Tag Archives: Coaching Psychology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Overcoming Obstacles: Attitude and Approach Are Answers to Pains and Problems

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
―William Shakespear

In his book, The Obstacle Is the Way, Ryan Holiday (2014) shares the wisdom of Stoicism* (a Greek philosophy) and ancient Stoics to help readers “accomplish the very specific and increasingly urgent goal we all share: overcoming obstacles. Mental obstacles. Physical obstacles. Emotional obstacles. Perceived obstacles” (Holiday, 2014, p. 5).

*Stoicism is “about acknowledging our emotions, reflecting on what causes them, and redirecting them for our own good. It is about keeping in mind what is and what is not under our control, focusing our efforts on the former and not wasting them on the latter. It is about practicing virtue and excellence and navigating the world to the best of our abilities, while being mindful of the moral dimension of all our actions” (Pigliucci, 2017, p. 2-3).

“The Stoics realized that we have considerable flexibility in how we frame the situations we experience. They discovered, more precisely, that by thinking of setbacks as tests of our character, we can dramatically alter our emotional response to them. We can, in particular, develop our ability to stay clam, even in the face of very significant setbacks, and this in turn can have a dramatic impact on our quality of life” (Irvine, 2019, p. 17).

Holiday’s book teaches us: “How to turn the many negative situations we encounter in our lives into positive ones—or at least to snatch whatever benefit we can from them. To steal good fortune from misfortune” (2014, p. 5).

“We’re dissatisfied with our jobs, our relationships, our place in the world. We’re trying to get somewhere, but something stands in the way. So we do nothing. We blame our bosses, the economy, our politicians, other people, or we write ourselves off as failures or our goals as impossible. When really only one thing is at fault: our attitude and approach” (Holiday, 2014, p. 2).

But not everyone is stuck like this. Some people are able to turn their obstacles and trials into triumphs. What’s more, many of these individuals faced unimaginable challenges and frustrations and despite those obstacles, or perhaps thanks to those obstacles, they overcame and succeeded. Great individuals, like great companies, find a way to transform weakness into strength. They are able to take what should have held them back and used it to move forward (Holiday, 2014).

“Like oxygen to a fire, obstacles became fuel for the blaze that was their ambition. Nothing could stop them, they were (and continue to be) impossible to discourage or contain. Every impediment only served to make the inferno within them burn with greater ferocity” (Holiday, 2014, p. 4).

There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try (Holiday, 2014, p. 18):

  • To be objective
  • To control emotions and keep an even keel
  • To choose to see the good in a situation
  • To steady our nerves
  • To ignore what disturbs or limits others
  • To place things in perspective
  • To revert to the present moment
  • To focus on what can be controlled

“This is how you see the opportunity within the obstacle. It does not happen on its own. It is a process—one that results from self-discipline and logic” (Holiday, 2014, p. 18).

Take Helen Keller, the first deaf and blind person to ever graduate from college. Can you imagine losing one of your senses, let alone two? Many people know about Keller’s successes and accolades, but not many are familiar with the struggles she had to overcome to get there. For instance, Keller was such a temperamental, wild, and unruly deaf-blind child that even family and close friends didn’t think she could be taught. It took Helen’s mother, Kate Keller, and her unrelenting quest for a teacher (one who would be willing to travel to rural Tuscumbia, Alabama to teach Helen), and a teacher (Anne Sullivan), who was both qualified and willing to travel to Alabama. Under Sullivan’s tutelage, the young Keller thrived ― learning how to fingerspell, read Braille, and write. Helen Keller eventually graduated from Radcliffe College. Keller could read English, German, French, Greek, and Latin in Braille! She also learned to speak (McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2004).

“Keller hit, pinched and kicked her teacher and knocked out one of her teeth. Sullivan finally gained control by moving with the girl into a small cottage on the Kellers’ property. Through patience and firm consistency, she finally won the child’s heart and trust, a necessary step before Keller’s education could proceed” (McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2004).

What’s perhaps more remarkable is that Anne Sullivan (Helen Keller’s teacher) herself experienced much more extreme hardships growing up. When Sullivan was about five years old, she contracted trachoma, an eye disease caused by bacteria. Trachoma causes repeated, painful infections, making the eyes red and swollen. Over time the recurring irritation and scarring of the cornea causes severe vision loss. Sullivan dealt with the effects of trachoma throughout her life. After her mother died (Anne was eight years old), her father struggled to raise the family and soon abandoned his children. Anne and her younger brother Jimmie were sent to Tewksbury Almshouse, a home for the poor. Sadly and very tragically, the conditions there were so deplorable that three months after they arrived, Jimmie Sullivan died. Early in her stay at Tewksbury, Anne realized that her best chance at a better life was to get an education at a school for blind children. This became her central focus. She heard about a commission coming to investigate the conditions at Tewksbury, and on the day of their visit, she followed them around waiting for her time to speak up. As the tour was wrapping up, Anne approached one of the inspectors and told him she wanted to go to school. That moment changed her life. On October 7, 1880, Anne Sullivan entered the Perkins School for the Blind (McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2004).

And even after she got into the school, many of the other girls (most from wealthy families) made fun of her because, at the age of 14, she was unable to read or write her name. And she had never owned a nightgown or hairbrush. “Anne Sullivan’s recollections of her early years at Perkins were mainly of feeling humiliated about her own shortcomings. Her anger and shame fueled a determination to excel in her studies” (McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2004).

“Not everyone looks at obstacles—often the same ones you and I face—and sees reason to despair. In fact, they see the
opposite. They see a problem with a ready solution. They see a chance to test and improve themselves. Nothing stands in their way. Rather, everything guides them on the way” (Holiday, 2014, p. 178).

Anne Sullivan’s life experiences, like so many of the great history changers and makers before and after her, were “tested in the crucible of adversity and forged in the furnace of trial” (Holiday, 2014, p. 178).

“People seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant success is achieved.” ―Anne Sullivan

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” ―Helen Keller

Takeaway: “You will come across obstacles in life—fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure. . . . [T]his reaction determines how successful we will be in overcoming—or possibly thriving because of—them” (Holiday, 2014, p. 16).

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

References

Holiday, R. (2019). The Daily Stoic. What Is Stoicism? A Definition & 9 Stoic Exercises To Get You Started. https://dailystoic.com/what-is-stoicism-a-definition-3-stoic-exercises-to-get-you-started/

Holiday, R. (2014). The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. Portfolio.

Irvine, W. B. (2019). The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher’s Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

McGinnity, B.L., Seymour-Ford, J. and Andries, K.J. (2004) Anne Sullivan. Perkins History Museum, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA. [Also from https://www.perkins.org/history/people/anne-sullivan]

McGinnity, B.L., Seymour-Ford, J. and Andries, K.J. (2004) Helen Keller. Perkins History Museum, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA. [Also from https://www.perkins.org/history/people/helen-keller]

Pigliucci, M. (2017). How To Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life. Basic Books.

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

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

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

This is a classic example of the Pygmalion Effect. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

Coaching vs. Therapy – Referring Coaching Clients with Mental Illness

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

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

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

That is a staggering percentage!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The major sections in Compass are:

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

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

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

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

Compass is divided into four parts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaders who make their decisions using sound judgment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You might have great ideas and be highly accomplished, but if you struggle to connect with other people you won’t be successful leading them. You need interpersonal skills to recognize and assess what others need. These skills involve not only listening to others, but also include noticing social cues that communicate how others are thinking and feeling, even if they don’t say so outright” (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017, p. 261).

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

How to Manage Better by Matching Leadership Style to Development Level

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are three important caveats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

GROW Coaching Model: The Fascinating Backstory

One of the most popular coaching models in the world is the G.R.O.W. Model (Whitmore, 2017). GROW is one of the earliest (perhaps even the original) business coaching models.

THE INNER GAME and THE BIRTH OF MODERN COACHING

Tim Gallwey and his Inner Game method are credited for giving birth to modern-day coaching (Whitmore, 2017). Gallwey’s Inner Game approach was extremely influential to the developers of the GROW Model. In fact, according to the late Sir John Whitmore, “All the leading exponents of business coaching today graduated from this [Tim Gallwey’s Inner Game business (tennis & skiing training)] and have been profoundly influenced by the Gallwey school of coaching” (Whitmore, 2017, p. 15).

The Inner Game approach is simple (Gallwey, 2018): By quieting self-interference, we are more able to tap into our natural abilities with greater ease. It is about overcoming the self-imposed obstacles that prevent us from accessing our full potential.

Gallwey (2008) said we don’t reach peak performance because our Self 1 (the teller/the ego-mind) is constantly thinking, judging, worrying, fearing, regretting, and being distracted and this interferes with the natural capabilities of our Self 2 (the doer/the physical body, including brain, memory bank & nervous system). “It is the constant ‘thinking’ activity of Self 1, the ego-mind, which causes interference with the natural capabilities of Self 2. Harmony between the two selves exists when this mind is quiet and focused. Only then can peak performance be reached” (Gallwey, 2008, p. 14).

The Inner Game is “the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation. In short, it is played to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance” (Gallwey, 2008, p. xvii).

“The Inner Game approach suggests that humans can not only achieve the outcomes they commit themselves to but can do so in a way that is fulfilling to them, and learn in the process. I [Tim Gallwey] call this capacity Mobility. The coach’s role is to facilitate the mobility of the client, whether individual or in a team, by increasing awareness, choice and trust. In short, this enables the client to be more conscious in thought and action while being hampered less by unconscious habits that interfere.” (https://www.coaching-at-work.com/2010/04/26/inside-out/)

JOHN WHITMORE, THE INNER GAME, and “COACHING”

John Whitmore provided some context to his relationship with Tim Gallwey, Inner Game, and the decision to use the word “coaching” rather than “Inner Game” in their coaching:

“I trained with Tim and, under license, I started the Inner Game organization in England, which in the first instance was not a business at all, it was a ski school and a tennis school, and that was all I was interested in. Very quickly, business people who came on our ski courses recognized how valuable this could be for business . . .” (Mura, 2003, p. 108).

“[Q]uite early on we recognized that there was a problem with the name, the Inner Game, because it sounded like some sort of American cult, something limited. So we wanted to use a generic term that described it more broadly, and that’s why we chose the word ‘coaching’” (Mura, 2003, p. 108).

In fact, when Whitmore and his colleagues “introduced coaching into business four decades ago, the word [coaching] was new in that context. . .” (Whitmore, 2017, p. 15-16).

THE 3 CO-DEVELOPERS OF THE ORIGINAL GROW MODEL

Many people don’t realize that three people were involved in developing the GROW model in the mid- to late-1980s: John Whitmore, Graham Alexander, and Alan Fine (Fine, 2018).

According to the InsideOut Development [Alan Fine’s company] website (2018) and email communications between the CEO of InsideOut Development [Fine’s company] and Sir John Whitmore, Whitmore, Alexander, and Fine co-created the original G.R.O.W. Model (A. Fine, personal communication, March 26, 2018).

As Whitmore recalled, they were already using the GROW sequence, just not giving it a name: “Some early UK coaches, including me [John Whitmore], had been using the GROW chronological sequence for some time before it was given that name. A staff member at a client site where Graham Alexander and I [Whitmore] were working wanted a metaphorical word to represent that sequence. The staff member suggested ‘GROW’, and we adopted it” (Whitmore, Kauffman, David, 2013, p. 245).

In the foreword to the book, Best Practice in Performance Coaching (Wilson, 2007), Whitmore explained: “I was just the first person to publish it [the GROW Model], in my book Coaching for Performance. It [The GROW Model] originally emerged in a discussion between several coaches with whom I was working at the time, including Graham Alexander, in the McKinsey office in London . . .” (p. xi).

I asked Alan Fine via email, “Were you one of the coaches that Whitmore was talking about when he said that the GROW Model originally emerged in a discussion between himself and several coaches?”

Here is Alan Fine’s response (A. Fine, personal communication, March 26, 2018): “I would think I was I can’t imagine who else he might be referring to. I would also make a distinction between the four-step model and the labels of the steps. My memory of it is that the four-step model emerged over time during our work at McKinsey and the labels of GROW were first devised by one of McKinsey’s communication specialists.”

The Performance Consultants website, co-founded by the late Sir John Whitmore, recounted the history of the GROW Model and how McKinsey, the renowned management consultancy, played a key role in asking Whitmore and his colleagues to come up with a coaching framework — which they did (Performance Consultants, 2015):

“In 1986 the management consulting firm McKinsey became their client. Many of the programmes they ran for McKinsey included experiential coaching work on tennis courts. The coaching was so successful at improving performance and unlocking potential that McKinsey asked them to come up with an underpinning framework of coaching – a model on which to hang what was happening on the courts and elsewhere in the programmes.

“So they videoed themselves and their colleagues coaching, they invited neurolinguistic programming (NLP) experts to look at what they did, they debriefed to try to discover what was happening and whether there was a model that played out in their unconscious competence. And yes, there was – whether on the tennis court or in a business setting.

“The acronym GROW came out of the four key stages they identified: Goal, Reality, Options, Will. They bounced it and a few other ideas off an internal communications person at McKinsey who said GROW would fly well, and liked it because it was simple and because it was actions and outcome focused.”

FYI: This story also appears in the 5th edition of Whitmore’s Coaching for Performance (2017) book on pages 97-98.

VARIATIONS OF THE GROW MODEL

According to Fine, shortly after he, Whitmore, and Alexander developed the GROW Model, they all went their separate ways, each utilizing his own approach to the GROW 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). Only the last letter, “W”, is interpreted differently. John Whitmore defined it as “Will” (Whitmore, 2017), 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).

As explained on the InsideOut Development (Fine’s company) website: “The Way Forward makes the decision process something tangible and actionable, where it becomes very clear to the person making the decision what should happen next,” Fine says. “In the absence of motivating clarity,” he argues, “people simply don’t take action.”

OUT OF THE STRUGGLE CAME “GROW”

Who would have thought that the backstory of the GROW Model included McKinsey, the management consulting firm? Just as interesting was that Whitmore and his colleagues tried to fit their model into McKinsey’s 7S Framework and, initially, called their early work the “7S Coaching Model” (Whitmore, 2017, p. 97). But this proved “tortuous” (Whitmore, 2017, p. 97). “In the end, [they] came up with the acronym GROW for the four key stages [they] identified” (Whitmore, 2017, p. 97).

CONFIRMING THE 3 CO-DEVELOPERS of GROW

Alan Fine, on his website, wrote that the GROW Model “was the result of the collaborative efforts of all three individuals,” meaning Fine, Whitmore, and Alexander. After contacting Alan Fine via email, I was able to confirm this after he forwarded me email communication in 2009 between John Whitmore and the InsideOut Development CEO acknowledging that the G.R.O.W. Model was, indeed, jointly developed by John Whitmore, Graham Alexander, and Alan Fine (A. Fine, personal communication, March 26, 2018).

Whereas Alan Fine credited and mentioned both John Whitmore and Graham Alexander in his book (You Already Know How to Be Great) and on his website, neither John Whitmore nor Graham Alexander mentioned Alan Fine in any of their writings or interviews (that I could find). Whitmore and Alexander acknowledged one another as co-developers but, curiously, they never mentioned Alan Fine, even though, according to Fine, the three of them worked together for three years. As Fine explained, “The three [Whitmore, Alexander, and Fine] worked together for three years in the early 1980s before co-developing the G.R.O.W. Model.”

It was challenging to investigate the backstory of how the GROW Model came to be developed. I was very curious after reading about the history of the GROW Model on Alan Fine company’s website and learning about Fine’s claim of being one of the three co-developers. But I could not find anything from either Whitmore or Alexander to confirm this. So I reached out to Alan Fine via email and received his response about two weeks later (which included email messages from the CEO of Fine’s company to the CEO of John Whitmore’s company, and John Whitmore’s reply). In his email response (dated July 14, 2009) to Kim Capps, CEO of InsideOut Development, Sir John Whitmore wrote (A. Fine, personal communication, March 26, 2018):

“I have no disagreement with the historical circumstances as now described in the first two paragraphs [of InsideOut Development’s History and Intellectual Property Rights (Related to the G.R.O.W. Model)”*].

*Note: InsideOut had emailed a GROW Model description to Whitmore’s company which stated that “The original G.R.O.W. model was created over twenty years ago in the UK by three individuals–John Whitmore, and Graham Alexander, and Alan Fine . . . The model was the result of the collaborative efforts of all three individuals, resulting in each having joint interest in the work . . . There was an informal understanding between the three of them that each would have equal ability to work with the original model but that no single person would claim any more credit or ownership of the basic original model than the others.”

This explanation from Fine’s website sums it up well:

“The three [Whitmore, Alexander, and Fine] parted ways with an understanding between them that each would have equal ability to work with the original model, but that no one would claim any more credit or ownership of the original model than the others. Because of that understanding, the three individuals were less aggressive, individually and collectively, than they could have been in protecting their early work.”

CURIOUSLY

John Whitmore’s book, Coaching for Performance (where he outlined the GROW Model) has now been published five times [1st ed. 1992; 2nd ed. 1996; 3rd ed. 2002; 4th ed. 2009; 5th ed. 2017]. However, he never mentioned Graham Alexander or Alan Fine as co-developers of the GROW Model. On the Acknowledgement page in the first, second, and third editions of the book, Whitmore did mention them, but by name only, never crediting them as co-developers of the GROW Model. And, in the fourth and fifth editions, there is no mention whatsoever of either Graham Alexander or Alan Fine.

THE MCKINSEY COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST

The most interesting piece of information I discovered in my research on the history of the GROW Model was that although Whitmore, Alexander, and Fine had been using their four-step sequence for some time, the actual label (“GROW”) to their model came about through their work with McKinsey, and more precisely, a McKinsey communications specialist (A. Fine, personal communication, March 26, 2018; Performance Consultants, 2015; Whitmore, Kauffman, David, 2013).

“Some early UK coaches, including me [John Whitmore], had been using the GROW chronological sequence for some time before it was given that name. A staff member at a client site [McKinsey] where Graham Alexander and I [Whitmore] were working wanted a metaphorical word to represent that sequence. The staff member suggested ‘GROW’, and we adopted it” (Whitmore, Kauffman, David, 2013, p. 245).

“[T]he labels of GROW were first devised by one of McKinsey’s communication specialists” (A. Fine, personal communication, March 26, 2018).

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). IP GROW Model InsideOut Development. https://www.insideoutdev.com/about-us/ip-grow-model/

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

Gallwey, W. T. (2018). About Tim Gallwey. http://theinnergame.com/about-tim-gallwey/

Gallwey, W. T. (2008). The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance. New York: Random House Trade Paperback.

Mura, A. (2003). Coaching for Performance: A Conversation with Sir John Whitmore Interview Conducted by Agnes Mura. International Journal of Coaching in Organizations, 1(4), 107-116.

Performance Consultants (2015). The GROW Model. https://www.performanceconsultants.com/grow-model

Whitmore, J. (2017). Coaching for Performance: The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership (5th ed.). London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Whitmore, J., Kauffman, C., & David, S. A. (2013). GROW Grows Up: From Winning the Game to Pursuing Transpersonal Goals. In S. David, D. Clutterbuck, and D. Megginson (Eds.), Beyond Goals: Effective Strategies for Coaching and Mentoring (pp. 245-260). Farnham, Surrey: Gower Publishing.

Wilson, C. (2007). Best Practice in Performance Coaching: A Handbook for Leaders, Coaches, HR Professionals and Organizations. London: Kogan Page.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Awaken, Align, Accelerate by MDA Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEADING PEOPLE (leadership factor #1)

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

THINKING AND DECIDING (leadership factor #2)

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

ACHIEVING (leadership factor #3)

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

RELATING TO PEOPLE (leadership factor #4)

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

MANAGING WORK (leadership factor #5)

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

MANAGING SELF (leadership factor #6)

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

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

Here’s how the Leading Courageously competency looks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership Levels Matrix for the Business Acumen competency.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Awaken, Align, Accelerate Framework

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

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

Phase 1: Awaken Your Potential

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

Phase 2: Align Your Goals

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

Phase 3: Accelerate Your Performance

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

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

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

Reference

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

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

Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)

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

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

Background of ROWE

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

Overview of ROWE

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

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

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

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

Benefits of ROWE

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

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

Things That Do Not Change under ROWE

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

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

ROWE is Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) to the Extreme

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

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

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

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

The Promise of ROWE

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

The Fanfare and Fizzle

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

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

The Risks and Obstacles of ROWE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Job Dissatisfaction and Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why We Must Combat Work Stress

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

How to Combat Work Stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

Talking Too Much and Not Listening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Active Listening

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

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

Here’s a great piece of advice:

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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