Apprivoiser le Big Data ? Développez la culture analytique (article paru dans la tribune 09/02/2015)

Même si de nombreux dirigeants ont déjà réalisé les limites de la seule intuition pour la prise de décisions, force est de constater que les capacités analytiques actuelles de bon nombre d’organisations, souvent insuffisantes, les empêchent d’être véritablement pilotées par les données, explique Martine George, Professeur à l’Essec et Partenaire dans le cabinet Robertson Associates à Bruxelles.

 

 

Le business analytics est devenu si important tant pour la prise de décision que pour la découverte de nouvelles idées, que de nombreux dirigeants d’entreprises voudraient maintenant l’étendre à l’entreprise toute entière. De nombreuses organisations renforcent leurs ressources technologiques pour devenir plus analytiques et adaptent leurs politiques de recrutement afin d’attirer davantage de talents dans ce domaine. Malgré ce désir grandissant d’adopter l’analytique par le biais de nouvelles technologies et de compétences, on constate une réelle difficulté pour les entreprises à créer un véritable impact durable sur la prise de décision à partir des données. Ces organisations n’auraient-elles tout simplement pas encore développé une culture analytique ?

Qu’est-ce qu’une culture analytique ?

Les comportements manifestés dans une culture analytique découlent d’une croyance fondamentale que, lorsqu’elles sont correctement analysées, les données contiennent une vraie valeur business. Cette croyance se manifeste dans les organisations analytiques par de hauts degrés de partage des données, de transparence, une philosophie de rémunération axée sur les résultats et la volonté de suivi de l’activité par l’analytique.

Qu’il s’agisse de start-ups qui s’appuient sur analytique depuis leur création ou de grandes entreprises existantes qui se déplacent vers le haut de la courbe de maturité analytique, une culture analytique comporte des attributs communs qui permettent de faire prospérer l’entreprise et d’attirer de nouveaux talents.

Ces entreprises ont une culture qui favorise et cultive :

  • la curiosité,
  • la résolution de problème,
  • l’expérimentation,
  • le changement,
  • la décision sur base des faits,

Les organisations qui prônent la curiosité encouragent leurs employés à poser des questions, à apprendre, à s’améliorer continuellement et à tisser des liens transversaux aussi bien en interne entre les différents processus, qu’avec les clients et fournisseurs.

La curiosité combinée à la résolution de problèmes est une recette puissante qui permet aux équipes de collaborer, de faire partager leur domaine d’expertise, d’identifier et de résoudre des problèmes business ou d’exploiter de nouvelles fenêtres d’opportunité pour générer de nouvelles sources de valeur pour l’entreprise.

Favoriser la curiosité donne également la possibilité à l’organisation d’expérimenter et d’essayer de nouvelles idées. Cela permet de penser hors des sentiers battus , de poser des questions, de défier les hypothèses établies, d’accepter des vues contradictoires et une pensée divergente et arborescente qui peut mener à l’innovation de rupture et à la création de valeur.

Cela signifie également que l’organisation doit être capable de tolérer l’échec parce que l’expérimentation ne donnera pas toujours lieu à des gains immédiats et productifs pour l’entreprise. Cependant, les leçons tirées des échecs passés doivent être partagées de façon méthodique et objective par l’entreprise pour lui permettre d’apprendre pour de futures expériences.

Le retour d’expérience contribue également à développer la capacité de l’organisation à raconter des histoires inspirantes. La narration est clé pour répandre l’analytique dans l’organisation. Identifier et appliquer des approches analytiques utilisées dans d’autres domaines ou industries est un autre axe de réflexion et d’apprentissage pour les organisations.

À aucun moment dans l’histoire le business n’a été aussi rapide, concurrentiel, incertain et global qu’aujourd’hui. La seule constante est que le changement est toujours présent et que les entreprises doivent institutionnaliser leur agilité pour s’adapter au monde changeant qui les entoure. Cela signifie que les organisations doivent passer d’organisations rigides, hiérarchiques à des structures plus organiques, auto-organisés qui embrassent et capitalisent sur les changements.

Dans ces organisations, les décisions basées sur les traditions, sentiments et l’intuition laissent la place à celle basées sur les faits, sur la collecte et l’analyse systématique des données. Il ne s’agit pas d’attendre d’avoir toutes les données pour prendre des décisions mais plutôt d’utiliser les meilleures données disponibles à un moment donné pour prendre la meilleure décision aussi rapidement que possible et continuer à apprendre et à s’améliorer avec de nouvelles données.

Ces mêmes organisations sont convaincues de la nécessité de former tous les membres de l’organisation à l’analytique, afin qu’ils comprennent comment synthétiser et faire confiance aux données pour prendre des décisions à tous les niveaux de l’organisation. Au fil du temps, cette formation devrait éveiller l’organisation aux possibilités et à la façon dont les données permettent de créer un véritable avantage concurrentiel.

 

Comment créer une culture analytique ?

La transformation de l’organisation vers une culture analytique consiste à développer en parallèle de nouvelles pratiques dans différents domaines : la gestion des talents, les valeurs et les comportements adéquats, le leadership et la manière de prendre des décisions. Cette transformation est supportée par une série d’interventions de développement des organisations. Ces interventions peuvent être réalisées au niveau individuel, au sein d’un groupe (ex. le management, un département, une équipe fonctionnelle) ou au niveau de l’organisation. Il s’agit par exemple d’ateliers sur la manière de prendre des décisions (en anglais « meta-decision analysis »), de coaching individuel pour les managers, d’une revue avec le management des valeurs existantes de l’organisation qui favorisent la culture analytique et celles qu’il faudrait ajouter et cultiver, de formations pour développer la capacité des experts analytiques à mieux communiquer leurs résultats d’analyses vers le reste de l’organisation ou pour apprendre à construire des histoires convaincantes à partir des données (en anglais « story telling with data »)… Ces interventions permettront petit à petit de mener à bien cette transformation culturelle.

En route vers une culture analytique

A la lecture de ces lignes et si vous êtes aujourd’hui occupés à des projets Big Data au sein de votre organisation, quels sont, selon vous, les valeurs et comportements de la culture actuelle de votre organisation qui catalysent l’adoption durable du Big Data et quels sont ceux qui limitent cette adoption?

Enfin, si vous pensez qu’une transformation culturelle est nécessaire, nous ne pouvons que vous recommander de vous y mettre rapidement car ce type de transformation prend du temps.

CEO succession starts with developing your leaders

Focusing on future priorities and debiasing decisions help, too.

One in three CEO successions fails. A forward-looking, multiyear planning process that involves the incumbent CEO would increase the odds of success.

 

Two-thirds of US public and private companies still admit that they have no formal CEO succession plan in place, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Corporate Directors last year.1 And only one-third of the executives who told headhunter Korn Ferry this year that their companies do have such a program were satisfied with the outcome. These figures are alarming. CEO succession planning is a critical process that many companies either neglect or get wrong. While choosing a CEO is unambiguously the board’s responsibility, the incumbent CEO has a critical leadership role to play in preparing and developing candidates—just as any manager worth his or her salt will worry about grooming a successor.

An ongoing process

Many companies treat the CEO succession as a one-off event triggered by the abrupt departure of the old CEO rather than a structured process. The succession is therefore often reactive, divorced from the wider system of leadership development and talent management. This approach has significant risks: potentially good candidates may not have sufficient time or encouragement to work on areas for improvement, unpolished talent could be overlooked, and companies may gain a damaging reputation for not developing their management ranks.

Ideally, succession planning should be a multiyear structured process tied to leadership development. The CEO succession then becomes the result of initiatives that actively develop potential candidates. For instance, the chairman of one Asian company appointed three potential CEOs to the position of co-chief operating officer, rotating them over a two-year period through key leadership roles in sales, operations, and R&D. One of the three subsequently dropped out, leaving two in competition for the top post.

Rotation is a great way to create stretch moments exposing candidates to exceptional learning opportunities. However, rotation is not enough in itself. A leadership-succession process should be a tailored combination of on-the-job stretch assignments along with coaching, mentoring, and other regular leadership-development initiatives. Companies that take this approach draw up a development plan for each candidate and feed it into the annual talent-management review, providing opportunities for supportive and constructive feedback. In effect, the selection of the new chief executive is the final step in a carefully constructed and individually tailored leadership-development plan for CEO candidates.

Looking to the future

Too often, companies forget to shape their candidate-selection criteria in the light of their future strategic direction or the organizational context. Many focus on selecting a supposedly ideal CEO rather than asking themselves what may be the right CEO profile given their priorities in the years ahead. The succession-planning process should therefore focus on the market and competitive context the new CEO will confront after appointment. One Latin American construction company, for example, began by conducting a strategy review of each business in its portfolio. Only when that had been completed did it create a CEO job profile, using the output of the review to determine who was best suited to deliver the strategy.

More broadly, three clusters of criteria can help companies evaluate potential candidates: know-how, such as technical knowledge and industry experience; leadership skills, such as the ability to execute strategies, manage change, or inspire others; and personal attributes, such as personality traits and values. These criteria should be tailored to the strategic, industry, and organizational requirements of the business on, say, a five- to eight-year view. Mandates for CEOs change with the times and the teams they work with. The evaluation criteria should change, as well. For example, the leadership style of a CEO in a media business emphasized a robust approach to cost cutting and firefighting through the economic crisis. His successor faced a significantly different situation requiring very different skills, since profitability was up and a changed economic context demanded a compelling vision for sustained growth. When industries and organizations are in flux and a fresh perspective seems like it could be valuable, it’s often important to complement the internal-candidate pipeline with external candidates.

Much as the needs of a business change over time, so do the qualities required of internal candidates as a company’s development programs take effect. It’s therefore vital to update, compare, and contrast the profiles of candidates against the relevant criteria regularly. This isn’t a hard science, of course, but without rigor and tracking it is easy to overlook. For example, the picture painted by the exhibit might stimulate a rich discussion about the importance to the evolving business of these candidates’ natural strengths and weaknesses, as well as the progress they are making to improve them. Other candidates may be evolving different profiles. Regularly reviewing these changes helps companies ensure that the succession process is sufficiently forward looking.

Exhibit

 

Debiasing succession

Many biases routinely creep into CEO-succession planning, and their outcome is the appointment of a specific individual. As we well know, decision making is biased. Three biases seem most prevalent in the context of CEO succession. CEOs afflicted by the MOM (“more of me”) bias look for or try to develop a copy of themselves. Incumbents under the influence of the sabotage bias consciously or unconsciously undermine the process by promoting a candidate who may not be ready for the top job (or is otherwise weak) and therefore seems likely to prolong the current CEO’s reign.2 The herding bias comes into play when the members of the committee in charge of the process consciously or unconsciously adjust their views to those of the incumbent CEO or the chairman of the board.

Contrary to what you might conclude from all this, the lead in developing (though not selecting) the next leader should be taken by the current CEO, not by the board, the remuneration committee, or external experts. The incumbent’s powerful understanding of the company’s strategy and its implications for the mandate of the successor (what stakeholder expectations to manage, as well as what to deliver, when, and to what standard) creates a unique role for him or her in developing that successor. This approach encourages the CEO to think about the longer term and to “reverse engineer” a plan to create a legacy by acting as a steward for the next generation.

That said, companies must work hard to filter out bias and depersonalize the process by institutionalizing it. A task force (comprising, perhaps, the CEO, the head of HR, and selected board members) should regularly review the criteria for selecting internal candidates, assess or reassess short-listed ones, provide feedback to them, and develop and implement a plan for their development needs. The task force should identify the right evaluation criteria in advance rather than fit them to the pool of available candidates and should ensure that its members rate candidates anonymously and independently. The resulting assessment ought to be the sum of these individual assessments. Relatively few companies use such a task force, according to a 2012 Conference Board survey on CEO succession.

Toward a new HR philosophy

HR should empower managers to decide on standards, hire how they choose, and develop company-wide leaders.

What is the appropriate role for the human-resources function? Many companies view HR as merely administrative, with little or no strategic impact. Of course, HR leaders bridle at this perception and regularly seek ways to have a seat at the table. In the quest to be viewed as more strategic and more important, HR often tries to take on greater responsibility.

Yet the gap between HR’s aspirations and actual role persists.

I’ve observed this gap in a variety of organizations, both as a consultant and as an in-house manager at several multinationals. Fundamentally, I believe, the gap arises from two complementary causes. First, executives and managers often think their job is to get financial results rather than to manage people. Second, when executives and managers neglect people management, the HR function worries about lapses and tends to “lean in” to right them itself. On the surface, this approach seems to meet an organization’s needs: management moves away from areas it views as unrewarding (and perhaps uncomfortable), while HR moves in, takes on responsibilities, solves problems, and gains some glory in the process.

But this approach is based on erroneous thinking. It is bad for management and bad for the company as a whole. When HR sees itself as manager, mediator, and nurturer, it further separates managers from their employees and reinforces a results-versus-people dichotomy.1 That’s why many HR teams refer to the rest of the company as “the business”; too often, they don’t really perceive themselves as a core part of that business.

Helping managers manage

I joined the online travel agency Agoda.com three years ago to lead the HR function. Mindful both of problematic patterns in other organizations and of a CEO deeply averse to traditional HR, I have tried to build a different model. My department’s fundamental goal is to help managers manage better, not to manage on their behalf. While we have a long way to go—Agoda is still in many ways in start-up mode, despite having over 2,000 employees in 28 countries—we’ve made significant progress.

I believe that sharing our experience may prove useful for other organizations as well. Our approach is based on a few core principles:

  • Managers, not HR, should define, live, and develop the company’s leadership.
  • Managers, not HR, should do the hard work of managing people—hiring, evaluating, rewarding, and disciplining employees—and managers should be evaluated on their results.
  • Employees, not HR, should “manage up” and take responsibility for solving problems directly with their managers.

In addition, we’ve taken the symbolic but important step of renaming our department People and Organization Development rather than Human Resources. We’ve also tried to hire the smartest and most talented people we can find, regardless of whether they have traditional HR backgrounds. Results so far have been promising.

Developing leaders

While leadership development should always be a top priority for HR, many companies approach it in counterproductive ways. One major division of a Nasdaq 100 company, for example, outsourced leadership development to an external provider—not uncommon given the proliferation of specialist consultancies offering this sort of service.

Outsourcing leadership development, though, is risky. Perhaps not surprisingly, the management of this division was ultimately taken over by a different part of the organization. In another multinational I worked with, every level of employee development (from job candidates to executives) was evaluated on a different set of leadership criteria, creating confusion about what mattered for success. In addition, this company’s high-potential pool varied by as much as 40 percent from year to year because the assessment was so subjective. Although HR tried to treat these employees as privileged and told them they were destined for great things, senior management continued to fill open senior roles from the outside because it did not value the “high-pos.” Predictably, many of them left the organization.

Rather than hand leadership development in its entirety over to external experts, we’ve tried to build it from the inside. Our CEO and senior leaders worked to clarify our own leadership characteristics, the qualities that make people successful at Agoda, and the behavior and principles that make it grow. We’ve shied away from evaluations based on leadership potential because we are skeptical of our own ability to predict future performance. Instead, we focus on behavior that we can observe now.

Individually, the leadership characteristics we esteem are not unusual: most organizations, after all, value qualities such as integrity and intelligence. But when we combine these with “thinking like an owner,” innovation, and the ability to inspire others, we begin to define leadership in ways that really matter in the Agoda context. We apply the same leadership principles to every stage of the employee life cycle. We use them to guide hiring decisions; we teach them in new-hire orientation sessions; we rate them in semiannual performance evaluations; and we use them to assess an employee’s readiness for promotion. This approach means that we have a set of criteria for the skills and behavior managers should live by and employees should believe in. It helps us to select and reward employees who contribute the most to the organization, both in the short and the long run. Leadership at Agoda is truly suited to the company.

Leadership is also something we expect of all our employees, whether or not they have people-management responsibilities or direct reports. We start teaching this principle and the relevant leadership skills during the orientation of new hires, so that our values are clear from the beginning. To make sure that the leadership style we teach is really our own, we involve managers heavily in assessing the needs of the company, designing and building curricula, and teaching. Not all managers are born to play that role, of course, but we teach them teaching skills and cofacilitate where appropriate. We strive to make it clear to everybody that our leadership values are specific to our company. They are the rules we live by.

Letting management manage

As often as possible, we strive to ensure that managers make the critical HR decisions. Managers have to live with the results the people on their teams produce, so managers should be empowered to make relevant decisions and held responsible for outcomes. If HR constrains decisions too closely—by determining who should be hired, how much they get paid, or their performance ratings—managers no longer have the freedom to obtain the results they desire. In that case, it is neither logical nor productive to hold those managers accountable.

With freedom, of course, comes responsibility, especially the responsibility to make good decisions. One example is recruitment. Our People and Organization Development team provides a flow of qualified candidates, but it is the managers who conduct the interviews and choose whom to hire. Our role is to provide managers with actionable data and useful tools, such as an in-house recruitment certification program we are building to develop hiring skills.

We also evaluate our candidates using an array of standardized tests—an important approach for our global company, which, at last count, employed people of 65 nationalities. Test scores help us compare different candidates in a group with each other and with our current employees. While we don’t have strict cutoffs, we are building guidelines that correlate with performance. The goal is to enable managers to make better hiring decisions through objective data.

Agoda applies the same philosophy to other people processes, including performance assessment; our goal is to help shape management decisions rather than make them. We’ve adopted an employee-scoring system and work hard to communicate what the five-point scoring range means for managers and employees (exhibit). We do not try to fit every department’s scores to a predetermined ratio. Instead, we take the data from each review cycle back to department heads and ask them whether their evaluations really reflect their departments’ performance—and what their underlying development needs really are. We ask a lot of questions and share lots of data, but we don’t come up with the answers. This approach, we believe, builds responsibility and makes for better management over time.

Compensation

As with performance, so with compensation: the People and Organization Development team consults rather than controls. We do not set strict minimum and maximum pay numbers. Instead, we research market salaries and provide guidelines (but not limits) to managers. Departments make compensation decisions because they are responsible for hiring the right people and managing how those people perform. We make a particular point of not setting predetermined caps for jobs (in technology, for example) that provide a significant competitive advantage for the company.

Perhaps surprisingly, this approach does not fuel extravagant pay. Department heads have an incentive to be conservative with pay packages because senior management’s compensation depends on the company’s profitability. At times, indeed, we encourage departments to pay more than they first proposed to do. In addition, our CEO reviews all annual compensation, providing a company-wide check and balance. If we conclude that an employee’s contribution will justify his or her cost, we can compensate at levels higher than industry norms. While this approach may lead to inconsistencies in the pay of employees who are nominally at the same level, we’re willing to accept this outcome. We believe that the resulting improvement in company performance benefits all of our employees.

Dealing with conflict

Our philosophy of helping managers to manage plays an important role when people problems arise. Traditional HR departments often find themselves—or put themselves—in the position of mediator between managers and employees. We try to avoid this role. Instead, our goal is to empower both managers and employees with the skills, information, and best practices to resolve problems together. We teach people-management skills not only to managers but also to employees, who need to know that they are responsible for helping to resolve problems by having difficult conversations and “managing up.” This belief reflects our philosophy that leadership skills are critical for everyone in the company.

Obviously, problems do arise, but we teach employees that when they do, their next port of call is not HR but the manager’s manager—or even managers further up the chain, up to and including the department heads who report directly to the CEO. This approach is a challenge, but it works when management is prepared to take on greater management responsibility rather than say, “HR can handle it.”

People people

Last, we take a somewhat unconventional approach to hiring into People and Organization Development itself. Our function is quite lean, and we are rigorous about whom we hire. We test candidates and make sure they are interviewed extensively, both by senior members of the department and by our internal clients. And while some department members do have direct experience in HR fields, a number—even some in senior roles—do not. In fact, we usually rule out candidates with too much big-company HR experience; we find them excessively bound to an HR-knows-best philosophy. Instead, we look for very smart people with an interest in the field and a desire to enhance the company’s performance from a people perspective. International education, high test scores, emotional intelligence, and commitment matter more to us than résumés that check the HR boxes.

Creating a different kind of people function requires a shift in perspective from the department and company management alike. We believe that HR best serves the company’s interest by analyzing and sharing data, building skills, and developing leaders. The company’s management, for its part, must take real responsibility for hiring, evaluating performance, determining compensation, and releasing underperformers. This shift is still a work in progress.

But as both sides let go of old attitudes, the false dichotomy between employees and managers is beginning to fade. Our people are working together, and our company is becoming more productive. By taking what appears to be a less active role than other HR departments do, we are actually gradually achieving greater influence and greater success—both for the company and for ourselves.

About the author

Peter L. Allen, an alumnus of McKinsey’s New York office, is vice president for People and Organization Development at Agoda.com, a subsidiary of the Priceline Group.

 

Why leadership development programs fail

 

Sidestepping four common mistakes can help companies develop stronger and more capable leaders, save time and money, and boost morale.

For years, organizations have lavished time and money on improving the capabilities of managers and on nurturing new leaders. US companies alone spend almost $14 billion annually on leadership development.

We’ve talked with hundreds of chief executives. Here we explain some tips to overcome them. Together, they suggest ways for companies to get more from their leadership-development efforts—and ultimately their leaders.

1. Overlooking context

Context is a critical component of successful leadership. A brilliant leader in one situation does not necessarily perform well in another. Academic studies have shown this, and our experience bears it out. The CEO of a large European services business we know had an outstanding record when markets were growing quickly, but he failed to provide clear direction or to impose financial discipline on the group’s business units during the most recent economic downturn. Instead, he continued to encourage innovation and new thinking—hallmarks of the culture that had previously brought success—until he was finally replaced for underperformance.

 

In the case of a European retail bank that was anxious to improve its sales performance, the skill that mattered most (but was in shortest supply) was the ability to persuade and motivate peers without the formal authority of direct line management. This art of influencing others outside formal reporting lines runs counter to the rigid structures of many organizations. In this company, it was critical for the sales managers to persuade the IT department to change systems and working approaches that were burdening the sales organization’s managers, whose time was desperately needed to introduce important sales-acceleration measures. When managers were able to focus on changing the systems and working approaches, the bank’s productivity rose by 15 percent.

Context is as important for groups and individuals as it is for organizations as a whole: the best programs explicitly tailor a “from–to” path for each participant. An Asian engineering and construction company, for example, was anticipating the need for a new cadre of skilled managers to run complex multiyear projects of $1 billion or more. To meet this challenge, it established a leadership factory to train 1,000 new leaders within three years.

The company identified three important leadership transitions. The first took experts at tendering (then reactive and focused on meeting budget targets) and sought to turn them into business builders who proactively hunted out customers and thought more strategically about markets. The second took project executors who spent the bulk of their time on site dealing with day-to-day problems and turned them into project directors who could manage relationships with governments, joint-venture partners, and important customers. The third targeted support-function managers who narrowly focused on operational details and costs, and set out to transform them into leaders with a broader range of skills to identify—and deliver—more significant contributions to the business.

2. Decoupling reflection from real work

When it comes to planning the program’s curriculum, companies face a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, there is value in off-site programs (many in university-like settings) that offer participants time to step back and escape the pressing demands of a day job. On the other hand, even after very basic training sessions, adults typically retain just 10 percent of what they hear in classroom lectures, versus nearly two-thirds when they learn by doing. Furthermore, burgeoning leaders, no matter how talented, often struggle to transfer even their most powerful off-site experiences into changed behavior on the front line.

The answer sounds straightforward: tie leadership development to real on-the-job projects that have a business impact and improve learning. But it’s not easy to create opportunities that simultaneously address high-priority needs—say, accelerating a new-product launch, turning around a sales region, negotiating an external partnership, or developing a new digital-marketing strategy—and provide personal-development opportunities for the participants.

A medical-device company got this balance badly wrong when one of its employees, a participant in a leadership-development program, devoted long hours over several months to what he considered “real” work: creating a device to assist elderly people during a medical emergency. When he presented his assessment to the board, he was told that a full-time team had been working on exactly this challenge and that the directors would never consider a solution that was a by-product of a leadership-development program. Given the demotivating effect of this message, the employee soon left the company.

The ability to push training participants to reflect, while also giving them real work experiences to apply new approaches and hone their skills, is a valuable combination in emerging markets. There, the gap between urgent “must do” projects and the availability of capable leaders presents an enormous challenge. In such environments, companies should strive to make every major business project a leadership-development opportunity as well, and to integrate leadership-development components into the projects themselves.

Too many training initiatives we come across rest on the assumption that one size fits all and that the same group of skills or style of leadership is appropriate regardless of strategy, organizational culture, or CEO mandate.

In the earliest stages of planning a leadership initiative, companies should ask themselves a simple question: what, precisely, is this program for? If the answer is to support an acquisition-led growth strategy, for example, the company will probably need leaders brimming with ideas and capable of devising winning strategies for new or newly expanded business units. If the answer is to grow by capturing organic opportunities, the company will probably want people at the top who are good at nurturing internal talent.

Focusing on context inevitably means equipping leaders with a small number of competencies (two to three) that will make a significant difference to performance. Instead, what we often find is a long list of leadership standards, a complex web of dozens of competencies, and corporate-values statements. Each is usually summarized in a seemingly easy-to-remember way (such as the three Rs), and each on its own terms makes sense. In practice, however, what managers and employees often see is an “alphabet soup” of recommendations. We have found that when a company cuts through the noise to identify a small number of leadership capabilities essential for success in its business—such as high-quality decision making or stronger coaching skills—it achieves far better outcomes.

 

3. Underestimating mind-sets

Becoming a more effective leader often requires changing behavior. But although most companies recognize that this also means adjusting underlying mind-sets, too often these organizations are reluctant to address the root causes of why leaders act the way they do. Doing so can be uncomfortable for participants, program trainers, mentors, and bosses—but if there isn’t a significant degree of discomfort, the chances are that the behavior won’t change. Just as a coach would view an athlete’s muscle pain as a proper response to training, leaders who are stretching themselves should also feel some discomfort as they struggle to reach new levels of leadership performance.

Identifying some of the deepest, “below the surface” thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and beliefs is usually a precondition of behavioral change—one too often shirked in development programs. Promoting the virtues of delegation and empowerment, for example, is fine in theory, but successful adoption is unlikely if the program participants have a clear “controlling” mind-set (I can’t lose my grip on the business; I’m personally accountable and only I should make the decisions). It’s true that some personality traits (such as extroversion or introversion) are difficult to shift, but people can change the way they see the world and their values.

Take the professional-services business that wanted senior leaders to initiate more provocative and meaningful discussions with the firm’s senior clients. Once the trainers looked below the surface, they discovered that these leaders, though highly successful in their fields, were instinctively uncomfortable and lacking in confidence when conversations moved beyond their narrow functional expertise. As soon as the leaders realized this, and went deeper to understand why, they were able to commit themselves to concrete steps that helped push them to change.

4. Failing to measure results

We frequently find that companies pay lip service to the importance of developing leadership skills but have no evidence to quantify the value of their investment. When businesses fail to track and measure changes in leadership performance over time, they increase the odds that improvement initiatives won’t be taken seriously.

Too often, any evaluation of leadership development begins and ends with participant feedback; the danger here is that trainers learn to game the system and deliver a syllabus that is more pleasing than challenging to participants. Yet targets can be set and their achievement monitored. Just as in any business-performance program, once that assessment is complete, leaders can learn from successes and failures over time and make the necessary adjustments.

One approach is to assess the extent of behavioral change, perhaps through a 360 degree–feedback exercise at the beginning of a program and followed by another one after 6 to 12 months. Leaders can also use such tools to demonstrate their own commitment to real change for themselves and the organization. One CEO we know commissioned his own 360 degree–feedback exercise and published the results (good and bad) for all to see on the company intranet, along with a personal commitment to improve.

Another approach is to monitor participants’ career development after the training. How many were appointed to more senior roles one to two years after the program? How many senior people in the organization went through leadership training? How many left the company? By analyzing recent promotions at a global bank, for example, senior managers showed that candidates who had been through a leadership-development program were more successful than those who had not.

Finally, try to monitor the business impact, especially when training is tied to breakthrough projects. Metrics might include cost savings and the number of new-store openings for a retail business, for example, or sales of new products if the program focused on the skills to build a new-product strategy.

Companies can avoid the most common mistakes in leadership development and increase the odds of success by matching specific leadership skills and traits to the context at hand;

 

About the authors

Pierre Gurdjian is a director in McKinsey’s Brussels office; Thomas Halbeisen is an associate principal in the Zurich office, where Kevin Lane is a principal

Decoding leadership: What really matters

 

New research suggests that the secret to developing effective leaders is to encourage four types of behavior.

a McKinsey study, April2015

Telling CEOs these days that leadership drives performance is a bit like saying that oxygen is necessary to breathe. Over 90 percent of CEOs are already planning to increase investment in leadership development because they see it as the single most important human-capital issue their organizations face.1 And they’re right to do so: earlier McKinsey research has consistently shown that good leadership is a critical part of organizational health, which is an important driver of shareholder returns.

A big, unresolved issue is what sort of leadership behavior organizations should encourage. Is leadership so contextual that it defies standard definitions or development approaches?3 Should companies now concentrate their efforts on priorities such as role modeling, making decisions quickly, defining visions, and shaping leaders who are good at adapting? Should they stress the virtues of enthusiastic communication? In the absence of any academic or practitioner consensus on the answers, leadership-development programs address an extraordinary range of issues, which may help explain why only 43 percent of CEOs are confident that their training investments will bear fruit.

Our most recent research, however, suggests that a small subset of leadership skills closely correlates with leadership success, particularly among frontline leaders. Using our own practical experience and searching the relevant academic literature, we came up with a comprehensive list of 20 distinct leadership traits. Next, we surveyed 189,000 people in 81 diverse organizations4 around the world to assess how frequently certain kinds of leadership behavior are applied within their organizations. Finally, we divided the sample into organizations whose leadership performance was strong (the top quartile of leadership effectiveness as measured by McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index) and those that were weak (bottom quartile).

 

What we found was that leaders in organizations with high-quality leadership teams typically displayed 4 of the 20 possible types of behavior; these 4, indeed, explained 89 percent of the variance between strong and weak organizations in terms of leadership effectiveness (exhibit).

  • Solving problems effectively. The process that precedes decision making is problem solving, when information is gathered, analyzed, and considered. This is deceptively difficult to get right, yet it is a key input into decision making for major issues (such as M&A) as well as daily ones (such as how to handle a team dispute).
  • Operating with a strong results orientation. Leadership is about not only developing and communicating a vision and setting objectives but also following through to achieve results. Leaders with a strong results orientation tend to emphasize the importance of efficiency and productivity and to prioritize the highest-value work.
  • Seeking different perspectives. This trait is conspicuous in managers who monitor trends affecting organizations, grasp changes in the environment, encourage employees to contribute ideas that could improve performance, accurately differentiate between important and unimportant issues, and give the appropriate weight to stakeholder concerns. Leaders who do well on this dimension typically base their decisions on sound analysis and avoid the many biases to which decisions are prone.
  • Supporting others. Leaders who are supportive understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in those around them, they build trust and inspire and help colleagues to overcome challenges. They intervene in group work to promote organizational efficiency, allaying unwarranted fears about external threats and preventing the energy of employees from dissipating into internal conflict.

We’re not saying that the centuries-old debate about what distinguishes great leaders is over or that context is unimportant. Experience shows that different business situations often require different styles of leadership. We do believe, however, that our research points to a kind of core leadership behavior that will be relevant to most companies today, notably on the front line. For organizations investing in the development of their future leaders, prioritizing these four areas is a good place to start.

 

About the authors

Claudio Feser is a director in McKinsey’s Zürich office, Fernanda Mayol is an associate principal in the Rio de Janeiro office, and Ramesh Srinivasan is a director in the New York office

Are you Emotionally agile?

If you only have a few minutes, watch the video. It's a snapshot of the text.


Sixteen thousand—that’s how many words we speak, on average, each day. So imagine how many unspoken ones course through our minds. Most of them are not facts but evaluations and judgments entwined with emotions—some positive and helpful (I’ve worked hard and I can ace this presentation; This issue is worth speaking up about; The new VP seems approachable), others negative and less so (He’s purposely ignoring me; I’m going to make a fool of myself; I’m a fake).

The prevailing wisdom says that difficult thoughts and feelings have no place at the office: Executives, and particularly leaders, should be either stoic or cheerful; they must project confidence and damp down any negativity bubbling up inside them. But that goes against basic biology. All healthy human beings have an inner stream of thoughts and feelings that include criticism, doubt, and fear. That’s just our minds doing the job they were designed to do: trying to anticipate and solve problems and avoid potential pitfalls.

In our people-strategy consulting practice advising companies around the world, we see leaders stumble not because they have undesirable thoughts and feelings—that’s inevitable—but because they get hooked by them, like fish caught on a line. This happens in one of two ways. They buy into the thoughts, treating them like facts (It was the same in my last job…I’ve been a failure my whole career), and avoid situations that evoke them (I’m not going to take on that new challenge). Or, usually at the behest of their supporters, they challenge the existence of the thoughts and try to rationalize them away (I shouldn’t have thoughts like this…I know I’m not a total failure), and perhaps force themselves into similar situations, even when those go against their core values and goals (Take on that new assignment—you’ve got to get over this). In either case, they are paying too much attention to their internal chatter and allowing it to sap important cognitive resources that could be put to better use.

This is a common problem, often perpetuated by popular self-management strategies. We regularly see executives with recurring emotional challenges at work—anxiety about priorities, jealousy of others’ success, fear of rejection, distress over perceived slights—who have devised techniques to “fix” them: positive affirmations, prioritized to-do lists, immersion in certain tasks. But when we ask how long the challenges have persisted, the answer might be 10 years, 20 years, or since childhood.

Clearly, those techniques don’t work—in fact, ample research shows that attempting to minimize or ignore thoughts and emotions serves only to amplify them. In a famous study led by the late Daniel Wegner, a Harvard professor, participants who were told to avoid thinking about white bears had trouble doing so; later, when the ban was lifted, they thought about white bears much more than the control group did. Anyone who has dreamed of chocolate cake and french fries while following a strict diet understands this phenomenon.

Effective leaders don’t buy into or try to suppress their inner experiences. Instead they approach them in a mindful, values-driven, and productive way—developing what we call emotional agility. In our complex, fast-changing knowledge economy, this ability to manage one’s thoughts and feelings is essential to business success. Numerous studies, from the University of London professor Frank Bond and others, show that emotional agility can help people alleviate stress, reduce errors, become more innovative, and improve job performance.

We’ve worked with leaders in various industries to build this critical skill, and here we offer four practices—adapted from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), originally developed by the University of Nevada psychologist Steven C. Hayes—that are designed to help you do the same: Recognize your patterns; label your thoughts and emotions; accept them; and act on your values.

Fish on a Line

Let’s start with two case studies. Cynthia is a senior corporate lawyer with two young children. She used to feel intense guilt about missed opportunities—both at the office, where her peers worked 80 hours a week while she worked 50, and at home, where she was often too distracted or tired to fully engage with her husband and children. One nagging voice in her head told her she’d have to be a better employee or risk career failure; another told her to be a better mother or risk neglecting her family. Cynthia wished that at least one of the voices would shut up. But neither would, and in response she failed to put up her hand for exciting new prospects at the office and compulsively checked messages on her phone during family dinners.

Jeffrey, a rising-star executive at a leading consumer goods company, had a different problem. Intelligent, talented, and ambitious, he was often angry—at bosses who disregarded his views, subordinates who didn’t follow orders, or colleagues who didn’t pull their weight. He had lost his temper several times at work and been warned to get it under control. But when he tried, he felt that he was shutting off a core part of his personality, and he became even angrier and more upset.

These smart, successful leaders were hooked by their negative thoughts and emotions. Cynthia was absorbed by guilt; Jeffrey was exploding with anger. Cynthia told the voices to go away; Jeffrey bottled his frustration. Both were trying to avoid the discomfort they felt. They were being controlled by their inner experience, attempting to control it, or switching between the two.

Getting Unhooked

Fortunately, both Cynthia and Jeffrey realized that they couldn’t go on—at least not successfully and happily—without more-effective inner strategies. We coached them to adopt the four practices:

Recognize your patterns.

The first step in developing emotional agility is to notice when you’ve been hooked by your thoughts and feelings. That’s hard to do, but there are certain telltale signs. One is that your thinking becomes rigid and repetitive. For example, Cynthia began to see that her self-recriminations played like a broken record, repeating the same messages over and over again. Another is that the story your mind is telling seems old, like a rerun of some past experience. Jeffrey noticed that his attitude toward certain colleagues (He’s incompetent; There’s no way I’m letting anyone speak to me like that) was quite familiar. In fact, he had experienced something similar in his previous job—and in the one before that. The source of trouble was not just Jeffrey’s environment but his own patterns of thought and feeling. You have to realize that you’re stuck before you can initiate change.

Label your thoughts and emotions.

When you’re hooked, the attention you give your thoughts and feelings crowds your mind; there’s no room to examine them. One strategy that may help you consider your situation more objectively is the simple act of labeling. Just as you call a spade a spade, call a thought a thought and an emotion an emotion. I’m not doing enough at work or at home becomes I’m having the thought that I’m not doing enough at work or at home. Similarly, My coworker is wrong—he makes me so angry becomes I’m having the thought that my coworker is wrong, and I’m feeling anger. Labeling allows you to see your thoughts and feelings for what they are: transient sources of data that may or may not prove helpful. Humans are psychologically able to take this helicopter view of private experiences, and mounting scientific evidence shows that simple, straightforward mindfulness practice like this not only improves behavior and well-being but also promotes beneficial biological changes in the brain and at the cellular level. As Cynthia started to slow down and label her thoughts, the criticisms that had once pressed in on her like a dense fog became more like clouds passing through a blue sky.

Accept them.

The opposite of control is acceptance—not acting on every thought or resigning yourself to negativity but responding to your ideas and emotions with an open attitude, paying attention to them and letting yourself experience them. Take 10 deep breaths and notice what’s happening in the moment. This can bring relief, but it won’t necessarily make you feel good. In fact, you may realize just how upset you really are. The important thing is to show yourself (and others) some compassion and examine the reality of the situation. What’s going on—both internally and externally? When Jeffrey acknowledged and made room for his feelings of frustration and anger rather than rejecting them, quashing them, or taking them out on others, he began to notice their energetic quality. They were a signal that something important was at stake and that he needed to take productive action. Instead of yelling at people, he could make a clear request of a colleague or move swiftly on a pressing issue. The more Jeffrey accepted his anger and brought his curiosity to it, the more it seemed to support rather than undermine his leadership.

Act on your values.

When you unhook yourself from your difficult thoughts and emotions, you expand your choices. You can decide to act in a way that aligns with your values. We encourage leaders to focus on the concept of workability: Is your response going to serve you and your organization in the long term as well as the short term? Will it help you steer others in a direction that furthers your collective purpose? Are you taking a step toward being the leader you most want to be and living the life you most want to live? The mind’s thought stream flows endlessly, and emotions change like the weather, but values can be called on at any time, in any situation.

When Cynthia considered her values, she recognized how deeply committed she was to both her family and her work; she loved being with her children, but she also cared passionately about the pursuit of justice. Unhooked from her distracting and discouraging feelings of guilt, she resolved to be guided by her principles. She recognized how important it was to get home for dinner with her family every evening and to resist work interruptions during that time. But she also undertook to make a number of important business trips, some of which coincided with school events that she would have preferred to attend. Confident that her values, not solely her emotions, were guiding her, Cynthia finally found peace and fulfillment. It’s impossible to block out difficult thoughts and emotions. Effective leaders are mindful of their inner experiences but not caught in them. They know how to free up their internal resources and commit to actions that align with their values. Developing emotional agility is no quick fix—even those who, like Cynthia and Jeffrey, regularly practice the steps we’ve outlined here will often find themselves hooked. But over time, leaders who become increasingly adept at it are the ones most likely to thrive.

Susan David is a founder of the Harvard/McLean Institute of Coaching and is on faculty at Harvard.




What Makes a Leader?

It was Daniel Goleman who first brought the term “emotional intelligence” to a wide audience with his 1995 book of that name, and it was Goleman who first applied the concept to business.

Goleman found that while the qualities traditionally associated with leadership—such as intelligence, toughness, determination, and vision—are required for success, they are insufficient. Truly effective leaders are also distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill.

here goes the story:

Every businessperson knows a story about a highly intelligent, highly skilled executive who was promoted into a leadership position only to fail at the job. And they also know a story about someone with solid—but not extraordinary—intellectual abilities and technical skills who was promoted into a similar position and then soared.

Such anecdotes support the widespread belief that identifying individuals with the “right stuff” to be leaders is more art than science. After all, the personal styles of superb leaders vary: Some leaders are subdued and analytical; others shout their manifestos from the mountaintops. And just as important, different situations call for different types of leadership. Most mergers need a sensitive negotiator at the helm, whereas many turnarounds require a more forceful authority.

I have found, however, that the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but mainly as “threshold capabilities”; that is, they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. But my research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.

In the course of the past year, my colleagues and I have focused on how emotional intelligence operates at work. We have examined the relationship between emotional intelligence and effective performance, especially in leaders. And we have observed how emotional intelligence shows itself on the job. How can you tell if someone has high emotional intelligence, for example, and how can you recognize it in yourself? In the following pages, we’ll explore these questions, taking each of the components of emotional intelligence—self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill—in turn.

Evaluating Emotional Intelligence

Most large companies today have employed trained psychologists to develop what are known as “competency models” to aid them in identifying, training, and promoting likely stars in the leadership firmament. The psychologists have also developed such models for lower-level positions. And in recent years, I have analyzed competency models from 188 companies, most of which were large and global and included the likes of Lucent Technologies, British Airways, and Credit Suisse.

In carrying out this work, my objective was to determine which personal capabilities drove outstanding performance within these organizations, and to what degree they did so. I grouped capabilities into three categories: purely technical skills like accounting and business planning; cognitive abilities like analytical reasoning; and competencies demonstrating emotional intelligence, such as the ability to work with others and effectiveness in leading change.

To create some of the competency models, psychologists asked senior managers at the companies to identify the capabilities that typified the organization’s most outstanding leaders. To create other models, the psychologists used objective criteria, such as a division’s profitability, to differentiate the star performers at senior levels within their organizations from the average ones. Those individuals were then extensively interviewed and tested, and their capabilities were compared. This process resulted in the creation of lists of ingredients for highly effective leaders. The lists ranged in length from seven to 15 items and included such ingredients as initiative and strategic vision.

When I analyzed all this data, I found dramatic results. To be sure, intellect was a driver of outstanding performance. Cognitive skills such as big-picture thinking and long-term vision were particularly important. But when I calculated the ratio of technical skills, IQ, and emotional intelligence as ingredients of excellent performance, emotional intelligence proved to be twice as important as the others for jobs at all levels.

Moreover, my analysis showed that emotional intelligence played an increasingly important role at the highest levels of the company, where differences in technical skills are of negligible importance. In other words, the higher the rank of a person considered to be a star performer, the more emotional intelligence capabilities showed up as the reason for his or her effectiveness. When I compared star performers with average ones in senior leadership positions, nearly 90% of the difference in their profiles was attributable to emotional intelligence factors rather than cognitive abilities.

Other researchers have confirmed that emotional intelligence not only distinguishes outstanding leaders but can also be linked to strong performance. The findings of the late David McClelland, the renowned researcher in human and organizational behavior, are a good example. In a 1996 study of a global food and beverage company, McClelland found that when senior managers had a critical mass of emotional intelligence capabilities, their divisions outperformed yearly earnings goals by 20%. Meanwhile, division leaders without that critical mass underperformed by almost the same amount. McClelland’s findings, interestingly, held as true in the company’s U.S. divisions as in its divisions in Asia and Europe.

In short, the numbers are beginning to tell us a persuasive story about the link between a company’s success and the emotional intelligence of its leaders. And just as important, research is also demonstrating that people can develop their emotional intelligence.

Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the first component of emotional intelligence—which makes sense when one considers that the Delphic oracle gave the advice to “know thyself” thousands of years ago. Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives. People with strong self-awareness are neither overly critical nor unrealistically hopeful. Rather, they are honest—with themselves and with others.

People who have a high degree of self-awareness recognize how their feelings affect them, other people, and their job performance. Thus, a self-aware person who knows that tight deadlines bring out the worst in him plans his time carefully and gets his work done well in advance. Another person with high self-awareness will be able to work with a demanding client. She will understand the client’s impact on her moods and the deeper reasons for her frustration. “Their trivial demands take us away from the real work that needs to be done,” she might explain. And she will go one step further and turn her anger into something constructive.

Self-awareness extends to a person’s understanding of his or her values and goals. Someone who is highly self-aware knows where he is headed and why; so, for example, he will be able to be firm in turning down a job offer that is tempting financially but does not fit with his principles or long-term goals. A person who lacks self-awareness is apt to make decisions that bring on inner turmoil by treading on buried values. “The money looked good so I signed on,” someone might say two years into a job, “but the work means so little to me that I’m constantly bored.” The decisions of self-aware people mesh with their values; consequently, they often find work to be energizing.

How can one recognize self-awareness? First and foremost, it shows itself as candor and an ability to assess oneself realistically. People with high self-awareness are able to speak accurately and openly—although not necessarily effusively or confessionally—about their emotions and the impact they have on their work. For instance, one manager I know of was skeptical about a new personal-shopper service that her company, a major department-store chain, was about to introduce. Without prompting from her team or her boss, she offered them an explanation: “It’s hard for me to get behind the rollout of this service,” she admitted, “because I really wanted to run the project, but I wasn’t selected. Bear with me while I deal with that.” The manager did indeed examine her feelings; a week later, she was supporting the project fully.

Such self-knowledge often shows itself in the hiring process. Ask a candidate to describe a time he got carried away by his feelings and did something he later regretted. Self-aware candidates will be frank in admitting to failure—and will often tell their tales with a smile. One of the hallmarks of self-awareness is a self-deprecating sense of humor.

Self-awareness can also be identified during performance reviews. Self-aware people know—and are comfortable talking about—their limitations and strengths, and they often demonstrate a thirst for constructive criticism. By contrast, people with low self-awareness interpret the message that they need to improve as a threat or a sign of failure.

Self-aware people can also be recognized by their self-confidence. They have a firm grasp of their capabilities and are less likely to set themselves up to fail by, for example, overstretching on assignments. They know, too, when to ask for help. And the risks they take on the job are calculated. They won’t ask for a challenge that they know they can’t handle alone. They’ll play to their strengths.

Consider the actions of a midlevel employee who was invited to sit in on a strategy meeting with her company’s top executives. Although she was the most junior person in the room, she did not sit there quietly, listening in awestruck or fearful silence. She knew she had a head for clear logic and the skill to present ideas persuasively, and she offered cogent suggestions about the company’s strategy. At the same time, her self-awareness stopped her from wandering into territory where she knew she was weak.

Despite the value of having self-aware people in the workplace, my research indicates that senior executives don’t often give self-awareness the credit it deserves when they look for potential leaders. Many executives mistake candor about feelings for “wimpiness” and fail to give due respect to employees who openly acknowledge their shortcomings. Such people are too readily dismissed as “not tough enough” to lead others.

In fact, the opposite is true. In the first place, people generally admire and respect candor. Furthermore, leaders are constantly required to make judgment calls that require a candid assessment of capabilities—their own and those of others. Do we have the management expertise to acquire a competitor? Can we launch a new product within six months? People who assess themselves honestly—that is, self-aware people—are well suited to do the same for the organizations they run.

 

Self-Regulation

Biological impulses drive our emotions. We cannot do away with them—but we can do much to manage them. Self-regulation, which is like an ongoing inner conversation, is the component of emotional intelligence that frees us from being prisoners of our feelings. People engaged in such a conversation feel bad moods and emotional impulses just as everyone else does, but they find ways to control them and even to channel them in useful ways.

Imagine an executive who has just watched a team of his employees present a botched analysis to the company’s board of directors. In the gloom that follows, the executive might find himself tempted to pound on the table in anger or kick over a chair. He could leap up and scream at the group. Or he might maintain a grim silence, glaring at everyone before stalking off.

But if he had a gift for self-regulation, he would choose a different approach. He would pick his words carefully, acknowledging the team’s poor performance without rushing to any hasty judgment. He would then step back to consider the reasons for the failure. Are they personal—a lack of effort? Are there any mitigating factors? What was his role in the debacle? After considering these questions, he would call the team together, lay out the incident’s consequences, and offer his feelings about it. He would then present his analysis of the problem and a well-considered solution.

Why does self-regulation matter so much for leaders? First of all, people who are in control of their feelings and impulses—that is, people who are reasonable—are able to create an environment of trust and fairness. In such an environment, politics and infighting are sharply reduced and productivity is high. Talented people flock to the organization and aren’t tempted to leave. And self-regulation has a trickle-down effect. No one wants to be known as a hothead when the boss is known for her calm approach. Fewer bad moods at the top mean fewer throughout the organization.

Second, self-regulation is important for competitive reasons. Everyone knows that business today is rife with ambiguity and change. Companies merge and break apart regularly. Technology transforms work at a dizzying pace. People who have mastered their emotions are able to roll with the changes. When a new program is announced, they don’t panic; instead, they are able to suspend judgment, seek out information, and listen to the executives as they explain the new program. As the initiative moves forward, these people are able to move with it.

Sometimes they even lead the way. Consider the case of a manager at a large manufacturing company. Like her colleagues, she had used a certain software program for five years. The program drove how she collected and reported data and how she thought about the company’s strategy. One day, senior executives announced that a new program was to be installed that would radically change how information was gathered and assessed within the organization. While many people in the company complained bitterly about how disruptive the change would be, the manager mulled over the reasons for the new program and was convinced of its potential to improve performance. She eagerly attended training sessions—some of her colleagues refused to do so—and was eventually promoted to run several divisions, in part because she used the new technology so effectively.

I want to push the importance of self-regulation to leadership even further and make the case that it enhances integrity, which is not only a personal virtue but also an organizational strength. Many of the bad things that happen in companies are a function of impulsive behavior. People rarely plan to exaggerate profits, pad expense accounts, dip into the till, or abuse power for selfish ends. Instead, an opportunity presents itself, and people with low impulse control just say yes.

By contrast, consider the behavior of the senior executive at a large food company. The executive was scrupulously honest in his negotiations with local distributors. He would routinely lay out his cost structure in detail, thereby giving the distributors a realistic understanding of the company’s pricing. This approach meant the executive couldn’t always drive a hard bargain. Now, on occasion, he felt the urge to increase profits by withholding information about the company’s costs. But he challenged that impulse—he saw that it made more sense in the long run to counteract it. His emotional self-regulation paid off in strong, lasting relationships with distributors that benefited the company more than any short-term financial gains would have.

The signs of emotional self-regulation, therefore, are easy to see: a propensity for reflection and thoughtfulness; comfort with ambiguity and change; and integrity—an ability to say no to impulsive urges.

Like self-awareness, self-regulation often does not get its due. People who can master their emotions are sometimes seen as cold fish—their considered responses are taken as a lack of passion. People with fiery temperaments are frequently thought of as “classic” leaders—their outbursts are considered hallmarks of charisma and power. But when such people make it to the top, their impulsiveness often works against them. In my research, extreme displays of negative emotion have never emerged as a driver of good leadership.

 

Motivation

If there is one trait that virtually all effective leaders have, it is motivation. They are driven to achieve beyond expectations—their own and everyone else’s. The key word here is achieve. Plenty of people are motivated by external factors, such as a big salary or the status that comes from having an impressive title or being part of a prestigious company. By contrast, those with leadership potential are motivated by a deeply embedded desire to achieve for the sake of achievement.

If you are looking for leaders, how can you identify people who are motivated by the drive to achieve rather than by external rewards? The first sign is a passion for the work itself—such people seek out creative challenges, love to learn, and take great pride in a job well done. They also display an unflagging energy to do things better. People with such energy often seem restless with the status quo. They are persistent with their questions about why things are done one way rather than another; they are eager to explore new approaches to their work.

A cosmetics company manager, for example, was frustrated that he had to wait two weeks to get sales results from people in the field. He finally tracked down an automated phone system that would beep each of his salespeople at 5 pm every day. An automated message then prompted them to punch in their numbers—how many calls and sales they had made that day. The system shortened the feedback time on sales results from weeks to hours.

That story illustrates two other common traits of people who are driven to achieve. They are forever raising the performance bar, and they like to keep score. Take the performance bar first. During performance reviews, people with high levels of motivation might ask to be “stretched” by their superiors. Of course, an employee who combines self-awareness with internal motivation will recognize her limits—but she won’t settle for objectives that seem too easy to fulfill.

And it follows naturally that people who are driven to do better also want a way of tracking progress—their own, their team’s, and their company’s. Whereas people with low achievement motivation are often fuzzy about results, those with high achievement motivation often keep score by tracking such hard measures as profitability or market share. I know of a money manager who starts and ends his day on the Internet, gauging the performance of his stock fund against four industry-set benchmarks.

Interestingly, people with high motivation remain optimistic even when the score is against them. In such cases, self-regulation combines with achievement motivation to overcome the frustration and depression that come after a setback or failure. Take the case of an another portfolio manager at a large investment company. After several successful years, her fund tumbled for three consecutive quarters, leading three large institutional clients to shift their business elsewhere.

Some executives would have blamed the nosedive on circumstances outside their control; others might have seen the setback as evidence of personal failure. This portfolio manager, however, saw an opportunity to prove she could lead a turnaround. Two years later, when she was promoted to a very senior level in the company, she described the experience as “the best thing that ever happened to me; I learned so much from it.”

Executives trying to recognize high levels of achievement motivation in their people can look for one last piece of evidence: commitment to the organization. When people love their jobs for the work itself, they often feel committed to the organizations that make that work possible. Committed employees are likely to stay with an organization even when they are pursued by headhunters waving money.

It’s not difficult to understand how and why a motivation to achieve translates into strong leadership. If you set the performance bar high for yourself, you will do the same for the organization when you are in a position to do so. Likewise, a drive to surpass goals and an interest in keeping score can be contagious. Leaders with these traits can often build a team of managers around them with the same traits. And of course, optimism and organizational commitment are fundamental to leadership—just try to imagine running a company without them.

Empathy

Of all the dimensions of emotional intelligence, empathy is the most easily recognized. We have all felt the empathy of a sensitive teacher or friend; we have all been struck by its absence in an unfeeling coach or boss. But when it comes to business, we rarely hear people praised, let alone rewarded, for their empathy. The very word seems unbusinesslike, out of place amid the tough realities of the marketplace.

But empathy doesn’t mean a kind of “I’m OK, you’re OK” mushiness. For a leader, that is, it doesn’t mean adopting other people’s emotions as one’s own and trying to please everybody. That would be a nightmare—it would make action impossible. Rather, empathy means thoughtfully considering employees’ feelings—along with other factors—in the process of making intelligent decisions.

For an example of empathy in action, consider what happened when two giant brokerage companies merged, creating redundant jobs in all their divisions. One division manager called his people together and gave a gloomy speech that emphasized the number of people who would soon be fired. The manager of another division gave his people a different kind of speech. He was up-front about his own worry and confusion, and he promised to keep people informed and to treat everyone fairly.

The difference between these two managers was empathy. The first manager was too worried about his own fate to consider the feelings of his anxiety-stricken colleagues. The second knew intuitively what his people were feeling, and he acknowledged their fears with his words. Is it any surprise that the first manager saw his division sink as many demoralized people, especially the most talented, departed? By contrast, the second manager continued to be a strong leader, his best people stayed, and his division remained as productive as ever.

Empathy is particularly important today as a component of leadership for at least three reasons: the increasing use of teams; the rapid pace of globalization; and the growing need to retain talent.

Consider the challenge of leading a team. As anyone who has ever been a part of one can attest, teams are cauldrons of bubbling emotions. They are often charged with reaching a consensus—which is hard enough with two people and much more difficult as the numbers increase. Even in groups with as few as four or five members, alliances form and clashing agendas get set. A team’s leader must be able to sense and understand the viewpoints of everyone around the table.

That’s exactly what a marketing manager at a large information technology company was able to do when she was appointed to lead a troubled team. The group was in turmoil, overloaded by work and missing deadlines. Tensions were high among the members. Tinkering with procedures was not enough to bring the group together and make it an effective part of the company.

So the manager took several steps. In a series of one-on-one sessions, she took the time to listen to everyone in the group—what was frustrating them, how they rated their colleagues, whether they felt they had been ignored. And then she directed the team in a way that brought it together: She encouraged people to speak more openly about their frustrations, and she helped people raise constructive complaints during meetings. In short, her empathy allowed her to understand her team’s emotional makeup. The result was not just heightened collaboration among members but also added business, as the team was called on for help by a wider range of internal clients.

Globalization is another reason for the rising importance of empathy for business leaders. Cross-cultural dialogue can easily lead to miscues and misunderstandings. Empathy is an antidote. People who have it are attuned to subtleties in body language; they can hear the message beneath the words being spoken. Beyond that, they have a deep understanding of both the existence and the importance of cultural and ethnic differences.

Consider the case of an American consultant whose team had just pitched a project to a potential Japanese client. In its dealings with Americans, the team was accustomed to being bombarded with questions after such a proposal, but this time it was greeted with a long silence. Other members of the team, taking the silence as disapproval, were ready to pack and leave. The lead consultant gestured them to stop. Although he was not particularly familiar with Japanese culture, he read the client’s face and posture and sensed not rejection but interest—even deep consideration. He was right: When the client finally spoke, it was to give the consulting firm the job.

Finally, empathy plays a key role in the retention of talent, particularly in today’s information economy. Leaders have always needed empathy to develop and keep good people, but today the stakes are higher. When good people leave, they take the company’s knowledge with them.

That’s where coaching and mentoring come in. It has repeatedly been shown that coaching and mentoring pay off not just in better performance but also in increased job satisfaction and decreased turnover. But what makes coaching and mentoring work best is the nature of the relationship. Outstanding coaches and mentors get inside the heads of the people they are helping. They sense how to give effective feedback. They know when to push for better performance and when to hold back. In the way they motivate their protégés, they demonstrate empathy in action.

In what is probably sounding like a refrain, let me repeat that empathy doesn’t get much respect in business. People wonder how leaders can make hard decisions if they are “feeling” for all the people who will be affected. But leaders with empathy do more than sympathize with people around them: They use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle but important ways.

 

Social Skill

The first three components of emotional intelligence are self-management skills. The last two, empathy and social skill, concern a person’s ability to manage relationships with others. As a component of emotional intelligence, social skill is not as simple as it sounds. It’s not just a matter of friendliness, although people with high levels of social skill are rarely mean-spirited. Social skill, rather, is friendliness with a purpose: moving people in the direction you desire, whether that’s agreement on a new marketing strategy or enthusiasm about a new product.

Socially skilled people tend to have a wide circle of acquaintances, and they have a knack for finding common ground with people of all kinds—a knack for building rapport. That doesn’t mean they socialize continually; it means they work according to the assumption that nothing important gets done alone. Such people have a network in place when the time for action comes.

Social skill is the culmination of the other dimensions of emotional intelligence. People tend to be very effective at managing relationships when they can understand and control their own emotions and can empathize with the feelings of others. Even motivation contributes to social skill. Remember that people who are driven to achieve tend to be optimistic, even in the face of setbacks or failure. When people are upbeat, their “glow” is cast upon conversations and other social encounters. They are popular, and for good reason.

Because it is the outcome of the other dimensions of emotional intelligence, social skill is recognizable on the job in many ways that will by now sound familiar. Socially skilled people, for instance, are adept at managing teams—that’s their empathy at work. Likewise, they are expert persuaders—a manifestation of self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy combined. Given those skills, good persuaders know when to make an emotional plea, for instance, and when an appeal to reason will work better. And motivation, when publicly visible, makes such people excellent collaborators; their passion for the work spreads to others, and they are driven to find solutions.

But sometimes social skill shows itself in ways the other emotional intelligence components do not. For instance, socially skilled people may at times appear not to be working while at work. They seem to be idly schmoozing—chatting in the hallways with colleagues or joking around with people who are not even connected to their “real” jobs. Socially skilled people, however, don’t think it makes sense to arbitrarily limit the scope of their relationships. They build bonds widely because they know that in these fluid times, they may need help someday from people they are just getting to know today.

For example, consider the case of an executive in the strategy department of a global computer manufacturer. By 1993, he was convinced that the company’s future lay with the Internet. Over the course of the next year, he found kindred spirits and used his social skill to stitch together a virtual community that cut across levels, divisions, and nations. He then used this de facto team to put up a corporate Web site, among the first by a major company. And, on his own initiative, with no budget or formal status, he signed up the company to participate in an annual Internet industry convention. Calling on his allies and persuading various divisions to donate funds, he recruited more than 50 people from a dozen different units to represent the company at the convention.

Management took notice: Within a year of the conference, the executive’s team formed the basis for the company’s first Internet division, and he was formally put in charge of it. To get there, the executive had ignored conventional boundaries, forging and maintaining connections with people in every corner of the organization.

Is social skill considered a key leadership capability in most companies? The answer is yes, especially when compared with the other components of emotional intelligence. People seem to know intuitively that leaders need to manage relationships effectively; no leader is an island. After all, the leader’s task is to get work done through other people, and social skill makes that possible. A leader who cannot express her empathy may as well not have it at all. And a leader’s motivation will be useless if he cannot communicate his passion to the organization. Social skill allows leaders to put their emotional intelligence to work.

 

It would be foolish to assert that good-old-fashioned IQ and technical ability are not important ingredients in strong leadership. But the recipe would not be complete without emotional intelligence. It was once thought that the components of emotional intelligence were “nice to have” in business leaders. But now we know that, for the sake of performance, these are ingredients that leaders “need to have.”

It is fortunate, then, that emotional intelligence can be learned. The process is not easy. It takes time and, most of all, commitment. But the benefits that come from having a well-developed emotional intelligence, both for the individual and for the organization, make it worth the effort.

Daniel Goleman is Co-Director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University

The Golden Rules for Building and Scaling Company Culture

Great founders start businesses not to create a company but to solve a problem, to serve a calling, and to understand that they have a purpose that can actually make a meaningful difference. But of course, they also want their businesses to survive – and thrive – after they’ve moved on.

Great performance can never come without great people and culture, and the opposite is also true – great people and culture are affiliated most with high-performing organizations. We can argue over which drives the other. But there is one undeniable truth: when a company is in its earliest days – when there is no performance or numbers to speak of – the key differentiators are the team, their purpose, and their culture. The team is the company’s raw DNA, the purpose their religion, and culture their unique way of operating based on common principles, norms, and values. Like aiming a rocket ship into orbit, if you get this wrong from the start, your trajectory will only get worse over time.

After some two decades of launching, building, and operating some of my own businesses to both meaningful failure and meaningful success, I’ve observed some important principles for building and scaling a culture that can live beyond a set of founders to become a lasting institution. I’m certain there are other key things to do regarding culture and variations on the themes I set forth below, but here are my top six immutable laws of building and scaling great culture:

Start with purpose. I learned this from my partner Mats Lederhausen who has had a string of great business and culture-building successes as the former Chairman of Chipotle, Chairman of Roti, and co-founder of Redbox. The common theme he sees is that you need to begin by understanding your “why” — from the inside out. This is about mission, not marketing. What calling does your business serve? This should feel authentic, inspirational, and aspirational. The companies with strong purpose are the ones we tend to love best because they feel different – Chipotle, Pret a Manger, Ikea, Container Store, or Apple to name a few. Whether it’s trying to just offer better food, or democratize great design, the cause behind the brand is clear.

Define common language, values, and standards. A great mentor of mine, Tsun-yan Hsieh, was one of the foremost leaders at McKinsey. Over 30 years, he shaped a large part of its people development program, and taught me the framework of “common values and common standards.” Great cultures need a common language that allows people to actually understand each other: first, a common set of values, which are the evergreen principles of the firm, and second, a common set of standards by which a business will measure how they’re upholding those principles. For example, if you have mentorship as a stated value, then you must consider how you define it and how to measure it. Will it mean that you expect employees to follow a certain promotion path and career timeline? Does it mean that you will hold internal 360s that determine mentorship scores, and tie those scores to people’s bonuses? Or will you create go further, and only promote the people who develop others? Only when you have common language, common values, and common standards can you have a cohesive culture.

Lead by example. Leaders must reflect the firm’s values and standards. They must be the strongest representations of the firm’s culture and purpose, not just writing or memorizing the mission statement, but rather internalizing and exemplifying what the company stands for. Again, a few examples bring this to life: do people feel that a Richard Branson lives the Virgin way of spirited fun when he makes daredevil entrances or entertains on his island? Do people have any doubt that John Mackey of Whole Foods approaches food with a greater consciousness about its quality and provenance? These types of leaders have not just an incredible passion and work ethic for what they do, but a cultural ethic in that how they do what they do inspires others.

Be greedy with your human capital – then treat them right. The mantra at our own firm is that in the end it’s always about people and character. When recruiting folks, spend more time screening for character than you do screening for skill. While skills can be learned, it is much harder to cultivate attitude and character. This practice, known as “hire for attitude and train for skill,” was pioneered by Southwest about 40 years ago, helping to explain its track record as an admired, purpose-driven company. There is no doubt that over time, institutional character and culture is the simple by-product of individual people. Whether you are hiring based on competency or character, remember that A’s will always attract other A’s — but B’s will attract C’s. Bottom-line: be super greedy with the talent you bring in to make sure you get the A players. Compromising on talent that is good enough but not necessarily the best you think you can get, especially in pivotal job roles, is a sure formula to short-circuit your own culture and long-term performance. Once you’ve hired the right people, treat them right. The best long-term retention strategy is to mentor people toward meaningful roles. I’ve found that what matters more than any extrinsic rewards — like compensation and title — is pushing and developing people towards their full potential.

In business, we often overweight the “what” of the business and underweight the “how” and “why.” But it is the “how” and “why” that form both the soul and character of business — what employees feel when they come to work, and what customers feel when they do business with you. If you’re lucky enough to hit upon the right culture, do everything you can to preserve and scale it. If you can do that, then you can have a chance of not just growing a successful business, but of building a business that will survive long after you’re gone.

 

Article written by Anthony Tjan CEO, Managing Partner and Founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball

Isabelle Maes, International Coach is joining Robertson Associates

Dear all,

I have the pleasure to inform you that Isabelle Maes has joined our team. She accompanies Martine George who recently joined the team as well.

Isabelle is serving large corporates at top management level. She focuses on leadership solutions, including individual and group coaching, change strategy and people management.

She combines strategic Marketing & Sales expertise with high-level coaching skills. Clients will benefit from her multiple cross-cultural experience gained with leading international brands.

Her industry focus reaches from FMCG and Finance to automotive and telecom.

The outlook for global growth in 2015

Despite tempered expectations, most forecasters see strong growth ahead, accelerating in 2016. As our Global Economics Intelligence team reports, executives are focusing on divergent opportunities.

Leading forecasters estimate that the world economy will grow by between 2.8 and 3.8 percent this year—about one percentage point lower than last year’s consensus forecasts. Yet as monitors of the global economy lower their expectations for 2015, executives are increasingly focusing on opportunities presented by diverging growth rates among regions, countries, and even sectors. This means an essential element of strategic and financial planning for 2015 and beyond is taking closer account of critical regional trends and risks, with sensitivity to key economic indicators and government policy responses.

Most forecasters expect a robust US economy to continue to lead the way, and the eurozone’s new program of quantitative easing is a sign the region is ready for expansion. And while falling oil prices weigh heavily on growth prospects for commodities-dependent Brazil and Russia, China and India are benefiting from easing inflationary pressures.

Exhibit 1

Global GDP forecasts anticipate gradual strengthening in 2015 and 2016.

Market volatility is being stoked in part by the steep decline in oil prices, which will adversely affect oil producers while benefiting consumers. Although the net impact of the lower prices will differ by country, a very rough estimate of the potential consumer savings is nearly $450 billion,2 which represents a considerable transfer of wealth from producing to consuming countries.3 In addition, while executives were confident about their own companies, “geopolitical instability” was cited as the leading risk to global growth in McKinsey’s global survey of nearly 1,700 business leaders at the end of 2014.

Region by region

The first GEI reports of 2015 show the following regional pictures emerging (for a comparative snapshot, see Exhibit 2).

Exhibit 2

Indicators show steadiest improvement in developed economies.

The US economy has momentum from stronger-than-expected growth at the end of 2014. Consumer sentiment and trade activity increased, the unemployment rate fell to 5.6 percent in January, and financial markets benefited from upbeat investor sentiment. However, retail sales dipped in December, and real wages continued to stagnate. The US economy has overcome a number of hurdles to see its way clear to a deeper and stronger recovery: the range of growth forecasts exceeds 3 percent for 2015.

In the eurozone, macroeconomic conditions are improving after sluggish growth last year. Even with a depreciating euro, deflation, and financial pressures hitting smaller economies, the underlying real economy appears to be gaining. A brighter picture is reflected in consumer sentiment, manufacturing, and trade—thanks especially to lower energy prices. If negotiations with Greece are effectively managed, the eurozone could be well positioned to benefit from Europe’s looser monetary policy, evident recovery in several of the region’s economies, and low or falling oil prices. Monetary uncertainty persists. The euro continues to depreciate against the dollar, falling sharply when the Swiss franc was unpegged on January 15. The European Central Bank has since announced that asset purchases would be expanded to €60 billion a month until September 2016. GDP growth forecasts for the eurozone in 2015 have been lowered slightly, with most estimates coming in above 1 percent.

China and India have both experienced broad improvements in macroeconomic conditions, especially as low energy prices eased inflationary pressures and import bills. Financial markets gained in China but remained volatile in India. Forecasts for both countries have been tempered slightly for 2015. For China, the economy is slowing in line with expectations, with most projections approaching 7 percent growth for 2015 and 6.3 percent in 2016. Conditions in India appear to be improving, and growth through 2016 is forecast at around 6.5 percent.

Brazil is struggling, but inflation has eased recently. The central bank remains cautious and has raised its overnight rate by 50 basis points. Trade and fiscal deficits posed new challenges for the newly elected government, as a possible debt downgrade looms. Most forecasts for Brazil’s GDP in 2015 were lowered, with a range of less than 1 percent.

Russia’s economic conditions worsened noticeably, as consumer confidence hit a five-year low and indicators for manufacturing and trade both fell. Inflation soared to 11.4 percent on an annual basis, as the ruble lost nearly half its value over the past 12 months. Most GDP forecasts for Russia in 2015 have been cut sharply, ranging from zero growth to a contraction of 0.7 percent.

Even the lowered global-growth estimates of more than 3 percent in 2015 and 2016 remain well above the historical average of 1.8 percent annual growth during the past 50 years.5 But executives remain wary of macroeconomic and geopolitical risks, including oil and gas price volatility and its impact both on major exporting economies, Russia foremost, and on consuming economies, including Europe, Japan, and the United States. Other significant risks are the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, with its European and global ramifications; China’s downshifting economic pace, which has implications for global trade; the effects on foreign exchange levels and capital availability of diverging monetary-policy actions by central banks around the world; and Greece’s unresolved status in the eurozone, which raises significant questions about the economic future of Europe and the global economy.

About the author. Luis Enriquez is a director in McKinsey’s Brussels office, leader in McKinsey’s Global Economics Intelligence group.

Why Lebron James is Not a Leader & The Lessons For Every Manager

 

In the sports world, just because you are the best player on the planet does not mean you are a leader. In the workplace, just because you are a top performer also does not mean you are a leader. Leadership is not about talent, intelligence, salary, power or authority. Authentic leadership is about being passionate, caring, visionary, trustworthy, adaptable and having a servant mentality.

In the 13th Annual NBA General Manager Survey, conducted by NBA.com, thirty National Basketball Association team general managers answered fifty-six questions related to the best teams, players, coaches, and many other player and team related attributes. One of the questions asked was "which player is the best leader." While Lebron James was voted number one frequently in other questions related to skill, talent and ability, he only received 14% of the votes on leadership. In the previous two surveys, (2012, 2013), he received zero votes, and was barley mentioned as a leader.

Here are some fundamental reasons why Lebron is not considered a leader in his field:

  • Lebron does not provide frequent feedback to teammates to either help or motivate them.
  • Lebron has been known to shy away from crunch time moments or not produce big plays when his team needs him most.
  • Lebron is frequently playful and not known for having that serious mental edge (Like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant)
  • He tends to bite his nails, revealing his anxiety and nervousness.

 

Recently, Lebron added to his reputation of lackluster leadership by delivering feedback to a teammate, Cleveland Cavaliers center, Kevin Love using twitter as his platform. After the Cavaliers lost to the Indiana Pacers, Lebron tweeted the following:

 

 

The tweet appeared to target teammate Love, and his quote to the media earlier in the season when Love stated he was trying “not to fit in so much” and that his teammates encouraged him to “fit out and just be myself.” Lebron initially admitted to the associated press that he was talking about Love. He told a small group of reporters, “It’s not a coincidence, man.” Of course the media will take whatever Lebron says and run with it to make headlines, which caused Lebron to later reprimand the press (via Twitter again) about his published comments, even though he seemed to have led the press to believe that Love was the main target of his twitter criticism.

3 things Lebron James and anyone can do to become an authentic leader:

1. Be Helpful not Hurtful: Some managers believe you should criticize in private and praise in public. From my experience as a consultant, it truly depends on the person and the context of your criticism. When you have to deliver feedback to a teammate, ask yourself these questions: is what I am about to say helpful or hurtful? Am I focused on facts or my feelings? Am I focused on the person or the problem? You will know when you are delivering helpful feedback when you are focused on facts and the fundamental problem.

2. Speak Like a Leader: Authentic leaders don't deliver criticism via email, phone and especially not through social media. They have the courage to have a one-on-one discussion with their teammate so the message is clear and not taken out of context. Every communicated message consists of words, tone and body language. When you deliver a message via email or social media, people can only see your words and have to interpret your tone and body language and this can unintentionally create even more conflict.

3. Build Trust: Have your teammates back. Don't give the media, other departments or managers any amount of ammunition to fuel the fire of frustration between you and a teammate. Also, don't send mixed messages. If you believe a teammate is behaving outside of the team values essential to the success of the team, its everyone's responsibility to hold that person accountable since no one is bigger than the team. Understand that trust is like a checking account. Everyday you are either depositing trust into the hearts and minds of your teammates, or you are withdrawing trust, and unfortunately so many people in today's organizations have insufficient funds

 

a note about the Author of this good article:

James Bird Guess was homeless after high school and built a quarter-million-dollar business from the trunk of his car. James now serves as CEO of the International Success Academy, a management consulting firm that provides advisory services to executive teams on change management, strategic leadership, and employee engagement strategies, as well as customizing and facilitating on-site leadership training, and high-energy team building experiences. He is a top management consultant, keynote speaker, and subject-matter expert on employee engagement, culture change, talent retention, and maximizing organizational performance. James is also the best-selling author of Lead Like Water: Many Can Manage, Few Can Lead.

A New Executive Search Partner is joining Robertson Associates

Robertson Associates has the pleasure to announce that Bernadette Cornelis joined its international Executive Search team.

Bernadette is a seasoned HR professional with a track record in executive search, organizational design and talent management.

Clients will benefit from her extensive experience in major executive search firms like Russell Reynolds and Spencer Stuart. Moreover, she acquired a solid background in covering key employment positions at senior level for global and important mid-sized companies in various industries. Her international exposure allows her to creatively handle strategic issues in multicultural and international environments.

Prior to joining Robertson Associates, Bernadette set up her own firm in 2005 delivering best-of-breed executive recruitment solutions across Europe.

 Bernadette operates out of our Brussels office.

www.robertson-associates.eu/our-team/

My First 90 Days: Why You Should Have 30 Coffee Meetings

Witnessing several of our members starting new jobs this month, I thought about supporting them with a good article on how to kick off efficiently. hope it helps!

Job satisfaction is based around three key factors: the relationships you form, the impact you feel you have, and your own personal growth.

Whether it is Day 1, Day 91, or Year 10 at an organization, relationships, impact, and growth are the keys to success and fulfillment in any position, at any level. Actively developing these three factors will lead to higher job and personal satisfaction overall.

Here are some ideas for how to begin maximizing relationships, impact, and personal growth in the first 90 days of your job.

Build Relationships

Your company hired you because you are qualified for the job. They probably also chose you because you seem great to work with!

The more proactive you are in building relationships at work right off the bat, the better off you will be both personally and professionally.

  1. Get coffee. Set up coffee with one person per day for your first month. Be sure to pay and to spend the time understanding what they love about their job and the organization.
  2. Track names. You will likely meet a lot of new people in the next month. As you meet each one, write down their name and a few things that stood out to you about them. This will help you build relationships quickly.
  3. Find energy sources. Make a list of the people in the organization who give you energy when you meet with them, and seek out opportunities to work with them.
  4. Celebrate others. Find a way to publicly celebrate the work of someone else on the team. It doesn't have to be fireworks. It can just be a comment in a meeting or an email to the team.

Maximize your Impact

As a recent hire, it is easy to feel like the lowest rung on the ladder. However, everyone has the opportunity to make an important impact in their organization every day — you just need to know where to look.

  1. Know the WHY. As you are trained, be sure to learn not just the HOW but also the WHY. With each task or project, take the time to understand its impact on the organization, the team and your customers/clients. Don't start something until you are clear on the WHY.
  2. Be present. Ask yourself “What can I do for my organization today?” and “What do my colleagues/managers/clients need from me today?” From offering new insights, heading up a task or simply being supportive of your co-worker who has more than her share on her plate, small gestures can cause big ripples.
  3. Give. Find someone you might mentor and take them to lunch. Learn about their dreams and aspirations. Mentors don’t have to be executives or even managers. They can be peers, direct reports, or even from outside the department.

Grow, Grow, Grow!

Every new job has a learning curve. Some days you may feel overwhelmed with new information, while other days you might feel like the master of your role. Actively seeking opportunities for personal growth will help keep you feeling engaged and energized, and show your manager that you are as well.

  1. Seek advice and new knowledge. Ask someone for advice or information and then follow up on it immediately. Show them you are someone worth investing in as you will act on advice and are eager to learn.
  2. Create a visual reminder. Develop your purpose statement or another visual cue and post it up your workspace to remind you of what matters for you in your work. If you don't have one, you can create one for free at Imperative.com.
  3. End the day on the right note. At the end of each day, share with someone outside of work what you enjoyed from the day (e.g. spouse, roommate, etc.). What inspired you? What challenged you? What made you smile? Initiating these conversations can help your colleagues reflect on their own personal growth as well.
  4. Fight autopilot. Perhaps most importantly, take a walk (ideally outside) at least once every day to clear your head and make sure you don't go on autopilot.

Remember: It is never too early nor too late in your job to gain the meaning and engagement you need. As the cliche goes, today is the first day of the rest of your career. Make the most of it.

 

3 Essential Secrets to Retaining Your Best Employees

You can’t do it all alone. In order to succeed, it’s essential to build exactly the kind of staff you want. But building your staff doesn’t end at the hiring process. You’ve got to be able to foresee the challenges ahead. And when it comes to creating an amazing team, you can count on the fact that employee retention will be a challenge. Everyone wants to hire the best. How can you ensure that you’ll retain your most valuable employees amid all the changes occurring within and outside of your organization?

 

All that trouble that your company put into searching and interviewing and hiring the best candidate for the position, all the resources spent on training that person and acclimating them to your business culture – it all goes right out the window if they leave. Money goes right out of your pocket and into your competitors’ coffers the moment that employee decides that his or her value will be better appreciated somewhere else.

The good news is that you can retain valuable employees with the right combination of thoughtful communication and collaboration. You can’t cut corners on this piece of the puzzle without the risk of losing the best talent and brains of your organization to your competitors.

And I can tell you this: most organizations are totally doing it wrong. They’re hemorrhaging their top talent. Here’s why — and here’s how you can avoid doing it.

1. You get the behaviors you reward.

Your organization is probably rewarding plenty of counterproductive behaviors in your employees without even realizing it. Does your company reward loyalty and the creation and sharing of truly new knowledge? Or does it reward knowledge hording and an every-man-for-himself attitude and routinely make a big deal about achievements that aren’t truly meaningful advances in wisdom, but instead just puffed-up chances to showboat?

If you want employees who innovate vigorously and who stay with you for the long haul, you need to reward their hard-won wisdom by teaching them to see the importance of their contribution to building a shared knowledge base. As I’ve said before: You get the behavior you reward, so you have to put in place a rewards system for sharing knowledge — which is, after all, your most crucial asset. Keep at the top of your mind that there are many significant ways to reward people, and not all of them involve compensation.

2. It’s not just the money, it’s the purpose.

It’s common to think that the fattest salaries will do the best job of retaining talented employees. That’s just not so. Money is important, but humans don’t live on bread alone.

Your top employees need a sense of being validated, seen, and recognized for their work. They also need to feel vividly that their efforts are making an impact in your organization. How do you let your employees see and feel and experience the positive effects of their work? In a world where many of us work in intangibles like ideas and information, it’s absolutely key to provide people with the feedback letting them know that they’ve made a difference.

In order to really reward your employees, you need to not only pay them competitive salaries, you need to also align them with your sense of purpose and show them tangible signs that their efforts help to drive that purpose forward.

With the proper application of these principles, you and your staff can look forward to a productive and rewarding future together.


This text is an extract from a best selling author Daniel Burrus, a Linkedin Influencer and innovation consultant.


Wishes and some news from the Leaders' Club and Robertson Associates

Dear Trusted Members,

I wish you all the best in this starting new year!  Be it a year of personal and professional fulfillment. Maybe you had some time to reflect on what is really important to you in 2015 and I only can hope you will give them priority. Health going first.

A quick word on the Leaders' Club: we now enjoy the participation of roughly 190 members, from all horizons and functions. 4 members have found a new job using this Club ; theygot in touch either directly or via my person to those offering the opportunities. 3 members have applied to jobs we were posting and securing these positions. Many have exchanged business cards, talked and met.

I hope this comes as reminder to the other members to leverage on the Club substance in order to increase their own network.

For once, I have decided to also update you on Robertson Associates, as not only a leading boutique in European Executive Search but also as a valued provider of Executive Coaching Solutions.

On the Executive Search front, we have welcomed 5 new international Partners who are servicing our international clients and increasing the business volume. We are developing business in the UK, the Netherlands and beyond Europe, always acting as a generalist, trusted, flexible and quality driven Partner to our clients.

On the new coaching front, we have added 2 top coaches, working across the continent at Executives level ; we used to do many assessments but we now, on top, have been elected as the exclusive Executive Coach of a very large global consulting company. We are very proud of that as it validates our approach, coaching techniques and international reach.

In 2015, our teams will continue growing. We will develop interim again, increase our visibility and keep our distinctive Executive Search approach.

Keep in mind that Robertson Associates can efficiently help you shall you be looking for a top executive talent, shall you want to develop your existing pool and/or shall you be looking yourself for new horizons!

good luck, truly!

Pierre

+32 473 30 70 51

Career Choices You Will Regret In 20 Years

Every day we are faced with choices in our careers that will affect us over the long term. Should I volunteer for that new project? Should I ask for a raise? Should I take a sabbatical? Should I say yes to overtime?

But sometimes we miss the biggest choices that will cause us to look back on our careers 20 years from now with pride and contentment — or regret.

 

Here are some of the career choices we often make but will regret deeply in 20 years’ time:

Pretending to be something you’re not.

Maybe you’re pretending to be a sports fan to impress your boss, or you’re keeping your mouth shut about something to keep the peace. Maybe you’re pretending that you’re an expert in something that’s really not your cup of tea. But continuously pretending to be something you’re not is not being true to yourself and will keep you feeling empty.

Making decisions based only on money.

Whether we’re talking about your personal salary or your project’s budget, making decisions solely based on money is almost never a good idea. Sure, it’s important to run the numbers, but there are dozens of other factors — including your gut feeling — you’ll want to take into account.

Thinking you can change something about the job.

Much like a relationship, if you go into a job thinking, “This would be the perfect job, if only…” that’s a red flag. Chances are, unless you’re taking a leadership, C-level position, you aren’t going to be able to change things that are fundamentally wrong.

Settling.

You’ve got an OK job, with an OK salary, and OK benefits, but what you really want is… You’re not doing yourself any favors settling for something that is just OK. Believe in yourself enough to go after what you deserve, whether it’s a new position, a pay rise, or an opportunity.

Working 50, 60, 80 hour weeks.

You might think you have to work that much — because it’s expected, because you need the money, because you want to look good to your boss — but no one reaches their deathbed and says, “Gosh, I wish I’d spent more time working.”

Putting friends and family last.

Being successful at your career means surrounding yourself with supportive people — and often, those people aren’t your coworkers or employees, they’re your friends and family. Ruin those relationships and you may find your career success just doesn’t matter as much.

Micromanaging everything.

This applies to your team and employees, but also to life in general. If you micromanage everything instead of sometimes just letting life happen, you’ll find yourself constantly battling anxiety and overwhelm.

Avoid making mistakes.

If you’re actively avoiding making mistakes in your career, then you’re not taking risks. And while you may keep up the status quo, you won’t be rewarded, either. Take the risk. Make the mistake. Own it and learn from it.

Thinking only of yourself.

The best networking strategy you can possibly have is to actively look for opportunities to help others. If you’re always putting yourself and your needs first, you’ll find you don’t get very far.

Not valuing your own happiness.

It’s a sad truth that people often believe they can put off happiness until later, but sometimes later doesn’t come. Prioritize being happy today. That might mean switching jobs, or it might just mean choosing to be happier with the job you’ve got.

Bernard Marr is a globally recognized expert in strategy. His latest books is 'Doing More with Less'.

How centered leaders achieve extraordinary results

Executives can thrive at work and in life by adopting a leadership model that revolves around finding their strengths and connecting with others.

For the past six years, we have been on a journey to learn from leaders who are able to find the best in themselves and in turn inspire, engage, and mobilize others, even in the most demanding circumstances. And the business environment has become more demanding: the global financial crisis and subsequent economic downturn have ratcheted up the pressure on leaders already grappling with a world in transformation. More than half of the CEOs we and our colleagues have spoken with in the past year have said that their organization must fundamentally rethink its business model.

Five capabilities are at the heart of centered leadership: finding meaning in work, converting emotions such as fear or stress into opportunity, leveraging connections and community, acting in the face of risk, and sustaining the energy that is the life force of change. A recent McKinsey global survey of executives shows that leaders who have mastered even one of these skills are twice as likely as those who have mastered none to feel that they can lead through change; masters of all five are more than four times as likely. Strikingly, leaders who have mastered all five capabilities are also more than 20 times as likely to say they are satisfied with their performance as leaders and their lives in general (for more on the research, see “The value of centered leadership: McKinsey Global Survey results”).

Exhibit

Five dimensions of centered leadership

While such results help make the case for centered leadership, execu-tives seeking to enhance their leadership performance and general satisfaction often find personal stories more tangible. Accordingly, as this article revisits the five dimensions of centered leadership—and their applicability to times of uncertainty, stress, and change—we share the experiences of four men and one woman, all current or former CEOs of major global corporations.

Meaning

We all recognize leaders who infuse their life and work with a sense of meaning. They convey energy and enthusiasm because the goal is important to them personally, because they are actively enjoying its pursuit, and because their work plays to their strengths. Our survey results show that, of all the dimensions of centered leadership, meaning has a significant impact on satisfaction with both work and life; indeed, its contribution to general life satisfaction is five times more powerful than that of any other dimension.

Whatever the source of meaning (and it can differ dramatically from one person to another), centered leaders often talk about how their purpose appeals to something greater than themselves and the importance of conveying their passion to others (for more on conveying meaning to others, see “Revealing your moment of truth”). Time and again, we heard that sharing meaning to inspire colleagues requires leaders to become great storytellers, touching hearts as well as minds. These skills are particularly applicable for executives leading through major transitions, since it takes strong personal motivation to triumph over the discomfort and fear that accompany change and that can drown out formal corporate messages, which in any event rarely fire the souls of employees and inspire greater achievement.

Avon Products CEO Andrea Jung described how meaning and storytelling came together when her company faltered after years of rapid growth. Andrea’s personal challenge was acute because some key sources of her passion—creating a bold vision for growth and inspiring others to dream big, being a member of a close-knit community, and achieving extraordinary results—were deeply connected with her work at Avon. Suddenly, it became harder for her to see where her momentum would come from. What’s more, she had to streamline her cherished community.

To remain true to her personal values, Andrea rejected the “more efficient” approach of delegating to managers the responsibility for communicating with employees about the restructuring and of sharing information only on a need-to-know basis. Instead, she traveled the world to offer her teams a vision for restoring growth and to share the difficult decisions that would be required to secure the company’s future. The result? Employees felt that Andrea treated them with honesty and humanity, making the harsh reality of job reductions easier to accept and giving them more time to prepare. They also experienced her love for the company firsthand and recognized that both she and Avon were doing all they could. By instilling greater resilience throughout the organization, Avon rebuilt its community and resumed growth within 18 months.

Positive framing

Positive psychologists have shown that some people tend to frame the world optimistically, others pessimistically.3 Optimists often have an edge: in our survey, three-quarters of the respondents who were particularly good at positive framing thought they had the right skills to lead change, while only 15 percent of those who weren’t thought so.

For leaders who don’t naturally see opportunity in change and uncertainty, those conditions create stress. When faced with too much stress (each of us has a different limit), the brain reacts with a modern version of the “fight, flight, or freeze” instinct that saber-toothed tigers inspired in early humans. This response equips us only for survival, not for coming up with creative solutions. Worse yet, in organizations such behavior feeds on itself, breeding fear and negativity that can spread and become the cultural norm.

When Steve Sadove took over Clairol, in 1991, for example, the company had been shell-shocked by a significant decline in sales volume. “I remember going to a very creative person, who did all the packaging and creative development,” Steve told us, “and saying, ‘Why don’t we do anything creative?’ He opened some drawers in his desk and started showing me all of this wonderful work that he’d done. Nobody was asking for it; people kept their head down in that culture. So part of my role as the leader was to create an environment that was going to allow innovation and creativity and make it OK to fail.”

Fortunately, we can all become aware of what triggers our fears and learn to work through them to reframe what is happening more constructively. Once we have mastered reframing, we can help others learn this skill, seeding the conditions that result in a safe environment where all employees are inspired to give their best.4

Steve found ways to stimulate creativity, such as exploring opposing points of view in discussions with colleagues. Over time, he convinced others that speaking up wasn’t just tolerated but encouraged. He helped colleagues reframe the way they reacted to dissent, forging a less defensive and ultimately more innovative culture. Steve and his team introduced a winning hair care brand, Herbal Essences, and ushered in a golden period of growth for Clairol.

Connecting

With communications traveling at warp speed, simple hierarchical cascades—from the CEO down until the chain breaks—are becoming less and less effective for leaders. For starters, leaders depend increasingly on their ability to manage complex webs of connections that aren’t suited to traditional, linear communication styles. Further, leaders can find the volume of communication in such networks overwhelming. While this environment can be challenging, it also allows more people to contribute, generating not only wisdom and a wealth of ideas but also immeasurable commitment.

The upshot: CEOs have always needed to select exemplary leadership teams. Increasingly, they must also be adept at building relationships with people scattered across the ecosystem in which they do business and at bringing together the right people to offer meaningful input and support in solving problems.

Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren learned firsthand about the power of connecting the internal community in 1988 when, 15 months after joining the retailer Neiman Marcus, he became its president and CEO. Shaking things up was core to his role: “I was one of the first non–Marcus family members with that title for any extended period of time.” Employees greeted him with widespread skepticism. “They were all thinking, ‘Who is this 37-year-old guy who is going to tell us how we should run our fantastic business?’” So Terry held a town hall meeting in the library across the street from company headquarters, in downtown Dallas. He invited anybody who wanted to come. The first time, he recalls, “I had only about 30 people show up! I thought it was going to be a little bit bigger than that, but I tried to be very direct and use the time mostly to listen and respond.” He kept holding meetings, noting that “it really moved the needle quickly in terms of getting things done in that company.” By the time Terry left, the twice-a-year meetings filled a 1,200-seat auditorium.

Today, as Terry leads Macy’s, he connects the dots internally and externally in many ways, from scheduling a monthly breakfast with new managers to forming relationships with peers who have led companies through change. Terry has also emphasized corporate connectivity, regrouping Macy’s stores into 69 districts, each tasked with creating “My Macy’s” for its customer base. And comparable-store sales are up this year, reversing a negative trend. Terry’s top team believes its efforts to connect managers more closely to one another and to customers, through enhanced information sharing and product offerings tailored to local needs, help explain the company’s trajectory.

Engaging

Of survey respondents who indicated they were poor at engaging—with risk, with fear, and even with opportunity—only 13 percent thought they had the skills to lead change. That’s hardly surprising: risk aversion and fear run rampant during times of change. Leaders who are good at acknowledging and countering these emotions can help their people summon the courage to act and thus unleash tremendous potential.

But for many leaders, encouraging others to take risks is extremely difficult. The responsibility CEOs feel for the performance of the entire organization can make the very notion of supporting risk taking extremely uncomfortable. What’s more, to acknowledge the existence of risk, CEOs must admit they don’t, in fact, have all the answers—an unusual mind-set for many leaders whose ascent has been built on a virtuous cycle of success and self-confidence.

Doug Stern, CEO of United Media, has a number of ways to help his people evaluate risks and build their confidence about confronting the unknown. Because he has seen the destructive impact of anxiety, Doug follows an explicit process anytime he’s facing a new, risky project (for example, selling some of his company’s assets). The process helps everyone—himself included—prepare by devising risk mitigation strategies using these steps:

  • asking the team to imagine every bad scenario, even the most remotely possible—what he calls the “darkest nightmares”

  • giving everyone a chance to describe those scenarios in detail and then to “peer into the darkness” together

  • devising a detailed plan for countering each nightmare—in effect, rehearsing the best collective response to each potential issue

Once fears have surfaced and been dealt with, the team has a protocol in place for every worst possible scenario and a set of next steps to implement.5

Managing energy

Sustaining change requires the enthusiasm and commitment of large numbers of people across an organization for an extended period of time. All too often, though, a change effort starts with a big bang of vision statements and detailed initiatives, only to see energy peter out. The opposite, when work escalates maniacally through a culture of “relentless enthusiasm,” is equally problematic.6 Either way, leaders will find it hard to sustain energy and commitment within the organization unless they systemically restore their own energy (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual), as well as create the conditions and serve as role models for others to do the same. Our research suggests sustaining and restoring energy is something leaders often skimp on.

While stress is often related to work, sometimes simple bad luck is at play, as Jurek Gruhn, president of Novo Nordisk US, can attest. Nine years ago he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Working for a world leader in diabetes care, Jurek was no stranger to the illness and, along with his optimistic spirit, his no-nonsense orientation became a deep source of energy: “My first reaction was, ‘You may have Type 1 diabetes, but you could also have a lot of other diseases that are much worse.’” So, he told us, “I went to the hospital for two or three days of testing and then went back home. We had our Christmas break. After that, I was back in the office. My wife, who is a physician, said to me, ‘That was a quick process!’ I basically took on my disease as a task.”

Jurek realized that one key to living a normal life with the disease is to embrace life, at work and at home. “A healthy lifestyle is important. I have five kids: my oldest daughter is 25, and my youngest is 6. Sometimes they completely drain my energy, but they can energize me a lot. And now I feel healthier because I have also changed my lifestyle: I eat breakfast now every day, I exercise much more, and I started rock-climbing on a regular basis.” Everything improved—his physical condition, mental focus, emotional satisfaction, and spirit. He even learned to face what drained him most—unhealthy conflict at work—by addressing it directly and quickly, much as he handled his diabetes.

Even for leaders without such a challenge, Jurek sets another valuable example: “I saw this comedian who said that a man’s brain is filled with boxes, and one of them is empty. Well, when the day’s really tough in the office, I go into my empty box for 10 or 15 minutes and I do nothing. If I completely switch off for a short period of time, I get my energy back. Now, I’m not switching off every 15 minutes after working for 15 minutes—maybe I do it every few days. But I do not work weekends unless I really have to. And I’m not one who wakes up and the first thing is the BlackBerry. No way!”

Centered leadership is a journey, not a destination, and it starts with a highly personal decision. We’ll leave you with the words of one executive who recently chose to embark on this path: “Our senior team is always talking about changing the organization, changing the mind-sets and behavior of everyone. Now I see that transformation is not about that. It starts with me and my willingness and ability to transform myself. Only then will others transform.”

---------------------------------

Joanna Barsh is a director in McKinsey’s New York office

The executive’s guide to better listening

A senior executive of a large consumer goods company had spotted a bold partnership opportunity in an important developing market and wanted to pull the trigger quickly to stay ahead of competitors. In meetings on the topic with the leadership team, the CEO noted that this trusted colleague was animated, adamant, and very persuasive about the move’s game-changing potential for the company. The facts behind the deal were solid.

 

The CEO also observed something troubling, however: his colleague wasn’t listening. During conversations about the pros and cons of the deal and its strategic rationale, for example, the senior executive wasn’t open to avenues of conversation that challenged the move or entertained other possibilities. What’s more, the tenor of these conversations appeared to make some colleagues uncomfortable. The senior executive’s poor listening skills were short-circuiting what should have been a healthy strategic debate.

Eventually, the CEO was able to use a combination of diplomacy, tactful private conversation, and the bureaucratic rigor of the company’s strategic-planning processes to convince the executive of the need to listen more closely to his peers and engage with them more productively about the proposal. The resulting conversations determined that the original deal was sound but that a much better one was available—a partnership in the same country. The new partnership presented slightly less risk to the company than the original deal but had an upside potential exceeding it by a factor of ten.

The situation facing the CEO will be familiar to many senior executives. Listening is the front end of decision making. It’s the surest, most efficient route to informing the judgments we need to make, yet many of us have heard, at one point or other in our careers, that we could be better listeners. Indeed, many executives take listening skills for granted and focus instead on learning how to articulate and present their own views more effectively.

This approach is misguided. Good listening—the active and disciplined activity of probing and challenging the information garnered from others to improve its quality and quantity—is the key to building a base of knowledge that generates fresh insights and ideas. Put more strongly, good listening, in my experience, can often mean the difference between success and failure in business ventures (and hence between a longer career and a shorter one). Listening is a valuable skill that most executives spend little time cultivating. (For more about one executive’s desire to be a better listener, see “Why I’m a listener: Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer.”)

The many great listeners I’ve encountered throughout my career as a surgeon, a corporate executive, and a business consultant have exhibited three kinds of behavior I’ll highlight in this article. By recognizing—and practicing—them, you can begin improving your own listening skills and even those of your organization.

1. Show respect

One of the best listeners I have ever observed was the chief operating officer (COO) of a large medical institution. He once told me that he couldn’t run an operation as complex as a hospital without seeking input from people at all levels of the staff—from the chief of surgery to the custodial crew. Part of what made him so effective, and so appealing as a manager, was that he let everyone around him know he believed each of them had something unique to contribute. The respect he showed them was reciprocated, and it helped fuel an environment where good ideas routinely came from throughout the institution.

 

The COO recognized something that many executives miss: our conversation partners often have the know-how to develop good solutions, and part of being a good listener is simply helping them to draw out critical information and put it in a new light. To harness the power of those ideas, senior executives must fight the urge to “help” more junior colleagues by providing immediate solutions. Leaders should also respect a colleague’s potential to provide insights in areas far afield from his or her job description.

Here’s an example: I recall a meeting between a group of engineers and the chief marketing officer (CMO) at a large industrial company. She was concerned about a new product introduction that had fallen flat. The engineers were puzzled as well; the company was traditionally dominated by engineers with strong product-development skills, and this group had them too. As the CMO and I discussed the technological aspects of the product with the engineers, I was struck by their passion and genuine excitement about the new device, which did appear to be unique. Although we had to stop them several times to get explanations for various technical terms, they soon conveyed the reasons for their attitude—the product seemed to be not only more efficient than comparable ones on the market but also easier to install, use, and maintain.

After a few minutes, the CMO, who had been listening intently, prompted the engineers with a respectful leading question: “But we haven’t sold as many as you thought we would in the first three months, right?”

“Well, actually, we haven’t sold any!” the team leader said. “We think this product is a game changer, but it hasn’t been selling. And we’re not sure why.”

After a pause to make sure the engineer was finished, the CMO said, “Well, you guys sure seem certain that this is a great product. And you’ve convinced the two of us pretty well. It seems that customers should be tripping over themselves to place orders. So assuming it’s not the product’s quality that’s off, what else are your customers telling you about the product?”

“We haven’t spoken to any customers,” the engineer replied.

The CMO blanched. As the conversation continued, we learned that the product had been developed under close wraps and that the engineers had assumed its virtues would speak for themselves. “But maybe not,” said the team leader. “Maybe we ought to push it a little more. I guess its good traits aren’t so obvious if you don’t know a lot about it.”

That engineer had hit the nail on the head. The device was fine. Customers were wary about switching to something untested, and they hadn’t been convinced by the specs the company’s sales team touted. As soon as the engineers began phoning their counterparts in the customers’ organizations (an idea suggested by the engineers themselves), the company started receiving orders.

Had the CMO looked at the problem by herself, she might have suspected a shortcoming with the product. But after some good listening and targeted follow-up questions, she helped to extract a much better solution from the engineers themselves. She didn’t cut the conversation short by lecturing them on good marketing techniques or belittling their approach; she listened and asked pointed questions in a respectful manner. The product ultimately ended up being a game changer for the company.

Being respectful, it’s important to note, didn’t mean that the CMO avoided asking tough questions—good listeners routinely ask them to uncover the information they need to help make better decisions. The goal is ensuring the free and open flow of information and ideas.

I was amused when John McLaughlin, the former deputy director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, told me that when he had to make tough decisions he often ended his conversations with colleagues by asking, “Is there anything left that you haven’t told me . . . because I don’t want you to leave this room and go down the hall to your buddy’s office and tell him that I just didn’t get it.” With that question, McLaughlin communicated the expectation that his colleagues should be prepared; he demanded that everything come out on the table; and he signaled genuine respect for what his colleagues had to say.

2. Keep quiet

I have developed my own variation on the 80/20 rule as it relates to listening. My guideline is that a conversation partner should be speaking 80 percent of the time, while I speak only 20 percent of the time.1 Moreover, I seek to make my speaking time count by spending as much of it as possible posing questions rather than trying to have my own say.

That’s easier said than done, of course—most executives are naturally inclined to speak their minds. Still, you can’t really listen if you’re too busy talking. Besides, we’ve all spent time with bad listeners who treat conversations as opportunities to broadcast their own status or ideas, or who spend more time formulating their next response than listening to their conversation partners. Indeed, bad listening habits such as these are ubiquitous (see sidebar, “A field guide to identifying bad listeners”).

I should know because I’ve fallen into these traps myself. One experience in particular made me realize how counterproductive it is to focus on your own ideas during a conversation. It was early in my career as a consultant and I was meeting with an important client whom I was eager to impress. My client was a no-nonsense, granite block of a man from the American heartland, and he scrutinized me over the top of his reading glasses before laying out the problem: “The budget for next year just doesn’t work, and we are asking our employees to make some tough changes.”

All I heard was his concern about the budget. Without missing a beat, I responded to my client and his number-two man, who was seated alongside him: “There are several ways to address your cost problem.” I immediately began reeling off what I thought were excellent suggestions for streamlining his business. My speech gained momentum as I barreled ahead with my ideas. The executive listened silently—and attentively, or so it seemed. Yet he didn’t even move, except to cock his head from time to time. When he reached for a pen, I kept up my oration but watched with some annoyance as he wrote on a small notepad, tore off the sheet of paper, and handed it to his associate. A smile flitted almost imperceptibly across that man’s face as he read the note.

I was already becoming a bit peeved that the executive had displayed no reaction to my ideas, but this little note, passed as though between two schoolboys, was too much. I stopped talking and asked what was written on the paper.

The executive nodded to his associate. “Show him.”

The man leaned across the table and handed me the note. My client had written, “What the hell is this guy talking about?”

Fortunately, I was able to see the humor in the situation and to recognize that I had been a fool. My ego had gotten in the way of listening. Had I paid closer attention and probed more deeply, I would have learned that the executive’s real concern was finding ways to keep his staff motivated while his company was shrinking. I had failed to listen and compounded the error by failing to keep quiet. Luckily for me, I was able to get a second meeting with him.

It’s not easy to stifle your impulse to speak, but with patience and practice you can learn to control the urge and improve the quality and effectiveness of your conversations by weighing in at the right time. Some people can intuitively grasp where to draw the line between input and interruption, but the rest of us have to work at it. John McLaughlin advises managers to think consciously about when to interrupt and to be as neutral and emotionless as possible when listening, always delaying the rebuttal and withholding the interruption. Still, he acknowledges that interrupting with a question can be necessary from time to time to speed up or redirect the conversation. He advises managers not to be in a hurry, though—if a matter gets to your level, he says, it is probably worth spending some of your time on it.

As you improve your ability to stay quiet, you’ll probably begin to use silence more effectively. The CEO of an industrial company, for example, used thoughtful moments of silence during a meeting with his sales team as an invitation for its junior members to speak up and talk through details of a new incentive program that the team’s leader was proposing. As the junior teammates filled in these moments with new information, the ensuing rich discussion helped the group (including the team leader) to realize that the program needed significant retooling. The CEO’s silence encouraged a more meritocratic—and ultimately superior—solution.

When we remain silent, we also improve the odds that we’ll spot nonverbal cues we might have missed otherwise. The medical institution’s COO, who was such a respectful listener, had a particular knack for this. I remember watching him in a conversation with a nurse manager, who was normally articulate but on this occasion kept doubling back and repeating herself. The COO realized from these cues that something unusual was going on. During a pause, he surprised her by asking gently, “You don’t quite agree with me on this one, do you? Why is that?” She sighed in relief and explained what had actually been bugging her.

 

3. Challenge assumptions

Good listeners seek to understand—and challenge—the assumptions that lie below the surface of every conversation. This point was driven home to me the summer before I went to college, when I had the opportunity to hang out with my best friend at a baseball park. He had landed a job in the clubhouse of the Rochester Red Wings, then a minor-league farm team for the Baltimore Orioles. That meant I got to observe Red Wings manager Earl Weaver, who soon thereafter was promoted to Baltimore, where he enjoyed legendary success, including 15 consecutive winning seasons, four American League championships, and one World Series victory. Weaver was considered fiery and cantankerous, but also a baseball genius. To my 18-year-old eyes, he was nothing short of terrifying—the meanest and most profane man I’d ever met.

Weaver wasn’t really a listener; he seemed more of a screamer in a perpetual state of rage. When a young player made an error, Weaver would take him aside and demand an explanation. “Why did you throw to second base when the runner was on his way to third?” He’d wait to hear the player’s reasoning for the sole purpose of savagely tearing it apart, usually in the foulest language imaginable and at the top of his lungs.

But now and then, Weaver would be brought up short; he’d hear something in the player’s explanation that made him stop and reconsider. “I’ve seen that guy take a big wide turn several times but then come back to the bag. I thought maybe if I got the ball to second really fast, we could catch him.” Weaver knew that the move the player described was the wrong one. But as ornery as he was, he apparently could absorb new information that temporarily upended his assumptions. And, in doing so, the vociferous Weaver became a listener.

Weaver called his autobiography It’s What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts. That Zen-like philosophy may clash with the Weaver people thought they knew. But the title stuck with me because it perfectly states one of the cornerstones of good listening: to get what we need from our conversations, we must be prepared to challenge long-held and cherished assumptions.

Many executives struggle as listeners because they never think to relax their assumptions and open themselves to the possibilities that can be drawn from conversations with others. As we’ve seen, entering conversations with respect for your discussion partner boosts the odds of productive dialogue. But many executives will have to undergo a deeper mind-set shift—toward an embrace of ambiguity and a quest to uncover “what we both need to get from this interaction so that we can come out smarter.” Too many good executives, even exceptional ones who are highly respectful of their colleagues, inadvertently act as if they know it all, or at least what’s most important, and subsequently remain closed to anything that undermines their beliefs.

Such tendencies are, of course, deeply rooted in human behavior. So it takes real effort for executives to become better listeners by forcing themselves to lay bare their assumptions for scrutiny and to shake up their thinking with an eye to reevaluating what they know, don’t know, and—an important point—can’t know.

Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, is one such listener. He believes that his listening improves when he has strong, tough people around him who will challenge his thinking and question his reasoning. If he’s in a meeting, he makes sure that everyone speaks, and he doesn’t accept silence or complacency from anyone. Arne explained to me that as a leader, he tries to make it clear to his colleagues that they are not trying to reach a common viewpoint. The goal is common action, not common thinking, and he expects the people on his team to stand up to him whenever they disagree with his ideas.

Duncan uses a technique I find helpful in certain situations: he will deliberately alter a single fact or assumption to see how that changes his team’s approach to a problem. This technique can help senior executives of all stripes step back and refresh their thinking. In a planning session, for example, you might ask, “We’re assuming a 10 percent attrition rate in our customer base. What if that rate was 20 percent? How would our strategy change? What if it was 50 percent?” Once it’s understood that the discussion has moved into the realm of the hypothetical, where people can challenge any underlying assumptions without risk, the creative juices really begin to flow.

This technique proved useful during discussions with executives at a company that was planning to ramp up its M&A activity. The company had a lot of cash on hand and no shortage of opportunities to spend it, but its M&A capabilities appeared to have gone rusty (it had not done any deals in quite some time). During a meeting with the M&A team and the head of business development, I asked, “Listen, I know this is going to be a little bit shocking to the system, but let’s entertain the idea that your team doesn’t exist. What kind of M&A function would we build for this corporation now? What would be the skills and the strategy?”

The question shook up the team a bit initially. You have to be respectful of the emotions you can trigger with this kind of speculation. Nonetheless, the experiment started a discussion that ultimately produced notable results. They included the addition of talented new team members who could provide additional skills that the group would need as it went on to complete a set of multibillion-dollar deals over the ensuing year.

-----------------

an article from a Mck alumni Bernard Ferrari is an alumnus of McKinsey’s Los Angeles and New York offices

Ever heard of the N Generation? if not, watch your kids

An interesting opinion paper from Jan Muehlfeit, Chairman Europe at Microsoft.

Our young generation is one of “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, cell phones, tablets, video games, and of course the Internet. They have been called by many names: the N Generation (N for Net), or the Digital Natives.

Whatever we may call them, our young people have proven that they are radically different than any other previous young generation before them.

n generation executive search

 

Today’s youths – from kindergarten through university – represent the first generation of young people to grow up with disruptive innovation and technology. They are at home in the midst of the accelerated rate of change, replacement and innovation of technology. They not only follow this disruptive innovation, they demand it, they lead it. Therefore, I have found that the most useful designation for our young digital natives is the Disruptive Generation.

They are “disrupting” the way we do business: many times their opinion carries more weight than that of their adult guardians, they exert their influence over other customers through the internet, and they are rising into business and political decision-making roles earlier than previous generations. However, this generation is bringing a positive disruption, as they are more connected and much more aware of big global challenges such as inclusive globalization, gap between the rich and poor, natural resources, multilateral world, and the list continues. Their thinking together with their use of technology will equip and help them address these global issues better than previous generations.

Why is the young generation the disruptive generation?

The young generation of today is unlike any other previous generation. Today’s youths differ from those of the past not only in the way they talk, the slang they use, the way they dress, their styles – these were the usual changing characteristics between previous young generations. But not anymore. The young generation of today is the first of its kind to understand the uses of new technology and to follow its change better than older generations. Young people have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using mobile devices, computers, video games, and all the other gadgets of the digital age. They are used to receiving information very fast. They prefer graphics before text, and hypertext before pen and paper. They function best in a network, especially social network, and they are always connected. These are the new characteristics or skills acquired and perfected by the young generation through years of interaction and practice.

Everything in the lives of our youths is somehow touched by technology, and they seem to understand very well the enabling impact and influence technology has on our lives and indeed on our businesses. Young people have a powerful opinion when it comes to consumer behavior, both in their families and over other customers. For example, car manufacturers today have to take into consideration new research which says that more than half of the decision-making process on buying new family cars is in the hands of children below 15 years old. Young people also have influence over customers through the internet. They share their opinion quickly, repeatedly and freely on social media and beyond, and managed to disrupt entire industries. An example is the hospitality industry. Websites like booking.com offer customer reviews that carry a lot of weight with consumers and act like an alternate advisor when deciding to make a purchase. But we cannot fully understand how as a result of the disruptive technological innovation around them, young people became a disruptive force themselves, without understanding the cycle between this generation and the technology they consume.

The positive power of disruptive innovation and the disruptive generation

The rate of technological change and the wave of disruptive innovation create great opportunities in the market place. From a bakery to a bank, every and any business can be enabled if they choose to ride this wave of innovation and technology. And indeed, any bakery or bank should think of business in terms of software. If they choose not to, then others will take their place.

I am currently coaching three global banks, and some important reminders I have for them is that even though a bank will maintain its core products, just how they will maintain and deliver them will continually change. This is where software and technology services play a crucial role because the delivery to customers and assuring their satisfaction is of crucial importance. Youths play a big role in almost any business because they have a big say in terms of how good and especially how bad a product is, and they love to share their opinion and plant it all over internet channels. As I mentioned earlier, the Disruptive Generation not only shares their opinion readily but also influences other consumers with those opinions. Furthermore, the young generation is rising into business and political decision-making roles earlier than previous generations. Just an example is European Union’s current foreign affairs minister from Austria who is only 28 years old. Young people are connected, dynamic and much more aware of big global challenges. That is why this generation is bringing a positive disruption. At the roots of their positive disruption are global concerns such as inclusive globalization, closing the gap between the rich and poor, protecting our natural habitat, and multilateralism. Their thinking together with their use of technology will enable them to address these global challenges better than previous generations. I believe the positive impact this generation will have on our world will be immeasurable.