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.

1. GREAT LEADERS SEEK TO IDENTIFY THEIR BLINDSPOTS OR LEADERSHIP QUALITIES THEY ARE UNDERPERFORMING AND MAY BE UNAWARE OF THIS PERCEPTION BY THEIR KEY STAKEHOLDERS.

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.

2. GREAT LEADERS RECOGNIZE THAT PERCEPTION IS REALITY.

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.

3. GREAT LEADERS DON’T WAIT FOR FEEDBACK SINCE MOST PEOPLE WILL HELP WHEN ASKED. 

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!

4. GREAT LEADERS DON’T WAIT TO BE TRAINED TO RECEIVE FEEDBACK, SO ANYONE CAN DO THIS IMMEDIATELY.

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.

How Do I Get Promoted? – Build Your Followership

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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.

POLITICAL OR PRACTICAL?

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.

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Be A Great Leader – Choose Kindness

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We often think of great leaders as true visionaries or company turnaround specialists. However, great leaders can be great by doing the little things extremely well. Simple things such as smiling, saying “thank you” and other acts of kindness are either taken for granted or frequently dismissed as unnecessary. Some leaders may even believe being kind is a sign of weakness.

A recent blog by Rob Asghar of Forbes titled “How Does Your CEO Treat The Janitor?” reminds us that being kind is a trait of successful leaders too. He tells the parable of the manager who was mean to anyone “below” him and the other manager who was kind to everyone, even the janitor. Guess which one is a success?

Kindness is often overlooked as a behavior needed in leaders. We want our leaders to be strong, driven, bold, confident and other similar traits. We also need them to be kind. Showing kindness isn’t a sign of a weak leader, it simply means they have compassion and the genuine desire to care about their team and the organization. A kind leader is someone who is:

Thoughtful – a kind leader shows an interest in people and how they are doing. They’ll ask about your family, how your day is going, and other aspects of your life not directly related to the project you’re working on. A kind leader also expresses concern for your well-being regularly and not just as a preface to getting answers about work (i.e. “How’s your family? Great, now when can I get that spreadsheet from you?”)

Supportive – a kind leader wants everyone to succeed and demonstrates support for his/her people through words and actions. When employees feel that their leader genuinely cares about their progress, they are more likely to work harder and stay with the company.

Considerate – a kind leader is considerate of other people’s thoughts, opinions and situations. Kind leaders recognize the value in seeking and learning different perspectives because they believe this makes them a better person and leader.

How kind are you? What can you do today to show someone you’re thinking of them? Take the time to ask a peer or team member what’s new in their life. By spending a little bit of time to be kind to people today (and every day) you plant the seeds of good will for the future. In time, you’ll begin to see a more engaged, productive and caring workforce.

The Introverted Leader

cps leadership performance enhancementA colleague of mine, Jennifer Kahnweiler, wrote the book, “The Introverted Leader,” which offers advice and tips on how introverted leaders can use their strengths to excel and fill in critical gaps to their success.

In my 20+ years advising senior leaders, I remember two executives (both CEOs as CHRO) in particular who were introverts and successful in their own ways. One was a stereotypical brilliant leader who lacked social connectivity. His leadership was based on his expertise and position of power along with his business acumen. That is what he used to lead others.

The other CEO developed the behaviors needed to inspire and motivate others and could display these in front of employees, analysts, customers, etc.  He would come out of his office with his “game face” on and was able to inspire with referent power. His strengths also included his strong ambition, analytical abilities, business acumen, and values.

What I learned through these experiences early in my career is that you are who you are. Being a successful leader is about understanding your strengths to leverage and identifying those areas that get in the way of your effectiveness. It’s important to continuously seek feedback and/or receive executive coaching for sustained leadership performance enhancement. If you don’t have a network in place that is providing you feedback on your leadership and to help you identify blind spots, then you run the risk of failing to address critical factors necessary for your success.

Lessons in Leadership: Listening vs. Communicating

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Is it more important for a great leader to be better at listening or communicating their vision? I posed this question recently in several LinkedIn senior leader groups and received hundreds of comments. It was quite an interesting discussion with some thoughtful answers. The overwhelming sentiment expressed in all groups was that listening is paramount to leadership. Many people commented that you couldn’t communicate your vision without first listening to your colleagues, peers and subordinates. As basic as the skill listening is for leadership, most felt that without it, the vision will not be in tune with the environment and employees resulting in failure over time.


These results were interesting since the most popular authors on the subject of leadership describe the importance of vision for success and quite often leave “listening” out of the discussion. Listening is an essential skill of leadership and many people believe leaders possess that trait, when in fact it is not always present.

As an executive coach, I often work with senior leaders who are perceived as having all the answers, but this perception is due in part to poor active listening skills. The assumption is made by many that if a leader doesn’t ask any questions, then he/she must already know everything and doesn’t require any input.

It is incumbent for any leader to recognize that good listening skills are vital to business and career success. Great listening doesn’t happen automatically. Think of your listening skills like a muscle that needs constant exercise. If you don’t continually “flex” your listening muscle it will atrophy or time and you will miss out on much needed information that will help you make better personal and business decisions.

Improve your leadership skills by actively listening every day. Ask a different peer or employee a question about the details or progress of a project, the company culture or just what’s new in their life. Not only will it help you to discover potential problems and solutions, but it will build trust and positive relationships in your work environment.

Coaching Tips for Derailers

Lessons In Leadership: Build Your Followership

EARN TO BUILD MORE FOLLOWERSHIP FOR GREATER IMPACT AND ADVANCE YOUR CAREER.

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I often encounter leaders who feel like their careers have stalled and they don’t really know why this has happened or how to proactively manage their careers without seeming too “political” in the eyes of their peers.

The harsh reality is that as you progress higher in the organization, the positions are fewer while the competition for them increases. If you are like most corporate citizens, you believe that by working hard and demonstrating loyalty and commitment you will be recognized and continue to progress.

What if you are a field leader who is very successful and not at the Corporate office? What if you are a high potential Director in a business unit away from headquarters? In order to succeed you will need to become more strategic and take these steps to ensure you are on the “top of mind” of key leaders as openings occur.

1. Have a discussion with your manager and find out how you are viewed by his/her senior management. Ask him/her which leaders they recommend for you to meet.

2. Volunteer to your manager to work on enterprise-wide initiatives and task forces. These are great opportunities for exposure to other departments, leaders and teams.

3. List the 6-7 key stakeholders at your manager’s level and above whom you should contact on a periodic basis to form a relationship. For example, if the CFO is key to your career then make plans to spend time with the CFO when you are in the home office.

4. Get your LinkedIn profile updated. Most search firms rely on this tool to conduct their research. Employees in your company also can review your profile since they don’t have access to your resume anywhere else.

5. Seek a mentor in your company. This would be someone at your manager’s level or higher.  When you go to that person to ask for help, be sure you have the role you desire for them to play specified so you can communicate your expectations to see if they will be able to serve  in that role.

6. Establish a relationship with the most senior HR executive. Many leaders don’t take HR into consideration for career mobility but they are always present when talent discussions occur. While they rarely recommend on their own they can veto a suggestion from your senior leadership team.

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If you take these steps you can begin to build stronger followership in your company and promote yourself in professional and appropriate ways. These actions can help you move your career along faster than simply waiting for someone to call and ask you to take a role.