Tag Archives: Business

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 Advisor & Talent Consultant


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.

Managers Are Not Good at Coaching and Developing Their People

In their book, 100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Managers & HR (2004), Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich — three internationally-recognized experts in human capital management — shared that, in general, managers are “very poor at coaching and developing their people” (p. 470).

This may come as a shock to some, but probably not to others. Why? Let’s think about it for a minute. Line managers and mid-level managers are often quite busy and they simply do not have the time or want to set aside quality time for coaching and developing their staff. And even when some managers do make time to coach and develop their direct reports, coaching & developing others isn’t something that gets rewarded by senior leadership (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004).

“Relying exclusively on line managers to coach and develop their people for the long-term is a losing strategy. Typical line managers aren’t good at it, don’t have much motivation to do it, are terminally busy and don’t have or make quality time for it, and are not rewarded for it when the few do actually do it” (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004, p. 472).

According to Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich (2004), the recommended best practice is a coordinated process led by human resource professionals and enthusiastically endorsed by senior executives and with the buy-in and collaboration of line managers and the people being coached.

“An organization’s success depends on its talent—its ability to maximize its talent and to retain it. To be successful, an organization needs to enable its workforce to grow, develop, and mature. Coaching is one way to support continued employee development and can be a powerful tool for improving the performance of both the individual and the organization.” —Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor and Talent Consultant


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

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).


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 Advisor & Talent Consultant


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.

Hire Conscientious People

Businesspeople shaking hands | Credit: Minerva Studio

I found, at Half Price Books, a great little gem of a book (and for only a few dollars!) titled, The Truth About Managing People by Stephen P. Robbins. In it, professor Robbins shared a very useful and applicable tip when hiring people: When in doubt, hire conscientious people!

The APA Dictionary of Psychology (VandenBos, 2007) defines conscientiousness as: the tendency to be organized, responsible, and hardworking, construed as one end of a dimension of individual differences (conscientiousness vs. lack of direction) in the big five personality model.

According to Robbins (2008), findings from numerous research studies reveal that “only conscientiousness is related to job performance” (p. 22).

“Conscientiousness predicts job performance across a broad spectrum of jobs—from professionals to police, salespeople, and semi-skilled workers. Individuals who score high in conscientiousness are dependable, reliable, careful, thorough, able to plan, organized, hardworking, persistent, and achievement-oriented. And these attributes tend to lead to higher job performance in most occupations (Robbins, 2008, p. 22).”

Of course, this does not mean that you ignore other characteristics or that other characteristics aren’t relevant for certain jobs. It’s also not very surprising that individuals low in emotional stability will typically not get hired or, when they do, they usually don’t last very long in their jobs (Robbins, 2008).

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


Robbins, S. P. (2008). The Truth About Managing People (2nd Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press.

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

How To Manage A Team That Keeps Growing

Athletics carrying a crew canoe over heads | Credit: Clerkenwell

I was contacted by a freelance writer working on a blog post for the project management platform, Wrike, for my thoughts about how you manage a team that keeps growing.

Question: What are some notable differences between leaders of small teams (let’s say 10 people and under) and leaders of large teams (100 people and over)? I’m sure there are numerous differences in the way they should communicate, delegate, etc. when managing a small team compared to a large one.

Answer: I will answer this in three parts.

First, generally, effective teams have less than 9 members (West, 2008). For leaders of “large teams,” I would argue that those top leaders, in fact, manage several other subordinate people leaders (who report up to them) who lead smaller teams, and within those teams, there are people leaders who report to them and so on. When we say that a leader is leading a “large team” of 100 employees or more, that one leader actually leads a handful of subordinate leaders, who then lead other subordinate leaders. Thus, one could argue that a CEO does not directly lead 1000 employees. Instead s/he is leading a team of executive vice presidents and senior vice presidents, and those EVPs & SVPs lead several vice presidents (VPs), who then lead a team of directors, who then have managers reporting to them.

Second, there is an important distinction between leading a team versus supervising a team. Leading a team is different from supervising one. Supervisors tend to be directive and advice-giving. A leader of a team, on the other hand, is more facilitative and seeking.

Third, when leading or supervising a team, there are several key things to keep in mind:

  1. The team must have a purpose and tasks. “The only point of having a team is to get a job done, a task completed, a set of objectives met. Moreover, the tasks that teams perform should be tasks that are best performed by a team” (West, 2008, p. 308).
  2. Make sure that there aren’t too many members or the wrong members. “Teams should be as small as possible to get the job done and no larger than about 6 to 8 people” (West, 2008, p. 308). It’s also crucial that “teams have the members with the skills they need to get the job done” (West, 2008, p. 308).
  3. Team processes are developed. Teams need to have clear objectives, meet regularly, participate in constructive debate about how to best serve client needs, share information with one another, coordinate their work, support each other, and review their performance and think about ways to improve it (West, 2008).
  4. Most of all, walk the talk. Make sure that your words and actions are consistent and you’re not saying one thing and doing something else.

“It turns out that the believability of the leader determines whether people will willingly give more of their time, talent, energy, experience, intelligence, creativity and support. Only credible leaders earn commitment, and only commitment builds and regenerates great organizations and communities.” -Kouzes and Posner, The Truth About Leadership

Question: While team growth is a positive indicator for the business, existing/core team members can often be resistant to change the dynamic. Do you have any tips for how you can continue to grow the team without causing too much friction?

Answer: Any time change is required, expect disruption and resistance. To help a team adapt and stick to this change (i.e., adding new members), make sure (Hill, 2009): (1) They believe the change makes sense and that it’s the right course of action (that growing the team is the right thing to do), (2) The person leading the change has the respect of the team; (3) They understand and prepare for new opportunities and challenges that come from the change (of growing the team); and (4) They were involved in planning and implementing the change effort.

Question: Do you have any tips for maintaining team culture even as new members are continuously added?

Answer: Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn (2005) offered some helpful tips to be mindful of in striving to maintain a strong team and organization-wide culture:

  • A widely shared real understanding of what the firm stands for, often embodied in slogans
  • A concern for individuals over rules, policies, procedures, and adherence to job duties
  • A recognition of heroes whose actions illustrate the company’s shared philosophy and concerns
  • A belief in ritual and ceremony as important to members and to building a common identity
  • A well-understood sense of the informal rules and expectations so that employees and managers understand what is expected of them
  • A belief that what employees and managers do is important and that it is important to share information and ideas

Question: Any other anecdotes, statistics, or information to share?

Answer: In “The Leadership Challenge,” Kouzes and Posner (2012) said that leaders practice what they preach. Leaders model the way through their actions and they live by the values they claim.

In a meeting, an executive talked about the qualities necessary to be an effective team member. What was so ridiculous was that the executive did not possess many of these qualities and employees in the department knew that this executive was struggling to meet even the most basic ones on that list. Every person in that meeting knew it, except the executive. After the meeting ended, employees sat around discussing the absurdity of the list and the apparent contradiction between the executive extolling those same virtues that she clearly lacked. What bothered them most was that the executive expected everyone to live up to these values, but she herself struggled to attain even the simplest ones. The hypocrisy of demanding excellence of others when she herself did not have some of that same excellence was what angered the staff most.

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


Hill, L. A. (2009). Managing change: Pocket mentor. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The Leadership Challenge (5th Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2010). The Truth About Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2005). Organizational Behavior (9th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

West, M. A. (2008). Effective teams in organizations. In N. Chmiel (Ed.), An introduction to work and organizational psychology: A European perspective (2nd ed; pp. 305-328). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Reasons Why People Resist or Support Organizational Change

Change Management | Credit: annatodica
Change Management | Credit: annatodica

“Change can generate deep resistance in people and in organizations, thus making it difficult, if not impossible, to implement organizational improvements.”
—Thomas Cummings & Christopher Worley

Oreg, Vakola, and Armenakis (2011), in their 60-year review of quantitative studies involving change recipients’ reactions to organizational change, discovered that recipients’ reactions to organizational change involve cognitive (what they think), affective (how they feel), and behavioral (what they intend to do) reactions.

The authors developed a model of change recipients’ reactions to organizational change that include the antecedents (reasons for the reactions or variables that predict change recipients’ reactions), explicit reactions [how change recipients feel (affect), what they think (cognition), or what they intend to do (behavior) in response to the change], and change consequences of organizational change (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011, Figure 1, p. 4).

So what does a review of the research literature tell us about why people resist change? Oreg, Vakola, and Armenakis’ 60-year review of change recipients’ reactions to organizational change reveals four reasons why people resist change: (1) Personality Traits and Coping Styles, (2) Level of Trust in Management & Organization, (3) How Change Is Implemented, and (4) Perceived Benefit/Harm From the Change.

Four Reasons Why People Resist Organizational Change (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011):

1. Personality Traits and Coping Styles.

  • Personality Traits – Personality traits that are linked to reactions to change include locus of control, self-efficacy, positive and negative affectivity, tolerance for ambiguity, dispositional resistance to change, dispositional cynicism, openness to experience, and neuroticism and conscientiousness (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011).
  • Coping Styles – “change recipients who adopted a problem-focused coping style reported greater readiness for the organizational change, increased participation in the change process, and an overall greater contribution to it” (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011, p. 27).

2. Level of Trust in Management & Organization. The most consistent and strongest relationship with change reactions is the degree to which change recipients trust management (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011).

3. How Change Is Implemented (Change Process). “A participative and supportive process, with open lines of communication, and management that is perceived as competent and fair in its implementation of the change, is effective in producing positive reactions toward the change” (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011, p. 33).

4. Perceived Benefit/Harm From the Change. “A key determinant of whether change recipients will accept or resist change is the extent to which the change is perceived as personally beneficial or harmful. Anticipated benefit and harm constitute straightforward and sensible reasons change recipients may have for supporting or resisting a particular change” (Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis, 2011, p. 33).

In her Pocket Mentor book, “Managing Change,” Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill (2009) shared reasons for people’s reactions to organizational change. Dr. Hill listed nine reasons why people resist change and six reasons why people support change.

Nine Reasons Why People Resist Change (Hill, 2009, p. 47):

  1. They believe the change is unnecessary or will make things worse.
  2. They don’t trust the people leading the change effort.
  3. They don’t like the way the change was introduced.
  4. They are not confident the change will succeed.
  5. They did not have any input or in planning and implementing the change effort.
  6. They feel that change will mean personal loss — of security, money, status, or friends.
  7. They believe in the status quo.
  8. They’ve already experienced a lot of change and can’t handle any more disruption.
  9. They’re afraid they don’t have the skills to do their work in new ways required by the change.

Six Reasons Why People Support Change (Hill, 2009, p. 47):

  1. They believe the change makes sense and that it is the right course of action.
  2. They respect the people leading the change effort.
  3. They anticipate new opportunities and challenges that come from the change.
  4. They were involved in planning and implementing the change effort.
  5. They believe the change will lead to personal gain.
  6. They like and enjoy the excitement of change.

“The difficulty in mastering change lies in the fact that we can’t “program” ourselves to adjust. Human beings are complex and emotional, and some of the stress of change comes from a gap between what we want to feel and do, and what we actually feel. The gap will not go away by ignoring it, but it can be easier to take by recognizing and facing up to one’s real difficulty with change.”
—Dennis Jaffe & Cynthia Scott

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


Cummings, T. G., & Worley, C. G. (2009). Organization development and change (9th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Hill, L. A. (2009). Managing change: Pocket mentor. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Jaffe, D. T., & Scott, C. D. (2003). Mastering the Change Curve: Theoretical background (2nd edition). West Chester, PA: HRDQ. Retrieved from http://www.traininglocation.com/mastering-change-curve-theory.pdf

Oreg, S., Vakola, M., & Armenakis, A. (2011). Change recipients’ reactions to organizational change: A 60-year review of quantitative studies. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47(4), 461-524.

Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)

Bearded man makes business in the web | Credit: golero
Bearded man makes business in the web | Credit: golero

I received an email asking if I would write about Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) from an Industrial and Organizational (I/O) psychology perspective.

Interestingly, much of the research on ROWE has been coming from the field of sociology. Two sociologists from University of Minnesota’s Flexible Work and Well-Being Center, Dr. Phyllis Moen and Dr. Erin Kelly (Kelly is now at the MIT Sloan School of Management), were the original researchers invited in 2006 to observe and study ROWE as it was being implemented at Best Buy (Flexible Work and Well-Being Center, 2015).

Background of ROWE

Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) was pioneered by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson while they were employed at Best Buy. The seeds of ROWE began in 2001 when a leader at Best Buy corporate headquarters needed help to make Best Buy a top choice among talented people who were seeking jobs. A survey was conducted asking employees what they wanted most from work. Overwhelmingly, the answer was: trust me with my time, trust me to do my job, and I’ll deliver results, and be a happier employee too (Ressler & Thompson, 2008). In a pilot program (called Alternative Work Program) that gave employees a choice from a set of flexible schedules, Ressler observed that “if you gave people even a little control over their time they immediately began to see the benefits both at work and at home.” Employees who were in the pilot program were happier and more productive and they didn’t want it to end (Ressler & Thompson, 2008). Thompson joined in 2003 and what was learned during the pilot program began to grow and change. The program was refined and eventually came to be known as Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).

Overview of ROWE

In ROWE, employees can work whenever and wherever they want as long their work gets done. ROWE values delivering results over face time at work. “Job performance is evaluated solely on the basis of whether the necessary results are achieved by employees, not whether they’ve put in ‘face-time’ at the office” (Colquitt, LePine, & Wesson, 2015, p. 155).

The idea behind ROWE is that when employees have control over their lives and they are able to work when and where they feel most productive and they’re able to balance work and family demands, they will be more incentivized to produce.

Ressler and Thompson (2008) wrote in their book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, that ROWE is based on a simple idea:

“In a Results-Only Work Environment, people can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. . .In a ROWE, you can literally do whatever you want whenever you want as long as your work gets done. You have complete control over your life as long as your work gets done” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 3). You can go grocery shopping, take a nap, or go to the movies and never have to ask for permission or tell your boss where you’re going. As long as work gets done and you get results, then it’s your life (Ressler & Thompson, 2008).

Benefits of ROWE

The benefits of ROWE include (Correll, Kelly, O’Connor, & Williams, 2014):

  • Increased employees’ control over their work schedule and improved work–life fit
  • Reduced work-family conflict and negative work-family spillover
  • Positive effect on employees’ sleep duration, energy levels, self-reported health, and exercise
  • Reduced turnover
  • Increased job satisfaction and organizational commitment

Things That Do Not Change under ROWE

There are some things under ROWE that do not change (Kelly & Moen, 2009):

  • Positive and negative home-to-work spillover
  • Family-to-work conflict
  • Overall assessment of health
  • Well-being scale
  • Psychosocial job demands scale
  • Job control scale (decision authority, skill discretion)
  • Job involvement scale
  • Satisfaction with coworkers
  • Satisfaction with manager
  • Work engagement scale
  • Psychological distress
  • Emotional exhaustion

ROWE is Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) to the Extreme

ROWE is a type of flexible work arrangement. Flexible work arrangements refer to choices about the time (i.e, when; flextime or scheduling flexibility) and/or location (i.e., where; telecommuting or flexplace) that work is conducted (WorldatWork, 2005; Allen, 2013).

Ressler and Thompson (2008) point out that in a flexible work arrangement: permission is needed, there are limited options, is management controlled, requires policies/guidelines, the focus is on “time off,” and there’s high demand but low control. In a ROWE, you do not need permission, options are unlimited, it’s employee controlled, requires accountability/clear goals, the focus is on “results,” and there’s high demand but also high control.


“[N]o matter how flexible a nontraditional schedule is it’s still a schedule. Flexible schedule is an oxymoron. Which is why in a ROWE there are no schedules” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 69).

“If you get results, then anything else you do with your time is completely up to you. What work looks like in terms of where it takes place and during what hours is no longer important. You work when and how you work best. You are in complete control” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 67).

The Promise of ROWE

Ressler and Thompson (2008) wrote, “in a ROWE you don’t overwork because there is no incentive to overwork” (p. 198). You don’t have to do all-nighters or be the first in the office and the last one to leave because you are rewarded solely on delivering results. “Once you’ve delivered those results, you stop working and do something else. It’s nice” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 198).

The Fanfare and Fizzle

In 2013, in a complete reversal from its initial enthusiastic endorsement of ROWE, Best Buy terminated the program (Wong, 2013). Under a new CEO, Best Buy cited the urgency to turn around its struggling consumer electronics retail business as the reason for ending its Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) program (Lee, 2013). As the company’s spokesperson explained (Lee, 2013): “Bottom line, it’s ‘all hands on deck’ at Best Buy and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business.”

But Best Buy was not the only organization to try out and then later abandon ROWE. The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) also tried ROWE and soon discontinued the program. A 2011 evaluation of the ROWE pilot revealed that managers were uncertain as to how to evaluate their employees based on their work results. And employees also struggled because they did not understand if they were meeting their expected results (Glazer, 2013).

The Risks and Obstacles of ROWE

Ressler and Thompson argue that ROWE is appropriate in all workplaces but there are situations where it isn’t recommended or appropriate, such as customer service departments, or when employees are new or inexperienced and require more support, or when you’re not certain that team members will complete their tasks at the level of quality and by the deadlines agreed upon (MindTools.com, 2016). As a matter of fact, even researchers of flex work arrangements (Kelly & Moen, 2014) admit that some workers, like those in retail and service positions, must still do their work “at work.”

Despite the promise made by Ressler and Thompson that “in a ROWE you don’t overwork” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 198), there is research on telecommuting that dispute this claim.

In a previous post on the pitfalls of telecommuting, I wrote that those who telecommute (work from home or another remote location) will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less (Noonan & Glass, 2012). In fact, researchers have found that “telecommuters worked between 5 and 7 total hours more per week than nontelecommuters” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 40).

Kelly and Moen (2007) offered this thought when they first began studying ROWE: “Organizational needs—getting the work done—are still emphasized in the ROWE setting, and it is an open question whether increased control is actually beneficial when work demands are very high” (p. 497).

Michelle Conlin (2006) wrote, at the end of her Bloomberg article on ROWE, that, “Some at the company [Best Buy] complain that productivity is up only because many Best Buyers are now working longer hours.”

While a majority of employees say flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting, help them to achieve a better work/life balance (Wright, 2014), evidence suggests that it’s not as rosy as one might think. For example, teleworkers reported more time-based family interference with work (FIW) than did non-teleworkers. Indeed, the ability to telecommute or work from home “may enable negative work and nonwork spillover rather than avert it” (Allen, 2013, pp. 706-707).

“The most telling problem with telecommuting as a worklife solution is its strong relationship to long work hours and the “work devotion schema.”” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 45).

“Since telecommuting is intrinsically linked to information technologies that facilitate 24/7 communication between clients, coworkers, and supervisors, telecommuting can potentially increase the penetration of work tasks into home time. Bolstering this interpretation, the 2008 Pew Networked Workers survey reports that the majority of wired workers report telecommuting technology has increased their overall work hours and that workers use technology, especially email, to perform work tasks even when sick or on vacation” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 45).

Moen, Kelly, and Lam (2013) tested “A key question [regarding] whether ROWE actually reduced employees’ time strain, in terms of reducing their work-time demands and/or increasing their time control” (p. 159). The researchers found that “exposure to ROWE increased time control (time adequacy, schedule control) but did not change time demands (work hours, psychological time demands)” (Moen, Kelly, & Lam, 2013, p. 166).

“ROWE flexibility initiative did not reduce psychological time demands, probably because ROWE-type interventions do not diminish the amount, intensity, or expectations of time investments in work” (Moen, Kelly, & Lam, 2013, p. 167).

Takeaway: A Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) sounds great — as a concept. However, the challenges of implementing and the realities involved in working in a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) can reveal major limitations as to its appropriateness for every workplace. In fact, even researchers of flex work arrangements concede that some workers, such as those in retail and service positions, will still need to continue doing their work “at work.” What’s more, contrary to the claim that “in a ROWE you don’t overwork,” some employees working in a ROWE reported that they actually work longer hours.

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


Allen, T. D. (2013). The Work–Family Role Interface: A Synthesis of the Research from Industrial and Organizational Psychology. In N. W. Schmitt & S. Highhouse (Eds.), Handbook of psychology (Vol. 12 Industrial and organizational psychology, 2nd ed) (pp. 698-718). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Colquitt, J. A., LePine, J. A., & Wesson, M. J. (2015). Organizational behavior: Improving performance and commitment in the workplace (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Conlin, M. (2006, December 10). Smashing The Clock. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2006-12-10/smashing-the-clock

Correll, S. J., Kelly, E. L., O’Connor, L. T., & Williams, J. C. (2014). Redesigning, Redefining Work. Work and Occupations, 41(1), 3-17.

Flexible Work and Well-Being Center. (2015). University of Minnesota. Retrieved from http://www.flexiblework.umn.edu/publications.shtml

Glazer, S. (2013, July 19). Telecommuting. CQ Researcher, 23(26), 621-644. Retrieved from http://library.cqpress.com/

Hollon, J. (2013, March 6). Goodbye ROWE: Best Buy Ends Flex Work Program It Was Famous For. Retrieved from https://www.eremedia.com/tlnt/goodbye-rowe-best-buy-ends-flex-work-program-it-was-famous-for/

Joly, H. (2013, March 17). Best Buy CEO on leadership: A comment I made was misconstrued. Star Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/best-buy-ceo-on-leadership-a-comment-i-made-was-misconstrued/198546011/

Kelly, E. L., & Moen, P. (2007). Rethinking the ClockWork of Work: Why Schedule Control May Pay Off at Work and at Home. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 9(4), 487-506.

Kelly, E. L., & Moen, P. (2009). Brief Summary of the Flexible Work & Well-Being Study. PDF posted on WorkplacePsychology.Net

Kelly, E. L., & Moen, P. (2014, January 23). Building Flexibility Into The Way We Work. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erin-l-kelly/building-flexibility-into_b_4241132.html

Lee, T. (2013, December 13). Best Buy ends flexible work program for its corporate employees. Star Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/no-13-best-buy-ends-flexible-work-program-for-its-corporate-employees/195156871/

MindTools. (2016). Managing in a Results-Only Work Environment. Retrieved from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/managing-results-only-environment.htm

Moen, P., & Kelly, E. L. (2007). Flexible Work and Well-Being Study: Final Report. Retrieved from http://www.flexiblework.umn.edu/publications_docs/FWWB_Fall07.pdf

Moen, P., Kelly, E. L., & Lam, J. (2013). Healthy work revisited: Do changes in time strain predict well-being? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 18(2), 157-172. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0031804

Nguyen, S. (2015, August 22). The Pitfalls of Telecommuting. WorkplacePsychology.Net. Retrieved from https://workplacepsychology.net/2015/08/22/the-pitfalls-of-telecommuting/

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

Ressler, C., & Thompson, J. (2008). Why work sucks and how to fix it. New York: Penguin Group.

WorldatWork. (2005). Flexible Work Schedules: A Survey of Members of WorldatWork and AWLP. Retrieved from https://www.worldatwork.org/waw/adimLink?id=17161

Wong, V. (2013, March 7). How Best Buy Has Changed Its Tune on Flexible Work. Bloomberg. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-03-07/how-best-buy-has-changed-its-tune-on-flexible-work

Wright, A. D. (2014, June 13). 10% Would Take Less Pay to Telecommute, Study Says. Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/less-pay-to-telework.aspx

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 Advisor & Talent Consultant


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

Characteristics of a Team and Barriers to Effective Team Functioning

Businesspeople beginning meeting in office | Credit: Thomas Barwick
Businesspeople beginning meeting in office | Credit: Thomas Barwick

Back in 2010, I posted a short list titled, “Eight Common Problems Teams Encounter.” In it, I reposted the contents of what was shared on Harvard Business Review’s Answer Exchange (it’s now defunct).

I was never happy with that original list and, after looking through the book (Leading Teams: Pocket Mentor [2006]) that was adapted by the HBR Editors and cited in the HBR Answer Exchange post, I struggled for some time with what to do.

Rather than revising that 2010 post, I think it is necessary to write a new and improved article.

First, I believe it’s important to explain just what constitutes a team versus a group:

“The distinction between a group and a team is an important one. All teams are groups, but not all groups are teams. A group consists of people who work together but can do their jobs without one another. A team is a group of people who cannot do their jobs, at least not effectively, without the other members of their team” (Spector, 2012, p. 303).

A team — a type of group — has several important characteristics (Unsworth & West, 2000):

  1. Team members have shared goals in relation to their work.
  2. Team members interact with each other in order to achieve shared objectives.
  3. Team members have well­-defined and interdependent roles.
  4. Team members have an organizational identity as a team with a defined organizational function.

Secondly, the HBR Answer Exchange list of common problems teams face (I’ve uploaded a PDF of the original on my website) included a few problems that I felt should not have been on the list.

In searching for problems that teams face, I discovered professor Michael West’s (2008) list of barriers to effective teamwork that I believe is better and more comprehensive. Dr. West is Professor of Organizational Psychology at Lancaster University Management School. He has spent most of his career conducting research into factors that determine the effectiveness of individuals and teams at work.

Seven Barriers to Effective Team Functioning (West, 2008):

1. A lack of team purpose and tasks. “The only point of having a team is to get a job done, a task completed, a set of objectives met. Moreover, the tasks that teams perform should be tasks that are best performed by a team” (West, 2008, p. 308).

2. A lack of freedom and responsibility. Creating a team and failing to give them the freedom and authority to act is like teaching a person to ride a bicycle, giving them a bike, but then telling them they can ride only in the house (West, 2008).

3. Too many members or the wrong members. “Teams should be as small as possible to get the job done and no larger than about 6 to 8 people” (West, 2008, p. 308). It’s also crucial that “teams have the members with the skills they need to get the job done” (West, 2008, p. 308).

4. An individual-focused organization. “Teams are set up in many places in the organization but all of the systems are geared towards managing individuals. . .Creating team-based organizations means radically altering the structure, the support systems, and the culture” (West, 2008, p. 309).

5. Team processes are neglected rather than developed. Teams need to have clear objectives, meet regularly, participate in constructive debate about how to best serve client needs, share information with one another, coordinate their work, support each other, and review their performance and think about ways to improve it (West, 2008).

6. Directive instead of facilitative leaders. Leading a team is different from supervising one. Supervisors are directive and advice-giving. A leader of a team, instead, is facilitative and seeking. This leader’s role is “to ensure that the team profits optimally from its shared knowledge, experience, and skill” (West, 2008, p. 309).

7. Conflict with other teams. Ironically, the more cohesive and effective a team becomes, the more competitive and partisan they tend to be in their relationships with other teams throughout an organization. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that interteam cooperation is established and reinforced (West, 2008).

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


Donnellon, A. (2006). Leading teams: Pocket mentor. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Nguyen, S. (2010, December 17). Eight Common Problems Teams Encounter. Retrieved from https://workplacepsychology.net/2010/12/17/eight-common-problems-teams-encounter/

Spector, P. E. (2012). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.

Unsworth, K. L. & West, M. A. (2000). Teams: The challenges of cooperative work. In N. Chmiel (Ed.), An introduction to work and organizational psychology: A European perspective (pp. 327-346). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

West, M. A. (2008). Effective teams in organizations. In N. Chmiel (Ed.), An introduction to work and organizational psychology: A European perspective (2nd ed; pp. 305-328). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Don’t Waste Time Trying To Discredit Others


I love this quote:

“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” – James Thurber

In Career Architect Development Planner (4th ed.), in the 19 Career Stallers and Stoppers section is the entry for “Blocked Personal Learner,” Lombardo and Eichinger discussed people who resist learning new behaviors.

Whether in my personal or professional life, when I observe myself and others around me, one of the biggest personal and professional missteps I witness is being a blocked learner. More than blocking learning, I think of it as repelling learning — like repelling it as if it were a mosquito or bug.

My own life lesson has taught me that when you think you know it all, that’s when you know the least. Ironically, the more formal education I receive, the more humble I’ve become. Truth be told, I was not always humble, just ask my wife. My Ph.D. does not (nor should it) signify that I know everything about everything, or everything about many things, or even everything about a few things. Indeed, my Ph.D. really just means that (1) I know a lot about a very specific and small area and (2) I can write fairly well and make an argument for an idea, at least well enough for three other Ph.D. professors to approve my dissertation.

“The funny thing is: The more I know, the more I know how much I really don’t know.” —Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

I once knew a young Asian physician, fresh out of medical school, who was so proud–and made sure others knew–that he was now a medical doctor that I swore he should have had “M.D.” (for medical doctor) tattooed on his forehead!

On professional networking sites, like LinkedIn, I now observe, much to my dismay, individuals going out of their way to put others down and/or intentionally trying to harm other people’s professional reputations. It’s shocking and very sad how “ugly” some people with (and sometimes even those without) advanced degrees treat others! It’s also not surprising that the individuals being targetted are quite successful in their fields.

Lombardo and Eichinger (2006) wrote that three problems for blocked learners are: (1) they are closed (unwilling) to learning new skills and methods, (2) they do not seek input from others (why would they since they think they know everything already), and (3) they are not insightful about themselves.

Two remedies Lombardo and Eichinger recommended for blocked learners:

1. Watch other people’s reaction to you. Observe the reactions of other people to the things you’re doing and saying. It’s easier to do this in the real, physical world than when you’re online. For instance, if others on professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, are upset, irked by, or tired of the offenders’ relentless criticisms and put-downs, they may simply ignore or tune the offenders out or unfollow them. Thus, the offenders will never know that their behaviors turned others off.

2. Signal that you’re open to and interested in what other people have to say. Here, the blocked learners are so closed off from learning that they really don’t care how they are perceived by others. In fact, communication really becomes one-way for them. That is, the offenders use professional networking sites (e.g., LinkedIn) as an educational pulpit, where they view themselves as the expert, know-it-all “professors,” and their role is to teach/educate others. And, they go out of their way to point out flaws, mistakes, bogus, and/or unconvincing stories and writings of other professionals (at least according to their own views and biases). For these offenders, their way to improving yourself and the workplace is the only correct path and they are angry, even offended, that other professionals (in other fields) dare to talk about or share different ways to improving yourself and your workplace.

It’s sad to see how much time these offenders waste tracking other people’s conversations on professional networking sites and then spending time to try to jump in and discredit them. As a father to a toddler and someone lucky enough to have a full-time job, I pose this rhetorical question, “Who has time to do that?” I mean really? In my free time, I like to spend time with my wife and daughter and go the park and play on the swings. I don’t have time nor do I want to spend time trying to find people to discredit. That must be so time-consuming, wasteful, and tiresome!

I often share with my wife and friends that if we’re busy living our own lives and doing our best, we will not have time to worry about what other people are doing! 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.

Thus, in attempting to discredit other professionals who, in the offenders’ eyes, should not be in the business of writing about or sharing personal and professional improvement tips, they (the offenders) end up discrediting themselves and revealing, for all the world to see, their bitterness and resentment of someone else’s success.

As I wrote in an earlier post titled, “Don’t Have To Put Others Down To Feel Better About Ourselves”: 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.

Takeaway: Don’t waste your life and your precious time trying to discredit others. Your way to improving yourself and the workplace is not the only path. Be humble and open to learning from others. Focus on being your absolute best at work and at home. When you are busy living your own life and doing your best, you will not have time or energy to worry about what other people are doing.

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


Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2006). Career Architect Development Planner (4th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Nguyen, S. (2016, January 1). Don’t Have To Put Others Down To Feel Better About Ourselves. Retrieved from https://workplacepsychology.net/2016/01/01/dont-have-to-put-others-down-to-feel-better-about-ourselves/

Why It’s Necessary To Fight Work Stress And How To Do It

Tired businesswoman with head in hands looking away | Credit: Caiaimage/Agnieszka Wozniak
Tired businesswoman with head in hands looking away | Credit: Caiaimage/Agnieszka Wozniak

A writer asked for my thoughts about why it is necessary to fight work stress and how to do it. Here’s my response:

Why We Must Combat Work Stress

There are many work-related problems that crop up as a result of work stress. These are similar to stress experienced outside of the workplace (i.e., involving physical, psychological, or behavioral reactions). Employees complain about and/or experience sleep disorders, inability to concentrate or focus, feeling exhausted or burned out, feeling irritable, engaging in arguments or conflicts with coworkers or supervisors, or withdrawing and isolating from others. As mentioned in the “Mental Health at Work” series, if work/job stress is prolonged, frequent, or intense, individuals are at higher risk for psychological problems, such as depression, bipolar, anxiety, panic attacks, or even PTSD. Collectively, these problems, if left unchecked, contribute to larger organizational issues, such as increased absenteeism, medical/disability cost, high turnover, reduced productivity, etc. Indeed, work stress is a serious and growing problem that harms employees and organizations (Quillian-Wolever & Wolever, 2003).

How to Combat Work Stress

It is easier to make a case for why we need to combat work stress than it is to go about combating work stress. Simply stated, it’s hard to manage stress effectively.

For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) has a resource titled, “Coping With Stress at Work” that suggests 7 steps to managing stress in general (e.g., track your stressors, develop health responses, etc.).

However, what that particular resource and many other resources about combating/managing stress fail to point out is that managing work stress is multifaceted and involves individually-targeted as well as organizationally-targeted interventions. Many resources only touch on the individual’s initiative to manage his/her own stress. That is, it’s about how individuals can take steps to manage their own stress in the workplace.

There are different views about what contributes to work stress. Some say it has to do with worker characteristics (or qualities relating to the worker), while others say it has to do with the working conditions (Barling, Kelloway, Frone, 2005).

What we need to do is think about interventions for work stress in terms of levels (primary, secondary, and tertiary [Leka & Houdmont, 2010]). The primary intervention targets the source of the work stress (i.e, the design, management, and organization of work). When we talk about how workers can better respond to and manage stress, that’s the secondary intervention. Secondary prevention intervention (often called stress management) is about changing the ways that individuals respond to risks or job stressors (Barling, Kelloway, Frone, 2005). Finally, there’s the tertiary intervention that provides remedial support for problems that have already manifested (Randall & Nielsen, 2010).

For an excellent reference on the three levels of interventions (primary, secondary, and tertiary) see the article, “Solving the Problem: Preventing Stress in the Workplace (Booklet 3).” And for a comprehensive understanding, check out all three booklets in the Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series (cited in the links below).

But I don’t want to complicate things too much by talking about the different levels of interventions, so I’ll leave you with some tips for how to fight/manage stress at the individual level (targeting the secondary intervention level).

9 TIPS FOR COPING WITH STRESS [secondary intervention level]
(taken directly from Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series – Booklet 1).

  1. Learn to identify the signs your body is giving you (increased heart rate, clammy hands, difficulties in concentrating, etc.) as this will help you do what is necessary to reduce stress.
  2. Learn to identify what increases your stress; by acting on the causes of stress, you can better control it.
  3. Learn to delegate – don’t shoulder all responsibilities on your own.
  4. Establish a list of priorities as this will help you to better manage your time.
  5. Suggest changes at work, talk about irritating situations with your colleagues and supervisor, and try to find solutions that are mutually acceptable.
  6. Develop a good support network and recognize that help is sometimes necessary to get through hard times.
  7. Participate in leisure activities. Apart from helping you relax, such activities will help “recharge your batteries.”
  8. Exercise. In addition to the obvious health benefits, exercise will help you sleep better.
  9. Reduce your consumption of stimulating foods and beverages such as coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks, sugar or alcohol.

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


American Psychological Association (APA). Coping With Stress at Work. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/work-stress.aspx

Barling, J., Kelloway, E. K., Frone, M. R. (2005). Handbook of work stress. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Management at Université Laval, Québec, Canada. Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series (Booklet 1, 2, 3). http://www.cgsst.com/eng/publications-sante-psychologique-travail/trousse-la-sante-psychologique-au-travail.asp

Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Management at Université Laval, Québec, Canada. Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series. “Solving the Problem: Preventing Stress in the Workplace (Booklet 3)”. Retrieved from http://hrcouncil.ca/hr-toolkit/documents/doc115-395.pdf

Leka, S., & Houdmont, J. (2010). Occupational health psychology. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Quillian-Wolever, R., & Wolever, M. (2003). Stress management at work. In L. E. Tetrick & J. C. Quick (Eds.), Handbook of occupational health psychology (pp. 355-375). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Randall, R., & Nielsen, K. (2010). Interventions to Promote Well-Being at Work. In D. Leka & J. Houdmont (Eds.), Occupational health psychology (pp. 88-123). Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Book Review: Leaders Ready Now

Leaders Ready Now_Book Cover

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

Leaders Ready Now is a book about preparing your leaders faster.

“DDI’s global data suggests that when organizations look to their benches to find ready leaders for key assignments or promotions, half the time no one is there” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 279).

From the Introduction: “It’s a book about how to grow great leaders. . . . Those who feel their leaders are growing at a satisfactory pace will not be inspired [by this book]. This book will be useful only if you feel it is time to take bold steps to prepare your leaders for bigger challenges—more quickly, more continuously, and fully enough so that they are ready—ready to lead in the competitive, chaotic world that we have come to know as the new normal” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. ii).

The authors (Matthew J. Paese, Audrey B. Smith, and William C. Byham) all work at Development Dimensions International (DDI). Dr. Paese is the Vice President of DDI’s Succession and C-Suite Services, Dr. Smith is Senior Vice President for DDI’s Talent Diagnostic Solutions, and Dr. Byham is DDI’s founder and chairman.

Development Dimensions International (DDI) says its does one thing really well — identifying and growing leaders. Founded in 1970 by industrial/organizational psychologists William C. Byham and Douglas W. Bray, DDI works with clients from all over the world and “major corporations make crucial promotion and placement decisions for more than 3,000 senior executives each year using [DDI’s] assessment process.”

The main premise to this Leaders Ready Now leadership development book is not that your company needs to have (or have more or better) tools, technology, or processes, but rather that there’s an absence of energy. Paese, Smith, and Byham approach the topic of accelerating leadership growth from a very different angle than other books. They maintain that if we’re not careful, the same tools and processes that we’ve set up to develop our organizations’ leaders may, in fact, rob us of the energy necessary to grow our leaders!

And if that isn’t frustrating enough, consider this: Although corporations have and continue to invest billions into readying its next generation of leaders, by all account and measures, leadership readiness has sharply declined.

Reading and following the recommendations outlined in Leaders Ready Now is almost like hiring DDI to help you with your leadership development process and program, only much less costly. These same three authors co-wrote Grow Your Own Leaders in 2002 to “help you understand and implement systems that will identify talent and develop the high-potential people your organization needs to grow and prosper” (Byham, Smith, & Paese, 2002, p. vii). Leaders Ready Now follows up with how to grow your own leaders more and faster, and prepare them to thrive in a complex world.

But readying leaders now doesn’t mean cramming more into our already frenzied organizations and lives or bombarding the minds of potential leaders. Instead, it’s about infusing energy into your efforts. “The most fundamental barrier to growing leaders quickly is a lack of energy, and that energy can be generated by boldness—your boldness” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. vi).

5 Reasons Why Leadership Acceleration Programs Fail:

1. Your processes are draining/sapping energy. “It is not the process itself that is failing—it is the absence of energy to fuel it. Without energy, any processes you put in place will be unsustainable” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. viii).

2. There’s no “why.” “For management, the why is the business case for acceleration. In the absence of a strong one, it is difficult to convince senior executives to take any risks (much less big ones) with development” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. ix).

3. You’re doing things to leaders rather than with them. “If you aim to prepare more leaders—and do it more quickly—you must put them in the game, and much sooner than what might feel comfortable. You must play with them, learning and growing together, faster than you otherwise would” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. x).

4. You are keeping your own growth to yourself. “Growth is an effect that cascades from leaders to teams, from the CEO down. . . . For the energy of growth to become infectious, people at the top must model it. . . . Modeling growth is displaying experimentation with new approaches and hungrily gathering feedback so that the experimentation can iterate with a positive arc” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. xi).

5. Your company has an unhealthy relationship with failure. “Your senior leadership team’s orientation and response to failure will either catapult or kill your acceleration efforts. . . . Leaders in rapid-growth mode will, by design, face situations that test their mettle. But if the expectation is that they need to succeed in each instance, risk taking will soon be strangled, and growth along with it. To learn and grow quickly, they will need to struggle through the ambiguity, discomfort, and loss of failed attempts, and come back again to try different, hopefully better ways. With the right support before, during, and after their experiences, your leaders will gain the insight and capability needed to be ready for larger assignments” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. xii).

I really like what Paese, Smith, and Byham (2016) wrote: “Don’t worry—we won’t be promising a silver-bullet solution or warning that you can avoid disaster only by adopting our unique and perfect formula. You don’t need us—not really. Everything you need to accelerate the growth of leadership is already inside your organization” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. iv).

“Tools and technology do not grow leaders. Leaders grow leaders. . . . While the talent-management industry has poured incalculable resources into the advancement of tools and technology, the muscles of human effort for growing leaders have atrophied. It seems the more we invest in things, the less adept we are at investing in each other” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. v).

The Six Acceleration Imperatives

DDI Acceleration Imperatives

The key to remember about the Six Acceleration Imperatives is that you don’t need to be great in all six areas in order to make significant gains. You can still be “good” in several while concentrating on one or two areas. Paese, Smith, and Byham (2016) stated that many of DDI’s most successful clients actually select only one or two Acceleration Imperatives to focus on.

1. Commit: Adopt acceleration as a business priority. Senior management must sanction and actively own and participate in leadership acceleration efforts.

“The most successful business strategies identify the few most-critical priorities and relentlessly pursue them. But somehow, leadership strategies don’t seem to receive the same rigor” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 23).

2. Aim: Define leadership success for your business context. Successful organizations transform their competency model into a tool that management and individual leaders use to direct their efforts to where the business is heading, how the context is changing, and what they have to do to be prepared for it.

Make sure your success profile measures and contains four components: business and organizational knowledge, experience, competencies, and personal attributes required for success (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016).

3. Identify: Make efficient, accurate decisions about whom to accelerate. Turn talent reviews into a talent investment by ensuring that it is done routinely, as part of business discussions. Use accurate data to isolate the most critical talent gaps, identify the individuals who have what it takes to grow as leaders, and have the resources to ensure that it happens quickly so leaders can be deployed where the need is greatest.

“One of the most consequential actions you can take as you work to accelerate leadership growth is to integrate your conversations about leadership talent into your senior management team’s business discussions” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 84).

“In a talent review senior leaders must understand that the identification of potential is a decision to invest in growth, not a determination of readiness for promotion” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 91).

4. Assess: Accurately evaluate readiness gaps and give great feedback. Successful companies are able to leverage talent data to allow top executives “to see how big bets (e.g., placing a young leader into a major leadership role) will play out and precisely how they can craft accelerated development plans that will make them pay off” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. xvii).

“Your goal is not simply to accurately describe each individual, but to do so in a way that enables specific, objective conversation among your senior leaders” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 115).

5. Grow: Make the right development happen. It is crucial that practice and experimentation become routine and are applied. Help emerging leaders ignite the application of leadership approaches that are necessary to business success.

“[L]earning is not the same as growth. Learning becomes growth only when it is sustained and applied. And to convert leaders from not ready to ready now, growth must happen consistently” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 161).

“As you take action to cultivate your leaders’ skills, make sure they are specific skills your business needs, now and in the near future” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 165).

“The first lever to pull in making competency development happen faster is to ensure that the learner understands the Key Actions in the target competency and that he or she focuses on the highest-payoff Key Actions. This makes feedback, training, coaching, practice, and ongoing measurement much more precise and meaningful” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, pp. 166-167).

6. Sustain: Aggressively manufacture the energy for growth. Your acceleration efforts must last and this only occurs when you build passion, common purpose, and devotion to ensure that growth happens.

“Make acceleration a discipline—a continual process that evolves and grows with each business cycle” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 280).

Each organization is unique so you’ll want to select a starting point (i.e., pick one or two Acceleration Imperatives) and make progress by “leveraging strengths and building in the areas that will create the greatest return within [your] unique business context” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. xviii).

“The ready now mind-set means continually looking forward, scanning the environment to anticipate the next challenge, and working with discipline to prepare for it” (Paese, Smith, & Byham, 2016, p. 283).

At first glance, Leaders Ready Now seems deceptively simple and easy to read, thanks to its clean layout and many colorful tables, figures, and graphics to illustrate and reinforce the crucial concepts and processes. But make no mistake. This is a handbook that requires you to take your time and really study it. Indeed, readying your leaders means making an investment in doing it right.

I wish I had the Leaders Ready Now book when I was working on designing the succession planning and high-potential development process for my organization. It would have saved me so much time, and spared me the stress and anxiety of gathering and organizing disparate and often unreliable information scattered online and in an assortment of research articles and books.

Leaders Ready Now is an incredible book written by three industrial/organizational psychologists at Development Dimensions International (one of the most respected leadership development consultancies in the world). The book is packed with clear, useful, and (perhaps most importantly) practical suggestions for growing better leaders, and growing them faster. Highly recommended!

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


Byham, W. C., Smith, A. B., & Paese, M. J. (2002). Grow your own leaders: How to identify, develop, and retain your leadership talent. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Paese, M. J., Smith, A. B., & Byham, W. C. (2016). Leaders ready now: Accelerating growth in a faster world. Pittsburg, PA: DDI Press.

Disclosure: I received Leaders Ready Now as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Cost of Stress on the U.S. Economy Is $300 Billion? Says Who?

Young businesswoman working in office | Credit: BJI / Lane Oatey
Young businesswoman working in office | Credit: BJI / Lane Oatey

In 2011, I wrote an article about the true cost of job stress. In that article, I cited Dr. Rebecca Goldin (a Professor at George Mason University and Director of STATS.org) throughout and shared Dr. Goldin’s observations about the American Institute of Stress’ baseless claim of the $300 billion price tag of stress on the U.S. economy.

Today’s 2016 article is a supplement to the 2011 article, and includes additional information and supporting references.

First, the original URL link to Dr. Goldin’s “Counting the Costs of Stress” article on the stats.org website is no longer valid. I’ve reached out to Dr. Goldin to see if her article is posted elsewhere but did not hear back from her. Luckily, I had saved a PDF copy of the article and have posted it to my own website. Citations to Dr. Goldin’s 2004 article will now to point to a PDF of the article [hosted on my own website] rather than to an invalid URL on the stats.org website.

Second, I’ve located a copy of Dr. Paul Rosch’s 2001 newsletter in which he explained his rationale for how he arrived at the $300 billion price tag. According to Dr. Rosch (2001), via the American Institute of Stress, job stress is estimated to cost U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal and insurance costs.

Rosch also wrote in the International Stress Management Association newsletter (2001): “Job stress is estimated to cost American industry $300 billion a year from absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, workers compensation awards and other legal expenses, direct medical and insurance costs, etc.”

In his 2001 Health and Stress newsletter, Dr. Rosch wrote [emphasis added for readability]:

Job stress is estimated to cost American industry in excess of $300 billion a year. When [Dr. Rosch] started writing about this subject over twenty years ago the price tag for job stress was pegged at $150 billion annually and ten years ago it was claimed to be $200 billion. The $300 billion figure posted on our [American Institute of Stress] website has attracted a large number of inquiries over the past several years, particularly from reporters. Most people want to know if this is based on a formula or series of calculations with scientific underpinnings that have statistical significance as opposed to a personal estimate that was picked out of thin air. The answer is as follows: In 1979, Albrecht postulated an annual 4 percent rate of absenteeism and a 5 percent turnover rate in a company with 1000 employees. He assumed that 2 percent of all absences and turnovers were due to stress and that it would cost $1000 for recruitment and training for each turnover. In addition, there would be a 5 percent need for overstaffing to compensate for associated problems. Based on these figures, which were considered to be quite conservative at the time, he estimated that the hidden costs of stress to U.S.companies were $150 billion annually. That was over two decades ago and absenteeism and turnover rates have now almost doubled as have their expenses.”

Rosch added that Albrecht’s calculations did not include the cost of accidents, diminished productivity, direct health insurance, medical, legal and workers compensation costs.

It’s important to point out that Rosch incorrectly explained in his newsletter that Albrecht used a company with 1,000 employees. It was actually 2,000 people (1986, p. 128).

Third, let’s take a deeper dive into how Dr. Karl Albrecht came up with the $150 billion price tag for stress. This passage from Albrecht’s book (1986 [paperback edition]) is especially worth noting:

“Any attempt to estimate a dollar cost of chronic stress in a business organization or in American business in general, would of course involve gross guesswork and speculation. That’s what I [Albrecht] have done (brazenly) in this section. As an intellectual challenge . . . let’s make some crude assumptions about stress effects in a hypothetical business organization and see what the bottom line impact might be” (p. 128).

Albrecht’s hypothetical organization in 1979:

Size: 2,000 people
Sales: $60 million/year
Profit: 5% = $3 million/year
Avg. salary (gross avg. for all employees): $6.00/hour
Personnel cost (salary + overhead costs): $100/person-day
Absentee rate (excluding vacation): 4% = 10 days/person-year
Turnover rate (assume stable workforce size): 5% = 100 people/year
Turnover cost (advertising, hiring, processing, etc.) $1,000/person

Albrecht explained that he took a conservative estimate in determining absenteeism (4%), turnover (5%), and personnel costs ($100/person-day).

For the 4% absenteeism rate, Albrecht speculated that 2% came from unavoidable disabilities and 2% came from stress. “In this 2% figure we include any genuine illness that is stress-induced as well as effects of life stress that may originate outside the job [emphasis added]” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 130).

For the 5% turnover rate, Albrecht speculated that 3% was the result of retirement and voluntary (i.e. quitting) and involuntary turnover (i.e. fired). The other 2% turnover is assumed to arise from stress-related causes which includes “life stress originating outside the job [emphasis added] that interferes with the person’s ability or inclination to remain on the job” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 130).

Albrecht also added an overstaffing ratio (5%). “5% of the work force (sic), or 100 people, are on the payroll because of the reduced performance of the others” 1986, p. 131). He justified this overstaffing ratio in this manner: “if a large proportion of people experience stress levels that degrade their performance capabilities, then we will need more people to get a given amount of work done — and to achieve a given level of sales and profits in our hypothetical company — than we otherwise would” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 131).

And if that weren’t enough, Albrecht tacked on the cost of antisocial acts (“theft, sabotage, deliberate waste or breakage, ‘invisible’ slow downs, and the like”) [Albrecht, 1986, p. 131]. For these antisocial acts (e.g., theft of a machine and “temper tantrum that results in a broken window or a damaged typewriter” (p. 131), Albrecht admitted that “we have no way of knowing which of these costs are stress-linked and which are simply isolated events [emphasis added]” (1986, p. 131).

The result looks like this for stress-linked personnel costs according to Albrecht:

Stress-linked absenteeism: $1 million/year
Stress-linked turnover: $40,000/year
Performance degradation (overstaffing cost): $2.5 million/year
Antisocial acts: $20,000/year
TOTAL $3,560,000/year

Even though Rosch might not have come up with the $300 billion price tag “out of thin air,” the source (Albrecht’s book) from which he based his calculations is quite unconvincing. In fact, Albrecht even admitted as much. Despite his own initial warning to not guess or speculate a dollar amount on the cost of stress, Albrecht marched right into speculation and guesswork.

Albrecht’s original estimate/guesstimate of cost of stress on organizations (1979) was derived from taking a hypothetical firm and extrapolating the cost of stress per person for that firm to 80 million U.S. workers: $1,780 (total stress cost divided by number of employees) x 80 million = $142.4 billion (“a national cost figure for stress-induced loss of effectiveness and efficiency approaching $150 billion no longer seems unbelievable” [Albrecht, 1986, pp. 132-133]).

So Rosch cited Albrecht’s $150 billion price tag from 1979, then modified that original amount (sometime around 2001) by doubling the $150 billion to $300 billion, and (almost) everyone (the general public, the media, writers/authors, professors, and researchers) jumped onboard and accepted it as a certainty.

The undeniable truth is this: Two men made up those numbers ($150 billion & $300 billion) in an attempt to guesstimate the cost of stress. Albrecht, the first man in 1979, “brazenly” made lots of “crude assumptions” and came up with an arbitrary number as an “intellectual challenge.” Roughly two decades later, Rosch, the second man, then based his calculations off the “crude assumptions” of the first (Albrecht). Thus, whatever number Rosch arrived at is pointless because it does not have anything to stand on. Albrecht offered sage advice in his book: “Any attempt to estimate a dollar cost of chronic stress in a business organization or in American business in general, would of course involve gross guesswork and speculation.” Unfortunately, no one, including Albrecht himself, followed that nugget of wisdom.

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


The American Institute of Stress. Workplace Stress. Retrieved from http://www.stress.org/workplace-stress/

Albrecht, K. (1979). Stress and the manager: Making it work for you. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Albrecht, K. (1986). Stress and the manager: Making it work for you. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Goldin, R. (2004). Counting the costs of stress. STATS.org.

International Stress Management Association (ISMA-USA). (2001) Newsletter. Vol. 3. Issue 1. [PDF]

Rosch, P. J. (2001, March). The quandary of job stress compensation. Health and Stress, 1-8.

Giving Feedback Is Easy, Much Harder to Accept, Learn From, and Apply It

Business meeting in a modern office | Credit: Hinterhaus Productions
Business meeting in a modern office | Credit: Hinterhaus Productions

About 15 years ago, I was enrolled in a counseling psychology Master’s program. It was quite good and I learned a lot back then and continue to use many of the counseling/coaching skills today in the corporate world.

As part of the program, we were required to conduct counseling sessions with real clients and film these sessions (after securing the client’s permission) so that our classmates and professors could review these sessions and offer their feedback.

One day, during a feedback session about my counseling skills (again, where my peers and professor watched a video of my counseling session with a client and provided their feedback), I listened to them go on and on about what I was not doing right, what I had missed, or that my timing to talk was off, etc.

It is always hard to hear others criticize your work/performance but, by this time in the program, we had done this many times already so I was fine with receiving feedback, even tough feedback.

This went on for some time (at least it felt that way) and I tried to be patient, thinking and hoping that my professor would cut them off because, after a while, it started to sound the same (that is, they started repeating what someone else had shared). Unfortunately, my professor did not jump in and the “feedback” turned personal and became attacks on my character. It was very surreal because I could not believe that this was actually happening to me (a counselor-in-training) and the sources of the attacks were my peers (other counselors-in-training) and then having a professor (who was also a practicing psychologist) just sit there and do nothing made the entire experience feel like a bad dream.

I finally stopped them and told everyone that while I love and appreciate their feedback, because that’s how I learn, and although I try to always be open to feedback about my performance, when it turns into personal jabs, then that crosses the line and that’s where I have a problem. I told the professor that I was disappointed that she just sat there and did nothing while my classmates were attacking me (as a person) and not redirect them to focus on my actions (as a counselor).

Next, I offered my own feedback to my peers and professor about how they completely missed the cultural perspective in evaluating my performance and that their perspectives and opinions about when to interrupt a client while the client was talking (in order to offer the suggested counseling response) and how to come across as “professional” failed to account for a cultural dimension (both the client’s and the counselor’s), one in which age and experience (or lack of one) both play an important role in how and how often one offers feedback.

You would have thought that that might have been the end of it, but the attacks began again, with the professor sitting idly by not knowing what to do or not wanting to intervene. Again, I told the group that it felt like this was a character attack because they were criticizing my personality/character (or what they believed they “knew” about me) and not my actions in providing the talk therapy.

My counseling classmates and professor were very fast to give out all sorts of feedback (ideas, tips, suggestions), but when it was given back to them, they weren’t just slow to accept it, they dismissed it entirely.

In his book, “The Complete New Manager,” John Zenger shared that inside our minds is a picture of how we view ourselves. This mental self-portrait consists of our behaviors, values, and self-image.

“In most cases, leaders with a fatal flaw are totally unaware of that flaw. For example, people who immediately reject others’ ideas would probably describe themselves as having such extensive experience that they know what ideas will succeed and fail. These individuals don’t know they are perceived as rejecting everyone else’s ideas” (Zenger, 2010, p. 167).

Zenger explained that feedback that these leaders receive (from team discussions, 360-degree appraisals, or coaching sessions) convey messages which are contrary to how they view themselves.

When faced with this situation, these leaders have three choices:

(1) Deny the information – It’s very easy to dismiss feedback from one or two sources, but when you receive feedback from multiple, reliable sources then it can be much harder to ignore.

(2) Change their self-concept – Leaders admit to themselves that they do not know everything and that their own ideas are not the only good ones.

(3) Change their behavior – Feedback is most powerful when it is actually applied to altering behavior. 

According to Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich (2004) the single best predictor of who will advance up the corporate ladder and do well once there is — learning agility. Eichinger et al. said we demonstrate learning agility when we’re able to reflect on our experiences and be disciplined enough to change our behaviors.

Ideally, the best way to predict leadership is to use a combination of cognitive ability (i.e., IQ), personality, simulation, role play, learning agility, and multi-rater assessment (i.e., 360-degree assessment). But if you only had one choice, use learning agility (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004).

“Learning agility is the ability to reflect on experience and then engage in new behaviors based on those reflections. Learning agility requires self-confidence to honestly examine oneself, self-awareness to seek feedback and suggestions, and self-discipline to engage in new behaviors” (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004, p. 495).

Takeaways: (1) It is essential that you take an honest look inside yourself. Be self-aware and brave enough to ask for feedback. And most of all, learn from and apply the feedback to improving yourself and your behaviors. (2) It can be very easy, especially for extroverts and people who love to talk, to give feedback to others, but those who tend to be quick to give feedback are sometimes slow to accept and apply feedback themselves.

“Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse.” —African proverb

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


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

Zenger, J. H. (2010). The complete new manager: Essential tips and techniques for managers. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Are You Depressed Because of Your Job or Are You Depressed Regardless?

Businessman sitting on floor in corridor | Credit: Blend_Images
Businessman sitting on floor in corridor | Credit: Blend_Images

A Careers Reporter for Business Insider contacted me about signs that a person’s job is making him/her depressed. I’ve been wanting to write about mental illness and the workplace but just never got around to doing it and was happy that this gave me a chance to do so.

Here is what I wrote back:

The APA Dictionary of Psychology (2nd ed.) defines depression as follows:

“Depression: a negative affective state, ranging from unhappiness and discontent to an extreme feeling of sadness, pessimism, and despondency, that interferes with daily life.”

According to “Mental Illness in the Workplace” (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014), depression is the most prevalent type of mental illness both inside the workplace and outside of it.

Signs of depression (and I’m referring to clinical depression) include significant sadness lasting most of the day and occurring most days of the week. What’s more, many depressed people also have trouble sleeping and/or eating. They’re tired or are chronically fatigued, can’t concentrate, feel worthless, have thoughts about suicide, or have lost experiencing joy from activities that they once enjoyed (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014).

Other signs to look for, particularly in the workplace, are employees who look sad, angry, unmotivated, withdrawn, or who are tired with frequent mistakes or errors at work and/or decrease in performance or performance that’s inconsistent or unpredictable. They may also have interpersonal relationships that are stormy or diminished (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014).

So how would you know if your job is making you depressed? We would want to look at workplace factors that include the following:

  • High job strain – Is the job highly and psychologically demanding, with low decision flexibility?
  • High stress, high threat – Does the job expose the employee to a high stress, high threat environment?
  • Lack of or low support system – Is there support from colleagues and managers?

If we were to take what I just shared and put them into a list, it might look like this:

Is Your Job Making You Depressed?

  1. High job strain – Is the job highly and psychologically demanding, with low decision flexibility?
  2. High stress, high threat – Does the job expose the employee to a high stress, high threat environment?
  3. Lack of or low support system – Is there support from colleagues and managers?
  4. Being or feeling sad, angry, unmotivated, or withdrawn.
  5. Feeling tired and making frequent mistakes or errors at work and/or being less productive or demonstrating performance that’s inconsistent or unpredictable.

But, and I believe this is very important, we should also phrase it this way . . .

Are You Depressed Regardless of The Job You Have? In other words, it might just be that an individual is depressed no matter what type of job he/she has. And if that’s the case (that it’s really about a person who is or might be depressed), then we would want to look for a combination of symptoms below:

  1. Significant sadness lasting most of the day, and occurring most days of the week.
  2. Difficulty sleeping and/or eating.
  3. Feeling tired or is chronically fatigued.
  4. Unable or trouble concentrating.
  5. Feeling worthless.
  6. Have thoughts about suicide.
  7. Does not enjoy activities that you once enjoyed.
  8. Rocky or reduced interpersonal relationships.
  9. These problems are significantly interfering with your daily life.

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


Harder, H. G., Wagner, S., & Rash, J. (2014). Mental illness in the workplace: Psychological disability management. Burlington, VT: Gower.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.