Tag Archives: Emotional Intelligence

Leadership is Dead and our Performance Evaluation Processes Lie

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more – you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

Please read the descriptions of “The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” below.

If you have people in positions of authority in your organization and they are not consistently demonstrating these behaviors, they should be getting poor performance reviews and you should be putting them on an improvement plan or moving them out.

Done laughing? Unfortunately it’s easier to just look the other way and perpetuate the myth.

You want innovation, engagement, accountability? I contend that the slow death of real leadership is the root cause of most of the problems we experience in our work environments today.

For a multitude of reasons, we have collectively lost sight of what real leadership looks like. Instead we have defaulted to a norm-based evaluation process, i.e., compared to everyone else, this leader is OK. This would not be an issue if your leaders were all true leaders. But what I see across organization after organization is that the whole lot have marginal management skills and absolutely no leadership ability. It’s essentially the same as the social promotion problem we see in public schools. If we were to adopt a criterion-referenced evaluation system and measured leadership against a standard like that described below, we’d have no one left to run the place. We have somehow slipped to the point where we all hold our noses, lie to ourselves, and no one dares explode the myth. The emperor has the finest clothes in the land!

Suppose we evaluated all people-managers against these five competencies?

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership

1. Model the Way – Clarify Values, Set the Example
Leaders establish principles concerning the way people (constituents, peers, colleagues, and customers alike) should be treated and the way goals should be pursued. They create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow. Because the prospect of complex change can overwhelm people and stifle action, they set interim goals so that people can achieve small wins as they work toward larger objectives. They unravel bureaucracy when it impedes action; they put up signposts when people are unsure of where to go or how to get there; and they create opportunities for victory.

2. Inspire a Shared Vision – Envision the Future, Enlist Others
Leaders passionately believe that they can make a difference. They envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. Through their magnetism and quiet persuasion, leaders enlist others in their dreams. They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.

3. Challenge the Process – Search for Opportunities, Experiment and Take Risks
Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo. They look for innovative ways to improve the organization. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. And because leaders know that risk taking involves mistakes and failures, they accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities.

4. Enable Others to Act – Foster Collaboration, Strengthen Others
Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams. They actively involve others. Leaders understand that mutual respect is what sustains extraordinary efforts; they strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity. They strengthen others, making each person feel capable and powerful.

5. Encourage the Heart – Recognize Contributions, Celebrate the Values and Victories
Accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize contributions that individuals make. In every winning team, the members need to share in the rewards of their efforts, so leaders celebrate accomplishments. They make people feel like heroes.
These Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership above were codified by Kouzes & Posner in “The Leadership Challenge” first published in 1987 – what I consider to be the gold standard of leadership books (now in its 5th Edition). They are remarkably similar to the leadership traits that Simon Sinek describes in his latest book “Leaders Eat Last.” If you have not seen this TED video yet, please watch it.

Ask yourself this question when you do your next performance review of anyone in a leadership role; who would follow them if they left for another job? If the answer is “no one” then you better re-think how you define leadership and think twice about that “Meets/Exceeds Expectations” rating.

Show your senior leadership team the Simon Sinek video. Show them Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. Ask them to reflect and self-assess. Start the discussion. Light the fuse. That is the true leadership challenge.


Five Talent Management Lessons from a High School Music Program

The local music program in our High School is exceptionally good.  It is recognized as one of the best programs in the state of Wisconsin.  The wind symphony has traveled broadly and won regional, national and international competitions.

Every June for the last six years, as my kids made their way through the music program, I’d see another large group of extremely talented seniors graduate and leave the music program.  Every year my wife and I wondered aloud, “How will Mr. K [the music director] ever fill those shoes?  Next year’s wind symphony will never be as good as this year’s.”

And every following year at the senior honors concert in May, my wife and I say, “these kids are incredible; this might be the best wind symphony ever.”

This June after I watched my son’s last concert I had an “a-ha” moment…

Mr. K is a great band director not just because of his musical and teaching ability; he is a brilliant talent manager as well.  The more I thought about it, the clearer it became.  He MUST be exceptionally good at this in order to put a quality product out year after year.  It’s as critical to his success as his functional (musical & teaching) knowledge and skill.

I thought about it for a few days, and eventually had a conversation with Mr. K about this.  I came up with a few lessons that I believe everyone can understand:

Lesson 1: Have a sense of urgency

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”  – Gen. George C. Patton

Despite the long history of success, Mr. K knows,” All glory is fleeting.”  His continued success, his reputation, perhaps even his job depend on him keeping the pipeline full of talent.  This is not a nice-to-do, for him, this is a MUST do!

Realize that your continued success and perhaps your job depend on how well you manage talent.  All glory is fleeting.  Make talent management the priority it should be.

Lesson 2: Know your team’s current strengths

Mr. K knows what the strengths of each musical unit is and who the top talent is.  He understands what they bring to the whole, i.e., the pieces that the wind symphony would not be able to play without them.  For example, a piece with a challenging percussion part that they would not attempt unless the talent was there to execute.

Do you know who your top talent is?  I.e., who are the key players who enable you to fulfill your mission?  Try to imagine what would be different if they were not there.  How would this change your team’s ability to deliver?

Lesson 3: Know your future talent needs

Mr. K is always looking 2 and 3 years ahead considering who will play which instruments when his top talent moves on.  He knows now that he will lose an English horn player in two years and is grooming 2-3 people to fill that slot.

Are you thinking that your top talent will stay with you forever?  Imagine that they will leave in a year?  How would that impact your ability to deliver?  Who will step into their places? What are you doing about it?

Lesson 4: Know your talent pipeline

Mr. K does not wait to assess incoming freshmen when they arrive at the high school.  He works closely with the music faculty in the whole district, looking into talent at the middle school and even at the elementary schools.  He is not only tracking musical ability, but attitude – dedication, flexibility and motivation.

Do you know where your talent comes from?  Where will it come from?  Are you talking to other managers in your own organization about growth opportunities for your people?  Are you partnered with human resources?  I’ll bet the better managers in your organization have an eye on your talent.  I’ll bet outside recruiters in the area do too.  It’s time to get in the game.

Lesson 5: Nurture your talent

Mr. K sets the bar high. He’s very demanding.  It takes an adjustment that some kids can’t make.  But he is also completely dedicated to their success and demonstrates every day that he cares deeply about his students.

Do you know what makes someone on your team succeed and others fall short?  Do you set high expectations, and enable your team to achieve them?  Do you show your team that you genuinely care about their success?

Jack Welch, the legendary former CEO of General Electric used to say that he allocated a third of his time to developing talent.  To many, that seems like an unrealistically high percentage of his time, but that’s what people who are serious about talent management really do.   They pass the calendar audit – they actually spend the time on the things that they say are important to them.

Change Management Lessons from Abraham Lincoln

january 27, 2013

Another great article about Abraham Lincoln and his leadership abilities in today’s NY Times Business section – “Lincoln’s School of Management.”

“Lincoln’s presidency is a big, well-lit classroom for business leaders seeking to build successful, enduring organizations,” Howard Schultz, chief executive of Starbucks, said in an e-mail. Lincoln, he said, “always looked upward and always called American citizens to a higher road and to a purpose bigger than themselves. He did this by listening carefully to those both inside and outside of his immediate circle and sphere of influence. Listening, always being present and authenticity are essential leadership qualities whether one is leading a country in wartime or a company during a period of transformation.”

November 26, 2012

David Brooks Op-ed in the Nov. 22nd NY Times discusses the new Spielberg movie “Lincoln.” and makes some great points about leadership and change management.   For example, he illustrates how Lincoln did not apply a one-size-fits-all strategy to his influence strategy.  Instead, he understood each individual stakeholder, and crafted an influence strategy for each one.

“Lincoln plays each potential convert like a musical instrument, appealing to one man’s sense of idealism, another’s fraternal loyalty. His toughest job is to get the true believers on his own side to suppress themselves, to say things they don’t believe in order not to offend the waverers who are needed to get the amendment passed.”

Read the entire NY Times article here

Great stuff!  We always think of Lewin, Bridges, Kotter, et al as the big guns of change management.  Who would have thought that the Abe Lincoln was the original!

From March 15, 2012:

I heard a phenomenal piece on NPR tonight on the way home from a client.  If you are even passively interested in the art of change management (or a little interested in history) you must read this!

Lincoln knew that their would be massive resistance to the Emancipation Proclamation.  Read about what he did to minimize that resistance and ensure support.  This is a truly remarkable story.   I will be adding comments about this soon (when I have more time).  I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Click here to go read or listen to the story on NPR/All Things Considered

It did not take any genius to anticipate the backlash that would follow the Emancipation Proclamation, but the clarity of vision, and the “systems thinking” as we would call it today that Lincoln employed to achieve his vision is absolute genius.

“He knew he was going to do [the emancipation proclamation], but he wanted Northern Americans who were dubious about marching toward racial equality to be assured that he was not doing this for the black race. He was doing this for the Union, to reunite the country, to defeat the rebellion…”

So Lincoln has a gathering of prominent African-Americans at the White House, to which he also invites the press, and then proceeds to blame them for the war – in front of the press!

There is a great lesson here.  Clarity of vision and purpose by leadership, and the fortitude to do execute your strategy to achieve the goal – breaking eggs in order to make an omelet, if you will – is the single most important factor in driving change.   Just go to the link and listen, or read it.  More soon.

Pecha Kucha & Leading from the Heart

Recently I have been investigating alternative group facilitation techniques and presentation formats.  I was lucky enough to meet Jon Mueller from 800CEORead.com who introduced me to the Pecha Kucha presentation format.  The basic premise is that you must use 20 slides that advance automatically after 20 seconds each – no pausing.  You’ll see it referred to as the 20×20 format.  You can learn more details about it here.  To make a long story short, Jon convinced me that the best way to familiarize myself with the format was to do one.  So I did.  I can tell you that the format will absolutely revolutionize the way you think about preparing and presenting any content.


I’ve always been a believer in, and an advocate for, leading from your heart (See the brilliant Simon Sinek presentation at TED in this blog).   I thought I would try my hand at inspiring others by putting my own heart on my sleeve.   It seemed like a good idea at the time.  I had no idea how many different ways this endeavor would challenge me.  I have spoken to very large audiences, facilitated teams of high-profile C-suite executives, but this was easily the most nervous I’ve been before a presentation in twenty plus years.  It turned out to be a fabulous experience.

I’ve attached a link to a video of the presentation.  You will learn a lot about me, and hopefully, what I believe about Dreaming Big Dreams and Never Stop Doing the Things You Love will inspire you too.

Pecha Kucha Nite Milwaukee #10

Please visit the Pecha Kucha.org website, find an event near you and attend!

Shaping a Vision & Mobilizing Commitment


Take  a few minutes to watch this video from Simon Sinek.  It applies directly to what leaders can do to ensure the success of a change initiative.   Don’t talk about the “what” or the “how” – make sure everyone understands the “why.”  Humans are hard-wired to make decisions based on emotions, not facts.  Appeal to their hearts, not their heads.

Leading vs. Managing – The pendulum swings

For many years we’ve been hearing from the HBR crowd that organizations have been overmanaged and underled. I was totally bought into this, and still support Emotional Intelligence and similar practices for leaders.  But recently it has occurred to me that we might really be overled and undermanaged.

When an individual contributor moves into a management role, they take on new responsibilities in addition to their technical expertise.  They now must hire, give feedback and coach, conduct performance reviews, delegate, make decisions for the group, etc.  These are basic skills/responsibilities required of every manager.  My observation is that most managers are failing at these fundamental tasks.

Senior leadership requires monthly/quarterly financial updates, and the entire organization dutifully complies – we would expect nothing less.   If “our people are our greatest resource” as so many claim, why do organizations live with one poorly done performance review per year?   Why don’t we expect monthly, or at least quarterly, people reviews?  Why do we allow the hiring/interview process to be so poorly managed?  Why don’t we do more post-mortems on decisions and delegations.

Furthermore, to what degree does HR, as a profession, enable this?  The HR community (of which I am a part) is always talking about “having a seat at the table” with the c-suite, to be part of the strategy-making process.   I realize that most HR departments are stretched to the breaking point these days, but how about we get the focus back on the fundamentals and get managers managing again.  How about we insist that we abandon the annual performance review process and move to a meaningful quarterly process and tie manager compensation to it being done well.  What might that be worth to an organization?

It’s time we swing the pendulum back the other way and get back to fundamentals – We need really good managers now.  Once they’ve proven their ability to manage well, we can think about their ability to inspire or whatever…