How does banning bossy play out in the workplace?

There is a clear gender gap when it comes to leadership today. Women earn 58% of US bachelor’s degrees, yet only make up 19% of US congress, 10% of heads of state and just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs. While there are many reasons why women are under-represented in leadership, research shows that at least one reason is that from an early age, women are socially trained to not think of themselves as leaders.

Boys are expected to show conviction and demonstrate confidence, and when they do so, are praised and called ‘assertive’. Meanwhile, young girls are expected to be nurturing and submissive. Young girls who deviate from this stereotype and who demonstrate leadership skills are labeled ‘bossy’, a word that is discouraging and disparaging. In fact, one study found that by the 7th grade, girls are half as likely to take on leadership roles because they are afraid of being called the dreaded b-word.

Beyonce_banbossyWhat is the Ban Bossy campaign?

The Ban Bossy Campaign, by Sheryl Sandberg, has brought much attention to this gender difference and leadership bias among young children. The campaign states that we should ban the word bossy, as a way to remove this negative stereotype and thus encourage young girls to lead.

The campaign focuses on this message: Bossy is a negative label used only toward girls who demonstrate assertiveness. This in turn decreases the odds of them growing up to become women leaders.

The Ban Bossy Campaign has garnered much media attention, in part due to the wide range of celebrities backing the campaign, including luminaries such as  Michelle Obama, Jennifer Gardner and Beyoncé (photo reprinted courtesy of Ban Bossy and

How is ‘Bossy’ affecting women in the workplace?

But what happens beyond this playground name-calling? Can the word bossy continue to harm women as they move into leadership roles in the workplace? The Center for Creative Leadership recently conducted a study to explore just that. It sought to define the word bossy, develop measures and indicators of bossiness, and explore how being bossy in the workplace may impact careers of both women and men.

We found that women are twice as likely as men to be called bossy in the workplace.  However, men were just as likely to exhibit bossy behavior in the workplace.

bossy-imageWe also found that, when it comes to the workplace, being bossy is not at all about being assertive which the Ban Bossy campaign touts. Our research uncovered that workers were labeled bossy when they ignored others’ perspectives, valued power and authority, were rude and pushy, and controlled, dictated and micro-managed.

Unsurprisingly, we found that exhibiting these bossy indicators was related to being less likeable, less successful and less popular. Moreover, being bossy was related to reduced promotability, for both men and women leaders.

Notably, however, bossy women had poorer outcomes. Women who fulfil the bossy criteria suffered more from a social standpoint and were less promotable than their bossy men counterparts.

What if we banned bossy in the workplace?

The Ban Bossy campaign calls for a ceasefire of bossy name-calling on the playground, in order to encourage girls to lead. However, the bossy phenomenon seems to be a bit more complicated when it comes to the workplace. On the one hand, it seems women continue to be disproportionately labeled with the b-word, even in in the workplace. So, taking it out of our vocabulary might be one way to stop some of the implicit discrimination against women leaders at work.

On the other hand, we found that bossiness is a negative leadership trait for both men and women, so conflating bossy with ‘assertiveness’ or ‘leadership’ runs the risk of promoting negative stereotypes about leaders and how they should behave.

Contrary to what Ban Bossy and others might say, our research shows that it’s not advantageous to be bossy in the workplace, regardless of your gender – even if you are the boss.

For more on this research, please see CCL’s latest white papers on bossy in the workplace, authored by CCL researchers Cathleen Clerkin, Christine Crumbacher, Bill Gentry, and myself:

Bossy: What’s gender got to do with it?

How to be the boss without being the b-word (bossy)

What do you think? Will banning bossy solve the gender gap in workplace leadership?

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Who’s Your Tony Bennett? Who’s Your Lady Gaga? #Mentoring

Sometimes the Grammy Awards recognizes a really odd partnership that really works. A few months before this year’s awards show, I remember doing a double-take when I saw them on TV together singing an old jazz standard. Of course, I recognized Tony Bennett. That made sense. But who was that singing with him? Is that Lady Gaga? That makes no sense. I mean, she’s known for wearing a dress made of meat. That can’t work. But it did. They sounded great together then, and at the Grammys. So great, they won the 2015 Grammy for “Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.”

tony-bennett-lady-gagaOne thing that I have found endearing behind their story is their relationship. Honestly, I think it’s a great example of a mentoring relationship. Though sixty years separates the two, they found a commonality not just in their heritage (both Italian-American), but also, their music. They both have said that they understand each other. Several times, like in this Rolling Stones story, Lady Gaga has referred to Tony Bennett as a friend, someone who brought out the best in her, someone who gave her advice. She is deeply appreciative of what he has done for her and her career. She was yearning for “a truly authentic collaboration, a true artistic exchange” and the collaboration with Bennett helped fill that need. Gaga even dropped the word mentor in the way Bennett has helped her singing. But, this relationship also helped Tony too. It brought a legion of “Little Monsters” to know Bennett and his music. The Grammy was the ultimate symbol of how this mentoring relationship benefitted Bennett and Gaga, both [tweet this].

So what can leaders take away from this? Mentoring. Great leaders need to be mentored. And, great leaders need to mentor.

In 2015, CCL is coming out with The CCL Handbook of Coaching in Organizations. I was fortunate enough to write the chapter on mentoring. In it, I talk about what mentoring really is (and isn’t), considerations for setting up a formal mentoring program, and the future of mentoring, among other things. One of the things that really struck me while writing the chapter was all the research on the benefits of mentoring. Consider this:

  • Research led by psychologists Tammy Allen (University of South Florida) and Lillian Eby (University of Georgia) carefully examined 43 studies that assessed career benefits for those who are mentored by others (i.e., protégés) in the workplace. What they found may not be surprising, but should be reassuring: Those who are mentored reported higher compensation, more promotions, higher job satisfaction and higher career satisfaction, than those who had not been mentored. It’s the Lady Gaga effect.
  • Research conducted by Professors Rajashi Ghosh and Thomas Reio thoroughly considered 18 studies that examined career benefits for the mentor. They found that mentors were more satisfied with their jobs and more committed to their organization than those who were not mentors. Mentoring is not just for the mentee or protégé, it helps the mentor too. It’s the Tony Bennett effect.
  • One of those studies Ghosh and Reio used in their meta-analysis was a study I conducted here at CCL with Professors Todd Weber (now at Central Washington University) and Golnaz Sadri (California State University, Fullerton). We found a “Tony Bennett Effect” but in a global sense. Using data CCL has collected from 30,365 leaders from 33 different countries in over 4000 different organizations, leaders judged as effective mentors by their own direct reports had higher performance ratings from their own boss. In some countries, that mentoring-performance relationship was even stronger. A CCL infographic presents the findings and implications.
  • In my research at CCL on first-time managers, one of the biggest skill gaps first-time managers have is the ability to coach, develop, and mentor their own direct reports. Everyone says it’s important for their success, yet first-time managers are not as strong at it as they need to be.

tony-bennett-lady-gaga2Mentoring is a mutually beneficial relationship that helps both the mentor and mentee. We as leaders need to be both. Interestingly, Lady Gaga is doing just that; Lady Gaga is someone’s Tony Bennett too. That someone is Grammy Award Winner Sam Smith. In a Rolling Stone article, Gaga said that “the influence and inspiration my work has had on him has been one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had as a growing artist.” She gets it, mentoring is a gift, as good to give as it is to receive [tweet this].

Take note (pun intended) from Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. Mentoring helped them both. Mentoring can help you too. So who is your Tony Bennett? Who is the person who mentors you and brings out the best in you? And who is your Lady Gaga? Who is the person you mentor, that you give advice to, that you help be their truest, authentic self?



Image Credits:

Posted in Coaching & Feedback, First Time Managers, Influence, Mentoring, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Are Your Habits Rewarding or Robbing You?

john-ryan-stampThis column is one of several that CCL President and CEO John Ryan has written on leadership as a Linkedin Influencer. Click to view all his columns and sign up to receive future posts.

As the head of an organization that unlocks human potential through leadership development, here’s a short summary of what I’ve learned:

People and companies want to change because they know they must. And they usually fail, not for lack of effort, but because they don’t know how to do it. For these shortcomings there’s an obvious culprit –their brains.

To paraphrase an insight often credited to Darwin, it’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.

Yet studies have shown repeatedly that as much as 50- 70 percent of organizational change initiatives fail. According to human performance expert Tony Schwartz, the average person makes the same New Year’s resolution 10 separate times and never fulfills it.

The business, social and personal costs of these failures are enormous, but we still remain stuck in our old loops.

I found myself stuck, too, in my early 20s. Fresh out of the U.S. Naval Academy and having qualified as a Navy pilot, I was working in my first Naval Aviation Squadron. I was very busy flying and leading a team, so I couldn’t exactly do whatever I wanted. But I finally had the freedom, after four years of following a rigid schedule, to make decisions about what I would eat and when, or if, I would exercise.

This turned out to be dangerous.

As a busy newlywed, I slipped unwittingly into a daily routine. Come home from work, eat two or three portions of my wife’s delicious dinners, then sit down on the couch and study my aircraft and weapon systems.

One year and twenty-five pounds later, I began to understand why I wasn’t feeling like myself anymore.

Usually pretty energetic, I felt sluggish most of the day. Once an accomplished athlete, I was hardly ever going to the gym. And I was only 23!

How did this happen?

We know now, from authors like Charles Duhigg and our own research at the Center for Creative Leadership into neuroscience and leadership, that much of what we do every day is strongly rooted in habit. Our brains are hardwired to manage the complexities of daily living by creating as many habits as possible. Habits really don’t require thinking, and the less we have to think and decide the more energy the brain conserves to deal with events that are out of the ordinary. And that’s why there’s a good chance you’ve already given up on that New Year’s resolution you made a month ago.

Maybe, because I was new to working long hours in an aviation squadron and also learning to master all the intricacies of flying a multi-million dollar aircraft, my brain needed all the available energy it could find. So my habits of overeating and just studying grew more and more ingrained.

When my father finally called me “a couch potato,” I knew the time had come to change. There weren’t a lot of fancy theories for how to do this in the late 1960s, but my wife and I put our heads together and figured out a few key steps.

First, I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t out of shape because of a bad metabolism or genetics or medical problems. Self pity is an impediment to living a healthy and productive life. I’d put myself in this fix through my own attitudes and behavior. As my organization explains in our program for managing change, the process starts with closely examining our deepest beliefs and mindsets. I believed, as someone who was young, healthy and athletic, that I could overeat and take it easy and still feel my best. Having enjoyed very little freedom at the Naval Academy, I also believed I should be able to do what I want. Unhealthy behaviors followed.

Next, I defined a concrete goal: lose the 25 pounds I’d gained since graduation and get back in great shape. As people, we’re strongly motivated by rewards for hitting our goals, and my reward would be looking and feeling better and also being a better leader and example to others.

As Duhigg’s The Power of Habit says, we’re more likely to change when we enlist others for support and guidance. My wife – whom I should make clear had not gained 25 pounds, or actually anything at all! – agreed to help however she could. That included cooking smaller meals and offering encouragement every step of the way.

Finally, I needed to commit to new behaviors that would, over time, form healthier habits that would replace the old, negative ones. It wasn’t easy to put together five-on-five basketball games, so I started running by myself three days a week after work. Then, during dinner, I’d limit myself to one portion and focus on eating it slowly. I won’t tell you this was fun. At first, it was not something I enjoyed, coming home exhausted from a run and then sitting down to a much smaller plate of food.

But other people had much bigger problems, and I knew I had to make this change. So with support from my wife, I stuck to the plan. People began to notice the change in my appearance. I started to enjoy running, and built up to six days a week of it. After six months, the weight was gone. More than 40 years later, it hasn’t come back, and I’m still running four miles almost every day.

The experience also greatly expanded my understanding of leadership, recommitting me to studying and practicing it. I was exposed to the elements that drive change at the individual and, by extension, the organizational level and saw in a deeply personal way how challenging and potentially rewarding the process is.

I don’t congratulate myself too much, though, because Duhigg points out that bad habits are never fully eradicated; they are only replaced. So the possibility of slipping into unproductive routines always remains. Recently, for example, I’ve had to ban myself from eating after 7 p.m. because it was affecting my sleep. I also had to take several steps to break an addiction to checking email.

We’re never too young or too old to fall into bad habits. It’s also never too late to change them.

Posted in Communication & Leadership Secrets, Experience-Driven Development, First Time Managers, Mentoring, Work Life Balance | Leave a comment

Three Ways Super Bowl Commercials Can Enhance Your Leadership: Harmony, Humor, and Heartstrings

footballWhat set the record for the most-watched TV show in U. S. history? Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, with around 114 million viewers. During the final minutes of the game, some estimates top 120 million. That’s a lot of people interested in a football game.

What else set a record? Super Bowl Ads. A 30-second commercial went for $4.5 million this year, a new record. If 114 million people are watching a football game, they are also watching those commercials. That’s definitely a captive audience.

As a leader, you may not have 114 million people watching you at one time. But, Super Bowl commercials, and a little research, can help us enhance our effectiveness as leaders.

Here are three ways:

1) Harmony

I love one major soda product over the other, most of us do. But such competition can be detrimental to the effectiveness of their Super Bowl ads according to a study by Stanford researcher Wesley Hartmann and his coauthor Daniel Klapper of Humboldt University Berlin. They found that when two major competitors (like Coke and Pepsi) advertise in a Super Bowl, there is no profit gain from the Super Bowl commercials for either company. Super Bowl ads just don’t work when there is competition. So when do Super Bowl commercials “work” and generate revenue? According to Hartmann and Klapper, when there is an already-made association with the brand and sports, and there are no other competitors with Super bowl ads, like the Anheuser-Busch produced Budweiser. When there is no competition, but rather, harmony, people listen, are influenced, and buy. Generalizing this research into our communication and messaging as leaders, let’s make sure that what we say is not in competition with, but rather, in harmony with, our organization’s mission, vision, values, beliefs, and larger purpose. If there is a competing message, people will be confused and tune out. If there is harmony, people will listen, remember, and be influenced.

2) Humor

monkeyI love monkeys in suits. Who doesn’t? With this year’s ads, one of my favorites was the Doritos commercials of the middle seat. The Snickers Brady Bunch ad with Danny Trejo was pretty good too. What do these have in common? Humor. We laugh out loud during these commercials. And research shows that humor is something we as leaders can use to enhance our effectiveness. Bruce Avolio, Jane Howell, and one of my friends and research colleagues John Sosik in their study examined leaders in a financial institution. They found that when leaders use humor, they received higher ratings on their individual performance appraisal and achieved their annual performance goals which included corporate objective business unit goals. Humor is an important way for us as leaders to build relationships and strengthen our bonds with the people we lead and serve, so use it. But, use humor in the “right” way by supporting others and strengthen relationships, not by attacking others, ridiculing others, and building ourselves up while tearing others down.

3) Heartstrings

puppyI think the Super Bowl commercials we remember the most, the ones that really stick with us, are the ones that get to us emotionally. We say “awwww” when we see them. They hit us in the gut. We shed a tear. It’s Coca Cola’s “Mean Joe Greene” commercial. It’s Clint Eastwood and Chrysler’s “It’s Halftime in America” commercial. And this year, we had Toyota’s “My Bold Dad” and Nissan’s “With Dad” commercials, and Budweiser’s “Lost Dog” commercial (which not-so-coincidentally won this year’s USA TODAY’s Ad Meter ranking as best commercial). These commercials pull on our heartstrings [tweet this]. And as leaders, we should pull on heartstrings as well. Researcher Adam Grant (the New York Times best-selling author of Give and Take) shows us the importance of pulling on heartstrings.

In a series of studies, Grant introduced the thought of a beneficiary: a client, customer, patient, anyone who was directly helped by or whose life or well-being depended upon the product or service provided. Through his research, Grant found that when employees were brought into contact with a beneficiary, the positive relationship between being a transformational leader (being charismatic, visionary, inspirational, having concern for others) and follower performance strengthened. Why? Beneficiaries pull on the heartstrings. If we as leaders bring in beneficiaries, our followers can understand how their work matters. The people we lead will clearly see how meaningful their work is, how it helps others, and how their work positively affects the lives of others.

Harmony, humor, and heartstrings are just three ways Super Bowl commercials, with a little bit of research, can help you be a better leader [tweet this]. What are others? What insights from Super Bowl commercials do you use to be a better leader? Would you please share your thoughts in the comments so we can all learn from each other and be better leaders to those we lead and serve? I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Posted in Communication & Leadership Secrets, Experience-Driven Development, First Time Managers | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Importance of Pairing Technology with Expertise

At a party after New Years I noticed a change in people’s attire – everyone I spoke with seemed to have new watches or bracelets made out of rubber of some kind. But they weren’t watches really, they were wearable technology.  Why were all of these people wearing them?  Because they think wearing them will help them get more fit.  Their idea is that the more data they have about what they’re doing, the more focused they’ll be on making changes.  And they’re right – to a point.

490928651Tracking distance walked, run, or cycled does help you know how far you’ve moved your body.  Knowing that your heart rate goes up a lot when you walk up stairs quickly makes you realize how going up the steps affects you.  It might also be useful to have a gadget tell you when you had a deep sleep and when you tossed and turned a lot.

One of the great things having the technology does for the user is to give them measurements they can pay attention to while they work to improve.  Do they do go further distances every day?  How is their heart rate?  How did they sleep?

But the technology doesn’t tell them how to improve, it just tells them what happened.  To figure out what to do to improve on any particular metric they have to do two things:  examine the data closely, and talk with someone who can help them decide what to do to improve.

The same is true for leadership.  It is critically important to get good measurements you can track over time to see improvements.  This is true both for leaders acting as individuals wanting to learn and develop, and for those acting as leaders of the organization. Many leaders use evaluations, 360s, performance reviews, and employee engagement surveys to get data they can use.  But, like wearable tech, these only provide numbers.  In some cases they can show a deficit in a particular area (like the heart rate is too high when walking slowly), but they can’t tell you what to do about it.  Going further distances might help . . . but it might not. You need people to help figure out what to do with the information.

This is why seeking advice and feedback from others is so critical – whether for personal health or leadership health.  Others can help you think through the meaning of the data you have and help you decide where you want to focus your efforts to improve.  Coaches are especially good at helping you look at the numbers and put together an action plan to make the improvements you’re looking for.  They have such a breadth of knowledge and understanding that they can suggest forms of exercise you might not have thought of – forms that may end up being more effective for getting you closer to the goal you’re looking for.

I pair technology with expertise because I want to find the most effective way to get from where I am to where I want to be, and I know I’ll get there faster if I can rely on someone to help me find the most efficient way to do it.  What about you?

Posted in Communication & Leadership Secrets, Talent Management & Development, Work Life Balance | Leave a comment

The 5 Biggest Keys to Leading Innovation

This article was co-authored by Jonathan Vehar.

A recent global survey by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) found that 94 percent of executives believe that innovation is a key driver of organizational success. And yet, just 14 percent of those respondents have confidence in their organization’s ability to drive innovation effectively.

466470105For leaders and organizations trying to close that gap, leadership makes all the difference.

In fact, our own extensive experience with helping clients around the world foster innovation – coupled with a growing body of research – convinces us that leadership is the single most important factor for nurturing creativity and fueling innovation at the individual, team and organizational levels.

Simply put, leaders must act in ways that promote and support innovation in their cultures.

In CCL’s new open-enrollment program Driving Results Through Innovation, we delve extensively into five core practices for developing innovation leadership. Let’s take a quick look at each of them here:

  • Realize that roles and capabilities needed for innovation vary by level: Successful innovation involves every level on the organizational chart, from the individuals who identify novel ideas, to the middle managers who champion them, to the senior executives who shape the overall culture. Understanding the different skills required to drive innovation by level focuses leaders on their responsibilities and helps target training and development.
  • Focus on an innovation process: Innovation in organizations cannot be a random or unstructured activity. It requires people with innovation mindsets who work together to explore, ideate, craft and implement groundbreaking ideas. When leaders understand how this process works, they can spot gaps and develop a strategy for filling them.
  • Identify and leverage different contributions: Since innovation is a process with different steps and stages, varying skills, perspectives and contributions are needed along the way – which means tapping talent across the organization. It’s the role of leaders to ensure that the innovation process involves a wide diversity of thought and experience.
  • Work across boundaries: Innovation requires leaders to influence, connect and collaborate with people who have different innovation styles. Without these capabilities, boundaries and bureaucracy can easily kill innovation. It’s critical to work across organizational boundaries, whether they are vertical, horizontal, geographic, demographic, or stakeholder-related.
  • Embrace polarities: Paradoxes and conflicting priorities must be approached from a stance of Polarity Thinking (as developed by Barry Johnson), which helps leaders determine how to understand and respond to issues that don’t have fixed solutions. For example, from this mindset, there isn’t a clear answer for a first-level manager weighing whether to deliver immediate results or champion a new process. Making a good call requires skill at navigating conflicting viewpoints.

The yawning gap that today’s leaders see between the importance of innovation and the ability of their organizations to engage in it productively doesn’t have to exist. When organizations support leaders at all levels and help employees develop the knowledge, experience and toolsets they need, a leadership culture that sustains innovation will take hold.

David Magellan Horth, Smith Richardson Senior Fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership, and Jonathan Vehar, a senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership, are co-authors of the new white paper “Innovation: How Leadership Makes the Difference.”

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How to Decide If a Training Solution is the Best Solution, Using a ‘Three-Question’ Calculation

We all know there are numerous options for developing people. Yet we have all come across occasions when the response to a development need is to ‘send them on a course!’

And so an employee trots off to attend a training course, has a nice lunch, meets some nice people, and comes back full of and enthusiasm that lasts for a morning. A week later a perplexed manager is wondering why there is no discernible difference in performance, behaviour or skill.

The lack of improvement is usually attributed to ineffective training. A bewildered trainer will often respond by attributing the lack of impact on some inadequacy in the delegate, the client, the choice of training course, the content design. There may be some truth in all of these reasons, but the real reason often comes down to the selection of training as a solution in the first place.

I want to spend a few minutes showing you how a simple Three Question Calculation may help to decide if you should proceed to explore a training solution.

Let’s consider three factors that influence how employees learn to do something differently.


If any of these is deficient, then a training solution is unlikely to be the most successful solution. Let’s put this to the test:

On a piece of paper, name an employee you are about to send on a training course. Now using a scoring system where 0 is lowest and 10 is highest. Write down a score for these three simple questions:


I would suggest that if the Grand Total is less than 20 out of 30, then a Training Solution is not likely to have much impact.

Why? In my example, the opportunity to put the learning into practice is not really high enough, so Clive is likely to forget his learning before he has a chance to practice. His manager needs to know this and do something about it, if a training solution is going to be really effective.

More cases where this calculation helps avoid wasting training budgets are:

  • Employees who are given software training months before the implementation and forget it all.
  • People who are sent on project management training but are not given a project to manage on return to work.
  • An employee who asks to go on Advanced Excel training, yet does not have the numerical reasoning skills to grasp some of the formula concepts.
  • Employees who are sent on Supervisory Courses to ‘get their enthusiasm back’.

You will have your own stories, and you can modify the scores based on your own experience and situations.

I have found this a useful ‘quick check’ with managers who demand training solutions for their own problem people, or use training as a quick fix. Sometimes the best solution is for the manager to coach the employee, or link them to a buddy or shadowing opportunity, or a mentor. It could equally be solved by delegation or inclusive practices by the manager.

Whatever the other options are, this three-question calculation can often help you to get a manager to focus on what solution is really best for the individual.

If all else fails, then you will probably be asked to ‘send them on a training course’ anyway!

Posted in Organizational Development, Talent Management & Development | 1 Comment

4 Classic Leadership Mistakes You Can Avoid

john-ryan-influencer-columnThis column is one of several that CCL President and CEO John Ryan has written on leadership as a Linkedin Influencer. Click to view all his columns and sign up to receive future posts.

One of the best things about starting my career in a big organization like the U.S. Navy was the opportunity it afforded to watch many different kinds of leaders in action. As I shifted from one assignment to another – learning how to fly planes, navigate ships and create strategic plans – I’d closely observe the behaviors of both my superiors and peers, wanting to emulate their best qualities.

Frequently, they fell into two groups – those who talked about how much they had to do and those who actually got things done.

Some leaders constantly walked around with big checklists they never seemed to complete. That’s because, as the day went on, they reacted to events by putting more things on the list. But they never really prioritized their tasks. So the days would often end with a few things checked off and twice as many new ones added – and the most important items getting buried deeper on the list!

These leaders had fallen into the “I’m so busy!” trap – the classic leadership mistake of confusing busyness with value. I’ll confess to being prone to it as well. Busyness is the cocaine of today’s knowledge workers. We get addicted to it when we react to what is right in front of us on our tablets, screens and other mobile devices, or when we attend endless meetings that result in no action.

Let’s be honest: most of us believe being busy is a badge of honor. We are proud to tell everyone just how incredibly busy we are. Unfortunately, we are most likely not delivering results in this state of mind because we’re not being strategic.

We can learn from those other Naval officers I encountered, the ones who spent less time with endless checklists and more on a handful of priorities that really mattered. I learned from them that starting each day with a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish focuses you on what’s most important, versus the mundane and seemingly urgent e-mails, meetings and other brushfires.

It’s ok to be busy. That’s reality in the 21st century. But it’s not ok to be busy without a larger plan that keeps you on course and a commitment to giving yourself adequate time to focus and reflect. Take time periodically to ask yourself, “What are the three things I want to accomplish today, this week or this month? Why? And how can I make sure they get done?”

That’s a good start toward avoiding leadership Mistake No. 2: “I’m not responsible.”

We’re all sadly familiar by now with the unfortunate phrase “Mistakes were made.” These words are regularly trotted out by politicians, business executives and coaches when things go wrong but nobody wants to take the blame. “Mistakes were made” even has its own Wikipedia entry, which traces the phrase back to the scandal-riddled administration of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant in the 1870s.

Leaders who take credit for successes but pass the buck for failures are not in control or engaged. And employees and clients don’t buy their behavior. We instinctively know they are “renters” – self-serving individuals who are focused solely on their own welfare. What we want instead are “owners” – leaders who take responsibility for their team’s failures and their own shortcomings. They send important messages to their colleagues and stakeholders by signaling their awareness of problems and their commitment to doing everything possible to get them fixed. All it takes to be an owner is to act like one.

If the first two leadership mistakes involve our own leadership styles, the other two classic errors are grounded in how we interact with the women and men we’re privileged to lead. That brings us to leadership Mistake No. 3: “I can save this person!”

During my years in higher education, we had an administrator that I liked quite a bit personally but who wasn’t leading his own people well. This became a chronic issue that deeply affected the morale of his team, and I was determined to fix it with one-on-one coaching. In the end, I invested too much time trying to help this individual make changes that he didn’t really want to make. By the time I finally demoted him, it was obvious that he didn’t have the emotional intelligence needed for a senior role – and never would. I was more than fair with him; I also should have been much more decisive in realizing the limits of my influence and focusing on his colleagues who were performing at a high level and truly deserved more of my time.

Conversely, when interacting with direct reports, there’s the danger of miring ourselves in Mistake No. 4: “Here’s what you’re doing wrong.” Here, instead of looking too hard for positives in a losing situation, we take a winning situation and interject problems into it. Yes, all of our employees, even the most talented ones, will have their weaknesses. Like us, they are human. But we need to be careful not to get so obsessed with repairing their shortcomings that we take their strengths for granted.

In my experience, we’ll get more results from our co-workers by helping them maximize their strengths, rather than trying to lift them from weak to average in a different area. This isn’t to say we should ignore weaknesses altogether because, sometimes, they can derail careers. But, in conversations with our talent, it’s best to lead with specific examples of what they’re doing well and why it’s appreciated. This will build their confidence and their trust in us as leaders, making it much easier to raise legitimate issues and work together on improving them.

The leadership mistakes explored here are classic because they’re made all the time. Certainly, I’ve fallen into each of these traps. But by naming and anticipating them, we have a much greater chance of making the right moves next time.

Posted in Communication & Leadership Secrets, Experience-Driven Development, First Time Managers, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Using The Bench for Maximum Impact

179224573I was talking to a local sports coach who was worried about his team’s lack of bench-strength. During the season his players would get injured, ill, tired and fatigued, and he needed a strong bench to make it to the end of the season. If this is an unclear term to you, you are not alone. We realized that most of us in Talent Development talk about ‘bench-strength’, may not be clear what it really means or how to use it.

The bench comprises of strong and skilled players who do not start the game but sit ready to play when needed. A clever sports team manager tactically moves players off the bench and into, or out of the game to have an impact. Bench-strength is necessary for winning.

Players on the bench are there for a purpose. They come into the game at times when:

  • Players in high intensity positions are tiring.
  • Where the introduction of a key player can have an impact on the game.
  • When the opposition is weakening and specific players can take advantage of this to open the game up, or close it down.

Do you remember the term ‘First Team Players’ and ‘Substitutes’? The first significant point is that bench-players are not ‘substitutes’ who may possibly get a game if someone is injured. In the modern game, it is difficult for players in some positions to keep up the extreme level of intensity required in a full game. They are all ‘first team players’ and are rotated for maximum impact.

The second significant point is that a bench-player always plays at some point in every game. They have a specific role to play.

In Talent Management we talk about building bench-strength. What often happens is that employees are told they are in the Talent Pool, and then:

  • Have to wait months before an assignment.
  • Have to wait for someone to resign in order to get into the role.
  • Have few chances to get involved in high intensity situations.
  • And so get disillusioned.

What we can learn from the Sports Manager is this:

  • Bench-players are used as a strategy to give other players a rest, and so perform to a high level overall.
  • Players will tire, will get fatigued, and need to know there are other impact players coming on.
  • Players perform at high intensity for a given period of time.
  • Leaders need to know when to pull a player out of the game and use someone from The Bench.

A typical sporting team will carry a number of bench-players. This has implications for Talent Management:

  • Can you rotate your managers into and out of the game at strategic points when they can add real impact? Can you spot when this is needed? Can you move people in and out within your policies and processes?
  • The stress and strain of high intensity business implies some people will need to be rested for a time. Do you currently wait until ‘burn-out’? Is it seen as routine to rest people for a time? Can you do this?
  • Your bench is part of your key team. Are they included in the full business decision-making processes, or seen as substitutes in the absence of others?
  • Is your bench strong enough to play a strategic role, regularly?

Watch a professional team game, and observe how the coach moves players on and off the pitch, when, and with what impact. Don’t let your talent bench become the substitutes’ bench.

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Leading Authentically in a Curated World

This article was co-authored by Susan Tardanico.

When it comes to creating a personal digital brand, we’re all in.

As executives who also blog about women and leadership, we’ve seen up close the positive impact that savvy use of social media can have on individual careers and entire organizations. The opportunity that digital platforms offer to build and sustain two-way relationships in the marketplace is unprecedented.

But we also have some misgivings.

Because if we’re being candid, here’s the truth: We post things on Twitter and LinkedIn that make us look smart. We post pictures on Facebook and Instagram that show we are having the best experiences. We blog about our successes and the things we do better than other people.

In this era of personal brand building that is wide open for the whole world to see, we are very reluctant to talk about failures or fears. It’s hard to show weaknesses and vulnerability when we are trying to project an image to the world of a competent, polished, successful person.

The effort to create and maintain our professional image can be exhausting – and makes it even more difficult to be honest and authentic in person with the people we work with every day.

If we’re worried about looking stupid or incompetent, how can we say that we feel like throwing up every time we give a speech? Or that it took us eight hours to write a memo because we’re struggling with how to frame the issue?

The pressure to keep up appearances is accelerating in our curated world. It can affect anyone – and, when a big enough gap exists between our actual abilities and our perceptions of them, it can derail careers, as we explore in our new book Beating the Impostor Syndrome.

In our work as executive coaches over the past several years, we’ve found that many highly successful women in particular suffer from the Impostor Syndrome – a fear that they haven’t earned their success and that they will one day be proven to be a fraud.

The Impostor Syndrome doesn’t impact only women; in fact, about two-thirds of all executives we’ve coached over the past few years exhibited signs of it. But it is very consistently an issue with the women we coach. These women don’t call their issues “Impostor Syndrome,” but they talk about its symptoms: lack of confidence, not ‘leaning in,’ perfectionism, overwork. These behaviors emerge because they feel they aren’t good enough, they’re not the right fit and they don’t have the right credentials.

A highly self-motivated, over-achieving woman may feel like she has been under the microscope her entire career. So, understandably, she becomes hyper-vigilant about her image and keeping it polished – and that drives her farther and farther from her authentic self.

Anyone who has a deep sense of “I don’t naturally belong here,” – including people of color and those who are “different” in terms of economic, educational or cultural background – may also feel like impostors. The Impostor Syndrome, coupled with the constant digital curation of our careers and lives, makes honesty and authenticity a challenge. Showing doubt or talking about struggles or admitting to mistakes is frightening.

We have to get away from this mentality. We need to be able to share our struggles because those struggles are what help us become more effective, more compassionate and more successful individuals.

We don’t have to start baring our souls on Facebook (too many people do that already!), but we do need to start opening up to people we trust. We might just find that others – sometimes those, in fact, that we respect and admire the most – have some of the very same fears and challenges that we do. Talks with them can help us realize the flaws in our own self-perceptions. And that’s an important step in ridding ourselves of negative beliefs about our own abilities and enhancing our performance as a leader.

Many of us feel compelled to cultivate a strong digital brand that positions us for success – and that’s ok. These days, there’s really no way of getting around it. Just don’t forget that the real you still needs tending too.

Portia Mount, senior vice president and chief of staff at the Center for Creative Leadership, and Susan Tardanico, founding partner and CEO of the Authentic Leadership Alliance, are co-authors of Beating the Impostor Syndrome (CCL Press, 2014).

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