Category Archives: Leadership

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?


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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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Stephen Covey and his Gifts to Business People

All business people owe a lot to Stephen Covey, who died this week at the age of 79.  Covey wrote his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, in 1989.  There were no earth shatteringly new concepts in it—to be highly effective, people should:

  • Be Proactive
  • Start with the End in Mind
  • Put First Things First
  • Think Win-Win
  • Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  • Synergize
  • Sharpen the Saw (balance and renew yourself)

At some level, most of us know that these are things to do.  In a way, though, Covey took it a step further.  He seemed to say, these are a good way to BE.  Practice these behaviors until these are a part of who you are.

Covey infused his work, and his speaking and teaching, with what is known as Spiritual Intelligence (SQ).  In his 2004 book, The 8th Habit, Covey defined Spiritual Intelligence :

“Spiritual Intelligence is the central and most fundamental of all the Intelligences because it becomes the source of guidance for the other three . . .  Spiritual Quotient [is] “conscience, ” having the following characteristics:

  • enthusiastic
  • intuitive
  • takes responsibility
  • moral
  • wise
  • integrity
  • servant
  • humble
  • fair
  • ethical
  • abundant
  • compassionate
  • respectful
  • cause-oriented”

Covey was one of the first, and certainly the first popularly available, to bring this kind of thinking into the workplace.  It was Stephen Covey who helped leaders understand that there was something greater than the bottom line, something somewhat intangible—you know it when you see it– to bring to the table when leading organizations.  Covey helped people understand their own personal responsibility for ‘leading’ themselves through self-management and positive interaction with others.  He encouraged people to “find your voice” and inspire others to find theirs.

His writing and teaching encouraged people to be whole, to focus on all the parts of their lives and to do that which was most important, not what was more urgent.  When I read Jim Collin’s later book, Good to Great, I was struck by the description of Level 5 Leadership and how closely these leaders seemed to follow Covey’s 8 Habits:

Level 5 Leaders

  • They are humble and modest.
  • They have “unwavering resolve.”
  • They display a “workmanlike diligence – more plow horse than show horse.”
  • They give credit to others for their success and take full responsibility for poor results. They “attribute much of their success to ‘good luck’ rather than personal greatness.”

One of the most important things that I ever heard Stephen Covey say was his description of how he came to these ideas.  He said that he went through all the theories of leadership, all the writing on leadership and pulled these behaviors on leadership from that research.  At the time, I was envious of the research that he had done, and I took with a grain of salt his conclusions.  I have since done my own research, traveling through many of the same thought leaders and historians that he did, and I now know that his conclusions are pretty right on, and much more coherent and inspiring than anything I could have come up with on my own.

R.I.P.  Stephen R. Covey, October 24, 1932 – July 16, 2012

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Onboard Yourself


Onboarding is the process that organizations use to get their employees up to speed enough to do their jobs.  Another term for it is “organizational socialization.”  Organizations have informal and formal methods for the knowledge transfer or processes, tools, methods, culture and introductions that is sufficient for the employee to be effective in his/her new job.  I’ve seen really good onboarding and really horrible onboarding.

The best onboarding I ever experienced personally was as a consultant when I was going to work for a group of consultants.   The onboarding was a combination of providing me with detailed “playbooks” of how the organization did its work and of having me spend intense time with each team of consultants to see/understand how they put the playbook into action.  I traveled weekly for my onboarding and in three weeks’ time, I felt that I understood the whole and was fully able to go do it myself.  It was the combination of the intensity, the excellent documentation, and the seeing it all in action—including being given tasks I didn’t know how to do, but being surrounded by people who could/would help me.

I’ve had so many “worst” onboardings that it is hard to pick just one.  They range from putting me in a room with a year’s worth of reading and leaving me to read for two weeks to putting me at a desk and spending less than 10 minutes telling me what to do and walking away, never to return.  I think that I eventually did OK, even at the jobs with these onboardings, but the time it took to get me up to speed and to be productive was vastly different.

I finally decided that I needed to take responsibility for my own onboarding.  As a consultant, it is critical that I hit the ground running and know enough in a week to make a difference.  If I wait for people (who all have other jobs and many of whom are not sure they want me here, anyway) to tell me what/how/when/why in the organization, then I will fail.  These processes can apply for anyone, in any job, including people who have been in the job for a long time.

DIY Onboarding

Steps to Your Own Onboarding:

  • Make a Plan:  Identify what you want to accomplish and how fast.  You have a fairly short period of time before people get over you being new and expect you to “do” something.  They are very open to questions in the early days; they think you’re dumb if you’re still asking questions later (even then, you need to ask questions to learn—deal with what they think).  Who do you need to know?  What do you need to know?  What do you need to be able to do?  Ask people what they think you need to do to be successful.  Then put in place a plan that gets you there.  Fast.
  •  Meet People:  Meet people at every level.  Set up meetings.  Invite people to lunch or breakfast.  Accept all invitations.  Learn the power structures.  Learn the informal networks.  Learn the ‘go to’ people.  Learn the whiners.  Learn who to listen to and who to avoid.  The only way to do that is to throw yourself into meeting people.  (Even introverts need to do this)  Ask people to help you.  Ask people who you should meet.  Ask people who helped them when they started.  Target someone to be a mentor in this process and ask for his/her help.
  •  Figure Out the Tools:  Luckily, today most organizations use the same fundamental tools—the Microsoft Office suite plus SharePoint.  If the organization uses different/other tools, however, learn these as soon as possible.  Learn Oracle,, EPDM, or whatever other tool your organization uses.  You need to understand it and be conversant in its strengths and weaknesses.  (Every tool you learn makes you more marketable—use the opportunity of being new to dive in and learn new tools).
  •  Understand the Culture:  Every organization has its own culture.  This is like the water the fish swim in—the people inside the organization are not very aware of it consciously, but it shapes all behavior unconsciously.  When you’re new is the only time you can actually “see” the culture.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming it is like the culture you just came from.  Just because engineers are the dominant players in the new culture as they were in the old, there will be huge differences.  Learn these differences with “new eyes.”  Learn what the organization thinks about what makes success, who are the people who seem to “get it.”  What are they like?  How much does the leader shape the organization?  Is the founder still there?  How long since the founder was there?  What are the left over influences from that?  (These are frequently the things that don’t seem to make sense because they started a long time ago but are still there).  Write down your observations of the culture.  Make a mind map.  How does the culture influence the way that you will get your work done?  How can you use the culture to be more effective?
  •  Learn the Product/Customers/Processes:  Become an expert.  Take all the classes you can.  (Organizations frequently have classes for new sales people that are available to others).  Ask people about the processes.  Become best friends with the Intranet.  What’s there and what can you learn from what’s there?  What do others outside the organization say?  What do people in the organization say in reaction?  Everyone in every part of the organization needs to thoroughly understand the Product and the Customers.  You need to at least understand the processes in your own organization and those that take product to market and get money to the bank.  Like I said, BECOME AN EXPERT.
  •  Take Actions:  You have a very short window before people start to see action.  Look for opportunities to take early action.  It is better to be right about these actions, so be careful—but not too careful.  Action is better than no action, even if you make mistakes.  Ask your boss and peers what kinds of actions they are expecting from you and deliver them as soon as possible.

 Good Books That Help With This:

The First 90 Days, Critical Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels  byMichael Watkins

The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan by George Bradt, Jamye Check, and Jorge Pedrassa


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Promoted to Manage Your Peers? Awkward.

Promoted to Manage Your PeersThey’ll Hate Me!

If you spend enough time climbing the corporate ladder, or if you work in a small organization, eventually you’ll be promoted to manage your peers.  This is one of the toughest developmental experiences there is.  It’s hard for you.  It’s hard for your peers.  It changes things forever.  It doesn’t have to change things in a bad way, though.  If you handle it right, you and they can grow from the experience.

I’ve known people who’ve turned down such a promotion because they don’t want to lose their friends.  This, of course, is an option.  It’s a short sighted one, in my opinion, though.   We’ll get to that.  First, let’s talk about how to handle it if you decide to take the promotion.

Get Your Head Straight


  • Think of the best manager you ever had and act like him/her.  Don’t go into super boss mode.  Your peers will be super sensitive to any ‘power play’ and if you start making decisions without input, ordering people around, showing who’s in charge, then you will send off alarms that will be hard to turn off.
  • DO NOT go easy on everyone to keep friends.  First of all, it won’t work.  Second of all, you will fail as a manager.  Third of all, you will lose your subordinates’ respect.  Go back to the advice above:  think of the best manager you ever had and act like him/her.
  • Don’t assume that your friends among your peers will support you.  Don’t assume that your non-friends among your peers will sabotage  you.  You can’t count on anyone’s reaction to be as you expect.  Approach the situation as if you just got hired from the outside.  Look at each subordinate through fresh eyes.  What does s/he bring to the table?  What are his/her strengths?  How can you help him/her grow?  How can you form a real team from these folks?
  • Be trustworthy, and just as important, be trusting. Delegate things that you used to do.  Deal (in private) with the fact that others can’t do things as well as you did them–you didn’t do them as well when you started, either.   Never, ever use anything you know from you friendship to get someone to do something.  Give people the benefit of the doubt. DO  NOT play favorites.
  • Your job is to get results for the organization.  Your job is to understand your boss’ priorities and deliver them.  Your job is not to be ‘one of the gang.’  Do your job.
  • Your boss, your new peers and your subordinates will all be watching how you handle this new situation.

Now Learn From My Experience

  • There are people who will not like your promotion, although which ones might surprise you.  They will get over it (likely) or they will leave.  Either way, the problem won’t last long.  There are people who will not only accept your promotion (again, who these folks are may surprise you), but who will also help you succeed at delivering the results you need to deliver. Appreciate these folks.
  • Doing this right is hard.  You won’t be perfect at it.  All you can do is keep trying.  Treat people with respect and for the most part, they’ll appreciate it.  Everybody has to get used to the new normal of this.  It takes time.  Keep trying.  Act like (you should know where I’m going with this) the best manager you ever had.
  • I am friends, close friends, with people who have been my boss, people who have worked for me and with  people who have been both.  Friendship grows, changes, stalls, ends, and re-emerges (Facebook with anyone from high school lately?).  Work relationships affect friendship, but in and of itself, does not make or break friendship.  Take the promotion.

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Become a Great Leader

Leaders and Leadership as a Process

Do You Want to Become a Great Leader?

How you think about leadership has a profound affect on your success in becoming a good leader.  We all have our individual idea of what a good leader is.  Then we assume that everyone thinks the same thing.  And that is what gets us into trouble.

There are three parts to this:

  • What do you think makes a good leader?
  • What is leadership?
  • How can you adjust to be a good leader for others?

What Do You Think Makes a Good Leader?

When you think of the best leaders you’ve ever experienced, what were their traits?  Were they organized?  Were they decisive?  Were they fair?  Were they nice? “In charge?” Inspirational? Ambitious?  Smart? Successful? Charismatic?  Make your list.

We idealize leaders.  We want them to be what we think a leader should be.  There is a bit of magical thinking about leaders—they are supposed to be what you want them to be, regardless of who they are or what their style is.

In the United States, we want our leaders to be out there in front—leading the charge.  That kind of leadership is considered  inappropriate behavior in some other cultures.   Leaders actually come in all shapes and sizes.  When you do the above exercise–asking what the traits of good leaders are–in a large group of people, they don’t agree.  Each has his/her own vision of what a leader should be.  This comes as a surprise to the people in the group, because we all assume that what we believe is a great leader is universal.  If you ask the group WHO have been great leaders, they generally agree on a (very) few–Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Lincoln, but can’t come to agreement on others–Jobs, Bush, Welsh, for instance.

So What is Leadership?

Leadership is more than just a person and who/what/how that person is.  It is results.  It is situational.  It is followers.  It is removing barriers for people.  It is connection. It is behavior.  It is communicating.  It is clarifying.  Leadership is the combination of all of these.  It is a process that combines all of these.

The leader is the instigator of this leadership process.  The leader is the instrument that stimulates and regulates the process.  The leader does not have to be a certain kind of person, but rather has to have the skills to manage this process and to integrate the elements of the process to achieve the results.

Now, rethink the people who you think are the best leaders in your experience.  How did they manage the elements of the leadership process?  Didn’t they do all of these steps well enough to get the results that the organization needed?

How can you adjust to be a good leader for others?

Reframe the way you think of leadership.  Think of it as a process instead of a particular way of being.  When you think of it this way, evaluate your ability to accomplish the skills of the leadership process.  How can you get better.  Depending on the results you need, the followers you have, the situation you are in, you need to remove barriers, communicate, clarify and adjust the integration of the leadership levers until you get results.  By thinking about it this way, it becomes a much more manageable task than if you have to have a personality transplant or develop charisma in order to be a great leader.

This view of leadership allows you to continue to ‘raise your game’ until you are a great leader.  Practice the skills that need development, hone the delivery of these tools, and learn to adjust to the situation and the followers.


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

What If Your Leader Won’t Act?

What if my leader won’t . . .

I get this question all the time.  My leader won’t make a decision; what do I do?  Why won’t the leadership in my company LEAD?  Things go up the chain, but nothing comes back down.  Why won’t they DO anything?  What do you do when you manager won’t . . . ?

These are hard questions.  There are all kinds of reasons why ‘leadership’ won’t act.  Your solution depends a lot on why.  Let’s take a few examples:

Your leader can’t/won’t make a decision.

Just because someone has a ‘leader-type’ title, doesn’t mean s/he is a leader.  Sometimes people are overwhelmed by the responsibility of making a decision.  Sometimes people get stuck making decisions because all the alternatives seem equally bad.  Or equally good.  Sometimes people are waiting for someone else and it isn’t obvious to the people waiting on them.

If this sounds like the situation with your ‘leader,’ then perhaps you can ‘lead’ from below.  Can you present the alternatives in a way that helps the leader choose?  Can you make a recommendation?  Can you help the leader talk it out?  Can you get some other folks to help the leader talk it out?  Can you just make the decision yourself?  (Remember, empowerment is not what others let you do, but rather what you step up to do?)

Don’t get stuck on the fact that the person outranks you and won’t do what you believe is appropriate to his/her role.  The important thing is to get things to the place that the organization can move forward, not WHO decides.

Your leader won’t step in and resolve a conflict.

Why don’t you figure out how to do this yourself?  You shouldn’t need an adult to get things resolved for you.  Figure out a process for resolving the dispute and get the other person to agree to the process.  Then apply it.  In other words, agree that you’ll ask others, or you’ll have a vote, or you’ll agree to disagree, or you’ll take turns.  Then do it.  Don’t let your manager’s conflict aversion cause things to stop.

Your leader won’t resolve a resource issue.

Can you figure out why your manager can’t/won’t resolve it?  Does s/he believe there is a resource issue?  Does s/he believe that the resource issue will really negatively impact the project/organization?  Does s/he believe that the answer will be no from his/her management?

Approach the problem by laying out alternatives.  “We can add these resources OR we can reduce the work OR we can slow things down.”  Sometimes helping the person see all the alternatives helps them pick one (which may not be your first choice, but may resolve/reduce the problem).  Think the problem through thoroughly.  Come up with at least three potential solutions–one of which is add resources.  What if there is no money for the resources you need.  Then what?  What would you do? HELP your manager figure this out.

Your leader won’t do ANYTHING.

First, make sure this is true.  Are you sure that this is reality or your perception–ask others who work for your leader or who have in the past.  Ask what has worked for other people.

If nothing works, then you have a choice.  You can either give up (I STRONGLY don’t recommend this) or you can  go find another leader.  If you allow your leader’s inaction to shut you down, then it will likely derail your career if it becomes a pattern.  If you decide to choose another leader, make sure that the new leader is what you’re looking for in a leader.  Just as there are patterns in the relationships we choose, there are patterns in the situations we get into at work.  There is no point in wasting years of your career in a no-win situation.

Fix it.


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Filed under Career Development, Communication, Executive Development, Leadership, Reframe

Manage Your Resistance

Manage Your Resistance

Put Your Leader Hat On

Who would you rather work with if you’re implementing a new change in your organization?  Would you rather work with someone who has been there for ten years–who knows his/her way around the organization, who knows how to make things happen in the organization?  Or would you rather have someone who has been there a couple of months, who has begun to know where the bathroom is and where important people sit?

The ten-year guy, right?


Why is that? Because the ten-year person is really committed to the way things are–‘the way we do it.’  Even if s/he doesn’t like it.  Even if s/he complains about it.  The ten-year person has been through all the ‘we tried that and it didn’t works,’ all the times s/he had to be reorganized or was left to do the work of those who left, who had to learn new systems, and who may or may not remember the good parts (results) of those changes, but who does remember the problems.  The ten-year person doesn’t want any more change (unless s/he gets to direct it).

The new person not only doesn’t have that history, or those scars, but also EXPECTS to have to go through those kinds of changes and challenges.  The new person follows directions and tries to please whoever is in charge.

Now, Which Are You?

Are you the new person who is emotionally and intellectually ready to not only participate, but also to help?  Or are you the long-term employee who isn’t?  You may be telling yourself that you are change-ready.  And maybe you are.  But change burnout, or change immunity, happens to all of us.  Yes . . . even me.

I’ve been doing change management for a long time.  I really know how to spot resistance and how to deal with it.  I got a new boss one time, after having changed bosses 3 times in the past 12 months.  I didn’t even realize how done with new bosses I was.  That is, I didn’t realize it until one of my employees said to me, “For someone who knows so much about change, you sure don’t handle it very well.”  She was right.  I wasn’t handling it well.  My capacity to deal with change had been used up and I was on the resistance end of the continuum.  My employee did me a favor.  I didn’t really realize how much my fed-up-ness was showing until she said that.

Wouldn’t it be a good idea to put yourself in that new employee mindset?  Wouldn’t it be a good idea to try to think like someone new to the organization (while at the same time bringing all your organization skill, knowledge and abilities to the table)?  Whenever I become aware that I’m in ‘resisting’ mode, I remind myself–if I had just started today, I wouldn’t think about all the reasons this is a stupid idea–I would just accept it and do it.

Try it.  It helps.

Note:  I am not saying that you should blindly follow without contributing opinions and constructive criticism.  Just be sure that that is what you’re doing though, and not resistance.  Resistance is a normal reaction, but it isn’t helpful to your career, so learn to manage it.


Filed under Career Development, Executive Development, Leadership, Success