Thursday, July 24, 2014

Are Today’s Business Heroes Challenging Our Ideas About Leadership?

Summing Up

Is There Really a Formula for Great Leadership? The overall sense of responses to our question for the month is that the leadership stars of today—Jobs, Bezos, Gates, etc.,—should not cause us to change our time-honored ideas about great leadership. Among the notions advanced were that they: (1) are special, (2) are entrepreneurs first and leaders second, (3) or represent a kind of leadership important for only one phase of the longer-term development of a business. Comments did suggest, however, that some ideas about leadership can benefit from a reexamination.
Tema Frank addressed a couple of these points when she said, "The fact that we can name so few leaders as readily as the ones cited in the article is because they are exceptions. There is no question that brilliant, strongly mission-driven founders can inspire people to follow them, despite personality flaws." Once the excitement fades, a different type of leadership is essential. Bill Eickhoff would compare Jobs, Bezos, etc. to Ford, Edison, etc. "No one ever raves about their so-called 'leadership' style. These men were outliers. Their style is not duplicable."
Kim Forbes set forth an interesting hypothesis in commenting that "We will always be able to identify examples of leaders that 'buck' the now orthodox definition of the balanced, emotionally intelligent, people-focused leader… the likes of Gates and Jobs may have highly effective leaders below them and they are the true heroes of these large successful corporations, in spite of their dysfunctional 'leadership'."
Today's leadership heroes, however, stimulated debate about just what constitutes leadership. It is an important discussion, as several pointed out. Paul Stavrand put it this way: "We need to be concerned about the outcomes of business practices and products on our global society, and evaluate leaders accordingly." Yadeed Lobo commented that "the mark of a great leader is the impression they leave on any employee." G. P. Rao added that the lack of humility and leadership appear to be inconsistent, if not contradictory. "In the ultimate analysis, however everything boils down to perception of the team members or subordinates or followers of the leader concerned."
The importance of maintaining an open mind on the subject of leadership was stressed by several. Ronnie Kavuma commented that, "I think that there is a place for both kinds of leaders and/or their schools of thought in the modern high tech and versatile business environment." David Wittenberg said that an "effective leader must be true to himself. Personalities differ, so leadership styles differ. It is a common fallacy that there is only one style that leads to leadership success." Pradip Shroff added: "The simple fact is that leadership is an art and science of blending various styles based on the situation." Yan Song summed up this point by commenting that, "Stereotyping leadership might be the greater danger here. Evolution neither begins nor ends with current crops of leaders. In all practical situations, one needs a mixture of different leadership styles to induce human energy … " Jerry Houser advised us to consider that "understanding leadership means understanding the emotions of leaders and followers. Brain science is making me question much of the literature I've read on leadership."
These comments call for the question: Is there really a formula for great leadership? What do you think?

Original Article

Just as I began to conclude that I understood leadership pretty well, I've begun to wonder. Let's start with the leadership associated with large organizations with relatively long histories.
In recent years, we have been educated by concepts such as MBWA (management by walking around, introduced by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman), Level 5 Leadership (described by Jim Collins as centered around personal humility and professional will), servant leadership (defined by Robert Greenleaf in terms of service to others as a leader's most important role), and authentic leadership (characterized by Bill George as comprising leaders who understand their purpose, are true to a set of solid values, lead with their heart, establish connected relationships, and demonstrate self-discipline), among others. These philosophies, based on a lot of anecdotal evidence, describe the kind of people we'd want to work for. They are associated with large, well-established organizations that I studied and admired in graduate school, the kind that Collins and Jerry Porras wrote about as being "built to last."
Then I read biographies of today's business heroes. They portray people who are not short on vision. But are these people who meet the standards for great leadership described above? For example, both Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos are said to have challenged people to do their best work, but in somewhat demeaning ways. They, along with Bill Gates, threw public tantrums. Whether it is a consequence or not, there appears to be a trail of former executives of Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. (I specifically referred to heroes in my question, because potential heroines like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer have just recently risen to high levels in the high-tech world.)
Maybe venture capitalists have the answer. They have followed a long-standing practice of cashing out founders and entrepreneurs at the time of a first or second round of outside funding. The idea is (or was?) that at that stage of development, an organization needs professional leadership of the kind that Peters, Waterman, Collins, Greenleaf, George, and others describe.
Maybe Jobs, Bezos, Gates, and others are the exceptions that didn't get cashed out. They survived the venture capitalist's "purge" by growing their companies in ways that allowed them to retain ownership and control. Or they made their genius indispensable to the success of their companies (in the eyes of funders). When asked the standard "cash out" question by venture capitalists, "Would you rather be rich or be king?," they must have answered, "Both," and made it work.
Should we attribute a few examples of the Jobs-Bezos school of leadership to the diversity within any small group of leaders, or to the world of high-tech startups? Regardless, they cast long shadows in that they appear to be the inspiration for a new generation of entrepreneurs who are founders of companies getting very big very fast with neither formal leadership training nor thought of cashing out.
Are founders and entrepreneurs a separate breed? Should they be excused from a discussion of great leadership? Or are the most successful among their ranks a harbinger of the future of management in a fast-moving, high tech competitive world that increasingly rewards innovation, transient competitive advantage, and the kinds of leadership that produce them? Are today's business heroes challenging our ideas about leadership? What do you think?

Monday, July 7, 2014

6 Leadership Styles, And When You Should Use Them

6 Leadership Styles, And When You Should Use Them


(Reposted from Fast Company -

Taking a team from ordinary to extraordinary means understanding and embracing the difference between management and leadership. According to writer and consultant Peter Drucker, "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things."
Manager and leader are two completely different roles, although we often use the terms interchangeably. Managers are facilitators of their team members’ success. They ensure that their people have everything they need to be productive and successful; that they’re well trained, happy and have minimal roadblocks in their path; that they’re being groomed for the next level; that they are recognized for great performance and coached through their challenges.
Conversely, a leader can be anyone on the team who has a particular talent, who is creatively thinking out of the box and has a great idea, who has experience in a certain aspect of the business or project that can prove useful to the manager and the team. A leader leads based on strengths, not titles.
The best managers consistently allow different leaders to emerge and inspire their teammates (and themselves!) to the next level.
When you’re dealing with ongoing challenges and changes, and you’re in uncharted territory with no means of knowing what comes next, no one can be expected to have all the answers or rule the team with an iron fist based solely on the title on their business card. It just doesn’t work for day-to-day operations. Sometimes a project is a long series of obstacles and opportunities coming at you at high speed, and you need every ounce of your collective hearts and minds and skill sets to get through it.
This is why the military style of top-down leadership is never effective in the fast-paced world of adventure racing or, for that matter, our daily lives (which is really one big, long adventure, hopefully!). I truly believe in Tom Peters’s observation that the best leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders. When we share leadership, we’re all a heck of a lot smarter, more nimble and more capable in the long run, especially when that long run is fraught with unknown and unforeseen challenges.
Change leadership styles
Not only do the greatest teammates allow different leaders to consistently emerge based on their strengths, but also they realize that leadership can and should be situational, depending on the needs of the team. Sometimes a teammate needs a warm hug. Sometimes the team needs a visionary, a new style of coaching, someone to lead the way or even, on occasion, a kick in the bike shorts. For that reason, great leaders choose their leadership style like a golfer chooses his or her club, with a calculated analysis of the matter at hand, the end goal and the best tool for the job.
My favorite study on the subject of kinetic leadership is Daniel Goleman’s Leadership That Gets Results, a landmark 2000 Harvard Business Review study. Goleman and his team completed a three-year study with over 3,000 middle-level managers. Their goal was to uncover specific leadership behaviors and determine their effect on the corporate climate and each leadership style’s effect on bottom-line profitability.
The research discovered that a manager’s leadership style was responsible for 30% of the company’s bottom-line profitability! That’s far too much to ignore. Imagine how much money and effort a company spends on new processes, efficiencies, and cost-cutting methods in an effort to add even one percent to bottom-line profitability, and compare that to simply inspiring managers to be more kinetic with their leadership styles. It’s a no-brainer.
Here are the six leadership styles Goleman uncovered among the managers he studied, as well as a brief analysis of the effects of each style on the corporate climate:
  1. The pacesetting leader expects and models excellence and self-direction. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Do as I do, now.” The pacesetting style works best when the team is already motivated and skilled, and the leader needs quick results. Used extensively, however, this style can overwhelm team members and squelch innovation.
  2. The authoritative leader mobilizes the team toward a common vision and focuses on end goals, leaving the means up to each individual. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Come with me.” The authoritative style works best when the team needs a new vision because circumstances have changed, or when explicit guidance is not required. Authoritative leaders inspire an entrepreneurial spirit and vibrant enthusiasm for the mission. It is not the best fit when the leader is working with a team of experts who know more than him or her.
  3. The affiliative leader works to create emotional bonds that bring a feeling of bonding and belonging to the organization. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “People come first.” The affiliative style works best in times of stress, when teammates need to heal from a trauma, or when the team needs to rebuild trust. This style should not be used exclusively, because a sole reliance on praise and nurturing can foster mediocre performance and a lack of direction.
  4. The coaching leader develops people for the future. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Try this.” The coaching style works best when the leader wants to help teammates build lasting personal strengths that make them more successful overall. It is least effective when teammates are defiant and unwilling to change or learn, or if the leader lacks proficiency.
  5. The coercive leader demands immediate compliance. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Do what I tell you.” The coercive style is most effective in times of crisis, such as in a company turnaround or a takeover attempt, or during an actual emergency like a tornado or a fire. This style can also help control a problem teammate when everything else has failed. However, it should be avoided in almost every other case because it can alienate people and stifle flexibility and inventiveness.
  6. The democratic leader builds consensus through participation. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “What do you think?” The democratic style is most effective when the leader needs the team to buy into or have ownership of a decision, plan, or goal, or if he or she is uncertain and needs fresh ideas from qualified teammates. It is not the best choice in an emergency situation, when time is of the essence for another reason or when teammates are not informed enough to offer sufficient guidance to the leader.
Bottom line? If you take two cups of authoritative leadership, one cup of democratic, coaching, and affiliative leadership, and a dash of pacesetting and coercive leadership “to taste,” and you lead based on need in a way that elevates and inspires your team, you’ve got an excellent recipe for long-term leadership success with every team in your life.
Robyn Benincasa is a two-time Adventure Racing World Champion, two-time Guinness World Record distance kayaker, a full-time firefighter, and author of the new book, HOW WINNING WORKS: 8 Essential Leadership Lessons from the Toughest Teams on Earth, from which this article is excerpted. (Harlequin Nonfiction, June 2012)
[Image: Flickr user Bas Kers]

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The New Science of Building Great Teams

The New Science of Building Great Teams
by Alex “Sandy” Pentland Artwork: Andy Gilmore, Chromatic, 2010, digital drawing

If you were looking for teams to rig for success, a call center would be a good place to start. The skills required for call center work are easy to identify and hire for. The tasks involved are clear-cut and easy to monitor. Just about every aspect of team performance is easy to measure: number of issues resolved, customer satisfaction, average handling time (AHT, the golden standard of call center efficiency). And the list goes on.
Why, then, did the manager at a major bank’s call center have such trouble figuring out why some of his teams got excellent results, while other, seemingly similar, teams struggled? Indeed, none of the metrics that poured in hinted at the reason for the performance gaps. This mystery reinforced his assumption that team building was an art, not a science.
The truth is quite the opposite. At MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, we have identified the elusive group dynamics that characterize high-performing teams—those blessed with the energy, creativity, and shared commitment to far surpass other teams. These dynamics are observable, quantifiable, and measurable. And, perhaps most important, teams can be taught how to strengthen them. 

Looking for the “It Factor” When we set out to document the behavior of teams that “click,” we noticed we could sense a buzz in a team even if we didn’t understand what the members were talking about. That suggested that the key to high performance lay not in the content of a team’s discussions but in the manner in which it was communicating. Yet little of the research on team building had focused on communication. Suspecting it might be crucial, we decided to examine it more deeply.
For our studies, we looked across a diverse set of industries to find workplaces that had similar teams with varying performance. Ultimately, our research included innovation teams, post-op wards in hospitals, customer-facing teams in banks, backroom operations teams, and call center teams, among others.
We equipped all the members of those teams with electronic badges that collected data on their individual communication behavior—tone of voice, body language, whom they talked to and how much, and more. With remarkable consistency, the data confirmed that communication indeed plays a critical role in building successful teams. In fact, we’ve found patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success. Not only that, but they are as significant as all the other factors—individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions—combined.

Patterns of communication, for example, explained why performance varied so widely among the seemingly identical teams in that bank’s call center. Several teams there wore our badges for six weeks. When my fellow researchers (my colleagues at Sociometric Solutions—Taemie Kim, Daniel Olguin, and Ben Waber) and I analyzed the data collected, we found that the best predictors of productivity were a team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings. Together those two factors explained one-third of the variations in dollar productivity among groups.
Drawing on that insight, we advised the center’s manager to revise the employees’ coffee break schedule so that everyone on a team took a break at the same time. That would allow people more time to socialize with their teammates, away from their workstations. Though the suggestion flew in the face of standard efficiency practices, the manager was baffled and desperate, so he tried it. And it worked: AHT fell by more than 20% among lower-performing teams and decreased by 8% overall at the call center. Now the manager is changing the break schedule at all 10 of the bank’s call centers (which employ a total of 25,000 people) and is forecasting $15 million a year in productivity increases. He has also seen employee satisfaction at call centers rise, sometimes by more than 10%.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Understanding Fear of Process Improvement

A culture of continuous improvement is crucial to organizational performance and survival. Just ask Richard Aubut, CEO of South Shore Hospital, the leading regional provider of healthcare in southeastern Massachusetts. “We don’t know what changes will be coming with healthcare reform and other changes in our industry,” he told me recently. “But we do know we need to build the capability to deal with whatever does. That’s why we’ve added continuous improvement to our cultural pillars.” Yet most reports, such as John Kotter’s classic Harvard Business Review article “Leading Change: Why Transformation Effort Fail,” show that few attempts at fundamental change are very successful, a few are utter failures, and most fall somewhere in between, with a distinct tilt to failure. Discussions about process improvement failures sprang up recently on two different LinkedIn groups I participate in, and most members cited a lack of leadership from the top as the primary reason. A few said it was because people didn’t follow the methodology (e.g., Six Sigma or Lean) the right way.
Ironically, few of these discussions pursued this issue much further to get at the root cause. Why aren’t leaders on board? Why doesn’t culture change? How do you change culture?
But one of the people in the conversation stood out to me, with a more thoughtful approach: John Ryan, a continuous improvement coordinator at Zeus, Inc., a South Carolina-based manufacturer of polymer tubing. When I contacted him directly, he told me there is a simple yet highly effective tool for getting at the root cause of process performance problems: asking the question “Why.”

Why do cultures resist change?
Because they are successful.
Why are they successful?
Because we hold onto practices that make us successful until they become habitual.
Why don’t we try new practices?
Because it takes energy to learn a new habit.
Why do we need habits?
Because to compete successfully, we must able to instantly respond to the environment; we cannot take the time to think every time before acting. The faster we can react, the more likely we are to survive when confronted with danger.
When do we create new habits?
When we confront a situation where existing habits don’t work, we conclude a new habit is needed, and we have enough time to create one.
Why does it take a long time to change habits?
Because if we change immediately every time we encounter a new environment, we will constantly spend energy on changing — energy that we need to survive. And whenever we encounter a new environment, our first reaction is fear. It has to be fear because before we take any action, we must ensure that we can survive. We use this fear to keep us safe.
If fear of change is the root cause of failures to create a culture of continuous improvement, as W. Edwards Deming (the father of the quality movement) famously said, “Drive out fear. No one can put in his best performance unless he feels secure” — what are the counter-measures? What are the most effective ways to embrace fear of change? I see three:
1. Show respect to the people whose work will change by getting them involved in defining the improvements.
People resist change that is imposed on them. But if they help define the changes, they will own them. As Peter Hunter, a former naval officer and management consultant, has said, “People hate being told what to do. It is human nature to avoid doing what we have been told. … Instead find out what people want and give it to them, or give them the reason why they can’t have it. Both answers are equally valuable because they both let the individuals know that their opinion has been listened to and is valued.”
2. Welcome failure in experiments of new ways of working as a way to learn; remove the downside risks and provide upside.
Experiments allow us to learn and improve. As described in my previous post, “Get Your Worker to Disrupt Their Jobs,” you should commit to your employees that they will stay employed if they suggest process change. You should also give them some of the upside from making those changes — profit sharing and promotions. And by training them, you can demonstrate your commitment to their development.
3. Hire self-starters who are committed to your mission.
Your employees will embrace change that furthers the mission of the organization if they view the value of that change to the customer as greater than the pain of change. For example, the 58,000 employees of the Mayo Clinic, a worldwide leader in medical services, are more likely to embrace changes to their work if it’s clear that it makes the patient’s experience better. It starts with recruitment. On the jobs section of the Mayo Clinic website, the first thing you see is “Working at Mayo Clinic is making a difference. It’s providing the highest quality patient care by placing the needs of patients first.”
Organizations with cultures that value continuous improvement are far better at changing their processes and staying competitive. Yet most organizations that make a run at continuous improvement fail to make it stick because of fear. As Zeus Inc.’s John Ryan points out, “You should embrace fear for the tremendous benefit it provides.”
Questions: What do you see as the root cause of failures to institute continuous improvement? How have you seen workers overcome their fear of work changes?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Should Leaders Focus on Results, or on People?

Should Leaders Focus on Results, or on People?

by Matthew Lieberman (Published on 12/27/13 on HBR Blog)   

A lot of ink has been spilled on people’s opinions of what makes for a great leader. As a scientist, I like to turn to the data.  In 2009, James Zenger published a fascinating survey of 60,000 employees to identify how different characteristics of a leader combine to affect employee perceptions of whether the boss is a “great” leader or not. Two of the characteristics that Zenger examined were results focus and social skills. Results focus combines strong analytical skills with an intense motivation to move forward and solve problems.  But if a leader was seen as being very strong on results focus, the chance of that leader being seen as a great leader was only 14%. Social skills combine attributes like communication and empathy. If a leader was strong on social skills, he or she was seen as a great leader even less of the time — a paltry 12%.
However, for leaders who were strong in both results focus and in social skills, the likelihood of being seen as a great leader skyrocketed to 72%.
Social skills are a great multiplier.  A leader with strong social skills can leverage the analytical abilities of team members far more efficiently. Having the social intelligence to predict how team members will work together will promote better pairings.  Often what initially appear to be task-related difficulties turn out to be interpersonal problems in disguise.  One employee may feel devalued by another or think that she is doing all the work while her partner loafs – leading both partners putting in less effort to solve otherwise solvable problems. Socially skilled leaders are better at diagnosing and treating these common workplace dilemmas.
So how many leaders are rated high on both results focus and social skills?  If this pairing produces especially effective leaders, companies should have figured this out and promoted people to leadership positions accordingly, right?  Not hardly.  David Rock, director of the Neuroleadership Institute, and Management Research Group recently conducted a survey to find out the answer.  They asked thousands of employees to rate their bosses on goal focus (similar to results focus) and social skills to examine how often a leader scored high on both.  The results are astonishing.  Less than 1% of leaders were rated high on both goal focus and social skills.
Why would this be?  As I describe in my book, Social: Why our brains are wired to connect, our brains have made it difficult to be both socially and analytically focused at the same time.  Even though thinking social and analytically don’t feel radically different, evolution built our brain with different networks for handling these two ways of thinking.  In the frontal lobe, regions on the outer surface, closer to the skull, are responsible for analytical thinking and are highly related to IQ.  In contrast, regions in the middle of the brain, where the two hemispheres touch, support social thinking.  These regions allow us to piece together a person’s thoughts, feelings, and goals based on what we see from their actions, words, and context.
Here’s the really surprising thing about the brain. These two networks function like a neural seesaw. In countless neuroimaging studies, the more one of these networks got more active, the more the other one got quieter.  Although there are some exceptions, in general, engaging in one of the kinds of thinking makes it harder to engage in the other kind.  Its safe to say that in business, analytical thinking has historically been the coin of the realm — making it harder to recognize the social issues that significantly affect productivity and profits.  Moreover, employees are much more likely to be promoted to leadership positions because of their technical prowess.  We are thus promoting people who may lack the social skills to make the most of their teams and not giving them the training they need to thrive once promoted.
How can we do better?  For one, we should give greater weight to social skills in the hiring and promotion process.  Second, we need to create a culture that rewards using both sides of the neural seesaw.  We may not be able to easily use them in tandem, but knowing that there is another angle to problem solving and productivity will create better balance in our leaders.
Finally, it may be possible to train our social thinking so that it becomes stronger over time. Social psychologists are just at the beginning stages of examining whether this kind of training will bear fruit.  One exciting prospect, one that would make the training fun, is the recent finding that reading fiction seems to temporarily strengthen these mental muscles.  Wouldn’t that be great — if reading Catcher in the Rye or the latest Grisham novel were the key to larger profits?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Three Ways Leaders Can Listen with More Empathy

Three Ways Leaders Can Listen with More Empathy

by Christine M. Riordan  (Published on 1/16/14 on HBR Blog)   

Study after study has shown that listening is critical to leadership effectiveness. So, why are so few leaders good at it?
Too often, leaders seek to take command, direct conversations, talk too much, or worry about what they will say next in defense or rebuttal.  Additionally, leaders can react quickly, get distracted during a conversation, or fail to make the time to listen to others.  Finally, leaders can be ineffective at listening if they are competitive, if they multitask such as reading emails or text messages, or if they let their egos get in the way of listening to what others have to say.
Instead, leaders need to start by really caring about what other people have to say about an issue.  Research also shows that active listening, combined with empathy or trying to understand others’ perspectives and points of view is the most effective form of listening.  Henry Ford once said that if there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put oneself in another person’s place and to see things from his or her point of view –as well as from one’s own.
Research has linked several notable behavior sets with empathic listening.  The first behavior set involves recognizing all verbal and nonverbal cues, including tone, facial expressions, and other body language.  In short, leaders receive information by all senses and not just hearing.  Sensitive leaders pay attention to what others are not saying and probe a bit deeper.  They also understand how others are feeling and acknowledge those feelings.  Sample phrases include the following: Thank you for sharing how you feel about this situation, it is important to understand where everyone is coming from on the issue; Would you share a bit more on your thoughts on this situation; You seem excited (happy, upset…) about this situation, and I would like to hear more about your perspective.
The second set of empathic listening behaviors is processing, which includes the behaviors we most commonly associate with listening.  It involves understanding the meaning of the messages and keeping track of the points of the conversation.  Leaders who are effective at processing assure others that they are remembering what others say, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and capture global themes and key messages from the conversation.  Sample phrases might include the following:  Here are a couple of key points that I heard from this meeting; here are our points of agreement and disagreement; here are a few more pieces of information we should gather; here are some suggested next steps—what do you think?
The third set of behaviors, responding, involves assuring others that listening has occurred and encouraging communication to continue.  Leaders who are effective responders give appropriate replies through verbal acknowledgements, deep and clarifying questioning, or paraphrasing.  Important non-verbal behaviors include facial expressions, eye contact, and body language.  Other effective responses might include head nods, full engagement in the conversation, and the use of acknowledging phrases such as ‘That is a great point.’
Overall, it is important for leaders to recognize the multidimensionality of empathetic listening and engage in all forms of behaviors.  Among its benefits, empathic listening builds trust and respect, enables people to reveal their emotions–including tensions, facilitates openness of information sharing, and creates an environment that encourages collaborative problem-solving.
Beyond exhibiting the behaviors associated with empathetic listening, follow-up is an important step to ensure that others understand that true listening has occurred.  This assurance may come in the form of incorporating feedback and making changes, following through on promises made in meetings, summarizing the meeting through notes, or if the leader is not incorporating the feedback, explaining why he or she made other decisions.  In short, the leader can find many ways to demonstrate that he or she has heard the messages.
The ability and willingness to listen with empathy is often what sets a leader apart.  Hearing words is not adequate; the leader truly needs to work at understanding the position and perspective of the others involved in the conversation.  In a recent interview, Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer at IDEO, advises leaders to listen more and ask the right question.  Bennett shared that “for most of my twenties I assumed that the world was more interested in me than I was in it, so I spent most of my time talking, usually in a quite uninformed way, about whatever I thought, rushing to be clever, thinking about what I was going to say to someone rather than listening to what they were saying to me.”
Slowing down, engaging with others rather than endlessly debating, taking the time to hear and learn from others, and asking brilliant questions are ultimately the keys to success.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

You Are Not the Best Judge of You

You Are Not the Best Judge of You
by Scott Edinger (Published on 11/15/11 on HBR Blog)   

“To create a reliable 360 survey,” Marcus Buckingham concludes in his recent blog on this site, “The Fatal Flaws With 360 Surveys,” all you need do is…ask the rater to evaluate himself on his own feelings.” Since you are an expert on your own feelings, your responses have to be solid.

That seems logical, and yet I could not disagree more with this conclusion. In an effort to give equal time to the other side of the story, and to clarify some misconceptions, let me share with you the reasons why not getting 360-degree feedback may actually be fatal. (But here’s hoping that in the course of this debate there are no fatalities.)

Leadership effectiveness is in the eye of those who are led. “Rate me on ‘Marcus is a good listener’ and we learn whether I am a better listener than you,” Buckingham writes. But in my work with Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman analyzing the 360-degree feedback from tens of thousands of leaders, that’s not been our experience. What we find is: ask me to rate “Marcus is a good listener,” and we discover whether I think Marcus is listening to me. That’s certainly not objective data. But it doesn’t have to be. If Marcus is my boss and I think he’s not listening to me, that certainly plays into how effective he is as a leader, no matter how subjective my judgment is.

Subjective 360 data can correlate to objective business results. What I think about my boss wouldn’t matter if it had no relation to business success. But our analysis of the data from those thousands of 360s shows that it does, empirically. We have correlated the leadership-effectiveness scores we’ve collected with a variety of business outcomes — profitability, turnover, employee engagement, customer satisfaction — you name it, we probably studied it. What we’ve seen is that 360 data are an incredibly reliable measure of business success, frequently showing a lock-step correlation between the effectiveness of a company’s leaders, as measured by those subjective 360s, and the company’s objective business results.

You don’t have to be great at everything. “Most 360s are built on a logical non-sequitur,” Buckingham suggests, “namely that since a particular group of exemplary leaders possesses all the competencies measured by the 360, therefore the best individual leader is she who possesses all of them.” I agree that’s a non-sequitur, and that would be a problem if you used the full range of leadership skills on the assessment as a one-size-fits-all definition of the perfect leader. But our research suggests that’s not necessary at all, even if it were possible. When we analyze the most effective leaders in the world, we find that the truly extraordinary ones need only excel at a relatively small number of competencies — three to five. For us, the purpose of taking the 360 is not to see which leadership skills you lack so you can complete the set. Rather, it’s to find your best self — that is, the particular leadership skills you should focus on to become uniquely extraordinary.

You are not the best judge of you. Several years ago, while working on my first project with Joe Folkman, I asked him what was the most interesting finding he’d seen in his years of studying 360s. He responded, with a wry smile, “The average leaders don’t think they are.” Thus we, too, find leaders subject to “benevolent distortion.” But we don’t find it that benevolent. Our data show not just a gap — but something closer to a canyon — between people’s perceptions of themselves and how other people see them. “How could that be?” you might ask: After all, you are the only one there for everything! No doubt. And yet, our data tell us that you are a notoriously bad predictor of your own leadership abilities because it is so difficult to consistently know what impact you are having on others. In that regard, other people are experts at knowing how they feel about your effect on them. Ironically, we find, the best leaders in our database frequently rate their performance lower than their peers, bosses, and direct reports. From the perspective of inner strength and psychological health, it’s terrific to have confidence in your own views and convictions. But when considering your strength as a leader, doing so in isolation is, from where we sit, downright, fatal.

I’ll be the first to agree that a 360 assessment is no panacea and that the tool can be over-, miss-, and incorrectly used. But in my experience, there’s simply no substitute for getting feedback from the people who are the most influenced and affected by your actions, talents, and skills. Applied creatively, a 360-degree feedback process can be an incredibly powerful tool to help you identify your strengths, grant you insight into how you can make them even more effective, and alert you to any behavior that might be severely detracting from your effectiveness. Are the 360 data objective? No. But even so they can help leaders create an objective, personal plan of development. And they’re certainly more effective than just asking yourself.