed.

Similarly, in the same HBR article, Anthony Grant (a coaching psychologist and professor at the University of Sydney) shared that studies conducted by the University of Sydney have found that between 25% and 50% of those seeking coaching have clinically significant levels of anxiety, stress, or depression.

Dr. Grant wrote: “I’m not suggesting that most executives who engage coaches have mental health disorders. But some might, and coaching those who have unrecognized mental health problems can be counterproductive and even dangerous. The vast majority of executives are unlikely to ask for treatment or therapy and may even be unaware that they have problems requiring it. That’s worrisome because contrary to popular belief, it’s not always easy to recognize depression or anxiety without proper training. . . .Given that some executives will have mental health problems, firms should require that coaches have some training in mental health issues – for example, an understanding of when to refer clients to professional therapists for help.”

Harder, Wagner, and Rash (2014), wrote that workplace depression is under-diagnosed. One reason might be because of the fear or stigma associated with mental illnesses. The workplace prevalence of depression is estimated at 9-11%, yet only approximately 2% of employees receive diagnosis and treatment. Despite this data being more than 20 years old, it speaks to the worrisome problem of a mental illness not being diagnosed and treated.

Any Mental Illness Prevalence and Treatment
According to a United States National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2018, approximately 47.6 million adults aged 18 or older had any mental illness (AMI)* in the past year. This number represents 19.1 percent of U.S. adults. *[AMI is defined as having any mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder in the past year that met DSM-IV criteria (excluding developmental disorders and SUDs [substance use disorders (alcohol or illicit drugs)].

Among the 47.6 million adults in 2018 with AMI, fewer than half (20.6 million, or 43.3 percent) received mental health services in the past year!

Depression Prevalence and Treatment
Of the 17.7 million adults aged 18 or older in 2018 who had a
past year major depressive episode (MDE), 64.8 percent (or 11.5 million adults) received treatment for depression, but 35.2 percent (or 6.2 million adults) did not receive treatment for depression.

Depression in the Workplace
One study estimates that 6.4% of working U.S. adults have depression in a given year (Kessler et al., 2006).

Recognize & Remember Your Limitations
It is absolutely imperative that coaches acknowledge their limitations and lack of training and expertise in dealing with mental health issues.

Recognize When Clients Need Counseling
“[C]oaches [must] recognize and know how to manage a client who shows up with a mental health issue that goes outside the scope of coaching. . . .Some clients who seek coaching may exhibit severe mental health problems that need to be addressed in therapy, sometimes referred to as counseling. Coaches need to be aware of their limits and recognize when a client needs more than what coaching can provide” (Hullinger & DiGirolamo, 2018, p. 4).

Recognize When to Refer to Mental Health Professionals
“Common issues that warrant a referral to therapy include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress (PTSD), substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and thought disorders” (Hullinger & DiGirolamo, 2018, p. 11).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Bindley, K. (2019, September 20). Executive Coach or Therapist? It’s Getting Harder to Tell the Difference. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/executive-coach-or-therapist-its-getting-harder-to-tell-the-difference-11568971811

Coutu, D., & Kauffman, C. (2009, January). What Can Coaches Do for You? Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2009/01/what-can-coaches-do-for-you

Harder, H. G., Wagner, S. L., & Rash, J. A. (2014). Mental Illness in the Workplace. Gower.

Hullinger, A. M. and DiGirolamo, J. A. (2018). Referring a client to therapy: A set of guidelines. International Coach Federation. https://coachfederation.org/app/uploads/2018/05/Whitepaper-Client-Referral.pdf.

Kessler, R. C., Akiskal, H. S., Ames, M., Birnbaum, H., Greenberg, P., Hirschfeld, R. M., … Wang, P. S. (2006). Prevalence and effects of mood disorders on work performance in a nationally representative sample of U.S. workers. The American journal of psychiatry, 163(9), 1561–1568.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2019, August). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf

Book Review – Compass: Your Guide For Leadership Development And Coaching


[From CCL’s description of the book]: An essential book on leadership development and coaching, Compass is the go-to reference to help you—and the people you develop—provide the leadership needed in any circumstance to galvanize teams, groups and entire organizations. It is ideal for leaders and managers looking to develop competency in themselves and others. A vital guide for training and development professionals—both inside an organization and external consultants— use Compass as a coaching tool and a blueprint for leader development plans.

Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) is a top-ranked, world-renowned leadership development provider. It has nearly 50 years of experience working with tens of thousands of organizations in more than 160 countries across 6 continents, helping more than a million leaders at all levels.

Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017) is similar to FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2009). Both are coaching & development guides. However, beyond the fact that both books left in blank chapters as placeholders because “those numbers are reserved for future editions” (2017, p. vi), the similarities end there.

A major difference and one that I really appreciate is how CCL’s Compass titles and groups the various sections versus how Korn & Ferry’s FYI titles and groups theirs.

The major sections in FYI (5th ed.) include:

    • Unskilled – The “before picture” shows where you stand against the target.
    • Skilled – The “after picture” gives you a target of what success looks like when a competency or skill is done well.
    • Overused Skill – The possible negative consequences of using a skill too much or with too much force.
    • Some Causes – Common reasons why people struggle with this particular leadership competency
    • The Map – Why the competency is important.
    • Some Remedies – 10 tips/remedies for building the competency.
    • Some Develop-in-Place Assignments – Job tasks that require application of certain competencies. There’s almost always a develop-in-place assignment that you can select in your current job to address your development need.

The major sections in Compass are:

  • Overview – Provides context to why the competency is important, what effects its mastery can produce, and the consequences of not developing the competency.
  • Leadership in Action – Tells a story drawn from real-life accounts of leaders displaying their skill in the competency area.
  • What High Performance Looks Like – Lists descriptive words and phrases for how leaders appear to others when performing the competency well.
  • What’s in Your Way? – Presents common obstacles to development.
  • Coach Yourself – Poses reflective questions designed to spur thinking about the areas of focus in which the competency can be developed
  • Improve Now – Are quick changes” for developing skills.
  • Developmental Opportunities – Tactics and suggestions for developing skills.

In Compass, each competency starts off on a positive note with the “What High Performance Looks Like” section (leaders who are skilled in this competency will do these things). FYI, on the other hand, starts off negatively by drawing the reader’s attention to the top section in each competency called, “Unskilled” (leaders who are unskilled in this competency will do these things).

I find it much more helpful to know the positive skills & behaviors (in Compass) I should be striving for in order to improve myself rather than see a long list of undesired behaviors & skills (in FYI) that I should be avoiding.

Compass offers a lot of content (that’s well-organized and more interesting to read than FYI) for each competency chapter. I especially like the “What High Performance Looks Like” section, the “What’s in Your Way?” section, the “Coach Yourself” section, and the “Improve Now” section.

Compass is divided into four parts:

  1. The Fundamental Four: CCL believes that there are four competencies every leader needs to develop – communication, influence, learning agility, and self-awareness.
  2. Competencies for Impact and Achievement: These are 48 additional competencies derived from CCL research and practice.
  3. Career Derailers: Five career derailers that CCL research has identified as damaging to careers and what you can do to avoid derailing your career.
  4. What’s Next: Is a guide to setting development goals based on a CCL approach.

Whereas FYI is written and reads like a series of “lists,” Compass is written in a narrative style and reads more like a short blog post or article for each competency, making it much more interesting and easier to digest and recall. I gave a hard copy of the FYI book (a 3rd edition) to a good friend of mine, but never told him to “read” it, only to use it as a reference guide whenever he needs it (either for his own development or the development of his team). For CCL’s Compass book, I would highly recommend that you actually sit down and read through the competency chapters.

  • Korn & Ferry’s FYI (5th edition), features 67 Competencies*, 19 Career Stallers* and Stoppers, and 7 Global Focus Areas.
  • CCL’s Compass contains 52 Competencies and 5 Career Derailers.

Interesting factoid: Mike Lombardo worked at the Center for Creative Leadership for 15 years. Lombardo collaborated with Bob Eichinger and Morgan McCall on the book, Lessons of Experience: How Successful Executives Develop on the Job. Lombardo and Eichinger later started their own consulting firm, Lominger (which produced the FYI book). Lominger was later acquired by Korn & Ferry.

*Both the Competencies and the Career Stallers & Stoppers used in the FYI book came, in part, from studies at the Center for Creative Leadership (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2009).

For a comparison, I selected the decision making competency. Compass calls it “decision making” while FYI labels it “decision quality.” In the overview section of the competency on decision making, Compass offers a nice overview and links it to Captain “Sully” Sullenberger and the 208-second decision-making process he took to safely land the disabled US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River. In the “Leadership in Action” section, Compass provides a more detailed account of what happened to Flight 1549 that led to Captain Sullenberger’s quick and decisive decision making on January 15, 2009.

In the “What High Performance Looks Like” section of Compass, descriptions for how a leader appear to others when performing the decision making competency well include:

Leaders who make their decisions using sound judgment:

  • grasp the crux of an issue despite having ambiguous information
  • accurately differentiate between important and unimportant issues
  • are quick learners
  • can quickly set priorities
  • have the courage to make decisions without full information

In the “What’s in Your Way?” section, Scisco, Biech, and Hallenbeck (2017) write:

“Leaders who don’t base their decisions on sound judgment put themselves, their teams, and possibly their organizations at risk. Those negative outcomes are even more likely when a leader’s judgement is compromised by a weak ethical stance or when a leader simply lacks the courage to decide to act–even without complete information” (p. 162).

Review the following list and note the items that you believe might be holding you back from becoming a better decision maker (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017, p. 162):

  • You don’t like to ask for input from others but prefer to go it alone.
  • You fall prey to “analysis paralysis”–incessantly poring over information and approaches without making progress.
  • You value complicated solutions over simple, elegant ones.
  • You’re uncomfortable with ambiguity and anxious about making decisions without full information.
  • Once you’ve made a decision, you insist it’s the right one even in the face of contrary evidence.

In the “Coach Yourself” section of Compass, Scisco, Biech, and Hallenbeck (2017) advise asking yourself these questions:

  • “Do you make decisions quickly or do you delay for fear of getting it wrong?”
  • “How comfortable are you in ambiguous situations?”
  • “How do you react in a crisis?”

Another competency that both Compass and FYI share is Interpersonal Savvy.

In examining the Interpersonal Savvy competency chapter in FYI, I saw a laundry list of questions and advice that sounded more like a lecture. The exception is “The Map” section which offers a nice write-up of each competency. In my opinion, two of the biggest weaknesses of the FYI book are: (1) There’s a lack of a narrative writing style (like in “The Map” section) and often the writing is rather choppy, and (2) The recommendations (called “Remedies”) are overly repetitive. (e.g., “Be a better listener. Interpersonally skilled people are very good at listening. They listen to understand and take in information to select their response. They listen without interrupting.”).

Contrast this with the Compass book. In the Interpersonal Savvy competency chapter, listen is mentioned just twice (under What High Performance Looks Like – “listen well” and under What’s in Your Way – “you prefer to talk rather than listen”).

In the overview section of the Interpersonal Savvy competency in Compass, the authors write:

“You might have great ideas and be highly accomplished, but if you struggle to connect with other people you won’t be successful leading them. 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” (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017, p. 261).

In the “What’s in Your Way?” section of the Interpersonal Savvy competency, Scisco, Biech, and Hallenbeck (2017) write:

“If you struggle to develop interpersonal savvy, you might not pick up on cues to how others are thinking and feeling until small misunderstandings grow into problems and conflicts. Others may not feel personally connected to you and may avoid coming to you with issues or may hesitate to give you helpful feedback” (p. 263).

Here’s what a competency chapter looks like in Compass. Note: I took screenshots of the Learning Agility competency chapter in a Google Books preview since I couldn’t get a good photo without bending and/or breaking the spine of my hard copy.

Summary: I never thought I would say this, but I have just found a worthy successor to my FYI book! Backed by research and practice from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), a top-ranked, world-renowned provider of leadership development, Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching is an incredibly useful and instantly actionable book. If you are an individual contributor, a leader or manager, or a consultant or coach, you will find the “What High Performance Looks Like” section, the “What’s in Your Way?” section, the “Coach Yourself” section, and the “Improve Now” section to be especially relevant to helping you determine the skills you need to improve or the skills you want to develop in others. The layout and design, along with the decent font size and use of icons, make reading and locating information in the Compass book effortless. Finally, the real-life stories of leaders demonstrating their skills in one of the competency areas (in the “Leadership in Action” section) make Compass truly enjoyable to read!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

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

Disclosure: I purchased a hard copy of Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching on my own.

How to Manage Better by Matching Leadership Style to Development Level

“Oversupervising or undersupervising—that is, giving people
too much or too little direction—has a negative impact on people’s development. That’s why it’s so important to match leadership style to development level” (Blanchard, 2010, p. 76).

I was eating at a sandwich shop about a week ago. It was still too early for lunch but since I was hungry and they happened to be opened, I went inside. The staff was busy preparing for the busy day and, even though they weren’t officially opened yet, they allowed me to go ahead and placed my order since I was using a credit card.

I got my sandwich and decided to sit and eat inside the restaurant. While I was there, the manager was busy talking to a visitor (from what I could gather, it sounded like an interview). At one point, one of the staff informed the manager that they were expecting a huge order of sandwiches and that she would need his help in order to get all the orders prepped and ready for delivery.

The manager quickly told the employee to just do it by herself. This brought up feelings of anger and resentment from the employee, as evidenced by her yelling at the manager:

“You’re a f***king, a**hole! I’m just one person and you expect me to do everything by myself and it’s not fair!”

Noticing that there was one customer in the restaurant (me), the manager quietly shot back, “It’s your job so just do it.”

As I headed out the door, I looked at the young lady and wished her a nice day. Of course, that was too late at that point because her entire day had been ruined because of this very poor interaction with her supervisor.

Obviously, no direct report or employee should ever talk to a manager in that manner or vice versa. But their interactions reflected at least three things. First, it tells me that this is not the first time that the employee has been allowed to speak like that. Second, it demonstrates that the manager uses a command and control style of management, wherein he (the boss) barks orders and expects his staff to just do it. In this manager’s mind, he’s the boss, he tells his staff what to do, and they carry out his orders. Third, and finally, it shows that the manager only uses the one leadership style that he knows to lead and manage his staff.

In Leading at a Higher Level (2010), Blanchard and his co-authors wrote (p. 76), “To bring out the best in others, leadership must match the development level of the person being led.”

In the Situational Leadership II model, there are two dimensions to leadership style:

  1. Directive Behavior—setting goals; telling and showing people what to do, when, and how to do it; and providing frequent feedback on results
  2. Supportive Behavior—listening, facilitating self-reliant problem solving, encouraging, and asking for input

Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II (SLII®) teaches leaders to diagnose the needs of an individual or a team and then use the appropriate leadership style to respond to the development needs of the person and the situation. The model is based on the belief that if a leader can develop the talent to skillfully diagnose an employee’s development level on a specific goal or task, then he or she can decide, what directive or supportive behaviors are needed to develop that employee. Once the employee’s development level is diagnosed, the leader then matches his/her leadership style to that development level for that task. A matching leadership style helps individuals move through the development continuum from enthusiastic beginner to disillusioned learner, to capable but cautious performer to self-reliant achiever.

Effective leadership occurs when leaders match their style to the competence and commitment of the followers. Effective leaders are those who can recognize what followers need and then adapt their own style to meet those needs. For individuals at

  • D1 (low competence/high commitment)—use a Directing (S1) leadership style.
  • D2 (low to some competence/low commitment)—use a Coaching (S2) leadership style.
  • D3 (moderate to high competence/variable commitment)—use a Supporting (S3) leadership style.
  • D4 (high competence/high commitment)—use a Delegating (S4) leadership style.

There are four leadership styles: Directing, Coaching, Supporting, and Delegating. Each style is a different combination of directive and supportive behavior.

  • S1—Directing = high direction/low support
  • S2—Coaching = high direction/high support
  • S3—Supporting = high support/low direction
  • S4—Delegating = low direction/low support

The four leadership styles differ in three ways: the amount of direction the leader provides, the amount of support the leader provides, and the amount of associate involvement in decision making.

To determine what is needed in a particular situation, a leader must evaluate her or his followers and assess how competent and committed they are to perform a given goal. Based on the assumption that followers’ skills and motivation vary over time, situational leadership suggests that leaders should change the degree to which they are directive or supportive to meet the changing needs of followers.

Back to my story about the upset employee who was yelling at her boss. If we follow Blanchard’s Situational Leadership (2010, 2019), we will first diagnose the development level of the employee. Second, we will use a leadership style to match the development level of the employee. Third, we will partner with the employee for performance (or align with the employee and set goals)*. [*In the 3rd edition (2019), Blanchard and team moved the third step to the first step.]

Diagnose Development Level: The employee is most likely at the D2 or D3 level. She is fairly to moderately competent but struggles with her commitment.

  • D2 (low to some competence/low commitment)—use a Coaching (S2) leadership style.
  • D3 (moderate to high competence/variable commitment)—use a Supporting (S3) leadership style.

Match Leadership Style: We arrive at two recommended leadership styles that the manager could have used to interact with her:

  • S2—Coaching = high direction/high support
  • S3—Supporting = high support/low direction

The employee might be at the D2 level, wherein she is somewhat new and although she knows the basics, she still in unsure about her own abilities to master the other skills to be successful in her role. If this is the case, she would need a coaching leadership style, which is high on direction but also high on support. The manager will want to “provide a lot of praise and support at this stage because you want to build [her] confidence, restore [her] commitment, and encourage [her] initiative” (Blanchard, 2019, p. 59).

The employee could be at the D3 level, in which she knows her day-to-day responsibilities well but sometimes doubts herself and questions her own ability to perform on her own without needing the manager’s help or the support of others. For employees at the D3 level, the manager should use an S3 (Supporting) leadership style, wherein the manager will support her efforts, listen to her concerns and suggestions, while also being there to support her. The manager will encourage and praise but not direct, since this style is more collaborative (Blanchard, 2019).

Partnering for Performance: Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II (SLII®) emphasize the importance of the manager aligning with his/her direct report for performance. Blanchard calls these alignment conversations, “where you agree on goals, development level, and leadership style.” Be sure that your employees understand and know what you are doing when you try to match your leadership style to their development level and what agreement has been made between the manager and employee about what needs to be done and when (Blanchard, 2019).

In command and control, “the manager tells us what to think and do, while partnering for performance suggests that how we achieve the vision is left open for discussion and input by everyone involved” (Blanchard, 2019, p. 40).

In determining what style to use with what development level, just remember that, “Leaders need to do what the people they supervise currently can’t do for themselves” (Blanchard, 2019, p. 57).

Here are three important caveats.

Caveat #1: “In reality, development level applies not to the person, but to the person’s competence and commitment to do a specific goal or task. In other words, an individual is not at any one development level overall. Development level varies from goal to goal and task to task. An individual can be at one level of development on one goal or task and be at a different level of development on another goal or task.” (Blanchard, 2010, p. 81).

Caveat #2: The manager at this particular sandwich shop did not know how to use any other style of leadership other than directing. And even then, he was terrible at it. However, with the proper training, he can be taught the different development levels and leadership styles, and can learn (with practice) how to match his newly learned leadership style to the employee’s development level on a specific goal or task. Only after that can he then have alignment conversations, where both he and the employee will agree on the expected performance behaviors and goals.

Caveat #3: “Just as leaders must move from command and control to a partnering relationship with their people, so too must those who are being led move from ‘waiting to be told’ to taking the initiative to lead themselves” (Blanchard et al., 2019, p. 70).

“If the key role of situational leaders is to become partners with their people, the new role of people is to become partners with their leaders” (Blanchard, 2010, p. 92).

Let’s return to the employee and manager at the sandwich shop. Although we would want the manager to learn the skills to be adaptable in leading and managing the employee (i.e., diagnose development of employee, match leadership style, partnering for performance), the onus is also on the employee to become empowered, and learn to be more self-directed and self-lead so that she is not constantly looking to or asking the manager for directions.

“If empowerment is to be successful, organizations and leaders must develop self leaders in the workforce who have the skills to take initiative” (Blanchard, 2019, p. 70).

“All people have peak performance potential—you just need to know where they are coming from and meet them there” (Blanchard, 2019, p. 65).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Blanchard, K. (2019). Leading at a higher level (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Blanchard, K. (2010). Leading at a higher level (Revised and Expanded ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press.

Overplanning Is No Substitute For Getting Sh*t Done

Overplanning is defined as planning excessively or in more detail than is necessary.

No Amount of Planning Can Ever Replace Just Getting Stuff Done

In an article on Medium.com, Lidich (a Serial Entrepreneur, Product Architect, and Co-Founder at Airdyme.io) recounted how, in his previous startup, he and his team spent so much time planning that they forgot the importance of execution!

Don’t Not Plan, But Don’t Overplan

In FYI: For Your Improvement (a guide for coaching and development), Lombardo and Eichinger talked about planning (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2000). When a person is skilled, he can (p. 281):

• Accurately scope out length and difficulty of tasks and projects
• Set objectives and goals
• Break down work into the process steps
• Develop schedules and task/people assignments
• Anticipate and adjust for problems and roadblocks
• Measure performance against goals
• Evaluate results

However, when planning is overused, it can result in (p. 281):

• Being overly dependent on rules, regulations, procedures, and structure
• Leaving out the human element of the work
• Being inflexible and having trouble with rapid change

Don’t Sacrifice Execution for Overplanning

In Lidich’s case, he allowed planning to trump execution. Lidich and his team excessively planned, analyzed, and overanalyzed without ever making sure that they actually had a product. They debated, analyzed, and even had mockups but, ultimately, they never managed to get a viable product to market. As he lamented, “We had mockups that never became products, and product ideas that never found a way into our product portfolio.”

Getting Sh*t Done On an Island

When I worked abroad on an island in the Pacific Ocean, I suggested to my colleagues that we should launch a crisis training workshop. Almost as soon as I uttered those words, several of them went into an analysis mindset to consider all the ways that the idea would not work.

So I decided to just do it. I reasoned that even if it failed, at least I tried something – anything, which is better than sitting around debating why something may or may not work!

It would be irresponsible to say that I did not plan at all. Of course, my partner and I planned. But I didn’t focus solely on the planning phase because I knew that the execution phase was much more important and valuable.

And while it was chaotic and disorganized, the end result was that we helped educate and train hundreds of teachers and school administrators on how to better manage crisis situations in their schools.

Ooh, The Colors Are So Pretty!

In one company, a young professional spent so much time on his project plan, even going so far as color-coding events and dates, that he failed to execute to get the job done. He had spent so much time designing and perfecting the plan that when it came time to actually deliver on that plan, he was exhausted and didn’t understand why his plan failed. Here’s the no-brainer answer: The plan didn’t fail. The execution of the plan failed.

Act Learn Build Repeat

Paul Brown (a former writer and editor at Business Week, Inc. and Financial World), writes, “In the face of the unknown, the Act Learn Build Repeat models works best.”

Brown makes a good point, which is that if we focus on planning, there’s an “assumption that you can forecast the future with a high level of certainty.” He argues that planning works “really well when things in the future are going to be similar to the immediate past.”

“Researching, planning and gathering resources doesn’t help you much when the world is changing as fast as it is these days. You can come up with a plan that is perfect—for a world that passed you by while you were spending all that time planning.” –Paul Brown

Takeaway: Failures are inevitable when you overly devote time, energy, and resources toward planning while ignoring or neglecting execution. I cannot emphasize this enough: stop excessively planning and just get things done! Too many organizations and too many leaders and workers are relying mainly on whiteboarding, project-tracking, and doing things that “look” like actual work. They forget that simply drawing a house doesn’t mean that the house gets “built.” No, that would require doing the actual work rather than just planning it out on paper. Remember, planning is good, but doing is better! I love this wisdom from Paul B. Brown: “You can come up with a plan that is perfect—for a world that passed you by while you were spending all that time planning.”

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Brown, P. B. (2013, May 19). If You Want To Be Successful, Don’t Spend Too Much Time Planning: A Case Study. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/actiontrumpseverything/2013/05/19/if-you-want-to-be-successful-dont-spend-too-much-time-planning-a-case-study/#2d1242cc6618

Lidich, V. (2019, March 26). Why Execution Is More Important Than Planning. Retrieved from https://medium.com/swlh/why-execution-is-more-important-than-planning-31877e278c5d

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2000). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (3rd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Fully Engaged – When Great Days at Work Feel Like MAGIC

According to DecisionWise (2018), “Employee engagement is an emotional state where we feel passionate, energetic, and committed to our work. In turn, we fully invest our best selves—our hearts, spirits, minds, and hands—in the work we do.”

“This translates into employees who give their hearts, spirits, minds, and hands to deliver a high level of performance to the organization.” -DecisionWise (2016)

Results of research involving over 32 million survey responses by DecisionWise (2018) revealed and validated that employee engagement is based on fulfilling five basic human needs in our work.

5 MAGIC keys of employee engagement (DecisionWise)—
Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection

  1. Meaning – Your work has purpose beyond the work itself.
  2. Autonomy – The power to shape your work environment in
    ways that allow you to perform at your best.
  3. Growth – Being stretched and challenged in ways that
    result in personal and professional progress.
  4. Impact – Seeing positive, effective, and worthwhile
    outcomes and results from your work.
  5. Connection – The sense of belonging to something
    beyond yourself.

Once these five needs are met, our overall level of happiness increases.

Another employee engagement model is the “X Model” by BlessingWhite. According to the X Model of Engagement, full engagement occurs when an individual is at a point of maximum satisfaction and is also providing maximum contribution. Employees who are truly engaged are at “the apex” where personal and organizational interests align.

“These employees are at “the apex” where personal and organizational interests align. They contribute fully to the success of the organization and find great satisfaction in their work. They are known for their discretionary effort and commitment.” -BlessingWhite (2011)

BlessingWhite says we should not think in terms of engagement, but rather about great days at work.

BlessingWhite describes it in this manner: “Great days at work happen when individuals are giving all they can to the organization and when their personal satisfaction is maximized. Great days are what full engagement looks like.” -BlessingWhite (2018)

In my current role as a Leadership Development Manager, I’m extremely privileged to have the chance to work with amazing leaders at my company. In fact, the President of our company remarked about how lucky I am to be able to meet and interact with all managers (who manage our 344 auto collision repair shops in 24 states in the U.S.), their directors, and VPs — all total, and if I also count our corporate leaders, approximately 550 leaders of the company! It’s an extraordinary honor to be able to work with and help so many leaders, to love what I do, and to be acknowledged and praised for it (by those I’m trying to help) in the process.

It’s so humbling and I am quick to share that I’m very lucky to be a part of this leadership development experience, to work with incredibly talented and dedicated people, and that it takes an entire village of fully engaged professionals (from almost every department in the company [e.g., C-level, Operations, Finance, Advertising, Human Resources, Training, etc.]) to make this work.

There’s no question in my heart or mind that what I’m doing right now is what I’ve been dreaming about doing. I feel extremely engaged and have many, many great days at work. I am fulfilled because the five basic human needs (M-A-G-I-C) in my work are met. There’s (M)eaning because my work has purpose beyond the work itself. I’m given (A)utonomy to shape my work environment in ways that allow me to perform at my best. I’m experiencing (G)rowth because I’m stretched and challenged in ways that result in personal and professional progress. I see the (I)mpact — the positive, effective, and worthwhile outcomes and results from my work — of my efforts. And, there’s a sense of (C)onnection, a sense that I belong to something beyond myself.

As a highly engaged employee, I’m enthusiastic about my job and I am committed to my work and my organization. For me, there’s no better or more accurate gauge of employee engagement than me feeling energetic and excited, being absorbed in the work that I do, and remaining devoted to the organization I work for. I am extremely blessed to work with outstanding professionals ― talented, dedicated, kind, and caring people who find meaning and magic in their work.

My hope is that people see in me a caring, talented, and devoted professional, one who takes great pride in his work. What’s more, my wish is that they also see that I’m someone who is more concerned with the success of the team than with getting credit for my contributions; that I work hard and do whatever is necessary to help my team succeed; and that I’m emotionally intelligent enough to know how my words and actions impact others (Lencioni, 2016).

I love this quote:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ―Howard Thurman

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

BlessingWhite. (2018). Great Days at Work. https://blessingwhite.com/great-days-at-work/

BlessingWhite. (2011). BlessingWhite’s Employee Engagement Model.

BlessingWhite. The X-Model of Employee Engagement.
https://blessingwhite.com/the-x-model-of-employee-engagement/

DecisionWise. (2016, June 1). MAGIC – Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement. https://www.decision-wise.com/infographic-magic-five-keys-to-unlock-the-power-of-employee-engagement/

DecisionWise. (2018). Engagement MAGIC: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement. https://www.decision-wise.com/engagement-magic

DecisionWise. (2018, October 16). The Five Keys of Employee Engagement. https://www.decision-wise.com/the-five-keys-of-employee-engagement/

DecisionWise. (2018, December 18). What We’ve Learned About Engagement. https://www.decision-wise.com/what-weve-learned-about-engagement/

Lencioni, P. (2016). The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.

Book Review – Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide

I’m going to start this book review with a confession: I know nothing about branding. In fact, I initially thought branding was just another word for marketing and that branding was mostly or all fluff and no substance. Boy, was I wrong!

This book (Forging An Ironclad Brand) gave me an unexpected and very much appreciated lesson about branding and helped me understand that having a brand strategy is a business advantage. Pedersen explains on her website: “I want to demystify brand strategy because I know that leaders are at once intimidated by and scornful of it, because they view it as soft, amorphous, unmeasurable. Yet it can be their unassailable competitive advantage.”

In her own words, Pedersen summarizes how the book is structured:

“The book divides in thirds. The first third of the book demystifies brand so you understand what it really is, how empowering it is as a leadership tool. I “de-squish” brand, taking it apart to show what it really means.

“And since the other barrier to harnessing brand is its seeming intimidation, the second third of the book unveils my Ironclad Method. This eight-step process shows you how to build a robust and hard-working brand strategy. By following each of the eight steps, you will articulate your brand strategy in an empowered, proactive way, rather than waiting for creative lightning to strike.

“Lastly, once you grasp a firm understanding of and articulate your brand’s value, you must bring your brand to life. So in the final third of the book, I reveal the three major levers for activating a brand that will build a beloved business.

“It’s the why, what, and how of brand strategy. You will come away knowing what brand is, why you should care, and how to build one. When you finish the book, you will be equipped with the ultimate tool for what you care most about – leading a business that ever increases in value and meaning.”

The publication of Forging An Ironclad Brand is especially timely given that, in my own organization, I am tasked with helping business leaders be more effective business owners. In our Leadership Academy (a week-long leadership development intensive which is part of a 14-week program), I have the privilege of interacting with and listening to managers, directors, and Vice Presidents talk about how important and how meaningful the company is to them. Time and time again this idea of what our company stands for has come up! Out of the five core values (integrity, family, service, quality, and growth), the two that have been mentioned over and over again in all the stories shared are family and integrity!

This part superbly captures what I did not know about branding:

“Articulating your brand is not about creating something out of thin air. It’s about discovering something latent. It’s identifying what customers want that you are uniquely able to satisfy, and then building your promise around that” (Pedersen, 2019, p. 153).

Pedersen writes (2019, p. 92): “[A]ll companies are product companies, at least loosely described (a service is an intangible product). That product is the mechanism through which customers experience your brand promise. So, all companies have a product and all companies have a brand. The leaders who recognizes the role of both the product and the brand set the conditions to prosper.”

“An ironclad brand differentiates your business in an enduring way. Product can be copied. Patents expire. Features obsolesce. What cannot be copied is a relationship. What does not expire is the trust you earn by particularly and consistently solving a customer need. What never gets old is delight. Loyal customers will not only stay with you—they will follow you as you evolve. They will love you—and encourage others to engage with you, too” (Pedersen, 2019, p. 93).

“Great brands garner enormous value to a business. They help a customer to see your business, like it, and be loyal to it. What’s more, great brands help leaders to know what to prioritize and what to deprioritize as they develop content, innovate their offering, and scale their businesses. While it may seem that great brands emerged into culture fully realized, truly great brands come from an intentional defining of the brand strategy.” -Description of Lindsay Pedersen’s “Create a Brand Strategy” Lynda.com course

What’s the difference between brand and marketing?

Pedersen says:

“Brand is the meaning that you stand for in the mind of your audience, your customer. Marketing is the set of activities of messaging and delivering that meaning. So, brand is the meaning you stand for, and marketing is the activation of that meaning.”

In Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide, Pedersen shares her eight-step process for crafting a brand strategy.

The Ironclad Method:

  • Step 1: Orient – set the starting point: who do you serve, and what are their current alternatives for the problem you solve?
  • Step 2: Listen – glean insights about the real human beings behind the concept of “target customer” by listening directly to your customers
  • Step 3: Examine – inventory the insights you have about your customers, your competitors, and your company, so you can spot the overlap that’s already there and start to passionately cultivate it.
  • Step 4: Ladder – distill your business’s value proposition into an argument that’s aspirational and grounded. The ladder represents the levels that your business benefits your customer, from functional and grounded to the emotional and transcendent. Your brand’s benefit ladder serves as the core of your brand strategy.
  • Step 5: Characterize – People connect better with other human beings than with abstract entities. Define the character of your brand and inject it with personality and tonality. Articulate the qualities of the business as though it were a person.
  • Step 6: Stage – define each stage of your customer’s journey with your brand. Sequence the customer journey; Grasp each distinctive mindset; Tailor the message by stage and mindset.
  • Step 7: Activate Creative – put to use your ironclad brand strategy. The creative and messaging you create–company name, logo, About Us page, packaging, photos for your website, ads on social media, and everything you do to communicate your brand to your audience–occur in this step.
  • Step 8: Zoom Out – once everything is in place, zoom out and look at your business as a first of trees in which your brand lives.

Pedersen writes based on her years of experience working to help “businesses of all shapes and sizes, from solo-owned to publicly traded; from B2B to B2C; from stodgy, old-economy categories to disruptive, new-to-the-world innovations” (p. 118). For instance, she has advised companies such as Zulily, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Coinstar and IMDb. Prior to this from 2001 to 2007, she worked for over 5 years as a Brand Manager at Clorox, where she led billion-dollar businesses and newly-launched categories, from Clorox Bleach to Armor All to Brita.

Here’s a great example. In Chapter 8 (Step 2: Listen), Pedersen painstakingly walks the readers through preparing your own listening mindset, and staying open as you conduct one-on-one phone interviews with your customers. Pedersen details how to compose your discussion guide (preparing your questions in three parts) and how to conduct your research (don’t jump too soon to the “low altitude” set of questions; using silence; not correcting/informing/teaching; and not being shallow). She illustrates this with sample questions she might prepare if she were doing the brand strategy for United Airlines First-Class Lounge (for those who often travel for work and who flies business class). Interestingly, the customer interview (pp. 150-151) sounds almost like a coaching session because of the open questions that Pedersen asks and her advice (p. 149) about using silence, listening between the lines, and not chiming in to correct or offer suggestions or advice.

Takeaway:

Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide isn’t fluff. It’s not written by someone who came up with a catchy method and then jazzed it up. Pedersen is a seasoned professional and reading her book and learning from her is incredibly illuminating. It’s like having a branding expert in the palm of your hand, doling out spot on, sage advice!

“A brand is a promise delivered. It is not merely what you say you do – it is what you actually do. It is the set of functional and emotional benefits and attributes that you bring to your customer. It is what you do, how you do it, and why you do it. Once you realize that your brand is not the colors, words or graphics you use to promote your business, but instead the content of your promise to your customer, you quickly understand how inappropriate it is to think of brand as a superficial gloss. Instead you see that your brand should be built into your product or service from beginning to end.” -Lindsay Pedersen (2016)

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Pedersen, L. (2019). Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. Austin, TX: Lioncrest Publishing.

Pedersen, L. (2016, March). Unleash Your Brand as a Force Multiplier. https://ironcladbrandstrategy.com/pdfs/whitepapers/IroncladBrandStrategy_WhitePaper_UnleashYourBrand.pdf

Pedersen, L. (2019, Feb 25). What is the difference between brand and marketing? https://ironcladbrandstrategy.com/ask-lindsay/can-i-have-a-brand-without-marketing-or-marketing-without-brand

Pedersen, L. (2019, Feb 25). Why I Wrote a Book About Brand. https://ironcladbrandstrategy.com/ask-lindsay/why-i-wrote-a-book-about-brand

Disclosure: I received a print copy of Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Being Inconsistent Can Cost You Your Credibility

Being inconsistent is not just about words versus actions, but also in what you say consistently (across time) and how you act consistently (across time). In other words, at any given moment and especially depending on the person or group you are interacting with, an observer might find that you are a completely different person. You cater to certain individuals while dismissing others. You value one person solely based on his/her title and position in the organization above another person.

In the past decade, regardless of the type of organization (nonprofit, educational institution, or for-profit company), I have consistently observed this type of inconsistency rear its ugly head (i.e., emerge).

I’ve written before about people with a “situational value system” on the WorkPlacePsychology.Net site. Indeed, that post is, by far, the most visited and shared of any other post on this site. I think it resonates so strongly with many people because they know of or have been treated by someone who acts in that manner (i.e., inconsistently).

Leaders, never forget that others, especially those who report to you, are watching your every word and deed. When you are inconsistent, you lose your credibility. “Being wishy-washy or inconsistent in your viewpoints inhibits credibility” (Whetten & Cameron, 2016, p. 441). In fact, voters in many countries rank their politicians very low in credibility because politicians are often inconsistent with what they say and will change what they say based on the audience they are addressing.

John Maxwell wrote this: “For years I have taught leaders that in their interactions with others they create ‘accounts’ of trustworthiness. Every interaction with another person either makes deposits in that person’s account or makes withdrawals from it. The best way to make regular ongoing deposits is by modeling good character consistently. Why? Because people are convinced more by what a leader does than by what a leader says. . . .People see what you do. Leadership confusion occurs when your words and your walk do not match. If that incongruity continues, not only will you confuse your people—you will lose your people” (Maxwell, 2018, p. 54-55).

“It has been said that you don’t really know people until you have observed them when they interact with a child, when the car has a flat tire, when the boss is away, and when they think no one will ever know. But people with integrity never have to worry about that. No matter where they are, who they are with, or what kind of situation they find themselves in, they are consistent and live by their principles” (Maxwell, 2007, p. 343).

Takeaway: The book, Harvard Business Review Manager’s Handbook: The 17 Skills Leaders Need To Stand Out, says it this way: “Being consistent means that your actions align with the values you profess. . . .Keep your promises and model ethical behavior from day one, even if it means making an unpopular decision . . . .By behaving consistently, you teach people that they can interpret your actions in a straightforward way, without worrying about your intentions” (p. 25).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Maxwell, J. C. (2007). The Maxwell Daily Reader: 365 Days of Insight to Develop the Leader Within You and Influence Those Around You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Maxwell, J. C. (2018). Developing the Leader Within You 2.0. Nashville, TN: HarpersCollins.

The Harvard Business Review Manager’s Handbook: The 17 Skills Leaders Need To Stand Out. (2017). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Whetten, D. A., & Cameron, K. S. (2016). Developing management skills (9th ed.). Essex, UK: Pearson Education Limited.

Going Through Your No’s Before Getting to Your Yes

One year ago on December 20, 2017, I flew half way across the U.S. to interview for a position at a very famous tech company in northern California. I had to miss my daughter’s Christmas program because this was one of those opportunities that you just didn’t pass up. When the recruiter reached out to me and, later, when the hiring manager invited me to come interview at their corporate headquarters near the Christmas holiday, I jumped at it.

To provide some context, I had just been laid off from my role at another company a mere one and a half week prior and the wound, shock, and pain of losing one’s job was still very fresh in my mind.

I was very excited because this was a great opportunity to work for a world-class (and very famous) tech company.

One day before my daughter’s Christmas program, I took an afternoon flight from Dallas to northern California, ate dinner there at the hotel the company had booked for me, checked my email for instructions from the company, called my wife, and went to bed. It had been a long day.

My five interviews would start around mid-lunch and last until the late afternoon. I showed up and, throughout the day, met several key leaders, all of whom the hiring manager had lined up. One in particular stood out and the impression he left will be difficult to forget.

This Vice President showed up in sweat pants, and, as he’s reclining back in his chair as if he were lounging in his own living room, told me that he didn’t want to be there and that he was supposed to be out Christmas shopping for his kids. I’m not kidding. He actually said that.

Some of you reading this may think, well maybe he was testing you. Yes, that did occur to me. But I’m too old for people to play games and “test” me. If, as part of his interview, the VP thought he would test my confidence in my abilities and eagerness for the role, then he was sorely disappointed. As I shared with the recruiter (who told me not to show up in a suit), I am confident without needing to puff up my chest and pounding on it. And, I do not subscribe to the idea of showing up for a job interview in casual wear.

If this is the type of employee they were looking for then we were definitely misaligned.

So I knew at that point that no matter what I said or did that this VP had already made up his mind that I was wasting his time, and I knew that this would not be the type of boss I would want to work with or for.

Shortly after finishing my multiple interviews, I took an Uber to the airport and hoped on my flight home, having spent 24 hours there. While waiting for my flight, I called my wife and told her about the experience with the VP and I shared with her that I don’t think they would offer me the job and how terrible I felt missing out on our daughter’s Christmas program just to waste my time and go through that whole ordeal.

My wife told me that if my experience with the VP is indicative of what the company is like then she did not think I would enjoy working there. She was right. Also, I wouldn’t have known any of this from just reading their website or watching videos about the company. More than anything, I wanted to see for myself that this company and the leaders and employees working there were like any other company — and that was exactly what I discovered.

Fast forward to exactly a year later, on December 20, 2018, and this time around I was able to attend my daughter’s Christmas program with my wife. Not only am I now in my “dream job,” but the autonomy I’m given, the incredible relationships with my bosses and coworkers, and the culture of my current company are all so much more than I could have ever hoped for.

I think the hardest part about waiting for a yes is that you have to hear lots and lots of no’s. As a matter of fact, you hear so many no’s that after a while, you just expect to hear it. But what makes waiting so unbearable is that it is a long, drawn-out process, with no end in sight.

Little did I know at the time, but this first no (from that tech company) was only the beginning of a lengthy waiting period for me, with lots of no’s to follow.

During this period of prepping, interviewing, waiting, getting no’s, and applying lessons learned for the next round of interviews (or learning to wait for them), I found a good summary of what I was experiencing and what I needed to hear from Joel Osteen’s (2013) writings:

“On the way to yes there will be no’s. You have to go through the no’s to get to your yeses. The mistake many people make is that they become discouraged by the no’s and they quit trying.”

“What if you could see into your future and discovered you would receive twenty no’s before you came to your yes? Then you’d be prepared to handle it when you faced a disappointment or a setback. If you knew your yes was only twenty no’s away, you wouldn’t give up if a loan didn’t go through, or you didn’t get a big sales contract you’d hoped to land. You would just check it off and say, ‘All right. That’s one no out of the way. Now I’m only nineteen away from my yes.’ Rather than being discouraged, you would be encouraged every time you heard a no.”

Going through all the no’s was difficult, long, painful, and, at times, too much to bear, and I sometimes wondered if it would ever end. But I see very clearly now that the many, many no’s helped me hone my interviewing skills, my ability to interact with a variety of individuals over the phone and in person, and my skills at working on short term assignments and projects. And all of these things, with the right people (who’ll give you a chance) and the right timing, led me to finally getting that “yes.”

Takeaways: Sometimes, what you think you want and what you so desperately seek can be indefinitely delayed (with many no’s), and what you end up getting (finally getting your yes) is so much better than had you gotten your initial wish (getting that yes right away).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

Reference

Osteen, J. (2013). Break Out!: 5 Keys to Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life. New York: FaithWords.

Layoffs (Usually) Don’t Work and Why They Harm More Than Help

“Layoffs are mostly bad for companies, harmful for the economy, and devastating for employees.” -Newsweek (2010)

In December 2017, I (along with many of my colleagues) got laid off by the parent company that had acquired our smaller company in 2014.

I think what struck many of us was that this larger company was (and still is) very wealthy and extremely profitable (constantly emphasizing this point in their town hall meetings) and they repeatedly reassured us that our jobs would be safe and that we were now part of this much better, larger, wealthier, more powerful enterprise.

Thus, when they began implementing mass layoffs, and eventually laying off almost everyone in the company, it came as quite a shock.

Although I am very fortunate to have landed an incredible new role, at an amazing company nine months later, some of my former colleagues are still looking.

Having gone through this layoff experience, I want to share this article in hopes of bringing attention to the harmful effects of layoffs to not only the employees who are let go, but also the companies that implemented the layoffs.

Downsizing Defined

Downsizing is the planned elimination of jobs or positions (Cascio, 2016).

“Whether we call it ‘rightsizing,’ ‘downsizing,’ ‘layoffs,’ or ‘reductions in force,’ there’s no denying that U.S. corporations have been reducing the size of their workforces at alarming rates since the late 1980s” (Levy, 2017, p. 384).

The Consequences of Losing Your Job

This passage from Aamodt’s Industrial/Organizational textbook is a powerful reminder of the dramatic and devastating effect of losing one’s job:

“From a health perspective, victims of downsizing report increases in headaches, stomach upsets, sleeping problems, cholesterol levels, physical illness, hospitalization rates, heart trouble, hypertension, ulcers, vision problems, and shortness of breath. Emotionally, victims report high levels of stress, increased drug and alcohol abuse, more marital problems, and feelings of depression, unhappiness, anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction with life. Socially, victims are reluctant to share their feelings with friends, avoid family and friends due to feelings of embarrassment and shame, and avoid social situations and entertainment requiring money” (Aamodt, 2010, p. 540).

Coping with job loss or the danger of losing one’s job is a major source of stress (Riggio, 2013). Landy & Conte (2013) explained that because a worker may continue to have strong affective, continuance, or normative commitments to the organization, a job loss can be devastating. “[R]esearch has consistently found job loss to be among the 10 most stressful events in a person’s life” (Levy, 2017, p. 383).

Mental, Physical, & Psychological Costs of Job Loss

The effects of job loss include (Landy & Conte, 2013, citing Warr):

  • Poor psychological health
  • Depression, insomnia, irritability, lack of confidence, inability to concentrate, and general anxiety

The reasons for these effects on one’s psyche are (Landy & Conte, 2013, citing Warr):

  • loss of job reduces income and daily variety
  • loss of job suspends the typical goal setting guiding day-to-day activities
  • loss of job results in fewer decisions to be made because there’s little to decide about
  • decisions that are made tend to be trivial (when to get up, when to look for work, etc.)
  • because of loss of job, new skills are not developed and current skills begin to atrophy
  • as a result of loss of job, social relations are radically changed

Emotional and Financial Cost of Job Loss

In a New York Times article about the emotional and financial toll of being unemployed, Luo and Thee-Brenan (2009), shared a New York Times/CBS News poll of unemployed adults (708 unemployed adults between Dec. 5 to Dec. 10, 2009). Here’s what they found about unemployed Americans:

EMOTIONALLY

  • 69% are more stressed.
  • 55% have had trouble sleeping.
  • 48% have experienced emotional or mental health issues (e.g., anxiety or depression).
  • 46% have felt ashamed or embarrassed about being unemployed.

FINANCIALLY

  • 53% have borrowed money from family members or friends since losing their jobs.
  • 54% have reduced visits to doctor or medical treatments.
  • 47% is without health care coverage.

The Psychological Effects of Unemployment

“[U]nemployment is psychologically devastating based upon a loss of discretionary control. . . The act of choosing is severely restricted by unemployment. Attempting to solve problems with limited resources frequently means that the quality of the solution is poorer, which can engender a sense of failure and lowered self-esteem. Thus the loss of financial resources limits choices, thereby enhancing feelings of limited control over one’s life. In turn, lowered psychological health follows from this condition” (Muchinsky, 2006, p. 373).

Hidden Costs of Downsizing

Many organizations believe that cutting costs via downsizing/workforce reduction (eliminating or combining related or redundant positions in order to improve cost & efficiency) is a viable option.

“Corporate downsizing has become a conventional response by contemporary organizations that find themselves burdened with economic inefficiencies. For most organizations the single biggest expense is the salaries and benefits paid to their employees. By eliminating jobs, they reduce payroll costs. By eliminating many jobs (4,000 – 10,000 jobs in some very large companies), they can save vast sums of money. But then comes the problem of getting all the work accomplished by the people who remain. Consequences of restructuring the organization may include greater use of computerization or automation of work, less oversight by supervisory/managerial personnel, greater use of overtime among hourly paid workers, and longer workweeks among salaried employees. . . Although downsizing has forced organizations to operate with greater efficiency, some organizations are discovering they cannot reclaim the productive output they had achieved with a larger workforce. In short, the loss of jobs did not strengthen their economic position but instead weakened it.” (Muchinsky, 2006, p. 271).

“[D]ownsizing has negative impacts on employee morale and health, workgroup creativity and communication, and workforce quality” (Heneman & Judge, 2005, pp. 703-704).

Some hidden costs of downsizing include (Snell & Bohlander, 2013, p. 17):

  • Severance and rehiring costs
  • Accrued vacation and sick day payouts
  • Pension and benefit payouts
  • Potential lawsuits from aggrieved workers
  • The loss of institutional memory and trust in management
  • A lack of staffers when the economy rebounds
  • Survivors who are risk averse, paranoid, and focused on corporate politics

Costs of Layoffs to Companies

Layoffs are more costly than many organizations realize (Cascio & Boudreau, 2011). In tracking the performance of organizations that downsized versus those that did not downsize, Cascio (2009) discovered that, “As a group, the downsizers never outperform the nondownsizers. Companies that simply reduce headcounts, without making other changes, rarely achieve the long-term success they desire” (p. 1).

In fact, direct costs of laying off highly paid tech employees in Europe, Japan, and the U.S., were about $100,000 per layoff (Cascio, 2009, p. 12).

Companies lay off employees expecting that they would reap the economic benefits as a result of cutting costs (of not having to pay employee salaries & benefits). However, “many of the anticipated benefits of employment downsizing do not materialize” (Cascio, 2009, p. 2).

While it’s true that, with downsizing, companies have a smaller payroll, Cascio contends (2009) that downsized organizations might also lose business (from a reduced salesforce), develop fewer new products (because they are less research & development staff), and experienced reduced productivity (when high-performing employees leave due to lost of or low morale).

“[L]arge layoffs tend to result in a substantial decline in employee morale and commitment and a significant increase in stress. And for the bottom line, research indicates that companies with very deep layoffs underperform the market by as much as eight percent over the ensuing three years” (Cascio, 2009, p. 2).

When Downsizing is The Answer

Cascio notes that downsizing “can be an appropriate tool in some cases” (2009, p. 2) and that it makes sense when it’s “part of a broader workforce strategy designed to align closely with the overall strategy of the business” (2009, p. 2).

“For example, a new business strategy that pursues different products or services and new types of customers may motivate firms to lay off employees with obsolete skill sets and hire new employees with the skills to implement the revised business strategy. In this case and some others, downsizing does make sense” (Cascio, 2009, p. 2).

Alternatives to Downsizing

When senior leaders in the organization believe the downturn in business is permanent, instead of downsizing, Cascio (2009) suggests retraining employees to develop new lines of business. If the leaders believe the downturn in business is temporary, there are many options to cut costs (see the graphic, “Alternatives to Employment Downsizing for Temporary Downturns”). For example, popular cost-saving strategies include: Freezing or reducing hiring; Cutting travel and entertainment; Reducing pay or raises; Scaling back employee events; Conducting targeted layoffs, and so on (Cascio, 2009).

Takeaway: As professor Paul M. Muchinsky wrote (2006, p. 374), “Work provides a sense of meaning and purpose to life, and the removal of that purpose lowers the quality of life.” Downsizing is not a cost-cutting cure-all and it does not guarantee that short-term savings will surpass long-term costs. Downsizing is sometimes necessary, but it is important that organizational leaders understand and consider the short- and long-term costs, as well as the many alternatives to downsizing that are available (Cascio, 2009).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2010). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Cascio, W. F. (2009). Employment Downsizing and Its Alternatives: Strategies for Long-Term Success. Alexandria, VA: SHRM Foundation.

Cascio, W. F. (2016). Managing Human Resources: Productivity, quality of Work Life, Profits (10th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Cascio, W. F., & Boudreau, J. (2011). Investing in People: Financial Impact of Human Resource Initiatives (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Heneman, H. G., III, & Judge, T. A. (2005). Staffing organizations (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2013). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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

Luo, M. & Thee-Brenan, M. (2009, December 14). Poll reveals trauma of joblessness in U.S. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/15/us/15poll.html

Muchinsky, P. M. (2006). Psychology applied to work (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Newsweek. (2010, February 4). The Case Against Layoffs: They Often Backfire. http://www.newsweek.com/case-against-layoffs-they-often-backfire-75039

Riggio, R. E. (2013). Introduction to industrial/organizational psychology (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Snell, S., & Bohlander, G. (2013). Managing Human Resources (16th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.

The Three S’s (See, Surround, Set) to Overcoming Failure

SEE: See mistakes as learning opportunities and see yourself not as a victim

One of my former college students shared this: “I have always seen every mistake I make as a learning opportunity in my life which provides me with less stress over the situation as well as allows my future choices to be based on more information, and gives me more options for my ultimate success.”

I think this is such a great approach to life! Some people live their lives with regret. They always look back and wonder what if they had done it differently and always ask “what if?” This student’s attitude, instead, is to learn from the mistakes she’s made and use those as teaching tools to help guide her future decision-making. I love that! Because no matter how hard we try, we can’t change our past, but we can decide what our future will be like by the choices we make today!

SURROUND: Surround yourself with positive people, positive thoughts, and positive things

Another former student shared, “Life is not easy, but a positive attitude, healthy mind and body can help all of us overcome anything.” This is spot on! At one time or another we have all had negative thoughts or felt hopeless because of the curve balls life throws at us. I think the times when I have truly “failed” were those in which I gave up mentally and told myself ok I can’t do this. From those life lessons, I learned to continually surround myself with positive people (like people who lift others up), to think positive thoughts (like being grateful), and do positive things (like being kind or helping others). Individually and collectively these things help to improve my outlook on life and direct me in a positive path toward a brighter future.

SET: Set small, bite-size goals

Early on in my academic studies, I set myself up to fail by having generic long-term goals (e.g., when I finish my Master’s I’m going to buy a new car). Success was never within reach and failure was almost always a certainty because I neglected to do what I call the daily grunt work (things like studying for my tests or doing my homework or making sure that I worked on my final paper). Because I didn’t do the “smaller” things consistently (i.e. work hard each day or each week), I spent an extra year to year-and-a-half in my Master’s program. Ouch! Painful life lesson learned the hard way!

For my PhD program, I was very mindful that, in addition to setting BIG goals (like getting my PhD), I also set SMALLER goals (the steps I need to reach my BIG goal), and I would break the smaller goals into even smaller ones (I call them “bite-size goals” – tiny, incremental steps needed to reach my small goal and eventually my BIG goal). That way, each time I reached one of these bite-size goals, I would pat myself on the back for a job well done. These tiny, gradual steps helped me stay focus and kept me on track all the way until I finished my program and completed my dissertation and defense.

So does this mean that I will never fail again? Heck no! In fact, I plan on failing. I expect to fail because I’m human. But the next time I fail, I will use the three S’s (See, Surround, Set) to help me overcome my failure and press on.

Takeaway: Failure is not fatal and it’s never final. Everybody fails. It’s just part of living a human life. The key is to get back up! Own your mistakes and learn from them so you don’t repeat them over and over. Surround yourself with positive people, think positive thoughts, and do positive things. Finally, set small, bite-size goals. Remember, you can’t change your past, but you can determine what your future will look like by the choices and actions you make today!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor