thought leadership

On a regular basis, I take a look at what other thought leaders are saying about leadership, change, and work. Here are some great ones I’ve found recently.

Do you have someone interested in moving into a leadership position? Share this with them.

Turns out being likeable has more impact on being an effective leader than we may think. Click here to read more.

When you think you have leadership mastered, the world may change on you. Watch this TED talk with General Stanley McChrystal on listening, learning and then, leading.

Now that the economy is picking up, maybe you’re concerned about losing some of your best people. Avoid being dumped by your best employees. Read the full Forbes article here.


raised hands 220x125If you raised your hand, you’re not alone. A new survey by Harris Interactive for Everest College says that 83% of us are stressed by at least one thing at work. That’s up 10 points from 2012.  

 What’s causing the stress?  The #1 reason is low pay and unreasonable workloads.  Many of us can’t do much about the pay.  However, we can impact workloads. One of the things I see contributing to the unreasonable workloads is how much change is being introduced and how it’s being introduced. 

Often, introducing change and innovation is a bit like changing the tire on a bus going 60 miles an hour.  You have to keep the bus going but you also have to change the tire so the bus can get where it needs to go more efficiently, is able to take rougher roads or deal with dangerous conditions.  Still, slowing the bus down, just a little can make getting that tire changed go a lot faster.  Too often, when companies introduce change it is done rapid fire. We’ll change something over here, something’s over there and a few more while we’re at it.  In even the most change ready and change rich environments — those where people love innovation and change– you will reach the point of overload. 

 To make sure your team or company are not tipping into change overload, implement listening posts to check in and talk about the pace of change, the frustrations, how it could be done better. A listening post is a regularly scheduled time for people to talk, as a group or one-on-one, with you, about what’s working and what’s not.  Your job during a listening post is not to spend the majority of the time on updates about change or innovation projects. It’s not the time to sell change. It’s a time for people to talk about the personal side of change — how it feels, what it’s like for them and the impact it’s having. It’s a time to listen to what’s going on and to synthesize that input into how change is being managed and lead. 

A Week Like No Other

changeThis past week is one none of of us likely to forget. Boylston Street in Boston open back up just this morning. A symbol for moving forward after last week’s tragedy.

As we’ve watched these events spill out of our beloved city, onto a variety of media and into our homes, we are reminded that life changes in a second. It reminds us all of the importance of living with purpose and on purpose. At times, we all feel like we’re sleepwalking through life. It’s important to take a gut check every once in a while and to think about what you see as your purpose. Assess how well you are living that purpose every day. Also think about how you are helping others — your family, co-workers, peers — achieve what they think is important for them to achieve and how those purposes may be intertwined.

This week we’ve seen a community come together to face a tragedy. Let’s all stand together to move forward with meaning.

Love Change? Not so much.

Change is Coming

People often don’t relish the idea of change. As a matter of fact, many people just don’t like it. However, the reality for the foreseeable future is that change is happening quickly and often.

Our mindset about change is a significant factor in how we think and feel about it. Let’s look at how we can use our mental models to approach change more openly and positive


Old mental model: Change means loss. The first thing we often think about when a change is announced is “what will I lose?” We do lose during change. We lose what is familiar, what is stable, and what is defined. And, often times, that is a good thing.
New mental model: means opportunity. Focus your mind space on what you can gain from change– the ability to learn something new, the potential to be re-engaged in what used be very routine and possibly boring, and the opportunity to contribute to making something new.

Old mental model: Most change is a mess when executed.
Unexpected things come up. Time lines shift. We all scramble when it doesn’t go as planned.
New mental model: Change is messy, so think about contingencies. One of the best ways for change to work well is to think of those things that may not go as planned, plan for them and put those contingency plans in place if need be.

Old mental model. Change happens to me. I’m the victim of change. It’s like an engine coming down the track and I can’t change how fast it’s going or where it will end up.
New mental model: Be part of the change. Think of yourself as one of the many engineers of change. Ask to contribute to change planning. Suggest an improvement to change that isn’t working well. Learn all you can about it and share your knowledge with others.

Even Shakespeare recognized the power of your thinking on how you perceive your situation:

“There is nothing good or bad, only thinking makes it so.”
— Hamlet

Change Lessons from the New Pope

popeLast week 1.2 billion Catholics were introduced to their new leader. We all know that the church has many problems and challenges that this pope may or may not address. However, in his first few days he has let people know that his leadership will be different and that there is a potential for change. Here are a few lessons in change we can all take from Pope Francis:

Use language that signals change: By choosing the name Francis, the pope needed to use only one word that, for Catholics, carries huge symbolic meaning. St. Francis of Assisi is known as a reformer, rebuilder, and one who gave up his wealth to focus and live with the poor. It was a name many considered no pope would ever consider taking.

Let the people most impacted know they are important: When a pope is elected, the first thing he does is meet with his direct reports (the Cardinals) and others in the Vatican who will support him during his tenure. After meeting with the Cardinals, he asked the others if they would be their for a while. When they indicated they would, he let them know he’d come back and talk with them later because the people had been standing in the rain waiting to see him and he didn’t want them to wait any longer. He knows these are his stakeholders and he is there for them.

Listen before you speak During his first address rather than providing a blessing to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square he asked for them to bless him. Rather than speaking, he chose to listen.

Show those you are leading you are, in many ways, just like them: Within the 24 hours after becoming Pope, Francis indicated he was the same guy he had been. He went back to where he’d been staying on the bus with the other Cardinals. He showed up at the hostel the next day and paid his bill. He want to a local church, giving them 10 minutes notice, and then crossed the street to say hello to some school kids and people on there way to work. Too many times, leaders give off signals that they are different from everyone else and that he or she is separate from the others who will be impacted by organization change.

Making Change

changeChange was certainly in the news this week — cuts in federal budgets (the planned change no one thought would really happen). Yahoo’s change in telecommuting policies (no telecommuting in high tech? No one saw that coming. More on this later.) As usual, it’s all about change, change, change.

In this whirl of change, the thing to think about is how effectively you ‘do change’. Companies that do change well prepare for change by approaching it strategically and executing it tactically.



To strategically prepare for change, high performing companies:

  • Take a longer view of the business –– what is it now? What does it need to be in several years? 
  • Look at the forces that will affect it, now and in the future — They don’t limit this view to their own industry. They look at the other economic, social, political and environmental issues that may impact them.
  • They identify and develop the capabilities needed — I’m working with a client right now to assess what it’s organization will need for a new product introduction that will happen 3-4 years from now and will have significant change on how they do business.

To tactically manage it, they:

  • Effectively communicate what the change is, why it’s important, what those impacted will lose and what those impacted will gain. Nothing worse than the people impacted by change feeing like those driving it think it will all be sunshine and happiness along the way.
  • Cast a wide net for involvement. Give people a chance to talk about and provide input on how the change will actually happen in their part of the company.
  • Make contingencies. It most likely won’t go exactly as planned so have Plans B, C, D…
  • Realize that performance may dip briefly after the change is introduced and they give it time take hold.

Making change effectively is about being proactive — not managing it when it happens to you but about making it happen.

What change do you want to make?

THE WORK FROM HOME WARStelecommute_320 x 214

Many people have asked my opinion this week about Yahoo’s decision to stop allowing employees to telecommute. While I don’t know the entire situation at Yahoo or what analysis Marissa Mayer used to inform her decision, it appears it may be a meat cleaver approach to a situation that may need a scalpel. While I agree with the premise that you need to feel connected and trust your co-workers to create change and innovation, that can be achieved in many ways. The number of collaboration tools, things as simple as Skype or Apple’s FaceTime, that allow for two or more people to see each other and have conversations are only getting more robust. So to say it can’t be done unless we’re all in the same place is a very narrow view. Not to mention the job satisfaction, performance and retention metrics that seem to indicate a positive correlation to flexibility in the work place.

What may be a bigger issue is the perception that Marissa Mayer isn’t leading this change very well. While telecommuting is not just the realm of mothers, it is perceived as a workplace solution that allows people to balance the demands of doing their job well and managing their personal life well. The same week the policy change hits the media, it was also reported that Mayer is building a nursery, at her own expense, near her office at Yahoo. So, if you think about perception, this seems to say, because of who I am, I can balance my personal life by bringing it to the office. However, the same is not available for you (from what I could find, Yahoo does not provide on site day care for its workforce) and the usual solution isn’t an option. Maybe there is more to the policy and that other changes that allow people to balance their lives are on the way at Yahoo. Right now however, it appears that she is a leader who, as many others before her, is a tone deaf to the impact of change that is perceived as inequitable.

Another Common Misconception

working guy over 40

I saw a recent example of hiring decisions based assumptions not reality today. It seems that Silicon Valley has a major issue with hiring people over the age of 40. The common thinking is that anyone over 40 has lost their edge, aren’t innovative and stuck in a paradigm. Based on some research by Vivek Wadhwa, the news of the over-40’s creative demise seems to be drastically overstated.

Here are a few innovators and their over-40 inventions:


    • Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod when he was 44. He discovered electricity at 46.
      He helped draft the Declaration of Independence at 70, and he invented bifocals after that.
    • Henry Ford introduced the Model T when he was 45. 
    • Sam Walton built Walmart in his mid-40s. 
    • Ray Kroc built McDonald’s in his early 50s. 
    • Ray Kurzweil published The Singularity Is Near in his 50s.
    • Alfred Hitchcock directed Vertigo when he was 59.
    • Frank Lloyd Wright built his architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater, when he was 68. 
    • Steve Jobs’ most significant innovations-iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad-came after he was 45.

Instead of making the assumption when you’re hiring and cutting out a significant sector of your possible candidate pool, ask some questions that will let you know just how creative that gray-haired guy with few wrinkles really is.

Not Much of a Carrot

If, like most people in business, part of your rewards and motivation strategy is the carrot and stick approach, you aren’t going to have much of a carrot in 2013.  

A recent article on NBCNews.com Business notes that no one is going to be jumping up and down because of this year’s average merit increases.  The average, according to experts who contributed to the article, will be — drum roll, please — 3%.  This isn’t much different from what we’ve seen in recent years. Welcome to the new normal. 

As I’ve often said, we really need to look at how to make workplaces great places to work, where people want to bring their A-game.  To create workplaces that create engagement, money is, obviously, not going to be the whole answer.  As you start planning for 2013, take a step back and think about what your engagement strategy looks like because those annual increase conversations aren’t going to be contributing much. Maybe it’s time to start thinking beyond the carrot and the stick.

Four Ways to Energize



A few weeks ago, a client and I were talking about time management when she brought up the idea of energy management. Rather than trying to better manage your time, she said, think about managing our energy.

This, I thought, is brilliant. Many of us (including myself) are driven by the clock and manage our lives by it. Wake up at 5:30. Get the kids up at 6:15 and off to school by 7:15. Client call at 8:30. Meeting at 10:00. And so it goes.

By changing my thinking from time obsession to an energy orientation, my whole image of a day changed. Rather than it being the face of a clock, all about hours and minutes, my visual is now a red helium balloon. At times, the helium balloon is full and floating high. I need to take advantage of those times. Sometimes, it can begin to lose some of its helium and start to sink. I need to be aware of those times.


How can you manage your balloon?

  1. Be aware of your personal energy-flow. Are you a morning person? How much time can you be in front of your laptop before you’re lethargic? Does interacting with others give you energy or zap it? Does your productivity peak between 9:00 and midnight?
  2. Figure out one energy-building thing and do it every day. It can be very simple. Some people like jokes so they have a joke-a-day calendar. Walking down to the break room with a colleague you enjoy talking to can give you a five minute boost. Taking a quick walk so you can see the fall colors can bring energy back. 
  3. Tackle tough tasks when you are at peak energy. You’ll have the ability to think more creatively, stay more focused and handle more complexity.
  4. Most importantly, have something in your work that fills you with energy. Do a job audit every once in a while. Is your work, overall, energizing you? If not, what would you want more of? What do you need less of in your work? Is it possible to make a change?

So change that time paradigm — don’t manage by what time it is, manage by where your energy is.

Why is my Superstar Stumbling?

Boston Red Sox 2012 SeasonAs the Red Sox finish the worst season in memory, I came across a Harvard Business School Working Knowledge paper from last fall about why the Red Sox blew it last season. In the article, Carmen Nobel writes about Boris Groysberg’s work on superstars. In examining more than 1,000 Wall Street analysts, what Groysberg found is that those who were superstars at any given firm underperformed when they moved to another bank. He found that they underperformed not only early in the job but for years afterwards.

He noted the following factors as reasons why the superstars stumbled:

  • They are expected to thrive from the first day on the job with little or no training to help them adjust. I have found this to be a frequent occurrence. Managers often struggle with providing training or being directive with a team member who is very highly skilled or very experienced. They don’t want to offend the person or cause the individual to think the manager questions his capabilities. Everyone needs coaching and direction when they are in a new environment. Just because they were terrific at it in their old job doesn’t mean they know how it works here.
  • They may not fit with the existing team. Groysberg finds that the more interaction and dependence the superstar has on others the more issues there were with ‘star power portability.” A superstar salesperson’s success may be more portable than a scientist who is part of an R & D team. This argues for thinking about how the team or lack of a team impacts one’s ability to be successful. If team interaction and dependence is high, you need to make sure you know how the superstar works with others and how you’ll integrate them into the mix.
  • Leadership across the team. The management style needs to fit the team. Groysberg states that a collegial style fits if others on the team, including the superstar, act as leaders and set the tone. If the superstar is a maverick or not supporting other team members, a top down approach may be needed. Again, you need to look at the team and assess what management style is going to work.

Groysberg doesn’t argue against hiring superstars. Rather he says you need to make sure you are hiring well and developing them to work effectively in your culture.