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Alicia Blain

C-Suite


I was reading the February edition of Success Magazine and an article written by Beth Douglass Silcox titled “Perception is everything: As a salesperson, your social skills can open doors – or slam them shut” caught my interest As  you can tell by the title, the article centered around selling techniques.  As I reading the advice that the sales gurus were sharing, I realized that a lot of the advice was relevant to leaders.

According to one of the sales experts, Gary Hankins,  author of  “The Power of the Pitch“  perception is reality and the difference between a successful salesperson & a mediocre one is that the successful ones know how to control another person’s perception & understands the value of building relationships & social behavior.  That made me wonder how many leaders truly sees themselves as their employees do?

When working with leaders & their teams, I see this disconnect time & time again.  The leader always thinks the team sees him/her in one way when they actually see him/her in a very different way.  The team’s perception is usually not as flattering as the leader’s perception of him or herself.  The article is full of great advice that I think leaders can apply just as much as salespeople.  I would actually add that in today’s world, leaders are salespeople, too, because they need to constantly influence others – stakeholders, clients, bosses & employees – to get the work done.  The more we show the love, the more successful we will be.  I’ve heard leaders actually say they don’t have time to show the love.  They are too busy getting the work done.  Well, as the article shows, the more you show the love, the more people will want to work with you and actually, the easier it will be for you to get the work done.

So, as we celebrate Valentine’s Day today, and we show the love to our spouses, parents, children & all the special people in our lives, let’s remember to show the love to the people we spend a lot of time with everyday: our employees.  Here are some great ideas gleaned from the Success Magazine article that I think leaders can apply immediately to show their appreciation of their staff;

  • Foster relationships with your team by giving rather than receiving
  • Take an interest in WHO your employees are & not just WHAT they do or can do for you
  • Listen empathetically to what your employees say
  • Put your social ego aside & be natural with your employees
  • Lighten Up! Bring a little fun & humor into your relationship with them
  • Ask them questions & enjoy the dialogue
  • Focus on building a relationship with each employee rather than just “managing” them

The more we, as leaders, can connect with our team,  the more we can show them the love, the more we help them succeed and consequently, the more they will help us succeed.  In the end, that’s a beautiful legacy for a leader.

So what about it?  Ready to show the love to your team?  Today, Valentine’s Day is a good day to start.

Happy Valentine’s Day , everybody!

    It’s been a while since I added to this series that looks at the trends in corporate America that I think are pointing to its inability to retain top talent in the future. The third trend that threatens to keep corporate mediocrity alive & flourishing is the fact that better alternatives to corporate now exist.

    Those alternatives haven’t existed for that long.  You could argue that anyone who wasn’t satisfied with corporate has always had the choice to leave & open up their own business.  That’s true and many people have left corporate to do that very thing. But in recent years, the availability of options to do that have skyrocketed.  The Internet has blown away many of the barriers to entry in industries that were once dominated by large corporations. Social media tools like Facebook and You Tube give small business owners direct access to markets they simply could not penetrate years ago.  Internet marketing has made millionaires of startups who have taken their products & messages directly to consumers.

    Even more interesting are the number of startups that are blossoming all over the world especially in lesser developed nations.  This shows the tremendous power that technology is putting in the hands of ordinary people with a dream & a purpose & desire to make money.  

    Then you have a pretty stable & robust venture capital industry that is helping fuel startups all over the world.  In the past, access to capital has always been difficult for an individual that was tired of working for a corporation yet had a dream he or she wanted to pursue.  Without capital,  a dream can quickly turn into a nightmare.  These days individuals have more funding options available to pursue their own business and many of them are doing so.  With corporatons laying off millions of people in this recent recession, many individuals, especially Baby Boomers, are looking at self-employment options especially since the chances of corporations re-hiring them in the future are slim to none.

    Finally, you have the Millennials.  Over the past few months, I have been conducting a series of Gen Y Interviews that I call Millennial Musings.  The reason for the interviews is that I wanted to get a pulse on how Gen Yers felt about their corporate experience.  The oldest members of the group are now in their 30s so they have had a good taste of what working for a corporation is like.  To my surprise, over 80% of the Gen Yers I’ve interviewed  thus far are extremely dissapointed with their corporate experience.  Many of them have left corporate and have either chosen smaller companies or have started their own businesses. 

    But here’s the really interesting trend I’ve seen with the Gen Yers that have opted to start their own business.  Many of them are teaming up with their laid off Boomer parents & starting a family business.  Now that’s a twist that has not been seen before.  The Boomer parents are bringing their tremendous experience & body of  knowledge while their Gen Y children bring their tech savviness, passion & collaborative networks.  The combination is proving to be quite powerful & profitable. As one of my Gen Y interviewees remarked   ”Why would I want to work for some corporate boss who is a jerk when I can work with my parents who are cool”  It’s always refreshing to see how well Gen Yers get along with their parents & how at such a young age, they are throwing out the box & coming up with creative ways to succeed in their own business instead of trading hours for dollars in a corporate job.

    The alternatives to working for a corporation have indeed expanded and are providing all generations with viable & certainly attainable options that don’t include corporate.  Newspapers, magazines & blogs are filled with stories of how very talented individuals who were laid off by their corporations after years of service have stopped looking for a corporate job & pursued their own businesses & are thriving. This is good talent that is now lost to a corporation forever.  In many cases, their Gen Y children, underwhelmed by their corporate experience are joining them outside the corporation & are contributing to that success.

    In the final installment of this series, we will look at Trend #4, the Millennials.  My favorite of them all.

    I am a big fan of the South Florida Business Journal & look forward to receiving my weekly copy in the mail.  Although I practically get all my news online these days,  I have to admit that I still like to get  the hardcopy copy of a handful of newspapers . The SFBJ is on that list.

    In the January 21-27th edition, there was a great article in Harvey Mackay’s weekly Swim with the Sharks column titled “Expand your mind to find better ways to address issues.  I like the practical, actionable advice Harvey gives every week in his column. Like many of the SFBJ articles, I always come away learning something new or in the case of this particular article, looking at something from a different perspective.

    In the article, Harvey challenges us to look at things beyond the tried & true.  He believes that conformity detracts from looking at creative solutions to a problem.  As always he gives the readers some practical steps we can take to stop thinking the way we’ve always thought.  Great advice & I encourage everyone to read the article.

    When I finished the article I couldn’t help but think how relevant Harvey’s message was as it relates to what leaders are facing in corporate America today.   Over the last year, as I’ve spoken at events & for organizations internationally, I have come to realize more than ever how stuck most leaders are in the tried & true.  There’s a big dose of conformity plaguing many organizations out there &  I think this will cost us dearly down the road if continues the way it has.

    Although I see conformity in a lot of areas of leadership these days, I see it most when the subject of Gen Yers in the workplace comes up.  All of a sudden,  everyone’s eyes begin to roll, they begin to groan & the criticism of their young workforce begins. Now mind you, Gen Yers have been in corporate for over 8 years now.  More & more of them will be entering the workforce over the next few years.  It’s not like the problem is going to go away any time soon, right?  But yet, for 8 years, as I’ve spoken at events & conferences, all I’ve heard is the same groaning & complaints.  

    It reminds me of the quote that says insanity is doing something over & over again expecting different results. I think it’s so applicable here.  Groaning & complaining about Gen Yers for the past 8 years hasn’t helped very much.  In fact, it’s probably hurt a whole lot of companies because Gen Yers are becoming disillusioned in droves regarding their corporate experience. Over the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to interview Gen Yers in corporate positions & their feedback is pretty dismal.  For some reason,  some leaders out there think that Gen Yers will be the ones to conform to the way the workplace has always functioned. 

    From one who has worked in that workplace for over 25 years, there’s a lot in that workplace that’s not working & needs an overhaul.  Why would you want to keep the status quo when much of it no longer applies & is actually holding companies back.  But yet, that is exactly what is happening in companies everywhere.  The new ideas & approaches that Gen Yers come equipped to contribute to the company are being squashed because it doesn’t “conform” to how things have always been done.  Well maybe it’s time to replace conformity with a little creativity & experimentation. 

    In my blog I’ve given many examples of how I had to let go of some of my conformist leadership practices in order to understand & unleash the talent of the Gen Yers in my team.  It wasn’t until I stopped repeating what wasn’t working & tried something new that  things changed.  I stopped leaving their talent on the table & began to leverage it with bottom line results.  It wasn’t easy to do but guess what?  Sticking to the status quo & being stuck in conformity was worse.  Trying new techniques not only moved me forward as a leader but it did the same for my team.

    So I have taken the liberty of taking Harvey’s practical strategies & putting it in the context of what leaders could do differently as it relates to their Gen Y staff.  Here they are:

    1. Look at the whole picture. It’s easy to think Gen Y is the problem but will that solve the problem? Can the problem be that you are following old rules that need to be re-examined?
    2. Put yourself in another time.  As seasoned leaders, I think we’ve forgotten what it was like for us as young workers.  I know that I had a lot of questions & concerns when I first started working in corporate.  Sometimes putting yourself in their shoes makes all the difference & helps us relate & understand them better.
    3. Reverse the Situation.  Instead of being the one with the answers, why don’t you ask Gen Yers questions instead?  All those unanswered questions often lead to misunderstandings & that can lead to unfair criticism. Getting answers directly from the source can clear up a lot of confusion.
    4. Bridge the gap.   Gen Yers can’t continue to be a source of frustration for you moving forward.  Pretty soon you will have many of them on your payroll. You need to understand where you are now & where you need to get to with your Gen Y staff.  The responsibility of building the bridge to get there is  yours as a leader.
    5. Write down your thoughts.  In our hectic, reactionary world, we as leaders, often don’t have time to even think.  Well, unfortunately, this requires a lot of our thinking so we can brainstorm new ideas & techniques we can use going forward.
    6. Speak Up.  I can’t stress this enough.  I just don’t see many leaders taking the time to really connect with their Gen Y staff. To really get to know them, to let the Gen Yers know them & to start a dialogue.  For me, that made all the difference in the world & it will for you , too.

    So what about you?  Ready to take Harvey’s advice & leave conformity behind as you search for ways NOT to think the way you’ve thought before when it comes to your Gen Y staff?

    Being a left brain type of person, I always struggle with the more touchy feely or intangible aspects of life.  Topics like the law of attraction or self-help or some of the personal growth stuff doesn’t always make sense to me but yet I know that keeping a positive mindset & envisioning a certain outcome are powerful things to practice.  For example, I think the book,” Think & Grow Rich”  by Napoleon Hill is a great book and although written decades ago, its principles still make a lot of sense today.

    One of my goals for 2011 is to embrace one or two things that are outside my comfort zone.  So I picked personal growth/prosperity thinking as one of the two uncomfortable things I would work on this year.  I started listening to Randy Gage, who is a well known speaker who focuses on prosperity & ridding people of self-limiting beliefs.  I picked Randy because he lives in South Florida and I’ve heard him speak many times.  He’s a bit controversial & unorthodox in his approach & I happen to  like that because controversy always challenges your thinking which I think is good.

    So like many speakers today, Randy has a You Tube channel where he shares his ideas, his rants & beliefs on prosperity.  His latest video gave me a lot to think about & I thought the idea applied to those leading & managing teams in corporate America today. Randy starts out the video by asking a powerful question: 

                             ” What would you do  if you knew you could not fail?

    Interesting question, right?  But even more interesting are the possibilities that it offers if you apply it in a work setting.  One of the things that I see happening a lot in the corporate world is that people play small.  Everyone plays it safe because there’s so much fear of failing or looking bad or not making your target to get that bonus at the end of the year.  When I talk to companies & ask about what they are doing to innovate, many times even those ideas are rooted in safety.  One of the key reasons I think this happens is that leaders in organizations today are afraid to fail & they bleed that fear into their teams in subtle ways. 

     Time and time again, I have seen team members, those on the front lines, come up with great ideas.  When they try pitching the idea to their bosses,  the little “yea-but”  beasty rears his ugly head & squashes the idea.   Everyone who has worked in corporate is familiar with the “yea-but” beasty.  As soon as the beasty hears of an idea that’s outside of the norm, that is even slightly risky, he quickly invades the body of one of the decision makers and the conversation goes something like this: ” YEA, Sally, that’s a great idea BUT what’s the ROI on that?” or ” YEA, Bob, that’s a great idea BUT where are you going to get the money to fund it?” or my personal favorite “YEA, Nick, that’s a great idea BUT we don’t have any time to work on that right now?”  As if there was a “good time” to experiment & try out new ideas. The beasty wins again & the company misses out on a great opportunity to explore something that might lead to a new profitable product, new revenue stream, a new & more efficient process.

    The “Yea-But” beasty works on our inherent discomfort to try new things because we are afraid to fail and corporate entities suffer from that as well except they make up good excuses to cover it up.    These days, I think the beasty is working full time on keeping leaders from recognizing the amazing talent that is sitting right under their nose in their Gen Y staff.  As I travel internationally to speak on the topic of Gen Yers & leadership, I hear the beasty all the time.  Leaders still believe that the Gen Yers will ultimately succumb to the way corporations have been managed since the 20th Century.  My response to that is simple “  Why would we want that”?  Anyone who has worked in corporate knows that there are a lot of things that could use a little fixing, a little overhaul, a little 21st Century upgrade.  So why don’t we merge the unique talents that Millennials bring to the workplace with our corporate experience & brainpower to create something better?  That could be risky & most of all it would require some work.  I can hear the beasty now…

    But what about if we took a baby step every day to remove failure from the equation?  What if, like Randy Gage says, we carried out our leadership responsibilities as if we couldn’t fail?  What if we set a goal to experiment with one new idea or concept this year?  Imagine the boost of confidence you’d give your team?  The creative juices would wake up & the possibilities to develop a new product line, a new revenue stream, a new software tool could make all the difference to your bottom line.  But you’ll never know as long as the beasty is allowed to flourish.

    When I struggled to understand & accept Millennials in my team years ago, the beasty was in full force & I, too, held on to the leadership principles that I had used for years.  At first, the beasty was winning big time but then slowly, with every uncomfortable baby step I took,  I got stronger & I fought the beasty back.  It was a great feeling to remove failure from my leadership equation & forge ahead with new ideas & experiments that produced bottom line results.   I was able to conquer the beasty and so can you.

    So how about it?  What will you do today to fight the “Yea But” Beasty?  What will you do this week to remove failure from the equation?  What can you do if you knew you could not fail?  All it takes is a baby step…

    In my blogs I always try to highlight great examples of Millennials doing good & being Millennials.  Last week, I came across a blog on Fast Company written by Simon Mainwaring titled:  “Using Social Media to Mobilize Millennials“.  In the blog, Simon talks about two projects that take a unique & highly Millennial spin on an existing practice.  That practice is social causes & our need as humans to give back and help others less fortunate.

    The names of the 2 projects are Pando Projects & Loudsauce.  The first puts the Millennial brainpower to help young people that have an idea for a business but need help putting the business plan together.   Each project gets a website, promotional fundraising & volunteer management tools to kickstart the project.  The project is still a pilot but it shows the power of social media as people support projects based on the personal tie they have with that particular cause.  If you look at the 15 pilot projects, it clearly shows the interest that Gen Y has for causes and making the world a better place.  I particularly loved the projects that also had a multi-cultural component to them as it shows how the future of the US will be more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before.

    The second project shows the incredible market savviness that Millennials possess.  Loudsauce lists a series of campaigns for causes & based on your preference you donate money to fund advertising for that cause on TV or billboards & then you spread the word using social media such as Facebook & Twitter.

    What struck me in both examples is the creativity they display by leveraging 2 of the 5 unique skills & traits that Millennials bring to any situation.  The 2 skills are their collaboration or crowd sourcing approach to things & their use of technology. I believe Millennials are extremely lucky to be living in a time where technology provides access to so much that was not available in just a few years past.  The way they use technology & harness it is unique to them & extremely powerful.  On top of that, Millennials are natural collaborators.  I’ve shown many examples in my blogs of Millennials coming together to get things done.  They are wired to do it &  because it’s natural to them, they harness that collectivity in ways prior generations can’t begin to fathom.   

    I agree with Simon on his take of the future. The unique skills of the  Millennials layered on top of their affinity to get involved in social causes, layered on top of the technology available to help them do that will make them the  ”founders of companies and industry leaders that will transform the products, services and role of brands in near future”.

    But where will that leave corporations?  For the first time, we have a generation of smart, collaborative young people who, at an age where other generations were forced to look for corporate jobs to get experience, have an option to start their own companies & use the collective brainpower of their peers to help them succeed.  As corporate leaders continue to rely on outdated principles & techniques that hinder their ability to see the goldmine in their Gen Y staff,  they may decide to opt out of corporate and start their own companies. 

    They have the  technology, the social media & the brainpower of their fellow Gen Yers to provide them with the acumen & funding they need to start & grow their own businesses.  That combination has never been available to other generations.  Can corporations compete against that especially as so many Millennials are getting disillusioned by corporate & its leaders on a daily basis?  What kind of talent will be available to corporations?  Will the best Gen Y talent be willing to put up with all the hassles of corporate or decide to try their luck & start their own companies & bring on other bright & motivated Millennials?Will corporate be left with a mediocre talent pool going forward or will they be able to attract, retain & leverage the best of Gen Y?

    Interesting questions that will be addressed at time goes on.  If you want to be that corporate leader that can attract & retain top talent, you better start now  First step, let go of the status quo, of your comfort zone & get uncomfortable.  Let go of outdated styles & techniques that blind you to the potential that Millennials bring.  Ignite experimentation in your group & make that connection with your young workforce.    That will give you a good head start.  Remember leading successfully in the 21st Century requires leaders to C.A.R.E. – Connect, Adapt, Reshape & Experiment to keep the best talent engaged & commited. 

    Are you doing that today?

    Last week I was at a client site for a meeting.  My client was running a bit late and her assistant asked me to wait in one of several conference rooms on the floor.  As I was busy getting ready for the meeting, taking out my laptop, connecting it to the projector, etc,  I became aware of a booming voice.  At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it but after a while, I couldn’t help but listen to what it was saying.  Now in most corporate conference rooms I’ve been in, you can sometimes hear what’s going on in the next room especially if people are laughing or applauding or like in this case, when someone has a particular voice pitch that carries through the walls.  As I focused on the voice, I could see through the glass mirror of the conference room that there was a meeting being held in the conference room adjacent to mine & that the door had been left opened.  That explained why I could clearly hear the booming voice.

    With nothing to do but wait for my client, I began to pay attention to what the booming voice was saying.  Within 5 minutes, I was appalled at what I heard.  The booming voice was on a tirade.  He was clearly disappointed with the 10 people who were in the conference room and was letting them know it. But it was how he was doing it that disturbed me.  He was using inappropriate language, was banging his fist on the table & using such words to describe the team as “morons”, “useless”, “unreliable”, “lazy”!  All in one paragraph.  You could tell that he was working himself into a full blown rage and as he was doing that I had a front row seat to watch what the reaction of his team was. It wasn’t pretty.

    You could see disgust written on all their faces. Most of them had their heads bowed & were looking down at their hands, or at the table. They were so uncomfortable that it was palpable.  Finally, one of the meeting attendees looked up & saw me across the hall & rolled his eyes.  I smiled at him in support.  I took the opportunity that I had his attention & gestured to him that perhaps he should close the door.  I didn’t feel it was appropriate for that man to display that type of behavior to his team for the whole world to hear. Interestingly, the young man looked back at me and shook his head no. His face was almost defiant. I realized by his reaction that he wanted people to hear the tirade.  My guess is that he wanted someone in a position of authority to hear & see this man’s behavior & hopefully do something about it. Before I knew it, the booming voice was dismissing the team & saying ” Get outta here. I’m disgusted with all of you”.  That’s an exact quote.

    As people shuffled out in silence, the young man who had caught my attention made an “L” shape with his forefinger & thumb & put it on his forehead signifying that he felt the booming voice was a loser. A couple of his teammates nearby saw him do it & started giggling as they passed by & I could see one of them mouthing the words “What a jerk” as the others continued to giggle.  The booming voice stayed in the conference room answering his cell phone & I could hear him berating whoever was on the other line. This man clearly was a jerk.

    Just then my client walks in & closes the door.  As she is closing it, she can hear the booming voice talking loud & using offensive language.  With the door closed, she rolls her eyes & says ” there goes Steve again ranting & raving about something. He’s such a brilliant man but he’s not a real people person & he can’t seem to get good people to stay in his team”.  “I wonder why??” I said to myself.  I learned from my client that Steve, the booming voice, was the Vice President of Marketing & had close ties to the CEO & had been with the company almost 20 years.

    That explained a lot.  Unfortunately, as far as I was concerned, his team was doomed.  Being buddies with the CEO was job security – it was one of the 4 poor leadership trends I’ve blogged about that is so prevalent in corporate. My client explained that the booming voice was constantly badgering the Human Resources group about the lack of good talent they were getting.  Instead of recognizing that he was the problem, it was easier for the booming voice to blame it on HR & the talent pool.  Very sad.

    As I witnessed this horrible but not uncommon example of leadership, I remember an interview I heard in my January edition of Success Magazine’s complimentary CD.  In the CD, Darren Hardy, the publisher of Success Magazine was interviewing Shawn Achor, author of the book titled “The Happiness Advantage“ .  In the interview, Shawn explained to Darren how important it was for people & especially leaders to have & disseminate a positive outlook on their teams.  He went over 7 practical and what I think are actionable steps that we can all take at work and at home to reap the benefits of happiness.  You see, Shawn’s extensive research has shown that happiness fuels success, not the other way around.  Most of us think that when we succeed at something, we’ll be happy.  Well, that’s not what the research shows & I know that my own hands-on experience leading teams backs up what Shawn’s research shows.

    In over 25 years of leading teams, I have seen a direct correlation between people’s happiness  & effectiveness & how I’ve treated them as a leader.  To be totally honest & transparent, there have been times in my career where I have exhibited behavior similar to the booming voice although never quite that bad.  The result of that negative & inappropriate behavior was more of the same – more of what I didn’t want.  As I changed my behavior & realized that staying positive in a bad situation produced ideas & solutions rather than resentment & disengagement, I was able to get the results I wanted & more importantly, I was able to quantify that success against the failure that had been displayed with my less than positive reaction. Even more importantly than all of that, I realized that my team was more upbeat, more engaged & creative. They also stayed with me for years & my retention rate was pretty high compared to my fellow peers.

    As leaders, it is critical for us to know how our actions & behaviors affect our team.  Negativity & bullying only get you high turnover, a very unhappy team & subpar solutions. In my C.A.R.E. System of Leadership, one of the key components I stress is the R for Reshape.  We need to constantly be reshaping & re-evaluating our leadership style & principles to ensure we don’t fall into bad habits that are hard to break.  Even though no team member likes being approached from a negative perspective, it is particularly difficult & offensive to our younger workers who have come from a very supportive network of teachers & parents.  While other generations might tolerate it, Gen Yers find it difficult to do so.  As you saw from the reaction of the young man who caught my attention, he wanted the inappropriate behavior of his boss to be on display.  I’m sure his hope was that it would not be tolerated.

    As this new year begins to unfold, let us all keep in mind that there is an advantage to be positive and happy.  Although the day to day may sometimes challenge that philosophy, it is up to us as leaders to embrace it & share it with our team.  Igniting happiness & positivity in your team will get you to reap the rewards & success you are looking for. The opposite just labels you a loser & a jerk.

    So what about you? Have you used happiness to your advantage lately?

    I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately given some of the trends I’ve seen unfold on the corporate front over the last few years.  Let me start out by saying that I have always been an advocate of having a corporate career.  I worked in corporate for over 25 years and for most of those years I felt it was the right place for me. Since then, a lot of things have occurred in the corporate arena that have made me ask whether I would feel the same about embarking on a corporate career today if I were in my 20′s or 30′s. To be totally honest, my enthusiasm to start a corporate career today would be tepid at best. 

    For me, there are 4 strong trends that point to why corporations today are at risk of attracting only mediocre talent in the 21st Century.  I will be exploring each of the 4 reasons in separate blogs over the next few days.  Let’s look at Trend #1 now. 

    1. Poor Leadership:  Having both worked in corporate and having interacted with countless corporate executives, I have seen first hand how corporations have lowered their expectations in identifying and retaining outstanding leaders to run their business units and their companies.  Most corporations pay huge sums of money to consultants to help them identify and come up with methodologies or matrices on how to identify their top performers or “High Potential or HIPOs” as they are called.  It’s nice to be able to show something to their Board of Directors or to the outside world demonstrating that they are focused on tapping the very best performers for their leadership pipeline. But when you peek behind the curtain the reality is very different as most corporate employees can attest.  I’m sure most leadership consultants will attest to that as well as they see how their customized methodologies & frameworks are rarely utilized by their corporate clients.

     The reality is that most organizations promote people to positions of leadership that simply are not qualified to be in  those        positions.  Most of the time, there is no clear, consistent criteria applied to identifying people that demonstrate top leadership qualities.  In my experience I have seen the opposite: people promoted to leadership positions for all the wrong reasons.  Here are the top 4:

    1. The person is very good at the particular work they do (e.g. good at sales, good in finance, good tech person) but has never shown any ability to lead the people that do that particular work .
    2. The person’s boss is not a particularly effective leader himself and therefore makes an equally ineffective promotional decision.
    3. The person has been in one position for a very long time and the next step is a manager position. The person is pushing his or her boss for a promotion.  The person can usually point out other employees in similar situations who have been promoted.  Again, because no consistent criteria is used to identify solid leadership potential, the person usually succeeds in getting the promotion.  The corporation rolled the leadership dice once again and only time will tell whether that person was qualified to be in a leadership position.
    4. The person’s boss is “encouraged” to promote this person to a leadership position by those in higher positions in the corporate chain.  I’ve seen this happen a lot and it’s so bad for morale. This is where the boss being pressured to do this must take a firm stand with his or her superior. It only needs to happen once. 

    Let me give an example here. Over the years as a boss myself, I was put in that very situation several times by different bosses.  My response each and every time was the same and I always took very hard line.  This was always my response: “You put me in this position because you trusted my ability to run my team which includes the selection of qualified individuals for promotional consideration.  If I allow you do the selection for me, I will lose the trust of my team to make decisions and it shows a lack of trust on your part for me to make the decision.  If you truly want me to do this,  I will go ahead and do it but you must know that I will begin to look for another job immediately.  Not having your trust nor the trust of my team in making decisions makes it very difficult for me to lead and I have no alternative but to remove myself from the process. ”  This has worked every time and the “request” was never made again.

          5.  The person’s boss is ineffective and relies heavily on that person to run the team.  The person is tired of doing this without recognition and wants a promotion.  The boss, fearful that the person will leave, relents and promotes him or her. I’ve seen this happen too often as well.  This clearly shows that the organization has no clue about the effectiveness of it’s current leaders if an ineffective boss has been allowed to stay in a position of leadership for so long.  If the person asking for the promotion is a good leader, then that will be good for the team. If not, it’s another example of bad leadership decisions made.  Rolling the dice again.

    The end result of this list above is that it sends a bad  message to employees and they begin to lose trust in their bosses and in their leaders.  After all, if any or all of the conditions listed above are allowed to happen on such a critical component as leadership, what other similar things are taking place in the organization?  People begin to get disillusioned especially those that can truly be effective leaders who are not being identified or given the chance to prove themselves.  With time, the true High Performers either leave the organization or just give up and no longer try to do their best work. 

    I see the latter happening a lot in corporations today and it’s troubling to me. But it’s understandable, right?  Why should someone continue to do their very best when they don’t get recognized for it or are overlooked for a position they are qualified and it’s given to someone who simply doesn’t deserve it?  Whether the high performer leaves, or he or she stops giving their best, the organization loses because they are not getting top performance out of their employees.  Mediocrity sets is and so does indifference.  Bad combination to have in a global, competitive 21st Century marketplace. 

    Do you see any of these 5 reasons play out in your organization?  What do you think about them?

    Coming Up: Trend #2  – “Clinging to Outdated Principles“.

    By now, anyone who has managed Millennials knows what avid video game players they are.  It is one of the topics I discuss in my C.A.R.E System of Leadership.  One of the 5 traits that makes Millennials so puzzling to leaders & others in the organization is their experiential nature.  They don’t see failure as a bad thing.   In fact, for them it’s a good thing because it will get them ready to get to the next level – in a video game, that is.  They love being hands-on and trying new things.  They aren’t afraid to jump in & test their skills at anything you put in front of them.

    I have been keeping track of the video game industry ever since I began hiring Millennials eight years ago and I’m blown away by it’s growth.  In December’s edition of Fast Company, they have an article titled ” Everyone’s a Player” written by Adam L. Penenberg. (Last I checked, the online version was not up yet so check back in a couple of days).  Here are some interesting stats from the article:

    • Average gamer is 34 years old (Technically, a Generation Xer!)
    • 97% of 12 to 17 year-olds play computer games ( These will be your employees in 4 to 9 years)
    • Only 35% of C-Suite executive play video games (Do you sense a bit of a disconnect moving forward…)
    • Price Waterhouse estimates that global sales of video games will reach $68.4 Billion in 2012 (A little over a year away). Why is that important? Because in 2012 global video games sales will be more than the global revenues of film box office & DVDs COMBINED. Yes, you read that correctly.  To put it in perspective, in 2002, worldwide video game sales were around the $20 Billion mark.  Small explosion in sales wouldn’t you say?

    Over the years, I’ve paid particular attention to the serious games sector of the video games market and I’ve seen that explode as well.  Companies like Sun Microsystems and Cisco are huge users & inventors of games for training. Others use it to improve internal processes.  In my blog last Wednesday (Nov. 24th) I talked about a first ever management innovation contest given by MIX, the Management Innovation Exchange. One of the winners in the contest was Ross Smith, a Microsoft executive, for the great work he did to instill trust within his Windows Security Test team.  Apparently, after his work there, Ross moved to the Vista group & his innovative spirit went to work there as well.  He helped create Microsoft’s Code Review Game in order to make the boring & mind numbing job of programming code review more interesting.  Basically, the developers received points based on the type of bugs they discovered.  According to the article, the project was such a success that Microsoft used the results in other major releases. 

    Even very traditional companies such as McKinsey see the value of gaming & use it to train recruits.  I’ve been so intrigued with games that I attended the Games Developer Conference in San Francisco in 2008.  Although the bigger emphasis was on commercial video games and not as much on serious games, I could see the spillover to serious games happening and it’s happening more and more each year.  In 2007, I attended the ASTD (Association for Training & Development) Conference in San Diego & was amazed at how many breakout sessions were about using video games for corporate training.

    Who doesn’t know someone who is hooked on Facebook’s Farmville or Mafia Wars? Although these are social games, the number of people who play them (80 million active players according to the Fast Company article) clearly show the popularity of games. Yet only 35% of C-Suite executives has ever played a video game.  As more & more companies continue to invest in video games and many of them investing significant amounts in them, it behooves executives to become familiar with them & why they are so captivating to younger workers.  They are a great tool for teaching & studies are showing that video games are beneficial in many areas & in many fields.

    One of the recommendations I make in my C.A.R.E. System of Leadership is for companies to establish dual coaching where both leaders and young employees are learning & teaching each other techniques & ideas that are unfamiliar to the other.  One of my suggestions is for leaders to learn & immerse themselves in a video game.  I guarantee the executives who do that will not regret it. Millennials will have them playing World of Warcraft in no time.  It is an eye opening & mind opening experience and every executive who has done it has thoroughly enjoyed it & found it to be a rewarding endeavor.

    So what about you?  Ready to put your Game Face on?  You better hurry if you haven’t done so yet.  The game-ization of corporate has begun & you don’t want to be left behind…

    I was listening to an interesting interview with Mary Gentile, Director of Business Curriculum at Babson College. The video appeared in this month’s McKinsey Quarterly and Lily Cunningham conducted the interview. Here’s the link if you want to see the video.  I recommend that you watch it. 

    At the start of the interview, Mary shares a touching story about a ”crisis of faith”  she had about 10 years ago that left her wondering whether it was “ethical to teach business ethics”.  It does almost sound like an oxymoron doesn’t it? Anyone who has worked in a corporate setting can clearly understand why it would be almost hypocritical to teach business ethics when it was often so difficult to put it into practice in the real world.

    Well Mary settled her “crisis of faith” by interviewing some MBA candidates entering Columbia University when she was finishing a consulting project for them.  Columbia asked the MBA entrants to write an essay about a time when they experienced a values conflict and how they’d handle it. Mary decided to interview the very few that had actually been successful in voicing their values. She wrote a book and a curriculum around her findings called “Giving Voice to Values“.

    The video is short and the insights are interesting and a bit surprising. It’s worth the listen and I plan to pick up the book.  At a time where there is so little trust in the corporate leadership, it’s nice to know that a few people, both in the trenches and in the C-Suite, managed to do the right thing against what must have been very difficult odds.   Instead of transferring to another department, going along with the bad behavior or just quitting, these brave people stood up and had their values counted. 

    We need more stories like these to inspire and uplift us. 

    What about you?  Do you voice your values in the workplace?

    I’m on a kick lately combining technology terms with leadership concepts. It started when I blogged about patch anagement a couple of weeks ago. Don’t ask me what is behind the merging of the two.  I guess  it’s because I love both topics and am always reading stuff on each of them and extrapolating to the other. Take today for example. I was reading some articles on Windows 7 and I thought it was a great correlation to what many of us are facing leading in today’s workplace. 

    We have become so comfortable with the leadership practices we’ve used over the years that it’s become sort of our Windows XP version – old reliable. There have probably been instances where we entertained the idea of making a change here or there but like Vista, it scared us and made us go back to old reliable. It’s like a comfortable sweater that we just put on without thinking.  That’s understandable.  We all like the familiar and feel at ease there. 

    But what happens is that the workplace begins to show signs of change in a variety of areas. At first, you don’t even recognize the subtle changes and old reliable pulls you through.  But then slowly many things come together and if you’re lucky, you realize that the workplace of today is nothing like the one where you learned and perfected those leadership qualities. You venture to think that there might actually be something better than old reliable.  Awareness is the first step that will take you down the path of entertaining the idea of upgrading your old operating system of leadership.

    How long has it been since you looked at your leadership style and practice?  When was the last time you checked to see how effectively you were leading your team? All of your team not just your direct reports?   When was the last time you asked for feedback from your team and peers not on how your team was doing but on how you were doing as a leader?  When was the last time you experimented with a new leadership technique or idea?  Did you fall back on old reliable instead?

    In the months (and years) to come, as operating systems across corporate America are upgraded to Windows 7, we will all be excited about uising its new features and capabilities and we will forget the nightmare of Vista.  We will probably wonder why we clung to XP, our old reliable like we did. 

    Can we do the same around our operating system of leadership?  Can we get a trial version to test out new features and capabilities that will make us better leaders in the 21st Century?  I know we can.  A lot is riding on our ability to do it.

    It’s time to sunset our XP version of leadership and upgrade to the 21st Century edition.  How ’bout it?  Will you join me in piloting this exciting new edition?

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