Our Latest Thinking

5 Top Benefits of Work-related Coaching

If you operate a business, then you probably think that your bottom line is your bottom line.  It is all about bringing in the profits.  It is all about delighting your customers so they will return and tell all their friends (which today may include thousands of Facebook friends, as well). So, it’s very likely that in your quest to increase sales and beef up marketing efforts, you are focusing most of your energy on just that – sales and marketing. You may also be thinking of ways to improve your product and/or customer service.  Those are all worthy goals. However, there is something important that many business leaders tend to overlook – their people.  

People are THE  key to a successful business.  Why? Because people are your direct line to the customer.  If they are not performing at their best or growing their capabilities then your business isn’t doing that either.  One solution to creating a more successful business with people bustling with productivity is to provide work-related coaching.

How does work-related coaching differ from life coaching?

Work-related coaching and life coaching may seem very similar on the surface.  Both leverage self-awareness and feedback, tend to be goal oriented and generally assume a positive outlook on individual capacity for change.  Where they differ rather significantly is in their context and purpose. 

Life coaching enables the client to identify and achieve meaningful personal goals that may or may not be work related.  The measure of success is individual personal satisfaction, not necessarily professional satisfaction or organizational performance.  The  Worldwide Association of Business Coaches defines work-related coaching as follows, “The goal is to enhance the client’s awareness and behavior so as to achieve business objectives for both the client and their organization.”   Work-related coaching enables the client to understand their role in achieving individual and organizational success at work and to enhance that role in ways that are measurable and sustainable. 

Within that context, coaches work with their clients to develop and execute a development plan that will enhance their ability to achieve business-related outcomes.  A necessary component of every development plan is building self-awareness – understanding one’s impact on others and the business.  Without self-awareness, it is nearly impossible for clients to sustain meaningful changes in behavior or muster the motivation required to master new skills. 

For example, let’s say you are a retail salesperson who is very knowledgeable about the product you sell (that is your strength), yet you are naturally quite introverted and exhausted by face to face interaction with people (that is your area for growth).   A coach would work with you to help you to first understand your strengths and your areas for growth in the context of how they may impact your job performance and the business as a whole.   Then, he/she would work with you to create a plan using specific strategies and tactics – building on your strengths while mitigating or enhancing your areas for growth.   

While business leaders often consider work-related coaching to be part of every manager’s job, the reality is that most managers receive no formal training or guidance on how to coach their employees.  Those who do receive formal training and/or do it well are often so pressed for time due to heavy workloads that it doesn’t happen.    

What are the benefits of work-related coaching?

Coaching is an investment for which the returns can be difficult for a business to isolate and measure in the short term.   Below are five ways to understand the benefits of work-related coaching for a business or organization.  Hint:  it helps to take the long view.  

1.       Enhances employee engagement and retention

According to Gallup News, only 32% of employees were engaged in 2015. In fact, the Gallup wrote an article the following year decrying the state of employee engagement, calling it a crisis. The reason being is that the statistics on engagement have hardly moved at all. People are just as disengaged at work as they were in the years prior to that. This indicates that businesses have not cracked the code yet on reversing this trend. While there are a number of variables that factor into employee engagement, coaching is a potent lever that can positively increase employee engagement. How and why?

To get employees engaged and to retain top talent , you need to inspire their interest. A bigger paycheck only goes so far.  We do know that most people have an innate desire and interest to learn and grow. According to astrophysicist, Mario Livio, people are born with what is termed “epistemic curiosity,” which is based on a love for knowledge and a desire to learn new things. He states “our brain and our mind assigns value to this knowledge, so this is usually experienced as a pleasurable thing, with an anticipation of reward in the form of what we learn.”  The foundation of coaching is 1:1 learning. Through coaching, employees learn more and perceive they are growing as an individual, all of which is rewarding to them. What better way to retain your employees than to reward them through their own natural desire to learn?   

2.       Happy Customers

Engaged employees are happy employees, and happy employees lead to happy customers.  In part, this is because engaged employees are much more productive than their disengaged counterparts.  One of the ways we measure employee engagement is the amount of discretionary effort he/she is willing to extend in the service of their employer.  In other words, how likely is he/she to go above and beyond the call of duty to satisfy a customer, close a sale, meet a deadline, etc.? 

For most organizations, frequent employee turnover has a negative effect on the customer experience.  If you do not retain top talent how can you expect to retain top customers? 

3.       Increases team performance

As a leader, you may have observed that teams just do not work as well together as others.  Cohesive teams out-perform non-cohesive teams and  boost organizational performance.  How do you achieve team cohesion?  The first question to ask is why you do not have it.  Often team members are individually fantastic, but do not work well together or as a unit.  Individual or group coaching can help diagnose the root of the issue, and then help team members develop and execute specific strategies tailored to enhance team dynamics and performance.  

4.       Reinforces mission critical skills

Let’s face it, we all tend to forget things sometimes. Why?  When it comes to new information we acquire through a training class, one study found, “45 percent of employees spend at least 15 minutes per week looking up information that was taught in a company training session.”  That may not sound like much, but the time adds up.

Another study reveals that people forget about 97% of what they learn 30 days after they learn it. That doesn’t sound very promising especially when they need to know the information to perform well.  Work-related coaching helps resolve this problem by reinforcing critical skills and information your employees need to know.  

One critical component of successful coaching is shared reflection and learning.  Anytime a person teaches another person about what they have learned, or explains what they have learned via reflection to someone else, it reinforces the information.  According to research, when you re-teach or share what you have just learned (or implement it immediately in some way), you retain 90 % of the information

5.      Increases organizational health

Organizational health is largely dependent on having strong cultural alignment with your business imperatives.  Culture refers to “the way we do things around here.”  Building a winning culture for your business happens one person at a time.  Coaching can augment that effort by identifying and reinforcing desirable behaviors while discouraging unproductive ones.    

For more information on workplace coaching and how we can help, visit www.sjleadershipcoach.com

Read More
5 Mistakes to Avoid When Developing Your Leadership Bench

pexels-photo-416405.jpegAn organization is only as successful as its leadership. Especially as a business grows, a single leader – no matter how competent or charismatic – will not be able to guide it through continued expansion and to sustainable success. That’s why developing your leadership bench is so important.
How can you develop leadership talent within your organization? How can you build a solid foundation for success, both on the departmental and the organizational level? Both of these questions rely on first identifying and then developing individuals who have the potential to grow into senior management roles and guide your business. Unfortunately, that effort often fails.
While global companies spend $31 billion annually on leadership development programs, only 13 percent of executives actually have confidence in the success of these programs in developing new department heads, managers, and executives. Naturally, that is not the type of success rate organizations should aim for.
As a result, even when spending money on developing the next generation of leaders, your pipeline might be lacking. It only makes sense to take the necessary steps to change that situation. But first, you have make sure that you can avoid the errors that led to this situation to begin with. In short, here are 5 mistakes to avoid when developing your leadership bench.

1) Neglecting the Process

Let’s start with the obvious: you cannot build a successful leadership bench without prioritizing the effort to begin with. Too many CEOs still make the mistake of thinking that natural leaders and managers are born and will appear at the right time when needed, not made. This assumption leads to the conclusion that leaders don’t need to be developed; they simply exist already.
Under this philosophy, no strategic effort would be needed. Hire the right people, and the process takes care of itself. Unfortunately, it’s not true. In a new book, Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn highlights leaders from Frederick Douglass to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in proving that leaders can come from every background. Meanwhile, studies have shown that up to 60 percent of leadership skills are developed over time.
The process of developing leaders within your company requires ongoing prioritization and care, ensuring that high potential employees are encouraged to hone their talents in managing and leading others.

2) Identifying the Wrong Prospects

The second ingredient you need to build your leadership pipeline are prospects who actually have the potential you are looking for. Even the best process, well prioritized, will fail if the individuals going through it have little desire or talent to become managers, department heads, and executives.
Within an organization, it’s easy for talent selection to become political. A CTO likes a data analyst, so she nominates and supports him through the leadership development program. That decision may be based on a hunch that is not necessarily wrong. But losing objectivity also increases the chances that personal preferences, rather than actual potential, ultimately dictates who becomes your next generation of leaders.
Another mistake that CEOs commonly make is evaluating a potential leader solely on the basis of his technical knowledge or performance in his current job. A great digital marketing specialist may know the ins and outs of Facebook marketing and search engine optimization, but does not necessarily have the people leadership skills or desire to develop and implement big picture initiatives that a CMO position would require.
Going back to the study quoted above – 40 percent of leadership traits may be innate and therefore are not easily learned. The Harvard Business Review identifies emotional intelligence as one such trait.  Identifying leadership prospects who possess high degrees of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social intelligence in addition to technical skills is key to successfully building your leadership bench.

3) Ineffective Evaluation Benchmarks

How are you measuring your employees’ performance? Depending on the goal of that evaluation, the answer probably differs significantly. For individual contributors, productivity and technical skills may matter most.  As you move up the leadership (and potential leadership) ranks, more qualitative performance benchmarks increase in importance.
Internal performance benchmarks, when focusing on the right aspects, can help you identify employees that might be ready for the leadership development program. These prospects can be encouraged to learn new skills that enable them to take on increasing responsibilities at the company, continuing to be evaluated in the process.
Benchmarks, of course, also matter on the other end of the spectrum. At Dow, for instance, the success of the leadership development program is judged by how many management positions are hired internally. An internal hire rate between 75 and 80 percent is considered a success. That, in turn, has led to lower attrition rates for individuals qualified to fill leadership roles in the company globally.
Neither having a process in place nor finding the right prospects matters if you don’t know how to evaluate their potential for success. Instead, know what qualities to look for to find people with leadership potential within your organization, and develop benchmarks that allow you to test your success rate in building your bench.

4) Assumptions of ‘One Best Style’

If there was such a thing as a perfect leader, developing your organization’s bench would be a lot simpler. Hire the best people, put them through a world class development program, and voila: mission accomplished. Unfortunately, that’s far from the case in the real world.
Instead, the success of any individual in leadership depends largely on the organizational context in which they are leading.  While some success factors for individual leaders can be generalized others are more specific and situationally driven.
Examples of different leadership style archetypes that tend to succeed in distinct contexts are:

  • The strategist
  • The change-catalyst
  • The transactor
  • The builder
  • The innovator
  • The processor
  • The coach
  • The communicator

For example, builders are great for growing startups, while processors work best in more structured environments associated with mature organizations.  If you have a tendency to view one leadership style as the “best” style, this may cause you to overlook potential leaders who don’t fit that particular mold.
Being acutely aware of your own biases, and taking proactive steps to counteract them in your leadership talent selection process, is critically important.  Remember that we tend to rate people higher who look, speak and act like we do.  Successful leadership is not merely an individual endeavor, but also a team effort, and study after study validates that diverse teams tend to outperform homogenous ones.

5) Failure to Consider Future Context

Individual leadership style can also be more or less successful based on the future contexts in which they will be applied. Failure to consider future context can lead to developing a leadership bench that might succeed today, but will fail tomorrow.   In a landmark article on why leadership development programs fail, McKinsey offers an explanation of this phenomenon and common mistake:
In the earliest stages of planning a leadership initiative, companies should ask themselves a simple question: what, precisely, is this program for? If the answer is to support an acquisition-led growth strategy, for example, the company will probably need leaders brimming with ideas and capable of devising winning strategies for new or newly expanded business units. If the answer is to grow by capturing organic opportunities, the company will probably want people at the top who are good at nurturing internal talent.
Context matters in successful leadership. A highly successful leader for Company A might not be nearly as successful working for Company B.  Rather than focusing on leadership skills and preferences in a vacuum, consider the range of situations your organization is most likely to face 5- 10 years from now and develop your bench accordingly.   Otherwise, you may overpopulate your leadership bench with a certain “type” of leader at the expense of diversifying your leadership portfolio to cover future business contingencies – such as an anticipated shift in the competitive or regulatory environment.

Building a Better Leadership Bench

According to McKinsey & Co., 90 percent of CEOs are currently investing or planning to invest in leadership development because they see it as the single most important human-capital issue their organizations face.  Developing future leaders who will guide your company well takes time, commitment and sustained effort from all members of the organization’s top leadership team.  If you’d like to learn more about developing your leadership bench, please visit our website, www.sjleadershipcoach.com.

Read More
Executive Presence: An “Inconvenient Truth”

Each time we interact with someone at work, we subconsciously assess the other person regarding his/her abilities to complete the task at hand.  Do they speak to us with a calm confidence, looking us directly in the eye? Or do they seem unsure, anxious and lacking knowledge or confidence?  Business Insider reports that most people will make up their minds about us within the first seven seconds!   This universal phenomenon occurs across all geographies and cultures despite whether “we” like or agree that it ought to be so.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett describes executive presence as a “combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity that convinces the rest of us we’re in the presence of someone who’s the real deal. It’s an amalgam of qualities that telegraphs that you are in charge or deserve to be.” (Source: Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success (Kindle Locations 191-193). HarperCollins).  In fact, Hewlett suggests, “You can have the experience and qualifications of a leader, but without executive presence, you won’t advance.”

Executive presence has three primary components according to Hewlett – gravitas, communication, and appearance.


We perceive gravitas largely through nonverbal cues.  Janine Driver discusses nonverbal body language in her book, “You Say More Than You Think.”   According to Driver, when a person has gravitas, her nonverbal cues transmit to us confidence and authority – two key characteristics of executive presence. Just how important is gravitas? According to Hewlett’s research, out of those polled, 67% said it was the most important factor.


Communication in this context is verbal acumen – how to communicate valuable information in a concise manner.  Although you may be capable of expounding on a given topic for 15 minutes, you increase your executive presence when you provide a brief summary of relevant facts vs. all of the details.   The key is to create an impression that, you could provide much more information on the subject, if needed. Hewlett describes this as,  “a knack for conveying tremendous amounts of knowledge and giving people the impression you could go ‘six questions deep’ on the subject you’re talking about, but in a way that’s concise.  Attention spans are so short now that, whether it’s in a speech or in a meeting, you have to show how you can add value in a way that’s both compelling and brief.”


In many workplaces, virtually “anything goes” in terms of dress and appearance. What once was frowned upon as unprofessional dress is often viewed now as an authentic expression of self.  While it’s important to be authentic, consider which “self” does it behoove you most to reflect at work? Most of us would consider ourselves to be somewhat multi-dimensional – we occupy a range of different roles in our lives.  At work, if you consistently present your most professional, confident self, then you will be far more likely to be viewed as someone with executive presence.

Hewlett shared a personal example of how she adapted her style to better fit the persona she wanted to reflect.  She was a young professor (one of the few female ones and the youngest) and since she was working on a college campus she didn’t think dress code was all that important. She describes her appearance like this, “So I wore my hair waist-long and I specialized in flowing ethnic skirts—my favorite was hand-stitched and had a rather loud patchwork quilt pattern. I failed to understand that looking as though I was on my way to Woodstock got in the way of establishing authority on the job.” (Source: Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success (Kindle Locations 111-112). HarperCollins).

A study done by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania asked respondents what qualities they associated with professionalism. Appearance was ranked second after communication. Another study posted in the Los Angeles Times revealed that 47% of employers felt like their employees dressed too casually. Whether your workplace is more formal or informal, if you want to project executive presence, ask yourself whether your day to day appearance tends to support or detract from your professional image.

Wendy’s Tips
  • Eliminate filler words (e.g. “um”) and hedge phrases (e.g. “like”, “kind of”, “sort of”) from your vocabulary.
  • Make your request or main point clearly first, then provide additional detail in both your verbal and email communications.
  • Identify someone at work you respect who projects strong executive presence.  Pay attention to how they sit, stand, make eye contact, and use hand gestures.  What can you incorporate into your repertoire?

Final thoughts

Developing executive presence takes time and sustained effort.  It involves unwinding familiar speech patterns, gestures and mindsets and retooling them.  Specifically, ones that will allow us to continue to express our most authentic selves while better reflecting our professional capabilities.   Many of us struggle to accomplish this feat on our own.  Fortunately, there are great resources available to help – personal shoppers, image consultants, communication coaches and leadership coaches abound in every city.  Engage one or more of these passionate and skillful experts to help ease the journey.



Read More
6 Barriers to Organizational Change, and How to Overcome Them

Woman on top of stairs

Change is one of few certainties in our work lives.  Regardless of industry, company size, or leadership team experience, your team or organization is bound to experience several major transitions.  If you are in a leadership role, you are in a unique position to anticipate and plan for change so as to maximize its benefits and mitigate disruption in your organization.  Why does this matter?  Because research tells us that initiatives with excellent change management are six times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management.  Just increasing your change management rating from “poor” to “fair” means you are three times more likely to meet objectives.

Below are six common barriers to effective organizational change, along with strategies and suggestions on how to manage them.

1) Individual Change Resistance

Most people don’t enjoy change.  The status quo tends to be more convenient and comfortable, so our resistance to a new process, strategy or organizational structure (no matter how logical or promising) is almost inevitable.  Part of our human nature involves us being very sensitive to certain kinds of perceived threats in our social environment, which by extension includes our workplace.  Harvard Business Review outlines ten reasons why individuals tend to resist change:

  1. Loss of control, especially over processes that have been built up over time.
  2. Excess uncertainty, which we seek to avoid at all costs.
  3. Surprise changes with little to no room for mental preparation.
  4. Changes to everyday work habits and routines.
  5. Loss of face, particularly for those who have built their reputation on the status quo.
  6. Concerns about competence as it relates to the new environment.
  7. More work, especially in the transition period.
  8. Ripple effects, as the change begins to affect other departments and even customers.
  9. Past resentments that can spring up against the person responsible for or affecting the change.
  10. True risks, to both your team’s happiness and livelihood.

Addressing these perceived threats at both an individual, as well as the team and organizational levels, is key to successful change management.

2) Lack of Communication

At its core, successful organizational change is really a successful communication exercise.  In fact, one study found that the single biggest reason for organizational failure to successfully implement any kind of change is “clear and frequent communication.”  When combined with your team’s natural resistance for change outlined above, this barrier makes sense. In fact, every single one of the 10 reasons for individual change resistance can least be partially mitigated through intentional and proactive communication.

Communication should take center stage in both the planning and implementation phases of change management.   Whenever a project or new direction is planned, communication should begin before its actual implementation or execution. Set clear expectations, communicate potential timelines, and report organizational progress to plan at regular intervals.  During unplanned or crisis-driven change, keeping everyone on the same page is just as critical. In a recent article, the Harvard Business Review outlined additional strategies to communicate effectively during times of intense organizational change.

3) Lack of Strategic Direction

Communication is key but will be unsuccessful if it lacks direction or a cohesive message. From the moment you begin to plan or implement any type of organizational change, first clarify your objectives.  Think of your objectives as the roadmap that will guide you to your intended destination.  Ideally, your change management strategy should include the following five components:

  1. An overarching goal or intended outcome of the process.
  2. Clear, measurable objectives related to the overall outcome.
  3. An estimated timeline of achieving your objectives.
  4. Regular benchmarks or check-ins to evaluate your progress toward goal.
  5. An outline of strategic communication to keep everyone involved on the same page.

With the right strategy, you will improve your chances of getting buy in so staff are more likely to take a productive vs. disruptive role in the change process.

4) Lack of Consistency

We all experience it, and we can all become frustrated by it. Cognitive dissonance describes what happens when your ideas, beliefs, or behaviors contradict each other. You see an ad, but the product doesn’t deliver on its promises. You experience one of your role models commit an unethical act. You hear great things about organizational change, but all you can see is the increased workload it will bring you for the next six months.

During organizational change or transition, some cognitive dissonance is inevitable. Your team will experience an initial increase in their workload and painfully discover many ways in which the new way of doing things (such as a new business software platform) is actually more time consuming or initially cumbersome than the old one.  If the gap between the perceived benefits of the change and the real work it will take to accomplish change is too long or too great, progress stalls and problems can arise.
Observing positive benefits that were promised actually materialize helps to generate buy-in on and maintain energy for change on behalf of your employees. That’s why planning so you can achieve a few early “wins” and then reinforce them frequently through communication, is so important to a successful change process.

Encourage your implementation team to speak out. Left alone, contradictions between hoped for benefits and lived reality will fester and cause resentment, which in turn will undermine the change. Then, align your communication with expectations to make sure that people experience as much consistency between their expectations and actual outcomes as possible.

5) Cultural Barriers

As soon as a project involves or affects multiple people from diverse groups, cultural barriers can emerge.  For example, if your organization is geographically dispersed, it is likely that people working in different regions will disagree not only on the impact of the change itself, but also regarding the “right” way to go about implementing it.  The often-cited 6-D Model of National Cultures by Gert Hofstede offers some insight into ways in which people in from various cultures may differ in how they perceive the world and approach their work.  Various sub-cultures within your organization can have similar effects on whether or not your change management process will be successful.

Overcoming cultural barriers to change management requires an in-depth understanding of who all the stakeholders in a change process are and what they care most about.  Frequent communication, proportional representation within your implementation team, and upward feedback channels are key to managing change in a way that integrates instead of alienating diverse groups of stakeholders within your organization.

6) Lack of (Perceived) Leadership Buy-In

The old cliché that states, “change starts at the top but happens at the bottom” still rings true.  Few organizational changes are successful without strong support and sponsorship from people at the highest levels of the organization.  Here, perception is key. You might have the necessary buy-in from the CEO, but that matters little if front line employees don’t actually know about it. Wherever possible, involve top leadership in high visibility activities that range from all staff kickoff meetings to regular small group feedback sessions. The more active and visible your organizational leaders are throughout the change process, the better.  Ideally, everyone in management should be involved in the change and actively sponsoring it.

Overcoming Adversity to Successfully Manage Organizational Change

Despite your best efforts in planning for and communicating change, expect to encounter some adversity. The key to leadership success during change is anticipation – putting appropriate strategies and process in place before you actually introduce the change.   Even seasoned executives can struggle when that change is complex in scope, long-term and/or encounters strong resistance.  Whether you are new to leadership or not, consider engaging a change management consultant to help you.  That investment can pay enormous dividends for your business by ensuring that the expected ROI for the change actually manifests.

Read More
Leading in a VUCA World

Businesswoman walking on a tightropeIn a vacuum, leadership would be a lot simpler.  For example, you could learn the skills required to engage different people, create a compelling vision, align stakeholders with the vision, and execute it relatively quickly in a linear fashion.  But we live in a VUCA world, which is the opposite of simple and linear.
First developed in the 1990s by the U.S. Army, the term VUCA describes the post-Cold War environment that is more unpredictable than generations before us experienced.  Despite its military origins, VUCA applies equally well to civilian life and leadership, as well.
VUCA is an acronym that stands for:

  • Volatility, especially as it relates to the dynamics of change as it has increased in speed, volume, type, and scale.
  • Uncertainty, arising out of the increased volatile environment that makes forecasting the future more difficult.
  • Complexity, leading to confusion as cause-and-effect relationships are more difficult to determine.
  • Ambiguity, or the existence of multiple meanings that results in a lack of clear answers and solutions.

In short, outcomes are no longer as easy to predict with accuracy for our human brains as they may have been for us to predict in the past. Every decision, both in our personal and business lives, may effect and be affected by a larger set of rapidly shifting variables than we can easily integrate.   Once you embrace the concept, you may start to recognize VUCA dynamics operating around you in many different contexts.

Examples of VUCA in Today’s World

Imagine a seemingly straightforward business decision:  You are a marketing director and are tasked with formulating a digital strategy to introduce a new product into the market. In theory, you could determine your KPIs, build the strategy, launch the campaign, and evaluate the results.  But reality is not so linear.
Changing user behavior, market conditions, and evolving digital channels introduce volatility. As a result, KPIs are harder to define. The complex nature of digital marketing means you don’t quite know why the campaign is or is not performing, and this ambiguity results in fewer tangible takeaways to help you optimize a new campaign in the future.
Introduce a global component, and the complexity increases.   Your routine business call with an international associate or co-worker can be complicated by differing time zones, cultural expectations and more. This type of uncertainty and volatility is core to the concept of VUCA.
Even college students are not immune. Consider this Financial Times article from 2016, in which MBA student Sílvia Simões outlined how each of the four variables impacted her life in scheduling, homework, presentations, and more.   Unsurprisingly, VUCA can make a major impact on organizational leadership, as well.

How VUCA Can Affect and Change Organizations

In his 2009 book Leaders Make the Future, Bob Johansen was one of the first to discuss VUCA in a business context. The former President and current Distinguished Fellow at the Institute For the Future (IFTF) recognized that the same four principles apply to organizational leadership, as well.
Businesses and organizations operate in increasingly uncertain environments.  What started in the technology industry has now taken over other market segments as well.  Hardly any brand can depend on a stable environment in which the challenges tomorrow mirror those of today. As one expert put it, “You’re either disrupting, or being disrupted.”
In Forbes, Robert Sher outlines just what that means for businesses of all sizes, In this turbulent world, we need breadth of skills in every leader, so they can respond to market changes with agility. Companies with the best leaders always win, and this maxim is truer than ever in this permanently uncertain environment.  Invest in developing your leadership team and start now.”
Johansen would certainly agree. His application of VUCA to the business world operates on the premise that the complicated, uncertain, and chaotic future we are facing requires leadership that is prepared to change the status quo and is willing to go beyond its traditional strengths to survive and thrive.
In a recent interview, Johansen specified that in his view, the next decade will be defined by one word: scramble. Put simply, climate change, cyber terrorism, and other catastrophes will bring about drastic, unforeseen challenges that are impossible to prepare for. Only leaders who have the vision to anticipate these changes and are agile enough to react quickly will have a chance to guide their organization’s to lasting success.

How to Lead Effectively in a World of VUCA

Embracing the reality of VUCA is uncomfortable for most leaders.  Even if you think you are making all the right moves and decisions, there is no guarantee of business or organizational success.   Johansen argues that with the right mindset and a new set of skills, you can increase your odds of success despite uncertainty. He suggests 10 skills leaders can cultivate now to better navigate VUCA:

  1. Maker Instinct, or the ability to build and create something new.   Leaders should seek to build, not just manage, because even mature organizations will need to need to constantly renew and reinvent themselves.  This is the new form of stability.
  2. Clarity, specifically as it relates to complex situations. Current KPIs and metrics do not always serve to increase clarity.   Can you cut through the noise and identify the most relevant leading indicators? And can you communicate that clarity with others in your organization?
  3. Dilemma Flipping, or the ability to turn around the negative effects of a problem. What positives can you take away from a dilemma, and how can you leverage these positives into a viable solution for the organization? Can you identify “unsolvable” challenges, and turn them into advantages instead?
  4. Immersive Learning, especially when it comes to environments and situations that are unfamiliar to the leader. This includes quickly adopting to new situations, immersing yourself in them and embracing differences in order to learn from them and make rapid adjustments.
  5. Bio-Empathy, or the ability to understand, respect, and learn from patterns we observe in other complex organic systems often seen in nature. According to Johansen, this type of empathy can significantly enhance our ability to appreciate complexity.
  6. Constructive Depolarizing. We live in an inherently polarized world. Leaders must develop the skills required to bring individuals from different and diverging political ideals, cultures, and backgrounds together and working toward a common goal.  Leaders who can use depolarization in conflict situations are especially successful in building constructive progress in a VUCA framework.
  7. Quiet transparency, which describes the ability to be transparent without grandstanding. Leaders are more credible over the long term when they don’t just share valuable information with everyone who cares, but do it in a humble way that inspires followers rather than promoting themselves.
  8. Rapid Prototyping.  Leaders should be able to quickly create prototypes of innovations and new processes, testing them out in real time and welcoming the resulting failures as opportunities to learn.  Fail early and often, and combine this skill with dilemma flipping to create lasting success.
  9. Smart Mob Organizing. Leadership means little without the ability to inspire followership.  Leaders need to be able to leverage digital and social media in order to leverage ‘smart mobs,’ which work together passionately to bring about change and success.
  10. Commons Creating, becomes more important as the organization grows. It describes the ability to create an organizational culture in which cooperation is valued and competition is channeled productively. That arises when we build an organization that nurtures teamwork and shared assets benefiting everyone involved.

In a VUCA world, uncertainty does not mean certain failure.   Instead, it is a great opportunity to grow your leadership capacity.  If you’d like to learn more about VUCA and how to develop your leadership skills, please visit our website, www.sjleadershipcoach.com.

Read More
Leaders: It's Not Too Late To "Resolutionize."

7 New Year’s Resolutions for Leaders

Processed with VSCO with q1 preset“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” 
Douglas MacArthur

Your organization’s success and reputation hinge upon your leadership. Five-star general and world-famous leader, Douglas MacArthur, described leadership as a multi-faceted ability.  Whether you lead a military establishment, a startup company, or a non-profit organization, succeeding as a leader requires you to hone your leadership skillset and identify what really matters to your organization.

What are the key behaviors that leaders should exhibit in 2018?

The first step is to identify the key behaviors that account for the overwhelming majority of successes for people in a leadership role.  Researchers have isolated four leadership behaviors that account for 89% of leadership effectiveness. By focusing on the four leadership behaviors below during the new year, you can bolster your success as a leader.

  1.   Solve problems effectively

  2.   Consider the perspectives of others

  3.   Support the people around you

  4.   Adopt a results-oriented approach

What New Year’s resolutions will help you adopt these behaviors?

After identifying the behaviors that have the greatest leverage for your leadership effectiveness, it is time to develop some actionable resolutions that will help you develop the four behaviors outlined above. Below are seven New Year’s resolutions that will make you an unstoppable leader in the year to come.

1) Vow to gather more information before making decisions.

Impulsive decision making can hinder your ability to produce desired results and generate solutions to problems.  By resolving to wait until you have the relevant facts before you make decisions, you can avoid this leadership pitfall.  UMass Dartmouth highlights the importance of gathering information and carefully identifying the most desirable alternative in their helpful guide, Seven Steps to Effective Decision Making:

“Using a step-by-step decision-making process can help you make more deliberate, thoughtful decisions by organizing relevant information and defining alternatives. This approach increases the chances that you will choose the most satisfying alternative possible.” – UMass Dartmouth

2) Strive to over communicate your vision.

Communicating your vision is essential to adopting a results-oriented approach to leadership. This resolution may prove to be difficult for even the most seasoned leaders because they must learn how to translate the same message to many organizational teams with different needs and perspectives. Leading communication experts Ben Decker and Kelley Decker outline a few simple tips to keep in mind to ensure that you always communicate your vision:

  • Consider the needs and concerns of your audience
  • Target your message to ensure that it is relevant to your audience
  • Identify measurable goals
  • Show your audience exactly how they will benefit from your vision

3) Never make a major change without seeking input from key stakeholders.

“Stakeholders have unique insight into issues. They can secure resources to assist you with your decisions or project. Involving stakeholders can build trust, which can ultimately lead to increased consensus for your project or final decision. It can also increase transparency and lead to better decision making.” Mark L. Ryckman, MPA, City Manager & Director of Public Safety, Corning, NY

Seeking input from key stakeholders is especially important for leaders who hold political office and those who are appointed to lead a large city or state department. By soliciting input from stakeholders before implementing a major change, leaders effectively show support for stakeholders and constituents while considering the perspective of others.

4) Prioritize your daily tasks according to value.

This New Year’s resolution will help you effectively resolve problems and maintain your results-oriented style of leadership. Leaders can effectively prioritize their tasks by following some of the prioritization tips outlined by leadership expert Cary J. Green, Ph.D.:

  • Know the required steps to complete a project and allow enough time to finish your task on time
  • Do not allow busy work to prevent you from completing more meaningful tasks
  • Remember that an urgent task is not the same thing as a high priority task
  • Do not allow other people’s priorities hinder you from systematically addressing your priorities
  • Remember that productive people and unproductive people all have the same amount of time

5) Strive to be an active listener.

Superb active listening is one of the most powerful tools in a leader’s arsenal. Exhibiting active listening skills is an effective way to show support, seek unique perspectives, and resolve challenges. As a former President of the National Contracts Management Association (NCMA), Olessia Smotrova-Taylor outlines how active listening skills helped her win $20 billion in government contracts throughout the course of her career:

“You will have to practice your active listening skills….Your goal is not to sell yourself and your company; your goal is to become their trusted advisor.” – Olessia Smotrova-Taylor, CF.APMP

Active listening skills are essential for leaders to earn the trust and respect of clients and employees alike. Here are a few specific ways that leaders can exhibit active listening skills:

  • Verbally acknowledge the requests and needs of employees and clients
  • Focus exclusively on the conversation at hand instead of focusing on multiple conversations
  • Respect employees, peers, and clients by always allowing them to finish speaking
  • Paraphrasing the client’s needs to ensure that both parties are on the same page

If you wonder whether you are truly a good listener, you can ask yourself questions contained in a tool developed by the International Listening Association to assess whether you are practicing active listening. Here are the first five questions referenced in the tool:

  1. Are you giving the speaker 100% of your attention?
  2. Are you listening to understand, rather than listening to respond?
  3. Have you opened your mind to receive what is being said?
  4. Have you rejected the temptation to prepare your response while the other person is speaking?
  5. Are you open to changing your mind?

 – International Listening Association

6) Build a more diverse team of professionals.

Creating a diverse team of professionals is a resolution that will help leaders become masters of all four behaviors above. In addition to creating a more supportive environment for employees, organizations run by diverse leadership teams deliver better results. For instance, research by McKinsey&Company indicates that diverse companies were more likely to outperform nondiverse businesses while a study by Economic Geography found that diverse teams were more apt to develop new products than businesses with homogenous teams. Here are a few ways to begin building a more diverse team today:

  • Establish unbiased recruiting and employee selection methods and train team members in their use.
  • Challenge your staff to invite team members who bring diverse perspectives, skillsets and backgrounds to participate in projects.
  • Consider formal diversity and inclusion training programs, if appropriate for your organization’s size and stage of development.

Remember, when you do not make an effort to intentionally include people, you may unintentionally exclude them.

7) Vow to master the art of follow through.

“Leaders are responsible for making things happen, on-time and as scheduled. Superiors and subordinates don’t want excuses from their leaders, they want results.” 
Vernon Myers, Author and Founder of 100LeadershipInsights.com

As outlined by Vernon Myers, follow through is vital to establishing a leader’s credibility and ability to keep commitments. It is virtually impossible to achieve consistent results or resolve problems effectively without follow through.  Conversely, if you follow through as a leader, you model for subordinates how to complete their tasks in an efficient manner.

The Bottom Line

Becoming a more effective leader in 2018 helps both you and your organization perform better.  Adhering to the seven New Year’s resolutions above will help you solve problems, support people, make decisions and ultimately deliver superior results.  Commit to refining your leadership skills in 2018 and you will prime your organization for success in the coming year.

Read More