08/29 2012

The Seven Habits of… Highly Unsuccessful Executives!

Sure, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People have been well-publicized.   But what about the common characteristics of unsuccessful executives?

As reported recently in Forbes on-line, Professor Syndney Finkelstein of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business published an article entitled “Why Smart Executives Fail” some eight years ago — and his words of wisdom continue to ring true as we survey the corporate landscape of today.

According to Finkelstein, here are the habits of unsuccessful executives — leaders beware!

  1. Habit #1:  Seeing their companies as dominating their environment:  Leaders demonstrating this habit fail to realize the changing nature of the business environment  — as well as the role of timing and circumstance — in determining their overall success.  Leaders displaying this habit overestimate their personal importance to their organizations –and see subordinates simply as agents to execute the leader’s vision for the company.  This results in leaders who ignore market messages and input from staff — which is never a good recipe for success.
  2. Habit #2:  Identifying so completely with their company that there is no clear distinction between their personal interests and the corporation’s interests:  At first,  this tendency may actually seem beneficial.  However, instead of treating companies as entities that need nurturing, failed leaders treat the company as an extension of themselves — hence a “private empire” mentality takes hold.  CEO’s displaying this habit use their companies to carry-out personal ambitions — including using corporate funds for personal reasons, including perks.
  3. Habit #3:  They think that they have all of the answers:  While it is easy to think of a leader who makes quick decisions as being decisive and dynamic, the truth is that leaders who operate in this manner not only fail to engage in appropriate fact finding — they also fail to ask for input from others, and fail to see problems (or make corrections) when they arise.
  4. Habit #4:  They ruthlessly eliminate anybody who isn’t completely behind them:  For these leaders, any manager who hesitates to embrace the leader’s vision has two choices — get with the plan or leave.  However, by eliminating all dissenting and contrasting viewpoints, these CEO’s drive dissent underground, which makes the entire organization suffer.   Leaders with everyone behind them miss-out on the critical information that only comes from hearing dissenting points of view.
  5. Habit #5:   They are consummate spokespersons, obsessed with company image:  Focused on appearances, these leaders often substitute the accomplishment of work objectives with “simply appearing” to accomplish things.  An extension of this habit involves using financial reports mainly as a public-relations tool, rather than a tool to drive higher levels of actual corporate performance.
  6. Habit #6:  Underestimating Obstacles:  CEO’s who are too enamored of their vision frequently fail to think about how they will actually achieve their objectives.  This results in a CEO who consistently downplays the significance of obstacles –which is demoralizing to those staff members who are having to deal with them –and also results in the CEO having unrealistic expectations.
  7. Habit #7:  Stubbornly relying on what worked for them in the past:  In an attempt to capitalize on core strengths, CEO’s exhibiting this habit may bring products to markets that no longer exist, or they fail to consider innovations in technology that could enhance operations.   Using their own career as a sole frame of reference, such CEO’s frequently repeat the same behaviors that led them to success in previous situations — without taking the time to evaluate how external circumstances have changed.

Forbes concludes that if you personally are exhibiting any of these traits, it is time to stamp them out of your managerial repertoire.  Finally, the article concludes that if your boss or several senior executives are displaying these traits — it may be time to find a new job!

02/1 2012

Managerial Resolutions for the New Year

We all know that New Year’s Resolutions like losing weight are common among almost everyone — but how about a list of New Year’s Resolutions for managers?

Writing for, Lawrence Miller points-out six things that managers can target as New Year’s Resolutions  —  all of which should make your employees proud!

  1. Remember to Encourage Others — try to focus on an employee’s positive qualities, and do not solely focus on their shortcomings.  In addition, share with employees your vision of what they can be, and what they can achieve — you will be surprised at how hard they will work to meet your expectations!
  2. Strive to Become a Scientist —  make sure that your observations (and conclusions) about issues (or employees) are fact-based, and are not based on a negative overall opinion of an issue or an employee.   Learn to let the data guide your decisions –and don’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong.
  3. Demonstrate Your Appreciation For Those Actually Doing the Day-To-Day Work — learn to value not only those who have been promoted and/or those with lofty titles — but also value those who interact with customers daily, who work behind-the-scenes to allow others to be successful, and those who are engaged in areas of your organization that does not get as much recognition or credit.
  4. Commit To Your Team — be a “Level 5” Leader who focuses on building great teams.  Give your team credit, insist that they work together as a team, and get them to focus on being better tomorrow than they were today.
  5. Practice Four-to-One Feedback — educational research has shown that the optimal balance when giving feedback is to give approximately 4 positive pieces of feedback for every one negative piece of feedback.  Try to achieve this 4-to-1 balance when giving feedback to your employees — this principle has been embraced by Toyota and other successful companies.
  6. Find the Meaning in Your Work — as a leader, have something important to say to your employees.   Spend time thinking about how you and your company are making the world a little bit better place every day — and communicate this to employees.   Most employees want to achieve something meaningful in their work — and it is up to you to help communicate exactly what this is.
07/16 2011

Top 6 Rules of Employee Engagement

What is the key to employee engagement?   Is it pay?   Recognition?   A big bonus?  As it turns out, the #1 factor determining overall engagement is a bit more nuanced…

Studies show that the #1 factor in determining overall employee engagement is the relationship that an employee has with their immediate supervisor…

Perhaps this is not surprising — as interactions with supervisors tend to provide the forum for most interactions that employees have with the leadership of their organizations.  Put simply, good supervisors = high level of engagement, while poor supervisors = low levels of engagement.

Studies over the years have shown supervisory relationships to be the #1 predictor of turnover rates within an organization — and adding employee engagement as an outgrowth of supervisory relationships places increased emphasis on the need for quality mid-level managers and first-line supervisors.

The link between supervisory behaviors and employee engagement levels may be highest in medium-sized firms, stated Jack Zenger, author of The Extraordinary Leader(McGraw-Hill, 2011).    This is because attracting customers — and retaining them — is most critical for medium to smaller firms.  And because motivated and enthused employees greatly determine customer retention and satisfaction levels, the overall level of employee engagement in a firm is of major importance.

So what can be done to increase employee engagement levels?   Zenger offers these tips:

  1. Show Real Concern to Employees — this may be easy for the owner of a business to do — but what owners must ensure is that their mid-level managers and supervisors are also showing this concern to other employees…
  2. Share Information— the days are gone where strict hierarchy prevented the free-flow of information throughout the organization — younger employees, in particular, want to feel as though they are a part of the overall organization itself, and they want to be part of the decision-making process…
  3. Communicate Job Purpose— Everyone’s job contributes value to someone, and it is the job of supervisors and mid-level managers to communicate this.  Instead of simply focusing on the activities that comprise someone’s work day, focus on the value that they bring to customers, and others…
  4. Listen — When speaking with employees, it is important to take the time to stop speaking — and let them talk to you.  It is vitally important for employees to feel as though they are being heard.    And while it is important to solicit ideas and suggestions for improvement in the workplace — be careful about asking for such input if you are not willing to act on the results!
  5. Invest in Professional Development — Most employees are very interested in learning new skills — and they are also interested in learning more about the company that they work for.   Low cost alternatives — such as internal training seminars over a brown bag lunch — can go a long way towards increasing employee motivation and engagement…
  6. Say “Thank You” — simply remembering things like employee anniversary dates, birthdays, etc. go a long way towards increasing levels of engagement.   Send a written thank you card for key work accomplishments — your employees will remember it!
07/3 2011

Leadership Lessons from “The King’s Speech”

Who says leaders can’t learn anything from the world of entertainment?

According to authors Dennis and Michelle Reina ( “Building Trust in the Workplace”), the movie “The King’s Speech — which details how England’s King George VI needed to ask for outside help to control a stuttering problem — offers the following leadership lessons:

  • Be Willing to Ask For — and Accept — Help from Others:  By asking for and accepting assistance from others,  you are modeling this behavior for others in the organization.  Learning from others will depend the connection and commitment between the members of the organization — and will also build trust and respect.
  • Be Willing to Allow Yourself to be Vulnerable:  Many leaders avoid opening-up because they are afraid of appearing vulnerable — and this takes the form of an uncertainty about who they can (and cannot) trust.  This tendency is most likely to rear its head under conditions of pressure or stress — which are the most important times to let others in, and let them be of assistance and support.
  • As a Leader — Recognize that Your Life Experiences Impact Your Ability to Build Trust With Others:  In the movie, the King is not able to overcome his stuttering without first recognizing the situations of broken trust that have occurred earlier in his own life.   This type of recognition — and awareness — is a critical step to being able to open-up and establish trusting relationships with others.

 In addition to being good entertainment (the 2010 film won 4 Academy Awards, including Best Picture), “The King’s Speech” also underscores how trust — or a lack thereof — can impact a leader’s overall success.  With this in mind, corporate leaders can watch this film and be both entertained and informed.

05/22 2011

CEO Decision-Making: Use Data or Your Gut Instinct?

Should CEO’s use facts and data — or their gut instincts — when making key decisions?   The answer is both, according to recent research conducted by Modesto Maidique of Florida International University’s Center for Leadership.

In a series of interviews conducted with top CEO’s, Maidique found that “following my gut instinct”  frequently played a major role  in CEO decision-making.  Not surprisingly, decisions made from the gut were found to be much more successful when the CEO had great experience, knowledge, or insight in the industry or area where the decision was being made.   For example, a CEO in the cruise line industry used his decades of experience before using his “gut” to make a final decision on a $4.5 billion acquisition of another cruise line.   The decision has been deemed a major success.

However, upon further analysis, it appears that successful decisions based on gut instinct require more than just in-depth subject matter knowledge.  Instead, as Maidique points-out, such in-depth knowledge must also be combined with a sense of “deep introspection” — in sum, a CEO needs to take time and reflect on their own biases, emotions, and other factors that can impact their decision-making, and must take steps to ensure that these factors are considered before making a decision based on intuition or judgment.

Maidique summarizes his findings by saying that great leaders need to “know their business”, but also need to “know themselves”.   It is common for leaders at all levels to have blind spots in terms of how they analyze information, make key judgments, and eventually make a decision.  Knowing such biases or blind spots may help ensure that an executive reconsiders key information — or seeks out additional input from others — that they might naturally be inclined to gloss-over or ignore completely.    Incorporating this type of information can, of course, help a leader make a more effective decision.

 Self-awareness exercises (such as assessment tests) can be used to highlight the biases that each leader brings to the decision-making process.   Understanding such biases will allow a leader to become a much more well-informed — and therefore a much more effective — overall decision-maker.