Author and leadership expert Todd Dewett

I arrived at work that day in my blue jeans, motorcycle boots, and a t-shirt – standard motorcycle gear for my quick commute to work.  Dressing however you wish to dress was the norm at Hyperglot Software.  It was a classic small startup.  They created cool software for learning new languages.  I was an intern there while in graduate school – employee 32! 

I might have been comfortable that day in my jeans and t-shirt, but months earlier when I showed up for my interview, things were a bit different.  I arrived for the interview in a crisp clean Brooks Brothers suit, a hard white starchy shirt, and a simple red tie.  I proudly reeked of “business student.”  I didn’t know what to expect, though I had read about software startups and was excited to gain first-hand knowledge. 

The Interview

The door opened and before me stood a young man with a long goatee, tank top, cammo shorts, and no shoes.  I thought I was in the wrong place.

“Can I help you?”  He inquired as he looked at me, worried.

“I’m here for an interview,” I said.  I asked if I was in the right place and explained that I was there to interview with Phil, the president of the company.

A look of clear understanding washed over his face.  “Oh!”  He grimaced.  “You’re the MBA.”  It wasn’t a question.  It was just a somewhat condescending acknowledgment. 

I got the job that day but not before I met a host of Cammo Short’s wonderfully eccentric colleagues.  I met the COO, Scott, who politely suggested that I should remove my tie and never be seen wearing one onsite again, lest I harm all things creative.  I met the firm’s lead programmer, Sam – a delightful young man who loved wearing his multi-colored beanie cap with the propeller on the top.  I met a fascinating language expert named Carine from Belgium, a Stanford Ph.D. who spoke seven languages and also served as the team’s social coordinator.  She made me go dancing with the team whether I wanted to or not. 

The Challenge

The two main owners of the company were Phil and Martin.  The former was the business suit who focused mostly on finance, accounting, and sales and marketing.  He was literally the only person who ever dressed up at work.  The latter was a Ph.D. in languages, a university professor, and the company’s chief language and technical officer. 

So, there I am, at my desk working one morning when in walks Martin, aka Dr. Rice.  I’d been an employee for about one month and at work that day for maybe three hours.  I was focused on work, but Dr. Rice had other plans. 

“Let’s go.”  He said.  “We’re going to get a tattoo.”  He smiled and raised his eyebrows, as if to say, “Are you in?”

He didn’t actually ask if I was interested.  He didn’t inquire if I had a plan for another tattoo.  He only knew that I had a couple already, likely wanted more, and most importantly, that he was in the mood to get his next piece. 

Normally, I try to be thoughtful and plan things out.  This amount of spontaneity would usually frazzle me.  I’m not sure why, but I said yes without much hesitation.  It was hard to say no to this congenial, odd, fellow.  His intelligence and wealth were a complete mismatch with his worn jeans and t-shirt, which I loved. 

Getting Ink

Moments later, Martin hopped on his Harley.  I jumped on my Honda, and off we went, ready to play hooky.  We arrived at our destination some thirty minutes later.  A small, old tattoo shop in the hills outside of Knoxville, Tennessee.  Two grizzled looking old biker types were manning the shop.  Martin spoke to one.  I worked with the other.

On the fly, I just decided to share a fragment of an idea I had with the artist.  I told him I had a motto of sorts floating around my head.  It was the phrase, “Live Hard.”  I told him it was a reminder to live fully, now, be bold, etc.  It was half-formed, to say the least, but somehow, I didn’t care.

“Nice.”  My artist responded.  “What kind of images are you thinking about?” 

“Maybe a shield and a banner or something?”  I suggested.

I wasn’t quite sure, so I looked at Martin.  He sensed my hesitation, then spoke up.  “Look man, sometimes you have to think deeply, and sometimes you just need to let go and roll with it.” 

“How about I put a dragon on the shield?” my grizzled artist asked. 

“Do it,” I replied – and then I let go.  Two hours later the motto was seared onto my left upper arm, complete with shield and dragon. 

That day changed me a little. 

A New Motto

I was already in a growth state of mind.  My graduate program at the University of Tennessee was fun and challenging, my interest in business was ever-widening.  Working in such a progressive fun environment at Hyperglot pushed me to open up even more. 

I thought about my new motto often.  It sounded too silly to share with others, but I thought about it.  I wondered if others had used that phrase.  I wondered if it meshed well with any teachings from religion, philosophy, the world of self-help, or elsewhere – so I started to read. 

It became something of a hobby.  The more I read, and the more I thought about it, the more I started to believe I’d stumbled upon a really useful phrase.  I’ve always tried to be a person who lives by some set of principles, and though I sampled various religions and philosophies, I’d never really found what I was looking for. 

Unsatisfied, I turned to one of my favorite sources of wisdom – my mother.  I showed her the tattoo.  She was unimpressed, but was interested in the motto and my quest.  Her advice:  read the Bible.

So, I did.  It was my second reading.  There is a great deal of wisdom in those pages.  Thoughts about family, hard work, justice, kindness – you name it.  There’s a lot to like:  the gospels are interesting, the trippy sci-fi writing is interesting, the poetic beauty of Pslams is interesting too.  Of course, there is also a lot of difficult violence and mayhem, and endless amounts of begatting.  Interesting, but I still wasn’t satisfied. 

I dove into a little philosophy and psychology as well, both of which I had enjoyed as an undergraduate student.  I felt energized and emboldened to learn that Vogel said discovery is the primary driver in life.  Of course, I was also moved by Freud who suggested the real driver was pleasure.  I was heartened to realize that Confucius, Jesus, and many others, suggested that helping people was among the highest of callings.

A few of the legends in the self-help world made an impact on me too.  The great Zig Ziglar reminded me that your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.  Sounds silly, but the more you think about, the more you realize it’s true!  Thankfully, Wayne Dyer told me (paraphrasing) that you can be miserable, or you can motivate yourself.  Either way, it’s your choice. 

I was very interested in the idea of improving myself, maxing out my potential – call it what you’d like.  I had no idea I would eventually turn this interest into a career.

Taking Risks

As I began to look for patterns or themes among all of these ideas, something obvious stood out.  There was plenty of talk about things to think, say, or do in order to be good.  There were rules and suggestions about things to avoid and how to stay out of trouble.  Okay, that’s useful, but it still felt really incomplete to me. 

In my reading, I noticed that the idea of becoming more, taking risks as a principled choice, chasing goals, and being successful were all missing.  Almost completely.  Face your fears.  Dream.  Imagine.  Be creative.  Embrace change.  It seemed like such an obvious omission.   

So, for at least a little while I felt like I had said something useful when I coined the phrase Live Hard.  Of course, as the years rolled on, I realize a couple things.  First, the world of psychology and the social sciences, and a lot of the self-help world, did indeed address these topics – at length. 

There was everything from studies of entrepreneurial personalities, a vibrant stream of research around goal theory, not to mention one of my all-time favorites – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in the motivation literature.  Sure, it turned out his theory wasn’t exactly correct, but boy was it useful and popular.  Almost everyone remembers the pyramid, and, what sat at the top:  self-actualization!

Grow, Learn, and Achieve

By now, it was the 2000s and ideas about failure being great and necessary, a true catalyst for learning, a beautiful requirement for success, were common.  Scholars were studying these issues.  Business leaders espoused many related platitudes.  Self-help gurus all had their own version of these ideas.  Let’s go!  Try.  Grow.  Learn.  Achieve.

However, nobody had crystalized this group of related ideas in a manner that was easy to remember and share.  I caught a glimpse of my arm in a mirror one day and realized that I already had the answer.  Live Hard.  By now, the tattoo was a decade old, but the idea seemed fresher than ever. 

It became a part of me the day I skipped work and got tattooed with Martin Rice.   Way back then it just seemed like a fun indulgence.  A light-hearted idea.  Years later, I realized it’s so much more.  It’s a motto, a calling.  It’s a profoundly important reminder that life is short, a reminder that life is to be lived! 

Eventually, I realized there are a few lessons here for anyone.  My reflections on that day, and about what that phrase really means, became very clear.

Lessons

First, question everything!  This will serve you in life and in your career.  Question, search, and listen.  Don’t be like so many alphas who sometimes talk too much – think!  I don’t care about which specific paradigm, religion, or system works for you.  The point is that they’re only worth it if there is legitimate room to question, disagree, and apply your own perspective.  Any philosophy centered on ideas like try, fail, learn, and growth isn’t possible without room to make it your own.  The more you question the wisdom that is presented to you, the more you’ll eventually find wisdom that works for you. 

Second, take action!  Sure, thinking and questioning are sacred, but there is something even more sacred:  action.  Nothing stimulates thought like trying something.  When you try things you know how they feel, for real, based on experience.  On an individual level, this should remind you to get off of the sideline and get into the game.  Life is not a spectator sport.  Try!  Win or lose, succeed or fail, so what.  Learn something, try again, and improve.  Over time, this is always the best strategy for gaining knowledge and success. 

Finally, realize that success is a journey, not a destination.  The dream is to enjoy the time you spend working because you love yourself, you enjoy those with whom you work, and you see some amount of purpose in your work.  If you live hard, you’ll end up winning more than losing, but just trying and learning and seeing progress is the real thrill.  Taking your thoughts, abilities, and accomplishments forward to new levels – that’s the real joy.   

I felt emboldened by my time with Dr. Martin Rice.  He showed me that you can be professional and still be you without a ton of compromise.  We’re still connected online all these years later.  He’s now in his 80s.  Recently, he saw one of my posts on LinkedIn, a draft of what became a chapter in Live Hard about how businesses today have to get serious about embracing young talent (i.e., Thank You, Ferris).  He dropped a comment and suggested to me that we better also pay attention to how older people add value.  He was right again. 

Isn’t it interesting how change begins in your life?  It’s just about taking one small risk, one small action… Remembering to think, but then, occasionally, knowing you just have to let go.  That starts the ball rolling.  In my case, it then lead to a new tattoo, and eventually to a phrase on the license plate of my first Harley, then a book and the story you’re reading.  I honestly try to live by this idea, and now I’m reminding you of the same opportunity. 

It all started with a scratchy tattoo that I likely need to have redone or covered.  However, the truth is that no tattoo is ever as strong as the idea for which it stands. 

Life is short – Live Hard.

Noah Barsky PhD

Growth should be exciting, but, if not properly governed, can generate much apprehension, tension, and noticeable reluctance. The antidote to organizational inertia, unmet goals, and related career plateaus hides in plain view – business acumen. While most employees are adept at tasks and responsibilities, many often cannot articulate why their work is important.

Enhancing business acumen about how the organization competes, performs, and utilizes key resources holds the key to maximizing employees’ talents and functional expertise. Knowing more about the business sparks curiosity, illuminates job relevance, builds a success culture, and can motivate commitment to previously unimaginable levels of achievement. For those who expand, hone, and renew business acumen, results follow and career trajectory soars.

What are business acumen essentials? Senior leaders and executive program participants most often identify and agree on these four fundamentals:

START WITH A CLEAR AND UNIFIED UNDERSTANDING OF STRATEGY

Business strategy can simply and clearly be defined in terms of how a company creates customer value and differentiates itself from the competition. Frequently lost in a buzzword morass, strategic insight starts with clearly identifying the existing and emerging competitors, not only by name, but size, strength, and intentions. Coupling competitive intelligence with insights about existing and prospective customers provides the key elements of credible market presence. Most importantly, strategic clarity reinforces why employees’ work matters and provides an unambiguous reference for business planning, review, and evaluation.

RECOGNIZE THAT RISK IS EVERYONE’S RESPONSIBILITY

Risk is often considered to be solely the domain of compliance, legal, and human resource professionals. While, as a minimum, companies should certainly abide by laws, meet regulations, and honor policies, risk avoidance, and mitigation are insufficient for a lasting, thriving enterprise. Business, at its essence, is a risk-seeking and risk-taking endeavor. Employees must understand the external and internal risks that their organization faces and the necessary actions to manage each (and those that emerge) as the entity navigates its competitive market. The foundation for understanding business risks resides in understanding a firm’s value chain and its purpose in strategy execution. Regardless of the method, good governance stabilizes growth.

REALIZE THAT MONEY IS THE REWARD NOT THE REASON

Employees must, in some way, have a concept of their company’s financial condition and the consequences of (in)actions. Without necessarily becoming a CPA or financial analyst, those with a basic awareness of their employer’s financials relative to prior years, competitors, and budget, have the perspective required for sound economic choices.  The company’s sales growth, profitability, cash flow flexibility, debt service, and overall financial viability either enable or restrict activities and initiatives. Profitability is imperative to reinvest in the business, increase wages, sustain operations, and maintain access to capital.  In top organizations, the finance function stewards scarce resources and works cross-organizationally with informed leaders who must spend and invest wisely for short-term needs and future well-being. Business choices require due financial consideration – from all.

MANAGE THE BUSINESS, NOT THE METRICS

Well-run businesses, exceptional employees, quality offerings, and leading technology score well on any scale. In an era of data abundance, companies need professionals who can focus the workforce on metrics that truly matter – those that drive meaningful outcomes, not simply tabulating quantifiable outputs. Performance measurement is essential to calibrate business decisions,  but should never be an isolated obsession. Those who advocate to make numbers “look good” can descend down a dangerous path of “form over substance” with incentives to manipulate, misreport, or worse. Performance measures, chosen with care and courage, offer candid insight into a company’s progress on strategic priorities, as fulfilled by operational excellence helmed by trusted leaders.

On scales of 1-10, ask yourself and others how well your workplace fares in terms of insight about strategy, risk, finances, and performance measurement. The answers reveal the areas of greatest strength and opportunity. Take action to improve ratings by just one point on each scale and marvel at how employees find more purpose in their jobs, energize the workplace, and perform better. Business acumen is the oft-overlooked differentiator that can enable you and your colleagues to deliver growth that your organization expects and deserves, and, even more importantly, because its future and your career depend on it.

ABOUT NOAH BARSKY PhD

Noah P. Barsky, PhD, is a professor at the Villanova University School of Business. He has also been a faculty member with the Institute for Management Studies since 2001. Dr. Barsky serves on business advisory boards and delivers executive education programs for Fortune 100 companies, global professional services firms, and industry associations. He has authored five books and published over seventy articles in various academic and professional journals. To learn more about Dr. Barsky and view his upcoming IMS programs CLICK HERE.

Author and Mentoring Expert Dr. Wendy Axelrod

I often hear from people who want to deepen their mentoring skills, and are surprised when I suggest that cultivating the best possible relationship is a skill in itself. Masterful mentors know how to foster qualities that are most central for a career-expanding mentoring relationship. Acceptance, mutual respect, conversational safety, and transparency are all part of it. As the mentor, you have the lead in observing how the relationship is going and taking steps to ensure its vitality.

Here are three actions to consider

OBSERVE WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE DYNAMICS OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP

Each of your meetings has the potential to be a gem of a conversation, taking the mentee to new places and new insights. 

  • Assess the flow of your conversations and how it contributes to the forward progress of your mentee’s goals. Time spent together should be purposeful, yet flexible enough to include ad hoc discussions. Allow yourselves to delve into some areas more deeply, especially when those discussions have discovery potential.
  • Take note of whether there is enough trust for them to share what concerns (or even embarrasses) them most, whether a lack of confidence or competence, or a troubling interaction. If they are holding back, think through how you can make the conversational environment safer for them.
  • Consider a wonderful barometer of the atmosphere between you as to whether you are each eager for your next meeting. If so, identify the positive underpinnings of the relationship and discuss those. If not, jointly envision what needs to be addressed, which might include: expectations not being met, lack of accountability to the process, or maybe spending too much time on topics that are not goal-oriented.

ESTABLISH REGULAR CHECK-INS TO DISCUSS THE PROCESS

As part of setting expectations for your work together, advocate regular check-ins to ensure the health of the process. This opens the door for the mentee to speak up to someone with much greater experience. And, it avoids suddenly bringing up negative news when your process is not going well. Select from a variety of ways to tuck this into the mentoring conversation:

  • Ask questions that are specific and require a thoughtful response on their part, e.g., “In what ways is our process supporting your mentoring goals?”  “What two things would take this mentoring process to the next level?” If they are cautious about responding, remind them that this is good practice for questions they get at work about improving their functions.
  • Reserve five minutes at the end of the meeting for each to describe your favorite part of the meeting, and what you believe was accomplished. Then identify what you want to be included in your next meeting.
  • Suggest that each of you take accountability, in advance of the next meeting, to propose useful questions to help address a knotty part of your process (e.g., the mentee feels too directed by the mentor, or the mentor is not seeing anticipated follow-through)

WELCOME FEEDBACK FROM YOUR MENTEE

Many people believe the normal flow of feedback in mentoring is what the mentor offers the mentee. Inviting feedback from your mentee is an act of trust and respect. Though they may not provide much substance the first time you ask, they will appreciate your openness and be more likely to speak up when it really counts. Consider these three actions:

  • Prime this conversation by giving a lead-in, stating the purpose of this discussion.  Invite the feedback with a non-threatening question that allows them to suggest future behaviors rather than evaluate your performance. e.g., “What could I do in our conversation next time, that would make us even more productive?”
  • Be mindful that the way you receive the feedback is modeling how they could take in feedback from others. Plus, importantly, it sets the tone for true give-and-take in your ongoing relationship.
  • Take an inquiring stance, using an open, curious tone of voice. Ask for details. I once had a mentee whose feedback to me was, “Wendy, when I come to you with a problem, you ask too many questions. I wish you’d just give me straight-forward answers.”  I asked her for examples and that helped me understand her frustration with my approach. Just as important, the open tone of the conversation led to a discussion about how well-formulated questions can spur deeper and actionable learning.

Ready to take your mentoring even further? Become a master at cultivating a deeper relationship; one that is open to questions, feedback and purposeful modifications in how you work together. This is bound to both increase your capacity as a mentor, and achieve more impactful and lasting results.

ABOUT DR. WENDY AXELROD

Wendy Axelrod is an Executive Coach, former HR executive, mentor, author, and speaker. For three decades, Wendy has helped organizations to achieve extraordinary results with their leader and professional development efforts. She is particularly sought out for helping mentors and leaders become exceptional at growing the talent of others. She is the co-author of Make Talent Your Business and the author of 10 Steps to Successful Mentoring. Learn about Wendy’s IMS program.

Dr. Alan Zimmerman

Some time ago, John McGuirk said, “The ability to form friendships, to make people believe in you and trust you, is one of the few absolutely fundamental qualities of success.”    

I agree. If you’re trying to lead a company, build a team, sell to a client, or improve your home life, you’ll have a lot more success if you know how to build relationships with all those people.

Fortunately, relationships are not a matter of chance. They are a matter of choice. They depend more on you than the other people. Here’s what you can do.

1.  Make Relationships a Priority.

You tend to achieve your top priorities. So even though it may be hard to find the time, you’ve got to make your personal and professional relationships a priority. If you don’t, relationships tend to die—just like businesses tend to die.

2.  Be a Giver.

Be kind without expecting kindness. Be giving without expecting appreciation in return. As the great Roman philosopher Seneca reminds us, “There is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.”

Quite simply, when you give to others, more often than not they give their cooperation, their productivity, their business, and their loyalty in return.

3.  Be Appreciative.

Everyone has qualities that can be appreciated. An old Arabic saying states that a real friend is one who blows the chaff away and nourishes the seed which remains.

How true! Everyone has some chaff or some unlikable qualities. They’re not hard to see. But when you are appreciative, you overlook the unlikable qualities–if possible and if appropriate–and recognize the good things you notice.

Perhaps no one said it better than TV star Donna Reed. As a youngster I used to watch her television show, a good, clean, upbeat family show. As an adult I remember her wisdom. Donna said, “When you handle yourself, use your head. When you handle others, use your heart.”

An Action Step.

Select two people with whom you want to build a stronger, deeper relationship. Then select two helpful things you could do for each of those individuals. Do those things without any expectation of a returned favor. You’ll be glad you did.

About Dr. Alan Zimmerman

At the age of 7, Dr. Alan Zimmerman was selling greeting cards door-to-door. By age 14 he owned a small international import business. By age 21 he was teaching at the University of Minnesota, and during the next 15 years, he was selected as the Outstanding Faculty Member by two different universities.

At age 36, Alan had retired from teaching and opened his own speaking and training company. That position has allowed him to deliver more than 3000 programs, to more than a million people, in 49 states and 22 countries. The National Speakers Association has named him a Certified Speaking Professional and inducted him into the Speaker Hall of Fame, which places him in the top 1% of speakers worldwide.

Dr. Zimmerman will be speaking at IMS Boston on September 23, 2020. You can find more information HERE.

CONSIDER THIS SCENARIO

ACME Corporation is implementing a new technology. 

  • Executive Eric exclaims, “We need this new technology to remain competitive!  Why is it taking so long?  Why aren’t my managers getting their people on board?”
  • Middle Manager Mary laments, “I’ve been directed to implement this new technology when we haven’t even finished our last major roll-out.  My staff just rolled their eyes at me when I announced the change, complaining about how they don’t have time to learn the new process with everything else on their plates.” 
  • Employee Eddie complains, “Here we go again. Another program of the year. We’ll outlive this change, just like the last one corporate tried to shove down our throats!'”

DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR?

Change challenges vary by organizational level. Those at the top, like Executive Eric, usually set the direction of the change and are most convinced of the need for it, but they tend to be isolated from many of the change’s direct impacts. Staff on the front lines, like Employee Eddie, are most removed from the rationale behind the change, but are often most directly impacted by it; an alteration in their behavior is usually a significant part of the change initiative, and they can thus appear most resistant to it. That means that managers like Mary – and perhaps you too – typically find themselves stuck in the middle, squeezed between these two levels, sandwiched between the edicts of their bosses and pushback from their staff.

WHAT CAN A MIDDLE MANAGER DO?

Managers can play a mission-critical role in leading change by helping their organizations overcome these all-too-common disconnects across organizational levels, which result in over 70% of major organizational changes failing to achieve their objectives. Here are ways to exert your influence and emerge as a powerful voice in leading change, which is a pivotal capability for a leader at any level across all industries today:

INFLUENCE UP

What you see depends on where you sit.  It can be easy to vilify senior leaders above you in the hierarchy, but they don’t know what they don’t know – and it’s your job to tell them. Why is the TV show Undercover Boss so popular? Because in every episode a CEO masquerades as a frontline employee and experiences how hard it is for good people to comply with the changes they must wrestle with. How can you step up to help your executives see that sometimes the emperor has no clothes, and that they may benefit from a new way to engage people in and equip people for new directions?

ALSO, INFLUENCE DOWN

At times managers can be as in the dark about the changes they are supposed to drive as their staff! Take control by proactively obtaining the information you need about the ‘they, why, what, who, and how of the change,’ so you are armed to deliver the message to your people. It can be tempting to join the naysayers, especially when you have so many legitimate concerns and such limited information. Remember that behind every complaint is a request, and strive to tease out the wants and needs, communicate what you unearth in a business language that can be acted upon, and challenge your team to step-up and be part of the solution versus the problem.

HERE’S THE BOTTOM LINE

The most important change leadership competency is courage – the courage to say what needs to be said in an authentic, transparent, professional and respectful way to help others up and down the organization appreciate the need for change, understand the barriers in the current state, and collaborate to invent a new path forward.

ABOUT BARBARA TRAUTLEIN, PHD

Barbara is the principal and founder of Change Catalysts, the author of the best-selling book Change Intelligence: Use the Power of CQ to Lead Change that Sticks, and the originator of the CQ® System for Developing Change Intelligence®. For over 25 years, she has coached executives, trained leaders at all levels, certified change agents, and facilitated mission-critical transformations – achieving bottom-line business and powerful leadership results for clients. She is gifted at sharing strategies and tactics that are accessible, actionable, and immediately applicable.

Dr. Trautein will be delivering 11 IMS programs on Developing Your Change Intelligence to Lead Critical Initiatives in 2020. To learn more about Barbara and her IMS programs CLICK HERE.

Julie Winkle Giulioni on employee development

A significant investment is made each year on studies, training, portals, and programs related to career development. Sadly, the return on this investment continues to disappoint organizations, leaders and employees alike. And it’s unfortunate because what’s needed doesn’t cost even a penny. What’s needed to ensure healthy, sustainable career development is creativity.

“Creativity” and “career development” rarely come up in the same sentence. In fact, many organizations have inadvertently wrung a lot of creativity out of career development through the creation of complicated systems, processes, and forms. What many organizations are discovering is, the more sophisticated the individual development planning process, the less creativity is actually allowed. It turns leaders into box-checking bureaucrats, for whom career development is yet another task on a never-ending To-Do list. It’s like completing a paint-by-number career development plan. That’s not creativity, that’s drudgery.

APPROACHES TO CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT

Although many organizations have completely revamped many aspects of the employee experience—from recruiting to compensation—innovation in career development practices have typically remained largely stagnant. There are, however, a few pacesetting companies that are implementing genuinely creative solutions that ensure relevant and sustainable development. 

In general, these companies focus on two broad approaches that cost nothing but can quickly shift mindsets about how to develop employees:

  • Thinking outside of the box—the checkbox on the standard forms, that is. There’s a balance to be struck between the structure (required for manpower/succession planning) and the ongoing, iterative, informal, in-the-moment way people actually learn, grow and develop. Lightening the administrative load of the former frees up energy and creativity for the latter.
  • Rebranding the outdated career ladder. Although the regular, predictable progression associated with the ladder metaphor went missing from many workplaces some time ago, too many employees and leaders alike still hold that image. Progressive organizations are replacing the ladder with more nimble, lateral, and reality-based models including climbing walls, jungle gyms and Tetris-style ways of thinking about how career development really works.

Here are a few examples of creative ways to embed career development into your work team’s daily life:

ASK

This is the simplest route to helping employees grow: ask their opinion. Yet, managers sometimes forget to ask, “Where do you see the need to develop?” or “What would feel like a stretch assignment to you?” As a manager, it’s easy to get caught up in prescribed “development” activities handed down from upper management and take shortcuts. 

EXTRAPOLATE

What tasks/projects does your employee already do that can be extrapolated into a new project that will energize him/her and provide value to your organization. Perhaps she took a financial project and ran with it; what can you help her do to increase the complexity in the task, so she grows in this area?

DELEGATE

You’re probably already delegating, but here’s the twist: give away a task that you love to do. Perhaps there’s a task that you long ago mastered, but you hold onto because you enjoy it. Who on your team would also enjoy it, if only they had the chance to try it? These are just three possible avenues to injecting creativity into your organization’s career development processes. Everyone from the C-suite to the front lines needs to update their thinking about, expectations of, and efforts to support career development. As these examples show, the shift does not require a significant financial investment. Rather, what’s necessary is the infusion of the priceless quality of creativity.

ABOUT JULIE WINKLE GIULIONI

Julie Winkle Giulioni helps organizations enhance learning, engagement, retention, and the bottom line. Named one of Inc. Magazines top 100 leadership speakers, Julie is the co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want, a respected speaker on a variety of topics, and a regular contributor to many business publications. Julie will be presenting her insights for IMS members in 2020. Learn more about Julie at: https://www.juliewinklegiulioni.com/

Women's Leadership Expert and Author Audrey Nelson PhD.

  1. ACCOUNTABILITY
  2. ACCESSIBILITY
  3. ASSERTIVENESS
  4. AGGRESSIVENESS
  5. ANGER
  6. AFFABILITY
  7. AUTHORITY
  8. ACCOMMODATE
  9. AVOID
  10. AFFILIATION
  11. APPROVAL
  12. APOLOGIZING
  13. AMBITION

The 13 A’s to Ax are critical behaviors that impact women’s leadership style. Before a woman can forge a path to leadership, she must conquer these internal roadblocks. The thirteen behaviors are struggles women experience with their attitude and expression of them; that is, their comfort level and familiarity is problematic and does not serve them well as leaders.

For example, one of the A’s is affability. Women not only compulsively smile more than men, but they smile at the wrong time, which can jeopardize their credibility by sending mixed messages—a contradiction between verbal and nonverbal messages. People don’t know which one to believe. Often a woman will smile when she is making a serious point or engaged in conflict as if to mitigate the situation, to soften the blow. So, I am not saying women should stop smiling altogether, but they need to consider the context and the message. We all like to work with happy people, but we are confused by contradictory messages.

Approval and Affiliation

Another example is approval and affiliation. We are social animals and have a hard-wired need for approval and inclusion in the group. For women, it is paramount that they are liked; men often gauge their prowess by not necessarily always being liked and approved of by others—sometimes a “macho” factor. This is best represented by a remark I heard a middle manager make: “Somebody has to do the dirty work and call out this bad solution and if it means I am not going to be liked, so be it.” Women face the task of monitoring what they sacrifice: their opinions and ideas for the sake of approval.

Approval and affiliation can bring down a teen girl and a senior executive equally.  Friendships are important to women, and they learn young the prerequisite of liking other children in order to play with them; fast forward to a managerial level: Women feel an immense loyalty to their colleagues. It is common for women to refuse to transfer to another department because of the bond they have with existing peers.

In a recent consolidation of research on women in the workplace for the last three decades, Gallop produced a report, Women: Work and Life Well-Lived. The report identifies the “friendship factor.” For women, work not only provides a steady paycheck but also a sense of purpose and an important social outlet; sixty-six percent of women say the social aspect of a job is a “major reason” why they work. Because a woman has a deep sense of affiliation with her team members, it benefits the organization, as well. In other words, her ability to form strong relationships relates to better business outcomes, including profitability, safety, and most importantly, customers’ emotional connection and loyalty to the business. One of the most important realizations women have to learn is how to maintain the positive qualities and attributes of affiliation without compromising their ability to express a conflicting opinion.

New Rules and Realities

There are new rules and realities for leadership in the workplace. Men and women are not the same and have different approaches to how they lead. In order for women to share their work lives as equals, they must learn to tackle simple behaviors governed by internal thought patterns. A woman cannot always control the external environment, what people think or organizational constraints, but she does have control over her internal attitudes and predispositions; she can change the way she thinks and then the way she behaves.

There are many lessons girls have learned from playing cooperatively rather than forming hierarchical groups. Girls generally prefer a flat organization and the premium is on getting along with others and learning how to smooth things over and negotiate to save and preserve relationships. Girls will typically choose reciprocity and intimacy in playing games. These lessons have served women well in developing interpersonal competence, emotional intelligence, enhanced social skills, and the ability to sustain relationships. However, the paradox of interpersonal skill and acquiescence is a tightrope women must walk. It functions as a part of the micro-political structure that undergirds the larger political structure of the workplace. For the larger political context to exist and carry on, there are many actions and interactions that take place during the workday to support it and maintain it.

The 13 A’s to Ax are interrelated issues women have with behaviors that serve to perpetuate the disparities in men and women’s attitudes toward leadership and the willingness of others to follow women. When a woman pursues leadership, whether it is an entry-level leadership position or if she is already in a mid-level management or director position, she becomes frustrated, bewildered, and confused. She begins to mistrust her judgment. She is experiencing a backlash to her leadership style.

Finally, these 13 A’s serve to maintain and convey signals of compliance, control, and dependence that influence us and those around us. Conquering the challenges a woman has with The 13 A’s to Ax will enable her to not only join the ranks of male leadership, but to also surpass it.

Julie Winkle Giulioni on employee development

When you were a kid, did you ever complete a paint-by-number set? Whether it was recreating a picture of your favorite animal, or bringing to life a colorful race car, it was fun to see the image come to fruition.

But it was also limiting. What if you wanted the cat’s ears to be purple, not gray? And what if, while painting that race car, you decided what you really wanted was to paint a spaceship?

Although paint-by-number sets offer the advantage of structure, consistency, and immediacy, they are inherently limiting. And in that way, they are like the complex and colorful career development systems that many organizations create. In an attempt to systematize and create a structure for time-starved leaders, there is an inevitable reduction in creativity.   

As a result, many managers and employees are “painting by numbers” when it comes to career development. They do what’s expected of them. They complete the forms. They meet deadlines. And they continue to complain about the lack of authentic career development in their organizations.

Responsive organizations, dedicated to the engagement and well-being of employees, are struggling to address these issues and meet the needs and expectations of today’s workforce. But the inconvenient truth is that today’s environment is very different from the environment that established these expectations decades ago

A CHANGING DEVELOPMENT ENVIRONMENT

  • Baby boomers are living longer and occupying key roles longer than expected, stemming the historical tide of upward opportunities.
  • Flatter, leaner structures translate to fewer leadership roles—the roles that individual contributors have typically looked to for growth and development.
  • More fluid structures mean that former career paths are less stable and predictable. The chess game many career strategists successfully won in the past now frequently ends with moves toward roles that are no longer necessary. Or there’s suddenly a new and unexpected space on the chessboard—a new role for which they aren’t prepared.

Despite these fundamental shifts in the workplace, some organizations are trying to make career development—as it’s been understood in the past—somehow work. But many engage in unproductive and organizationally unnatural acts like:

PAPER PROMOTIONS

This “creative” approach to meeting employee expectations for growth involves gaming the org chart. A sizable service organization in Asia recently promoted several individuals by changing the title of “senior manager” to “assistant director.” Same customers. Same work. Same pay.

SILLY SUPERVISORY SCHEMES

Given the very few supervisory roles for the many individuals with an appetite for them, a technology firm in India has begun promoting tenured staff to supervisors. Most of them have one direct report (or an open headcount), creating a 1:1 individual contributor to supervisor ratio.

DEVELOPMENT DECOYS

Other organizations are getting on the “promotions aren’t the only way to grow” bandwagon. They recognize that additional projects, stretch assignments and similar development opportunities in the role are the ideal alternative to promotions and moves that aren’t available anyway. The problem is that too frequently this takes the form of dumping great volumes of work on already overburdened employees. As a result, savvy employees — the ones you want to engage, grow and retain — have developed a well-honed “nose” for extra work masquerading as “development opportunities.”

While well-intentioned, these efforts are not going to move the needle when it comes to career development. And here’s why. Most organizations responded years ago to wildly new workplace conditions with significant structural and organizational changes. The new employer/employee contract (or some may argue the lack of a contract altogether) has changed every dimension of human resource management from recruiting through compensation—except career development.

Somehow, employees and leaders alike have held onto the expectation—and hope—that career development could continue unscathed. But it’s simply not possible. As challenging as it was to establish the new workplace reality that included the loss of the lifetime employment guarantee, it’s time to establish a new reality around career development.

Does that mean that organizations must abandon career development? Absolutely not! But they must redefine what it means and how it really works today. And that requires a dose of creative career development planning. It’s not enough to provide paint-by-number templates; organizations must also give their leaders the latitude to formulate personalized plans unique to their teams’ needs. It’s time to allow access to the entire color palette for career development. 

ABOUT JULIE WINKLE GIULIONI

Julie Winkle Giulioni helps organizations enhance learning, engagement, retention, and the bottom line.  Named one of Inc. Magazines top 100 leadership speakers, Julie is the co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want, a respected speaker on a variety of topics, and a regular contributor to many business publications. Julie will be presenting her insights for IMS members in 2020. Learn more about Julie at: https://www.juliewinklegiulioni.com/

Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn

Through my university research on strategic leadership, and my advisory work with senior leaders over the past two decades, I have observed a strong correlation between a leaders’ ability to frame and pose profound strategic questions and their ability to think strategically. In other words, strategic leaders think in the form of questions—the ability to frame strategic questions and engage in strategic dialogue is a key dimension of strategic leadership.

Big-Picture Thinking

In my work with executives, I can generally gauge a leader’s ability to think strategically by the quality of the questions they pose. The strategic questions a leader poses are the outward manifestation of his or her internal thinking process and their general orientation to the business. Strategic leaders tend to be broad-gauge thinkers and wide categorizers. They ask big-picture questions that serve as an early warning system, so the organization doesn’t get blindsided by the future. Well-framed strategic questions help leaders make sense of complex market dynamics and patterns. The questions a strategic leader poses, whether they are spoken or simply reflected upon by the leader, are not designed to be answered on a point-by-point basis per se but are meant to marinate and produce a deeper set of questions that produce deeper understanding into market dynamics.

Types of Strategic Questions

Accomplished strategic leaders tend to have a broad repertoire of strategic questions for recognizing market patterns and assessing the strategic and financial health of the enterprise. 

Here are a handful of examples to illustrate:

  • What are the key trends and patterns in the broad market landscape and what threats and opportunities do they present?
  • How are industry and competitive dynamics evolving?  How is the basis of competition shifting and what are the implications for our business model?
  • How are customer lifestyles, attitudes, needs, and purchase and consumption patterns evolving? How will customer and economic value be created in the future?
  • What are the key trends and dynamics in our distribution channels?  What are the implications for our business?
  • What is the strategic and financial health of our organization?  What is the longer-term growth and profitability picture? What are our next-generation growth engines?
  • What new capabilities must our organization build to sustain its market leadership and capture emerging growth opportunities? How must our culture evolve?

Big-picture, enterprise-level questions such as these are central to the long-term competitiveness and economic viability of the firm and help a leader rise above the operational fray and maintain a strategic perspective.

Industry Disruption and Reinvention

Today, nearly every industry, from financial services to farming, is undergoing some form of disruption, transformation, or reinvention. Low-cost digital technologies have lowered barriers to entry precipitously, giving rise to new types of competitors and business models, creating an accelerating world that has quickened commoditization cycles and shortened corporate lifespans to where they can be measured in dog years. Paradoxically, the digital revolution has brought dramatic growth in strategic complexity—socioeconomic, geopolitical, technological, customer, channel, competitive, and organizational—placing immense cognitive demands on leaders. When scanning the external landscape for disruptive threats and emerging opportunities, leaders are unsure of what they should be looking at in the external landscape, let alone how.

Questions Are the Answer

As Gabriol, the 11th century philosopher noted, “A wise man’s question contains half the answer.” In simple terms, the better you are at framing strategic questions, the better you will be at recognizing the intersecting trends and patterns that create and shape markets.

As an organization matures from a fledgling start-up to industry stalwart, the field of vision often narrows, and the organization finds itself peering at the outside world through a peephole. Individuals undergo similar life-cycle changes as they grow and mature from starry-eyed children with boundless curiosity and imagination to buttoned-up executives who interpret the future through the prism of past experiences. Left unchecked, these perceptual filters become self-limiting and self-sustaining, suppressing the

long-term imaginative thinking that is essential to sustained value creation. This explains why, in incumbent firms, most growth opportunities are hidden in plain sight.

You will be amazed at what you can see when you wipe the residue of past experiences from your lens and scan the market landscape with the curiosity and imagination of a five-year-old. Subtle cues that are invisible to the naked eye will become crystal clear when you sharpen your ability to frame strategic questions and develop your strategic eye.

About Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn

Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn is a distinguished thinker, author, strategy advisor, and educator with expertise positioned at the intersection of strategy, innovation, growth, and organizational renewal and vitality—the work of strategic leadership. His work centers on helping senior business leaders develop the capacity to think and lead strategically in dynamic market environments undergoing profound change. He holds a doctorate from Columbia University and has served on the faculty of Columbia Business School and Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a founding member of the Strategic Management Forum and is a Fellow at the Royal Society of Arts. In 2017, Dr. Kuhn was inducted into Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches.

Dr. Kuhn is doing three more IMS programs this month. Learn more about them HERE.

leadership body language with Carol Kinsey Goman

You may have a leadership title – or tremendous leadership potential — but do you look like a leader? Influencing people’s perception of you is called impression management, and body language plays a key role.

Here are five body language hacks that make you look like a leader:

1. Start With Your Posture

Try this: Raise your shoulders toward your ears. Now roll them back. Now drop them down. Keeping this erect posture with your shoulders back and your head straight makes you look very sure of yourself.

Power and authority are nonverbally expressed by expanding into height and space. When you want to project leadership presence at a meeting, sit tall and claim your territory. Uncross your legs and place your feet firmly on the floor. Bring your elbows away from your body and widen your arm position. Your expanded body language will not only change the way people perceive you – it will influence the way you feel about yourself.

When you stand, be aware that if your feet are close together, you can look hesitant or unsure. But when you widen your stance, relax your knees, and center your weight in your lower body, you look more “solid” and credible.  

2. Make Sure You’re Present

An up-and-coming manager was being groomed for a leadership position, but after attending a staff meeting, her boss took her aside. “Never do that again,” he said. “You didn’t look like you were fully present. You didn’t make eye contact with the speaker, you didn’t join the discussion, and you certainly didn’t look like a leader.”

Her boss made a valid point. You can’t project leadership presence if you aren’t perceived as being present.

At every meeting you attend, make sure you stay engaged by actively participating, making eye contact with, and orienting your body toward, whomever is speaking,

3. Use Gestures That Signal Leadership

Leadership presence is enhanced by using smooth, controlled gestures between your waist and your shoulders. Warmth and openness are demonstrated by rotating hands with palms up at about a 45-degree angle, a way of indicating that you have nothing to hide.  Moving your hands and arms away from the front of your torso is another way of indicating sincerity and security. The more you cover your body with folded arms or tightly-held hands, the more it appears you need to protect or defend yourself.

Authority is shown by rotating your hands palms-down, a nonverbal way of saying, “Hold that thought.” The steeple gesture (where the tips of your fingers touch, but your palms are separated) is a sign that you’re sure of what you’re saying. As such, it can be very effective when you want to emphasize a certain point.

Gestures to avoid include the “fig leaf.” Most people unconsciously clasp their hands in front of their lower body, creating a protective fig leaf effect. Whenever you use this gesture, especially during a formal presentation, it indicates that you’re insecure or uncomfortable. A better choice would be to clasp your hands at waist level.

Gestures are a key part of how people perceive you. Using a variety of gestures helps you connect with your audience. You’re more compelling and convincing when you talk with your hands – as long as you know what they are saying.

4. Sound Like a Leader

As a leader you can be sure that people will not only be listening to your words, they’ll be evaluating how you say what you say.

Speaking loudly and quickly makes you sound confident – unless, of course, you are shouting, which makes you seem rude and insensitive. Speaking softly can be effective for signaling a confidential or very important message. But always make sure you are speaking with enough volume to be heard. And remember to enunciate and speak clearly.

Put enough emotion in your voice to avoid a monotone delivery that sounds as if you’re bored or detached. I’ve heard leaders praise people in such a flat tone of voice that none of the recipients felt genuinely appreciated.

By the way, when you’re speaking, don’t be concerned with filling every moment with words. Instead, try pausing. It’s unexpected, it’s attention-getting, and it’s effective . . . very effective.

5. Ace Your Business Handshake

In the workplace, warmth and welcome are transmitted by shaking hands, and this seemingly simple greeting may be what someone remembers most about meeting you. That’s because touch is the most primitive and powerful nonverbal cue.

Be aware that people are personality judgments based on the kind of handshake you have. A weak handshake may mark you as “too timid for leadership.” And the “bone crusher” — where s person squeezes too tightly – almost always gives the impression of being overbearing or insensitive. The perfect handshake is firm, with palm-to-palm contact, so that the web of you hand (the skin between your thumb and first finger) touches the web of the other person’s hand. The more skin you can contact, the more you come across as trustworthy and reliable.

Remember to offer your hand with your palm facing sideways. If you extend your hand with the palm up, it makes you look submissive. When you hold out your hand with the palm down, or if you twist your hand downward during the handshake, it sends the message that you feel superior. But when you offer your hand sideways, it sends a message of equality and self-confidence.

Try these five body language hacks. You may be surprised to find that these simple nonverbal cues can give a powerful boost your leadership presence by positively influencing the way others perceive you.

About Carol Kinsey Goman Ph.D.

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an international keynote speaker on Leadership Presence and Body Language for Leaders for corporations, conventions, universities, and government agencies. She will be doing two IMS programs this November in Kansas City and Los Angeles. You can learn more about the program HERE. Carol can be reached through her website: https://CarolKinseyGoman.com.