Can a movie about a businessman help us with recent events?
Most of us know the story — George Bailey, depicted in Frank Capra’s 1940s masterpiece It’s a Wonderful Life is a very frustrated businessman who wishes he’d never been born. Provided a guardian angel, he has the opportunity to see what life would be like if he got his wish. The movie takes a dark turn in George’s absence and he sees the positive role he plays in the community and in the lives of others.
But there’s an underlying meaning. George is much deeper than the movie portends, something we recognize when he first rescues his brother after he falls through the ice. George is a servant leader. Through this service to others, he creates a sound community, good friends, and a strong family.
What is servant leadership? Robert Greenleaf, the philosopher behind the idea of servant leadership, wrote: “The servant leader is servant first…it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first….”
The brilliance of It’s a Wonderful Life is that George doesn’t want to lead — he is very human in his vision. He wants to travel and put the small town of Bedford Falls behind him. Then, when forced through circumstance to take over the family business, he understands people depend on him and the wellbeing of the community is in his hands. His humanity and the decisions he makes offer modern leaders insight into the challenges that face all of us, every day, regarding whether we act for ourselves or others.
George stays in the small town, gets married, and continues his fight for others in the community, even in the midst of recession and war. As World War II ends, George’s war is just beginning. He begins to ask himself the price for his selflessness as his business is threatened with ruin. His only choice is suicide and to remove the pain of selfless choices by wishing he’d never been born.
Again, Robert Greenleaf:
The other type of leader is the leader-first leader. The servant-first and the leader-first are 2 extreme types. Between them are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.
George gets to see not only what would happen if he hadn’t been born, but something deeper — the possible effects of a lack of servant leadership — where everyone and everything is self-interested and we have only those with a concern for themselves. Without his example of selfless leadership, the town is in ruin.
“If there is a single characteristic that stands out in Greenleaf’s essay, it is the desire to serve,” writes Dr. Kent Keith, the CEO of the Greenleaf Center. “In fact, it is the willingness to be a servant first. That means that the leader is focused on the needs of others. This characteristic — being a servant at heart — is the one that truly distinguishes servant-leaders from other kinds of leaders.”
Like a good executive coach or minister, the guardian angel helps George see himself through a different perspective – the servant perspective through which he’s lived his life and the positive outcomes from that decision. Upon return to normalcy, George reflects, “Isn’t it wonderful? I’m going to jail!”
It’s funny — George is happy to be returning to a “jail” he’d been in all his life — serving the sentence of servant leadership.
Recent events reflect the presence of George Baileys among us. The helpers. Mr. Rogers, of television fame, had a saying: “When bad things happen, look for the helpers… there are always helpers.” It’s not always possible to know why a tragic event occurs, but we can and must know the selflessness of the servant-leaders who help their communities move through tragic events.
Those servant leaders are the George Baileys of our world. They are the ones who sustain our virtues as a community and allow everyone else to put themselves first. We should think of them now, at this time of year, for although many depend on donations from others, those servant leaders truly are the “richest people in town.”
January is the unofficial month of dieting and gym memberships. It’s the time when we step on scales, step up our workouts, and promise to make healthier choices in the upcoming year.
But most of us overlook an important part of getting healthy — our cognitive health.
A healthy brain works at full capacity, allowing us to do tasks such as pay attention, make decisions, and remember our experiences. But, like our bodies, if we don’t keep our brains in shape, they don’t work quite so well. This is particularly true for leaders, whose cognitive health is often compromised in order to meet deadlines and other business demands.
Common signs of poor cognitive health include exhaustion, stress, anxiety, irritability, indecisiveness, inability to focus, and trouble remembering things. While it’s easy to think of these symptoms as merely the side effects of a successful career, poor cognitive health is detrimental to leading effectively, and can result in serious physical health conditions and career derailment.
The good news is there’s something you can do about it. The latest neuroscience research suggests that our brains are much more malleable than we once thought. Our neural connections are constantly changing, growing, and adapting. This means that, like our biceps, we can strengthen our brains by giving them the time and attention they need. Here are 4 ‘workouts’ that you can do every day to help ensure that your brain is buff and brilliant in 2019 — and it won’t even cost you a gym membership.
Actively processing new information is one of the best ways to work out your brain. When you acquire new knowledge, you’re building new neural pathways. This is particularly important because as we age, we lose some of our brain cells and neural connections. Research has shown that people who practice active learning are less likely to have cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
The key here is to learn actively. Passive learning (e.g. zoning out in a meeting or reading without processing what we’ve just read) doesn’t add new information into our long-term memories and doesn’t boost our cognitive capacity.
To practice active learning, mindfully focus on what you’re trying to learn (rather than multitasking), ask questions, test your memory and recall, and regularly practice newly acquired skills. Look for new learning opportunities. At work, attend workshops, classes, or conferences; outside work, consider taking up a new hobby such as learning a musical instrument, a new language, or a sport.
Our brains need oxygen to survive. Mere minutes without it and our brain cells start dying. Given that oxygen is the food that keeps our brains going, breathing well is important for our cognitive health. Certain types of breathing patterns are better for you than others.
Try practicing healthy breathing for 5-10 minutes every day. Breathe in slowing through your nose (8-10 seconds), and then breathe out through your nose even more slowly (10-15 seconds). Focus your mind and energy on your breathing.
Research shows that this type of mindful breathing calms our nervous systems, lowers stress and anxiety levels, and helps us focus. That’s because evolutionarily, when we face danger and fear, we automatically breathe quicker (think of hyperventilating). By slowing our breath — and in particular, our exhalations — we are giving our brains feedback that we are safe, and can relax and use our cognitive energy to focus on other things.
Neuro-connections can disintegrate over time if your brain isn’t challenged. One way to flex your brainpower is through problem solving. As a leader, you’re probably well-versed in problem solving in the workplace. But if you want to beef up your problem-solving prowess, try solving puzzles and brain teasers. Such exercises can increase brain efficiency, meaning the brain doesn’t have to work as hard to complete tasks.
One study showed that people who played Tetris for 30 minutes a day had thicker cerebral cortexes after 3 months of practice. (The cerebral cortex is the outer layer of neural tissue in the brain which is involved in memory, attention and awareness.)
There are many different types of puzzles and brainteasers out there — from Sudoku to crosswords, Rubik’s Cubes to word searches. Board games, card games, or video games can also be effective, as long as they involve strategy and problem solving. Once you master one type of puzzle, try switching to a new one.
The CDC has called our collective lack of sleep a “public health epidemic.” The average adult should get about 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but 30% of us get less than 6 hours. If you’re a leader, you’re probably one of them. Intense workloads often make leaders feel like they can’t afford to sleep. But staying awake might be doing us more harm than good.
Research shows that lost sleep reduces our brainpower and cognitive functioning — decreasing concentration, memory, and thought processing while increasing stress and anxiety. In fact, recent studies have shown that people who were sleep-deprived showed equal or worse cognitive impairments as people over the legal limit for alcohol intoxication! You wouldn’t show up to work intoxicated, so why show up sleep deprived?
To practice better sleep habits, try getting 7-9 hours of sleep. At a minimum, go to bed 30 minutes earlier. If you can’t improve your sleep, try taking a 20 minute nap, engaging in yoga, or meditating.
Eating right and exercising regularly also have positive impacts on your cognitive health, including more brain density, improved memory, and increased ability to cope with stress. So sticking to those traditional New Year’s resolutions isn’t a bad idea, either.
What will you do to get cognitively healthy this year?
In many ways, this has been the decade of STEM and women’s leadership. There are hundreds of initiatives nationwide supporting increased participation by girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs, and just as many programs and organizations advocating for women leaders.
But there’s a gap between the investment in encouraging technical careers for girls and young women and the ROI in terms of the actual number of women who make it to management-level positions in science, technology, enginnering, or math (STEM), as this chart shows:
Female ‘Engineering Exiles’ – Why Are Women Leaving STEM Fields?
I joined CCL in 2016 after a long career in Silicon Valley, where I worked in technology marketing and product management with software and networking companies. I’ve reported to VPs and CEOs who were engineers, and have always worked closely with engineering teams in defining new products. There’s always been significant representation of women in staff engineer roles, but as their careers progressed, I noticed that very few moved into engineering and technical leadership roles — many women with STEM expertise ended up in marketing and product management positions instead.
These ‘engineering exiles’ were always very successful, combining technical talent with the listening and communication skills required to translate customer needs into product plans, and to work with engineers to design them.
It always left me wondering:
Why do so many women leave technical and engineering career paths?
Why is the quit rate so much higher for women in STEM fields than men?
And what would it take to keep them progressing into technical and engineering leadership roles?
This dilemma came back into focus during my first month at CCL when I met one of these ‘engineering exiles’ (we have many here!), Senior Faculty Kelly Simmons. Kelly was an engineer at Hewlett-Packard early on, but left to build a career in leadership development. And she was interested in seeing how we could tackle this challenge.
She had a strong relationship as a speaker and participant in IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) events, a respected non-profit organization with a similar mission to ours. In 2016, we met with the WIE Silicon Valley chapter to see how we could help our technical sisters. And thus CCL’s Advancing Technical Women program was conceived.
Lean Startup Approach, Accelerating Time to Market
Since Kelly and I are both devotees of design thinking and lean startup methodologies, we formed our own little ‘startup’ and began talking to potential sponsors and participants about some of the leadership tools and concepts that could help technical women overcome the barriers they face in mid-career. Kelly drew on decades of CCL research about women’s issues and leadership in general, bringing in ideas from across CCL globally, including research, faculty, digital products, coaching, and more.
Several of the key concepts were trialed in a 2-hour workshop with 50 women technologists at the IEEE WIE International Leadership Conference. The group was enthusiastic and wanted more, so we were confident we could build a “minimum viable product” (or MVP) and were ready for a pilot.
PayPal agreed to host our first pilot at its beautiful site in San Jose, and many of the Learning & Development and Diversity & Inclusion teams we sought input from were excited to send participants. The first pilot of Advancing Technical Women concluded its successful inaugural run in April 2017, with 25 mid-level women in STEM jobs participating. The second pilot occurred Nov. 1, 2017, again at PayPal, with 35 women from across the U.S., and more pilots followed in early 2018.
Top Takeaways and Changes to Come
Following the pilots, our Evaluation Team surveyed participants, and we conducted more “Lean Startup”-style interviews with program sponsors and engineering managers who sent participants to the program. We received lots of feedback on areas to tweak, expand, and improve our leadership training program for women in STEM careers. A few key takeaways:
Research matters. Technologists are driven to ask questions and demand proof. The fact that ATW content is based on decades of research from CCL and others made it extremely credible to this audience. We watched women’s attitudes change from skeptical to enthusiastic once they understood the research behind program concepts.
It’s a journey. The women in the pilots were able to apply the learnings and tools over the 6-month period and could see tangible benefits over time. Many of them even got promotions or expanded their staffs, and one woman even secured a coveted speaking engagement at a technical conference — and they gave full credit to ATW.
Focus on actions, no fluff. After all, these are engineers! There were specific challenging assignments they had to accomplish in their work environment, along with longer term action plans that really made the learning stick.
Keep the relationships going. The group established a community and network of support that they want to continue. Since most are in male-dominated work environments, this group provides a safe place to brainstorm, test ideas, and practice.
Leveraging Technology Platforms and Tools
Since the first session had an accelerated time to market, we did it on a shoestring, managing participant interactions manually. We later added many more sophisticated features, including an online learning platform that tracks progress and assignments, builds community, and keeps the group engaged throughout the 6 months and beyond.
We’ve also recognized that managing and collaborating often take place more in virtual settings than face-to-face, so we want to reflect that real-world environment. We added a virtual option for the final closing session to teach participants how to be as impactful online as in person.
Leadership Training for Women In STEM: Looking Ahead
In keeping with our mission “To advance the understanding, practice and development of leadership for the benefit of society worldwide,” our goal is to expand the scope of this program for women in STEM more globally. In addition to offering the program throughout the U.S., many of the companies that participated in the pilot have large engineering populations in China and India, where technical women are even more challenged.
We also want to work with women’s leadership organizations to offer the program to their memberships. And we want to bring the Advancing Technical Women program to other technical, “hard skills,” male-dominated professions. CCL has female faculty members who are “exiles” from aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and other industries where this program could be equally valuable.
In our data-intensive, technology driven world, the need for engineering, technical, and scientific professions is growing exponentially. Our research-based approach and heritage in women’s leadership is a perfect fit — and the ATW is a natural extension of our service offerings. We’re looking forward to offering leadership training for women in STEM to make a dent in that “Quit Rate” statistic and help these women become thriving leaders and contributors in these exciting technical fields.
Leaders shape our nation, communities, and organizations.
We need good leaders to help guide us and make the essential large-scale decisions that keep the world moving.
Our society is usually quick to identify a bad leader, but how to identify a good one? What would most people say makes a good leader?
The Characteristics of a Good Leader
Based on our research, we’ve found that great leaders consistently possess these 10 core traits:
Ability to delegate
Sense of humor
Ability to inspire
While many powerful and successful leaders haven’t exhibited all of these character traits, and the definition of a good leader can be quite ambiguous, most good leaders do leverage at least some of these characteristics.
Take someone you view as a great leader. How many of these characteristics do they express?
If the characteristics of a good leader above don’t describe you, don’t panic — there are ways for you to improve upon your leadership capabilities. Many say leaders are born not made, but we feel that’s far from the truth.
As Forum Corp. CEO Andrew Graham explains: “If you do not see these signs in yourself, fear not. It is all about getting… over the neurological hurdles that hold you back from being a great leader.”
Like any craft, leadership requires that you learn from your mistakes and continually work at strengthening your weaknesses. Seek out a mentor that you admire. Jot down the characteristics that you feel makes them a great leader. Then ask yourself, How do I compare?
Chances are, they weren’t always a great leader, so determine what they did along the way to become the leader they are today.
360-degree assessments are critical tools that are used in a wide array of leadership development initiatives.
The primary use of these assessments is to provide leaders with feedback on their job performance from multiple perspectives, including the leader’s self-perception and perceptions held by the leader’s direct reports, peers, bosses, and superiors.
This 360-degree feedback is essential for helping leaders identify their strengths and development needs, and to improve their self-awareness. This information also tells leaders what they need to improve in order to take their leadership skills to the next level.
A leader might learn that they’re perceived as inept at delegating work responsibilities. As a result, the leader may set a development goal of delegating a couple relevant tasks per week to each of their direct reports.
Development goals can be quite simple in nature, and if achieved, can have a profound impact on a leader’s performance and on the development and morale of their work team.
Although 360-degree assessments have been widely and effectively used to help leaders with their development efforts for several decades, there are many questions regarding the use of 360s that haven’t been adequately answered. Here are 3 examples:
Are ratings on the 2 primary components of leadership — task and interpersonal skills (such as setting direction and resolving conflict, respectively) — indicative of whether leaders will be perceived as being at risk of career derailment?
Which rating sources (self, direct reports, peers, or supervisors) are most important to pay attention to in a 360-degree feedback report?
Overall, which components of 360-assessment results are most predictive of future career derailment?
A study conducted by researchers at CCL, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and the State University of New York at Binghamton aimed to answer these questions.
Our study found that:
Leaders who had lower ratings on task and interpersonal aspects of leadership were perceived as being at greater risk of derailing in their careers as compared to leaders who had higher ratings of task and interpersonal leadership.
Leaders’ self-ratings of their task and interpersonal leadership skills tend to be poor indicators of whether others perceive them to be at risk of career derailment.
Peer, direct report, and supervisor ratings of task and interpersonal leadership tend to be reasonably good indicators of whether a leader is perceived to be at risk of experiencing career derailment. However, peer ratings of leadership tend to be the best predictor of whether a leader is at risk of derailing.
When discrepancies exist between self- and observer ratings, over-raters (leaders whose self-ratings are higher than their observers’ ratings) tend to be perceived as being more at risk of career derailment than under-raters (leaders whose self-ratings are lower than their observers’ ratings).
Based on these findings, here are the 3 key takeaways from our study:
1.Improving your task and interpersonal leadership skills will likely reduce your risk of experiencing career derailment.
Task leadership includes work responsibilities such as delegating, organizing work, setting a work team’s direction, and taking charge or action when needed. Interpersonal leadership includes things such as praising direct reports for their hard work, mentoring and coaching direct reports, resolving a group’s interpersonal conflict, and negotiating effectively with others.
2.All rating sources in a 360-degree feedback report matter. While leaders should pay attention to self, direct report, peer, and supervisor ratings, they may want to give extra weight or attention to peer ratings of their leadership skill.
3.Self-ratings are especially useful in one important way — they enable leaders to see how they rate themselves on leadership relative to their direct reports, peers, and supervisors. How leaders rate themselves in relation to their raters provides an indication of their perceived risk level of derailing in their careers.
Specifically, if leaders receive higher leadership ratings and their self-ratings are in agreement with their raters’ ratings, they tend to be more self-aware and aren’t very likely to derail in their careers.
On the other hand, if leaders discover that they are over-raters, and thus tend to score themselves higher than their raters, they have a higher risk of career derailment than if they under-rated themselves.
In sum, 360-degree assessments provide valuable feedback to leaders and play a critical role in facilitating leaders’ growth and development over the course of their careers. Despite their effectiveness, however, we must continue to investigate the use of 360s so that we can leverage them even more effectively in leadership development initiatives in the future.
The content of this blog is based on the following publication: Braddy, P. W., Gooty, J., Fleenor, J. W., & Yammarino, F. J. (2014). Leader behaviors and career derailment potential: A multi-analytic method examination of rating source and self-other agreement. The Leadership Quarterly, 25, 373-390.
Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity: You may be sick of the concepts the VUCA acronym represents — or simply tired of the acronym itself.
In recent years, many organizations have started liberally using the term as a way to articulate or find a metaphor for describing the changing world in which we live, work, lead, and play. But this is often done without digging into its meaning.
For several years, we’ve been approached by clients not only to design and deliver programs that help their managers lead through the turbulence that characterizes the modern world, but also specifically to avoid using the term VUCA.
We think this is partly because of its military origins and partly because VUCA seems to capture neither what they’re experiencing, nor how to lead through it.
A VUCA Alternative: RUPT
In response, we tapped our own knowledge and research about leading in complexity and developed an acronym that more readily connects the experience of turbulence with the leadership necessary to navigate the turbulence.
The acronym is a word in its own right, but not typically used alone: RUPT. As an acronym, its stands for Rapid, Unpredictable, Paradoxical, and Tangled:
Rapid: The changes we experience come at us quickly. They overlap with each other like waves emerging from different sources crashing in mid-ocean.
Unpredictable: We can analyze, strategize, and predict the future, but then something totally unexpected emerges (rapidly), challenging our assumptions and causing us to reframe our thinking.
Paradoxical: As leaders, we’re so easily lured into believing complex challenges are problems with one right solution, rather than seeing them as polarities that must be leveraged if our teams and organizations are to be effective in both the short and long term. For example, we must innovate for the long term, yet we have current businesses that must be managed both in the short and long term. We might be tempted to choose one or the other, but even for the short term, we really need to do both.
Tangled: Everything is connected to everything else. We hear terms that imply the connectedness of everything, like “the global village.” We live in multiple ecosystems, all of them having internal and external connections that we might overlook in our attempts to strategize and implement strategy effectively.
Rumpere, in Latin, means “to break, to burst.” With the prefix ab-, or “off,” the Latin forms abrumpere, “to break off.” And abruptus is the origin of the English word abrupt.
Rupture is an English word that still retains the literal meaning of “bursting,” as do disrupt and interrupt, all are derived from the same rumpere.
Dis-rupt-tion happens when RUPT is in play and leadership fumbles. Here are 3 possible scenarios:
When an organization isn’t agile, or it over-relies on prediction, to the detriment of adapting.
When the paradoxical tension between rapid adaptation and stable prediction (to name just one of many paradoxical tensions) freezes leadership.
When rapid, unpredictable paradoxes are embedded in “tangled” causes and effect chaotic systems, triggering reactions that are more subjective than linear or logical.
If these RUPT situations sound all too familiar, here are 3 ways you can approach them.
Nurturing and Practicing Learning Agility
Since the turbulence of RUPT is relentless and nothing can be taken for granted, learning agility is essential.
CCL’s George Hallenbeck defines learning agility as: “the ability and willingness to learn from experience and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new and challenging conditions.” Hallenbeck goes on to say: “It is an essential skill for leaders during times of change when both problems and their solutions lack clarity.”
The developmental experiences must be designed around leaders’ actual complex (RUPT) challenges so that they’re equipped with the mindset, skillset, and toolset to handle these and further challenges.
Developing Leadership Across Divides
We’ve researched and developed tools and processes that enable leaders to collaborate effectively across various forms of divides found within and external to their organizations. This enables leaders to create shared direction, alignment, and commitment so that they collaboratively develop innovative solutions to their RUPT challenges through a process of:
Creating safety within their own groups.
Genuinely respecting differences with others.
Developing personal trust with others with whom they need to collaborate.
Building community, and true lasting interdependence.
Leveraging Polarities Inherent in Complex Challenges
When leaders are confronted with complex challenges amidst RUPT, they tend to tap their well-developed problem-solving skills.
Such an approach can add even more complexity. Leaders need to take their thinking to a new level by recognizing seemingly unresolvable challenges not as problems to be solved but as polarities to be leveraged — to develop a mindset shifting from “either/or” thinking and decision-making to “both/and.”
When faced with the complex challenges riddled with competing priorities, a problem-solving approach applied independent of polarity thinking can lead to the worst of both worlds: a move towards the greatest fear associated with each dimension of the challenge rather than the desired and greatest purpose of thinking and acting in terms of polarities.