Do You Inspect What You Expect?


The behavior an organization truly expects shows up in what it rewards.  Part one of this two part series shows how  an organization sends its clearest communication about what it values.

The awards dinner is designed to impress.  It’s the event of the year with no expense spared to create the ambiance of success. Laughter and chatter fill the room until the crowd is called to order. Associates and guests excitedly make their way to their seats. The CEO hosts this annual awards night every year as a way to publically acknowledge another year of success and reward those who made it happen. This year, the CEO emphasizes the importance of teamwork and collaboration as organizational tools to improve results and lower costs.

The crowd’s anticipation level rises as the first award is announced. The Sales Officer from the X Region is announced as the winner of The CEO Award. This announcement is followed by stifled gasps, then polite applause. As the winner accepted hugs and steps to the stage, the CEO proudly reviews a list of achievements as the basis for the award: revenue growth across all lines, increases in share and units sold, glowing customer reviews. Others in the audience reviewed their lists, too. The angry phone calls and hostile emails about promises he made to the customer that they were threatened to keep. Meetings about cross unit selling that the Region X leader blew off.  The fire drills that took up the weekends of their team members with little follow up on what happened, much less expressions of gratitude. All agreed that the Region X Sales Officer got results. They had his shoe prints on their backs to show it.

The CEO happily moves on to the next award, newly created this year to emphasize the organization’s increased emphasis on the benefits of collaboration. The Breakthrough Innovation leader excitedly jumps up as her name is called. The CEO beams as he discusses the passion this person holds for innovation and the enthusiasm thrown into the job. Her peers agree, but for different reasons. They wonder if she’s ever met an idea she didn’t like. Her enthusiasm for possibilities has produced dozens of disconnected ad hoc teams, resourced from other responsibilities, pulled together for days to “explore possibilities”.  The position of Breakthrough Innovation was created without the “burden” of a P&L to tamper exploration, and her lack of tangible results show it. Some wonder if her performance is measured by the number of meetings she creates.

As the lovely evening closes, the CEO thanks the award winners as role models for the type of teamwork and collaboration the organization values. All agree that he’s right about that.

Could this describe your organization? Does it expect behaviors it does not reward? Does it know how to spot behavior that represents stated expectations? Check back for tomorrow’s blog for some better ideas to “inspect what you expect.”

Part One of Two

A Thank You to My Heroines


The approach of International Women’s Day, March 8, encourages my reflection about the magnificent women who inspire me to be a better person.

We have so much to celebrate from the lives of incredible women. There is the compassion of Mother Theresa, the indomitable spirit of Margaret Thatcher, the bravery of Benazir Bhutto. In my own life, I celebrate the resolve of my great grandmother, who at age 84, walked several miles round trip from her farm to town determined to cast her vote for the first time.  Her story taught me to never take my rights and responsibilities for granted.

There are so many women to celebrate on this day set aside to appreciate their gifts. But, I believe the best from all of them can be wrapped up in the story of the Women’s Peace Initiative of Liberia. This remarkable coalition of women of all ages, religions and ethnicity, armed only with faith and white T shirts, stood down the war loads and the unrestrained dictator who terrorized their families and communities in a long and brutal civil war. Their story has been captured in the acclaimed documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. An originator and leader of the group, Leymah Gbowee, received the 2011 Nobel Pearce Prize for her leadership and unwavering commitment to the bring peace to her country.

If you ever wonder what you can first do to change yourself then to change the world, set aside an hour to watch the story of these amazingly ordinary women.

Pray The Devil Back to Hell

Your Lessons

So, Leymah, Janet, Asatu, Vaiba, Etty and Etweda, you have taught me how to be a better mother, a better citizen, a better leader and a better person. These are the lessons I take from your story, explained in your own words. I can’t do better.

Have a Purpose Bigger than Yourself. “ We take this stand to secure the future for our children.”

Be the Difference. “ Step out and do the unimaginable.”

You Have All The Power You Need. “With this T Shirt, I am very powerful.”

Use the Command of a Simple Message. “ The Women of Liberia Want Peace Now.”

A Coalition of the Willing Will Overcome an Army of the Compelled. “It’s a showdown. Go get the women!” (My favorite line in the documentary.)

Thank You

To women everywhere who show me the impossible is possible, Happy Women’s Day!

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What Your Boss Should Know About You


Want employees to be more satisfied with their jobs? Want them to work harder and perform better? Don’t know how to make it happen?

Ask them.

Ask someone about his or her job. Talk to them long enough, and if they work for someone else, expect to hear some disappointment.  This predictable pattern is reflected in the job satisfaction trend in the United States. The Gallup Organization tracks employee reported job satisfaction monthly. It reports that while job satisfaction is still fairly high, with 9 of 10 Americans happy in their jobs, the overall trend has been mostly downward since a 2008 peak. The lowest level recorded was in the summer of 2011, with a modest climb upward climb since then.  (Note: this research is U.S. based.  If someone can suggest global or non U.S. satisfaction research, I’d love to see it for a broader view.)

Gallup uses four questions to measure job satisfaction. These are questions any employer or leader interested in retaining talent should also ask:
1. Do you use strengths in your work every day?
2. Is your supervisor more like a partner?
3. Does your supervisor create an open and trusting work environment?
4. Are you satisfied with your job?

There are many implications for these findings. If you manage someone, they should scream “Hello! Look! Over here!” If someone manages you, they should provoke thinking about what you can do to answer “yes” to each question. The good news is that there is a simple step both manager and employees can take that makes a big difference.

A Common Frustration

In my coaching experience, clients frequently express a frustration that comes from a perception that their unique strengths and experiences are not recognized. They do not use their strengths on the job, and as a result, do not perform to their fullest potential. Recent hires with college or graduate level training complain that leadership experiences gained in internships or volunteer work go underutilized.  More experienced employees complain that wisdom or skills gained through stretch assignments, e.g. ex-pat assignments, are wasted in their current roles. The implied assumption is that their manager knows all about their gifts and doesn’t care. I reframe this assumption as the manager doesn’t care about what they don’t know. And, much of what he or she doesn’t know about is about their employees.

How Can This Be?

Isn’t the critical role of a boss to learn as much as he or she can about the talent of people? It is. However, the perfect storm of rapid churn of employees and managers in assignments, the whirl of demands and the allure of “ good enough” decisions traps managers into the tyranny of the predictable. Predictability trumps development in many decisions.

Invest in The Talent Interview

Fortunately, there is a simple investment with a potential for big payoffs for both managers and employees: The Talent Interview. It is one on one, employee led discussion about the employee. It’s the gift of an hour so each employee can share personal perspectives on their skills, and suggests ways their gifts can be better used on the job. Done well, it addresses each of the questions in the Gallup survey. The employee gets to explore opportunities to use his or her strengths.  The manager gets a partnership role in their development. And, the interview itself lends to the creation of a more open and trusting environment.

How It Works

Talent Interviews are pretty easy. The manager invites each employee to an hour-long meeting to discuss his or her talent and potential contributions. Questions are provided to guide the employee’s thinking and dig into five topic areas:

1. What does the employee view as his or her strengths?
2. What experiences developed these strengths?
3. How does the employee imagine these strengths can be used in his or her job or on the team?
4. What would the employee like to do next?
5. What help can the manager provide to help the employee showcase their strengths?

Your organization may already provide a Talent Interview template. If not, a sample template is enclosed to download.

Talent Interviews

Ground Rules for Talent Interviews

Three simple ground rules maximize the benefits of Talent Interviews:
1. No gripes. It is not the occasion for the employee to complain about the job or the manager to complain about the employee’s performance.
2. This is about skills, not titles.  A Talent Interview is not an oral reading of a C.V.  Employees share what they learned and how, not a list of titles and dates.
3. No promises. The manager uses this occasion to listen, ask questions and develop a deeper understanding of what the employee wants to do.

Invest A Little, Get a Lot

The Talent Interview offers terrific payoffs for both managers and employees. As a manager, it was one of my best investments of time every year. As much as I felt I knew someone, I learned about strengths or potential contributions previously unknown to me. Talent Interviews were filled with pleasant surprises, the ideas people had to develop their strengths and do better work.

A Talent Interview, done well, will encourage understanding, support a performance partnership, and foster connection and trust. It’s worth the hour.

Want to Be Happier at Work? Build A Better Relationship With Your Boss


Want more engaging work assignments? Think about how to improve your performance?  Wish you were happier at work? Improve your relationship with your boss to make your work life much better. 

The relationship with your boss usually is the most important one related to your job. In matrix organizations, expand this concept to “dotted line bosses.”  Numerous research studies, and perhaps your personal experience, come to the same conclusion. The quality of your relationship with your boss affects the type of assignments you receive, your performance, job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Given the importance of this relationship, there are three things you should know and three things you should do to make it better.

The quality of your relationship starts very early.

Research, including that conducted by Epitropaki and Martin ((2005) indicates that you and your boss form opinions of each other very early and those opinions remain stable. How early? Some research suggests that as early as five days after working together, you and your new boss already have an opinion about your ability to work with each other.  Why is this early impression resistant to change? One important factor is that both you and a boss are susceptible to confirmation bias, or the tendency to look for information that supports what you already believe and discard disconfirming information.

Your boss doesn’t have the same quality of relationship with everyone in your team/group.

Your boss forms a unique relationship with everyone who reports to him or her. Researchers label it leader- member exchange. What it means is that your manger will develop high quality relationships with some and lower quality relationship with others based upon several factors.  The differentiating aspects of each unique relationship means it’s harder to copy the style a peer uses with your boss and get the same results. Your peers find it just as hard to copy your style with your boss, too. You and your boss will form a unique, reciprocal relationship that will influence the type of assignments you receive, the amount of autonomy you enjoy, and the level of influence and support he or she extends on your behalf.

Your boss has different criteria for decisions

Often, we read into decisions made by the boss to infer hidden motivation or beliefs. For example, the fact that a boss did not lobby on someone’s behalf with her peers is interpreted that she isn’t willing to go to bat for her people.

Most people in a role of managing others try to take an expanded view of all decisions. But perhaps like you, she made the most obvious decision available at the time. Nobel laureate Herbert Simon describes the propensity for all of us to satisfice, or settle for the first acceptable solution. These solutions made sense, can be accommodated, and there did not seem to be a reason not to proceed.

Is satisficing the best way for your boss to make decisions? No. But in a world where decisions come at her like fast balls or soccer kicks several times a day, making the first “good enough” decision is rational to her. In fact, with honest reflection, there is reasonable likelihood that you can recall your own satisficing decisions.

Advice To Build a Better Relationship With Your Boss

Of course, your relationship with your boss is a two way street. Even if you got a lemon, there are things you can control. Even if you don’t think you can make the relationship better, you can make it worse. It’s too important- don’t do that.

Try these ideas to control what you can to form a better relationship with your boss.

Start Strong
The first month in your relationship with a new boss is the most important. You don’t have to like him or her, but it is far better if you can reasons to like them. At a minimum, be positive in your interactions; try out some of his or her ideas instead of dismissing them out of hand. Put your best effort into your first assignments. The lasting impression your boss has about you and your work is formed in your first month, or through your first series of interactions. Bring your “A” game.

Give Better than You Get
The relationship with your manager is an exchange. It’s reciprocal. Build equity through your best effort, attitude and work. You do not have to pretend to like someone you do not like, but you can develop a respectful, professional relationship. The relationship with your boss is one where you will get back what you put in.

Don’t Assume Intentions
The best outcomes for you and your peers are certainly among your boss’ considerations when weighing decisions. But you are not the only considerations. He or she must consider the goals and needs of the organization, business and role. Your boss must make the best, most expedient decision for all involved; even though it’s not the outcome you wanted. You do not need to like your boss’ decisions, but your relationship will be better if you appreciate their view.

You can’t control everything in the relationship with your boss. But by managing the aspects that are under your control- you may reap the benefits of richer assignments, greater autonomy and higher job satisfaction. A better relationship with your boss is worth your effort.


Epitropaki, O. and Martin, R. (2005). From Ideal to Real: A Longitudinal Study of the Role of Implicit leadership Theories on Leader- member Exchanges and Employee Outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 90 pp. 659-676

Manzoni, J.F. and Barsoux, J.L. (2002).  The Set Up to Fail Syndrome: How Good Managers Cause Great People to FailBoston: Harvard Business Sch

How To Increase Employee Productivity


Do you wish your employees were more productive? Spent less time on negative gossip? Any organization can improve productivity by creating stronger positive connections. It’s free. It’s easy. It works.

I was scared. My knees were shaking. Other kids were already snickering at me. Why? It was my turn to stand and read the next paragraph out loud. Only I had a secret. The words didn’t look the same to me as they did to everyone else. I couldn’t do it.  I stood frozen in fear.

The teacher made her way over to me. What would she do? Would she tell me to sit down in shame? Would she tell me what I thought: That I was stupid? No. She put her big, soft arm around my shoulder and whispered: “We’ll read it together.” And, with great relief, we did.

There was silence in the room full of executives listening to this story. The speaker lifted the lid on one of the “undiscussable” topics among the group. Nearly every one of these accomplished, competitive, driven leaders was, at one point in their careers, like the scared little boy with a secret that held him back. And, each of them had longed for that arm around their shoulder encouraging them to make the brave next step.

The speaker was Dr. Ned Hallowell, an alumnus of Harvard University and Tulane Medical School, an accomplished psychiatrist who now dedicates his career to teaching and writing.  Of all of the dozens of keynotes I’ve heard over many conferences, I will never forget Dr. Hallowell’s. Here he was addressing a group of mostly marketing leaders, offering simple facts about reaching people. Connection precedes action.  Caring precedes connection. Your message, no matter how slick, won’t be sustained without caring and connection.

What Is Connection?

As. Dr. Hallowell describes in Shine (2011), connection is the bond a person feels with a person, team or organization that stirs feelings of attachment, loyalty and inspiration. The stronger the connection; the greater one’s willingness to make sacrifices for the sake of the connection. It starts with a person, or people, who understand you. Connection begins when someone cares enough to engage in a shared interest, to learn about you, to offer to help.

What Does Connection Have to Do With Productivity?

Connection creates positive energy. The greater the positive energy, the happier the employee. And the happier the employee, the better the quality of their work. As Dr. Hallowell states: Connecting with others is really good for you. And, it’s good for business. Consider some facts:

1.  Gallup finds a relationship between employee engagement and employee well being, including positive social well-being at work. An employee at the highest levels of engagement and well being is at work more, costing their employer an average of $840.00 a year in lost productivity. An employee at the bottom of both engagement and well being scores misses work to the tune of a whopping $28,000.00 a year in lost time.

2. Perhaps the cost of lost time for employees with the weakest engagement and connection at work is so great because they are more likely to get sick. Research from Europe shows a relationship between employees’ feelings of disconnection and insecurity about skills with occurrences of stress related illness, including heart attacks.  Research out of the University of Michigan shows that job insecurity was a better predictor of poor health than high blood pressure or cigarette smoking. Of course, a manager or organization can’t control employees’ feelings of insecurity, but an arm around the shoulder sure helps.

3. On the bright side, positive connection spreads positive energy. An analysis of social networks shows that a person is about 15% more likely to be happy if he or she is connected to a happy person. Gallup researchers show that connection at work can change people’s thinking. People who hear more positive things start to think more positively. The inverse is also true, that people who hear more negative things at work tend to think more negatively. So, spread positive connections to increase your chances of more positively thinking employees.

How To Create Connection at Work

This is the best part. Creating connection is free, easy, and any size organization has the resources to do it.

1.  Be positive about SOMETHING.  As a leader, you have more influence over the affective moods of your employees than any other person at work.  Your mood spreads. Positive energy attracts connection. This is not about wearing a Dilbert smiley button, but sharing something (or things) today you can be authentically happy about.

2. Create opportunities for positive socializing.  Way back when, people at work used to share lunch together without a Power Point presentation in front of them. Really, it’s true.  If lunch doesn’t work, create space in every teleconference or web meeting for a few minutes of personal sharing or inquiry. Plan a weekly standing afternoon “walk about” to a coffee house. Not everyone will participate at first, but over time, most will. 

3.  Reactions to problems build or destroy connection.  Even superstar employees have problems. How a leader responds to them can build or damage connection faster than almost any other circumstance. Dr. Hallowell’s teacher didn’t tell him he was a great reader and to keep going. She stood with him and helped. Asking an employee: How did you mess this up? damages connection. Asking: How do you think you’d do it differently? gets the same information, but communicates interest  and confidence.

Almost everyone I know can relate to the scared little boy in Dr. Hallowell’s story. No matter how smart, successful and confident we appear, each of us has that moment when we know we can’t do it alone. Positive connections at work fill that gap. Don’t wait until you need them: start getting the benefits today.


E.M. Hallowell (2011). Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best From Your People. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

Robinson, J. (2011). The Business of Good Friends. Gallup Management Journal, Dec. 2011.

Good Leadership Habits Start Early


Joe Kavcar was my boss in my first “big girl” job- a sales assignment for a consumer goods company. I was in my twenties and didn’t know much; Joe was in his fifties and knew a lot. It was a pretty good deal for me.

Like all new reps in our division, I started in “Joe School.” Joe connected with his group of newbies. He seemed to understand that people wanted to do well, but just didn’t know how. So he shared his vast knowledge and experience, patiently observed presentations, offered support, and reviewed results with loads of feedback. Still, Joe wasn’t a softie. More than once, I recall him peering over glasses perched at the end of his nose to proclaim, “This isn’t good, Sue.” Joe was demanding, but never mean or petty. He didn’t motivate by either the carrot or the stick, but by his interest in my success. I left Joe School confident, inspired and prepared.

Leaders Like Joe

Joe wasn’t much for labels, so he probably didn’t know he was a generative leader. A concept first described by Eric Erickson in 1950, generativity is behavior that invests in and guides members of future generations. This is in contrast to stagnation, or caring only for oneself. Common sense and considerable research shows that generative leaders make a difference to organizational performance. Time after time, personal experience and research data align to tell the same story: generative leadership practices can lead to employees that are happier in their jobs, perform better and are more excited about their work assignments. These attributes produce outcomes most organizations say they want: greater organizational commitment, increased organizational citizenship behaviors, and in at least one study, increased effectiveness in innovation.

One method researchers use to measure generative leadership is through examining perceptions of followers, specifically follower perception of leadership effectiveness, satisfaction with the leader and follower extra effort. Generative leadership, at its core, fosters sustainable results through others. Sustainable results come through willing, not coerced, followers. So, measure the attitudes and effort of followers to find generative leaders.

What Do We Expect?

If followers determine the effectiveness of leaders through generative behavior, what do followers expect in the first place? Interesting research released last year from Germany by Hannes Zacher, Thomas Henning, Kathrin Rosing and Michael Frese tested several hypotheses related to this question and added a twist. Does the age of a leader make a difference? Do we expect older leaders, like Joe, to lead differently than younger ones? Do we expect different relationships with older leaders than younger ones? Their research produced very interesting conclusions:

1. Leader generativity mattered most for older leaders. The presence or absence of generative behavior made a difference in the perception of success for older leaders.
Older leaders who demonstrated generative behaviors were more likely perceived to be successful by followers than older leaders who did not.

2. Leader generativity did not correlate to success for younger leaders. Followers evaluated the success of younger leaders independently of their generative behaviors. In other words, younger leaders could be viewed as successful even if they were invested in their own careers rather than the success of their followers.

Is This True?

Like all good researchers, Zacher, Henning, et al. describe the limitations of their study, conducted in an academic setting with professors and their assigned research assistants. They do not suggest they have discovered universal truths. But, they do cite that their conclusions support the results of at least two other studies. Zacher, Henning, et al. hypothesize that older leaders are expected to care less about advancing their careers and care more about advancing careers of their followers. Younger leaders, on the other hand, are expected to be more invested in advancing their own careers.

Do you find this to be true in your experience? Do we give younger leaders a pass on good leadership practices? If we believe generative behaviors produce desired outcomes for the followers, leaders and the organization – why don’t we expect them from every leader, regardless of their age?

How We Got Here

I suppose one argument is that older leaders who are perceived to be successful have learned the hard way that the only way to sustainable success is through generative behavior. They’ve learned that they can’t do it alone. We may also expect that at some point, leaders get it, so we have less patience with those who don’t. These are the older leaders perceived to be unsuccessful in the study.

If these conclusions are true for your organization, how do you stop the cycle? What if right from the start of leading others, new leaders were expected to shift their values from promoting themselves to developing others? What if these expectations came not only from those more senior to them, but those who followed? One might wonder if some leaders, unsuccessful in later years, could have been be different if they had not gotten a pass earlier in their careers?

Start Early

In closing, I’ll make an appeal from a (cough) “older” leader. If you are a new leader, develop good leadership practices early. Be a generative leader, whether those you lead expect it or not. Your success will ultimately rest with the willingness of others to follow you. You will learn this eventually, but my hope is that you benefit from this insight the start.

As a leader at any age, be someone’s Joe.


Zacher, H., Rosing, K. Henning, T., Frese, M. (2011). Establishing the Next Generation at Work: Leader Generativity as a Moderator of Relationships between Leader Age, Leader-member Exchange and Leadership Success. Psychology and Aging, vol. 26, p. 241-252.

What Great Leaders Get About Performance Management


We’re in full swing of the Performance Management season again. You know it’s time when Human Resources professionals have inboxes crowded with forwarded articles citing merits of doing away with the process. Pleas are made to make the process simpler, complaints about the time commitments ring through every meeting. In some organizations, year-end reviews are as welcome as the bathroom scale on January 2.

In fairness, some performance management systems have terrible design flaws. Employees and managers complain that only a narrow range of evaluation points is used because of cultural or financial practices. As a result, ratings and rewards don’t differentiate performance.  On the other extreme, some misguided organizations still insist on relative force ranking of employees, despite the evidence that this destructive process harms, not helps, overall organizational performance[i].   Efforts to instill consistency can make the process onerous.

All of these design flaws produce legitimate complaints, but each can be fixed with the right leadership attention. Don’t allow bad practices to interfere with the organizational benefits of performance management, including year-end reviews.

Five Things Great Leaders Get from Performance Reviews
Great leaders look beyond the practice of performance reviews to its possibilities. As Edward Mone and Manuel London (2009) describe in their book Employee Engagement Through Effective Performance Management, great leaders look beyond the stacks of forms and meeting schedules to opportunities to develop more engaged employees who feel “involved, committed, passionate and empowered” through performance management.

1. Great leaders get information to make the next year better than last year.
Great leaders use the year-end review process as a point to gather critical stakeholder information from a 360 perspective. What does this employee do well? How can I leverage their talents in new ways? How can I help them maximize their potential? What can I do differently? Great leaders know it’s not about the forms; it’s about the insight.

2. Great leaders get maxim benefit from rewards and recognition.
They know that year-end bonuses and merit pay are more meaningful when employees’ understand what they did to earn it. Great leaders don’t just deliver the number, but offer feedback on how employees can enhance or change their performance to achieve their compensation goals for the next year.  They know that it’s not only dollars that increase employee motivation, but also the knowledge of how they can grow as people and contributors.

3. Great leaders get improved self-monitoring by employees.
They know that the ultimate goal of feedback is to develop employee self-awareness, which fosters greater understanding into why they get their results.  Once employees understand why, they can change how they approach situations for different outcomes. Through constructive feedback with specific, relevant examples and description of impact, employees become more aware of how to utilize their strengths and minimize their shortcomings. Great leaders shift the burden of monitoring behavior to employees through constructive, helpful feedback.

4. Great leaders get more optimistic, higher performing employees.
Medlin and Green ( 2009) examine the relationship between goal setting, employee engagement, optimism and individual performance through a survey of 426 employees. They conclude that goals engage employees with the organization by informing them of their specific responsibilities and available opportunities.  Measuring performance and experiencing progress against goals increases optimism among employees. Medlin and Green cite numerous studies that show the relationship between optimism and higher performance. Great leaders know that, like athletes, achievement oriented employees’ want to know how they performed against goals, and competitive ones want to do better next year.

5. Great leaders get even better through performance reviews.
They use the process to seek feedback from subordinates, customers, peers and supervisors on what they can do to be a better leader.  Great leaders use the performance review to address questions or concerns that may have impeded their development or that of others. Through the performance management process, great leaders improve their ability to set goals, communicate, evaluate results, coach and listen.

Maybe you know of leaders who don’t want to be better next year, don’t benefit from offering rewards, enjoy the burden of monitoring employees, demoralize achievement-oriented employees and don’t care if they get better. These will probably be the leaders moaning about the forms. They will be hounded to get year-end reviews done. On the other hand, great leaders will use the same process but get far more out of it.  Chose the outcome that best suits you.


E.M. Mone and M. London (2009). Employee Engagement: Through Effective Performance Management. New York: Taylor and Francis Group.

B. Medlin and K.W. Green (2009). “Enhancing performance through goal setting, engagement and optimism.” Industrial Management and Data System, vol. 109, no. 7 pp. 943-956.

(1) S.G. Roth, A.M. Sternburgh and P.M. Caputo (2007). “Absolute vs. Relative Performance Rating Formats: Implications for Fairness and Organizational Justice.”
International Journal of Selection and Assessment.  Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 302-316.

How Bad Do You Want It?


My respect and admiration go out to the 47,000 runners, walkers and wheel chair athletes who participated in the New York City Marathon today. As a one-time marathoner, I appreciate the dreaming, dedication and diligence it takes to complete every one of those 26 miles. How bad do you have to want to cross that finish line? Real, real bad.

The intensity of desire, dedication to training and sacrifice of time it takes to compete in a marathon reminds me of the characteristics of the 10Xers that Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen (2011) describe in their book Great By Choice. Like everyone who crossed the finish line in New York today, 10Xers win in the same uncertainty, chaos and luck that cause others to stumble or not even start. Collins and Hansen break down their training practices so we can apply them to our daily race.

Who are 10Xers?
According to Collins and Hansen, 10Xers are leaders of companies that beat the rate of return in their industry by at least 10 times from 2002 to the present. Think of it. These leaders dramatically outperformed their peers through the aftermath of 9/11, global disruption of governments and economies, the 2008 collapse and the Great Recession. And they didn’t operate in safe, stodgy sectors, but in airlines, insurance, technology and biotech, where competitors are served up as the proverbial lunch on a regular basis. As Collins and Hansen put it: “They don’t plan to thrive on chaos, but they can thrive in chaos.”

How are 10Xers different?
Collins and Hansen detail numerous characteristics of the 10Xers; I’ll highlight a just a few that could inspire us in the marathon of our careers:

They have an all-consuming passion about something bigger than themselves. 10Xers don’t just have a dream; they have a mission. They aren’t just interested; they are fanatical. They are so consumed with their purpose that we often think they are little nuts. But we’re energized by working with them and inspired by the possibilities.

 They don’t underestimate the difficulty of achieving their dream. 10Xers may dream at 10,000 feet but plan inch by inch. They prepare with intensity all the time, planning for every conceivable situation. They oversupply with resources and are conservative about risks. What looks like a big risk to the rest of us is often the end result of careful baby steps, data crunching and experiments that came before  “overnight success.”

 They follow their own recipe for success. Here’s a story I heard about Sam Walton, as told by one of his former staff members, that illustrates a 10Xer’s deep self knowledge about ingredients to their success.

Wal Mart was going to open a new store in town, so Sam Walton and his brother invited the soon to be manager to check out a competitive general merchandise store before their grand opening. The eager young manager took note of the state of the store. It was dirty and poorly lit. Aisles were crowded and displays unattractive. The front end was poorly staffed with a long line at a single cashier. He left with a full report, confident of the competitive advantages in his new store.

The young manager met with Sam and his brother, and the three of them discussed the competitive store visit. Eager to impress, the store manager laid out a point-by-point briefing on the advantages of the new Wal Mart. Sam and his brother listened then gave their report. They commented on the creativity shown in a display of fishing merchandise up in the early spring. They noticed the price on a few key items was lower than what they planned. They noticed the shopper convenience services, such as front door package pick up. Then it dawned on the young manager. He looked for everything his competitor did wrong. The Walton brothers knew one ingredient for success was a focus on what their competitor did right, because that’s why people shopped there.

Moments of greatness are possible when we:

  • Live our purpose with passion. Whether it’s running a marathon, serving a not for profit, running for public office, starting a dream business, success beyond our wildest dreams means commitment that stretches our capacity. It is all in. Period.
  • Plan for the worst and prepare for the best. Even with the most careful plans, things will go wrong, take longer or cost more. Overestimate your need for resources and underestimate your ability to “wing it.” When the unexpected storm hits, and it will, those with wisdom and resources will not only ride it out, but take others with them.
  • Follow YOUR recipe for success. What are the things you must do to succeed? What are the strengths that make you stand out? It doesn’t matter that you share them with others, it matters that you know and follow them consistently.

To learn more about the characteristics of 10Xers, check out Great By Choice by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen.