Category Archives: Meaningful Work

Why Organizations Need More Star Followers and Less Yes People

Many of us miss a key point about the importance of followership. Indeed, most people hold a negative view of followership (Kelley, 2008). They can’t imagine anything good or positive that might come from the role of a follower.

However, conversations about leadership must include followership “because leaders neither exist nor act in a vacuum without followers” (Kelley, 2008, p. 5). To me, there can be no leader if there are no followers, and people will not follow you if you lack the ability to influence them to work toward a goal.

Robert E. Kelley (2008), who is credited with pioneering the concept of followership, describes five styles of followership:

1) The sheep: they’re passive and look to the leader to guide & motivate them.
2) The yes-people: they’re positive and always on the leader’s side; but also look to the leader for direction & vision.
3) The alienated: they think for themselves, but are negative; skeptical/cynical; they view themselves as mavericks.
4) The pragmatics: they’re fence straddlers; they take a wait-and-see approach; they will go where the momentum is heading.
5) The star followers: they think independently; are active & positive. They do not accept the leader’s decision without evaluating it for themselves first. If they agree with the leader, the star followers will throw their full support behind the decision. If they disagree with the leader, star followers will offer constructive options/alternatives. They are often referred to as the go-to person or the leader’s right-hand person.

Kelley (2008) wrote that one question he asks of executives is, “If you could have an ideal mix of the five followership styles in your organization, what percentage of each style would you prefer?” He’s often amazed at how leaders say they want all yes-people.

“Their reasons are that (1) yes-people are “doers” who are willing to do the grunt work and who get the job done with little fuss; (2) yes-people have limited aspirations and will neither pressure the leader for promotions nor quit for better jobs elsewhere; and (3) yes-people are loyal and dependable” (Kelley, 2008, p. 13).

Kelley said it is rare to find leaders who prefer all “star followers.”

“Most executives fear that they can neither keep star followers challenged by the job nor satisfied with their role in the organization. They believe that star followers will grow bored and disillusioned, seeking greener pastures and leading to high turnover” (Kelley, 2008, p. 13).

Ironically, it is the star followers who help the organization perform better and more efficiently. In fact, we can make a very strong case that, “organizations with more star followers perform better because the star followers need not depend on the leader for direction or motivation. This reduces the transaction costs that hinder organizational success” (Kelley, 2008, p. 13).

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

Reference

Kelley, R. E. (2008). Rethinking Followership. In R. E. Riggio, I. Chaleff, & J. Lipman-Blumen (Eds.), The art of followership (pp. 5-15). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

The G.R.O.W. Model In Business Coaching – Simple, Concise, and Powerful


Business coaching is enhancing a client’s (person in a business) awareness and behavior in order to achieve business objectives for both client and organization (WABC, Business Coaching Definition). In my quest for a capable business coaching model (business coaching includes leadership coaching and executive coaching), I have spent several years looking at many coaching models. Some models are overly complex while others are very basic.

Sir John Whitmore wrote (2009): “Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them” (p. 10).

“[T]here are no quick fixes in business, and good coaching is a skill, an art perhaps, that requires a depth of understanding and plenty of practice if it is to deliver its astonishing potential” (Whitmore, 2009, p. 2).

I began looking at coaching models during my industrial and organizational psychology doctoral program and came across many books on coaching. After years of searching and seeing what made sense, I eventually returned (very much to my surprise) to the original, wildly popular and widely used, G.R.O.W. coaching model.

John Whitmore, Graham Alexander, and Alan Fine all worked together and, in the mid- to late-1980, they co-developed the G.R.O.W. Model (Fine, 2018). Shortly after, the three went their separate ways, each one using his own approach to/version of the G.R.O.W. Model.

For all major iterations of the G.R.O.W. Model, the first three letters are the same: “G” is the “Goal” the individual seeks to achieve; “R” is the “Realities” a person should consider in the context of the decision process; and “O” is the “Options” open to the decision maker (Fine, 2018). It is only the last letter, “W”, that has been interpreted differently. John Whitmore defined it as “Will” (Whitmore, 2009), Graham Alexander defined it as “Wrap-up” (Alexander & Renshaw, 2005), although he also used “Wrap-up/way forward” (Alexander, 2006), and Alan Fine defined it as “Way Forward” (Fine, 2010).

G.R.O.W. (Goal, Reality, Options, Way Forward) is a simple 4-step process. The coach helps the coachee (person being coached) articulate a concise goal (Goal). Next, the coachee describes his current situation (Reality). This is followed by brainstorming options (Options) and next steps. Finally, the coachee identifies and selects one or more options to use in an action plan (Way Forward).

Throughout my years-long coaching model vetting process, two questions I asked were: (1) Will this model be easy enough for me to use when coaching clients? (2) Will I be able to use this model to teach leaders so they can use it to coach their employees?

For me, the desire to address both question #1 (Is this model easy enough to use when coaching clients?) and question #2 (Can I use this model to teach leaders, so they can use it to coach their employees?) were paramount in my decision. Many coaching models sufficiently answer question #1. That is, most of the models are easy enough to use to coach others, whether the model uses a 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-, or 7-step process. However, where many coaching models disappoint is in trying to answer question #2. When I pose the question — Can I use this model to teach leaders a simple process so they can use it to coach their employees? — many models could not deliver.

I also considered a third question: Does the coaching model follow a traditional coaching process that takes 6 – 12 sessions to complete or a rapid process that can be done in one or two coaching sessions? Indeed, it is the answer to this third question that made me completely rethink “coaching.” In order to adapt to the demands of an increasingly busy workplace and workforce, I needed a coaching model and process that could be delivered on-the-spot — in one or two conversations or meetings.

John Whitmore’s G.R.O.W. (Goal, Reality, Options, Will) contains 8 to 13 questions for each of the step in the model (Whitmore, 2012). But I prefer Alan Fine’s G.R.O.W. Model [covered in his book, You Already Know How to Be Great (2010)], which has 3 to 6 questions for each step. I also like the questions assigned to each of the G.R.O.W. steps in the Fine version.

I used Alan Fine’s G.R.O.W. Model to coach a new leader in two sessions (1 hour the first session, 1.5 hours the second session), plus one debriefing session (30 minutes). The coaching experience with this leader confirmed several things. First, Fine’s G.R.O.W. model is very easy to use. Second, Fine’s G.R.O.W. model can be used to teach a leader, so s/he can turn around and use it to coach his/her employees. Third, the entire process is surprisingly brief, lasting just 2.5 sessions.

Within that time frame, I was able to work with the leader to: clarify his goal for the session (Goal); describe his current situation (Reality); explore potential actions and next steps (Options); and identify a specific action as his next step (Way Forward) — demonstrating that, as a business coaching model and process, the GROW Model is very simple to use and understand (for both coach & coachee), effective yet brief, practical, and able to be delivered on demand and even as a self-coaching process (coaching yourself).

Clients answer a group of questions for each of the steps of the G.R.O.W. Model. Step #1 is Goal, Step #2 is Reality, Step #3 is Options, and Step #4 is Way Forward. The coach and coachee go through the steps and the questions that fall under each step in order, starting with Step #1. It’s important to not introduce clients to all the GROW questions at once because it can cause them to answer the questions in a cursory manner, rushing through their responses instead of really thinking about the question and allowing themselves time to process each question and formulate a response.

Although it’s recommended that you follow each of the GROW steps sequentially, starting with Step 1: Goal and ending with Step 4: Way Forward, in practice, there may be times where you have to adjust. John Whitmore explained this in his book, Coaching for Performance (2009): “[O]ne may only be able to define a vague goal until one has examined the reality in some detail. It will then be necessary to go back and define the goal much more precisely before moving forward again. Even a sharply defined initial goal may be recognized to be wrong or inappropriate once the reality is clear” (pp. 56-57).

For example, for my client, the overall goal for the session (Step #1 Goal) finally solidified in the middle of Step #2 (Reality). For this client, the topic did not become clear until after he’s had a chance to talk about what was currently happening at work and what he had tried so far. So, even though he responded to a question in Step 2, it actually made more sense to place his response in Step 1, to a question about the topic/goal of the discussion. Remember, it’s okay to be flexible and make adjustments to help clients make sense of the GROW framework. To verify, I asked my client if there was anything that did not make sense or that did not match up with what he wanted to say.

A unique question in Fine’s G.R.O.W. Model that stands out and one that I like is a question in Step #3 Options phase (“Would you like suggestions from me?”). A word of caution: If this question is not handled properly, the coach can very easily end up doling out advice and completely derail the purpose of coaching. What I like about this question is that it allows the coach an opportunity to share some suggestions and then check in to see if any of the suggestions seems interesting enough to explore further. This can be invaluable, especially when clients are at their wits’ end and no amount of open-ended questions will help to stimulate their creative ideas. In my coaching session, because of my rapport with this new leader and thanks to a previously administered personality assessment, I knew that my real contribution to him would be to offer some practical suggestions. The client told me that my suggestions were “all spot on” and that he agreed with them.

In our debriefing session, this leader stated that he likes that the GROW process is compact, simple, and straightforward and that these characteristics of GROW will help when he introduces his team to it. He especially appreciated my explanation of the GROW Model as a decision framework and said, “decision framework feels very liberating,” unlike the term “goal setting” which is becoming stale.

Finally, here’s an interesting tidbit — the G.R.O.W. framework also happens to be “one of the tools Google uses to teach [its] managers about coaching conversations” (re:Work with Google: Coach with the GROW model).

Takeaway: Overall, the G.R.O.W. Model (in particular, Alan Fine’s version) is a very capable business coaching model. From my own vetting process, it meets all three of the criteria on my list: (1) The G.R.O.W. Model is very easy to use to coach others; (2) The G.R.O.W. Model is remarkably simple and can be effectively used to teach a leader so s/he can use it to coach his/her own employees; and (3) The G.R.O.W. Model is powerful, yet concise enough that it can be completed in one or two coaching sessions.

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

References

Alexander, G. (2006). Behavioural coaching — the GROW model. In J. Passmore (Ed.), Excellence in coaching: The industry guide (2nd ed., pp. 83-93). London: Kogan Page.

Alexander, G., & Renshaw, B. (2005). SuperCoaching: The Missing Ingredient for High Performance. London, UK: Random House.

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

Fine, A. (2018). What is the GROW Model. InsideOut Development. https://www.insideoutdev.com/about-us/what-is-the-grow-model/

re:Work with Google. (2018). Coach with the GROW model. https://rework.withgoogle.com/guides/managers-coach-managers-to-coach/steps/coach-with-the-grow-model/

Whitmore, J. (2009). Coaching for Performance (4th ed.). London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Whitmore, J. (2012). The GROW Model. Performance Consultants International. https://www.performanceconsultants.com/wp-content/uploads/GROW-Model-Guide.pdf

Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC) (2018). Business Coaching Definition. https://www.wabccoaches.com/includes/popups/definition.html

Book Review – Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results

Servant Leadership in Action is a collection of 42 essays (ranging from 2.5 pages to 8 pages) from servant leadership experts and practitioners, co-edited by Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell. The book is organized into six parts. Part One, “Fundamentals of Servant Leadership,” describes basic aspects of servant leadership. Part Two, “Elements of Servant Leadership,” highlights some of the different points of view of servant leaders. Part Three, “Lessons in Servant Leadership,” focuses on what people have learned on a personal level from observing servant leadership in action. Part Four, “Exemplars of Servant Leadership,” features people who have been identified as classic servant leaders. Part Five, “Putting Servant Leadership to Work,” offers firsthand accounts of people who have made servant leadership come alive in their organizations. Part Six, “Servant Leadership Turnarounds,” illustrates how servant leadership can dramatically impact both results and human satisfaction in organizations.

I wasn’t sure if this would be the kind of book I would enjoy or find value in because it’s a collection of essays. But the topic of servant leadership has been top of mind for me for the past few years, so I thought I’d give this book a chance and hopefully glean some useful information about servant leadership and its application to the workplace.

Even though Robert Greenleaf (1904–1990) is credited with launching the modern servant leadership movement in 1970, the idea behind servant leadership is very old. Valeri (2007), in his doctoral dissertation, wrote that the origins of servant leadership can be traced back at least 2500 years ago, starting in ancient Greece and Rome. Robert Greenleaf was the person who coined the term “servant leadership” and articulated it for modern time (Greenleaf.org, 2016; Keith, 2018; Spears, 1998).

Greenleaf’s thinking was inspired by and made clear in the 1960s thanks to a short novel called Journey to the East by Herman Hesse. It’s a story about Leo, a servant who accompanied a group of people on a spiritual quest. Everything was fine until Leo disappears, which then led to the group falling apart and the journey abandoned. The people in the group learned that they couldn’t make it without the servant. After years of searching, the story’s narrator finally locates Leo and finds out that Leo, whom everyone had thought to be a servant, was, in fact, the head of the religious order that sponsored the original journey (Spears, 1998).

“After reading this story, Greenleaf concluded that the central meaning of it was that the great leader is first experienced as a servant to others, and that this simple fact is central to his or her greatness. True leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others” (Spears, 1998, p. 4).

I thought a background explanation about servant leadership from Blanchard in the first essay (“What Is Servant Leadership?”) is important:

“When people hear the phrase servant leadership, they are often confused . . . The problem is that these folks don’t understand leadership—much less servant leadership. They think you can’t lead and serve at the same time. Yet you can, if you understand that there are two parts to servant leadership: a visionary/direction, or strategic, role—the leadership aspect of servant leadership; and an implementation, or operational, role—the servant aspect of servant leadership.” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 7).

“Once people are clear on where they are going, the leader’s role shifts to a service mindset for the task of implementation—the second aspect of servant leadership. The question now is: How do we live according to the vision and accomplish the established goals? Implementation is where the servant aspect of servant leadership comes into play” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 9-10).

I am not a huge fan of edited books because the ones I’ve come across do not gel well together. Edited books can be messy and difficult to read when different authors and writing styles are thrown together with no editorial oversight to ensure consistency in tone and/or message. I was pleased to see that this didn’t happen with Servant Leadership in Action. The editing was well done and reading the chapters, written by different authors, felt seamless, almost as if written by the same person. This is no easy feat to achieve and I commend Blanchard and Broadwell for the great job co-editing this book.

The essays by Colleen Barrett (president emeritus, Southwest Airlines), Cheryl Bachelder (former CEO, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen), Dave Ramsey (a money management expert & author), Phyllis Hennecy Hendry (CEO, Lead Like Jesus), and Jon Gordon (author) were all enjoyable and instructive. I also liked and found great value in Rico Maranto’s essay (“Waste Connections: A Servant Leadership Success Story”) about how top leaders can make servant leadership come alive.

In her essay, “Treat Your People as Family,” Colleen Barrett wrote about the incredible impact that servant leadership had on the 40+ years of success at Southwest Airlines. Admittedly, she shared that they didn’t know until much later on that it was called that. “But while our recognition of the term Servant Leadership might have come late, for over four decades Herb and I have said that our purpose in life as Senior Leaders with Southwest Airlines is to support our People. To us, that means treating People as family” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 183).

Colleen recalled a fabulous story that one of Southwest’s new leaders told her about his best example of a servant’s heart, which he saw Herb Kelleher (founder of Southwest Airlines) model.

“He watched Herb talk to a Mechanic in worker’s clothes for at least fifteen minutes—even though there were literally hundreds of People circling Herb for his attention. Herb never looked over the guy’s shoulder to see who else might be there, and never diverted his eyes from this man while they were talking. Herb was courteous to everyone who was trying to shove the guy out of his space so that they could fill it, but he gave this man his time. It was clear to this new Leader that Herb had no hierarchical concerns—he was completely interested in what the Mechanic was trying to tell him. That had a profound impact on this Leader, and he remembers it to this day. He has been with us more than twenty years now” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 187).

In Cheryl Bachelder’s “Serve the People” essay, she shared about the transformation at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, from a struggling brand and company to a prosperous enterprise. I really like what Cheryl wrote:

“When this story began, we didn’t know it would be servant leadership that drove success. We didn’t have a plaque in the office that stated our purpose and principles. What we did have was a team of leaders who were willing to focus their passion and ambition on the success of the people and the enterprise before their own interests” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 230).

From 2007 to 2016, under Bachelder’s leadership, Popeyes flourished, “with restaurant sales, profits, and unit growth rates that were the envy of its competitors” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 230).

In his essay (“Leading is Serving”), Dave Ramsey shared the lesson he taught his teenage son about the heavy responsibility of being a servant leader. Ramsey explained to his son (as they were walking toward Dave Ramsey’s company’s picnic) that as president and CEO of the company, he bears the responsibility to not just the employees of his company (the adults) but also to those employees’ children (the 97 kids seen running around the picnic): “Those kids’ parents make a living, have a future, and those kids have a future partly because of how I act. If I misbehave in my personal life, if I fail in areas of integrity, if I screw up, it will mess up a ton of lives. As a servant leader, I understand that I am at least partially responsible for those little kids” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 197).

Ramsey took it a step further. He told his son that, even as a teenager, the son also bore the responsibility of being a servant leader, that “if he went out and acted crazy, he could impact those kids’ lives” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 197) too. For instance, if the son were to get drunk, drive, and kill someone, the family would get sued and some of the employees working for his dad’s company might have to be let go. “As my son, he gets to enjoy the benefits of our success, but he also shares in the responsibility of servant leadership. He needed to know, even as a teenager, that the decisions he makes and the actions he takes have an impact” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 197).

Some of the essays really touched me. One such essay was by Phyllis Hennecy Hendry (“A Lesson From My Father”) about how her father, a pastor, taught her, when she was eight years old, “the simple act of caring for someone and how serving people changes everything—literally” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 117). She recounted the many Saturday morning visits to the home of “a crotchety old man” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 116) whose “wrinkles met in odd places around his face” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 116) and how you can serve and meet people where they’re at. The simple and consistent act of visiting this grumpy old man every Saturday morning eventually led him to change his crabby ways — smiling a lot more and hugging them, and eventually introducing both Phyllis and her father to others as his “good friends.” The essay was about how this old man came to accept Jesus, but the way Hendry told the story, through the eyes and experience of herself as an 8-year-old girl, made it very powerful and its servant leadership lesson applicable in many areas.

Jon Gordon shared an emotional story in his essay (“Little Things and Big Things”) about his late mom making a sandwich for him even though she was tired and, unbeknownst to him, was battling cancer:

“Looking back, I realize she wasn’t just making me a sandwich. She was showing me what selfless love and servant leadership were all about. At her funeral, many of her real estate clients and colleagues came up to me and shared countless stories of all the selfless acts of love my mom did for them as well . . . We often think that great leadership is about big visions, big goals, big actions, and big success. But I learned from my mom that real leadership is about serving others by doing the little things with a big dose of selfless love” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 134).

Finally, in his essay (“Waste Connections: A Servant Leadership Success Story”), Rico Maranto (Servant Leadership Evangelist at Waste Connections) wrote about how senior leaders at Waste Connections made servant leadership come alive by: (1) introducing a vision, purpose, and values, (2) conducting servant leadership training, (3) distributing a servant leader newsletter, (4) distributing a servant leader survey, (5) creating a Servant Leader Playbook, (6) creating servant leadership awards, (7) getting self-serving leaders off the bus, and (8) hiring for character.

Rico shared a great story and perfect example of what it is to live a servant leadership mentality and culture:

“One of the company’s division vice presidents (DVPs) had been recognized two consecutive years at the annual managers’ meeting and seemed to build good relationships with his employees. He achieved impressive results and spoke like a servant leader when talking with senior leadership. Everyone thought he was a good servant leader—everyone but his employees. In their servant leader surveys, they described a very different manager—one who was egotistical and hypocritical” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 236).

When that division vice president’s true character came to light, Rico recounted that Ron Mittelstaedt, CEO and Founder of Waste Connections, said this:

“Servant leadership isn’t about worrying up; it’s about worrying down. It’s not about what your boss thinks of you; it’s about what your people think of their boss. If we have a cancer in our culture, we have to cut it out” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 236).

What I Did Not Like: In a few of the essays, I was unconvinced that the authors effectively or at least cogently tied their thoughts and previous work to servant leadership in their essays. When authors toss their writings in without fully thinking through and making a strong case for how their work connects or is related to servant leadership, then their essays came across as disorganized ramblings.

Takeaway: I found Servant Leadership in Action to be an enjoyable collection of essays that kept me interested in the subject of servant leadership regardless of where I was in the book. Blanchard and Broadwell did a nice job setting up the book’s structure and dividing the essays into six parts/sections, starting with describing the basic aspects of servant leadership and ending with showing the readers how servant leadership can dramatically impact both results and human satisfaction in organizations. The essays are interesting and varied enough that you can skip around, reading what interests you, and still learn about servant leadership. If you like reading about servant leadership and do not mind a sprinkle of religious stories, then I think you will really enjoy this book.

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

References

Blanchard, K., & Broadwell, R. (2018). Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Greenleaf.org [Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership]. (2016). Robert K. Greenleaf. Retrieved from https://www.greenleaf.org/robert-k-greenleaf-biography/

Keith, K. M. (2018). Definition of Servant Leadership. Retrieved from toservefirst.com/definition-of-servant-leadership.html

Spears, L. C. (1998). The power of servant leadership. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Valeri, D. P. (2007). The origins of servant leadership (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from www.greenleaf.edu/pdf/donald_valeri.pdf

Disclosure: I received Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Workplace Friendships: The Benefits and Challenges

Workplace Friendships: The Benefits

When you work in close proximity to other people in an organization, it’s inevitable that friendships begin to develop. Morrison and Terry (2007) wrote that “people are motivated to make friends for the rewards they provide, be they social or more tangible and functional. Thus within the workplace too, it is reasonable to assume that some people make friends so as to enhance their own working conditions” (p. 39).

Workplace friendship involves a workplace/organizational peer that we believe we’d be friends with even if we didn’t work together, that we consider the person more than just a coworker, and that we feel that we know each other really well (Morrison & Terry, 2007).

Reich & Hershcovis (2011) wrote that workplace friendships are voluntary relationships where people interact as unique individuals rather than as occupants of organizational roles (coworker or supervisor). We form and maintain workplace friendships to enhance our social support and our job success. But most of all, we make friends at work to help us satisfy our need to belong (Reich & Hershcovis, 2011).

Workplace friendships are linked to increased job satisfaction, job involvement, job performance, team cohesion, organizational commitment, and decreased intentions to turnover (Reich & Hershcovis, 2011).

Interestingly, Morrison (2009) discovered that while women are more likely to see workplace friendships in terms of the social and emotional support in times of stress, men tend to view workplace friendships in terms of the benefits to their own career or in helping them complete a task or the job duties.

Workplace Friendships: The Challenges

Although the benefits of workplace friendships are many, there are also difficulties or challenges, including blurring of boundaries, having to devote time to the friendship, and distraction from work — all of which can cause distraction and anxiety, ultimately resulting in reduced work outputs (Morrison & Terry, 2007).

Workplace friendships fail for five main reasons (Sias, Heath, Perry, Silva, & Fix, 2004):

  1. problem personality
  2. distracting life events
  3. conflicting expectations
  4. promotion
  5. betrayal

Personality and life events can end a workplace friendship when they distract employees from their work. Betrayal can certainly destroy a workplace friendship. It makes sense that after a betrayal, it can be very difficult to regain trust. In the case of promotion, it becomes much harder to maintain an equal relationship balance because now one person (the promoted individual) has formal authority over the other.

Workplace Friendships: Tricky but Worth It

Seppala and King (2017) explained there’s always the potential of workplace friendship fallout and there are “real entanglements that can arise when the boundaries between work and friendship become blurred.” However, given that belonging is a fundamental human need and that we spend a large part of our time at work, the workplace “is an ideal place to foster the positive connections we all need — not just for our well-being but also for our productivity and health.”

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

References

Morrison, R. L. (2009). Are Women Tending and Befriending in the Workplace? Gender Differences in the Relationship Between Workplace Friendships and Organizational Outcomes. Sex roles, 60(1),

Morrison, R. L., & Terry, N. (2007). Too Much of a Good Thing?: Difficulties with Workplace Friendships. University of Auckland Business Review, 9(2), 33-41.

Reich, T. C., & Hershcovis, M. S. (2011). Interpersonal relationships at work. In S. Zedeck (Ed.), APA handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (Vol. 3, pp. 223-248). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Seppala, E., & King, M. (2017, August). Having Work Friends Can Be Tricky, but It’s Worth It. Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2017/08/having-work-friends-can-be-tricky-but-its-worth-it

Sias, P. M., Heath, R. G., Perry, T., Silva, D., & Fix, B. (2004). Narratives of workplace friendship deterioration. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21(3), 321–340.

Book Review: Awaken, Align, Accelerate by MDA Leadership

Awaken, Align, Accelerate (2011) is a leadership development and coaching guide from MDA Leadership Consulting. The book harnesses “the art and science of developing leaders into a unique collection of self-assessments, development suggestions, case studies, sample leadership development plans, coaching recommendations, and cross-cultural coaching tips” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 1).

MDA Leadership’s Awaken, Align, Accelerate is a big book. But once you flip through its brawny pages and are able to easily spot valuable information on each page (thanks to the great use of colors, bullets, and charts), I think you’ll agree that the book’s hefty size is an advantage. I actually appreciate its large size.

The overall layout (i.e., visuals, colors, graphics, tables, and charts), especially the use of colors to call out specific sections/areas on each page, is praiseworthy as it really helps to visually direct your eyes to important or interesting areas. For example, the tabs are nicely colored in blue so you can easily tell which competency you’re on and, on the back page (of each blue tab/competency), you’ll notice a gray tab which is the leadership factor that encompasses the competency.

“This guide focuses attention on what it takes to develop senior leaders, those who have responsibility for multiple teams inside a function (e.g., sales, marketing, finance) or an entire business within an organization. Additionally, we’ve designed this guide to be used by managers aspiring upward or even more senior executives facing similar challenges.” -Introduction of Awaken, Align, Accelerate

According to MDA Leadership, the book is the collaborative effort of 21 authors, most with over 25 years of leadership development experience, and was reviewed by over 60 colleagues who provided valuable insight. It includes almost 2,000 development and coaching suggestions, real-life case studies, and pragmatic development tools.

The Awaken, Align, Accelerate book is divided into six sections to match the six leadership factors of MDA’s Leadership Competency Model (Leading People, Thinking and Deciding, Achieving, Relating to People, Managing Work, and Managing Self). Each section (or factor) is further divided into a set of competencies that correspond to that particular factor. The core of the Awaken, Align, Accelerate book is divided into 16 chapters, one chapter for each of the 16 competencies in MDA’s Leadership Competency Model. Each chapter includes a self-assessment, development suggestions, and coaching suggestions.

LEADING PEOPLE (leadership factor #1)

1. Leading Courageously (competency)
2. Creating Alignment (competency)
3. Team Leadership (competency)
4. Developing Leaders (competency)

THINKING AND DECIDING (leadership factor #2)

5. Strategic Thinking (competency)
6. Business Acumen (competency)
7. Critical Thinking and Judgment (competency)

ACHIEVING (leadership factor #3)

8. Drive for Results (competency)
9. Innovation and Risk-Taking (competency)

RELATING TO PEOPLE (leadership factor #4)

10. Interpersonal Effectiveness (competency)
11. Building Collaboration (competency)

MANAGING WORK (leadership factor #5)

12. Planning and Organizing (competency)
13. Managing Execution (competency)

MANAGING SELF (leadership factor #6)

14. Resilience (competency)
15. Integrity (competency)
16. Learning Orientation (competency)

For each of the 16 competencies, there’s a nice description of each competency, a graphic indicating which of the 6 leadership factors covers that specific competency, and the 5 core practices that are contained within that particular competency.

Here’s how the Leading Courageously competency looks:

Leading Courageously [definition]: Successful organizations need courageous leaders at every level who display confidence and skill in the use of leadership, power, and authority. They assume responsibility for tackling tough assignments and pursue difficult challenges. Courageous leaders are assertive and appropriately tough-minded without being insensitive. They take initiative, act with independence, and demonstrate strength of conviction in pursuing their leadership agendas. They shape the thinking of others and actively influence upwards and across the organization.

FACTOR: Leading People
COMPETENCY: Leading Courageously
CORE PRACTICE: Authority, Courage, Assertiveness, Independence, Influence

In my opinion, what makes Awaken, Align, Accelerate stand head and shoulders above the rest are the following features:

* Leadership Levels Matrix – it illustrates how leaders (front-line managers, function leaders, and senior executives) at different levels vary by core practice.

* Self-Assessment – evaluates individual development needs, strengths or excessively used core practice behaviors.

* Development Suggestions – development tips for each core practice and sub-grouped by Awaken potential, Align goals, and Accelerate development framework. After completing the self-assessment, leaders are encouraged to focus on suggestions that correspond to the core practice s/he identified as a development need or excessive use.

* Coaching Suggestions – coaching tips for two different behaviors under each core practice grouped by Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework.

* Case Study / Development Plan / Coaching Plan – a real-life case study leading to a sample development plan and coaching plan.

Leadership Levels Matrix for the Business Acumen competency.

The first thing I like in Awaken, Align, Accelerate is the use of a Leadership Levels Matrix (shown above) “a chart that shows how key leadership skills play out at the manager, function leader, and senior executive levels of the pipeline” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 7). This chart/matrix illustrates how leaders at different levels (managers, function leaders, senior executives) vary by core practice. Let’s take a closer look.

For the Business Acumen competency and the Operating Models core practice, we can see “How Leaders at Different Levels Use Business Acumen” (see figure above). For front-line managers, it’s about recognizing how their areas of responsibility contribute to the bottom line. For function leaders, it’s about knowing the organization’s business model and how it operates. And for the senior executives, it’s about enhancing and evolving business models that fuel profitable growth.

As MDA Leadership explains: “Success looks different at different leadership levels [and] successful transitions to a new level [of leadership] involves developing the right skills and behaviors. . . . To successfully navigate from one level to the next, leaders need to understand the behavior differences and develop strategies for closing the gap” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 6).

Development Suggestions (Part 1) for the Empowerment core practice of the Team Leadership competency

 

Development Suggestions (Part 2) for the Empowerment core practice of the Team Leadership competency

Similar to Korn/Ferry’s FYI book, MDA Leadership’s Awaken, Align, Accelerate book features “Development Suggestions” (shown above) which are development tips. Development Suggestions are provided for each core practice and sub-grouped by Awaken potential, Align goals, and Accelerate development framework. After completing the self-assessment, leaders are encouraged to focus on suggestions that correspond to the core practice s/he identified as a development need or excessive use. In the example shown above, we see Development Suggestions for the Empowerment core practice of the Team Leadership competency.

Coaching Suggestions for the Utilization core practice in the Team Leadership competency

Another thing I like is the Coaching Others section for each competency. Here, the Awaken, Align, Accelerate book really shines as it demonstrates how to coach others. Indeed, the Introduction page of the book states: “Developing yourself and coaching others are the central themes of this guide” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 1). In the example shown above, we see Coaching Suggestions for the Utilization core practice of the Team Leadership competency.

Finally, MDA Leadership uses an IMPACT Coaching Steps process (shown above) that is mapped to their Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework. Using a pneumonic in the word IMPACT (Increase INSIGHT, MOTIVATE change, PLAN goals, ALIGN expectations, CREATE teachable moments, TRACK progress), MDA Leadership paired two coaching steps for each phase of their Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework.

Mapping the IMPACT Coaching Steps onto each phase of the Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework is a brilliant move as it ties the coaching process with MDA Leadership’s three-phase (Awaken, Align, Accelerate) model. It shows that there’s been a great deal of thought behind both the overall framework/model as well as the tactical tools and tips shared throughout the book.

MDA Leadership’s approach to leadership development is built on the interaction of three concepts (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011):

1. Talent Pipeline – an overarching context to understanding the leadership requirement at different levels within an organization. A talent pipeline illustrates the skills, knowledge, and values needed in leadership across levels of any organizations. To successfully navigate from one level to the next, leaders need to understand the behavior differences and develop strategies for closing the gap (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011).

2. Leadership Competency Model – a model for defining the knowledge, skills, and behaviors required across different levels of leadership. Although many organizations have defined cascading leadership models, few have integrated their models with the pipeline context in as much detail as MDA Leadership presented in the Awaken, Align, Accelerate book (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011).

3. Awaken, Align, Accelerate – a simple but elegant framework to help leaders develop themselves and coach others (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011).

The Awaken, Align, Accelerate Framework

“The Awaken, Align, Accelerate framework represents three crucial phases in a leader’s growth. Each phase is critical for meaningful and sustained development to occur. Leaders cycle through these phases each time they experience new insights, practices, and results at different levels of the talent pipeline” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 11).

  • Awaken leaders to growth opportunities and build awareness of their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Align their skills and experiences with the priorities and needs of the business.
  • Accelerate their ability to take on new responsibilities and deliver superior results.

Phase 1: Awaken Your Potential

“The Awaken phase is about helping leaders understand their impact through honest assessment. It combines taking stock of their current strengths and development opportunities as well as identifying what they want to achieve. . . . [L]eaders gain increased awareness about their leadership style, skills, and values. They also learn how their behavior affects others as well as their own performance and results. . . . The Awaken phase can give leaders a comprehensive understanding of how others perceive them and how they see themselves” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 12).

Phase 2: Align Your Goals

“The Align phase is the intersection between a leader’s personal development goals and the business agenda–what the organization needs from that leader to deliver strong results today and into the future. By understanding the business context for the leader’s development goals and aligning them with business outcomes, both the leader and the organization are positioned to deliver stronger results and achieve greater potential” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 13).

Phase 3: Accelerate Your Performance

“The Accelerate phase [is about] designing and deploying intentional development strategies that help enhance leadership performance on the most vital priorities. It leverages outcomes from the Awaken and Align phases, focusing development efforts on what is most critical. This phase is about executing the plan to ensure development actually happens through seeking new experiences, gaining additional knowledge, and practicing key leadership skills and behaviors. The Accelerate phase is the how and when of development” (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011, p. 13).

Takeaway: Awaken, Align, Accelerate is an impressive body of work from consultants at MDA Leadership. No book review (including this one) can do it justice simply because of the depth and breadth of its content. This is not a book you can read and put away, especially since it’s a reference guide. Instead, you turn to it, time and time again, as a useful leadership and coaching reference. This incredible book is helpful to: (1) leaders who want to develop themselves and coach others, (2) coaches who will benefit from its suggestions and tips, and (3) human resources professionals exploring a leadership model & competencies. MDA Leadership’s Awaken, Align, Accelerate now occupies a prominent place on my bookshelf. It’s an invaluable leadership and coaching guide. The beautiful layout of the book (great use of colors, white space, bullets, tables, and charts), the manageable set of 16 leadership competencies with clear descriptions, the use of a Leadership Levels Matrix for each competency, the Coaching Others section for each competency, and the Case Study / Development Plan / Coaching Plan for each competency all combine to propel MDA Leadership’s Awaken, Align, Accelerate to the top of my “Highly Recommended List” – earning my absolute highest recommendation!

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

Reference

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

Disclosure: I purchased Awaken, Align, Accelerate: A Guide to Great Leadership on my own.

Does The Physical Workspace Have An Impact On Creativity?

I was asked by a writer for my thoughts about physical workspaces (e.g., open office layout, green landscapes, expansive views, etc.) and whether or not they impact creativity.

Here’s my response (additional comments have been added):

Creativity can be defined as coming up with new and useful ideas (Amabile, 1998). Professor Teresa Amabile (2012) developed a 4-component model of creativity. In the model, creativity is based on domain-relevant skills (expertise), creative-thinking skills, intrinsic motivation, and the social environment in which a person works.

In a 1998 Harvard Business Review article, Amabile wrote:

“Another resource that is misunderstood when it comes to creativity is physical space. It is almost conventional wisdom that creative teams need open, comfortable offices. Such an atmosphere won’t hurt creativity, and it may even help, but it is not nearly as important as other managerial initiatives that influence creativity. Indeed, a problem we have seen time and time again is managers paying attention to creating the “right” physical space at the expense of more high-impact actions, such as matching people to the right assignments and granting freedom around work processes.” -Professor Teresa M. Amabile (1998)

She would further refine her position in her Componential Theory of Creativity (2012).

“Research in organizational settings has revealed a number of work environment factors that can block creativity, such as norms of harshly criticizing new ideas; political problems within the organization; an emphasis on the status quo; a conservative, low-risk attitude among top management; and excessive time pressure. Other factors can stimulate creativity, such as a sense of positive challenge in the work; work teams that are collaborative, diversely skilled, and idea-focused; freedom in carrying out the work; supervisors who encourage the development of new ideas; top management that supports innovation through a clearly articulated creativity-encouraging vision and through appropriate recognition for creative work; mechanisms for developing new ideas; and norms of actively sharing ideas across the organization.” -Professor Teresa M. Amabile (2012)

“Creativity requires a confluence of all components; creativity should be highest when an intrinsically motivated person with high domain expertise and high skill in creative thinking works in an environment high in supports for creativity.” -Professor Teresa M. Amabile (2012)

Regarding creativity and the physical work environment or workspace, I think this quote from Professor Amabile’s interview is especially noteworthy:

“When I’ve done broad open ended studies of people trying to be creative in organizations, I [Teresa Amabile] ask them to describe a highly creative event from their recent work experience where they or their team did something highly creative and then contrast that with an uncreative event or project where they needed creative ideas and it just didn’t just come together. People talk about a lot of things when they describe these instances, and rarely do they mention the physical environment they are working in.” -Professor Teresa M. Amabile

Takeaway: Workspaces do not need to be beautifully designed or have unconventional layouts in order to spark creativity. In Professor Amabile’s writings about creativity and the social environment component of her creativity model she emphasized the importance of managerial practices and the impact on creativity and the leader’s role in creating the right processes and workplace climates to enhance creativity. Professor Amabile cautions against focusing too much on creating the “right” physical space “at the expense of more high-impact actions, such as matching people to the right assignments and granting freedom around work processes” (Amabile, 1998).

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

References

Amabile, T. M. (1998). How to Kill Creativity. Harvard Business Review, 76(5), 76-87. https://hbr.org/1998/09/how-to-kill-creativity

Amabile, T. M. (2012). Componential Theory of Creativity. Working Paper 12-096. Retrieved from http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/12-096.pdf

Stringer, L. (2016, April 13). Unlocking Creativity at Work: An Interview with Teresa Amabile, Professor and Director of Research at Harvard Business School. http://www.leighstringer.com/interview-teresa-amabile-creativity-guru-director-research-harvard-business-school/

Book Review: The Leadership Challenge, 6th Edition

“The notion that there are only a few great people who can lead others to greatness is just plain wrong. Likewise, it is wrong to suggest that leaders come only from large, or small, or already great, or new organizations, or from established economies, or from certain industries, functions, or disciplines. The truth is leadership is an identifiable set of skills and abilities that are available to anyone.”
—Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

This paragraph succinctly sums up the book:

“The Leadership Challenge is about how leaders mobilize others to want to get extraordinary things done in organizations. It’s about the practices leaders use to transform values into actions, visions into realities, obstacles into innovations, separateness into solidarity, and risks into rewards. It’s about leadership that makes a positive difference in the workplace and creates the climate in which people turn challenging opportunities into remarkable successes” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. xi).

The first edition of The Leadership Challenge came out in 1987. The fifth edition (2012) marked the 25th anniversary of the book and the sixth edition (2017) marks the 30th anniversary. The sixth edition has been revised to address current challenges and includes more international examples and a focus on business issues.

It is remarkable how The Leadership Challenge and The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership model have withstood the test of time and continue to be so well received. I think two factors play important roles in its longevity: (1) The Leadership Challenge is evidence-based, and (2) Kouzes & Posner are skilled in nicely weaving case studies of real people demonstrating the practices of exemplary leadership throughout the book that it actually reads and flows well.

At the heart of The Leadership Challenge is The Five Practices framework, which resulted from analysis of thousands of case studies and millions of survey responses (Kouzes & Posner, 2017). Kouzes and Posner illustrate The Five Practices framework with hundreds of examples of real people doing real things. With each new edition of the book, the research, stories/cases, and examples of what people do when they are at their best as leaders are updated.

“The more we research and write about leadership, the more confident we become that leadership is within the grasp of everyone. The opportunities for leadership are boundless and boundaryless” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. xii).

“While the context of leadership has changed dramatically over the years, the content of leadership has not changed much at all. The fundamental behaviors and actions of leaders have remained essentially the same, and they are as relevant today as they were when [Kouzes and Posner] began [their] study of exemplary leadership” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 13).

Kouzes and Posner began and continue with a very basic question, “What did you do when you were at your personal best as a leader?” The stories, behaviors, and actions that the leaders described led to the creation of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model. “When leaders do their best, they Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. xii).

According to Kouzes and Posner, the Ten Commitments of Leadership—the essential behaviors that leaders employ to make extraordinary things happen—explain the fundamental principles that support each of The Five Practices.

  • Practice #1: Model the Way
    • Commitment 1. Clarify values by finding your voice and affirming shared values.
    • Commitment 2. Set the example by aligning actions with shared values.
  • Practice #2: Inspire a Shared Vision
    • Commitment 3. Envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities.
    • Commitment 4. Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.
  • Practice #3: Challenge the Process
    • Commitment 5. Search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and looking outward for innovative ways to improve.
    • Commitment 6. Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience.
  • Practice #4: Enable Others to Act
    • Commitment 7. Foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships.
    • Commitment 8. Strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence.
  • Practice #5: Encourage the Heart
    • Commitment 9. Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.
    • Commitment 10. Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community.

After analyzing thousands of leadership experiences, Kouzes and Posner found, and continue to find, that “regardless of the times or settings, individuals who guide others along pioneering journeys follow surprisingly similar paths. Although each experience was unique in its individual expression, there were clearly identifiable behaviors and actions that made a difference” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 12).

When making extraordinary things happen in organizations, leaders engage in The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership (Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart).

“These leadership practices are not the private purview of the people we studied. Nor do they belong to a few select shining stars. Leadership is not about personality. It’s about behavior. The Five Practices are available to anyone who accepts the leadership challenge—the challenge of taking people and organizations to places they have never been before. It is the challenge of moving beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 13).

Practice #1: Model the Way
“To effectively Model the Way, you must first be clear about your own guiding principles. You must clarify values by finding your voice” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 14). However, because a leader’s values don’t exist in a vacuum, he will also need to affirm the shared values of the group.

“No one will believe you’re serious until they see you doing what you’re asking of others. You either lead by example or don’t lead at all.” —Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

“Deeds are far more important than words when constituents want to determine how serious leaders really are about what they say. Words and deeds must be consistent” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 14).

Practice #2: Inspire a Shared Vision
Leaders imagine an exciting and attractive future for their organizations. They envision and dream about what could be and they wholeheartedly believe in those dreams, and they’re confident in being able to make extraordinary things happen.

“Leaders envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 15). They need to make something happen, change how things are, and create something that no one has created before.

“You can’t command commitment; you have to inspire it. You have to enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 15).

Practice #3: Challenge the Process
“Challenge is the crucible for greatness. Every single personal-best leadership case involved a change from the status quo. Not one person achieved a personal best by keeping things the same” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 16).

“Leaders are pioneers willing to step out into the unknown. However, leaders aren’t the only creators or originators of new products, services, or processes. Innovation comes more from listening than from telling, and from constantly looking outside of yourself and your organization for new and innovative products, processes, and services” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 16).

Practice #4: Enable Others to Act
“Grand dreams don’t become significant realities through the actions of a single person. Achieving greatness requires a team effort. It requires solid trust and enduring relationships. It requires group collaboration and individual accountability” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 17).

“[C]onstituents don’t perform at their best or stick around for very long if they feel weak, dependent, or alienated. When you strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence, they are more likely to give it their all and exceed their own expectations” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 18).

Practice #5: Encourage the Heart
“Being a leader requires showing appreciation for people’s contributions and creating a culture of celebrating the values and victories by creating a spirit of community” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 19).

“Believing in others is an extraordinarily powerful force in propelling greater performance.” —Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

Encouraging the heart is not about being pretentious or phony in order to create a false sense of camaraderie. It is not something you can fake. “Celebrations and rituals, when done in an authentic way and from the heart, build a strong sense of collective identity and community spirit that can carry a group through extraordinarily tough times” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 19).

The Five Practices Make a Difference

“Exemplary leader behavior makes a profoundly positive difference in people’s commitment and performance at work.”
—Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership are the core leadership competencies that emerged from Kouzes & Posner’s analysis of thousands of Personal-Best Leadership Experience cases.

“These five leadership practices—Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart—provide an operating system for what people are doing as leaders when they are at their best, and there’s abundant empirical evidence that these leadership practices matter. Hundreds of studies have reported that The Five Practices make a positive difference in the engagement and performance of people and organizations” Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 20).

After reviewing responses from more than three million people around the world to the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI), a 360-degree instrument assessing how often leaders engage in The Five Practices, Kouzes and Posner said this:

“Those leaders who more frequently use The Five Practices are considerably more effective than their counterparts who use them less frequently” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 20).

How a leader behaves is what explains the difference in why people work hard, how committed they are, and their pride and productivity (Kouzes & Posner, 2017).

Leadership Is a Relationship

“No leader has ever gotten anything extraordinary done by working solo.” —Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

“[L]eaders don’t make extraordinary things happen all by themselves” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 28).

“Leaders mobilize others to want to struggle for shared aspirations, and this means that, fundamentally, leadership is a relationship. Leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 26).

What People Look For and Want from Their Leaders

The top 4 characteristics that followers believe a leader—someone they would willingly follow—should possess are:

  1. honest,
  2. forward-looking,
  3. competent, and
  4. inspiring.

What people look for in a leader (a person who they would be willing to follow) has been remarkably consistent over time (as a matter of fact, over three decades), and does not significantly vary across countries, cultures, ethnicities, organizational functions and hierarchies, genders, levels of education, and age groups (Kouzes & Posner, 2017).

Credibility Is the Foundation

“People want to follow leaders who are, more than anything, credible. Credibility is the foundation of leadership. Constituents must be able, above all else, to believe in their leaders. For them to willingly follow someone else, they must believe that the leader’s word can be trusted, that she is personally passionate and enthusiastic about the work, and that she has the knowledge and skill to lead” (Kouzes & Posner, 2012, p. 37).

“Constituents also must believe that their leader knows where they’re headed and has a vision for the future. An expectation that their leaders be forward-looking is what sets leaders apart from other credible individuals” (Kouzes & Posner, 2012, p. 37).

Kouzes-Posner First Law of Leadership: If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message.

Kouzes-Posner Second Law of Leadership: DWYSYWDDo What You Say You Will Do.

What I Miss from the 5th Edition That Is Not in the 6th Edition:

In the 5th Edition, there’s a 1-page summary at the beginning of each of the five practices (i.e., Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart). It’s great because it served as a brief introduction to each practice AND touched on each of the two Commitments. Each practice has two Commitments of Leadership [10 Commitments total; 2 Commitments for each of the 5 Practices; each Commitment has its very own chapter].

A Brief Comparison Between The 5th and 6th Editions:

For a short comparison between the 5th and 6th editions, I chose two cases. The first case is under the “Make Something Happen” section in the “Search for Opportunities” chapter. The second case is located under the “Educate and Share Information” section in the “Strengthen Others” chapter.

The 6th edition does a nicer job integrating real world examples and comments in support of the 10 commitments.

For instance, under the “Make Something Happen” section in the “Search for Opportunities” chapter, in the story about Emily Taylor and how she made something happen, I found that the 6th edition made better use of Emily’s own words to powerfully illustrate the idea that high performers work beyond their job descriptions and recognize opportunities that others do not (Kouzes & Posner, 2017). In the 5th edition, the example Kouzes and Posner (2012) provided [under the “Make Something Happen” section in the “Search for Opportunities” chapter] and their use of that person’s words weren’t as compelling in bringing that same idea (i.e., making something happen) to life.

Similarly, under the “Educate and Share Information” section in the “Strengthen Others” chapter, the real-life example of Jeff Allison’s situation (in the 6th edition) and how he was able to strengthen others by investing in time and initiatives that developed their skills and fostered their confidence was better than the example provided in the 5th edition — again, I believe it’s because Kouzes and Posner selected better real-life examples and made better use of the actual quotes to support the concepts being discussed as well as bring them to life.

What I Really Like:

There are 13 chapters in all in the 6th edition, with 10 chapters covering the Ten Commitments of Leadership (these are essential behaviors that leaders employ to make extraordinary things happen). The Ten Commitments of Leadership also explain the fundamental principles that support each of The Five Practices (Kouzes & Posner, 2017).

At the end of each of the Commitments of Leadership chapter (two chapters for each practice [10 Commitments total; 2 for each Practice]), there’s a very helpful and practical “Take Action” section that tells you “what you need to do to make this leadership practice an ongoing and natural part of your behavioral and attitudinal repertoire” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. xiv).

Visually, two dramatic changes are welcomed surprises with the 6th edition of The Leadership Challenge. First, the updated charts and graphics to color really make the model and ideas more striking and appealing. Second, the 6th edition uses heavier and bright white paper to print the text on and this makes it much easier to read. I had a hard time reading the 5th edition because of the color of the paper (I’m referring to the hard copy of the book).


Summary: The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership model—the backbone of The Leadership Challenge book—states that leadership is an observable set of similar patterns of behavior (skills and abilities) that can be taught and learned by everyone. Three decades of research provide strong and enduring support for the model. When leaders are at their personal best, they demonstrate five core practices: they Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. Credibility is the foundation of every leader-follower relationship. For leaders to be viewed as credible, they need to consistently do what they say they will do (DWYSYWD). Finally, followers look for and expect four characteristics from their leaders (someone they would willingly follow): honest, competent, inspiring, and forward-looking. These four prerequisites for leadership have stood the test of time and geography.

The Leadership Challenge is a compelling, evidence-based, practical, and delightful masterpiece. Kouzes and Posner skillfully weave real examples and actual words of ordinary people achieving extraordinary things in their organizations throughout to support decades of empirical data. To ensure that they drive their points home, they include ten “Take Action” sections summarizing what you need to do to make each leadership practice a part of your daily repertoire. The result is an extremely robust, yet eminently practical model of leadership development. With substance (30 years’ worth of data and counting) and stories (hundreds of them) to bring the substance to life, The Leadership Challenge is a must-read for anyone interested in the study and practice of leadership. It is truly a book that should be required reading for both leaders and followers. As Kouzes and Posner aptly point out, we’re only able to see a complete picture of leadership by asking followers what they admire and look for in a leader. The Leadership Challenge earns my highest recommendation.

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

References

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The Leadership Challenge (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2017). The Leadership Challenge (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Disclosure: I received The Leadership Challenge (6th ed.) as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Book Review: The Power of Positive Leadership

NOTE: For this book review, I intentionally and excessively quoted the author throughout the post. I do this for two reasons: (1) I prefer to have the author’s words speak for themselves rather than me interpreting, generalizing, or inadvertently misinterpreting the intent, and (2) It helps you, the readers, see the quality of the author’s work/writing.

I never thought I would be reading and reviewing a book by Jon Gordon. The simple reason is that I’m not a fan of books written in a fable format. In fact, I try to avoid them as I find them especially painful to read. If I wanted a fable, I would much rather read one from Aesop or the Bible. Many of Gordon’s previous books were written in a “business fable” format (e.g., The Energy Bus is a story about George who is forced to take the bus because of a flat tire and learns 10 secrets for approaching life and work; The No Complaining Rule is a story about Hope, head of Human Resources, charged with finding a solution to overcome the biggest challenge in her company’s history; and Training Camp is a story of Martin Jones, an un-drafted rookie trying to make it to the bright lights and big money of the NFL).

Gordon’s latest book, The Power of Positive Leadership, is not written in a fable format so I decided to review it. In this book, Gordon shares the lessons he’s learned about positive leadership and provides a positive leadership framework.

“Positive leadership is not about fake positivity. It is the real stuff that makes great leaders great . . . Throughout history we see it’s the optimists, the believers, the dreamers, the doers, and the positive leaders who change the world” (Gordon, 2017, p. 9).

Gordon says he has two goals for the book: (1) “to explain how and why positive leaders make a difference” and (2) “to provide a simple framework filled with practical ideas that will help anyone become a positive leader” (Gordon, 2017, p. 5).

“Being a positive leader doesn’t just make you better; it makes everyone around you better” (Gordon, 2017, p. 1).

The Power of Positive Leadership Framework:

1. Positive Leaders Drive Positive Cultures

Southwest Airlines arrived at the decision to not charge baggage fees because charging would not reflect their culture and their goal of providing friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.

“As a positive leader, you can’t just show the way and talk about the way. You must also lead the way. You must live your culture and know that it is an extension of who you are as a leader” (Gordon, 2017, p. 21)

“When you create a culture worth fighting for and invest in your people to the degree that they want to fight for your culture and for each other, your organization will have grit and strength to overcome the challenges you face and become an unstoppable and positive force” (Gordon, 2017, p. 27).

2. Positive Leaders Create and Share a Positive Vision

“A positive leader sees what’s possible and then takes the next steps to rally and unite people to create it. Every invention, project, creation, and transformation starts with an idea, an imagination, and a vision of what’s possible” (Gordon, 2017, p. 31-32).

“Positive leaders tap into the power of a vision and find a way forward” (Gordon, 2017, p. 31). To rally people to follow them, positive leaders have to be able to “articulate and communicate [their] vision in a simple, clear, bold, and compelling way” (Gordon, 2017, p. 32).

“The vision a positive leader creates and shares serves as a North Star that points and moves everyone in an organization in the right direction. The leader must continually point to this North Star and remind everyone that this is where we are going” (Gordon, 2017, p. 33).

“A leader who shares a vision and a way forward is a dealer in hope, a believer in the impossible, a champion of what’s possible, and a coach who guides and inspires a team to keep improving, and keep moving forward” (Gordon, 2017, p. 33).

A positive leader needs to carry a telescope and a microscope. The telescope helps the leader and his team keep their eyes on the North Star (the vision) and the big picture. The microscope helps the leader to zoom in and focus on what needs to be accomplished in the short-term to realize the vision in the telescope.

“If you only have a telescope, then you’ll be thinking about your vision all the time and dreaming about the future but not taking the necessary steps to realize it. If you only have a microscope, then you’ll be working hard every day but set-backs and challenges will likely frustrate and discourage you because you’ll lose sight of the big picture” (Gordon, 2017, p. 34).

3. Positive Leaders Lead with Optimism, Positivity, and Belief

“Optimism, positivity, and belief are the fuel that positive leaders need to keep moving forward and drive results” (Gordon, 2017, p. 47).

“If you don’t have optimism and belief, you can’t share it. If you don’t have it, you can’t transform your team and organization with it. It starts first and foremost with you” (Gordon, 2017, p. 51).

“Every moment and every situation presents to us an opportunity to see and experience the positive or the negative. Each day we can feed the positive dog or the negative dog inside of us, and whichever one we feed, grows. So feed the positive dog” (Gordon, 2017, p. 52).

4. Positive Leaders Confront, Transform, and Remove Negativity

“Positive leadership is not just about feeding the positive, but also about weeding out the negative” (Gordon, 2017, p. 71).

“One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is that they ignore the negativity within their team and organization. They allow it to breed and grow, and it eventually sabotages the team and organization. You must address the negativity. Confront it, transform it, or remove it” (Gordon, 2017, p. 71).

5. Positive Leaders Create United and Connected Teams

“Positive leaders unite instead of divide. They are able to get everyone on the bus and moving in the right direction. They are able to create unity, which is the difference between a great team and an average team. The more united and connected a team and organization is, the more they are able to accomplish together” (Gordon, 2017, p. 87).

“A team and organization that’s not connected at the top crumbles at the bottom” (Gordon, 2017, p. 88).

“You may not have the most talented people on your team, but if you are a connected team, you will outperform many talented teams who lack a close bond” (Gordon, 2017, p. 92).

6. Positive Leaders Build Great Relationships and Teams

“Positive leaders care about the people they lead. They care about their team and organization. . .Because they care, they do more, give more, encourage more, help more, guide more, mentor more, develop more, build more, and ultimately, accomplish more” (Gordon, 2017, p. 128).

Gordon shared a powerful story about his late mom making a sandwich for him even though she was tired and, unbeknownst to him, was battling cancer.

“Looking back I realize that she wasn’t just making me a sandwich. She was showing me what selfless love and positive leadership are all about. At her funeral, many of her real estate clients and colleagues came up to me and shared countless stories of all the selfless acts of love my mom did for them as well” (Gordon, 2017, p. 133-134).

“We often think that great leadership is about big visions, big goals, big actions, and big success. But I learned from my mom that real positive leadership is about serving others by doing the little things with a big dose of selfless love” (Gordon, 2017, p. 134).

7. Positive Leaders Pursue Excellence

Positive leaders are always searching for ways to make things and the future better. They’re constantly “striving to improve themselves, their teams, their organizations, and the world” (Gordon, 2017, p. 137).

8. Positive Leaders Lead with Purpose

“Every great organization must have a greater purpose for why they exist and every positive leader must be driven by purpose to lead others and make a greater impact” (Gordon, 2017, p. 151).

“Hard work doesn’t make us tired. A lack of purpose is what makes us tired. We don’t get burned out because of what we do. We get burned out because we forget why we do it” (Gordon, 2017, p. 152).

9. Positive Leaders Have Grit

Angela Duckworth’s research on grit: Grit is the ability to work for a long period of time towards a goal. It means to persevere, overcome, and continue moving forward in the face of adversity.

“Positive leaders have grit and find a way to navigate the roadblocks or run through them to move closer to their vision and goal” (Gordon, 2017, p. 169).

“When we look at successful companies and organizations, we see their current success and prominence but what we don’t see is the leadership and grit that powered them through all the failure and moments of doubt, heartache, fear, and pain” (Gordon, 2017, p. 169).

“Whether you are attempting to turn around a company, grow a start-up, build a winning team, or move a successful organization to the next level, you can expect it to take time and perseverance” (Gordon, 2017, p. 170).

DISLIKE:

What I do not like about this book is the tiring references to Gordon’s previous books, in particular The Energy Bus — referenced on 13 pages!

The Energy Bus — referenced 13 times; pp. 4, 15, 16, 17, 41, 42, 71, 72, 73, 80, 83, 84, 183.
The No Complaining Rule — referenced 3 times; pp. 79, 80, 81
The Shark and the Goldfish — referenced 1 time; pp. 57
The Seed — referenced 1 time; pp. 153
The Positive Dog — referenced 1 time; pp. 51
You Win In The Locker Room First — referenced 2 times; pp. 25, 108

If you found what I have just done to be annoying, imagine how I felt having to see the same book titles and words or phrases (e.g., positive dog, energy bus, shark, goldfish) mentioned ad nauseam. At times, I felt as if I were reading an advertisement about one of his other books.

Takeaway: I really wanted to like The Power of Positive Leadership book. I tried to read it with an open mind and I gave the book multiple opportunities to stay on my ‘like’ column while I was reading it. In the end, I found The Power of Positive Leadership to be an OK book. It’s a quick read, probably because it was so repetitive. What’s more, for my taste, there were just too many references to Gordon’s other books, especially The Energy Bus. If you are a fan of Jon Gordon and are familiar with his other books, then you might like The Power of Positive Leadership. There were some good stories and examples in this book. However, reading The Power of Positive Leadership is like attending a long-drawn-out pep rally. Indeed, Gordon shared lots and lots of stories about the sport coaches and athletic directors (basketball, football, baseball) he has worked with. I like the first 15-20 minutes of a pep rally, but if the pep rally goes on for too long and repeats the same materials then you have lost me. Regrettably—and yes I see the irony in giving a negative review about a book on positive leadership that I received for free—I just didn’t find enough in The Power of Positive Leadership book to warrant my recommendation.

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

Reference

Gordon, J. (2017). The Power of Positive Leadership. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Disclosure: I received The Power of Positive Leadership as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

To Deceive Using Truthful Statements is Called Paltering

Lying | Credit: P Wei
Lying | Credit: P Wei

Deceiving Others By Using the Truth

Paltering is “an active form of deception that involves the use of truthful statements to convey a mistaken impression” (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).

We tend to think of lies (i.e., to mislead or deceive others) as misstating facts or actively using false statements (lying by commission) or leaving out important details (lying by omission), but there is a third, very common, type of deception called paltering. Paltering is actively making truthful statements to create a misleading or mistaken impression (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).

“Though the underlying motivation to deceive a target may be the same, paltering is distinct from both lying by commission and lying by omission. Unlike lying by omission, paltering involves the active use of statements, and unlike lying by commission, paltering involves the use of truthful statements. Like lying by omission, paltering can involve failing to disclose relevant information, but unlike lying by omission, paltering involves the active disclosure of true but misleading information: paltering enables would-be deceivers to actively influence a target’s beliefs” (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).

Palterers See Their Action as More Ethical Than Targets Do

What’s interesting is that palterers and those who observe individuals paltering view paltering as more ethical than the targets do. In other words, while people who palter and observers of paltering consider it more ethical than flat out lying, the recipients of that paltering don’t feel the same way. In fact, targets consider paltering to be ethically equivalent to making false statements.

“[A]lthough those who palter believe paltering to be more ethical than lying by commission, once deceptions is exposed targets judge the ethicality of the two forms of deception very similarly” (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).

“When detected paltering may harm reputations and trust just as much as does lying by commission” (Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, & Schweitzer, 2016).

The Brain Adapts To Dishonesty

No matter how we deceive others (lying by commission, lying by omission, or paltering), the more we lie, the more we become desensitized to being dishonest (i.e. the less we feel bad about lying) and our small lies snowball into big ones.

A recent study in Nature Neuroscience discovered that our brain actually adapts to being dishonest, and that habitual lying can desensitize our brains from “feeling bad,” and may even encourage us to tell bigger lies in the future.

“Despite being small at the outset, engagement in dishonest acts may trigger a process that leads to larger acts of dishonesty further down the line” (Garrett, Lazzaro, Ariely, & Sharot, 2016).

The researchers pointed out that repeatedly being dishonest is not enough for dishonesty escalation. “[T]he simple act of repeated dishonesty is not enough for escalation to take place: a self-interest motive must also be present” (Garrett, Lazzaro, Ariely, & Sharot, 2016).

“When we lie for personal gain, our amygdala produces a negative feeling that limits the extent to which we are prepared to lie,” explains senior author Dr. Tali Sharot (UCL Experimental Psychology). “However, this response fades as we continue to lie, and the more it falls the bigger our lies become. This may lead to a ‘slippery slope’ where small acts of dishonesty escalate into more significant lies” (University College London, 2016).

Takeaway: Paltering (actively making truthful statements to create a misleading or mistaken impression) can damage and harm your reputation and trust just as much as lying by commission (misstating facts). The more you engage in being dishonest, the more your brain adapts to dishonesty — putting you on a slippery slope where small lies lead to bigger and bigger lies.

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

References

Garrett, N., Lazzaro, S. C., Ariely, D., & Sharot, T. (2016). The Brain Adapts to Dishonesty. Nature Neuroscience, 19, 1727–1732.

Rogers, T., Zeckhauser, R., Gino, F., Norton, M. I., Schweitzer, M. E. (2016). Artful Paltering: The Risks and Rewards of Using Truthful Statements to Mislead Others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000081

University College London. (2016). How lying takes our brains down a ‘slippery slope’ [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-10/ucl-hlt101916.php

Job Dissatisfaction and Mental Health

Stressed business people with heads in hands | Credit: Caiaimage/Robert Daly
Stressed business people with heads in hands | Credit: Caiaimage/Robert Daly

I was contacted by a journalist with The Guardian, a popular UK newspaper, for my thoughts about why having too little to do at work is bad for your mental health. I am reposting my responses below.

Question: Is having too little to do, or being under-stimulated, at work similar to being overworked?

Answer: If we assume that having too little to do or being under-stimulated at work falls under the umbrella of boredom (Mann, 2007) and that there’s a relationship between boredom at work and employee mental well-being (Warr, 2005), and that mental health is comprised of many dimensions (two of which are subjective well-being and positive self-regard), then being bored at work (not enough to do or not stimulated) and being overworked are similar, albeit they occupy different points on the spectrum. With regard to being overworked, researchers have found that changes in job demands predict future burnout (Schaufeli, Bakker, & Van Rhenen, 2009).

Question: Is having too little to do, or being under-stimulated at work, bad for your mental health? If so, why does this cause stress/poor mental health?

Answer: Related to my previous answer, being bored (having too little to do or being under-stimulated and when associated with poor mental well-being & poor positive self-regard) and being overworked can both be bad for a person’s mental health.

When we talk about an employee’s subjective well-being, it’s important to distinguish between “context-free” well-being and “domain-specific” well-being (Warr, 2005). A person’s well-being with respect to his or her job is a job-related “domain-specific” well-being (i.e., limited to the workplace & job). It’s also possible and we do see this happen, where it’s family-related “domain-specific” well-being. That is, situations in an employee’s family life/environment have a negative impact on his/her subjective well-being and the employee carries this into the workplace.

We can see how just these two streams in the “domain-specific” well-being can be challenging to separate within a person’s mental state of mind. Put it simply, we can take work stress home, but the reverse is also true, we can just as easily take home stress with us to work.

One very important note we need to remember is this: an employee’s job may influence his/her well-being, the employee’s well-being may impact how he/she perceives the job, or characteristics of the employee can determine well-being or perception of the job (Warr, 2005). Also critical to mental health are feelings that we have about ourselves as a person. In addition to subjective well-being is the concept of positive self-regard. We can think of positive self-regard in terms of a person’s self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-worth (Warr, 2005).

Question: What is the optimum level of work for good mental health?

Answer: There is no magic formula for what level of work would contribute to good mental health. As I have shared, the reason is because the factors that lead to good or poor mental health are many and they can be difficult to separate from other related factors (Warr, 2005).

That said, there are still things that organizations can do to help their employees stay engaged in their jobs.

In his book The Best Place to Work, Ron Friedman (2014) shared that one key lesson to getting employees engaged in their work is to offer “opportunities for them to experience autonomy, competence, and relatedness on a daily basis.” He explained that employee autonomy is when workers have a sense of choice. Companies can promote employee autonomy by explaining the reason/logic when tasks are presented, by giving employees the flexibility about how and when a task is done, and by giving employees options on where they can do their work (e.g., telecommuting).

Takeaway: If we tie our discussion about boredom at work (i.e., having too little to do or being under-stimulated) as well as being overworked to mean being generally dissatisfied with a job, then there’s a strong connection between job dissatisfaction and mental health. Research suggests that an employee’s level of job satisfaction is an important factor influencing his or her health (Faragher, Cass, & Cooper, 2005). In analyzing nearly 500 studies involving over 250,000 employees, researchers have found a very “strong relationship between job satisfaction and both mental and physical health,” and that “dissatisfaction at work can be hazardous to an employee’s mental health and well-being” (Faragher, Cass, & Cooper, 2005, p. 108).

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

References

Faragher, E.B., Cass, M., & Cooper, C.L. (2005). The relationship between job satisfaction and health: a meta-analysis. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 62(2), 105-112. doi:10.1136/oem.2002.006734

Friedman, R. (2014). The best place to work: The art and science of creating an extraordinary workplace. New York: Perigee.

Mann, S. (2007, February). Boredom at work. The Psychologist, 20, 90-93. Retrieved from https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-20/edition-2/boredom-work

Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Van Rhenen, W. (2009). How changes in job demands and resources predict burnout, work engagement, and sickness absenteeism. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30(7), 893-917. doi:10.1002/job.595

Warr, P. (2005). Work, well-being and mental health. In J. Barling, E. K. Kelloway, & M. R. Frone (Eds.), Handbook of work stress (pp. 547-574). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Don’t Have to Put Others Down To Feel Better About Ourselves

Woman And Man Hiking In Mountains
Woman And Man Hiking In Mountains | Credit: vm

Throughout 2015, one consistent and recurring theme kept appearing over and over again for me. Whether in the workplace or in a social gathering, I observed that there are people who need to put others down so they can feel better about themselves.

I’m not sure what’s the root cause or causes of this behavior. It might have to do with low self-esteem, being afraid (of failing, of what others might say, etc.), the desire to self-promote, the need to one-up someone else, or a combination of all these (or none of the above). I’m not certain. What I am certain is that engaging in these types of negative, mean-spirited behaviors (of putting others down) shines a very bright and unflattering light on your character, or lack of one.

One reason, I believe, some individuals feel the need to criticize, belittle, disparage, or denigrate another person is because of envy — of the target’s career and financial success.

Very few people get to where they are by accident or mistake. Regardless of how they were back in high school or college, they took active steps toward correcting their path and ensuring that their future states would be markedly different from their current states. Change does not happen overnight (unless you win the lottery). Therefore, from the time that these targets were viewed as “losers” (10/20/30 years ago, back in high school or college) to their current state of career & financial success today, they must have done many things right and worked hard (graduate from school, pass board exams, secure jobs and demonstrate their value to their organizations) to “earn their keep” (i.e., proved they’re worthy of the money, time, and effort their company has invested in them).

Many people today want to skip the hard work part and go straight to the success stage (whatever that might be for them). I attribute this to youth, inexperience, not enough life lessons or scars, not learning from mistakes, no insight into own weaknesses, impatience, arrogance, feeling entitled, feeling envious, and/or bad advice from their friends or confidants.

In my 20s I was hungry for success. I felt that I deserved a piece of the success pie that others seemed to enjoy. In my 30s I thought I had matured enough to earn the respect of others and therefore be given more important responsibilities and a higher place on the organization chart. I was wrong.

Through the ups and downs, the doubts and fears, and getting kicked in the teeth by painful life lessons and experiences, and with the help of good, sound advice from my wife, and my relationship with God, I finally realized that I can be successful but only if I stop feeling sorry for myself, stop playing the victim, stop blaming others or put them down, and start “owning” my situation and life, and come up with a game plan for how to go about getting the job or attaining the education or certifications I had always desired for myself.

It was only when I stopped letting others dictate the story of my life and instead started writing my own life story that I began to enjoy the “success” (for me) that I had once envied of others. The irony is that, as Shawn Achor (2010) shared in his book The Happiness Advantage, when we’re happy first (e.g., not feeling the urge to put others down), then we’re in a better position to start enjoying the success—both at work and in our personal lives—we’re hoping for and dreaming about.

Takeaway: Forget about what other people are doing with their lives. Try focusing on being happy and improving your own life by creating and mastering small, achievable goals instead. When you’re happy with your life, you won’t have time or energy to worry about other people or feel the need to talk bad about them. Remember, you do not need to put others down to lift yourself up.

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

Reference

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

Talking Too Much and Not Listening

Businessmen discussing in office
Businessmen discussing in office | Credit: Morsa Images

In a previous life and time, I worked as a mental health counselor. I was trained in the art of listening and would periodically have my listening skills evaluated by professors, supervisors, and even peers (on videos and in live sessions). It was stressful and sometimes I felt more like the patient/client than the therapist.

After pivoting from the mental health field to the corporate world, I was naïve enough to think that I would no longer need to tap into my counseling skills.

Today, more than a decade after leaving my counseling life behind and much to my surprise and delight, I continue to find my counseling skills useful when interacting with people. In particular, I’m seeing many areas in the business arena that are in desperate need of the skills of a counselor.

Talk First, Ramble On Second, and (Maybe) Listen Third

It is incredible to me how quick business people are to talk before hearing what the other person has to say. Let me share one example: I had scheduled a meeting about a project and prior to the meeting, had sent out an email outlining the purpose of the meeting as well as the limited parameters within which we had to work. Once the meeting started, a woman began suggesting ideas on how to improve things. They were fantastic ideas. The only problem was that these great ideas were not applicable to the project nor were they aligned with the reason for the meeting.

Had she listened to what I was explaining at the start of the meeting — the presentation is limited to one hour so we are limited by what we can do — then she would not have wasted her time talking and everyone else’s time listening to her go on and on.

The business environment demands that a person speaks up in order to be noticed and, sadly, many are too quick to talk rather than listen to another person talk. It’s as if talking first and fast is somehow a sport and the first one to speak wins.

Given this context, we can see that listening achieves the exact opposite effect (i.e., listening means not talking much and not drawing attention to yourself because you’re not talking).

Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) observe that people who are unskilled in listening tend to cut others off or try to finish other people’s sentences. They’ll interrupt as someone is talking to try to force their point across. Because they’re too busy trying to think about their own responses, it’s easy to see that they’re actually not listening. As a result, others form opinions about the person not listening, such as he’s arrogant, or doesn’t care, or does not value others. Perhaps they might think this person is too busy, has selective hearing, or is just impatient or insensitive.

One of the dangers of talking too much and not listening is that you’ll completely miss the point that the other person is trying to make, and even worse, when you restate or relate the conversation (if you can even call it that), you’ll restate it incorrectly because, not surprisingly, you weren’t listening and got the facts and important points all wrong!

Active Listening

In The First-Time Manager, Belker, McCormick, and Topchik (2012) said the ability to actively listen is one of the best-kept secrets of successful management.

Active listeners “encourage the other person to talk” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012, p. 25) and “continue the other person’s line of communication” (p. 26). We know when a person is truly engaged in conversation with us – they’ll look at us when we talk, they will occasionally nod their heads and smile, and they’ll use statements or comments to let us know they’re interested (e.g., that’s interesting; tell me more; why do you think he said that, etc.) and, finally, they’ll restate or rephrase what we just said (e.g., “So let me see if I understand what you just said [then add the rephrase version]. Is that right?” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012)

Here’s a great piece of advice:

“[Y]ou don’t want to dominate the conversation . . . Rather, you want to create a dialogue in which you speak only about one-fifth of the time” (Stone, 2007, p. 77).

One important caution about active listening is that if your only goal is to check off the list of active listening how-tos (i.e., maintain eye contact, nod your head, paraphrase) then even active listening can become mechanical. You MUST concentrate on listening, not just demonstrate that you are (Nichols, 2009).

Takeaway (from The First-Time Manager): “Active listening is one of the most valuable traits [you] can demonstrate for two important reasons: First, if you do a great deal of active listening, you will not be thought of as a know-it-all, which is how most people perceive someone who talks too much. Second, by doing a lot of active listening and less talking, you’ll learn what is going on and gain insights and information you would miss if you were doing all the talking” (Belker, McCormick, & Topchik, 2012, p. 24).

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

References

Belker, L. B., McCormick, J., & Topchik, G. S. (2012). The first-time manager (6th ed.). Washington, DC: AMACOM.

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

Nichols, M. P. (2009). The lost art of listening: How learning to listen can improve relationships (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Stone, F. M. (2007). Coaching, counseling & mentoring: How to choose & use the right technique to boost employee performance (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: AMACOM.

The Pitfalls of Telecommuting

Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet
Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet | Credit: Thomas Barwick

[NOTE: This post was updated January 2017]

I was contacted by a TV Producer at BBC News regarding my thoughts about the pitfalls of working at home. I am reposting my response to her as well as add some additional information which, due to a tight schedule, I was not able to include in my original answers.

Question: People often tout home working as being the future – but it isn’t really happening – at least in the UK. Why Not?

I wrote about telecommuting (working from home or remotely for an employer) back in 2011 on my Workplace Psychology blog. The idea of a flexible work schedule, one that allows us the ability to work from our homes or another remote location is very attractive. We have these grand illusions about working in our pajamas and wearing house slippers while we work.

The reality, however, is that it requires a great deal of structure, time management and commitment, as well as an understanding of telecommuting’s disadvantages on the part of the person telecommuting so that s/he can get work done. Those who telecommute, especially the ones who have done so for an extended period of time will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less.

Perhaps it’s not such a huge surprise then that, in the United States, “the proportion of workers who telecommute has been essentially flat over the mid-1990s to mid-2000s and is no larger among younger cohorts of workers than older cohorts” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 44).

Researchers have discovered that telecommuting “relocates” long hours at the office to remote work, but it does not eliminate or reduce these hours (Noonan & Glass, 2012). Another perspective related to this is that by working remotely, employees are expected (by their employers) to do more work and be available nights and weekends compared to what would be expected of an employee working in the office.

“Rather than enhancing true flexibility in when and where employees work, the capacity to work from home mostly extends the workday and encroaches into what was formerly home and family time” (Glass & Noonan, 2016, p. 217).

“It doesn’t seem like telecommuting is used by people to replace work hours,” Noonan says. “When people telecommute, they use it mostly to do more work.”

Question: Is it because working at home isn’t actually much fun? People miss the social aspect and the moral support of the office?

There’s a nice article back in 2008 about the disadvantages of telecommuting. The author listed 17 disadvantages. She grouped the 17 disadvantages into tow groups: minor problems or trivial annoyances and serious issues or major problems.

To answer your questions, I would say that telecommuting is not as fun as the idea of it, and people do miss the social aspect and moral (and also technical/IT troubleshooting) support. Indeed, one disadvantage of telecommuting is that you have no “tech support,” at least not in the sense of physically running down the hall to the IT department and asking the IT folks for help or calling them on the phone and have them come to your cubicle 30 minutes later to correct a problem with your laptop.

Another disadvantage is creating or having a working structure or routine so you can get going in the morning. When you go to the office, the ritual in the morning is to greet your boss and colleagues and ask them how they’re doing. Some of us grab a cup of coffee and we engage in small talks about the family and kids and then we get started (e.g., check email, make a phone call to a client, attend a meeting, etc.). But when you work from home (unless you purposely create/establish one), you will not engage in this type of daily morning ritual.

You mentioned the social part of physically being in the office. Working remotely is, as the terms describe, a very lonesome activity. Perhaps this is why we’re seeing and hearing more about coworking space and how those who cowork seem to to be thriving, in part because it gives remote employees a feeling that they’re a part of a community.

Forbes.com lists the pitfalls of working remotely in 11 Tips For Being Part Of The Office Team As A Telecommuter. Among these are (1) feeling isolated, (2) being distracted by family members of doing household chores, (3) missing out on office camaraderie.

Finally, remote workers may get lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions (even if they work just as long and hard) due to what is called, “passive face time” or the notion of just being “seen” in the workplace even if we don’t interact with anyone in the office (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

“To be credited with passive face time you need only be observed at work; no information is required about what you are doing or how well you are doing it” (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

“Even when in-office and remote employees are equally productive, our research suggests their supervisors might evaluate them differently because of differences in their passive face time” (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

As they also wrote in their journal article (Elsbach, Cable, & Sherman, 2010), “anecdotal and case study evidence suggests that the display of passive face time by professional workers (e.g. salaried workers in corporate business environments) is interpreted positively by co-workers, supervisors, and subordinates who may observe it” (p. 738). “In fact, it appears that managers in corporate settings use passive face time to judge employees’ work contributions, creating a disadvantage for employees who are seen less often or are not seen as putting in adequate overtime” (p. 738).

Out of sight, out of mind is a real danger for remote workers,” writes J. Maureen Henderson (2015).

Question: It seems to me often to be the companies who push the home working for cost reasons rather than employees – is that your experience?

In the research article by Noonan and Glass (2012), they did bring up that by allowing employees to work remotely, employers increase their expectations of these remote workers by demanding that they (the remote workers) be available more (e.g., nights and weekends). In essence, when telecommuting parameters are unclear and telecommuting policies not firmly established, employees are expected to work more and be more readily available (via phone, email, text, chat, and so on).

This also brings up this view of an always-connected employee. Today’s employees, even ones who do not participate in remote work, actually may do so without even realizing it. Take our smart phones, for example. If you have access to your work email on your own mobile device, then it’s very easy to check it but it can also be stressful at the same time, especially if you check and/or respond to emails after work hours.

Companies are starting to see the connection between an always-connect worker and employee stress and burnout. In 2011, Volkswagen agreed to stop sending emails to its workers when they were off the clock.

Question: How have offices changed over the past 20 years and how will they change in the future?

When we think about how our electronic/mobile devices work and how they help us stay connected or keep us constantly connected (always “on”) to our companies/organizations, we can see that our “workplace” is now mobile. For those who use some type of collaborative tool or cloud storage, they can interact with colleagues and clients across the globe and retrieve information and materials in an instant regardless of where they are in the world, so long as they have access to the Internet and their mobile devices.

Our work is becoming much more dynamic and fluid, thanks to instant or near instant access to information, and in real time. There is a whole new level of collaboration with one another and access to information that 30 years ago would be unheard of. For instance, scientists and researchers today can collaborate on projects and research articles even though they are located physically very far from each other.

That said, I do not see the physical workplace going away any time soon despite the advances in technology. And, I also see and believe in the great value of the face-to-face interaction and collaboration. While I’ve been able to be very productive when working remotely, when I’ve done so for an extended amount of time, I really miss the human connection and my mind and my whole being craves the interaction with (or at least be in or around) a physical community. Even if I don’t interact with anyone, just being in a coffee shop or a coworking space helps inspire me to do great work and for me to see my work as meaningful and also that I have more control over my job.

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

References

BBC. (2012, March). Volkswagen turns off Blackberry email after work hours. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-16314901

Dishman, L. (2013, January). The Future Of Coworking And Why It Will Give Your Business A Huge Edge. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3004788/future-coworking-and-why-it-will-give-your-business-huge-edge

Elsbach, K., & Cable, D. M., & Sherman, J. W. (2010). How passive ‘face time’ affects perceptions of employees: Evidence of spontaneous trait inference. Human Relations, 63(6), 735-760.

Elsbach, K. D., & Cable, D. (2012, June). Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters. MIT Sloan Management Review. Retrieved from http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/why-showing-your-face-at-work-matters

Forbes. 11 Tips For Being Part Of The Office Team As A Telecommuter. http://www.forbes.com/pictures/ehjf45edikj/11-tips-for-being-part-o/

Glass, J. L., & Noonan, M. C. (2016). Telecommuting and Earnings Trajectories Among American Women and Men 1989–2008 [Abstract]. Social Forces, 95(1), 217–250. https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/sow034

GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. Latest Telecommuting Statistics. http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics

GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com. The Shifting Nature of Work In The UK (May 2011). http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/03/Telework-in-the-UK_4-3-11.1-Final-Rev.pdf

Henderson, J. M. (2015, August). Three Pitfalls Of Remote Work That You Probably Aren’t Thinking About. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jmaureenhenderson/2015/08/17/three-pitfalls-of-remote-work-that-you-probably-arent-thinking-about/

Lewis, R. C. (2017, January 18). Telecommuting extends the work week, at little extra pay. Iowa Now. Retrieved from https://now.uiowa.edu/2017/01/telecommuting-extends-work-week-little-extra-pay

London Business School. (2012, August). Want to get promoted stay at your desk. Retrieved from http://www.london.edu/news-and-events/news/want-to-get-promoted-stay-at-your-desk#.Vdk9PNNVikp

Nguyen, S. (2011). Virtual workplaces and telework. WorkplacePsychology.Net. Retrieved from https://workplacepsychology.net/2011/12/21/virtual-workplaces-and-telework/

Noonan, M. C., & Glass, J. L. (2012). The hard truth about telecommuting. Monthly Labor Review, 135(6), 38-45. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/06/art3full.pdf

Schindler, E. (2008, December). 17 Telecommuting Pet Peeves. CIO.com. Retrieved from http://www.cio.com/article/2431521/collaboration/17-telecommuting-pet-peeves.html

Spreitzer, G., Bacevice, P., & Garrett, L. (2015, May). Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/05/why-people-thrive-in-coworking-spaces

Tsukayama, H. (2011, December). Volkswagen silences work e-mail after hours. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/volkswagen-silences-work-e-mail-after-hours/2011/12/23/gIQAz4HRDP_story.html

Job Crafting: Shape, Mold, and Redefine Your Job

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In his book, Drive (2011), Daniel Pink wrote that one of the motivating factors for employees is having the autonomy over four areas of work: what they do, when they do it, how they do it, and with whom they do it. Pink called these the four Ts: employee’s task, time, technique, and team.

When I was working for a school system overseas in the Northern Mariana Islands, serving the islands of Saipan, Rota, and Tinian, I came up with the idea of creating a crisis management workshop. Because there was no such thing in my organization as a 15 percent time (like 3M) or 20 percent time program (like Google), I crafted my job by integrating the crisis management training project into my official job duties.

Job crafting is “actions that employees take to shape, mold, and redefine their jobs” (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001, p. 180). Job crafting is what workers do to redefine and reimagine their job to make it more personally meaningful to them (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013). Job crafting is initiated by the employee, from the bottom up, and not by the manager from the top down.

There are three types of job crafting techniques: task, relational, and cognitive.

Task crafting [Job crafting through changing tasks] is when employees change their formal job responsibilities by either adding or dropping tasks; by changing/altering the tasks; or the time and effort devoted to different tasks (e.g., “a tech-savvy customer service representative offering to help her colleagues with their IT issues”) (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013, p. 82).

Relational crafting [Job crafting through changing relationships] involves altering how, when, or with whom employees interact in the process of performing their job duties (e.g., “a software engineer forming a collaborative relationship with a marketing analyst”) (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013, p. 82).

Cognitive crafting [Job crafting through changing your perceptions] is when employees alter the way they perceive the tasks and relationships that comprise their jobs (e.g., “a ticket salesperson seeing the job as an essential part of providing people with entertainment, not just processing orders”) (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013, p. 82).

While the idea of job crafting evokes images of positive benefits (to the employee and the organization employing that individual), it’s worth noting that job crafting can be negative for the organization. Job crafting is positive when the altered meaning of work and the new identities lead to behaviors that align an employee’s work patterns with the organization’s objectives. “However, if job crafting altered connections to others or task boundaries in ways that were at odds with organizational objectives, job crafting could harm rather than enhance organizational effectiveness” (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001, p. 195).

David Sturt, an executive vice president for O.C. Tanner, shared an interesting story about Ted Geisel and job crafting in a Forbes article.

In the 1950s, “Dick and Jane” books that many schools used were very dry and boring. There weren’t any storyline only illustrations of kids and simple words reused over and over throughout the book.

That all changed when Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel, an illustrator pal of William Spaulding, the director of Houghton Mifflin’s education division, redefined and shaped his job into a more meaningful role and, ultimately, “changed the world of children’s books” (Sturt, 2013).

William challenged Ted (better known as Dr. Seuss) to take 225 vocabulary words that every six-year-old knows and then come up with a story that even a first-grader can’t stop reading. Ted’s talent was as an artist, having already done many children’s books. However, he had only drawn for books that were much longer and never with the limitations such as those set by William (Sturt, 2013).

But rather than refusing or giving up, Ted used that opportunity to reimagine children’s books, reframing his job as a storyteller and illustrator. Initially, Ted thought he could finish quickly, but it took him a year and a half to work within the parameters given to him, dealing with one- or two-syllable words and few verbs (Sturt, 2013).

Intent on creating something great, he told himself that if he could just find two words that rhyme, that would be his book. And find them he did.

The two words Ted found that rhymed? Cat and Hat.

“When Ted Geisel (now known as Dr. Seuss) published The Cat In The Hat in 1957, children’s literature was changed dramatically for the better. It was the first successful book that did not talk down to children. It had wacky illustrations, humor, sarcasm, rhythm, character development, and a story line. There was tension and resolution. The cat challenged authority. The children in the story learned a lesson. It was silly, oddball, and unexpected. Gone were the soft illustrations of Dick pulling Spot in a wagon. Instead, Ted’s book had a cat in a top hat, a know-it-all fish, and two blue-haired ‘Thing’ that made a mess of everything. It was different” (Sturt, 2013).

People, young and old, loved it. But what’s especially revolutionary was that the book was instrumental in promoting phonics as a replacement for rote memorization (Sturt, 2013).

“Imagine the loss to the world if Ted had seen William’s challenge as just another job with unreasonable constraints to crank out; if his eyes weren’t open to new possibilities; and if he didn’t have the mindset to do a little job crafting” (Sturt, 2013).

My own job crafting story involved all three of the job crafting techniques (task, relational, and cognitive [Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013]). I altered my job responsibilities to include crisis management and crisis intervention training in the school (task crafting). I reached out to and partnered with a group of school counselors and, along with a half-dozen counselors, started a Counselors Monthly-Level Sharing Meeting and Training program (relational crafting). Finally, I began to think of myself and my job as a liaison between what was happening at the school-level and what the counselors and administrators were dealing with and my responsibility to assist each school, the school system, and the local community (cognitive crafting).

The impetus for my job crafting came from a frustration with the lack of crisis management training for the schools. Countless conversations with colleagues in and outside the school system coupled with my own observations and experience led to an undeniable conclusion — at least for me — which is that someone needed to start a crisis management workshop and that someone was me. Of course, this was nothing new. Those who live and work on the islands have talked and heard others talk about the need to have some type of crisis management training. The BIG difference, however, is that I not only talk about a problem. I also suggest a solution and then do everything in my power to make that solution work.

As I detailed in my post, Less Talk More Action, there were many challenges and naysayers, but something inside me moved me to keep pressing forward and find creative ways to gain buy-in for my idea.

This crisis management training project was not required nor was it expected of me in my role. But I knew that it would greatly benefit students, teachers, school staff, and the overall school system if we were able to implement this nonviolent crisis intervention workshop.

I would spend nights and weekends absorbed in my project. It was exhilarating and the more I devoted myself, the more energized I became. It truly was intoxicating!

As a result of my being able to work on my own project and select my own teammate, and as validation for my efforts and achievements, I was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation from the CNMI Mental Health Planning Council and even received a Letter of Appreciation from the Executive Director at the Crisis Prevention Institute.

Anyone who’s ever worked on their own project and see it through (from defining the initial problem to the project launch) will tell you the euphoria and sense of accomplishment (and relief) they feel. Beyond any public recognition, accolades, and thanks is the feeling that you did something worthwhile.

Pink said there are three essential elements that motivate us:

1. Autonomy — the desire to direct our own lives.
2. Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

My time working abroad in the Northern Mariana Islands and the crafting of a crisis management training program into my job was one of the most satisfying times in my life (professionally, emotionally, and socially). The ability to have significant control (i.e., autonomy) over what I did, when I did it, how I did it, and with whom I did it was liberating. In addition, what further motivated me was the need to be better at my job and learn new skills and thinking (i.e., mastery). Finally, changing the way I perceived my job role and building new relationships helped me achieve my desire to serve the needs of the children in the school system and the local community (i.e., purpose).

Takeaway: Don’t ever think that you can’t make a difference through your job because you absolutely can. Regardless of what you do or what your position might be in an organization, you can always shape and redefine your job to make it more meaningful. Make sure you do what’s expected of you in your role, but then take the chance to branch out and find creative ways to add something new or different, something that benefits your colleagues, your department, your organization, and your clients.

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

References

3M. Time to Think. Retrieved from http://solutions.3m.com/innovation/en_US/stories/time-to-think

Berg, J. M., Dutton, J. E., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2013). Job Crafting and Meaningful Work. In B. J. Dik, Z. S. Byrne & M. F. Steger (Eds.), Purpose and meaning in the workplace (pp. 81-104). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Dr. Seuss. (2015). The Biography.com website. Retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/dr-seuss-9479638

Goetz, K. (2011, February). How 3M Gave Everyone Days Off and Created an Innovation Dynamo. Fastcodesign.com. Retrieved from http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663137/how-3m-gave-everyone-days-off-and-created-an-innovation-dynamo

Google. 2004 Founders’ IPO Letter: “An Owner’s Manual” for Google’s Shareholders. Retrieved from http://investor.google.com/corporate/2004/ipo-founders-letter.html

Pink, D. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Sturt, D. (2013, June). ‘Job Crafting’: The Great Opportunity In The Job You Already Have. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/groupthink/2013/06/20/job-crafting-the-great-opportunity-in-the-job-you-already-have/

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 179-201.

Stop Telling People You’re a “Thought Leader” Because You’re Not

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Is Thought Leadership Old Wine In New Bottles?

There are certain words/phrases that irk me to no end — thought leader or thought leadership is one of them. I cringe every time I see the words “thought leader” or “thought leadership” on a website or by a person’s name.

David Brooks wrote a satirical, op-ed piece in the New York Times in December 2013 titled, “The Thought Leader.” Describing the life of a “thought leader,” Brooks wrote:

“[The thought leader] doesn’t have students, but he does have clients. . . .Not armed with fascinating ideas but with the desire to have some, he launches off into the great struggle for attention.”

Origin of Thought Leadership

Alexander and Badings (2012) explained in their book “#Thought Leadership Tweet” that the term “thought leaders” originated from Joel Kurtzman while he was editor for Booz & Company’s strategy+business magazine. In “Thought Leaders,” Kurtzman traveled the world for two years, interviewing 10 (2 were interviewed by Glenn Rifkin, the book featured 12) leaders (e.g., executives, authors, professors) from across the globe on issues related to business strategy, growth, and HR.

Old Wine In New Bottles

Merely wrapping, repackaging, or pouring old wine into a new bottle does not make it “new wine.” It only means you’re reusing or repackaging an old or existing idea and calling it new.

If you read a thought leader’s writings today, you will rarely find references or citations to ideas he or she borrowed from. These thought leaders tend to take credit for ideas that are, in fact, not new but rather have been around for decades.

For these individuals, their notion of thought leadership is pouring old wine into a new bottle and calling it new wine. Giving themselves the label of being a thought leader and selling this idea to others adds to their pseudo credibility.

I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to be regarded as a thought leader?

What (and Who) Is a Thought Leader?

“Thought leaders advance the marketplace of ideas by positing actionable, commercially relevant, research-backed, new points of view.” -Liz Alexander and Craig Badings

Many consultants are calling themselves thought leaders in the hopes that others might view them as trusted advisors, experts, or even futurists. However, “‘thought leader’ is not a position you choose to adopt, it is bestowed on you by others” (Alexander and Badings, 2012, p. 14).*

*And yet, ironically, after writing that the title “thought leader” is bestowed upon us by others, Alexander and Badings then said, “individual thought leaders are in plentiful supply” but because companies struggle to establish their thought leadership, that was the reason for them [Alexander and Badings] to write a book to help organizations design and implement a thought leadership campaign (their “proven, five-stage ‘Thought Leadership BluePrint.’”).

Not Thought Leaders, Thought Regurgitators

No matter how hard people convince themselves they’re a thought leader, in all likelihood, they’re not. Most people are not thought leaders. Regurgitating old ideas and gift-wrapping them using fancy, new decorative paper (no matter how nice) does not change the fact that you have not come up with a unique and innovative idea.

I love this quote from an article by Cheryl Kim in the Financial Post.

[M]ost people talking about thought leadership have no clue what it means. And most content labeled as ‘thought leadership’ is actually missing the elements of both ‘thought’ and ‘leadership’. -Cheryl Kim

She goes on to say:

“Thought leaders are defined as such because they articulate a problem about which others haven’t spoken, or because they present a novel approach to solving it. Thought leaders change the way people think and what they do. The best thought leaders are actually trying to address a problem or issue at hand — not just talk about it.” -Cheryl Kim

In their coverage of organization development and summarizing the thinking of some OD leaders, William Rothwell and Roland Sullivan (2005) said this:

“[M]uch of contemporary thinking is not truly new and is a trendy version of previous ideas and practices rather than breakthrough in nature” (p. 178).

In his book, Psychology in Organizations: The Social Identity Approach, Haslam (2004) quoted McGregor as saying:

“What sometimes appear to be new strategies – decentralization, management by objective, consultative supervision, ‘democratic’ leadership – are usually but old wine in new bottles” (p. 231, citing Pinder, 1984, p. 42).

Are Curators of Ideas & Synthesizers of Information Thought Leaders?

Dorie Clark, in an HBR article, cites Des Dearlove (co-founder of Thinkers50, a global ranking of management thinkers) in explaining that some thought leaders are actually curators of ideas and synthesizers of information:

Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Goleman [are] examples of thought leaders who are actually “synthesizers” of information. Says Dearlove, “These guys bring communication skills and an ability to bring complex ideas and make something out of them, but it’s not their [original] research.”

Some Criteria for “Thought Leadership”

Daniel Rasmus wrote a nice article in Fast Company titled, “The Golden Rules For Creating Thoughtful Thought Leadership.” In it, he outlined 11 rules to create and elevate thought leadership:

  1. Don’t sell anything except ideas.
  2. Always give it away.
  3. Have a unique perspective.
  4. Focus on one thing at a time.
  5. Address a specific audience.
  6. Get involved.
  7. Admit what you don’t know.
  8. Make your audience feel smarter.
  9. Market thought leadership like a product.
  10. Hire thought leaders.
  11. Thought leaders should be thoughtful leaders.

Takeaway: Calling yourself a thought leader doesn’t make you one, neither does having a fancy degree, certification, or job title.

“Just because you have a degree from a top university, you’re CEO of a company or you are certified to teach a certain topic doesn’t make you a thought leader.” -Denise Brosseau

“Thought Leaders move and inspire others with innovative ideas, turn those ideas into reality, then create a dedicated group of friends, fans and followers to help them replicate and scale those ideas into sustainable change.”Denise Brosseau

I love what Denise said about a thought leader needing to be patient while possessing the knowledge, expertise, and commitment to put themselves and their reputation on the line:

“[N]ot just anyone can be a thought leader. Thought leadership takes time (sometimes years); knowledge and expertise in a particular niche; a certain level of commitment and a willingness to buck the status quo or the way things have always been done.”Denise Brosseau

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

References

Alexander, L., & Badings, C. (2012). #Thought Leadership Tweet. Cupertino, CA: THINKaha.

Brooks, D. (2013, December). The thought leader. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/17/opinion/brooks-the-thought-leader.html

Brosseau, D. (2015). Thought Leadership Lab. What is a Thought Leader? FAQ. Retrieved from http://www.thoughtleadershiplab.com/Resources/WhatIsaThoughtLeader

Brosseau, D. (2015). Thought Leadership Lab. What is Thought Leadership? Retrieved from
http://blog.thoughtleadershiplab.com/what-is-thought-leadership

Haslam, S. A. (2004). Psychology in organizations: The social identity approach (2nd ed.). London, England: Sage.

Kim, C. (2014, March). Think you’re a thought leader? You’re probably wrong… but here are 3 ways to become one. Financial Post. Retrieved from http://business.financialpost.com/executive/leadership/think-youre-a-thought-leader-youre-probably-wrong-but-here-are-3-ways-to-become-one

Kurtzman, J. (1998). Thought leaders: Insights on the future of business. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pinder, C.C. (1984). Work motivation: Theory, issues and applications. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.

Rasmus, D. W. (2012, December). The golden rules for creating thoughtful thought leadership. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3003897/golden-rules-creating-thoughtful-thought-leadership

Rothwell, W. J., Sullivan, R. L. (Eds.) (2005). Practicing organization development: A guide for consultants (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.