Leadership Development is All About Layering

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Photo by Joel & Jasmin Førestbird on Unsplash

The challenge of developing leaders can loom as a daunting prospect.

Contributors aren’t prepared to lead others when the opportunity arises, and the cascading effects quickly compound. One reason that might explain the predicament, is an underlying belief that early career experiences and leadership roles are completely distinct entities. In reality, many of the skills required for success at various career levels, overlap and remain critical over time. If we could approach development as a “layered” phenomenon — building core strengths over a longer period of time — we could take a fresh approach to development.

Leadership readiness doesn’t materialize as the result of completing an inflexible, structured development program. Becoming a capable leader is an evolution — a co-mingling of training, coaching, and exposure to the types of challenge that offer the opportunity for both insight and growth.

As discussed in the research of Zenger/Folkman, we have made a habit of unwisely delaying when developing leaders. While we often begin managing others in our 30’s — focused leadership development may not begin in earnest until much later. This creates a precarious skill gap, which can leave an organization both under-powered and unprepared. In fact, we should begin nurturing future leaders much sooner, reinforcing key skills acquired along the way. This would address the “layering” of skills necessary to build a strong potential leader bench. Identifying potential leaders in this manner, has a number of key strategic advantages; the first of which is improved succession planning.

Additional research discussed at HBR, illustrates this layered dynamic quite clearly. Some of the skills required to progress through levels of management, may be more stable than previously considered. While specific skill emphasis may change with level — certain skill sets remain front and center for the long-haul. Thinking strategically, for example, is a perfect case in point as it is often associated with high level leaders. But, as discussed by the researchers, “…there are a set of skills that are critical to you throughout your career. And if you wait until you’re a top manager to develop strategic perspective, it will be too late.”

Testing developing capabilities with techniques such as stretch assignments (aligned with organizational initiatives and coupled with their current role) should also serve as an integral part in development. This offers opportunities test skills on the “open road”. However, within modern organizations, retaining talent longer-term, becomes a critical obstacle. Here, transparency and a mutual exchange agreement become crucial. We should consider making a commitment to those with considerable promise openly — offering the stability they need to hunker down and become emotionally invested.

Here are few other early development topics we could consider:

  • Delegating. Often a sticky subject, delegating confidently demands that we strike a delicate balance between time and control. If we don’t allow others the opportunity to handle the tasks at hand, we risk squelching motivation and our own potential to lead.
  • Persuasive Communication. Becoming an effective communicator remains a core skill set throughout our work lives. This becomes especially critical as we move toward leadership positions.
  • Conflict Management. The capability of facing difficult or uncomfortable challenges, head on — is critical. Developing this skill often takes time and mentored practice to master.
  • Awareness of Functional Links. Organizations are comprised of many moving parts. Becoming keenly aware of the inter-dependencies is a critical skill as we move toward a leadership roles.
  • Alliance Building. Leading is essentially knowing how to collaborate and build positive, lasting bonds with those that around you. If you cannot inspire energy toward a meaningful goal, your leadership “quotient” is limited, at best.
  • Global Awareness. In this day and age, leaders need to consider global reach. Developing a honed industry-wide perspective, is vital to move forward.
  • Idea Management and Intrapreneurship. Team contributors desire opportunities to explore their ideas and spread their wings. Having the ability to identify, evaluate, champion and execute the ideas of the team, is critical.

What are the challenges your organization faces with leader development?

Please note: This post previously appeared at LinkedIn. It was time to share this content here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

What Happens When Leaders Don’t Care

I’ve just spent the last week with my family at an extended-stay establishment. We are in the midst of repairing our home as a result of water damage. This kind of thing happens all of the time, but it’s not a fun process. We’ve hobbled along with a microwave and a bathroom sink for about 5 weeks. (I can only compare it to camping in your own home without of the advantage of somores.)

Finally, we came to a point where had to clear out, board the dog and stay somewhere else. We were more than ready for a reprieve from the construction.

For obvious reasons I won’t mention the chain’s name. However, its parent company is one that has been an iconic brand for as long as I can remember. We were glad to be there — and likely should have taken advantage of our opportunity to relocate sooner. The staff was extremely accommodating, there were hot meals and it was oh, so quiet. No banging hammers or sanding going on.

Perfect.

Until we ventured out one afternoon and noticed a note on our vehicle, along with a sizable dent. Unfortunately — one of the hotel employees had mistakenly backed up into our vehicle. When the employee (who was very upset about what happened) later called to ask to settle without insurance being involved, I felt I should share what happened with the hotel’s General Manager. That was a monumental mistake.

I expected some sign of life — but instead “Crickets”.

As it turned out, she could not have given a damn. She had been alerted to the problem — and performed her corporate duty — informing us that she (and her brand) had no control over what happens in their parking lot.

She was professionally cold. She was dismissive. She was unmoved by the situation. She was quick to usher me out of her office.

Surprising, considering that her attitude was the polar opposite of the customer service creed the rest of the staff seemed to follow.

She was the anomaly. I get it. You don’t (or won’t or can’t) care. That was very clear.

The sad thing is she did have control over quite a lot — even if not over her parking lot. Yet she failed to make the most of it.
A few come to mind:

  1. She could have built upon the goodwill already initiated by her staff.
  2. She could have shown empathy and forged a long-term relationship.
  3. She could have explored why we were staying at her property and learned the story of her customers.
  4. She could have been a leader, ensuring that her customers were the priority — not corporate legalese.

After all was said and done, we stayed 3 more days at this establishment and didn’t hear a peep from her. Nary a note, or a kind word was extended.

So, all of the hard work of her staff (and they were wonderful), really won’t matter in the long run. Because we will never stay at one of their properties again. I did let corporate know — and she wrote a disingenuous note about how sorry she was for what had occurred and if there was anything she might do to call her. (Number given. Although she never even offered her card previously.)

Unfortunately, when leaders don’t care, customers don’t care either.

They walk away and never return.

That is a shame.

AlliedTalentindexDr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent.

The Vital Importance of Being Honest in the Workplace

oath-980x505We’ve all suffered momentary lapses of memory at work. Fuzzy recollections of what occurred on a specific project or initiative — time has a funny way of chipping away at facts and figures. We might lose ourselves in conversation and misspeak or dance around the truth to put another person at ease. However, knowingly misrepresenting who we are or what we have accomplished during our work lives, usually proves detrimental to both work and career. Ultimately, misrepresenting our own history has the potential to derail both promising careers and healthy organizations, alike.

As a role increases in both scope and exposure — being mindful of how we present ourselves and remaining true to our word — becomes an even greater responsibility.

Honesty about credentials and work experiences can affect nearly every aspect of our work lives going forward — and has proven to do so in many realms including government, sports and news/entertainment. Moreover, this dynamic can impact how we fill our most vital roles in organizations today — limiting our ability to match skills with organizational needs.

Of late, this issue has very publicly affected those that we most need to trust. (Network anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for an inaccuracy describing his work experiences. This week it was revealed that VA Secretary Robert McDonald miscommunicated that he served in Special Forces, when he served in the 82nd Airborne Division. He has issued a formal apology. Personally, I thank him for his service to our country. )

From inaccurate resumes to name dropping, the selection process is wrought with misrepresentations and dishonesty. During our actual tenure within an organization, other looming issues with transparency can develop. These situations can lead to problems — both undetected and catastrophic.

For organizations to remain effective, it is imperative that we not only identify needed competencies and utilize state of the art selection strategies. We must also attempt to remain transparent as contributors — so that roles are matched effectively with the appropriate candidate. This includes respecting the exchange agreement that exists between employers and employees. However, whether workplace cultures encourage honesty during selection and tenure, is another topic to carefully consider.

Breaches during these processes can create a myriad of cascading problems, for all of us.

What are your thoughts? Have you been tempted to stretch the truth, where your work history is concerned? Have you hired an employee and their resume was later deemed inaccurate? Is lying a necessary evil to move forward today?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto/NewYork. Her blog The Office Blend, has been recognized by Forbes as a “Top 100 Website for Your Career” in both 2012 and 2013.

Lower Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images
This post previously appeared at LinkedIn.

The Good, Bad & the Ugly: What I’ve Learned From My Bosses

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Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

One of former my bosses had a penchant for passive-aggressive behavior. I’m certain his role was a stressful one — that likely contributed to his demeanor. However, the cumulative effect of his behavior on the team, was far worse than any root cause. I was never sure if he despised me personally, or was plagued with extremely poor people skills. I’ll never know. I suppose it really doesn’t matter.

He had no business supervising my work — or anyone else for that matter. He was toxic.

I’ve also worked with the best of what bosses can be. I freely admit that I didn’t realize how great they really were, until reflecting upon my experiences. They made the role seem effortless. That’s how professionals are — they make a difficult task look incredibly easy.

Many of us have experienced a wide range of bosses. Some are well suited to supervising others. Some — well — the fit just wasn’t there. (At least, not at that moment in time.) Of course, we learn a thing or two from all of them, the good and the bad. Even the ugly.

In retrospect, here is what I saw:

  • Great bosses are transparent. Great bosses don’t hesitate to share what you have done right — and the situations that you might need to improve. This isn’t reserved for an end of the year review, it is ongoing and timely. They know when to hit you with the tough stuff — and when to back off. There is never a hidden agenda to contend with. They simply want to help you develop and succeed.
  • They don’t hover. A stretch assignment is a great opportunity to grow. The best of the best bosses know this. While on maternity leave, one of my supervisors allowed me to present a yearly customer research study to the Board of Directors. She never micro-managed, but guided my work, so that I was well prepared. This was very early in my career, and I never forgot how it felt to stand in front of that group. It was empowering. I thank her everyday for that.
  • They never leave anyone high and dry. The boss that I mentioned above, would leave us in the lurch to deal with well-known, extremely difficult clients, or unfinished work that ultimately required his approval. It was extremely stressful. Looking back, these situations could have been a relevant teaching moment for all of us. Instead they were a nightmare. He never sat down with us to discuss strategy, prepare us and offer advice. Shame on him.
  • They see you — beyond today. The most extraordinary thing about a great boss, is that they see what you have to offer — even if you may not. Their honed perspective allows them to see your bright future, even while you might be mired in today’s challenges. They continue to help drive you forward, even when you fail. That is a priceless gift.

Describe your best boss below. What did you learn from them?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto and speaks to groups about making work what it should be.

Monday Motivation: The TED Talks — Susan Colantuono — The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get

Leadership skills should be developed at every level. Unfortunately, the advice we are given to move ahead, is often incomplete. (Women should pay particular attention to the message posed in this fantastic presentation.)

What We Can Learn About Leadership From Comcast’s Nightmare Customer Service Call

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Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Wow. Don’t get me started. My son has just spent the last 4 weeks trying to force Comcast to keep their promises to him. As a recent college grad, money really matters — and they really couldn’t care less. Getting his business was the only goal. Keeping him as a customer going forward — well that seems to be a message entirely lost on them. If he had another viable choice for high-speed internet (he’s a gamer), he we would take it. Immediately. He cannot stand them.

To tell you the truth I thought my family’s collective experiences with Comcast were simply random. (We recently discovered that we were being charged for a year’s worth of a router we did not have on premise.) However, after doing a bit of digging, I’m now convinced there may be serious problems lurking there. This week, Comcast’s darker side was fully exposed in a viral call center exchange that really is more than unbelievable — it’s ominous. Comcast, is now one of the two most hated companies in the country. As a leader, I would be very, very concerned.

We can learn from their uproarious blunder. In particular, quite a lot about leadership. Here we go:

  • Don’t close your doors. Ultimately, this rarely occurs within an organization where positive leadership has a strong, visible presence. This isn’t one incident, there is a pattern here. Yes, you may be an industry monolith. But that doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to be front and center — driving home key messages that will sustain your business long-term. Don’t lock yourselves in an office — light years away from your customers.
  • Talk is cheap, but your actions really speak. I don’t think the mission of Comcast is “Irritate Customers Beyond Belief”. However, the behavior of the company is certainly communicating that message to us. Communicate the mission/vision within your organization completely. If not well understood, everyone will have their own ideas. Leaving something so critical to chance is very, very unwise.
  • Listen, listen, listen. Then listen again. Do you recall when customers would be required to wait all day to have someone hook up their service? Comcast adjusted this policy (and even offered $20 if they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain). Talk to your customers often. Are service plans confusing? Is your pricing structure likened to hieroglyphics? Do you fail to reward long-term customers for their patronage? Be aware.
  • Your people are a reflection of your brand. How did that call center representative come to believe that he should never, ever allow a customer leave of their own free will? I’m sorry, your employees often reflect leadership’s take on customers. He thought that was OK. It wasn’t.
  • Your company is at risk. When leadership fails to communicate the very core of a service organization’s creed (which would include exhibiting basic respect toward customers), it shows something vital. That, at the end of the day, you may not really care. That undoubtedly spells trouble for your business when viable competition shows up…and of course, it undoubtedly will.

What advice can you offer Comcast? Sound off here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist, speaker and coach You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Becoming More Positive: Embracing “Plan B”

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I’ve never been afraid of  “Plan B”.

You know, the plan that is implemented after “Plan A” goes down in a fiery ball of flames. I have my first two bosses to thank for this perspective. Starting out in customer research, “Plan B” was certainly a lesson I learned rather quickly. Samples were never how I envisioned them. Implementation was never perfect. The results that followed? There was always some sort of  surprise —  a “twist” — so to speak.

How can we handle the inevitable imperfections that are a reality of our everyday work lives? How can leaders help us face the challenges that inevitably occur? During these quickly evolving these and unpredictable times, that is the question of the moment. The answer? This may relate to the level of positivity that our leaders possess and the behaviors they model for us. My first supervisor, for example, never flinched when a concern was raised. She simply listened and helped me work through the issues confidently. No drama. Just focus.

As it turns out, a leader’s expression of positivity could be one key to the psychological well-being of their followers — and the performance outcomes which follow. (A clear expression of hope and resilience, for example.) Recent research examining the construct of leader Psychological Capital, is elucidating the power of this connection.

Psychological Capital (PsyCap) is construct composed of four well researched psychological resources (the HERO resources) as follows:

The HERO resources:

  • Hope. A belief in the ability to persevere toward goals and find alternative paths to reach them.
  • Efficacy. The confidence that one can put forth the effort to affect outcomes.
  • Resilience. The ability to bounce back in the face of adversity or failure.
  • Optimism. A generally positive view of work and the potential of success.

In reality, those who lead or manage others possess varying levels of Psychological Capital — and the outward expression of those resources can change how we view (and process) the challenges we face in our work lives. Without this psychological support, failure can be just a failure. Not an opportunity to learn a few things and move forward feeling empowered.

So for what it is worth — thank you Marty and Elyse. Great bosses are worth their weight in gold.

What do you think? Does a leader’s level of positivity impact the workplace? Share your thoughts here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes at Linkedin.

Are You Listening?

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Photo by kyle smith on Unsplash

Have you ever heard someone described as a really great listener? Being defined in this manner implies all sorts of positive attributes; Fairness. Maturity. Open to opinion.

There are so many reasons to emphasize the power of listening in the workplace. From developing future leaders to teaming skills – the art of listening is a much needed skill set. Many leadership experts feel you simply cannot excel in business today without this skill, and I agree fully. Listening can not only make you more likeable  — listining can change the face of your career.

Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, aptly calls this skill set “strategic listening”. No matter what your role or organizational purpose he is adamant that listening is critical. Listening is about respect. It is about making a commitment to others. It is about commitment to progress and change.

What you might gain from tweaking your listening skills:

  • You’ll grow as a contributor. Learning to put your own thoughts aside for just a moment, will help you process new ideas. Overall, you’ll be in a better position to absorb more of the knowledge that is around you.
  • You’ll be better positioned to handle problems. When challenge occurs – effective listening skills can help you to understand dissenting opinions and varying points of view. As a result, you’ll have a far greater chance of finding needed solutions.
  • You’ll discover hidden potential. In many situations, your most effective team members may not be the most highly vocal. Hang back and let them know you value their opinions – they’ll be more likely to come forward and contribute.

We can all improve our listening skills. For now, hold back and let others complete their thought. Then reflect on what you have learned. It’s a great place to start.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes for Talent Zoo and Linkedin.

The Challenge of the “Turn Around” Leader

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Recently, the leadership skills of Yahoo’s “turn-around” CEO, Marissa Mayer have come into question for addressing what she deemed to be a symptom of a palpable organizational ailment. I was not surprised at the reaction to her decision concerning flexible work — which could only be described as visceral and sensational. However, in my mind, a broader leadership question looms.

At LinkedIn, editor Isabelle Roughol has recounted developments in the evolution of both Yahoo and Groupon. Reading her post, I was struck with the importance of that pivotal “second chance” for ailing organizations — and the unique challenges faced by those leading that charge. Whether we are discussing Yahoo, Groupon, or J.C. Penney, one element remains brazenly obvious. Diagnosing organizational ills and affecting change is a difficult road to travel. Leaders cast in this “savior” role stand the chance of losing the good fight. It is a high stakes, high risk business.

In the case of Ms. Mayer, the proverbial “CEO alarm” was pulled the moment she revoked flexible work options. But, as the days passed and more information emerged, another aspect of the story became evident: the leadership challenges she faces in an organization that is actively seeking change. Bit by bit, information surfaced that was vital to this tale; including how Ms. Mayer determined she really had a serious problem and what motivated her course of action.

Personally, I don’t fault her for addressing what she believes to be a “waning” collaborative environment at Yahoo. ( I don’t view this is an assault on flexible work.) Gathering key talent together, in the hopes of igniting change, makes perfect sense. This action at the very least, begins to set behavioral expectations going forward for Yahoo. Critics abound — but only time will tell if this action contributes to needed change.

Yahoo’s leadership story (and others like it) seem to be at least partially rooted in our level of confidence in leadership — or more specifically, our skepticism. This seems counter intuitive on a very basic level, as a leap of faith is required when any organization needs to evolve. We need to view leadership as the dynamic and risky business that it truly is.

There has long been keen interest in specific leader attributes and how they impact success. However, this may have distracted us from the need for a broader, more integrated definition. Leadership is often a complicated, layered role, where culture and context must meld to formulate strategy. Prescribing the skills required for these leadership roles is an even more complicated task.

At the very least, a leader’s right to develop the best possible “script” for their highly specific situation seems critical. Marissa Mayer is faced with the task of assessing what Yahoo’s culture really needs at this moment to become healthy and productive. (I would hope that a modified flexible work policy will be hammered out as time passes.) Ultimately, a leader’s willingness to implement unpopular organizational decisions in these “second chance” situations, is required.

What do you think? Should we extend more confidence to our high-level leaders?

Don’t Work with People Like You

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This may seem counter intuitive — but I don’t recommend that you work with people like you. In fact, you shouldn’t work with those that make you feel entirely comfortable. (You don’t even need to like the people you work with, every minute of every day. But, liking all of your co-workers is a bonus.)  What you really need are people to challenge you and help you contribute to the limits of your potential. If you surround yourself with those of the same perspective — or temperament – or even in the same field or function — you are missing out on options for career growth and eventual success.

Most of us have a tendency to drift towards what we know — a completely normal response to an often harried world. We’ll travel the same path to work, and order the same menu item at a restaurant. This process becomes second nature and we don’t often question it. However, if we apply this to the workplace, things become problematical. You require exposure to differing opinions, experiences and work styles to excel.

Let’s imagine that you have the responsibility of forming a team to take on a problem or company initiative. You choose a team of  individuals whom you know and trust. What follows, is that you have a group of individuals that may certainly be strong in certain areas — but there is the possibly that they hold the same perspective or skill set that you possess. Consider the worst case scenario: that your team is just not robust enough to tackle the task in front of them. You now have a very serious problem. If you have indeed formed a team with similar perspective or skills as yourself, your team is now officially limited.

The same premise can hold for your career. If you have contact with only individuals who share your specific perspective, you’ll likely never be challenged. This can handicap you in so many ways.

The next opportunity you have to network or build a team, pause and consider bringing at least one completely fresh perspective to the table. Build your “team” with a wide breadth of both skills, temperaments and perspectives — being sure to represent all related functions. Add a mentor to your life from a completely unexpected background. Find out how that new co-worker, that you don’t quite “get” ticks.

You simply never know. That “odd man” may be holding the piece of the puzzle that you’ve been searching for.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.