Big Themes from ATD 2015

Day 2 of ATD 2015 was full of reconnections. We had many of our clients come by and say hello. Most of our clients, especially folks we have worked with for a long time will just come and give their CCL team a hug. So it was a day of many warm hugs.

We also shared many a cup of coffee with attendees who really wanted to dive deep into their challenges and how CCL could partner with them to create a solution that fit their needs. Our faculty calendar filled up pretty quick and we don’t expect tomorrow to be any different.

All of our in-booth sessions were very interactive and our attendees stayed after the sessions to discuss their needs with us.


Some big themes that are emerging this year are

  1. Results and Returns: CCL has always been focused on the sophisticated clients, the ones who know what they want, and want a great partner to help them deliver. It’s phenomenal to see so many talent development professionals that are at the conference with a clear objective that they want us to get to, and with a good idea of what results they want from their work. It ties in beautifully with our Return on Leadership approach and so we are just bouncing with the energy that these discussions are generating.
  2. Integrated Solutions: In the past, we had clients come to the booth asking for 1 thing – assessment, coaching, open enrollment leadership programs, custom programs, digital learning. This year we seeing many more clients with an integrated ask – we are hearing them say can we reduce the number of partners we work with, and just go with a few trusted partners that can meet our needs on most of the areas that we need external expertise. CCL enjoys boundary spanning so much that we wrote a book on it, and so integrated client solutions are what we love doing. CCL’s Discovery and Organizational Leadership, coupled with all our specific offerings are really what help us getting to the 30,000 foot leadership strategy design view with our clients while keeping a keen eye on every blade of grass in delivery.
  3. Video and Technology in service of the internal expert: There are tons and tons of video products and thousands of apps, sites and platforms. There is noise in the environment. Once again, we are hearing clients say – meet us where we are, help us leverage what we have, and complement us with things we don’t have. We have existing technology investments to further leverage, we don’t have as much time as we used to , we don’t have as much budget as we used to have, and we have more people we need to serve. Our digital products are designed to be integrated and our In-House Solutions are designed to be delivered internally.


Tomorrow will be another busy day and we have tons of action in the booth – In-Booth sessions, Coffee with Faculty and finally – our giveaways are not cheap toys that you will throw away before you fly home. We have giveaways that are focused on the leadership development professional. So if you want a gift that works for YOU, come see us at Booth 1421.

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Talking Results and Results Talking – Day 1 at ATD

The first day of ATD 2015 was power packed at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) Booth. We had great conversations with engaged ATD attendees, our in-booth sessions were packed and the attendees to those sessions stayed to talk more which is always fun. The reason we do in-booth sessions that are driven by our research is to continue to live our mission – to advance the understanding, practice and development of leadership for the benefit of society worldwide.

It was wonderful to open ATD 2015 with the news that CCL was ranked #4 in overall Executive Education by the Financial Times again. We saw many of our clients that have recognized our work in the FT survey and it was a good opportunity to say thank you.

Our first in-booth session was on Navigating Change for Success by Harold Scharlatt, Design and Delivery Manager and Sr. Faculty.

The booth stayed busy with some great conversations. Discovering CCL is quite the adventure – with assessments, digital learning products, discovery solutions, open enrollment leadership programs, coaching, and our ever-growing custom leadership programs business – the conversations went to wherever our visitors wanted.

We introduced the opportunity for attendees to have Coffee & Conversation with CCL Faculty in the booth and the appointments filled up very quickly. At CCL, we love working with our clients to have insights on discovering what the real leadership challenge is, and these conversations allowed for attendees to get a real flavor for what working with a CCL faculty member feels like.

Pete Ronayne, Sr. Faculty led a session on How to Make Your Learning Stick where he shared the research that CCL has done in the area of neuroscience and learning and what it means for learning transfer and “Prepare-Engage-Apply” for both in-class and digital learning.

CCL also launched the Partner Network at ATD 2015 and we had some talented independent consultants come over and learn how they can partner with CCL in a whole new way. “There is a lot of excitement from consultants who want to align their business with the CCL Brand and have a stronger connection with peers in their field,” said Angie Morgan, Director, CCL Partner Network.

The next session that we hosted was on how to champion innovation to drive results. Pete Ronayne provided the assembled crowd with some specific and actionable tools and ideas for championing innovation through the best possible mindset and toolset.

Our final in-booth session was titled “Power Up Your Internal Training” – Mary Abraham, Director, Digital Learning Products and Samir Mehta, Manager, Digital Learning Products talked about the challenges of learning and development professionals and CCL’s newest product line called “In-House Solutions” which is a train-the-trainer product in a (virtual) box.

harold in booth session

“Talent Development Professionals are in a catch-22 situation – you need budget to deliver results, but you need to show results before you get the budget. The In-House Solutions suite of products can help get you quick wins” said Mary Abraham during the session.

Harold Scharlatt and Pete Ronayne delivered a session to a packed room on how to Navigate Change – from Rumination to Resilience. Over a hundred attendees came to this session at the end of day 1. “Even though it was 4:30 pm in the afternoon, attendees were engaged and excited about taking responsibility for their own resilience” said Pete Ronayne, Sr. Faculty at CCL.

navigating change solutions session picture

Tomorrow will be a busy day at ATD and we invite you to come visit us at booth 1421. Our schedule is packed and there is tons of information to share –the best way to discover CCL is to come to the booth.

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The Best Leaders Always Ask These Questions

best-leaders-ask-these-questionsThis 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.

While exploring potential assignments near the end of my career with the U.S. Navy, I sought out advice from a trusted mentor.

“What’s your goal for the time you have remaining with the Navy?” he asked when we had a chance to sit down for a chat.

When I told him that wasn’t clear yet, he asked another question: “What do you enjoy most?”

“That’s easy,” I told him. “Helping people unleash their potential.”

I’d had the privilege of doing that not only through teaching colleagues how to fly Navy planes but also by leading talented women and men in a variety of assignments over three decades.

“Is unlocking potential the kind of thing you want to focus on in your next job?” he asked.

“Now that you put it that way,” I told him, “I believe it is.”

He came back with one final question: “Are your current actions and thinking leading you in that direction?”

I had to admit they were not.

That was a hard realization, and it set me on a new career path, drawing me away from flying and strategic planning and into education and leadership – first as superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, then as Chancellor of the State University of New York and now as president of the Center for Creative Leadership.

And it all started with a series of good questions that got right to the heart of things.

Voltaire said we should “judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers,” and that is never more true than in leadership roles. The most effective leaders are those who develop great diagnostic abilities and thus can cut through seemingly complicated situations and identify the levers that will really make a difference. They have insatiable curiosity, the humility to know they can and must learn every day, and awareness of their own limitations. They have the mindset of a coach, and coaching, as we’ve explored in the new Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Coaching in Organizations, is not about dispensing advice. It’s about helping people tap into and act on their own knowledge.

These leaders – and I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn from many of them – understand they need the right information to make the right decisions. The only way to get it is by asking for it. Thoughtful questions open lines of communication with our teams, our organizations and, perhaps most importantly, ourselves.

Management pioneer Peter Drucker, a longtime hero of mine, posed The 5 Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization: What is our mission? Who is our customer? What does our customer value? What are our results? What is our plan?

We also need to make time regularly to ask ourselves and our teams some critical questions. Like Drucker’s, these questions work best when they are simple. Here are the key questions that excellent mentors have always encouraged me to ask myself:

  • What are the most important big priorities you care about regarding your family, your organization and your community?
  • Are you investing time with the right people regarding these priorities?
  • What are you doing about each priority?
  • Why are you doing it?
  • How do you feel about it?
  • What would you like to do that you can’t do now?
  • What would your future 85-year-old self, looking back, say you should do?

And these are the core questions that I ask my teams because great leaders have often asked them of me:

  • What do I need to know about this issue/opportunity?
  • How do we make the most of this opportunity?
  • What do you think?
  • What might we be explaining away a little too quickly?
  • Is this really an either/or choice? What are we missing?

Effective leaders continually need to listen, reflect and learn. But they can’t do any of those things without asking the right questions first. What are the best questions you ask yourself or your team?

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The Bigger Picture

basketballI live in North Carolina and follow UNC basketball.  One of my favorite former Tar Heel players is Eric Montross.  Eric was on the 1993 National Championship team and is now the color commentator  for the radio broadcasts of Carolina games.

I was listening to Eric and Jones Angell, the play-by-play announcer, banter during the pre-game segment of one of Carolina’s ACC tournament games. Jones brought up coach Roy William’s first-half timeout during the previous game against Louisville. He—like many in the press—attributed William’s behavior during that timeout with getting the team’s performance back on track.  Aaron Beard with the Associated Press described it this way:

Roy Williams was fuming. The North Carolina coach ripped off his jacket and flung it into a chair in disgust. He stomped around his players during a first-half timeout, screaming for them to play tougher or watch Louisville run away with their Atlantic Coast Conference tournament matchup.

Brice Johnson heard every word. “My manhood was definitely challenged,” he said.

Johnson responded by scoring 18 of his 22 points after halftime to help the 19th-ranked Tar Heels outlast the 14th-ranked Cardinals 70-60 on Thursday in the quarterfinals.

This is the way people often make sense of leadership situations. A leader acts, the follower responds. Thank goodness for that leader.

But then Eric Montross surprised me by challenging the conventional storyline.  He basically said that Coach Williams’ actions were important, but he thought equally, or perhaps even more importantly, was Johnson’s decision about how he would respond. He pointed out that a player in that situation could have decided to respond in any number of ways, many of which would not have been helpful to his team. Johnson, a third-year player who averages about 13 points a game, decided to increase his concentration and effort, which is exactly what his team needed from him.

I turned to my husband and said, “Well, there’s another reason to like Eric!”  He had clearly explained what I’m often claiming is the bigger picture when it comes to leadership:  the so-called “follower” is often as influential as the assumed “leader.”  It is these interactions and exchanges between people that produce leadership (that is, the direction, alignment, and commitment needed to work together effectively as a team).

Johnson didn’t just respond to his coach’s in-your-face admonishment.  As Williams said in his post-game press conference, the players decided to respond. Johnson’s particular decision about what to do in the face of having his “manhood challenged” improved his personal performance on the court that afternoon, but I suspect it also increased his coach’s commitment to the team and his teammates’ beliefs in what they could accomplish together.  The important point to me is that leadership in any team is an ongoing process of give and take involving everyone on the team.  All of us should be mindful of how our day-to-day decisions about how to respond impacts the direction, alignment, and commitment of the teams that we are a part of.

Finally, here’s an interesting question:  Why was Eric Montross compelled to offer this narrative of Johnson as a key decision maker in the scenario?  I suspect it is because he is an insider when it comes to college basketball. He has experienced first-hand all the complex dynamics that influence how well team members are able to work together to reach a shared goal. He knows that it is folks like us, the fans on the sidelines, who tend to put a lot of the burden of leadership on the coach. Montross wanted us to see a bigger picture.

Posted in Coaching & Feedback, Experience-Driven Development, Influence | 2 Comments

Leaders Can Help Organizations Waste Less Time


Illustration by David Suter. Posted with permission from strategy+business

I hear people complain about overwork constantly.  They talk about how work never seems to end, how they are always behind, and how much of it seems to be unnecessary.

Why does this happen?

Pick a reason:  Too much work, inefficient use of time, self-protective behavior which waste’s people time, organizational politics (etc.).

What can you as a leader do about it? 

There are strategies you as a leader can take action on that will help both you and your people.

For example, have you thought about counting people’s time as carefully as you do money?  When setting up a meeting, do people calculate how much that meeting is costing in people time? It might change the length – and productivity – of meetings if the cost of that meeting is calculated. There are a variety of online calculators you can use such as this one: I heard recently about a meeting that was going to cost the organization more than $1000 – and that was just for the time people were sitting in the room.  Do you think meetings would take as long if the money to pay for them was a line item on someone’s budget?

To find out more, visit: Stop Wasting Your Employees’ Time or watch the video Keep the Smartphone, Ditch the Bad Management Practices at strategy+business.

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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.

Photo reprinted courtesy of Ban Bossy and LeanIn.Org

What 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.

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?

Posted in Coaching & Feedback, Conflict & Trust, Influence | Tagged , | 1 Comment

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.

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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?

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