Podcast: Recognizing Leadership Derailers

Manager talking with employee.


The “Recognizing Leadership Derailers” episode covers leadership derailer, 13 common leadership derailers, and the toxic combinations that we have seen when you mix them together.

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What is a derailer?
• Derailers are behavior CHALLENGES that undermine our results.
• A derailer is a behavior that gets in the way of optimal results.
• A derailer is not just a weakness. We all have many weaknesses that we may not need to develop to succeed. A derailer is a weakness that requires improvement if we are to realize our potential.

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Podcast: The Trust Factor in Leadership

They're in the planning phase of their project

Leadership Compass

In EP006 Leadership Intelligence Podcast – The Trust Factor in Leadership we discuss what is often overlooked as a leadership competency because we take it for granted. We assume we can trust other people until that trust is compromised or broken– then everything is suspect. During this podcast we will discuss the specific components of trust, research on trust and effective leadership, and how to build trust to be a better leader. Join Brad Taylor, VP of consulting services at DecisionWise, as he shares his experiences and examples of building trust.

View “Trust Factor in Leadership” webinar on demand.

During this podcast Brad will share case studies on the important components of trust:

• Building trust during rapid growth
• Creating interdependence
• Why symbolism matters
• Innovating for the greater good
• How servant leadership helps people to grow

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Why STEM Education Could Be Bad for Your Business

Early in 2006, US President George W. Bush announced the American Competitiveness Initiative. Formulated as a plan to provide US government financial support to specific academic initiatives, the plan called for significant increases in investment in fields related to STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. President Obama announced over $240 Million in additional STEM funding during the White House Science fair; the whitehouse.gov website site claims that the President’s initiatives have garnered over $700 million in public-private partnerships along STEM lines.  Given the momentum and importance, these initiatives are not likely to die down soon.  But could the STEM emphasis actually hurt business?

The STEM concept has been emphasized globally, and rightly so. Ensuring global education in these 4 critical areas is essential.  These are certainly important to success. However, it also brings up another concern. The reality is that an individual’s success in education, business, organizations—you name it—requires more than STEM. Notice something missing here?
These “hard skills” are easily defined. We all know what “mathematics” entails, and can therefore develop curricula or programs around this. We can also evaluate these hard skills within an organization.  However, while an individual may possess the “hard skills,” he or she may be severely lacking in the soft skills.

Several years ago I coached a group of individuals brought together for a high-profile international research project. Four of these scientists, in particular, were geniuses, each possessing multiple doctorates in the field. They were at the top of their fields— “STEM on Steroids” poster children.

So why the coaching? Despite their natural and acquired levels of genius, these individuals simply could not work with others, nor could they articulate their brilliant ideas to others in any way that would make these concepts usable. Their team meetings were chaotic and they left of wake of employee bodies whenever they interacted with others. Geniuses, maybe, but socially inept and severely lacking in leadership.

A singular focus on STEM, at the expense of other equally important areas, often causes problems that permeate today’s organizations. But, the issue is not with STEM itself, per se, but the thinking behind it, at the exclusion of other important topics.

Let’s step out of STEM for a moment, and into the organization, where STEM-think is apparent. More often than not, managers hire people who mirror their own skills, abilities, and desires. In other words, “in my organization, it’s easy to identify the best employees. They’re ‘just like me!’”
In some of our most recent research, we’ve looked at top-down performance evaluations, and compare these to the way the boss rates that individual on other instruments, such as 360-degree feedback. Employees receiving the highest performance ratings tend to be those employees with similar strengths as his/her boss, when comparing 360-degree profiles. So, if the boss is good at understanding the financials, he or she is likely to look for the same financial acumen in a direct report.  Again, the best employees are just like me!

Back to STEM. The increased emphasis in STEM, while important (and even essential), emphasizes the “just like me” factor. The reality is, the best employees (or students, volunteers, etc.) are NOT necessarily those with similar skills as the boss. In fact, most times, this is actually detrimental. This thinking reiterates the flawed notion that, because some individuals feel the four STEM factors are most vital, we should ALL focus on these four factors—often de-emphasizing other critical components of educational or organizational success.

Which brings us back to the four geniuses.

These men, while possessing keen intellect, lacked other critical success components, such as leadership, interpersonal skills, organization, delegation, communication, negotiation skills and, unfortunately, integrity. Many of today’s organizational initiatives and measurements miss these soft skills, which are so vital. They, instead, focus all their energy on STEM-like initiatives. Because of this, organizations and individuals today are often strong in the job-specific, hard skills, yet weak in the soft skills that make the hard skills work.

STEM (or whatever this list of key job-specific competencies is in your organization) is the price of admission. However, focusing solely on STEM-like competencies at the expense of other soft skills could be disastrous.

So, my solution? How about something more like “LICE”—Leadership, Interpersonal Skills, Communication… and Everything else. OK, not a very attractive acronym, particularly when mentioning “lice” in a school system. It needs work. However, performance and success are not only factors of what gets done, but how things get done. Focusing solely on the job-specific or STEM-type competencies in an organization (or in education) misses many of the other critical factors in an individual’s success.

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4 Ways Great Leaders Can Overcome Company Scarcity Issues

I teach an introductory political science class at a local university. This class utilizes an interdisciplinary approach by exploring basic economic theory, American history, and a bit of political philosophy. When introducing the section on economics, I try to reinforce the premise that economics is really the study of scarcity – what do you do when there is not enough to go around. Stated differently, economics is the social science that examines how we use limited resources to satisfy unlimited human wants.

DecisionWise - Leadership and Scarcity

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I teach my students that there are three options (and only three) when dealing with the problem of scarcity:

1 – Economic growth;
2 – Reduce our wants; and/or
3 – Use existing resources wisely.

It occurred to me a while back that scarcity is the same fundamental issue for leaders as well, and that true leadership is reflected in how effectively a leader deals with scarcity. Even in companies that are flush with cash, there are still never enough resources to cover organizational wants. Everyone is clamoring for more. There may be a need for more talent. There may be a need for increased innovation. There may not be enough time to develop those immediately below you. A leader is constantly bombarded with requests for more. Politicians live and die by how well they manage the issue of scarcity. The same is true for businesses and those that lead them.

Scarcity is a problem we all share, and as humans, we seem to understand it at an evolutionary level. Moreover, we seem to have a built-in urge to solve this problem. This fact can be used by leaders to improve outcomes by framing both the problem and the solution from a scarcity point of view, and then enlisting the help of others. (As an aside, scarcity is also one of the root causes of conflict, which is always an issue in any organization.)

To that end, I would suggest that leaders are best able to handle the scarcity problem by following four steps:

  1. Good leaders recognize the fact that there will never be enough to go around. Thus, they stop wasting valuable energy trying to make everything perfect. We often work with leaders in providing 360-degree feedback. One of the primary derailers called out on their reports is perfectionism. While in many cases, it’s appropriate to expect flawless results, the reality is that, many times, the time effort it takes to get that last five percent right far outweighs the value derived from that effort. The herculean endeavor may have been better spent on other scarce resources. Good leaders accept that: 1) scarcity is a problem that will never be solved, and 2) that, in the words of Voltaire, the “perfect is the enemy of the good.” Instead of ducking the issue, spinning wheels, or wasting precious resources when they could be better spent elsewhere, great leaders acknowledge the scarcity problem head-on.
  2. Savvy leaders try to understand the true human “need” at question. For example, rather than accepting at face value a request to hire more people, they delve deeper. This goes back to root-cause analysis—understanding the cause of the problem, not just addressing the symptoms. Perhaps the real need is to find individuals that possess a different skill-set. Maybe those skills could be obtained by training, as opposed to hiring. Possibly, the needs could be satisfied through outside partners or resources, as the scarcity issue is only temporary. Often, the underlying need is non-monetary in nature and might be solved by focusing on employee engagement (e.g., see our thoughts on Employee ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®).
  3. Attentive leaders do his or her best to respond by exploring one of the three responses to scarcity listed above – or maybe a combination of them— rather than making a knee-jerk reactionary decision that may not address the cause of the problem. For example, instead of layoffs to address immediate payroll woes, the answer might be that everyone takes an unpaid day off every other week. On one occasion, we witnessed a group of employees come forward to an organization which was about to go through a round of layoffs, offering just that—one week of unpaid leave per employee over a period of three months. Because options were explored, and employees felt heard, the organization was able to move forward without losing its most precious resource—people. On the other hand, is the answer always to reduce resource consumption (payroll)? Of course not! Maybe the answer is economic growth (more sales). Perhaps the answer is to focus your entire team on selling one key product that will produce revenue the fastest.
  4. A great leader explains the “why” behind the issue and the decision. More than just acknowledging there is a scarcity problem as described in step one above, a confident leader follows up that message with an explanation as to why the decision was made. Most of us realize that our wants are unlimited and yet our resources are finite. What we have learned, from macroeconomics, however, is that people will accept scarcity and inequality, as long as there is fairness of opportunity and equality in the process. A good leader understands this dynamic.

In summary, when looking through this alternate lens of scarcity, a leader might begin to see his or her role more clearly. And, he or she might start to see different solutions for solving the myriad of requests that filter up during the day. The solution lies not in making those requests go away but, rather, in realizing that the best approach is to take the time to ensure your responses are appropriate. When framed properly, scarcity of resources and its attendant solutions can be turned into teaching moments that solve problems and bring your team together.
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Star Wars, Expectations, and Leadership

Star Wars The Force Awakens

You know you have a problem when you start seeing leadership issues in everyday things, such as the new Star Wars Movie, Episode VII, The ForceAwakens. I guess that’s our lot in life.

Star Wars The Force Awakens
Our current research efforts here at DecisionWise are focused on the best way to define expectations in the workplace. We call it “The Contract,” which is the explicit and implicit contract (the psychological contract) that exists between an organization and its workforce. What we have learned in our research is that all successful contracts – whether it’s purchase orders or the psychological contract and expectations you have built with your team – are built upon a clear understanding of the underlying expectations.

So, what does this have to do with the new Star Wars movie? At first the film received near universal praise and acclaim. Then, as time went on, more and more bloggers, critics, and fans began to complain about the film. Their complaints ranged from a lack of character development to the notion that the film was a re-tread of Episode IV. How did the movie go from a “masterpiece” to one that “stinks?” Did the movie itself change? Of course not. But our perceptions of the implied expectations did. And it’s all in the expectations.

The film’s director (and co-writer/producer), J.J. Abrams, was tasked with “re-booting” the most beloved film franchise in history. He needed to create a link between the original film from 1977 and today. That was task number one. Next, he was supposed to set the stage for a variety of upcoming Star Wars films to be released by the Disney Empire (pun intended), which includes episodes VIII and IX, along with other films that are based on the Star Wars expanded universe. Abrams was not tasked with strong character development; nor, was he tasked with creating dialogue worthy of an Oscar.

In sum, his primary job was to send a “love letter” to Star Wars fans everywhere. This was Mr. Abrams’ “Contract” with a large segment of the human population.

In my opinion – job accomplished! The Contract was fully satisfied. As we look at the “contract” Abrams had between the viewer and the film, those that approached the movie from a perspective of satisfying the requirements above, contract fulfilled. In that light, Mr. Abrams should not be judged on a set of expectations outside this Contract. That’s why the movie received near universal acclaim at first. To those fans that mattered, those that waited in line for hours (probably in costume), he fulfilled the Contract. He delivered.

Now, for some armchair Jedi knights and part-time movie critics, there was another implied contract. To them, this contract was not fulfilled. Why? Because their perceived contract was different from the contract created in the minds of fans who felt the film hit its mark.

Now, my comments aren’t intended to be yet another film review to add to the tens of thousands already out there on this movie. Rather, it’s to point out another concept—that of “the contract.” We all go into interactions (movies, relationships, employment, business negotiations, etc.) with a contract in mind. Sometimes, as in the case of a business negotiation, much of that contract is formal and in writing. It’s explicit and clear (“you do this, and I’ll do that in return.”). However, much of the contract isn’t explicit, it’s implicit.

As in the case of an employee, the organization may very well be fulfilling the terms of the explicit contract. But fulfillment of the written contract isn’t what creates engagement. It’s fulfillment of the implied contract—the contract that says, “Look, there are certain requirements that we both know we need to fulfill, but what we’re really both after is _______, and I’m going to make sure we both deliver.” In the case of employment, when this implied contract is fulfilled, the employee engages. When it’s broken, the employee disengages (mentally, physically, or both).

What’s the lesson for today’s leaders? Know your audience and know your expectations, both explicit and implicit. Then deliver on the contract. The rest will take care of itself.

The new Star Wars movie will make Disney a ton of money. Why? Because Disney and Abrams knew the contract it had with its true fans, and they kept their side of the bargain. You need to do the same with your organization.

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How Steve Jobs Changed the Employee Contract at Apple

Young Steve Jobs

There is a scene in the 2008 animated movie, Kung Fu Panda, which makes me think of Steve Jobs. Most pundits compare him to geniuses or narcissists. Not me. I am going to compare him to a fat panda named Po. In this film, a Kung Fu master nKung Fu Panda Poamed Tigress explains to the jocular Po the nature of a messianic character that will save the people – the “Dragon Warrior.” Po had been selected by a wise turtle to become the Dragon Warrior. Tigress’s exchange with Po goes something like this:

Tigress: “It is said that the Dragon Warrior can survive for months at a time on nothing but the dew of a single gingko leaf and the energy of the universe.”

Po: “I guess my body doesn’t know I’m the Dragon Warrior yet. Gonna take a lot more than dew, and universe… juice.”

So, how is Steve Jobs related to this scene? Well, with Steve’s passing it’s as if Steve has become the Dragon Warrior of business – able to drive billions in revenue with nothing more than his yogi mind and the energy of a glowing apple encased in aluminum.

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There are a lot of explanations for Steve’s success. Many of them have merit and should be studied. I would like to add another reason to the growing list. My proposition is that Steve’s success was not mystical; it was simple and practical. When he came back for his second tenure at Apple, he changed Apple’s contract. Which contract? Apple has signed thousands of contracts during its lifecycle, and if you consider each consumer sale a contract, then billions. Those are not the contracts I am talking about. I am talking about “the” contract; the one that is written with a capital “C”. I am referring to the tacit three-party Contract between Apple, its employees, and its customers. Some might call it Apple’s psychological contract. Every organization has a Contract, and the parties are usually the same. They consist of the organization, its workforce, and those that buy the organization’s products or services.

Our research suggests that a key driver in an organization’s success is whether the organization’s leaders take the time to build and nurture this ever-important Contract.  Sometimes leaders aren’t even aware they have a Contract, let alone understand what it means. Good leaders, however, take the time to understand, build, and carefully define their Contract. They focus not just on slogans and catch-phrases, but also on culture, value propositions, and whether the terms and exchanges contained in the Contract are fair to all three parties. They grasp the concept that their Contract is like an iceberg. Some of the Contract is explicit (i.e. above the water), like the exchange of compensation for an employee’s time and effort at work. But, the vast majority of the Contract’s terms are implicit – or as is the case with an iceberg – below the water. Successful leaders take the time to make sure the implicit terms (the psychological contract) are aligned with where they want to take the organization.

When Steve took over for the second time, nothing much changed, and yet everything changed too. The employees were the same, the inventory was the same, the sales channels were the same, and the pipeline of future products was set. Nonetheless, the moment Steve’s indomitable personality walked through the door everything was transformed. That’s because Apple’s Steve JobsContract was turned on its head. Steve’s iconoclastic presence made everyone know that the ground-rules for what it means to be an Apple employee were now different. The new requirements were: precision, commitment, love of design and aesthetics, thinking differently, exactness, and a passion for really great products, among other things.

Returning to Kung Fu Panda and the story of Po. Po is able to save the village from the ravages of psychopathic leopard. Not because he became an amazing Kung Fu artist; rather, it was because the people “believed” that, as the Dragon Warrior, Po had the power to save them.  For those that know the movie, that was the “secret ingredient” – the belief that Po was the Dragon warrior. I suppose when you look at it this way, Steve Jobs really is the Dragon Warrior of business. Steve made the most of his second chance at Apple by redefining Apple’s Contract. He made his employees believe they were going to build the very best products and that Apple really would become what is now the world’s most valuable company.
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