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What You Should Know About Leadership Development Training

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

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

The Biggest Challenge Leaders In Organizations Face Today

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

Leader Development, Leadership Development, and Leadership Training

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

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

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

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

Three Mistakes about Leadership Training

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

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

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

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

Leadership Training

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

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

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

Steps to Effective Training (Davies, 2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Training Evaluation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoiding Leadership Training Mistakes

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

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

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

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

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

Conducting a “PreMortem” Exercise

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

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

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

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

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

Leader Self-Development

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

Here’s something to think about:

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

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

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

Leader Development Is Personal Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Reasons Physical Offices & Face-to-Face Meetings Are Not Going Away

The traditional, physical office is not going away any time soon despite advances in technology allowing people to work remotely, either at a home office, coworking space, virtual office, or another remote location (such as a coffee shop, library, or bookstore). Similarly, face-to-face meetings will not disappear, even though we can use email, phone, text, or virtual conference calls to conduct business meetings.

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic reignited the debate about remote work, with some suggesting that it will be the new normal even after COVID-19 (Verbeemen & D’Amico, 2020).

There are 3 reasons why remote work will not be the new normal and why physical offices and face-to-face meetings will stick around:

  1. The reactive response of companies to initiate a temporary work-from-home solution resulted in a bad experience to long-term remote work.
  2. Companies won’t invest time or money to address remote work structurally in their organizations.
  3. Our brains are wired to connect with others because humans have a need for meaningful social connection.

Reason #1 – Companies’ Haphazard Response to Initiate a Temporary Work-From-Home:

Shifting the workforce to remote work as a haphazard and forced reaction to COVID-19 will leave a bad taste in many people’s mouths about their experience working remotely. This GitLab article, titled “What Not to Do When Implementing Remote” is a fantastic resource:

“Remote work isn’t something you do as a reaction to an event — it is an intentional approach to work that creates greater efficiency, more geographically and culturally diverse teams, and heightened transparency.

What is happening en masse related to Coronavirus (COVID-19) is largely a temporary work-from-home phenomenon, where organizations are not putting remote work ideals into place, as they expect to eventually require their team members to resume commuting into an office.” -GitLab

In a Forbes article titled, “Remote Work Advocates Warn Companies About COVID-19 Work-From-Home Strategies,” Laurel Farrer wrote: “all of this unexpected remote work adoption has telecommuting experts concerned instead of celebrating.”

Reason #2 – Companies Not Willing to Invest Time & Money:

Most companies are not investing and will not invest time and money to tackle remote work structurally in their organizations.

Verbeemen & D’Amico (2020) wrote that remote work “will only be a real success if companies start tackling remote working structurally.” Organizations must secure the infrastructure for remote work and implement remote work in a structural way:

“Companies that see salvation in a fast adoption of tools without structural adjustments, risk a loss of efficiency and frustration among employees and stakeholders. It is not enough to simply provide the necessary infrastructure and tools. Some companies already had the infrastructure and tools available at the start of the crisis, but are only now realizing their full potential. Tools are important, but a successful migration also requires leadership, clear guidelines and real commitment” (Verbeemen & D’Amico, 2020).

Here are some findings:

  • At a global level: 56% of global companies allow remote work, but 44% of global companies don’t allow remote work (Owl Labs Global State of Remote Work Report 2018).
  • At a company level: Only 30% of senior managers feel their organization is well prepared for the rise of remote work (Future Positive Report).
  • At a leadership level: While 82% believe that leaders in the new economy will need to be digitally savvy, less than 10% of respondents strongly agree that their organizations have leaders with the right skills to thrive in the digital economy (The New Leadership Playbook for the Digital Age).
  • At a worker level: 38% of remote workers and 15% of remote managers received no training on how to work remotely (Owl Labs State of Remote Work Report 2019).

Werk (a people analytics company) conducted a comprehensive study [The Future is Flexible – Werk Flexibility Study] on the state of flexibility in corporate America. “According to [the] research, there is a significant gap between the supply and demand of workplace flexibility. 96% of employees in the U.S. workforce need some form of flexibility at work, yet only 42% have access to the type of flexibility they need, and only 19% have access to a range of flexible options. This gap is even more pronounced for women, where only 34% have access to the flexibility they need.”

Even though organizations are becoming aware that they need to adopt a more human-centric view, one that supports the employees’ needs (e.g., remote work, wellness programs, etc.), “innovation in terms of how the workplace and jobs are structured has been slow. If companies are going to truly adapt, stay nimble, and poise themselves for growth in the Human Era, they must reconsider the fundamentals of how jobs are designed and how, where, and when work gets done” (The Future is Flexible – Werk Flexibility Study Report).

In the Owl Labs’ State of Remote Work Report 2019, remote employee managers were asked about their biggest challenges and concerns when it came to managing their remote employees. Here’s what they said — They are most concerned about reduced employee productivity (82%), reduced employee focus (82%), lower employee engagement and satisfaction (81%), and whether their remote employees are getting their work done (80%).

Somewhat troubling in that Owl Labs’ State of Remote Work Report 2019 was what remote managers said were their least concerns: Managers are least concerned with employee loneliness (59%), the career implications of employees working remotely (65%), employees overworking (67%), and difficulty managing them (68%).

Gallup research suggests there are three areas in which managers struggle to engage their remote workers (Mann, 2017):

  1. Not recognizing or praising good work.
  2. Not talking to remote workers about career goals and personal growth.
  3. Not providing opportunities to connect with coworkers.

“While remote work is a valid strategy to maintain business continuity in times of crisis like the outbreak of COVID-19, suddenly allowing remote work with no clear policy or processes in place will not have the same positive outcomes as investing adequate resources into preparing leaders and employees for success in a remote environment.” -Tammy Bjelland, CEO Workplaceless

What I see happening—and I believe this trend will continue—is a semi-hybrid company [in which most employees are co-located/on-site and a handful who work remotely] that uses a semi-flexible schedule approach requiring significant time onsite [for co-located employees] and some time offsite/remote. In this semi-flexible schedule approach, organizations require most of their workforce to work and attend meetings onsite but will allow some leaders and staff (at the discretion and whim of their managers) the flexibility to occasionally work and/or attend meetings remotely.

Reason #3 – The Human Brain is Wired to Connect to Others:

The third and my strongest argument why remote work won’t be the new normal is that human beings have an innate and basic need for in-person interactions and the bias toward and preference for face-to-face interactions.

A Futurestep poll of 1,320 global executives in 71 countries found that 61% of senior managers think telecommuters are not as likely as conventional office workers to be promoted, despite the fact that over three-quarters also think teleworkers are equally productive as (42%) or more productive than (36%) their office-dwelling colleagues (Vickers, 2007 citing Bridgeford). Managers might recognize that teleworkers are productive, but they are still accustomed toward face-to-face interactions.

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

Face-to-face meetings are crucial to business success (Goman, 2016). Even those who make a case for remote work must concede that, “collaborating face-to-face probably is better than collaborating remotely” (Clancy, 2020). When extensive collaboration is required, remote work “may be less productive than colocation [where coworkers are physically clustered together in the same physical workplace]” (Clancy, 2020).

Michael Massari, Caesars Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of National Meetings and Events and Chief Sales Officer, shared some sage advice about the value and advantage of face-to-face meetings:

“No matter what industry you work in, we are all in the people business. Regardless of how tech-savvy you may be, face-to-face meetings are still the most effective way to capture the attention of participants, engage them in the conversation, and drive productive collaboration.” -Michael Massari (Caesars Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of National Meetings and Events and Chief Sales Officer)

Contrary to the belief that making a phone call saves time over a face-to-face meeting, Massari said this:

“If I have to go outside my division to ask for resources from someone I don’t know, I can usually get what I need in a five-minute in-person conversation. If I have to rely on a phone call, it is going to take over 30 minutes to explain who I am, why my request is important, and why the other person should help me. That’s because it is so much faster and easier to establish trust when people physically meet.” -Michael Massari (Caesars Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of National Meetings and Events and Chief Sales Officer)

Researchers have found that, “people tend to overestimate the power of their persuasiveness via text-based communication, and underestimate the power of their persuasiveness via face-to-face communication.” (Bohns, 2017). As a matter of fact, a face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than an email (Bohns, 2017).

In a survey of 760 business executives conducted by Forbes Insights in June 2009, respondents were asked to choose the meeting method that was most conducive to fostering a certain business action or outcome. “Executives preferred face-to-face meetings when the decision-making process was fluid, requiring the kind of give-and-take typical of complex decisions and sales” (Forbes, 2009).

“Surprisingly given the advances in information technology, CEOs today spend most of their time in face-to-face meetings. They consider face-to-face meetings most effective in getting their message across and obtaining the information they need. Not only do meetings present data through presentations and verbal communications, but they also enable CEOs to pick up on rich nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, and mood, that are not apparent to them if they use e-mail or Skype” (Rothaermel, 2016, p. 43).

Beyond the business desire to close a deal, “the benefits of in-person social interaction—from bonding with co-workers to using time at the pool or café to cement a client relationship—are among the more subtle, less measurable advantages executives cited” (Forbes, 2009).

The COVID-19 pandemic and the importance and need for social distancing and remaining indoors and away from others exacerbated our experiences of cabin fever, isolation, and loneliness.

Research has provided consistent evidence linking social isolation and loneliness to worse cardiovascular and mental health outcomes (Leigh-Hunt, Bagguley, Bash, et al., 2017). Indeed, “social isolation [not being alone but one’s experience of feeling lonely] has an impact on health comparable to the effect of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity, or smoking (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2008, p. 5).

Although people claim that their goal is to be able to work from home, when they actually have to do their work from home, those individuals reported higher levels of stress (Scott, 2020). For a great article on what’s stressful about working from home (e.g., lack of structure; lots of distractions; difficulty setting boundaries; social isolation; and lack of focus) see How to Handle the Stress of Working From Home.

“Those who work at home may find that the solitude can be a double-edged sword. It is, of course, easier to focus when you’re in your own home with no co-workers coming by your desk to chat at random times. But while this solitude can feel blissful at times, when we have no mandate for social interaction during the workday—when we don’t automatically run across people outside of those we live with—we can become lonely before we realize it” (Scott, 2020).

As evidenced, during the COVID-19 pandemic, by the boredom, loneliness, and isolation—with some people even going so far as paying money to join virtual Zoom parties (starting at $10 and going up to $80 for a private room in Club Quarantee to virtually party alongside Instagram-famous DJs and burlesque dancers)—human beings desire, indeed we need, human connections, and in particular in-person interaction and connection.

There’s value in face-to-face interaction & collaboration. Human beings crave human connection and interaction. “[O]ur brains are wired to connect with other people” (Lieberman, 2013, p. x). Lieberman says human beings are wired in a way such that our well-being depends on our connections with other people. “We depend on the most complicated entities in the universe, other people, to make our food, pay our rent, and provide for our general well-being” (2013, p. 238).

“Everything we have learned about the social brain tells us that we are wired to make and keep social connections, that we feel pain when these connections are threatened, and that our identity, our sense of self, is intimately tied up with the groups we are a part of” (Lieberman, 2013, p. 248-249).

But these interactions are not just about the number of people you spend time with. Rather, these connections need to satisfy our need to have close, satisfying relationships. Indeed, “loneliness is typically rooted in the quality rather than the quantity of social interaction: Lonely people spend plenty of time with others, but they do not come away from these interactions feeling satisfied” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2014, p. p. 410).

Loneliness is a state of mind and causes us “to feel empty, alone, and unwanted. People who are lonely often crave human contact, but their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people.” (Cherry, 2020).

Experts contend that humans are social creatures and we function better when we are around other people (DiGiulio, 2018). Even more strongly, a case can be made that our need to connect with others is as strong and fundamental as our need for food and water (Cook, 2013). Physical connection between humans is so strong that the power of touch can even create an analgesic, painkilling effect (Lamothe, 2018).

During this COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to foster relational connection to curb the rise of loneliness (Stallard & Stallard, 2020). “Research suggests that the majority of individuals today lack sufficient social connection. This connection deficit may exacerbate the negative effects of stress and diminish physical and emotional resilience that people will need to fight the COVID-19 virus” (Stallard & Stallard, 2020).

In his TEDx Talk, neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman said: “Our urge to connect and the pain we feel when this need is thwarted, is one of the seminal achievements of our brain that motivates us to live, work, and play together. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can’t connect with other people nothing will come of it. You can’t build a rocket ship by yourself.”

“To the extent that we can characterize evolution as designing our modern brains, this is what our brains were wired for: reaching out to and interacting with others. These are design features, not flaws. These social adaptations are central to making us the most successful species on earth.” (Lieberman, 2013, p. 9).

According to social psychologists, our need for affiliation or connection to others is universal and all human beings have this need. “Some individuals claim that they have little or no need for affiliation—for connections to other people. But research findings indicate that even such persons really do have affiliation needs. How do we know that’s true? When such people learn that they have been accepted by others, both their moods and self-esteem increase. That would only be expected to happen if such acceptance satisfied a basic need for affiliation. . . . In short, all human beings—even people who claim otherwise—have strong needs for affiliation—to feel connected to others. They may conceal these needs under a mask of seeming indifference, but the needs are still there no matter how much such people try to deny them” (Baron & Branscombe, 2012, p. 218).

Researchers examined the emotional experience of connectedness between pairs of close friends in digital (text, audio, and video) versus in-person environments. They recruited 58 female university students aged 18-21 years (consisting of 29 pairs of close female friends). Although adolescent and emerging adults’ digital communication is primarily text-based, the researchers discovered that the greatest bonding actually occurs during in-person interaction, followed by video chat, audio chat, and instant messaging (Sherman, Michikyan, & Greenfield, 2013).

“Despite our remarkable ability to utilize tools and technologies to improve our lives in many ways, humans are constrained by the evolutionary context in which human social interaction developed” (Sherman, Michikyan, & Greenfield, 2013).

Takeaway: Traditional physical offices and face-to-face meetings are here to stay and remote work will not be the new normal as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are three reasons why. First, most people’s introduction to and experience with remote work occurred as a direct, but reactive response of companies to initiate a temporary work-from-home solution. Second, most companies will not be spending the time and money to tackle remote work structurally in their organizations. Third, the human brain is wired to connect with other people and human beings have a need for meaningful social connection. It’s a beautiful, defining quality of being human.

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

References

Baron, R. A., & Branscombe, N. R. (2012). Social Psychology (13th Ed.). Pearson Education, Inc.

Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2014). Social Psychology and Human Nature (3rd Ed.). Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Bloomberg & Lhooq, M. (2020, April 14). People are paying real money to get into virtual Zoom nightclubs. https://fortune.com/2020/04/14/zoom-nightclubs-virtual-bars-video-calls-coronavirus/

Bohns, V. K. (2017, April 11). A Face-to-Face Request Is 34 Times More Successful Than an Email. https://hbr.org/2017/04/a-face-to-face-request-is-34-times-more-successful-than-an-email

Cacioppo, J. T., & Patrick, W. (2008). Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. W. W. Norton & Company.

Cherry, K. (2020, March 23). The Health Consequences of Loneliness. https://www.verywellmind.com/loneliness-causes-effects-and-treatments-2795749

Clancy, M. (2020, April 13). The Case for Remote Work. Economics Working Papers: Department of Economics, Iowa State University. 20007. https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/econ_workingpapers/102

Cook, G. (2013, October 22). Why We Are Wired to Connect. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-are-wired-to-connect/

Cuncic, A. (2020, March 27). How to Cope With Loneliness During the Coronavirus Pandemic. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-cope-with-loneliness-during-coronavirus-4799661

DiGiulio, S. (2018, January 9). In good company: Why we need other people to be happy. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/good-company-why-we-need-other-people-be-happy-ncna836106

Doherty, C. (2020, May 2). What Is Coronavirus (COVID-19)? https://www.verywellhealth.com/coronavirus-overview-4783291

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

Farrer, L. (2020, March 5). Remote Work Advocates Warn Companies About COVID-19 Work-From-Home Strategies. https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurelfarrer/2020/03/05/ironically-remote-work-advocates-warn-companies-about-covid-19-work-from-home-strategies/#536739222051

Forbes. (2009). Business Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face. Forbes Insights. https://images.forbes.com/forbesinsights/StudyPDFs/Business_Meetings_FaceToFace.pdf

Fritscher, L. (2020, April 23). Cabin Fever Symptoms and Coping Skills. https://www.verywellmind.com/cabin-fever-fear-of-isolation-2671734

Fuller, J. B., Wallenstein, J. K., Raman, M., & de Chalendar, A. (2019, May). Future Positive Report: How Companies Can Tap Into Employee Optimism to Navigate Tomorrow’s Workplace. BCG, Harvard Business School.

GitLab. What not to do when implementing remote: don’t replicate the in-office experience remotely. https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/what-not-to-do/

Goman, C. K. (2016, March 11). The Immeasurable Importance Of Face-To-Face Meetings. https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2016/03/11/the-immeasurable-importance-of-face-to-face-meetings/#440d18934937

Lamothe, C. (2018, January 3). Let’s touch: why physical connection between human beings matters. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/03/lets-touch-why-physical-connection-between-human-beings-matters

Lieberman, M. D. (2013). Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. Oxford University Press.

Lieberman, M. D. (2013, September 19). The social brain and its superpowers – TEDxStLouis. https://youtu.be/NNhk3owF7RQ

Leigh-Hunt, N., Bagguley, D., Bash, K., et al. (2017). An overview of systematic reviews on the public health consequences of social isolation and loneliness. Public Health, (152)157-171.

Mann, A. (2017, August 1). 3 Ways You Are Failing Your Remote Workers. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236192/ways-failing-remote-workers.aspx

Owl Labs. 2018 Global State of Remote Work. https://www.owllabs.com/state-of-remote-work/2018

Owl Labs. The State of Remote Work Report. https://www.owllabs.com/state-of-remote-work

Owl Labs. [New Research] 2019 State of Remote Work. https://www.owllabs.com/blog/2019-state-of-remote-work

Ready, D. A., Cohen, C., Kiron, D., Pring, B. (2020, January). The New Leadership Playbook for the Digital Age: Reimagining What It Takes to Lead.

Rothaermel, F. T. (2016). Strategic Management (3rd Ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Scott, E. (2020, March 17). How to Handle the Stress of Working From Home. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-stress-of-working-from-home-4141174

Sherman, L. E., Michikyan, M., & Greenfield, P. M. (2013). The effects of text, audio, video, and in-person communication on bonding between friends. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 7(2), Article 3. https://doi.org/10.5817/CP2013-2-3

Stallard, M. L., & Stallard, K. P. (2020, March 26). COVID-19 Is Coinciding With a Loneliness Epidemic. https://www.govexec.com/management/2020/03/covid-19-coinciding-loneliness-epidemic/164153/

Verbeemen, E., & D’Amico, S. B. (2020, April 9). Why remote working will be the new normal, even after COVID-19. https://www.ey.com/en_be/covid-19/why-remote-working-will-be-the-new-normal-even-after-covid-19

Vickers, M. (2007). Adapting to Teleworker Trends. American Management Association’s Moving Ahead Newsletter, 2(10). http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/Adapting-to-Teleworker-Trends.aspx

Werk. The Future is Flexible – Werk Flexibility Study. https://werk.co/documents/The%20Future%20is%20Flexible%20-%20Werk%20Flexibility%20Study.pdf

Workplaceless. (2020, May 1). Preparing for Emergency Remote Work. https://www.workplaceless.com/blog/emergency-remote-work

How to Work Remotely During COVID-19 and Maintain Your Emotional Health

I have been asked about tips and strategies to help individuals be effective in working remotely during this COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Here are my thoughts.

Tips for Effectively Working Remotely:

1. Technology & Tools: Make sure you have the technology, equipments, and softwares to continue to be productive and get your work done. Practice and become comfortable with the various tools that your team and/or company requires you to use. For instance, for videoconferencing, be sure to know how to use the applications that your team uses (e.g., Zoom, WebEx, etc.). Also, even if you are familiar with the app, learn to use it and understand its limitations. Many videoconferencing tools are good to use for video through your laptop or computer’s built-in camera. However, the audio can, and is often spotty. So many times, it is best to “dial in” to the video call, and also call in on your cell phone for the audio portion.

Another thing to consider are the restrictions placed on you by your company’s IT department when you use your work laptop to work remotely. Some companies will require you to use a secure two-factor authentication process by going through an app, such as Duo Mobile, to log into your work laptop. Depending on how reliable the app and service is, this process can be quite cumbersome.

When doing video calls, preparation can go a long way in making your calls more tolerable for you and your colleagues (Chen, 2020). You will want to check your webcam, microphone, and internet speed. Also, be aware of what is in the background behind you (pets, kids, personal or identifiable items, etc.) and, as much as possible, minimize distractions and be sure that you can pay attention.

Equally important is to remember that when a video call will not work (newsflash: not everyone is comfortable using or being on a video call), try something else — like calling them on the phone.

*For Leaders:* If you are a leader leading a team, don’t forget that the virtual tools and technology serve to help you connect with your team. They aren’t meant to replace you in communicating and connecting with your team members.

I love this message from Patrick Lencioni reminding leaders to be exceedingly human:

“Demonstrate your concern for the very real fears and anxieties that your people are experiencing, not only professionally and economically, but socially and personally. Even though you don’t have definitive answers to all of their questions, don’t let that keep you from listening to them and empathizing with their fears.” -Patrick Lencioni

Here’s a great reminder that remote teams need real communication:

“You are a human manager learning to communicate with other humans aided by the power of technology. These efforts should allow you to think about the value of the human experience as supported by the best version of technology we can leverage for the goal. The power really is in your human hands; the technology just helps it virtually travel around the world” (Bisbee & Wisniewski, 2020).

2. Workspace: You need to set up a work office environment. Setting up a workspace will mentally prepare you and can be a good way to help separate your work & home space.

3. Rituals, Structure, and Breaks: You will want to develop rituals and be consistent about how you will start and end your day, as well as give yourself time to eat lunch and take short breaks throughout the day. You’ll also need to create a system or devise a method so that both you and those around you understand and know your work schedule.

4. Watercooler Conversations: When you are physically at the office, you can and do run into colleagues in the break room and are able to catch up with them or even solve or work through a challenge just by engaging in an unplanned watercooler conversation. When you work remotely, this is not possible so be sure to design a way to engage with your coworkers and/or your boss. Some teams use an instant messaging app like Microsoft Teams, Skype, or Slack to stay connected.

5. Chunk Your Time: Block times throughout the day that will work with your schedule, while trying to balance working at “home”. For instance, being at home and especially currently with many of the school children also in the home, you might not be able to follow a strict 8-5 schedule as you would normally follow in your office. In that case, break that up or chunk it into smaller chunks of time. For example, you might schedule 6am – 8am; 10am – 12pm; 2pm – 4pm; and 7pm – 9pm or 8am – 11am; 1pm – 3pm; 6pm – 9pm.

6. Be Prepared to Work More or Longer Hours: Make no mistake, working from home requires MORE (not LESS) of your time. As a matter of fact, people who telecommute, especially those who have done so for an extended period of time will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less.

Tips for Maintaining Your Emotional Health & Mental Sanity:

1. The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has created a unique scenario because it is the reason why this forced social experiment of remote work is suddenly on everyone’s mind. Indeed, many companies are suddenly requiring their employees to work from home to help contain the spread of the virus. It is important to understand and acknowledge some of the things you may experience as a result of this disruption to your regular routines (i.e., if you typically come into the office to work), such as fear and anxiety; depression and boredom; and anger, frustration or irritability.

2. To better handle and cope with this situation, try the following:

  • limit the amount of news you consume; get news from reliable sources
  • set up and follow a daily routine
  • stay connected to your coworkers, friends, and family
  • adopt a strong internal locus of control; realize there are things within your control & things outside of your control
  • take breaks and make time to unwind
  • practice gratitude and try to look for the positives
  • try meditation, mindfulness, or other relaxation exercises
  • get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise

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

References

American Psychological Association. Keeping Your Distance to Stay Safe. https://www.apa.org/practice/programs/dmhi/research-information/social-distancing

American Psychological Association. (2020, March 16). Seven crucial research findings that can help people deal with COVID-19. https://www.apa.org/news/apa/2020/03/covid-19-research-findings

Bisbee, B., & Wisniewski, K. (2020, March 18). Remote Teams Need Real Communication. Association for Talent Development. https://www.td.org/insights/remote-teams-need-real-communication

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Manage Anxiety & Stress. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Taking Care of Your Emotional Health. https://emergency.cdc.gov/coping/selfcare.asp

Chen, B. (2020, March 25). The Dos and Don’ts of Online Video Meetings. NYTimes.com. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/25/technology/personaltech/online-video-meetings-etiquette-virus.html

Neeley, T. (2020, March 15). 15 Questions About Remote Work, Answered. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/03/15-questions-about-remote-work-answered

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

Steve Jobs Had Moderately Low Emotional Intelligence

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

Let’s start by defining emotional intelligence:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too much Assertiveness can be or look/sound:

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

Too much Optimism can be or look/sound:

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

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

Low Interpersonal Relationships can be or look/sound:

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

Low Empathy can be or look/sound:

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

Low Impulse Control can be or look/sound:

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

Low Flexibility can be or look/sound:

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

Low Reality Testing can be or look/sound:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This part aptly summarizes Steve Jobs as a leader:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even Jony Ive admitted this about Steve Jobs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review – An Introduction to Management Consultancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applying to a Management Consultancy

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

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

In the preface, Baaij wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

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

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

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

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

This is a classic example of the Pygmalion Effect. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

How to Manage Better by Matching Leadership Style to Development Level

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are three important caveats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

Overplanning Is No Substitute For Getting Sh*t Done

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

No Amount of Planning Can Ever Replace Just Getting Stuff Done

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

Don’t Not Plan, But Don’t Overplan

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

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

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

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

Don’t Sacrifice Execution for Overplanning

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

Getting Sh*t Done On an Island

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

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

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

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

Ooh, The Colors Are So Pretty!

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

Act Learn Build Repeat

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the difference between brand and marketing?

Pedersen says:

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

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

The Ironclad Method:

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

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

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

Takeaway:

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

Being Inconsistent Can Cost You Your Credibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downsizing Defined

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

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

The Consequences of Losing Your Job

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

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

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

Mental, Physical, & Psychological Costs of Job Loss

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

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

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

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

Emotional and Financial Cost of Job Loss

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

EMOTIONALLY

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

FINANCIALLY

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

The Psychological Effects of Unemployment

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

Hidden Costs of Downsizing

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

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

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

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

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

Costs of Layoffs to Companies

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

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

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

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

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

When Downsizing is The Answer

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

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

Alternatives to Downsizing

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An “Action Bias” Can Be Counterproductive

In a Wall Street Journal article, Staats (2018) writes, “we have an action bias: We would rather be seen doing something than doing nothing.”

In a 2007 study, researchers analyzed 286 professional soccer penalty kicks. They discovered that goalkeepers almost always jump right or left because the norm is to jump — a preference for action (”action bias”). The goalkeepers jumped to the left 49.3% of the time, to the right 44.4% of the time, but stayed in the center only 6.3% of the time. Analysis revealed that the kicks went to the left 32.2%, to the right 39.2% and to the center 28.7% of the time. This means that the goalkeepers were much more likely to stop a kick if they had just stayed put.

In 93.7% of the kicks, the goalkeepers elected to jump to the right or left. When goalkeepers stayed in the center, they had a 33.3% chance of stopping a penalty kick, whereas they had 14.2% chance if they jumped to the left or 12.6% chance if they jumped to the right. Even though it would have been better (based on the current distribution of kicks in the study) for the goalkeepers to stay in the center, they almost always jumped to one of the sides (Bar-Eli, Azar, Ritov, Keidar-Levin, & Schein, 2007).

When the researchers asked why, the goalkeepers responded that they would regret allowing a goal more if they remained in the center than if they dived to the right or left. Put it another way, the goalkeepers wanted to be seen to be doing something, even if that something was wrong (Staats, 2018).

“[G]oalkeepers feel worse about a goal being scored following inaction (staying in the center) than following action (jumping), which can lead them to jump to the sides more often than is optimal” (Bar-Eli, Azar, Ritov, Keidar-Levin, & Schein, 2007).

There are two important lessons to learn from this that can be applied to the workplace. The first lesson is from FYI: For Your Improvement, a guide for coaching and development. In it, Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) remind us about being overly action-oriented, and that one consequence of overusing or over relying on an action-oriented mentality is that we tend to push for solutions without doing an adequate analysis.

The second lesson is about exercising good impulse control. The ability to think before you act, being deliberate, and surveying a situation is part of impulse control (the ability to resist or delay the impulse to act), an important factor in the Bar-On Model of Emotional-Social Intelligence (Bar-On, 2006; Multi-Health Systems, 2011). Individuals who lack or are low in impulse control will often act now and think later. They tend to be overactive, impatient, and leap before they look.

Impulse control is one of the more difficult emotional intelligence skills to develop as a teenager or adult if you don’t develop it earlier on in life. This is because surrendering to our impulses is often reinforced in the short term by getting something we want, feeling a release of tension, or some other benefit (Kanoy, 2013).

“Individuals with effective impulse control, by contrast, have the capacity to think first rather than responding reflexively. It allows them mental space for weighing alternatives and assessing options so that their actions and expressions are reasoned and well considered. This leads to wise decision-making and responsible behavior” (Stein & Book, 2006, p. 206-207).

In her LinkedIn Learning video titled, “Transitioning from Manager to Leader,” Sara Canaday (a leadership speaker and executive coach), said:

“Leaders think carefully about the impact of their decisions on the company, the bottom line, the customers, the employees, even the competitors. What’s the immediate impact? What are the long-term implications and consequences? Leaders are decisive and courageous in their decision-making but they also know when to strategically pause if a delay provides an advantage. Sometimes, there’s genius in waiting [emphasis added]. For new information, for a competitor’s announcement, for a technological advance, that pause could prove to be priceless.”

Takeaway: There are times when it is absolutely critical to slow down—even stop—and understand the situation. When you do that, you’ll learn sometimes the smartest move is to actually not move at all.

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

References

Bar-Eli, M., Azar, O. H., Ritov, I., Keidar-Levin, Y., & Schein, G. (2007). Action Bias Among Elite Soccer Goalkeepers: The Case of Penalty Kicks. Journal of Economic Psychology, 28(5), 606-621.

Bar-On, R. (2006). The Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence (ESI). Psicothema, 18, supl., 13-25.

Kanoy, K. (2013). The Everything Parent’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence in Children. Avon, MA: Adams Media.

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

Multi-Health Systems. (2011). EQ-i 2.0 Emotional Quotient Inventory 2.0 User’s Handbook. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems.

Staats, B. R. (2018, July 6). Don’t Just Dive Into Action: Stop to Think First. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/dont-just-dive-into-action-stop-to-think-first-1530888843

Stein, S. J., & Book, H. E. (2006). The EQ Edge: Emotional intelligence and your success. Mississauga, ON: Jossey-Bass.

Book Review: Straight Talk for Startups by Randy Komisar and Jantoon Reigersman

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 the authors’ work/writing.

In Straight Talk for Startups, venture capitalist Randy Komisar and finance executive Jantoon Reigersman shared the “secrets” they’ve gathered “from decades of being on both sides of the table—originally as entrepreneurs looking for advice and more recently as mentors” (p. xix). As they caution, “You must be fluent in all issues facing entrepreneurs if you hope to win” (p. xx).

From the publisher’s website for the book: Komisar and Reigersman walk budding entrepreneurs through 100 essential rules—from pitching your idea to selecting investors to managing your board to deciding how and when to achieve liquidity. Culled from their own decades of experience, as well as the experiences of their many successful colleagues and friends, the rules are organized under broad topics, from “Mastering the Fundamentals” and “Selecting the Right Investors,” to “The Ideal Fundraise,” “Building and Managing Effective Boards,” and “Achieving Liquidity.”

“From the outside, starting a company looks easy. Just wake up with an idea, tell your friends, and convince one or two people to partner up; take your pick of top-tier venture capital investors, build a product, get swarmed by offers, and sell to the highest bidder. But we know it isn’t really like that” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 269-270).

The Review: It’s actually the last sentence describing the book (for those “curious about what makes high-potential ventures tick”) that got my attention and piqued my interest. You see, I do not run, work for or have any plans for creating a startup. The closest I’ve ever come to a startup is watching entrepreneurs on TV’s Shark Tank, a reality TV show about entrepreneurship in America; the “Sharks” – tough, self-made, multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons – invest in the best businesses and products that America has to offer.

I’m writing this review from the perspective of someone who’s simply curious about how startups work.

Investopedia.com (2018) has succint and clear definitions for entrepreneur and startup.

Here’s the verbatim definition of startup from Investopedia.com: A startup is a company that is in the first stage of its operations. These companies are often initially bankrolled by their entrepreneurial founders as they attempt to capitalize on developing a product or service for which they believe there is a demand. Due to limited revenue or high costs, most of these small-scale operations are not sustainable in the long term without additional funding from venture capitalists.

Because Straight Talk for Startups is written as a list, it doesn’t “flow” like when reading a standard/usual business book. And since it uses a list (100 insider rules), it’s only fitting that I select a handful (one or two from each of the five parts that the book is divided into), and quote and talk about them below.

Part 1: Mastering the Fundamentals
Rule #5 (p. 13): Most failures result from poor execution, not unsuccessful innovation.

“Timimg is critical. If you are right about the market but wrong about the timing, you will fail just the same” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 13).

Komisar and Reigersman said that Steve Jobs’ underappreciated strength was his “unnancy ability to never ship a product before its time” (p. 14). They talked about how Jobs killed off the Newton project (which had been struggling for years), but kept the talented people working in the area and redirected them to target digital music, eventually leading to the iPod.

“It was a decade later that Apple introduced the iPhone, a quantum leap from the Newton. The technology and batteries were finally cost-effective, the market had been primed to carry [Apple’s] entertainment in their pocket, and, by adding a cellular radio and a clever touch interface, Jobs finally had what he needed to deliver on the promise of a connected online communicator” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 14).

Rule #18 (p. 45): Know your financial numbers and their interdependencies by heart. You might think that these rules are generic advice, but you would be wrong. Rule #18 offers a prime example of the detail-oriented wisdom shared. The authors offered a quick primer on how the financial numbers (e.g., income statement, cash flow statement, balance sheet, working capital schedule, debt & cash schedule) work together.

Komisar and Reigersman (2018) said that as an entrepreneur, you need “to be able to drill down into the components of each element [in the financial numbers] so you understand, for instance, why revenues have increased rapidly (more customers) but your operating margins have shrunk (discounts to accelerate sales, customers not as profitable as expected, etc.)” (p. 49).

Part 2: Selecting the Right Investors
Rule #31 (p. 80): Avoid venture capital unless you absolutely need it.

“Remember: venture capital comes at a price, in the form of a meaningful percentage of your company. . . So you have to be prepared to part with a significant portion of your company to even attract a good venture capitalist” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 80).

“Venture capitalists will impose certain controls on what you can and cannot do without their approval, such as sell the company or issue new shares” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 81).

Part 3: The Ideal Fundraise
Rule #42 (p. 110): Raise capital in stages as you remove risk.

Raise money in stages because “if you raise more money than you need in an attempt to remove the leap-of-faith risks too early, you will pay a big price. Given everything that you still have to prove and accomplish, on a risk-adjusted basis, your valuation will be too low to provide you and your team with a compelling upside after you absorb all the dilution a ‘one-and-done’ round would entail. Simply stated, you are too risky at the start to raise all the capital you need at an attractive price” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 110).

Part 4: Building & Managing Effective Boards
Rule #65 (p. 175): Your board should be operational rather than administrative.

“You want businesspeople, not bureaucrats. You want a board of strategic thinkers with strong operating backgrounds, who are willing to work hard to make your venture a success. . . They need to be informed, available, knowledgeable, and engaged” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 175).

Part 5: Achieving Liquidity
Rule #87 (p. 231): Investors’ and management’s interests in liquidity often conflict.

“Investors may argue against the sale of a venture below a certain price—even when it would provide a resctable outcome for all. They [the investors] expect a larger multiple and return on their investment and are willing to roll the dice to get more” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 231).

At the end of the book, in the Epilogue, Komisar and Reigersman shared their “Cardinal Rule” which is “Always Ask Why?”

“Know why this venture is important to you. Why it should be important to others. And, given the low probability of success for any venture, why it is nevertheless worth failing at. Of course you don’t want to fail; success is always preferable to failure. But if you fail, will you feel you wasted your time, or that you fought the good fight?” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 271-272).

I love this part:

“You don’t just dream up a company; you sweat the details and manage operations. You watch every nickel and are strategic about whom you raise it from. You lead through good times and bad. You assemble trusted advisers, coaches, and boards to keep you on track. You don’t dream it; you work it—hard” (Komisar & Reigersman, 2018, p. 270).

Summary: Reading about what it takes to start and run a company, in particular the know-how and experience needed to get the job done, and gleaning from the sage advice distilled in the 100 rules, was an extraordinarily informative experience. Based on the wisdom shared by Komisar and Reigersman, anyone—not only entrepreneurs—can benefit from the tips and guidance in the rules from Straight Talk for Startups. Even if you’re not an entrepreneur or know anything about startups, if you’re just curious about what makes a startup venture work, then I think you’ll find Straight Talk for Startups to be a fascinating read.

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

References

Investopedia.com. (2018). Entrepreneur. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/entrepreneur.asp

Investopedia.com. (2018). Startup. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/startup.asp

Komisar, R., & Reigersman, J. (2018). Straight Talk for Startups. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Disclosure: I received Straight Talk for Startups as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Why Organizations Need More Star Followers and Less Yes People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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