INVEST don’t SPEND your leadership development budget!

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. ~John F. Kennedy      Change is the end result of all true learning. ~Leo Buscaglia

Every now and then I feel the need to get on my soapbox, and this is one of those times. Several years ago I was engaged by a client to do a series of leadership development trainings. When I came to do the final training, I did a quick “pop quiz” on the first training which was several months prior. What did I learn? That they hadn’t learned (i.e., retained) much of anything!

When I did the first training I was told that it was the highest rated (satisfaction scores) training they had offered. So we all patted ourselves on the back and probably shared numerous high-fives. But did it stick, not really. So the investment quickly became just another expense.

But there is a better way!

I’ve often believed that one-shot training workshops provide short-term inspiration, but not a great deal of long-term improvement (i.e., change). DDI (Development Dimensions International) together with and the Institute for Human Resources conducted a study of 300 HR managers. DDI’s Richard Wellins, Ph.D, said “The study points out the best training incorporates learning journeys of multiple events that tie together over time.”

If you need more proof, Dartmouth’s Sean H. K. Kang reported in his extensive research on learning: “Evidence indicates that spacing can enhance meaningful learning that generalizes to new situations.” In other words, learning that is strategically spaced out over time enhances our ability to actually apply the content to problem solving and new contexts. Isn’t that the ultimate outcome of learning, to be able to apply it in real situations?

Unfortunately, the default for training and learning in organizations has become more about checking something off a to-do list so we can say that training was offered. And less about investing in real learning.

Now, fast-forward a few years. I’m in the midst of an opportunity to make a difference. I’m facilitating training, spaced out over time, and I’m repeating a common theme/thread throughout the entire year process. I’m already seeing more meaningful learning.

With many things today, we can have instant gratification. We can text a friend and get an instant reply, we can order something and have it delivered within hours or even minutes, the answer to nearly any question is at our fingertips if we have an Internet connection. However, this same expectation of instant gratification is unrealistic for real learning. Learning takes time, repetition, and practice.

Even if you don’t manage a training budget but want to enhance your own abilities; invest in learning. Find an opportunity that will take you on a learning journey of repetition and practice over time.

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Do you have the 10 critical talents?

Entrepreneurial thinking and doing are the most important capabilities companies need from their employees.  As the competitive pace increases, it becomes more and more critical.  ~Reid Hoffman

Here’s just one example of competitive pace. Who would have thought 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, that we could order something online and expect it to arrive the same day? That competitive pace necessitates entrepreneurial thinking, throughout organizations, not just at the top.

Reid Hoffman wrote, “Entrepreneurial employees possess what eBay CEO John Donahoe calls the founder mind-set.  As he put it to us, ‘People with the founder mind-set drive change, motivate people, and just get stuff done.’”

Gallup has studied this phenomenon in more detail and published the book Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder to help all of us better understand exactly what we are looking for and why it’s hard to find it. Gallup reported:

The single most important factor for America’s economic survival remains as mysterious as life on Mars.  But maybe that’s because it’s so unusual. Preliminary Gallup research discovered that high entrepreneurial talent is much rarer than high IQ: Only about five in 1,000 people have the aptitude for starting and growing a big business. In comparison, 20 in 1,000 have IQs high enough to be accepted into Mensa.

The 10 talents of successful entrepreneurs are:

Business Focus: You make decisions based on observed or anticipated effect on profit.

Confidence: You accurately know yourself and understand others.

Creative Thinker: You exhibit creativity in taking an existing idea or product and turning it into something better.

Delegator: You recognize that you cannot do everything and are willing to contemplate a shift in style and control.

Determination: You persevere through difficult, even seemingly insurmountable, obstacles.

Independent: You are prepared to do whatever needs to be done to build a successful venture.

Knowledge Seeker: You constantly search for information that is relevant to growing your business.

Promoter: You are the best spokesperson for the business.

Relationship-Builder: You have high social awareness and an ability to build relationships that are beneficial for the firm’s survival and growth.

Risk-Taker: You instinctively know how to manage high-risk situations.

We may not be lucky enough to be one of the five out of a 1,000 to possess all 10 talents. Gallup says to increase your likelihood of success, identify strategies to manage areas of weakness, or acquire skills and knowledge to deal with your lesser talents. Or best of all, form partnerships with people who have a different set of entrepreneurial talents.

In the old economy, efficiency was the cardinal virtue. In the new economy of fierce competition and rapid technological change with markets constantly shifting, entrepreneurial thinking is the new gold standard.

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The Death Drive and Leaders

Some men fish all their lives without knowing it is not really the fish they are after.  ~Henry David Thoreau

I first published this post in 2012 and I’ve been thinking about this idea lately. How leaders can become so obsessed with achievement that they might actually be causing harm rather than doing something good. Two speakers, back in 2012, influenced my thinking.

One speaker (Peter Rollins) focused on what’s referred to in psychoanalysis as our “death drive.” My own paraphrase of this concept goes something like this. We become fixated on something (many times our personal visualization of success). But there’s a glass wall between us and what we see as success. We are so fixated that we keep banging ourselves against that glass wall trying to reach “success” even to the extent that we inflict harm on ourselves.

The other speaker (Shawn Achor) approached the same concept from the perspective of positive psychology and our desire for happiness. The basic premise is this. If I work harder, I’ll be more successful, and if I’m more successful, then I’ll be happier. However, every time we have a success we move the goalpost as to what success looks like a little farther down the field. So, you got good grades, now you have to get better grades. You got a good job, now you have to get a better job. But, if happiness is on the opposite side of success, we never get there. As a society, we’ve pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon. We think we have to be successful, then we’ll be happier, but our brains work in the opposite order.

If we can learn to become positive in the present, then our brains actually work more successfully. Research supports this idea. It’s been proven that if we can get the order right and become positive in the present and stop banging ourselves against that glass wall, we will experience significantly better productivity, creativity, and energy. In fact, they’ve measured it. We could be 31% more productive and 37% better at sales. Doctors who’ve learned to become positive in the present are 19% faster and more accurate in determining a diagnosis.

Shawn Achor states, “It’s not reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes reality. Ninety percent (90%!) of long-term happiness is predicated by how your brain processes the world.”

Eugene Peterson says that the book of Philippians is Apostle Paul’s “happiest letter.” He also says that Paul doesn’t tell us how to be happy. He simply and unmistakably is happy. None of his circumstances contribute to his joy. It’s the lens through which Paul views the world that has shaped his reality.  Paul says, “I’ve learned to be content in whatever situation I’m in. I know how to live in poverty or prosperity. No matter what the situation, I’ve learned the secret of how to live when I’m full or when I’m hungry, when I have too much or when I have too little.”

As leaders, let’s not spend all our lives fishing without knowing it’s not really fish we’re after. If we let go of our “death drive” and become positive in the present we could transform our organizations into something far beyond what we could even imagine.

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Three Steps for Leaders to Get the Right Things Done

In today’s environment, the key to productivity is not to get more things done, but to get the right things done – the important things – with the highest quality you can achieve.  ~Kory Kogon, Adam Merrill, Leena Rinne, authors of The Five Choices

Participants walk into the training room, laptops are quickly opened, and they feverishly begin sifting through a barrage of emails until I instruct them to put their laptops away. This is a typical scene for me with one particular client. Unfortunately, I think it’s become a common scene as more jobs are dominated by electronic communication with the expectation of an instantaneous response.

We all face three major challenges in today’s workplace. 1) We make more decisions in one day than ever before. 2) Our attention is under attack by constant pings and dings from our electronic devices. 3) We’re exhausted by trying to manage the pace of communication.

It’s our natural tendency to simply react to all of the incoming communication, requests, and demands. In fact, that’s how we’re wired — to react. But there’s hope! We can rewire our brains to respond in a way that lessens the stress and increases our odds for higher productivity. FranklinCovey’s 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity suggests three steps to rewire our brains for increased productivity.

1) Pause    2) Clarify    3) Decide

Pause.  This may be the hardest of the three steps because we want to react. Before we say “yes” or “no” to that request, email, or voicemail, pause and then seek clarification.

Clarify.  Ask questions to clarify the real importance. What is really being asked for or requested? When does it really need to be done? What are the consequences if it’s not done by that time? Is it urgent or is it important? Are there other options for getting it done?

Decide.  Then, and only then, decide how to respond. Is it something that needs your immediate attention; and if so how will it fit into your other priorities? Decide how you will prioritize the task or request.

Sounds simple, right? Three easy steps: 1) Pause, 2) Clarify, and 3) Decide.

If you’re someone who’s been managing your time and productivity by reacting as opposed to clarifying and deciding, these simple steps may sound not only difficult but next to impossible. It may take more discipline for some, than others, to make the shift and rewire their brains from reacting to responding. The outcome of making the shift can be significant, if not transformative.

And leaders should be modeling the way. If leaders aren’t practicing the pause, clarify, decide process, neither will those they are trying to lead. Do you want to be more productive? Then pause, clarify, and decide.

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Leaders have a reset button.

When people’s brains are in defensive mode, it becomes harder to see common sense. Small disagreements can end up holding back progress beyond reason. ~Caroline Webb

Manage your own baggage. That’s the header author Caroline Webb used to introduce this section of her book How to Have a Good Day, which combines the sciences of behavioral economics, psychology, and neuroscience. I believe that the most effective leaders have the emotional intelligence to “manage their own baggage.”

We all have triggers. Those things that consistently set us off. We feel our blood pressure rise, our palms may sweat, our breathing changes, a sense of anger begins to form deep in our gut, etc. Our brains move into defensive mode and if we are not careful, we will likely regret what we say next.

So what do you do in the heat of the moment? Hit the reset button. We can each develop our own personal reset routine. It only takes two steps and a few seconds. But they can be very critical seconds that will significantly impact how a conversation continues and the ultimate outcome of that conversation. Here are the two simple steps Webb suggests to deploy when you feel your temperature rising.

  1. Step back. What small, personal routine or action can help you to stop and take a deep breath. It might be a specific breathing technique (breath in for a count of three and out for a count of three, etc.). Or maybe what works for you is doing something physical like taking a pen and roll it between your fingers while examining it. Another example could be a phrase you say to yourself like, “Easy does it.” Whatever you do, it will likely only take a few seconds, but it’s the action you will always take in order to force yourself to mentally take a step back.
  2. Reset. Ask yourself a curious question that will be your go-to question when you begin to feel your blood boil. Examples could be: “What is my real intention for this conversation?” “When I look back on this conversation what will I feel good about having done?” “What really matters?”

Leaders, just like everyone, have their own baggage, the triggers that set them off. But effective leaders manage their own baggage by quickly, and instinctively, hitting the reset button. They first have some way of “stepping back,” followed by the “reset” question they ask themselves.

In a new frame of mind with a calmer physical presence, these leaders shift their tone and perspective as they re-engage in the conversation.

We likely all know people who seem to be unflappable. They are calm and cool even when conversations get heated. I believe that they too have triggers, and those triggers are set off periodically. They haven’t eliminated their triggers, but they have learned how to “manage their own baggage” because they have a reset routine that has become instinctive.

What’s your reset button?

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