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Saturday, February 28, 2009

How to Be Persuasive


This is the 1st in a series of 6 posts from Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive.

As a big fan of Dr. Bob Cialdini, I have used his classic book Influence in my courses for many years. Now, he has collaborated with colleagues Noah Goldstein, Ph.D. and Steve Martin (the Ph.D. not the comedian!). The new book, Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive is an excellent read for any student of the discipline and anyone who wants to improve business. Here are just a few examples:

Reciprocity
: In one experiment a social scientist Randy Garner tested the effect of yellow 3M Post-it Notes. He sent out a survey and cover letter three different ways: one set of surveys contained a yellow sticky Post-it on top of the cover letter with a handwritten note requesting completion on the sticky note; one set of surveys had a handwritten request only on the cover letter; the final set of surveys contained only the cover letter and survey, with no personalized note of any sort. The results: 75% survey completion rate for the first group (with the handwritten Post-It note); 48% return rate for the second group (with the handwritten note on the cover letter itself); and 36% with only the cover letter. I just bought more sticky notes!

Passing the Baton


This is the 5th and FINAL in a series of five posts from a book review of Succession: Are You Ready? by Marshall Goldsmith (Harvard Business Press, 2009).


  1. Making a choice: If there is no clear candidate, then maybe the exiting CEO should wait for some certainty. However, when there is a clear winner, there’s no sense extending suspense or drama. Make a choice and start grooming her or him. Read more in this section to avoid big errors in judgment.
  2. Don’t take credit: If you did it right and got stakeholders involved in the process, give them the credit for their efforts. Marshall shows you how in this section.
  3. Leave gracefully, don’t badmouth the new guy when you’re on the outside looking in, and do NOT come back after you retire. Move on to something new and exciting for yourself. This is a message to exiting CEOs and NFL quarterbacks!

Coaching Your Successor

This is the 4th in a series of five posts from a book review of Succession: Are You Ready? by Marshall Goldsmith (Harvard Business Press, 2009).

Beginning: Goldsmith argues persuasively that getting an external coach for senior managers, especially CEO’s, just makes sense. And I agree. Would you want a junior executive in the training and development department, however experienced in executive coaching, to coach a new CEO and expect the new CEO to share some of the most private of thoughts? (Truth is, both Marshall and I are external coaches to such clients.) Marshall shares some great tips in this section that are worth paying close attention to.

Become a CEO Coach–Facilitator: Should you, the outgoing CEO, want to act as a coach? Goldsmith offers tips about trying to uncover the strengths and challenges of CEO candidates. Such things as 360 assessments, organizational or climate surveys, and the like can be used to discover trends. Goldsmith also nicely lays out his signature feedforward sessions that involve key stakeholders in the process.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Choosing Your Successor

This is the 3rd in a series of five posts from a book review of Succession: Are You Ready? by Marshall Goldsmith (Harvard Business Press, 2009).

1. Choosing a Successor: Debates about whether to hire an external CEO candidate or internal candidate has filled many board rooms with endless hours of discussion. Goldsmith argues for an internal candidate, where at all possible. He does so for some very good financial and emotional reasons, all worth considering closely.

2. Evaluating Internal Candidates: Do you really want this person as a CEO? This is a key question for CEOs choosing their successor. Also, considering the critical stakeholders (the board, constituents, internal executives, clients, etc,) does the candidate have a political possibility? Or, do critical stakeholders see this person as a “jerk,” a favorite catch-all descriptor for Goldsmith, because it often fits the character being described.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Choosing Your Successor

This is the 3rd in a series of five posts from a book review of Succession: Are You Ready? by Marshall Goldsmith (Harvard Business Press, 2009.


1. Choosing a Successor: Debates about whether to hire an external CEO candidate or internal candidate has filled many board rooms with endless hours of discussion. Goldsmith argues for an internal candidate, where at all possible. He does so for some very good financial and emotional reasons, all worth considering closely.

2. Evaluating Internal Candidates: Do you really want this person as a CEO? This is a key question for CEOs choosing their successor. Also, considering the critical stakeholders (the board, constituents, internal executives, clients, etc,) does the candidate have a political possibility? Or, do critical stakeholders see this person as a “jerk!”

Monday, February 23, 2009

Preparing Yourself

This is the 2nd in a series of five posts from a book review of Succession: Are You Ready? by Marshall Goldsmith (Harvard Business Press, 2009).

1. Slowing Down: Goldsmith uses the analogy of passing a baton in a relay race in which you the runner (CEO) have to slow down to make a good pass off. Accepting this “slowing down” is much tougher than many of us think. The roar of the crowd, the ability to make choices, to be in charge is heady wine (ego stuff), and some CEOs stay far longer than they should.

2.Letting Go: Like the song says “Breaking up is hard to do,” so is letting go. The wealth, perks, status, and power are alluring even to the most self- aware.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Succession: Are You Ready?


This is the first in a series of 5 posts that will be based on the book review of Succession: Are You Ready? by Marshall Goldsmith, the country’s most prominent coach.

This brief but powerful book is aimed directly at the many CEO's (baby boomers to be sure) who will be retiring in the next few years. Goldsmith, who has worked widely with exiting CEO's, has written this as if he were writing a series of memos to the exiting CEO. Any CEO even remotely thinking of retiring in the next 5 years should read this book.

Introduction to this series: This is one of those small, easy-to-read books that packs a punch harder than most textbooks you’ll read in an MBA program. The reason: It’s written by a guy who has coached CEO's for 30 years. Also, it’s written as part of the Harvard “Memo to the CEO” series focused on executives on the run who could read this book on a plane trip from Washington to Boston. The book is segmented into 4 distinct sections:

  1. Preparing yourself: We’re all going to leave our jobs sometime, better to do it strategically.
  2. Choosing a successor: Picking your successor is as much a part of your legacy as anything else you may accomplish.
  3. Coaching your successor: If you want your successor to succeed, learning how to coach them into success is not only logical, but also necessary.
  4. Passing the baton: Giving up the reins is the final act of a great CEO’s story. It’s never as easy as you think, but when done well it makes all the difference.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Leader’s Guide for Self Improvement


This is the fifth and final in a series of posts from a book review of Strengths- Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie.

As an executive coach, I’m constantly on the lookout for instruments that will help my clients reach their personal leadership goals. I especially focus on talents and developing strengths. This is where the new Strengths-Based Leadership Report and the Strengths-Based Leadership Guide have both become very useful to me as a coach.

1. Strengths-Based Leadership Report: The StrengthsFinder 2.0 provides each leader with his or her 5 key themes (from a list of 34 themes) and groups them into the four team-based domains (Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building and Strategic Thinking). When you identify which critical domain best suits your cluster of themes and potential strengths, you then realize what specific strength you bring to a team…no small piece of useful information, indeed. But there’s more.

2. Strengths-Based Leadership Guide: In addition to the Leadership Report (mentioned above) The Leadership Guide takes the whole StrengthsFinder concept to the next level: How do you use each of your StrengthsFinder themes to meet specific followers’ needs (Trust, Compassion, Stability, and Hope)? The guide produced is specific, tailored to the individual, and instructive. It provides a guide for individuals and their coaches.

Final Note: I am a big fan of the work that Donald Clifton (and Gallup) has done over the years and more than pleased that his grandson Tom Rath and all the Gallup folks have carried on Don’s mantle of strengths-based leadership. Kudos.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Followers’ Basic Needs

This is the fourth in a series of five posts from a book review of Strengths-Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie.

In leadership development, researchers often only focus on the leaders to the exclusion of the other half of that equation: followers. These authors contributed to the original work of Donald Clifton by considering that followers had four basic needs:

1. Trust: Followers want leaders who tell the truth and do what they say they will do.

2. Compassion: Followers want leaders who care about them as individual people.

3. Stability: Followers want leaders who provide stability and security at work.

4. Hope: Followers want leaders who give them a sense of direction and hope in the future.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How Individual Themes Fit into Domains of Team Leadership Strength

This is the third in a series of five posts from a book review of Strengths-Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie.

1. After you take the StrengthsFinder (as part of this book), you can plug your themes into one of the four team domains mentioned in the previous blog post: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. To do this, the authors have grouped all the 34 themes into these four domains of a team. As just one example, Strategic Thinking includes such StrengthsFinder themes such as Context, Ideation, Futuristic, and Learner among others. This grouping by the authors shows how, while a person is not usually balanced across all 34 themes, when combined with themes of other people on the well-balanced team who complement him or her, great teams form quickly and are effective, efficient, and powerful.

2. Less clear in this model is how many themes it takes to be a true strength in a domain. In similar such trait models, that decision is usually a choice made by the person him/herself to decide which of the four domains feels like a domain strength. That is, if there are two or more themes in two or more of the four domains. This is speculation on my part.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Domains of Leadership Strengths

This is the second in a series of five posts from a book review of Strengths-Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie.

1. In Gallup’s research of literally thousands of executive teams, the researchers have determined four domains of leadership strength of great teams:
a. Executing: Being able to take something from idea to reality.
b. Influencing: Selling the team’s idea both internally and externally.
c. Relationship Building: Acting like glue and being able to keep the team as a cohesive whole.
d. Strategic Thinking: Being able to think about the macro-picture,--what things could be.

2. If you look closely at how these four domains cluster, they agree with management research conducted in the past (Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid, for example). In Rath and Conchie’s model, consider a graph with on the X axis Task (Strategic Thinking and Executing) and on the Y axis Relationship (Relationship Building and Influencing). While this is an oversimplification, it does point out congruity with past findings in the area of leadership.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Leadership Strengths Series


This series of five posts will be based on a book review of Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie (Gallup Press, 2008).

Vigorous personal or team progress is rarely achieved by focusing on weaknesses, but rather by elevating talents to new levels of success and eventually strengths to the highest levels. In short, success comes from developing a talent into true strength though learning and effort. Donald Clifton (1924-2003) spent much of his life focusing on this theory, and now his grandson, Tom Rath, is carrying on Clifton’s important work. I highly recommend this book to any leader or organization intent on making progress in a way that is both smarter and faster.

Introduction to the series: In this book, Rath and Conchie extend the research of Donald Clifton who did the primary research in the positive psychology of what makes people tick well. They concluded that when people worked on their talent areas or themes and developed them into strengths, people were more likely to succeed.

a. In addition to discovering 34 themes that emerged through their years of research, Gallup discovered 12 questions/statements (sometimes referred to as Q-12® (see First, Break All the Rules and 12: The Elements of Great Managing) that determined whether someone was engaged or not at work. To determine engagement researchers asked 12 such questions/statements as, “I know what’s expected of me at work,” “My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person,” and “At work, I have an opportunity to do what I do best every day.” The key finding of this research is that highly engaged people and teams (those who score highly on the 12 questions/statements) are measurably more productive, turn over less, miss less work, enjoy greater customer satisfaction, and are more positive. In short, engaged people are happier at work and help create better, more productive companies and satisfied customers. In addition, when people perfect these themes and talents into strengths, they are more productive and contribute measurably to teams.

b. To discover your own strengths, I suggest you purchase Strengths-Based Leadership and take the online version of StrengthsFinder 2.0. The process takes about 20 minutes but produces not only your 5 core themes, but also gives you a guide about how to apply these themes, especially within a team.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lincoln: A True Level-5 Leader

The sixth and final post in a series on Lincoln’s leadership: Leading in tough times based on a review of Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips with reference also to Jim Collin’s Good to Great.

In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about Level-5 leaders--rare birds who propelled companies from a good to a great status based on a rigorous set of parameters. Collins found only 11 such leaders over an extended period of history among excellent American companies. The two most distinguishing features he discovered were humility and will. Such leaders lacked huge egos but nonetheless had wills of steel and would not be deterred from their objectives. And if ever Collins were to research historical leaders, I’m sure Lincoln would be in the very short list of Level-5 leaders.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lincoln’s Communication

Fifth in a series on Lincoln’s leadership: Leading in tough times based on a review of Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips.

Lincoln knew what all great leaders, and certainly all presidents, learn: Communicating ideas to constituents stands at the center of a successful tenure. Without considerable communication skills, leaders are doomed to failure. Nowhere is this more conspicuous than the presidency. Here are a few principles from this section of the book:

Become a good public speaker: Perhaps the quintessential skill for any president and leader of consequence, public speaking shapes the future for many leaders. If you cannot, or are not, willing to learn how to speak publically, you’re at a considerable disadvantage as a leader. People need to know what you’re thinking, planning, and envisioning. Bottom Line: Speak often to groups, and get a coach if it’s difficult, but learn the skill.

Use storytelling to influence: Lincoln was the consummate conversationalist and storyteller. In fact, he often used storytelling to introduce difficult topics. His dry, but poignant wit also underscored his stories, making him an informative and entertaining speaker—a hard combination to beat. The son of an accomplished storyteller, Lincoln was also a circuit-riding lawyer who developed a storytelling skill that entertained patrons of local taverns in Illinois as well as congressmen in Washington. Bottom Line: Use stories to illustrate your points.

Have a vision: I heard a lecturer once say that if you have no vision, any road will get you there. Followers want a clear vision of where they are going. Most people can understand the what or how of a situation if they know the why—or reason behind the situation. This is why rationale-based goal setting makes sense. Leaders who tell people where they want to take them and why that is will always attract a crowd. Bottom Line: Develop a vision and strong reasons why it’s right for the organization and its people.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln’s Will

Fourth in a series on Lincoln’s leadership: Leading in tough times based on a review of Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips.

Trying to unify a nation torn by war and strong cultural differences took not only resolve but also a steel will, which was exemplified by Lincoln. Many times during his term, Lincoln made unpopular decisions in service to his sense of duty and his strong will. Here are a few principles from this section of the book:

1. Be decisive: Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, which allowed military arrests without warrants. While I personally have great difficulty with this decision, as did many Americans at the time, Lincoln used this tactic to restore order. He also issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which also had little constitutional foundation at the time, nevertheless leading to the freedom of slaves. Bottom Line: Call the hard shot, even if it’s unpopular.

2. Delegate: The author makes a point that like all great leaders, Lincoln knew how to delegate. What’s more he gave credit to others for success but took the blame himself when things went wrong. Consider how hard you’d work for a guy like that, as opposed to the kind of leader who does the reverse, which regrettably is all too common. Bottom Line: Give credit to others and take the heat yourself.

3. Set Goals: The author tells about Lincoln’s law partner describing him like the little engine that could. Lincoln set his goals high and never let up despite many defeats along the way. Perseverance, the author notes, became Lincoln’s hallmark. Lincoln set personal goals for himself, his generals, and the country, and he was relentless in doing so. For example, he fired about a dozen generals until he finally reached his goal: Finding an aggressive general who would end the war. He did this by finding Ulysses S. Grant. Bottom Line: Set goals and stick to them.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lincoln's Character

Third in a series on Lincoln’s leadership: Leading in tough times based on a review of Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillip.

The stories about Lincoln’s character were legendary. Considered one of the best conversationalists in history, he could talk to generals or privates with equal ease and sway. He was always Abe and always a servant leader. He never felt superior to others, and his humility was disarming. In fact, he would sometimes sign his letters to cabinet members: “Your Obedient Servant, A. Lincoln.” Talk about humility! Most of America’s CEOs could take a lesson from Abe. Here are a few principles from this section of the book.

1. Honesty and integrity are critical: “Honest Abe” has become a name we ascribe to people who are unflinchingly honest. Not only was Lincoln a truthful man, his sense of integrity or consistency was genuine and practiced daily, when he was a general store owner, a lawyer, and a president. Every piece of research you will ever read eventually comes back to honesty and integrity as critical elements of effective leaders. Bottom Line: Honesty is always the best policy.

2. Revenge is stupid: In his second inaugural address, Lincoln said it best: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds….” Lincoln was not a petty man who sought vengeance and retribution. He had no time for it. Bottom Line: Don’t waste precious intelligence and energy on petty vengeance.

3. Have grace under pressure: The author points out that it was Ernest Hemingway who defined courage as “grace under pressure.” And if ever there were an example of such grace under enormous political pressure, it was Abe Lincoln during the Civil War. He was scorned by many people for his courage to take charge of such a messy and complex war. He often dealt with it two ways: 1) he ignored defamation if it was petty; 2) he fought back if it was big enough to have significant political impact. One technique he practiced that I have taught students for years is was to write long searing letters of retribution and rebuttal….BUT never mail them. They’re cathartic but not destructive to relationships. Bottom Line: Courage sometimes means turning the other cheek.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lincoln: Relating to People

Second in a series on Lincoln’s leadership: Leading in tough times, based on a review of Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips.

Here’s the first line of the book: “During his four years as president, Abraham Lincoln spent most of his time among the troops.” Later in the book, the author presents a graph of the number of days he was “among the troops,” and it’s astonishing. Lincoln truly was the commander-in -chief of the Civil War. He visited generals in the field along with the troops, went to funerals, and walked to the War Department nearly every day for progress reports. He, in essence, invented “management by walking around”-- later coined by Tom Peters. Just a few principles from this section of the book:

1. Get out of the office and walk around. Lincoln did this better than any president. He showed up in people’s offices, at hospitals, and in battlefields. Bottom Line: Get out among the troops.
2. Build strong alliances: Lincoln spent a lot of time getting to know his generals and his cabinet members like Seward, Stanton, and Chase. All this relationship-building helped them get through the toughest of times. Bottom Line: Learn to understand the people around you.
3. Persuasion works better than coercion: Lincoln worked through people to reach compromise. In fact, in his legal practice, prior to coming to the presidency, he used to always discouraged litigation in favor of compromise. What a concept!

Bottom Line: Always seek compromise over divisive conflict.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Leading in Tough Times: Leadership Lessons from Abraham Lincoln


This series of posts is about Lincoln’s Leadership: Leading in tough times. The posts will be based on a review of the book Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times. Author Donald T. Phillips traces the career of Abraham Lincoln as president to make his point—that Lincoln not only saved the United States from dissolution, but also was perhaps the country’s greatest leader ever, who certainly serves as a prime example for leaders in difficult times, like now. No wonder President Obama has chosen Lincoln as his guiding star. I highly recommend this book for your library.

Introduction to Lincoln on Leadership: An Introduction to the Series
President of the United States during the Civil War, Lincoln was obsessed with holding the United States together. He took office in 1861 after seven states had seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. When he took the oath of office in 1861, he followed President Buchannan, who was sure he was the last president of a failing country. However, Lincoln held the divided country together with a force of personality and an iron will that few presidents have possessed, especially in the toughest of times. The author of this book, Donald T. Phillips, has outlined four (4) aspects of Lincoln's personality that made the difference and will be the subject of subsequent blogs:
1. Lincoln’s ability to relate to people
2. His character
3. His will
4. His communication skills
Tune in tomorrow: How Lincoln related to people

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Taking Advantage of a Downturn Economy

“Seize Advantage in a Downturn” (pp.50-58) is the cover story of the January HBR issue. Written by David Rhodes and Daniel Stelter, both of Boston Consulting, this article advises leaders to protect their financial assets, their exiting lines of business, and their valuation relative to competitors—all done through tough-love leadership. This all in service of at the same time making forward thinking investments, M & A as well as redefining business models to meet the new reality. A couple of my favorite quotes:

--“Companies that injudiciously slash marketing spending often find that they later must spend far more than they saved in order to recover.”

--“You’ll have to ride out the recession carrying the baggage of any company you acquire, so due diligence takes on even more importance.”

Suggest this entire issue (January 2009) be read cover to cover…then re-read.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions

In the January 2009 issue of the HBR, authors Andrew Campbell, Jo Whitehead, and Sydney Finkelstein describe why good leaders can sometimes make bad decisions. Key quote of the article: “Our brains leap to conclusions and are reluctant to consider alternatives; we are particularly bad at revisiting our initial assessment of the situation(p.86)."

The authors offer three compelling unconscious reasons/distortions from neuroscience:
--Self Interest—if inappropriate, always distorts and corrupts decisions.
--Misleading Memories—subconscious pattern analysis sometimes sees what’s happening as the same pattern we’ve seen before, but that’s not always the case and gets us into troublesome decisions.
--Distorting Attachments—we fall in love with ideas, people, and places, which can become infatuations that take us down a road of infatuation that clouds judgment.

The authors point out “red flags” to look for. Here are just a few of the many they offer; :
--Lay out all options.
--Consider the principal decision maker—and assess his/her possible self interests, misleading memories, and distorting attachments (I have my clients always appoint a “devil’s advocate” for all major decisions. It can be a person or a team, but it/they keep the process honest).
--Consider anyone else whose opinion holds great weight in the decision- making process and consider his or her self interest, misleading memories, and distorting attachments.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Leadersip: Thriving, Not Just Surviving in a Downturn Economy

This is the second in a series of posts on leading in a downturn economy.

In the January 2009 issue of the HBR, Donald Sull of the London Business School writes "How to Thrive in Turbulent Markets" (pp.78-88). In a piece full of advice and boxing analogies, Sull notes that thriving in such an economic downturn requires leaders and companies both to absorb the blows and be agile enough to take advantage of emerging opportunities. The problem is that often times leaders often retreat into such a defensive absorption role that they forget that there are opportunities (offense) as well that must be exploited to ensure a strong comeback.

Measures of Absorption (defense). Have...
--Diversified cash flow lines
--Unique tangible assets
--Powerful business partners
--Low fixed costs

Measures of Agility (offense):
--Exploit change (my note: if you get lemons…make lemonade)
--Use the sense of urgency to move the company forward. (everyone unites faster when faced with a common threat)
--Attract entrepreneurial leaders.
--Reallocate cash and talent across units.

This is an article worth getting for all managers and fashioning a hard discussion around what your company is doing both to absorb the blows and counter-punch.

By the way, Sull likes Mohammad Ali as the best boxing example of his model—an ability to absorb or take a punch and the ability to be agile and throw an offensive blow.

Remember Ali’s famous chant: Float like a butterfly,sting like a bee. Good advice for leaders today.

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