Lessons In Leadership: What Great Leaders Do

One of the biggest differences among the generations of leaders is the desire for ongoing leadership development and frequent feedback. The new generation of leaders has continuous feedback through technology, collaboration, and parenting, and expect this to continue on the job. The most successful leaders across the generations have learned something very skillful they deploy just about every day. They understand that increasing their self-awareness is essential to meeting their stakeholders’ expectations and improving their leadership performance. When leaders fail, a key contributing factor is often a lack of self-awareness, or the misunderstanding and acceptance of how they are perceived by their stakeholders.

There are four valuable lessons we have learned from working with hundreds of successful and some unsuccessful leaders over the years. By following these four easy steps you will be on your way to achieving higher levels of leadership development and leadership performance.


Blindspots are very difficult to improve when the leader rates him/herself much higher than their stakeholders evaluations. Robert Hogan identified 11 potential derailers when leaders are particularly stressed often referred to as over-used strengths. For example, derailers we often encounter are leaders being highly Diligent. So, when these leaders have their results on the line, they take control and do things themselves. The problem is that over time their teams do not feel empowered and are not being developed toward their own goals. A leader can quickly be perceived as a “micromanager,” and have severe morale, productivity, and retention challenges. Our assessments identify a leader’s blindspots.


How others see them is what really matters the most, so that they better understand their stakeholders’ expectations and how their leadership is effecting followers. Even though this reality is sometimes harsh, unkind, and difficult to accept, great leaders have learned to confront their own reality. How we help leaders understand their perceptions is with thorough leadership assessments, including personality assessments and 360 degree feedback. Using this approach the leader can better understand how they are perceived by their stakeholder groups (i.e., direct reports, peers, manager, etc.). We have had various degrees of reactions to the 360 degree feedback ranging from elation to shock. In most cases, “no news is not always good news!” Often times the leader’s boss, peers, or direct reports provide some very telling feedback that indicate blindspots for intensive leadership coaching and development.


We advise our clients to create a network of supporters – that are representative of their stakeholder groups and that periodically provide direct feedback and suggestions for improvements. This is particularly helpful in CEO growth and development since very few people have the platform to provide unsolicited upward feedback!


Pick an area that you want to improve and be as specific as possible, and ask for feedback and suggestions for the future. Thank the feedback provider for giving you this gift.

Be sure to start your development network by seeking leadership feedback today. It’s a great and cost-effective method for improving leadership development skills and leadership effectiveness.

Derailing Behaviors And Leadership Impropriety

Why do leaders and other celebrities risk everything they have worked so hard to build – fortune, job, reputation, family, and in some cases their freedom? We now have a group of CEOs embroiled in sex scandals (e.g., Harry Stonechipher, Mark Hurd, Brian Dunn and many more) and illegal activities (e.g., Ken Lay, Dennis Koslowski, and many more). When leaders who appear to have everything decide to risk it all and get caught, it can be quite difficult to understand why they choose to let it happen.

There are some habits and derailing behaviors that develop for some leaders which cause them to go into a downhill spin and lose everything. Research has shown that when power is abused, these derailing behaviors take a toll on them. Sydney Finkelstein outlined five poor habits of leaders who derail that include the following: a deep belief they can control the company, believing they have all the answers, and being overly concerned with their image.

In my recent Leadership Excellence article, I discuss why these derailing behaviors happen and what organizations can do to prevent executive failure and these costly behaviors from happening.

3 Top Coaching Tips For Derailers: Skeptical

As part of our blog series 3 Top Coaching Tips for Derailers, we will take a look at each of the 11 behavioral traits identified by Hogan’s research that cause leaders to derail and include examples with suggestions to overcome each derailing behavioral trait. In this blog we highlight Skeptical.


Coaching leaders with this derailing behavior is one that when elevated, gives me insight into how difficult it will be to really make quick progress with the executive.

You see, at the high levels, these leaders tend to scrutinize everything I say and try to determine if there are underlying or hidden messages when in fact there are none. It takes longer to build trust with these coachees who have this derailer.

Recently, I was coaching a leader (VP IT) who had an elevated score on Skeptical as well as serious issues with her boss, the CAO. She was not very supportive of her boss and felt that he was not competent in her IT function, so whenever he would provide her direction, she would question it and decide to do what she wanted to do. As a result, it was important to ensure there were clear, positive and negative consequences for not meeting leadership behavior expectations to help motivate changes from her in the coaching engagement.

In her case, changing her behaviors to build stronger stakeholder relations and having a good relationship with her boss could lead to a desired promotion (CIO) and not addressing these would result in her staying in her current role. It took many tough coaching sessions to be sure she understood and accepted responsibility for the perceptions she had created in the organization. Over many months she changed and dealt with the serious derailing behaviors and, as a result, was later promoted to CIO.


The leader should continue: thinking about and analyzing others’ motives and intentions; challenging others’ assumptions

The leader should stop: arguing with others

The leader should begin:

  • Developing the capacity to trust at least some other people
  • Keeping their doubts to themselves
  • Praising instead of arguing
  • Asking a trusted colleague for feedback on how critical and argumentative they are

Leaders can be assessed using the Hogan suite of assessments which are very helpful to leaders by increasing their self-awareness and gaining a better understanding of why they are not getting the results required in their roles.

Look for our blog series to continue with coaching tips for the other derailing behaviors identified by Hogan. Next time we’ll offer tips for Cautious derailers.

How Do I Get Promoted? – Build Your Followership

how do I get promoted

Why is this important to career advancement? Simply stated, you need to get some help to move ahead in the organization. Most leaders rely on their immediate manager to represent them to senior management and help them with their career development. For many managers that is great leadership.

However, we often encounter the “selfish” leader who hoards all of his/her great performers. During my 30 years’ of HR experience, there have been numerous times I have approached a senior leader and asked to move one of their key performers to a promotional role. These have been some of the responses: “She’s too critical to let go.”  “Okay, but in 6 months after he completes this mission-critical project.” “He is my backfill and I have to keep him in my unit.”  “He’s not ready for that assignment yet so give me another year to work with him.”

Why would a seemingly good manager resort to this type of behavior? Simple, it is self-preservation. As a key contributor, you are likely performing at a level much greater than your peer group and to lose you would hamper your manager’s success in the organization. That’s why it is so important to expand the network of people that are going to help you move ahead in the organization and avoid any “career log jam” that might exist above you.


When I have recommended building your followership as a goal to high potential leaders, they often respond, “That’s too political and politics are offensive.” Yes, this development goal is offensive for your career, helping you become more well-known and recognized for the work and contributions you make in the organization. After all, the competition for the few senior leader openings is typically intense and many leaders have lost the opportunity to internal and external candidates. I see politics as a reality in any organization and used in the right and ethical way you can help yourself and your organization succeed.

By taking the “high road” and not engaging in any form of selling yourself and hoping your results speak for themselves is a naïve approach to get noticed and promoted today. Learning to index in both sides depending upon the situations will help you advance your career, garner the resources you and your team need to be successful, impact the organization in greater ways, and increase the likelihood of success for your department, unit and organization.

Increase leadership effectiveness, improve leader performance

4 Keys To Setting Development Goals


Did you set professional goals for this year? Setting goals for your professional lives is a good idea. It is meant to motivate you to reach that goal. But we often overlook the importance of setting the “right” goal and providing the steps necessary in order to successfully reach them. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when setting your leadership development goals.


Grand goals are just that, grand. It’s best, though, to keep your goals simple in order to make them attainable. Ask yourself what one skill you want to improve upon this year. Do you need to become a better listener? Do you want to improve your organizational skills? Choosing one goal and keeping it simple will help you develop the actions you need to develop a positive habit and incorporate it into your daily life.


Let’s use the example of becoming a better listener. What does this mean to you? Are you talking about not interrupting people, listening to ideas in meetings, or setting time aside each day to listen to people’s concerns. Be specific about what successfully reaching this goal looks like to you.


Determine what strategies and steps you need to implement in order to reach your goal. These steps should be simple and easy to incorporate into your daily life. For instance, if your goal is to be a better listener in meetings, you could say “What I hear you saying is…” before giving your opinion. Just by saying this one phrase you are taking the time to verify that you understand the other person’s idea, perspective or concern. Once you’ve validated what they said and established that both of you are on the same page, it’s easier to give your thoughts on the subject.

Often we want to make these action steps more complicated than they need to be. Instead, just ask yourself what one thing you can do today to get you closer to your goal. Then take a few minutes to do it every day and pretty soon it becomes part of your daily routine and you’ve reached your goal.


It’s important to review your progress on achieving your goal. Try to do this on a weekly basis. What did you do this past week to reach your goal? What can you do better next week to get closer to success? Another idea to help you review your progress is to ask other people to hold you accountable. Go to a trusted friend, peer or advisor at work and tell them what goal you have and what strategies you’re following to reach it. Then ask them to give you feedback on how well you’re progressing and what other ideas they have to help you. You might be surprised at the feedback you receive or the simple ideas they give you to help you reach your goal.

Goal setting is generally a good idea in order to accomplish tasks and improve your skills. It becomes a negative in people’s lives when they feel bad for not reaching it. So pick one simple goal, decide what success will look like to you, create your plan to reach it and ask for feedback to review your progress and you will soon be well on your way to achieving your goal.


12 month leadership development plan & toolkit

3 Top Coaching Tips For Derailers: Diligent

cps coaching tips for derailers 006

As part of our blog series “3 Top Coaching Tips for Derailers“, we will take a look at each of the 11 behavioral traits identified by Hogan’s research that cause leaders to derail and include examples with suggestions to overcome each derailing behavioral trait. This week, we highlight the derailing behavior Diligent.

All of us are diligent to different degrees and this served you well as you progressed up the ladder in your organization. It was very handy to be a perfectionist as an individual contributor and produce high quality work products. Setting high standards and working really hard to achieve these ideals is typically valued by organizations. However, the trouble comes when you can’t relax these standards and get work done through others. You can have a high degree of diligence and survive, until you start leading mangers, directors, and other executives. You can become known as a micromanager and these behaviors stunt development of the team and tend to drive off highly talented employees.

Connie was CEO of a major health services organization. She had been promoted to that role from the Chief Scientist role based on her insights and knowledge in the field, industry reputation and influence, and ability to get things done. When she took over, her senior team (former peers) was tolerant of her need to know all of the details and to closely manage their projects and initiatives. After a few months, it became apparent to Connie that she needed some help to improve the team’s morale and effectiveness. When I entered the situation Connie described her day-to-day activities to me and I identified some very specific behaviors that were causing some issues with her senior staff.

For example, the leader of external communications was not able to get acceptable press releases out about the organization in Connie’s opinion. Instead of Connie challenging the leader to improve that facet of her department, she thought it was easier and faster if she edited the press releases. The picture was this: the CEO was reading and editing press releases. Is that a valuable use of her time? No, so she stopped doing these and started to put her requirements and expectations in place to improve the quality of the press releases she had to approve. It was hard for Connie to resist the temptation to return to writing these, but once she did, she was able to spend her time on much more strategic activities.


The leader should continue: Working hard, being careful and maintaining high standards.

The leader should stop: Criticizing subordinates’ work, pointing out their shortcomings, and requiring them to do their work “your way”.

The leader should begin:

  • Delegating tasks to subordinates and letting them make their own mistakes
  • Differentiating tasks that need to be completed to perfection from those that don’t
  • Recognizing that others may not share your high standards of quality

Leaders can be assessed using the Hogan suite of assessments which are very helpful to leaders by increasing their self-awareness and gaining a better understanding of why they are not getting the results required in their roles.



What Is Your Personal Leadership Brand?

Are you considered a numbers person, great communicator, people person, turnaround expert, or something else? Do you know what your leadership brand is at your company and do you know how to create the type of leadership style you want to be known for? Your personal leadership brand is not only how you present yourself to others at work, but also how they perceive you and the value you are seen as adding to the team or organization.

Developing your brand as a leader is a phrase heard frequently today, but few people truly understand how to develop their personal leadership brand. When building your leadership brand, remember LEAD: Learn, Establish, Assemble, and Deploy.



Before you can begin to create or change your leadership brand, you must first LEARN about yourself. Take the time to identify your strengths and weaknesses; what makes you special and unique; and learn how you’re currently perceived by peers, team members and your boss. Think about what skills, traits, and behaviors you have, use and like contributing to the team and which ones you want to develop further. Becoming more self-aware is a key first step to determining what your brand is and what it should be.


Establish your goals and intent for your leadership brand. What do you want to be known for and what goal do you have for developing your brand? Create a list of descriptive words and choose 5 or 6 that you want people to use when describing you. For instance, you could decide that you want people to think of you as being: Collaborative, Personable, Creative, Detail-Oriented, and Strategic. These descriptive words will form the basis of understanding what makes you unique, how you add value to the organization, and what people will depend on you for.


Assemble your leadership brand statement using the words you’ve chosen. Using the previous example, you could write your leadership brand statement as: “I want to be known as a Personable and Collaborative person whom team members can depend on to build trust and create a fun atmosphere while using my Strategic and Creative thinking for improving results.” Then name and identify specific steps you can take to incorporate this statement as a part of your daily routine.


Finally, deploy the actions steps you’ve listed to build your brand. Find simple and easy ways to put your leadership brand statement into action every day. Become the person you have identified on paper as who you want to be and watch your leadership brand grow and transform your relationships at work.

How Do I Get Promoted? – Best Practices To Develop A Strategic Plan


There are best practices for implementing a strategic plan and by following these steps in your current role you’ll be able to practice what you would be doing at the highest levels of your organization. Briefly, the steps to developing an effective strategic plan include:

  1. Determine the current state or present situation.This is important to understand where the organization stands today and where senior leaders want to take the organization in the future. A useful tool for this step is to conduct a comprehensive analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT). See our previous blog for a sample SWOT analysis.
  2. Define the future state. In this step you would want to develop your vision and mission outlining what you want to strive to accomplish in the future. Develop the longer-term goals in terms of how you’ll know when you achieve the vision. These typically are 3-5 years in the future and are key financial, operational, customer and people metrics.
  3. Identify key gaps. In this step you compare the current state with the future state and identify the key gaps that exist.
  4. Develop priorities, actions, and accountabilities. In this step you select the most important gaps to address (i.e., those that when addressed increase the likelihood your organization will achieve the long-term goals). For each of these priorities you assign a person responsible for leading the development and implementation of the actions.
  5. Schedule progress reviews. Meet monthly with those involved in the development of the strategy and tactics and review progress.
  6. Update the strategic plans. At least annually revisit the strategy, tactics, and progress and make adjustments for the following year. Repeat the process every 12 months.

By following the approach to strategic thinking and a process to operationalize it, you can develop and demonstrate your own strategic agility.

12 month leadership development plan & toolkit

How Do I Get Promoted? – The Leadership Development Cycle

Developing your leadership skills is hard work (read about a real-life case study here). I have found that more progress will be made if you treat your leadership development like any other development project. If you don’t set goals and document your actions there is a much greater chance your time and attention will be distracted by your day-to-day demands in your role.

Choose to invest your time in those areas that will make the most impact. In other words, why work on skills and abilities that won’t make a big difference in your leadership effectiveness and career development?

First, you must understand the Leadership Development Cycle to help you create and implement an effective leadership development strategic plan.

cps leadership dev cycle 001

Assess Your Skills

The first step in the development process is to complete an assessment of your current level of skill and performance in the targeted competency or enabler area of focus. As outlined above it is very important to seek input from key stakeholders to supplement your own self-assessment. The assessment results should help you identify the specific areas you’ll want to focus on developing.

Set Your Goals 

The next step is to develop and set your goals for improvement. Having two to three goals at the most is what you’d like to achieve for a 12 month period. It’s best to do a few things really well rather than try to accomplish too much with limited success.

Develop Your Action Plans

For each of the goals you’ll need to list the four to six concrete steps you can take to improve your skills and performance in the goal. Download a sample 12-month leadership development plan to help you.

Calibrate Your Performance

This important step is ongoing throughout the year to ensure you are improving at the rate expected and that your performance is meeting expectations. You’ll want to seek feedback from several sources at least quarterly and make adjustments to your actions and performance based on the feedback.

Leadership skills development

How Do I Get Promoted? – Leadership Skills to Develop


Tired of feeling stuck in your career? As part of our ongoing blog series “How Do I Get Promoted”, this week we focus on specific leadership skills every great leader possesses and continually develops. After working with hundreds of leaders in dozens of organizations, I have found that the following competencies are the most important to develop in order to increase your chances of being promoted.


  • Strategic Agility
  • Business and Financial Acumen
  • Applying Broad Perspective
  • Displaying Seasoned Judgment


  • Driving Execution
  • Results-Orientation
  • Organizational Performance


  • Leading Change
  • Motivating and Inspiring


  • Building Great Teams
  • Leading Effective Teams


  • Building Effective Relationships
  • Communicating With Impact
  • Collaborating with Others


  • Inspiring Trust
  • Adaptability
  • Self-Development

When you perform well in these areas you increase the likelihood of your advancement in your organization. Think about which one on the list you can target for improvement. Then set a goal of developing that skill during the next couple of months. By demonstrating to your boss and other decision makers that you’re serious about improving your leadership skills, they may see you in a new light and consider you for the next level.

Share your thoughts on the subject: What other leadership skills do you think are important to career advancement and has your company openly discussed what it takes to get ahead?