Category Archives: Leadership

Personal Change Management

Personal Change Management Is More Important Than OCM

“Organizational change management” is usually listed on job descriptions as a required skill for executives.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a critical job skill.  Personal change management is just much more important.  When you are good at personal change management, you can come across as a “can do” person, instead of a nay sayer.  You can help others with the change because you aren’t wrapped up in your own issues with the change.  In order to be good at personal change management:

  • You must understand the normal human reactions (including yours!) to change and learn how to manage yourself through those reactions while you help your team through them.
  • You must be able to recognize when you’re resisting and be able to ‘lead’ yourself through that resistance.
  • You must be able to recognize when you have hit your capacity to deal with change and find ways to expand that capacity or eliminate some of the stress that is filling it up.
  • You must be able to initiate personal change in your life in order to accomplish your goals through understanding the steps, incentives and processes that it takes to change the habits and mental models that are controlling your behavior.

As a leader, you have to be able to manage yourself through change while you’re helping others.  As an executive, you need to be able to initiate and control the personal change it takes to accomplish your personal and career goals.

Personal Change Reactions

People going through changes, good and bad, have some pretty standard reactions.  Not every person has all these reactions for all changes, but most people have most of these reactions for most (big) changes.  Think about when you found out you got a job or when you lost a job, when you found out you were having a baby, or you had a car accident–you had most of these reactions.  Change means you go from the status quo to some new state.  That shift requires some mental gymnastics to get you from one to the other.

In order to get good at dealing with personal change, it is critical that you become self-aware enough to recognize the reaction in yourself, and then learn how to move yourself through the change curve to exploration to acceptance to commitment.  There are two important things to remember in this process:

  • These reactions are completely normal.
  • You will get to the acceptance  and commitment stages, and it will feel like a ‘new normal.’  It will get better.

Personal Change Resistance

Again, resistance is a normal reaction to change.  One of my favorite change management gurus, Peter de Jager, says people don’t resist change, they resist being changed.  Unfortunately, we experience many of the changes at work as ‘being changed’ rather than choosing to change.  We resist change  because:
  • “I don’t know how” (An ability deficiency)
  • “I don’t want to” (A willingness deficiency)
  • “I just can’t” (A capacity deficiency)

When you notice resistance in yourself, ask yourself which kind of resistance is it?  How can you help yourself get past it?  What would it take for you to know to reduce your resistance?  Why don’t you want to?  How can you persuade yourself to try?  What can you change about the circumstances that make it better?  What about your capacity to change?  Can you do something to increase that?

Capacity to Change
EVERYONE hits a wall from time to time when it comes to change.  We all have a capacity to deal with change.  Some of us have a naturally high capacity or a naturally low capacity.  Then things start to happen.  Beginnings and endings–relationships, marriages, babies, jobs, deaths, illnesses, living arrangements, finances.  These things ebb and flow.  I have four kids and I used to say, as long as no more than two were off the tracks at once I could handle it–if another one had problems, then I had a hard time dealing with it over and above everything else.  If you add in big changes at work–new boss, reorganization, downsizing, job loss, then your capacity gets used up.  This overflow ebbs and flows too.  When you’re aware that your capacity is filled up, then you can reframe the situation, change the way you’re thinking about it.  You have control over managing your capacity.  This does NOT mean that you ignore or deny what is happening.  It means that you help yourself reframe what is happening so that you relieve some of the overflow and increase your capacity.
Initiating Personal Change
Organizations need Organizational Change Management because they are initiating strategic change–new processes, new systems, new organization structures–to achieve organizational goals.  Executives need to learn to initiate the same kind of personal strategic change and do personal change management through the process.  We all try to initiate personal change from time to time (New Year’s Resolutions, anyone?), but statistics say that few of us actually succeed at them.  It takes an accompanying personal change management approach to make those changes stick.  You must understand what behavior, motivation, incentive, learning, communication and metric changes it will take to make the change stick.  Then, treat it as if it were the same as making a change happen with your team.  Put the things in place that will incent, motivate, inspire and reward you to make the change.


Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Leadership, Personal Change, Success

Stand Out: Work On Projects

join a project team

Internal People on Projects

When I work as a consultant on big change projects in companies, there are always consultants (outsiders) and business representatives (insiders).  The insiders are usually identified as subject matter experts, business leads, and sponsors.  Despite what the consultants would like to think, they are pretty replaceable.  This is much less true of the business representatives.  Their knowledge of the internal workings of the existing processes and their understanding of how the change will significantly impact the future processes are essential to the success of these projects.  Their ability to navigate the inner workings of the organizational politics and to get answers and cooperation from key people make the difference between delivering as promised or not delivering at all.

When the opportunity to participate on one of these projects arises, most business people don’t jump at the chance to sign up.  They have ‘real’ jobs and not all companies lighten the responsibilities in day-to-day job for project participants.  Besides, the kind of people who are identified as potential business leads and subject matter experts are usually pretty happy in their current gig.  Why give up something they like for the wear and tear of project work?

What Project Participation Gets You

Project work teaches you more, faster, than practically anything else in an organization.  You get to see across the organization in a way that is hard to do below the Executive level.  You get to see how to organize and deliver significant change in an organization–again, excellent training for being an Executive.  You have a different kind of visibility in the organization, especially if you throw yourself into it and stand out as a cooperative expert. You get to work on a team that crosses the organization, growing your internal (and through the consultants–external) network.  You get to watch and learn and practice how to actually make a team work through all the stages of team development.  You get to learn a system (usually) or process up close and personal and become the company’s expert on how that system or process works in your part of the organization.  Other executives outside your organization get to know you and your work and that provides longer term career possibilities.

Over the course of hundreds of projects I’ve seen it happen over and over.  People get assigned to a project, they really take to it and do extremely good work in helping the project get off the ground and succeed.  Company Executives notice and start to seek the project participants out for their expertise. Opportunities open up and the stand out project participants are first in line.

Volunteer, Participate, Learn, Accelerate Your Career

So . . .  stand out by volunteering and participating and learning in projects in your company.  It’s worth the effort in the long term.

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Filed under Brand Yourself, Career Development, Executive Development, Leadership, Networking, Teams

How Do You Lead From the Middle?

Many people are frustrated by their managers.  We want our managers to live up to our expectations, our hopes, our projections.  We want them to be charismatic, thoughtful, insightful, inspirational, good communicators, etc., etc., etc.  Some managers are good, but few are perfect.  Some are far from even being good.  What if that is your manager?

Do you just stop?  Do you wait for that manager to get moved, fired, or retire?  Do you look for another job?  I vote that you do none of these things.  I vote that you start being a leader.  Get proactive.  Lead from where you are.

How Do You Lead From The Middle?

Figure Out What You Want To Accomplish

What is it that you think your manager should be doing but isn’t?  How can you accomplish that without your leader actually doing it?  Is it something that your manager’s manager has to agree to?  Or his peers?  If so, how can you persuade them?  How can you help them see the problem and the solution?  Maybe they can persuade your manager if his blessing is required.  Or maybe his blessing isn’t really required.  Think about it.  If his boss can bless it, then figure out how to make that happen.  If that is your goal, then you can get creative about how to do it.

What if no one really has to bless it?  What if you and your peers can do it if you are working together to do it.  How can you persuade your peers to do it?

Figure Out What Is In Your Way

So often it is our mind set about how the organization works that stands in our way of getting things done.  We think that the top has to tell the middle who has to tell the bottom to actually get things done.  That actually is not the best way for an organization to run.  Organizations are much more effective and well run if people step up and do what they can and leave the problems/the barriers/the white space to the upper levels.  In other words, your organization will be much better run if you actually step up and do what you know is right for the organization.

Obviously, some organizations don’t work this way.  Some managers get really threatened by this kind of behavior.  Don’t assume that is true of your organization, though, unless you test it out a bit.  I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”  It certainly is more practical.  If you have to wait for someone to decide to focus on what you think needs to happen, to then be persuaded, and to then give permission, then you’ve just inserted significant delays into the process.  Take a long hard look at whether you’re deferring because you are conditioned to do that or because it really is not safe to go ahead without permission.

Being Proactive Is Really Career Enhancing

I’ve participated in hundreds of interviews over the course of my career.  When it is obvious that a candidate is likely to be proactive, to seek out ways to make things better without waiting to be told, then that candidate is much more likely to succeed in the process.  I’ve had people tell me that it is possible to tell whether someone has the education or the experience necessary to do the job, but very difficult to tell from the resume whether s/he is likely to be proactive.

Leading from the middle is simply being proactive.  See the problem.  Figure out how to fix it.  Fix it.  So much of it is attitude and confidence.  So next time you’re frustrated with your manager for not getting something done, ask yourself why you aren’t getting it done instead.


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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Communication, Executive Development, Leadership, Success

How Do You Know If You’re a Good Leader?

How Can You Judge Your Leadership Skills

Let’s start with how you know whether someone else is a good leader?  You just know, right? Yes, you know when someone is a good leader for YOU.  Each of us is looking for something different from a leader, and when we find the right leader for ourselves, we know it.  Or do we?  Sometimes.  There are leaders who make us feel good. They make us want to do better.  They inspire us.  We do our best for them.  Those are the ones we “know” are good leaders.

There are lots of ways to measure a leader, though:

  • How followers ‘feel’
  • The followers’ opinions (head not heart response) of the leader’s performance
  • The results that the leader accomplishes through others
  • How much the followers grow and develop   
  • The leader’s manager’s opinion
  • How the leader evaluates her own performance

Each of these is measuring a different aspect of the leaders’ performance.  How can you know how you are doing on each one?

Use a Feedback Instrument

The absolute best way to tell if you’re doing well as a leader is to take a 360° assessment focused on your leadership.  A 360° assessment captures feedback from you, your followers and your manager.  This provides you will a full view of how you think you’re doing, how your followers think you’re doing and what your manager thinks, and it provides you with information on the disconnects among those opinions.   Your company may regularly assess its leaders with one of these, or it may have one available if you ask.  Ask your manager or your human resources representative. 

There are several, but one of the best is the Leadership Assessment Instrument (LAI™) produced by Linkage.  It evaluates how you’re doing on the tasks of leadership, what your leadership skill level is and what leadership ‘traits’ you have.  Another one that is focused on the behaviors of leadership is the Leadership Practices Inventory, developed by the authors of The Leadership Challenge.  This instrument evaluates your performance against the Kouzes and Posner’s five leadership practices.  I also like the Center for Creative Leadership’s Benchmark assessment.  This last one has the advantage of providing feedback that flags ‘career derailment’ symptoms.  There is also an assessment for Situational Leadership and many others.  Any assessment that focuses on leadership behavior and outcomes would be a good start.

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to feedback instruments through their organization, nor can afford some of the better (and more expensive) ones.  There are other ways to evaluate your leadership effectiveness.

How Can You Evaluate Your Own Performance as a Leader without a 360°?

In order to effectively evaluate your leadership effectiveness, you need to take your blinders off and become an objective detective.  You also need to be willing to ask others for their opinion and support.  Start with your company’s Human Resources department.  Do they provide manager feedback sessions where they ask your followers what they think (outside your presence) and tell you the results?  Would they be willing to do this, even it if is not standard procedure?

If no, then ask yourself the following questions.  Ask others.  Don’t honey-coat it.  Try to see the situation through your followers’ eyes.  Try to see it through your manager’s eyes.

How Your Followers Feel

The way your followers feel about you is semi-obvious. There are always folks who will ‘kiss up’ regardless of how they really feel.   You know who those folks are.  Ignore them.  Ask yourself:

  • Do your people enjoy being around you?
  • Are your people afraid of you?
  • Do your people seek you out to tell you good news?
  • Do they come to you when they need advice or help?
  • Do you find out things about your people through others, or through them directly?
  • Do your people meet your eyes and smile, or do they look at you briefly when they speak to you and then move on?
  • Are your people interested in you as a person?
  • Do your people share personal things with you?

These are all signs of affection, respect, trust and affiliation.  They are signs of how your people feel about you.

Your Followers Opinion

Of course feeling comes into the evaluation of how your people think about you, but your followers’ opinions are also more rational.  This is the one that is the hardest to gauge without getting someone else to ask them.  If you don’t have someone else to ask them (like HR), then consider asking them yourself.  This won’t work very well if they don’t trust you, and you have to take what they say with a grain of salt, but it’s worth a try.  Think about posing questions like:

  • If you were doing this job, what would you do differently?
  • What kind of feedback would the person who is unhappiest in this group/department give me?  How about the one who is happiest? (Thus taking the away the necessity off  of them to tell you what they think directly)
  • What’s working well in this department? (You’ll have to extrapolate here to what they think about you).  What isn’t working as well as it should?
  • What should I be doing that I’m not doing?
  • What should I stop doing?

You could give them a list of questions and ask them to sit together and answer them and then to type up the answers and give them to you.  You could use some of the questions above and include some others:

  • What do you like best about (my) management style?
  • What do you like least about (my) management style?
  • What do you wish someone would tell me?
  • What do you want in a leader?
  • What do you not like in leaders?
  • What is the best kind of leader for you?

How Much Your Followers Grow and Develop

This one is a lot easier to see with the naked eye.  When you start leading people, or when they first join you, take note of their skills, strengths, and weaknesses.  Actively plan on how you will work on developing them.  Evaluate them frequently on those items.  This should be done much more than the usual semi-annual or annual basis.  Make sure that you are giving them assignments specifically designed to grow them in the areas they need to grow.  Your evaluation of their growth is also an evaluation of yourself as a developmental leader.  If they aren’t making enough progress to suit you, what can YOU do to speed it up?

Your Manager’s Opinion of Your Performance

You shouldn’t wait for your performance review to evaluate this.  Remember that managers are not necessarily focused on leadership when they evaluate you, so take some time to understand what you manager believes about leadership.  Ask him/her.  Ask for his/her evaluation of your leadership skills.  Take note of what s/he seems to value.  Ask again after a period of time.  Have you made progress?  Ask what you should be doing differently.  Remember that regardless of whether you agree with your boss or not, his/her opinion of your leadership abilities can make or break your success in this company.


Have you delivered through people?  Take off your rose-colored glasses on this one.  Take away all the things that would have happened anyway, whether you were there or not.  Take away all the luck.  What results did you and your team get?  What of that is attributable to you and your leadership?  What could/should you have done differently to get better results?  Is there someone you should have listened to more?  Someone you should have reigned in more, or managed more closely?  Is there someone who you should have taken risks with?  What will you do based on your learnings here?

Which of These is the Most Important?

It depends.  Which of these is the thing you believe is most important?  Which of these does your organization believe is most important?  Which of these do you need to grow the most?   Which of these comes to you naturally? 

Remember, leadership development is personal development.  Start anywhere and start learning.

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What Does It Take To Be An Executive In Your Org?

What Does It Take To Be An Executive At Your Org?

Executives come in all flavors.  Organizations also come in all flavors.  People who want to be Executives come in all flavors.  How do you know what your organization needs from an Executive?  How do you know what you need to work on to be an Executive (in your organization or in another organization?)

Let’s start with the first question.  How do you know what kind of Executive your organization needs?  (You’ll note I didn’t say what kind of Executive your organization is looking for—organizations don’t always look for the right kind of Executive.  It’s a lot like the Church Board that replaces the retiring minister with one who is the total opposite.  The Board is tired of dealing with the current minister’s weaknesses, but forgets that the congregation is there because they LIKE the current minister’s strengths.)

What Does It Take To Be An Executive At Your Org?

Factors to consider when figuring out what kind of Executives your organization needs:

Organizational History

  • Past Success–What successes have the organization had in the past?  What drove those successes?  How long ago was that?  What kind of leadership was in place for those successes?  What kind of management infrastructure was in place?  What lessons did the organization learn from the successes?  What lessons did the Executives learn from the successes?
  • Past Failures–What failures has the organization had in the past?  What caused those failures?  Did the organization learn anything from the failures?  Did leadership learn anything from the failures?  Were there consequences that left scars on the organization–did the organization develop a risk aversion or become overly cautious?
  • Years in Existence— How long has the organization been in existence?  What kinds of trends has it been through?  Did it start centuries/decades/years/months ago?  There are pluses and minuses to an organization that has been around a long time, just as there is for a new organization.  Either way, though, they need different things from Executives.
  • Organizational Maturity— How mature is the organization in its processes and systems?  How sophisticated is it in its relationship with its customers?  Its community?  Its employees?
  • Founder Legacy— Is the founder still in the picture?  What kind of interactions does the founder have with the organization?  Was the founder a charismatic leader who was a tough act to follow?  How many generations of professional management have there been since the organization was founded?
  • Reputation–What is the organization’s reputation?  What is it based on?  How integrated is that reputation with the reputation of the Executive(s)?  How integrated is the reputation with that of the industry, or with the organization’s successes and failures? What things have been done to affect the organization’s reputation?  What has worked/not worked?


  • Industry Health—Is the industry growing or shrinking?  Are there serious resource or pricing issues?  Are there regulation issues or changes?  Is the industry merging with another one (for instance, phones/computers/music). How is the organization positioned to deal with these issues?
  • Industry Size—Is it a big industry?  Is it a small industry?  Is it a start-up industry?  Does it stretch across/into countries with huge markets?  Or is it a single geographic location industry?
  • Players—Who are the players in the industry?  Big? Small?  How does your company fit?  Is it a player?  Is it a wannabe, a newbie, or is it peripheral?
  • Competition—What is your company’s competition?  Who is your company’s biggest competitor?  Who is its riskiest?  Are there emergent competitors?

Organizational Goals

  • Growth—Is the goal to grow the company?  Is that realistic?  Is there room to grow? Is there opportunity in your existing market or in markets not yet tapped?
  • Innovation—Is the goal based on innovation?  Does the company have a history of being innovative?  Does the company have innovative employees?  Processes that drive innovation?
  • Products—Is the goal based on new product development?  Again, is there a history of new product development?  Are there processes, systems and the discipline to drive new product development?
  • Efficiency— Is the goal based on becoming more efficient?  Has the company done this/been doing this?  Is the purpose to serve customers better, or to cut costs, or both?

What Does Any of This Have To Do With What It Takes to be An Executive?

It has to do with what SKILLS the organization needs.  If the organization needs to deal with a riotous market or industry, then the organization needs someone how handles change well, so is more of a leader than a manager, who is comfortable with ambiguity.  If an organization’s strategy is based on product development, and is young, and has just lost its founder, it needs an executive who can be hands-on enough, who can understand the genealogy of the culture, who can inspire while driving results.  If the organization is targeting a growth strategy, then it needs someone who can execute, who is strategic, ideally who has experience with delivering growth, and who has boundless energy.

One size does not fit all.  A leader/manager for one kind of organization/industry is not likely to be a perfect fit for another.  This is not to say it can’t work, because it depends on what, exactly the organization needs.  If an organization’s industry has suddenly become turbulent after decades of stability, then someone from an industry that has been in white water for a while is likely to be a good fit—although they will be fighting an uphill battle against the existing culture.  So, someone who understands organizational change management would be helpful in that situation.

What Do You Think Your Organization Needs From Its Executives?

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My Five Favorite Books on Leadership

So Hard to Pick Just Five!

Boy, this was hard.  I thought about writing several blogs–My First Five Favorite Books on Leadership, My Next Five Favorite Books on Leadership . . .   Then I thought about writing a blog titled My 25 Favorite Books on Leadership.    You’ll notice I didn’t call this “Best Books on Leadership,” mostly because that would be even harder, and I might have to re-read them all before I could come up with the list.  There are SO many books on leadership.  Why is that?  It is because leadership is in the eye of the beholder.  We all believe that we know what leadership is, and that our version is the correct one.  Leadership is not so simple though.  Leadership is as varied as leaders themselves are.  It is a combination of the person who is a leader, the people who are followers, the situation, skills, traits, results and process.  For more on this, see my post Become a Great Leader.  Lots of authors have tried to explain, teach, and communicate about leadership.  Here are my favorites.

This book is more than a book about leadership.  This is actually a textbook on organizational behavior.  It opened the door on the study of organizational behavior, leadership theory and organizational change for me.  The most important (among many) idea in the book for me is Situational Leadership(R).  The theory of Situational Leadership discusses leadership styles in terms of different combinations of task  and relationship focus.  The theory lays out four leadership styles and suggests that different styles are more appropriate for different follower behaviors.  The book is a wealth of powerful ideas on how individuals and organizations work.

I like this book because Cashman really explores the ‘internal’ mental workings of leaders.  He explores the things that give leaders control over their own destiny:  values, presence, purpose, personal mastery, and resilience.  Cashman integrates what is going on in the leader’s mind with effective leader behaviors.  He provides tools and exercises that help you build your ‘inside’ leadership muscles.

This book has been updated recently.  It is a practical ‘how to’ book based on research and comes with an app. (Yep, an app for leadership.)  The authors break leadership into five practices:  Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart.  They are able to describe why these are the elements of leadership and provide examples and exercises to build these ‘muscles.’

This one is also a textbook.  It lays out the main theories of leadership:  trait, skills, style, situational, contingency, path-goal, leader-member exchange, transformational, servant and authentic leadership.  It also provides assessments that the reader can take to evaluate his/her own placement for each theory.  I have used this book to teach leadership.  I’ve changed books a couple of times, but I always come back to this one, because I think it is thorough, clear, and, at times, even fun.

I recommend all of Quinn’s books, but this one is my favorite.  This book is directed to leaders and encourages them to evaluate their own thinking with clear eyes.  It argues that leaders need to shift their thinking from ‘victim thinking’ to powerful, change leader thinking.  Quinn argues that leaders can transform their organizations by changing themselves.

Ok, I’ve done it.  I’ve picked (only) five.  These are my favorites today–and some of them have been my favorite for years.  I reserve the right, however, to have new favorites tomorrow or soon thereafter.  I will continue to read books on leadership because, like most other business people, I’m fascinated about what makes great leaders and I’ll keep trying to crack the code.

What are your favorites?


Filed under Books, Career Development, Executive Development, Leadership

The Transition From Manager to Leader

manager to leaderLeaders v. Managers

I’m sure you’ve probably heard about the differences between managers and leaders.  Managers do things right and leaders do the right thing–right? I think that this is an interesting discussion, but it isn’t that easy.  Managers do leader things and leaders do manager things. Each of us is naturally oriented toward one or the other–we either are inclined toward structure, processes, policies and systems or toward strategy, inspiration, vision and people.  But we can all learn to be either a manager or a leader or both a manager and a leader.

The Leadership Continuum

Many have described this as a dyad–either/or, a choice between two options.  I see it more as a continuum.

Manager to Leader

A continuum that ranges from supervisor to manager to leader to Executive Leader to Global Leader. This is not to say that supervisors can’t be leaders or that Global Leaders (positionally) aren’t managers.  There are cumulative skills, though, across those roles that are needed to deal with increasing complexity as a person accumulates more responsibility.

Moving Along the Continuum

Michael Watkins, whose books I’ve recommended in this blog before (The First 90 Days and Your Next Move) has a recent article in Harvard Business Review that is well worth the read.  He writes How Managers Become Leaders in the June issue of HBR.   Watkins identifies seven “shifts” that are required to grow managers into leaders.  These shifts are:

  • From specialist to generalist
  • From analyst to integrator
  • From tactician to strategist
  • From bricklayer to architect
  • From problem solver to agenda setter
  • From warrior to diplomat
  • From supporting cast member to leading role

These shifts require developmental experiences that change your perspective and force you to step out of your comfort zone.  You also need to be exposed to regular 360º feedback that allows you to understand whether or not your behavior is working for you in the situation.  And finally, you need to be dedicated to continuing to grow your self by challenging your assumptions, habits and behaviors to move along the continuum.

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Filed under Books, Career Development, Executive Development, Feedback, Hi Po, Leadership, Personal Change, Success