Advice to First-Time Leaders – in Only 6 Words!

In July CCL hosted an online contest called “What Matters Most” which consisted of a weekly discussion question focused on what matters most to today’s leaders.  Each answer earned an entry to win a weekly prize.  Our most popular question of the four weeks was this:

We received some very creative and pertinent answers to this question, so we decided to put them into a video to show the world!  A big thank you to all who participated!  Feel free to share it with new managers in your organization!

Give us your advice to first-time leaders in the comments below!

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Help! My coach is disagreeing with my mentor!

This was the exasperated comment from a recently appointed mentee. He was a general manager who was experiencing the effects of good intentions. He was being over-supported. His employer had not worked out how, why and when to use mentoring and/or coaching. The outcome was an employee who was feeling under constant scrutiny and not given freedom, space and time to develop at his pace. To compound the problem, he also told me that he had discovered that his mentor and coach had called a meeting to discuss their different opinions on his development needs, and he wasn’t even invited!

I have noticed that employers who introduce mentoring often have a coaching provision in place, and usually the coaching provision is more embedded than the mentoring; it came first. Mentees often benefit from a coaching approach for some of their development needs. My view is that most good mentors will probably be doing some coaching in the meeting when the mentor sees that it is appropriate.

  • Can coaching work within the mentoring relationship?
  • Should it?
  • Should mentoring and coaching be separate activities?
  • Do the two ever conflict?

What are your experiences? I think it’s all about shoe size!

Think of mentoring as helping someone to grow into bigger shoes, to wear comfortably in the near future. This gives the mentor time to guide and advise the mentee on issues that will arise, but may not have yet. Coaching tends to focus on helping someone resolve a here-and-now issue or blockage for themselves. Think of coaching as helping someone comfortably wear big shoes, today.

They tend to overlap. Here’s my image for this:

Our exasperated general manager was being expected to grow into a new role, with all the new knowledge and skills that requires, whilst also hitting stretching performance targets for today, with all the pressure and uncertainty that this was bringing. I am finding that mentors no longer have the luxury of time to fully prepare their mentees for the future, they have to help them perform today. This brings them into the world of the coach.

Mentoring and coaching can be seen as styles, which do not always need a separate person. Here at EMEA campus of The Center for Creative Leadership we have trained over 70 mentors this year; what are they saying to us?

  • Mentors are now thinking of developing coaching skills to add to their repertoire of development skills.
  • Mentors recognise that mentoring skills overlaps with coaching skills, but that neither provides the full skill set on its own.
  • Mentors are also saying that it doesn’t always make sense to find another person to provide coaching, but mentors have to be sure about the limits to their role.
  • Mentors are saying that their limits as coaches are not just about time, but also about appropriateness, over-involvement and closeness, and skill.

My question to you is this – how do you make sure mentoring and coaching can co-exist and make sense for the employee? I expect you will say that clear roles and responsibilities are important. I also expect you will say that careful scrutiny of the reasons why someone needs, or asks for, a coach or mentor are important. So how is this working in reality? What tips would you give for making sure that mentoring and coaching solutions can co-exist?

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Mentoring is a Gift

I still hear what my Mom told me when I was young: it is better to give than it is to receive. One gift that is just as good for leaders to give as it is to receive, is mentoring.

So much of the research on workplace mentoring looks at the benefits of receiving mentoring. Mentees have higher job satisfaction, higher salaries, and higher promotion rates than those who don’t receive mentoring. Makes sense.

But what about the mentor? If you mentor others, does it help you? My research on mentoring at CCL says emphatically, YES. Managers who mentor their direct reports are seen as better at their jobs and more promotable. And for leaders managing for the first time in their lives who are usually front-line leaders, those at first- or entry-levels of leadership in organizations, my research on first-time managers at CCL here and here shows that the ability to mentor, coach, and develop others is an imperative for leaders, and one that is a big challenge for leaders to excel in as well. Particularly for first-time managers, but in reality for every leader out there, you need to mentor others. [tweet this].

So we know it works. But why does mentoring help the mentor? According to researchers Aarti Ramaswami and George Dreher1 there are six reasons:

  • Human capital – Mentors can learn a lot of new information from their mentees which will make them more effective.
  • Movement capital – Mentors can become aware of new job or career opportunities as their mentees move across the organization.
  • Optimal resource usage – Mentors can have their time freed up to do other things when mentees are delegated important work.
  • Social/political capital and signaling – Mentors can expand their power base by mentoring others, increasing their own reputation as a solid performer.
  • Identity validation – Mentors can enhance their own self-awareness, self-discovery, and growth as a leader.
  • Relational gains – Mentors can feel a strong emotional bond with mentees which may benefit their own physical and mental health.

In the video below, you can hear how a mentor (me) and a mentee (Jacob Martin, a former intern and current graduate student in the industrial-organizational program at my alma mater, the University of Georgia) both benefitted from a high-quality mentoring relationship.

It wasn’t just about the paper that was published on the needs of participants in leadership development across seven countries2 and the arroz con pollo and chips and salsa celebration.

I’m very proud of Jacob’s efforts, and it’s great to see him making a contribution to the field. I am looking forward to what he will do once he graduates with his doctorate in a couple of years. He has definitely helped me become a better mentor and leader as well. So, how has mentoring others helped you? I hope that you will share your thoughts below, or tweet about them using #LeadershipSolutionsCCL and #mentoring. Let me (@Lead_Better) and CCL (@CCLdotORG) know about it too.

1Ramaswami, A., & Dreher, G. F. (2007). The benefits associated with workplace mentoring relationships. In T. D. Allen & L. T. Eby (Eds.), Blackwell handbook of mentoring:  A multiple perspectives approach (pp. 211-231). London: Blackwell.

2If you are interested in the paper we were celebrating over Mexican food, you can find it here: Gentry, W. A., Eckert, R., Munusamy, V. P., Stawiski, S. A., & Martin, J. (2014). The needs of participants in leadership development programs: A qualitative and quantitative, cross-country investigation. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 21, 83-101.


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6 Types of Toxic CEOs You Never Want To Be [Infographic]

The CEO, paradoxically, has the most overall power over her company, but the least amount of personal control over it. They get credit or blame for every major action in the company, even if they are not directly responsible. So how is this possible? Because the CEO sets the vision and the values of the company, and everyone under her does their best to live up to those values and see through that vision.

If someone in a company, even a lowly customer service rep, generates enough attention, how the CEO responds can affect the public’s attitude toward the company. They set the rules which the employees have to follow. So, if the rules allow for good actions, the company will generate profits and good will; if the rules are short-sighted, the company may suffer.

The CEO never clocks out. Most of have to them retire to be able to spend more time with their families. CEOs of larger companies may even have political power or command high salaries. But the best CEOs are often the ones you never hear about. They keep their companies quietly humming and staying profitable. Others make headlines, and some for the wrong reason.

Take a look at this infographic by GetVoIP which details six types of toxic CEOs that are destined for failure.

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Are You Guilty of Aiding Derailment?

Are you guilty of aiding derailment?As a manager responsible for a work group or business unit, do you ever do any of the following?

  • Move your top performers quickly through the ranks.  You are concerned that if you don’t promote them, they might leave the organization.
  • Test employees you think have potential to take on more by giving them a tough assignment and stepping back to see how they do.  You want to see if they sink or swim.
  • Bring key staff members with you when you move into a new position.  You want to hit the ground running with people you trust.
  • Ignore signs of interpersonal problems in a direct report who gets things done.  Your reasoning is that in the bigger picture the results are more important than a few ruffled feathers.
  • Strategize to keep high performers from moving to jobs elsewhere in the organization.  Maybe you have even offered them perks or incentives to stay on your team.

If any of these apply to you, then you are likely contributing to a phenomenon all too common in organizations: the derailment of high potential employees.

“Derailed” is a term that Morgan McCall and Mike Lombardo coined over 30 years ago to refer to the careers of high-performing employees identified as having potential to move up in the organization and take on higher levels of leadership responsibility, but who don’t  live up to that evaluation of their potential. They plateau below their expected level of achievement or they reach higher levels only to fail miserably, resulting in being demoted or fired. For these managers, their careers have derailed from the track that their organization had expected them to stay on.

By studying those who derailed and those who arrived and excelled at higher levels of the organization, researchers at CCL identified characteristics of derailers.  For example, derailers are more likely to have problems with interpersonal relationships and more difficulty adapting to new contexts.  We turned what we learned into advice to leaders for keeping their careers on track.

But a closer look at the dynamics of derailment points to the role that middle-level and senior managers play in this phenomenon:

  • Rewarding high potentials with frequent promotions. The danger here is that there is not enough time for these individuals to learn from their experience in any one position. They aren’t around long enough to see the consequences of their actions and decisions.  Nor do they have time to build deeper relationships with others. Quick upward movement also reinforces a bad habit often found in derailers:  focusing on obtaining the next job rather than mastering the current one.
  • Testing high potentials with tough assignments.  Certainly high potentials need stretch assignments to learn and grow.  But framing these as a “test” leads to unintended consequences. It reinforces the high potentials’ tendency to focus on demonstrating how well they can perform rather than on how they can grow from the assignment. And leaving them on their own to sink or swim denies them access to coaches and advisors who could support their development from the experience.
  • Bringing high potential direct reports with you to a new position.  On the one hand, the move could expose these individuals to new challenges. On the other hand, one of the factors contributing to derailment is staying with the same boss too long. High potentials can become over-dependent on a powerful boss, not developing their own perspectives or learning from exposure to different styles.
  • Focusing only on the achievements of high potentials. How a high potential is behaving toward those higher in the organization is not always the way they are interacting with others in the organization. Tolerating bad behavior in a person who is prized for delivering results is perhaps the most common way senior leaders contribute to future derailments.
  • Hoarding talent.  Keeping high potentials in a functional or business unit silo contributes to another derailment dynamic:  the high potential individual not developing a broad view on the organization or the ability to work with people with a diverse set of perspectives.  Seeing top talent as a shared organizational resource is a hallmark of organizations known for their ability to build robust pipelines of leaders.

Why care about derailment of high potentials in your organization?  First, there’s a financial cost to the organization: the lost investment in the leader who derails and the expenses related to someone being fired or demoted.  More importantly there are human costs, particularly the damage to the morale and motivation of individuals who work for someone with one or more of the derailing characteristics.  And there’s the cost of losing the talents of a person whose development did not keep pace with his or her rise in the organization.

Take a few minutes to think about your own actions and behaviors that could be adversely impacting the development of high potential leadership talent in your organization.  What are you doing right and what might need to change?

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Want to Write Well? Learn to Write Badly

In communication, if you want to write well, first write badly. [tweet this]. Counter-intuitive I know.

Our research at CCL shows that communication is a highly valued competency for leaders in organizations, and it’s also a big challenge that leaders face. This is particularly true for leaders managing for the first time in their lives who are usually front-line leaders, those at first- or entry-levels of leadership in organizations. Good communication is necessary for success, but for most of us, it’s easier “said” than done (pun intended).

When we normally “talk” about communication, we think about the way we say things and how we communicate through our nonverbals (like our gestures, postures, tone of voice). But the written aspects of communication are so important too. Think about the reports you may have to write, the written documentation that states why you need more resources for your team, or why you or someone on your team deserves a raise, bonus, or promotion. The vision or mission statement for your team or project that has to be perfect on paper. As a leader, writing well is a big part of being a good communicator. So how do you do that?

In this short conversation I had with one of CCL’s highly talented postdocs, Dr. Cathleen Clerkin, she focuses on how the research in the academic fields of the brain and neuroscience (for instance, Patricia Goodson’s Becoming an Academic Writer) can help leaders be better at writing and communication.

When it comes to written communication, here’s what Dr. Clerkin suggests: To write well, you need to write badly. [tweet this]. That’s right – write badly. What does that mean?

  • When you start to write something, write without editing and self-censoring. Just generate ideas. Brainstorm. Use stream-of-consciousness. Bullet points. Don’t try to find the right, perfect word. Just get everything down on paper.
  • Why? Because when you generate ideas, you use one part of the brain. When you edit, you use a different part of your brain. By trying to use both parts of your brain simultaneously (by editing as you go), you are SLOWING DOWN your brain.

So, to write well, you should write badly. How do you do that? Here are tips Dr. Clerkin provides:

  • Practice writing every day, for short increments of time.
  • Don’t worry about typos and the way things sound in the beginning. The goal of the first draft is to just get things down on paper.
  • Take breaks when writing. When you come back to it, you will have a new perspective.

Professional writers change 9,000 out of 10,000 words from the first draft to the final document. That’s a 90% difference in words from the very beginning to the final product. People who write for a living are not perfect at the beginning. You don’t have to be either. So, if you as a leader want to write well, then learn to write badly. If you want the perfect document in the end, strive for imperfection at the beginning. [tweet this].

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What Makes Mentoring Work?

“We tried mentoring once, it never really worked. Anyway, people find their own mentors informally. What I need to know is how to fill my leadership pipeline.”

I recently held a seminar on mentoring, and this was one of the stranger comments I heard, because mentoring is ideal for helping to build a leadership pipeline. It got me thinking; what makes mentoring work well?

I’ve always been involved in mentoring as a mentee and as a mentor, and I’m delighted to see the recent surge of interest in mentoring. However, I’ve also come across a range of views and opinions on what makes for a successful mentoring scheme.

Let me share my interview with the HRD of a global pharmaceutical company. We were talking about a mentoring project we had been working on, so I took the opportunity to hear her views on what she thought were the most significant factors in the success of the scheme:

Q: How did you prevent mentoring being perceived as simply another initiative from HR?

A: We spent time making sure we had a few very clear reasons for introducing mentoring, and we took the time to show how this would improve things for the operational teams. We didn’t do it just because it was a Good Thing.

Q: How did you get buy-in from other leaders in the business?

A: Getting the CEO to sponsor us was vital, and he contributed to the communication plan. Ultimately mentoring has to be driven by the functional business areas and not HR, and they need to know why it is important, what’s in it for them, and who says so!

Q: What do you think was a key factor in establishing trust in the scheme itself?

A: Remember our discussions about confidentiality in the mentor relationship? It was so important to sort this out. It helped us shape the relationship between mentor, mentee and line-manager. It is a critical issue.

Q: Initially you targeted a discrete group of people, and went for a ‘soft launch’ of the scheme. How did this work out?

A: We were right to start small. Even then, we were getting lots of ‘me too’ requests for access to a mentor. It does take time to get the right mentors and mentees recruited and briefed. Only now is it the right time for us to extend the scheme.

Q: How useful was the training?

A: Training mentors and mentees on skills for developing the relationship and holding mentor conversations was critical. You can’t assume senior people will have the right skills for mentoring. We also found that simply having senior mentors in the same training event gave them a chance to talk about our leadership values in a context that had real and current application. It also elevated the status of the scheme.

Q: How did the mentees’ line managers get involved in the scheme?

A: It was good to discuss with the mentors about how we handle the line managers. The line manager does have a peripheral but important role to play. They did not need training but they did need a full briefing about what a mentor does and does not do.

Q: Apart from training, what else did the mentors need from you?

A: We absolutely had to support our mentors. After their first few meetings, they had lots of questions and some came across sensitive situations. By creating mentor-champions in each business area, we could get coaching support in place for the mentors.

There were a number of challenges in getting a robust and sustainable scheme in place, so I asked about some of these:

Q: Has the scheme run exactly as planned?

A: Most mentees are being promoted earlier than planned, and expected to perform immediately. It is good that we are now looking at Tactical Mentoring as well as Strategic Mentoring options.

Q: You also have coaches working with some people, has this conflicted with the work of mentors?

A: When you and I first talked, you asked me how our coaching program would fit with mentoring and I was not sure why this would be an issue. Today, our mentors are also doing some coaching within the mentor meeting. We need to re-think how these work together.

In the next article I shall ask; how much coaching is involved in mentoring? These articles will be in a forthcoming guidebook.

In the meantime, I invite you to reply with any tips you can offer to ensure the success of mentoring scheme.

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Feedback You Can Fathom

How do you give effective feedback in the workplace? We must admit it–giving and receiving feedback is not something most of us look forward to doing. In fact, we often know we should give feedback but are uncertain on how to deliver the message. Effective feedback is an important and efficient way to let people know the impact of their behavior so they are able to make informed choices regarding future actions.

CCL's SBI Feedback Model

CCL has developed a feedback technique called Situation-Behavior-Impact, or SBI, to help you give feedback in a way that works. Using SBI you can avoid common mistakes people make when giving feedback to peers, direct reports, volunteers, a boss or board members, such as:

• Judging individuals, not actions.
• Being too vague.
• Giving unwanted advice.
• Sandwiching negative feedback between positive messages.

SBI is simple and direct: you capture and clarify the situation, describe the specific behaviors and explain the impact that the person’s behavior had on you. It is used for giving both positive and negative feedback. For example:

“Matt, during Tuesday’s board meeting, you called for a vote on the budget item Terry suggested without seeking my input first. I felt dismissed and wondered if the board really understood the implications of that new expense.”

“April, over the past month you have been putting in extra volunteer hours to meet this upcoming deadline. I really appreciate the time and effort you’re putting into the organization.”

As you become more familiar with the approach and more comfortable with the delivery, your feedback skills will become more and more effective. The people you work with will benefit from the effort you put toward helping them develop. You, in turn, will benefit from developing a useful skill that not only helps to raise the effectiveness of the people around you but also bolsters your leadership skills.

Shera is the author of a new guidebook,
Feedback that Works for Nonprofit Organizations,
published by CCL Press in 2014.  

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Image Busters: Eight Common Leader Mistakes

There’s no shortage of ways to ruin your image as a leader. Here are eight common mistakes executives make – and you should avoid – that have a negative effect on leadership image.

  1. Too much seriousness. Leaders don’t need to be serious to be taken seriously. Leaders who are overly reserved look wooden, stiff and uncaring. A smile goes a long way. Show that you can take a joke or handle pressure with graciousness and warmth.
  2. Weak speaking skills. In a media-saturated world, people know a good speaker when they hear one. A flat or monotone vocal style, inappropriate volume or poor diction usually isn’t tolerated. Whether talking one-on-one or speaking to a crowd, pay attention to how you speak, not just what you say.
  3. Lack of clarity. What you say is enormously important, too. Leaders who speak with clarity of thought and message covey an image of effectiveness in a way that a leader who rambles or speaks disjointedly does not. If the message is unclear and non-specific, listeners tune out and assume you don’t know what you’re talking about.
  4. Self-absorption. Overuse the words I, me and my and you isolate yourself and don’t engage your audience. People prefer to be a part of something, not just the recipient of your efforts. Even if something is your idea, your vision and your responsibility, keep in mind that your job as a leader is much bigger than yourself.
  5. Lack of interest. Think back to when you were in school – which teachers captured your attention and imagination? The energetic teachers who seemed to loved their job or the ones who lectured dispassionately from the podium? Energy, interest and passion for your work are incomparable assets.
  6. Obvious discomfort. It’s painful to watch a leader who is uncomfortable in front of a crowd or awkward in conversation. If you are tentative or uncomfortable in the roles you play, people begin to doubt your ability to be an effective leader – especially in difficult situations.
  7. Inconsistency. Over time, your image becomes tied to your larger reputation. If you have a reliable pattern of behavior – one that is reflected in what you do and how you do it – your leadership image will be seen as genuine. Inconsistencies, in contrast, form an image of a leader who is flaky, insincere or dishonest.
  8. Defensiveness. An unwillingness to consider other views, a knee-jerk defense of your position or decision, or an inability to seek and hear feedback can undermine your image as a capable, effective leader.

This article is adapted from the guidebook Building an Authentic Leadership Image, by Corey Criswell and David Campbell (CCL Press, 2008).

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Credible Feedback: It’s Not About the Right Words

I get a kick out of some leaders who want to be better at “giving feedback.” Some are like seven year-olds who can’t wait to tell someone, “You got a booger hanging ow-cher nose.” The news they’re holding burns their palms until they can unload it. And yet, we want other people to be just as thrilled with our bad news as we are.

The question of how to give and receive feedback is usually near the top of leadership skills I’m asked to teach. What’s so hard about giving feedback? Certainly, fear of others’ reactions. We say, “He doesn’t want to hear it” or “She gets so upset.” We rightfully worry about how the news will affect our relationship with that person. It’s just as hard to receive it. When someone says, “May I give you some feedback?” I hear ”May I trash your self-image as a competent person?” I don’t really care that it is good for me (although it is).

The fundamental problem is this: the way we usually think about feedback ignores the power dynamics that shape our emotional reactions. Much of our emotional life originates in the dynamics of survival and dealing with threat. While criticism may not appear to kill or maim, it has much in common with the experience of blunt force trauma. Both put us off-balance and can leave bruises. Both can lead to avoidance, even when the feedback is given with the best intentions.

All through primary and junior high school I was told by teachers, “You’re capable of so much more than you’re doing.” This feedback was no problem for them because they were teachers and in charge, and I was the student and supposed to be powerless. Let’s leave aside the fact that, as feedback, it was nearly useless. It was so vague I could only conclude that I should try harder (at what, I didn’t know) or simply feel bad about my profound waste of presumably valuable intellectual resources. Since, I already put lots of effort into anything remotely interesting or challenging, I wasn’t persuaded that lack of attention was a good diagnosis.

In fact, I decided my problem was that too many teachers wanted to give me feedback. Unfortunately, I figured out a solution. The last time a teacher (9th grade) told me about my unfulfilled capability, I agreed with her, expressed dismay, and invited her to help me correct my defect. This changed the power dynamic, however. She wasn’t clever enough to tell me high potential and low performance were really my problem or sufficiently insightful to create more challenging learning experiences for me. Also, she had no idea what I should do with my unfulfilled potential. The result: outside of class she avoided me the rest of the year, thus solving my “feedback problem,” while leaving my sub-par performance untouched.

The easiest way to think of power dynamics in relationships is to think how actions  tend to move us “one up” in relationship to another or “one down.” Giving someone feedback or drawing attention to the problem their actions create always moves us “one up” and defines us as more powerful than they are. At least, that’s how it feels to the person getting the feedback. No one likes to feel less powerful. If you don’t want to be making an inadvertent power play, then you have to develop a different relationship before trying to give feedback.

Once we understand the power dynamics involved, I think the issue of feedback has a relatively simple solution. If I want to give people feedback, I must ensure that I am really good, really persistent, in asking for it from them. I have to make sure that I respond to the feedback I get with appreciation and thoughtfulness; that I don’t get over-wrought and don’t feel the need to explain why they are wrong or how I’m misunderstood. Once I’ve shown I have no problem taking a “one-down” position relative to you, I’ve moved the conversation away from the power assertion of unsolicited feedback toward mutual improvement.

It also helps if I can be explicit about why I do what I do. That’s because some of the things others don’t like about my behavior are intentional and represent a choice I’ve made; but others are unintentional and I may not be aware of how others are affected. Either way, no one will receive my feedback well if I’ve not solicited their perceptions and judgments. And why should they?

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