What Makes Me Mad About International Women’s Day



Sunday, March 10 is International Women’s Day. I’m mad about it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to a world outreach to appreciate the potential of women. I am irritated that we designate a single day for this outreach. Then, I really got mad when I read the theme: The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum. When I read The Feminine Mystique with wide-eyed optimism as a high school student, never in my wildest dreams did I think 40 years later we would still be talking about gaining momentum on issues of women’s equality.

I suppose the real thing I’m upset about is that the theme is right. We NEED momentum in gender equity and representation. Despite record advances in access to education and graduation rates from universities and professional schools, the numbers of women in leadership roles- the roles that can really make a difference in access and policy- remain stubbornly stuck. Women still represent only about 20% of the parliamentary officials around the world and 15-16% of private sector boards and C suite officials, despite the fact that women represent approximately half of the world’s population and workforce. Yes, sadly, we still need momentum.

Why Are We Still Stuck?

This post will not address all of the reasons why women’s advancement to senior levels in just about any institution is stalled. There are good cases to be made for complex cultural and social dynamics that serve as sort of a centrifugal force holding up a glass ceiling. I’ll limit this post to one sticky issue: How we think about leadership and women in leadership roles.

Leadership Stereotypes

In a fantastic peer reviewed article, Issaac, Kaatz et al (2012) note two pervasive leadership stereotypes: Men are or should be agentic (i.e. logical, independent, decisive) and women are or should be communal (i.e. emotional, supportive, dependent). These traits lead to common stereotypes that men lead and women follow. My own thesis research into Implicit Leadership Theory  (ILT,) which describes the traits most expected in leaders, shows one of the most commonly expected leadership traits is “masculinity.”

Isaac, Kaatz, et al write about their work with a group of women in STEM  (i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) related academic majors at the University of Wisconsin. Their work is designed to help women in STEM fields develop improved self-efficacy and leadership abilities. Here is what one of their students wrote about stereotypes she feels:

The slow, insidious lessons that we must be feminine but not too feminine (we wouldn’t be able to take care of ourselves); smart but not too smart (the boys won’t like us); nice but not too nice (then we’d be easy).

Bear in mind that this impression was written by a young woman studying in a STEM field in one of the finest Universities in the United States in the last year or so. My God, yes, we need momentum.

The Strain of Swimming Against Stereotypes

The danger of stereotypes rests in their power. In the case of women, several studies show the tendencies of competent women to hide their true abilities through underperformance in order to not upset expectations. (See Davies, et al 2005 and Burgess, et al 2012 for two examples). What does this mean? It means that the bright, talented woman you recruited just might choose to down play her smarts and leadership abilities in order to not stand out as the exception to the rule.

Bear in mind that choices women may make to downplay their talent may be made despite the best egalitarian expectations of others. A recent personal experience comes to mind. I was in a networking conversation with an extremely successful self-made man, a former CEO, exchanging ideas about a project.  He was effusive in his praise of a woman he used to work with, describing her as having “rock star “ talent in brains and abilities, and suggested that I connect with her. I did.  In the course of our conversation, she descibed her preparation in extra curricular leadership activities, initiative and outreach. When I shared the praise I had heard about her, there was a pause. Her explanation for her success? “I’m just lucky,” she explained. I called her on it. I told her that there was no luck involved in her former boss’ description.  Quietly, she admitted, “I am good at what I do. It’s just so hard to say that.”

This extremely talented young woman is representative of so many of her peers. She worked hard to get where she is. She has the talent. She has the skills. She can lead if she wants to. When she does, she has to not care so much about being different and standing out from the group by standing up. She needs the women around her to hold her up instead of pull her down.

My Hopes on International Women’s Day, 2013

I have a few special hopes this International Women’s Day. First, I hope that women everywhere recognize that leaders come in all forms and styles.  I hope every woman sets a goal to be the best authentic leader she can be, which is probably pretty damn good. And mostly, that we woman recognize our special potential for leadership so that 40 years from now we aren’t still talking about “gaining momentum” in women’s equality.


Isaac, C., Kaatz, A., Lee, B., Carnes, M. (2012). An Educational Intervention Designed to Increase Women’s Leadership Self-Efficacy. Life Sciences Education, Dec. 2012, vol.11, (3).

Do Star Leaders Make Great Coaches?



One of the paradoxes of sports is that star athletes seldom make great coaches. Can you think of a Hall of Fame athlete in any sport who would go on to be a Hall of Fame coach? Outside of a few examples, we remember superstars on the field or superstars on the sideline, but seldom the same person in both roles.

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) has data and research that suggests that this paradox of leadership is not limited to athletics.  Using data from 100 C Suite Executives and over 900 of their direct reports, CCL researcher Pete Hammett concludes that superstar executives (as defined as those in the C Suite- CEO, COO, CFO, etc.) may have the best talent for their role but are seldom good at developing others.  In other words, they know how to be a great player but are a poor coach. Through analysis and interviews, CCL offers interesting insights into how the star talent/lousy coach paradox may play out in business. My interpretation of the findings from their research follows.

1. The C- Suite executives had an inflated self measure of their coaching abilities. On virtually every measure of coaching behavior, the executives rated their skills better, at times significantly so, than direct reports. The executives thought they were better at coaching than did those being coached. These C Suite incumbents might have been stars, but could not effectively encourage the potential of others.

2. The C Suite executives demonstrated a low need for interaction with associates. Executives were selective about interactions with others, preferring a small group of familiar contacts or working independently to working with a larger or more diverse set of colleagues. As a result, the executives really didn’t know or understand the talent on their team.

3. The C suite executives had higher confidence in their organization’s ability to identify, develop and nurture talent than the talent did. This may be a case of  “the system worked for me” attitudes or lack of feedback about organizational processes. Significant confidence gaps existed between the effectiveness of managerial skill to develop people and the ability to advance people based upon merit. It appeared that the talent at the top of the pipeline was more satisfied than those in it.

Creating Talent Dynasties

The 100 C Suite incumbents studied do not represent all C suite superstars. I happily count several exceptions that I have had the good fortune to “play with” and “play for.” They had superior talent. They made everyone around them better. When they left, they left the organization better. We need more of them.

As Hammett describes, C suite executives must be more like “player coaches” than exclusively a coach or the superstar player.  A player/coach has to care about developing his or her own talent and developing the talent around them. They must lead by example. They must lead with challenge and with empathy. They must spend enough time on the field to know how execution is different than the view from the skybox.

Careers are short. Legacies are long.  We do not have to accept a false choice of being remembered for having great talent or developing great talent. Do both, and be remembered for a talent dynasty.


Reference: Hammett, Pete (2008). The paradox of gifted leadership: Developing the generation of leaders. Industrial and Commercial Training, vol. 40, no 1. Pp. 3-9.

From Here to There: Actions to Become a More Transformational Leader


This post is part 2 of a 2 part series.  To read Part 1, click here: What Kind of a Leader Are You?

Our questions about becoming a more transformational leader are often more about how than why. We don’t experience transformational leaders around us. We have too much to do and not enough time to do it. At the end of the day, its results, not people, that matter. As asked in part 1 of this series, how can we be a Mandela in an organization full of Napoleons? This post will offer five ideas to help anyone who wants to be a more transformational leader move closer to this goal. It’s built on the premise, offered by Patterson, et al (2008) in Influencer- The Power to Change Anything that the odds for successful change come down to two questions: 1) Is it worth it? 2) Can I do it?

If you can’t answer the first question, Is it worth it?, affirmatively, stop reading here. Your first decision must be that you see enough value in becoming a different type of leader that you will at least try. It can’t matter that you are the only one. It can’t matter that your boss isn’t like this. It can’t matter that it’s hard. You must decide that it’s worth it to be a Mandela surrounded by Napoleons, just like the real Mandela.

Assuming that you are still with me, move to the second question, Can I do it? Yes, you can. Patterson, et al reminds us that “much of will is skill” and “much of prowess is practice.” The five ideas below are by no means exhaustive. They represent starting points.  They build skills that make it easier to lead differently. The more you do them, the better you’ll get.  Even if you doubt you can be great, just try to get better.

1. Have a Personal and Powerful Vision
If you’re thinking:  I knew she was going to write this – you’re right. Big transformations start with big ideas.  Ideas that excite, compel, energize. Washington didn’t organize a group of rag tag farmers to take on the most powerful military of its time “just because.” He had a vision of independent colonies working together to create a new nation.  Nelson Mandela’s vision of a post apartheid South Africa helped him endure 19 years of prison with his dignity intact. Your personal vision of what’s possible for you, your organization and your team is the engine of transformation. You think something about your purpose anyway. Why not think big?

2. Ask What Before How
What is a remarkable little four-letter word that engages others to expand ideas. It expresses your interest in possibilities before settling into a solution. If you want more ideas and fewer excuses, ask what questions before how questions. Add more “What’s possible?” and “What’s next?” questions to engage others. You may find not only a better idea, but also a solution you don’t have to “sell” because others are already on board.

3. Be Positive
A positive outlook is more than self-help happy talk. Research suggests its value to change agents. Dan Gilbert, psychologist and researcher from Harvard University, concludes that we humans are wired to imagine our futures as positive. You don’t need his research, though. When was the last time you were motivated to change because you wanted something worse? Paint a positive view of the future, and mean it, to engage the imaginations of others.

4. Replace Judgment With Empathy
If you do nothing else, assume good intent. Assume the people around you are doing the best they know how. They are rationale actors developing a solution in their best interests. Negative judgments give otherwise good people self-permission to rationalize harmful actions toward others. We allow ourselves to discard ideas from those we deem incompetent. We dismiss others we judge to be wrong. Instead, wonder What causes them to think this solution works? when faced with a problem or disagreement.  See if your reflections generate more empathy than evaluation. More importantly, notice that you get closer to win-win solutions faster with more empathy than judgment.

5. Develop Recovery Strategies
Even with a deep commitment to lead differently, a change will be bumpy. Stress may challenge your resolve. It can be lonely to be different. Progress can be slow.  Something as simple as a bad habit can bring you back to old behavior. Patterson, et al reminds us that missteps are part of all change. That’s why they urge us to plan recovery strategies in advance.  Recovery strategies give us an alternative to throwing up our hands and giving up when we slide. For those of us who want to shift from transactional to transformational leaders, this may be identifying a mentor to help through the rough patches. It could be promising our self that we’ll start over the next day no matter what. Develop what works for you, but have your list handy. Don’t beat yourself up when you need it, but rather appreciate your foresight.

These are not the only five ideas to begin a shift to a transformational leader. I’d love to understand what works for you. We could build a collection of ideas any leader can adopt in any organization without extra resources or special skills.

With diligence, you’ll find that transformational leadership is worth it and you can do it. And like the leadership giants you admire, you can inspire others to lead like you.


Patterson, K., Grenny, J., Maxfield, D. McMillan, R., Switzler, A. (2008). Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. New York: McGraw Hill.

What Kind of a Leader Are You?


What’s your leadership legacy? If you’re like many people, you aspire to be catalyst for positive change in people and organizations.  You describe actions like bringing people together, creating a shared vision and mobilizing change efforts. Great things are to be accomplished under your leadership. In Boy Scout terms, you hope to leave things better than you found them.

Many people claim to prefer a transformational leadership approach as described above. James MacGregor Burns (2003) popularized the term in his classic book Transforming Leadership. A flawed definition is that transformational leaders create change. This simple explanation fails to differentiate transformational leaders from the many others who create change.  It misses the key point that transformational leaders inspire others to create change. Because transformational leaders inspire change through personal engagement, generating possibilities, creating a shared vision, empowerment and support – the change is sustained by the many instead of the few. It is big, substantial and lasts long after the leader is gone. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King and Mikhail Gorbachev are excellent examples of transformational leaders. Use them, and the profound changes they inspired, for encouragement the next time you think the change you are asked to lead in your organization is just too hard.

OK, you may think, I’m on board. Wouldn’t mind being the next Gandhi like leader of my organization.  But I don’t see it in the way we work. Our leaders are more like Napoleon. We preserve the state, conquer market share, consolidate power and, above all, instill order and accountability. Our organizational bourgeoisie teach the young to obey the culture and one day they will rule the unit. Intimidation is our most common change strategy; Rebellions are not tolerated.  I don’t see how the “power to the people” approach is going to work here. I’ll stick with my Gant chart timelines and seven steps to produce the culture change we’ve been ordered to have by year-end. 

Two things. First, you are not alone in your assessment. Many also take a dim view of being transformational leaders, even though they say it’s their preferred choice. Second, good luck on that culture change. You probably will drag people through the seven steps right on schedule. And, you’ll keep dragging them, because it’s your change, not theirs. When you stop, they’ll stop. That is, assuming they start. Check my blog post Want Change? Build Leaders, Not Process for more.

So, smarty pants, what am I supposed to do? How can I lead like Mandela in a group of Napoleons?  How I wish I could answer this question at all, much less in a 500-word blog post. But I will try, or at least try to show you a place to start. If you are curious, check out on my next blog post.


Burns, J.M. ( 2003). Transforming Leadership.  New York: Grove Press.



Want Change? Build Leaders, Not Process


It’s two months after a major organizational change effort that affected your job. Which change leader described below might have increased your personal commitment to the change – your personal buy in and willingness to make it work-at this critical stage?

1. Leader A followed carefully planned change management steps. She presented an urgent business case for change and expressed her vision for the future. A guiding coalition was created to lead change. Teams were directed to create the new processes/practices within guidelines. Communications shared the always-good news of progress. The organizational celebrated when the change was completed on time, thus deemed a success.

2. Leader B has a passionate commitment to a shared future vision.  She views change as an effort to achieve this shared vision. She trusts empowered associates to make the vision come alive through the right decisions about their work.  Her high levels of personal credibility are a result of authentic interest in associate well-being and investment in their success. Conflict is acknowledged as an opportunity to learn instead of blame. She doesn’t follow anything but her leadership values and principles. Change isn’t celebrated because it’s “over,” but because it’s a regular result of individual and team innovation.

Commitment to Change Depends Upon the Leader, Not the Process

If you believe that your personal commitment to change- your buy in to make it work- is more likely to be enhanced under Leader B, you share the same conclusion reached in a wide ranging study involving 393 employees involved in change efforts across 30 organizations. The researchers, David Herold, Donald, Fedor, Steven Caldwell and Yi Lui, concluded that transformational leadership qualities, Leader B qualities, had a higher impact on the individual choice to buy in to change than “change management” practices adopted by transactional leaders like Leader A.  It also concludes:

  • Transactional leaders that followed change management steps got achieved better commitment results than transactional leaders who did not. So, some leaders really need change management steps to produce any success with change.
  • Transformational leaders who adopted change management behavior achieved improved commitment because of their credibility and authenticity. These leaders got results because of their personal equity more than their process.

Transaction Vs. Transformation

Leader A approaches change as a transaction. It is something to be done unto others.There is a business case for change presented to associates. This leader believes if associates are told, they will understand. There is a vision, but it is a vision of completing the change. There is empowerment, teams of people who develop a solution until it is approved by the leader. There are tasks and timeless. When these are done, the change is done. Everyone will do what he or she is supposed to do.

Leader B approaches change as they approach leadership. It is something done with others. There is a business case for change, created with associates. They understand it because they produced it. There is a vision, but it is a vision of the future. Associates envision a dynamic organization constantly in change because it is alive and growing.  Empowerment is expressed in teams of people who feel personal accountability for decisions because they will do what they create. There are tasks and timelines. When these are done, the change begins. Associates work differently; unanticipated problems arise or extra support is needed. It’s at this point when the importance of personal commitment to change makes the difference between success and failure. Committed associates are more likely make the choice to try to make it work instead of finding reasons why it won’t.

Invest In Lasting Change

I wonder if many concepts of “change” are old artifacts. Many assume that we still live in static states that get unfrozen, moved to something new and refrozen.  Under this concept, change is another transaction to be managed. It’s delivered by a series of leadership steps and models. Organizations invest in “change management” capabilities because of a belief that if more people know the steps, more can produce change.

Perhaps a better investment to produce organizational change capabilities is to invest in producing transformational leaders. It’s leaders, not steps, that can inspire affective commitment to change. Develop leaders who view change as something created because of people, not in spite of them. Leaders who do not wait for an initiative to lead through shared vision, empowerment and personal credibility. Leaders who understand that change happens when associates decide to stay invested instead of check out.

If you want greater organizational change capability, focus on transformational leaders.


Herald, D.M., Fedor, D.B., Caldwell, S., Lui, Yi. ( 2008). Effects of Transformational and Change Leadership on Employee Commitment to Change: A Multilevel Study. Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 93, no.2 pp. 346-357.

The Unexpected Path


Laurel Bellows is featured on the front page of the business section of  July 16 edition of The Chicago Tribune.  Bellows is the incoming President of the American Bar Association and the article features highlights of her career. I do not have much in common with Ms. Bellows except one thing: Our careers took unexpected paths.

Ms. Bellows explained that as a young trial lawyer, she expected to represent corporate clients. Perhaps she envisioned herself in the sleek, downtown high-rise buildings hammering out deals across mahogany tables, as corporate legal work is often portrayed in the media. But Ms. Bellows career took an unexpected turn because of her first assignments. She was sent to the local court to represent people accused but without representation. Thus she began her career representing prostitutes instead of bankers. ( To readers who just thought “same thing”, don’t go there. Move along.) Her first clients were dressed in “leopard skin clothes and high heels” instead of custom-made suits.

Over 30 years later at the pinnacle of her career, Ms. Bellows reflects upon how this unexpected early assignment influenced her success. She learned that everyone has their own story. She learned to look for individuals and not stereotypes. She understood that her clients had difficult lives, but none were “worthless or valueless.” And, she accepted her role as a fierce advocate, making prosecutors work to prove their case. As a result of this experience, Bellows began a practice built upon working women of all occupations. She expanded by representing women in the financial services industry because her clients felt she understood their stories and had empathy for the issues they faced. She took on tough cases with enthusiasm. Today, Ms. Bellows represents the corporate clients wearing nice clothes in tall buildings. Soon, she will lead the premier professional organization in her industry.

Rocky Trails vs. Smooth Highways

Perhaps we are moving away from the myth that a high-profile career is a straight line between two points.  The paradigm that success starts on a carefully planned and executed “path”  then continues on a straight line up has probably always been the exception.  Yet, discouraged people I’ve talked with thought it was the norm and they were the exception. I will use Ms. Bellows’s story to illustrate a perspective that might help: Many career “paths” of successful people look more like rocky trails than smooth highways.

Premier leadership development organizations, such as the Center for Creative Leadership and Lominger, have research that concludes successful leaders learn the most from unconventional or novel experiences. Leadership guru Michael Watkins advises us to find “career playgrounds” to test our skills and broaden perspectives.Why? One of many important reasons is that unexpected experiences challenge ingrained notions of who we are,  how we work and how we succeed. When we can’t use what we know in the ways we envisioned, we are forced into new solutions. New insights are the gifts from these experiences; we get to keep them after the challenge has passed.

Detours and Destinations

Sadly, unexpected starts, career detours and professional derailment are not concepts but reality for too many of us.  How many people do you know who are not beginning careers in the way they expected or whose progress has been interrupted due to economic forces out of their control? I won’t offer that there is some cosmic reason for their circumstances or the “blessing in disguise” comfort. They deserve far more respect than platitudes. But perhaps Ms. Bellows story can remind them that success begins in many places, and often unexpected ones. And, when they reach the pinnacle of their career, perhaps it will become clear that the detour helped them to reach their destination.

Resources to Read More

Goldsmith, M., Kaye, B. and Shelton, K. (2000). Learning Journeys: Top Management Experts Share Hard-earned Lessons on Becoming Great Leaders and Mentors. Palo- Alto, CA: Davies- Black

Oor, J. E. (2012). Becoming a More Agile Leader: A Guide to Learning From Your Experiences. Lominger Inernational: A Korn Ferry Company.

Watkins, M.D. (2009). Your Next Move:  The Leader’s Guide to Navigating Major Career Transitions. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

What George Knew About Leadership Development


On the eve of the USA’s 236th birthday, some lessons from its humble beginnings are still relevant today.  As a student of leadership, I find the group collaboration and organizational design principles of the Founding Fathers fascinating. Today, I reflect on two leadership development lessons to prepare America’s first President still relevant to organizations today.

Experiences, especially hardship experiences, are the best development for leaders

When George Washington was appointed as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in June 1775, he was charged with leading a hastily formed force, poorly prepared and ill equipped, against the best trained and equipped military of the time. As he wrote in January 1776: The reflection upon my current situation and that of this army produces many an uneasy hour…few know the predicament we are in. Not withstanding the challenges Washington had overcome earlier in life, his appointment as Commander in Chief was undoubtedly his greatest challenge.

We don’t have full insight about what Washington learned about leading the Continental army that prepared him for his role as the first president of the United States.  In lieu of a guest blog featuring George, I’ll offer a few good guesses.  He learned how to relate to the conflicting attitudes and cultures among the thirteen states he led. He learned how to build alliances, especially with Congress. He capitalized on a deep reservoir of good will among his citizens. He deepened his discipline and tolerance for hardship. Did Washington want all of the hardship he encountered? In his own words, no. Washington wrote at a low point: Could I have foreseen what I have and expect to experience, no consideration upon the earth should have induced me to accept this command. Did it prepare him for the Presidency in a way no other could? Absolutely.

The “Born or Made” Debate

Opinions about whether leaders are born or made spark energetic debate. Put me in the leaders are made camp. And, leaders are made mostly from aggregate experiences. People may be born with desirable leadership attributes that provide a head start on their leadership journey, i.e. intelligence, an optimistic disposition, and native curiosity. These gifts can be developed through great education. But does leadership skill matter unless it’s used? How do we know someone can lead until they do? More importantly, how do they know they can lead until they do? Experience, especially difficult ones, put our leadership gifts to the test and turbo charge them with personal meaning.

For anyone interested, The Center for Creative Leadership offers interesting research into the “born” or “made” leadership development debate. http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/AreLeadersBornOrMade.pdf

 Develop the Talent You Have Instead of Chasing Stars

Washington presented an unlikely resume for appointment as Commander in Chief. His only significant prior military experience was fighting for the British army under General Braddock’s ugly defeat in the French and Indian Wars. Away from the military for 15 years, his passions included architecture, landscape design and the theatre. He had never led anything larger than a regiment, nor led an army into battle. Washington wrote upon his appointment: But lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it be remembered…that this day I declare with utmost sincerity that I do not feel myself equal to the command I (am) honored with.

This less than ideal first Commander in Chief had qualities beyond deep military experience that served him well in his new assignment. He was a congressional insider. His political experience and savvy allowed him to navigate competing interests in Congress and among the colonies. He understood how the system worked. His passion for architecture contributed to a keen sense of design and detail. His experience as a surveyor came in handy in drawing battle plans. His love of the theater and acting gave him a model to “act the part of a Commander” when needed to the rag tag troops he led. Congress could have appointed better-trained Generals, but one could argue it was Washington’s intangible traits that contributed most to his success.

Would Your Organization Have Passed on George Washington?

How many organizations today would have passed on General Washington? He had neither the perfect pedigree nor resume for their needs. They would continue their search for the hypothetical star for their high-risk placement.  I can imagine the arguments for this approach: Not George. We’ve never fought a war like this. He’s not ready. Can’t we find someone with a formal education? We need to turn this over to someone with the experience to get it done fastThey would have fallen under the misconception that the unknown star is less of a risk than the unproven talent they know.

Booz and Company recently released research regarding success rates of CEO’s.  It shows while the majority of CEO placements still favor insiders, the rate of external placements continues to increase at a rapid rate. This suggests some feel it’s a safer bet to place someone with previous chief executive experience. Those who want culture change place bets that an outsider will arrive with new thinking and impose it from the top.

Despite the allure of placing a perfect candidate to head the organization, the research from Booz and Company suggests otherwise. Outsider CEO’s are almost twice as likely to be forced out than insiders. Insiders produce greater results as measured by market returns and have a longer tenure. Some cases show they produce more internal change than outsiders. Why? Like General Washington, they know the players. They know the challenge. They know how the system works. They are ready for battle.

See the Booz & Company study on CEO succession at http://www.booz.com/

In closing, I’ll disclose that I don’t believe the USA’s founding fathers got everything right. Their views on slavery, citizenship equity for Blacks and women and the treatment of American Indians caused profound lasting damage. On the other hand, they got many things right. From that, we can still use two vital lessons about developing leaders.


All quotes from George Washington’s writings are from:

McCullough, D. (2005). 1776. New York: Simon and Schuster

If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done….


Frustrated because efforts to encourage greater teamwork and collaboration aren’t working? Part two of this series challenges leaders to focus on what they do more than what they say.

Perhaps you’ve been to awards ceremonies like the one described in yesterday’s post: Do You Inspect What You Expect?   Have you participated in change efforts where buzzwords were one thing and the behavior quite another? Thirty seven years ago, Steve Kerr wrote a classic article:  On The Folly of Rewarding A While Hoping for B, citing the frequent inconsistency between what gets said and what gets rewarded in many organizations.  If A gets rewarded, A gets done – regardless of the number of colorful posters extolling the virtues of B.  To get something different we must do something different.

For organizations that want to experience expected behaviors beyond vision statements or values lists, Morton Hansen describes the basic routes to get there in his book Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results.  First, know what you want when you see it.  Then, choose associates who demonstrate these behaviors, especially in hire and promote decisions.  Finally, encourage change in associates already in your organization by recognizing the behavior you want.

Yeah, But…

Are your eyes rolling? Oh, if it were only that easy. It’s not easy, but it’s also not as hard as some might think. It’s certainly not as hard as rewarding A and hoping for B.  There are three ways to modify behavior to aspirations that organizations of all types, sizes and resources can effectively use.

1. Describe it.  Words like “Teamwork” and “Collaboration” conjure up all kinds of behaviors for people.  The characters rewarded from the last post are good examples. The Region X leader might legitimately feel his role is to lead the team.  He leads, you follow. Know people who think like that? The Breakthrough Innovation leader thinks she collaborates because she brings people together for everything. Don’t assume people understand expected behavior through labels alone. Be explicit.  Hansen offers an example.  In German software maker SAP, the leaders didn’t just state they expected “collaboration” and hoped everyone would know what they meant. They stated an expectation that “leaders would ensure the appropriate involvement of others across roles, departments and locations to accomplish goals.”  It’s clear, has room for adaption, yet specific enough to spot it when it happens (or doesn’t).

2. Measure it. The gift of stating expectations in observable behavior means that people know it when they see it. When that happens, measurement is possible. In rewarding behavior change, how you measure is as important as what you measure. To really understand how someone is changing his or her behavior, ask peers and subordinates. Tools like Survey Monkey make this type of anonymous feedback easier than ever.  Hansen cites an unnamed investment bank that asks associates to rank their peers on a scale of helpfulness, and the list of the top ranked is provided to the senior team.   What a powerful idea! Can you imagine the behavior change in some organizations if rating and ranking of behavior came from the bottom up as well as the top down?

3. Reward it. This is the most obvious and brings us back full circle. Think of rewards, including incentives, promotions, and honors, as spotlights. They illuminate behaviors the organization wants and brings its intentions to life. Rewards also take the most discipline. It’s tough to tell Region Leader X that he’s not getting the award because of his behavior.  It’s difficult to deny the enthusiasm and effort of the Breakthrough Innovation Leader because her focus is misdirected.  Resist the temptation to dodge disappointment. Disappointment is temporary, your message is lasting.

These three steps look simple. Simple doesn’t mean easy. Easy is doing what you always do and expecting something different. While Hansen’s three steps for changing behavior of incumbents might not ultimately be enough, it’s hard to imagine a change plan without them. And, it’s a place to start. Sometimes, that’s the hardest place to find.

Part Two of Two


Kerr, S. (1975). On the Folly of Rewarding A While Hoping For B.  Academy of Management Journal, vol. 18. No. 4, pp. 769-783.

Hansen, M.T. (2009). Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Photo from istockphoto.