Friday, November 27, 2009

Every Leader Needs a Coach

In the world of sports there is a natural tendency to respect those who have succeeded on their own.  These are the Olympians who have climbed to the summit by sheer strength of will, and raw talent.  They have shown us all how to win.  They have made it look easy.  These are the heroes of the press, and the public.  We look at a Tiger Woods or a Kobe Bryant and marvel at their success.

But, what makes Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant so good? 

Each has extraordinary talent.  Each has tenacity, focus, and perseverance.  Even if they did nothing more, each would be considered a good player in their respective sport.   However, each has taken an additional step, a step that has helped them achieve their well earned reputation.  Each has a coach.

Why would someone as talented as these players use a coach?

The answer is actually relatively simple.  Tiger Woods cannot see his swing,  Kobe Bryant cannot see his form.  In the heat of the game, neither can be an unbiased judge of how they are playing.

The same is true in business and government.  In the heat of the board room, when the future is clouded by the fog of war, sagging economies, and a need to change the organization, leaders are not always the best critics of their own performance, or the best judge of how their behavior is affecting the organization.  A coach who can view the play from the sidelines can be an invaluable ally.

The role of coaching in the business and government world has changed over time.  According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR):
Ten years ago, most companies engaged a coach to help fix toxic behavior at the top. Today, most coaching is about developing the capabilities of high-potential performers. (Harvard Business Review, January 2009, "What Coaches Can Do for You", Diane Coutu and Carol Kauffman)

In the business and government world, about half of the coaches employed today are focused on the positive side of coaching, developing high-potential talent to assure top corporate performance.  Another quarter of all coaches are focusing on strategic issues and organizational dynamics. 

For the potential leader or manager seeking to improve and grow, a coach can provide insight into how behaviors are affecting the organization, an independent assessment of the extent to which change efforts are achieving the desired results,  or insight into which new behaviors are or are not working.  However, as the HBR pointed out in an article in 2007, learning and growing takes a significant amount of effort:
The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts. It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice—practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself. (Harvard Business Review, July-August 2007, "The Making of an Expert", K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely)

Don't expect instant success, and at the same time, expect constant progress.  True mastery of of any trade or profession takes time.  (See the blog post - 10,000 Hours)

Finally, you might find the following very short video of Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, interesting.  If Eric Schmidt can benefit from having a coach, so can you.

Friday, October 30, 2009

100% Responsibility

If you search the Internet for articles on the concept of 100% responsibility you will find many entries that talk about taking responsibility for your own life, or how managers and leaders are always 100% responsible for the organization's results.  These are good ways to view 100% responsibility, but I don't believe they get to the heart of the true meaning.

This concept was first introduced to me by Robin Reid, an organizational development consultant who worked with my organization in the 1980s (see note below).  As our management team worked through this concept with Robin, there was a great deal of push-back and resistance.  Managers didn't like the concept.  It flew in the face of how they viewed their role in the organization. 

However, in my experience, this concept had a huge impact on me and how I approached my role as an employee, manager, and leader in my organization.

The concept itself is relatively simple:
  • We are all (employees, managers, leaders) 100% responsible for our organization's success, products, and results.  
"How can that be?", I hear you say.  You are thinking, "I am only an employee.  I am not responsible for the final product.  I am not responsible for the output of other departments.  I am not responsible for decisions made by the board, or council.  I am only responsible for my own actions."  And, these statements are, in part, true.

But, consider an extreme situation.  You are in a car that is headed over a cliff.  The driver is oblivious to the problem.  Do you blithely head off into oblivion, or do you pull the hand break? My guess is that you would feel a certain sense of self-preservation (responsibility), and might do something to prevent your ultimate demise.

In this admittedly extreme example, you are a passenger, not the driver.  But, your status as a passenger does not preclude you from acting when the situation calls for it.  The driver has the primary responsibility for the safety of the journey, and this responsibility is not changed in any way by your responsibility as a passenger.  The driver's job is to operate the controls; you cannot operate the controls for the driver.  But, when things begin to go badly, you have the right to express your concern.  You have the right to influence in whatever way you can.  And, in the end, you have a responsibility to act in the best interest of the occupants of the car.

Your expression of concern, and ultimate action, may cause conflict later.  However, there are long term consequences that are important enough to allow for a little conflict.

Responsibility is not something that can be divided easily.  When I am only 50% responsible for the outcome, I can do what I think is proper, and still have the project fail.  I can feel good that my part was done perfectly.  But, if my responsibility stops when I hand off to the next person in the chain, doing my part 100% right is little comfort when the end product is flawed or broken.

I may not be the one who "operates the controls" for all stages of the production or project, but my concern should be similar to that of the passenger in the car.  When things are not going well, I have a duty to participate in getting the system back on track.  My feeling of responsibility does not diminish the responsibility of the other people involved in the project.  Each person is responsible for his or her contribution to the whole.  And, if each person feels ownership in the final product, we are more likely to work as a team, welcome the help of others, and strive for a successful outcome instead of simply the success of one person's portion of the project.

On a deeper level, this acceptance of full responsibility, to be "...accountable for all the implications of our actions [or inactions] grows directly out of accepting the fact of our free will." (Peter Koestenbaum and Peter Block, Freedom and Accountability at Work, P. 78-79)   Responsibility is a choice.  Our choice to speak up when we identify something that requires the attention of others, or to remain silent and tell ourselves that "it wasn't our fault" is exactly that, a choice.  Our decision to speak up does not diminish another person's responsibility to carry out their job in a responsible manner.  But our decision to act expresses our ownership of the result, not just pieces of the system.

A decision to be 100% responsible is something anyone within the organization can make.  And, every time someone makes a decision to be 100% responsible, for ownership of the result, everyone wins.

Note: Robin Reid gives credit to Hyler Bracey, from The Atlanta Consulting Group, for introducing him to the concept of 100% responsibility.  I can find no Internet site for this organization, but I did find a link and reference to Hyler Bracey, author of Managing from the Heart.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Decision Making Continuum

In your role as manager, one of the quickest ways to cause confusion within a group, team, or organization is to make assignments or establish goals without being clear on how decisions related to that assignment or goal will be made.  If you have a team that is high performing, filled with enthusiasm, and hard-charging, you can change all of that by pulling the decision-making-rug out from under them just when they think they have the project under control.

To avoid this problem, as you work with others make it a point to get clear up front on how decisions related to the task at hand will be made.

Here are a few tips for getting clear on which decision making style might be appropriate for a given situation:

  • Now Hear This
    • Manager Role: The final decision has been made.  Provide Information. Facilitate limited discussion.
    • Team Member Role: Ask for clarification as required.  Limited input.
  • Trial Balloon
    • Manager Role: Discuss tentative decision that has already been made.  Ask for reactions and suggestions.  Make final decision. (The decision may change based on the discussion.)
    • Team Member Role:  Provide reaction and suggestions.
  • The Buck Stops Here
    • Manager Role:  The final decision has not been made.  Present the issue.  Ask for ideas and suggestions.  Make final decision.
    • Team Member Role:  Provide ideas, suggestions, and alternative solutions.
  • Coach
    • Manager Role:  Ask the team to help create a decision.  Present the issue.  Define resolution boundaries.  Facilitate problem solving and/or analysis session with the team.  Approve final decision resulting from the discussion.
    • Team Member Role:  Participate in problem solving and/or analysis session with the team.  Generate recommended solutions as a group.
  • You Tell Me
    • Manager Role:  Present the issue.  Define resolution boundaries. Approve the final decision as long as it fits the defined boundaries.
    • Team Member Role:  Participate in team-facilitated problem solving and/or analysis session.  Team generates recommended solution and course of action.
As you move from "You Tell Me" to "Now Hear This" in the decision making model, employee involvement is reduced, and manager involvement is increased.

You might note that there is no case where the employee or manager is totally absolved of responsibility in making the decision.  In "You Tell Me" the manager is still expected to establish boundaries and approve the final decision, although that decision may be more ceremonial in nature.  In "Now Hear This" the employee retains the obligation to ask clarifying questions and understand the decisions that are being made.

Establishing the decision making style early will help avoid problems later.  Also, maximum empowerment will be found in groups that know how decisions will be made.  A quick way to kill the feeling of empowerment is to change decision making styles midstream, shifting to a more manager-controlled style.


Please note, this material is based on the work Gary Winters did with my organization in the early to middle 1990s.  Gary and Eric Klein have since gone on to author a book called To Do or Not To Do - How Successful Leaders Make Better Decisions, published in 2005.  I have not read the book, but I do know Gary Winters.  And, knowing him, I can assure you that you will find a complete and understandable discussion of decision making therein.  You may also want to check out Gary Winters' blog, The Leadership Almanac, at

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Exhausted Leader

From time to time I hear stories of people who have worked themselves to the point of utter exhaustion.  These are often people who work very hard at their jobs, who invest more than 100% every day, who go home at night only to sleep fitfully, and return the next day to do it all over again.  This cycle of work-sleep-work seems never ending, and eventually takes its toll on the body and mind.

This is not to say that everyone experiences this cycle.  There are those who approach each day as a new challenge, who are energized by the opportunities every morning brings, and who are able to maintain a balance between work and home.

So, what is the difference between these two sets of people?  Why would one set reach exhaustion, while others feel excited and energized by the same work?

Poet, author and lecturer, David Whyte offers one possible answer in his book Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity (P 113 - 138).

Early in his career Whyte found himself running a nonprofit he had founded.  The organization was devoted to a cause that was near and dear to his heart.  However, the running of the business was pushing aside the time to stay connected with the cause, or to devote himself to his real love, poetry.  He was busy - busy running a business that, although successful, gave him no time to focus on his true interests.

In the midst of his "busyness" he found that his energy was gone; he was exhausted.  He certainly cared about the nonprofit and its educational goals, but for some reason he found that he had lost his ability to keep up the pace.

One late evening, while sitting in his home sharing a bottle of wine with a close friend and adviser (Brother David), he decided to seek his friend's help in understanding his condition.  Whyte said,  "Brother David, tell me about exhaustion."  A moment passed between the two while Brother David considered the request.  Then Brother David replied: "You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest?"

Whyte was a bit surprised by this response, and after giving this some thought asked, "What is it, then?"

To which Brother David answered, "The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.  You are so tired through and through because a good half of what you do here in this organization has nothing to do with your true powers, or the place you have reached in your life.  You are only half here, and half here will kill you after a while.  You need something to which you can give your full powers.  You know what that is; I don't have to tell you." (P. 132-133)

This brief exchange between David Whyte and Brother David reaches out to those who are experiencing exhaustion and begs them to examine whether their work is aligned with their true power and interests, or if it fits the place they have reached in their life.  Being half present at work is an exhausting experience.  And, as Brother David said, "being half here will kill you."

Also, Brother David's point was that to regain the energy and devotion to his work, Whyte needed to match his work with something to which he could give his "full powers", or his full devotion. 

In many cases, we know when we are in a job or position that does not match our power.  We can feel the dissonance, the discord. We also have a feeling for where our power and interests lie.  What is called for is the courage and creativity to seek changes that lead us to this new reality.

The courage needed to make these changes cannot be over stated.  Taking steps to leave one position in favor of another, to change careers, to pursue your passion requires an inner commitment and strength.  It invites risks.  And, it also offers rewards.  Only you can assess the value of making the shift to work that matches your power.

But remember, exhaustion may be a sign; a sign that you are "half here", and "being half here will kill you."


A final note on Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity:
I highly recommend this book to anyone who finds themselves pondering the greater meaning of the human journey through life.  Whyte is an insightful and inspiring writer who touches the heart and mind in deeply meaningful ways.  The examination of work as a pilgrimage of identity will ring true to anyone who has ever wondered about their chosen profession, or considered a leap of faith into another line of work.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Opening Your (Johari) Window

Back in the 1950s two fellows names Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham developed a tool to help people better understands their interpersonal relationships and communications. Over the past 50 or 60 years this tool, known as the Johari Window (that’s a combination of Joe and Harry), has been used countless times to help individuals and groups learn more about themselves, and their managers, subordinates, and leaders.

The concept of the Johari Window is relatively simple. Consider the fact that there are things about yourself that you know, and very likely things about yourself that you don’t know. Also, it is fairly obvious that there are things about you that others know, and there are things about you that others don’t know.

This simple premise forms the basis of a very interesting conversation about who you are, your blind spots, what you are willing to share with others, and the great unknown.

If you read the earlier blog post on Trust, you might remember that part of what makes a leader trustworthy, and therefore successful, is communications – letting people know what you are thinking, and what drives you. And, as this communications is going on, you are exposing things about yourself to others. You are enlarging the part of the Johari Window called the Arena – the part that both you and others know about you.

The larger the Arena (this area of shared knowledge) the better your understanding of how others see you, and the better others understand the characteristics that make you who you are. Because you are open, your coworkers do not need to interpret or insert meaning. They can understand your words and actions for what they are. This openness contributes to a more trusting relationship.

Do not confuse openness with agreement. People will still disagree on policies, direction, and goals. But, by removing the need to insert meaning, or imply motives, the debate can focus on the topic of the work. I do not have to agree with someone to trust them; but, I do need to understand them, and have an understanding of what drives them.

The Johari Window below shows what happens as self disclosure and communications begin to expand the Arena. Your Blind Spot shrinks, you are seen as more genuine (the Fa├žade shrinks), and there are fewer questions about your motives and how you will react to your team (the Unknown shrinks).

If you are interested in doing an online exercise using the Johari Window there is one at this URL - Instructions are found on the web site.

If you are interested in doing the exercise in person, talk to that coach I suggested you get in the Trust blog entry, or contact me and maybe I can give you a referral. My contact information is on the right side of the blog page.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Paradox of Success

Organizations, like people, sometimes reach a point where the ego, either the collective ego of the organization or the ego of the organization’s key leaders, has swollen to the point where growth is stifled. New learning becomes impossible. Innovation and exploration slow or stop.

“We are the best!” “We are bullet proof!” “We are too big to fail!”

When an organization has become so certain that it is the model for others to follow, that it has the answer to every problem, and/or that it is so competitively superior to others that there is no need to look for improvements in services, products, or delivery systems, the end is near.

The employees of these companies are often the first to detect these signs. The problem is that within organizations where this mindset is held at the highest levels it may be difficult or impossible for lower level staff to get top level managers to see the signs.

In his book The Paradox of Success, John O’Neil gives a few telltale signs that help identify when an organization needs to step back, regroup, and invest in some serious organizational self-renewal. O’Neil suggests that we watch for:

  • Centralization vs. Decentralization of Power – In pyramidal structures the decision-making capacity is located at the top, in the top manager’s office. In self-renewing organizations, knowledge and decision-making power are dispersed where the action takes place.
  • Adaptability of leadership – The old, more typical, organizational structure has the strong leader; single point of control; a lonely, isolated, resourceful, and action oriented leader. A self-renewing organization develops and nurtures large numbers of leaders who know how to work alone and in teams. These leaders swarm around trouble, and know when and how to retreat to think deeply, and plan carefully.
  • Flexible structures and procedures – The typical organization is massive, hardwired with policies and procedures, specialized by department and function, and slow to respond to change or mistakes. The self-renewing organization is light and flexible, situation-responsive, quick to adapt. It thrives on partnerships and strategic alliances, continuous learning, and is aware of its shadows – those places where the taboo topics, and the dark side of both corporate and individual personalities lurk. (The Paradox of Success, John O’Neal, 1994 – P. 254)

Individuals and leaders of organizations need to treasure truth-telling friends and associates. They need to listen whether the news is good or bad. They need to seek out teachers and mentors who will challenge them, and introduce them the undiscovered country where growth and improvement lie. Learning is the fuel that will enable both individuals and organizations to sustain success.

Your role is to be a “truth-telling” friend to the organization and its leaders. Or, if you are the leader, your role is to seek out and listen to those who can see the truth and are willing to say it openly. (This is easier said than done for many leaders.)

Your role is to find a teacher or mentor who can lead you into the wilderness where self discovery and learning can take place. Or, it might be that your role is to become a teacher or mentor who can help others on their journey of growth and discovery.

Either way, you have a role. If you choose to play it, both you and your organization have a chance at success.

What is the truth about you? What is the truth about your organization? Who should you tell? Who should you seek out? Who are your teachers or mentors? When does your journey of renewal begin?


Saturday, July 11, 2009

10,000 Hours

A few weeks ago, my friend Tim Scudder (CEO at Personal Strengths USA) posted the following on one of the networking sites we both frequent: "Just read Outliers by Gladwell. 10,000 hours to achieve mastery!? Speaks volumes to the value of retaining and developing people."

I have often thought about the importance of developing and retaining good people. Clearly investing in the growth of our employees is essential to the success of the organization.

But,Tim's comment caused me to stop and reconsider my thinking about the organizational costs of loosing an employee who has reached a significant level of mastery. His comment made me think about the true value of the individual, and the importance of retaining and continuing to develop these exceptional people.

From a leadership perspective, the knowledge, skills and abilities of the people within the organization contribute to the success of the entire system. (See the blog post on Knowledge, Skill and Talent) The stronger your team, the more likely it is that you can achieve your goals.

In Outliers, Gladwell states “…[T]en thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything...” (P. 49)

At first blush it seems that this in not that hard to achieve. Any employee who had worked for five years has invested 10,000 hours in a job. So why is it that finding people who have achieved mastery is so rare?

When you examine what mastery requires, it is more than time-in-grade. Mastery requires study and focused effort. For example, an employee may come into the organization having an idea of what leadership requires, but they may spend only a few hours each week developing their leadership skills; only a few hours in practicing the craft. It may take many years, even decades, to achieve the 10,000 hours necessary to develop a great leader.

If you do the math (and this is admittedly very rudimentary math based on some very gross assumptions), at a total cost of $100 per hour (including all overhead related to employing a person), and assuming that a person spends maybe ¼ of his or her time actually working on developing mastery of a chosen field, it will take 40,000 hours for a person to achieve the 10,000 hours of investment in a chosen field. This is equal to about 20 years of work. During those 20 years, the organization will have invested over $4 million in that employee’s development. If the person spends significantly less than ¼ of their time each week invested in developing their craft, mastery may never be achieved.

What is lost when that 20 year veteran, that person who has achieved mastery, walks out the door?

At a minimum, you will be trying to attract another highly experienced person from a competitor or related business. According to Human Resources experts like Hewitt Associates and Bliss & Associates, the best case cost for lost productivity, recruitment, and training will be 150% of the person's salary. (Julie Clark, City of Carlsbad HR Director) In the worst case, you will invest years bringing the new person up to a level of mastery that was lost.

A leader (and the organization as a whole) must consider not only the monetary costs of loosing an employee who has achieved mastery, he or she must also consider the systemic costs.

What were the costs to the classical music world for the loss of Mozart? What would be the cost to Apple for the loss of Steve Jobs? How would the world be different today if we had lost the other masters of their craft before their contribution was made?

What would be the cost to your organization of the loss of key leaders or "masters"?

Tim said that the concept that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery speaks volumes about value of retaining and developing people.

I believe that it not only speaks, it shouts.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

What Makes a Culture Successful?

For decades there has been a discussion going on in the ranks of culture wonks regarding whether corporate culture has a significant impact on a firm’s long-term economic performance. The conventional wisdom says that there is a direct link between corporate culture and success. But, where was the proof?

In the early 1990s John Kotter and James Heskett published Corporate Culture and Performance, in which they studied the relationship between culture and success. Their work uncovers some of the things a manager or leader can do to create a culture that supports the success of the organization.

Admittedly some of the examples in the book are dated. The economy of 2009 has taken some very good companies into uncharted territory regardless of their culture. But, if we look at culture as something that survives beyond the economic cycle, that creates a foundation of the vision, ethics, reality and courage for those who live within the culture, we find that Kotter and Heskett have some great advice for leaders even in today’s turbulent times.

Having a strong culture is often cited as an important element in an organizations success. Kotter and Heskett point out that having a strong culture is not enough. History is full of examples of organizations with strong cultures that were either negative or did not adapt as the world changed around them. Strength of culture does not guarantee success.

These non-adaptive cultures were often characterized by arrogance, bureaucracy, centralization, and insularity. Managers tended to hold on to strategies that were no longer relevant. And, managers in these organizations were likely to make it difficult for anyone below them to implement new processes or procedures. The hierarchy required involvement from the top when implementing new or better strategies. (P. 142 – 151)

Successful cultures were those that had values and norms that helped it adapt to a changing environment. In these cultures managers paid close attention to the world around them, and made incremental changes in strategies and practices to keep the firm’s culture in alignment with “reality”. (See prior blog entries on Reality.)

These managers and leaders were driven by a desire to meet the needs of all constituents – customers, employees, stockholders, and the community. These values also emphasized the importance of people (See prior blog entries on Ethics.), and processes that encouraged changes that created “…competent leadership throughout the management hierarchy.” “[T]his value system is key to excellent performance … because it tends to energize managers and get them to do what is needed to help firms adapt to a changing competitive environment.” (P. 143)

The research of Kotter and Heskett has empirically shown that valuing vision, ethics, and reality are essential to a culture’s success. Their work also suggests that managers and leaders need to exhibit free will and courage to successfully lead their organizations through turbulent times.


For those of you who are interested in leadership, this might be a good time to go back and review some of the early posts on this blog related to the Dr. Koestenbaum’s work on the Leadership Diamond – Vision, Ethics, Reality, Courage.

Here are a few links, just to get you started:

Leadership Diamond Basics
Free Will
Going Deeper
What is Real
Asking the Right Questions


How to Search Prior Blog Entries:

To search for prior entries on this blog, you can type key words into the search box located in the upper right portion of any blog page. Typing "Reality" into the search box will yield all blog entries where the term "Reality" has been used.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Skills, Knowledge, And Talent

Please note that there are several great comments posted at the end of this blog. Be sure to click on the "comment" link at the bottom of this entry to see the comments. And, thank you to all who have shared their views.


We often read or hear about leaders who are described as skillful, knowledgeable, or talented. But, what does it mean to be skillful, knowledgeable, or talented? And, can a person who wants to be a successful leader become skillful, improve their knowledge base, or expand their leadership talent?

Part of the answer lies in the definition of skills, knowledge and talents. Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman examine the difference between skills, knowledge and talents in their book First Break All The Rules.

According to Buckingham skills are the "how-to's of a role" (p. 83). Skills can be transferred from one person to another. A person can learn a how to hold a golf club, build a house, write a sentence, or do arithmetic. Skills are an important part of being successful at any endeavor. And, without skill any resulting action or effort will be clumsy and ineffective.

Knowledge is "what you are aware of" . There are basically two types of knowledge: "...factual knowledge - things you know, and experiential knowledge - understandings you have picked up along the way." (p. 83)

Factual knowledge would be the rules of mathematics, accounting, scientific principles, or other similar fact-based information. Like skills, fact-based knowledge can be learned from others and/or gained through some form of education. (p. 83)

Experiential knowledge is harder to teach. It is less tangible, more related to patterns and connections. To gain experiential knowledge you must take time to stop, reflect on past experiences, and find meaning. Experiential knowledge may be different for each person because each will experience a different pattern of life. (p. 83-84)

Talent is a totally different phenomenon. Talent is the pattern of thinking and feeling that comes from the very core of the individual. Some people care deeply about precision and accuracy, discipline, and responsibility. Others have a drive to compete, be competent, strive to achieve a mission, or dedicate themselves to a certain belief. And, others may feel strong empathy, value interpersonal relations, dedicate themselves to the success of a team, or exhibit great courage in overcoming resistance. (p. 84-85) Buckingham breaks talents into three categories: striving talents, thinking talents, and relating talents.
  • Striving talents explain the why of a person. They help you understand why a particular person cares deeply, and why they try a little harder than others in certain circumstances.
  • Thinking talents explain the how of a person. They explain how a person analyzes situations, how decisions are reached, whether thinking is linear or intuitive process, or is the person systematic or creative.
  • Relating talents explain the who of a person. They explain the relationships the person is likely to build, in whom will the person trust, the way the person will relate to strangers, and expose deep feelings about the way the person will manage interpersonal relationships. (p. 85)

Buckingham says that talents cannot be taught. If a person does not have a particular talent, there is very little a person can do to inject it into themselves or others. Talents are difficult (if not impossible) to transfer from one person to another.

If Buckingham is right, this creates an interesting situation for us in our role as leaders. It becomes essential to understand ourselves deeply; a process that takes dedicated self-examination.

Knowing our own skills, knowledge, and talents is the start. We can then develop ourselves through purposeful learning, receiving coaching, and reflection (making sense of our experiences). We can also make use of this self-knowledge to help us identify people who bring skills, knowledge, and talents to the organization or team that are complimentary to our own.

This self-development takes courage and the ability to admit that we may not have every attribute necessary to create success (or as Dr. Peter Koestenbaum would say, "Greatness").

Relying on others is easier for people who already have a strong relationship awareness skills, or what Buckingham calls "relating talents". (P. 252) It may be harder for people who tend to be autonomous thinkers. But, regardless of your personal talents, being able to bring the right people together at the right time is essential to the success of any endeavor.

If you are interested in doing some meaningful self-reflection, nothing beats having a great coach to guide you along the path. As one of my colleagues (and one of my unofficial coaches) Ray Patchett pointed out to me one day "Even Michael Jordan has a coach." No matter where you are in your career, the corporate hierarchy, or how good you think you are, there is no substitute for having someone who can help you take a realistic look at yourself.

In his article "Teaching Smart People How to Learn" (Harvard Business Review, May , 1991), Chris Argyris points out that professionals often find learning about themselves most difficult. Self-examination and questioning our own behavior is extremely difficult, particularly for those who have achieved some professional status. Having someone who can help you through the discovery process, who cares about your success, opens pathways to greatness that many never discover.

The more you understand about yourself the more you are going to be able to understand others. Also, the better you understand your own skills, knowledge, and talents, the better you can identify where to improve yourself, and when to bring others close to you to help fill in gaps.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Ladder of Inference

The following was first presented to me by my good friend and mentor, Jim Boylan, PathFinders Consulting Alliance. Jim knows a great deal more about this than I do. So, if you are interested in the deeper implications of how the Ladder of Inference affects relationships, please contact Jim at jbpathfinders(at)roadrunner(dot)com, or click on the PathFinders Consulting Alliance tab at the top of the blog.

How do you define Truth? What do you believe about human capability and motivation? What do you believe about human nature?

You probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about these questions. But, these definitions, beliefs, and assumptions about others are always acting, filtering, and coloring your response to what is going on around you.

Here's an example. You are driving down the road at a sedate 40 miles per hour in fairly heavy traffic. A small, beat up sedan comes up from behind you, zigzagging in and out of traffic, traveling far too fast for conditions. He cuts in front of you, almost taking off your front bumper. Hanging his head out the driver's side window, he shouts something at you, and speeds away, continuing to quickly weave through traffic.

Your first thoughts are probably "What an Idiot!" or something more forceful. Because of our culture most of us assume that it is inappropriate to flaunt traffic laws, or to endanger other drivers. You know from the kind of car the person was driving, and the way he was behaving, that this is clearly some deadbeat nut who shouldn't have a driver's license. In fact, you may feel this so strongly that you offer the fellow a parting disparaging salute as he drives away.

You have observed a situation, applied your filters and assumptions about proper highway etiquette and behavior, and have come to a conclusion about the character and motivation of that person, and you have acted on your conclusions.

You have just climbed the "Ladder of Inference". (To see if you climbed the correct ladder, read the last paragraph of this post.)

Here's how the Ladder of Inference works:
  • I observe objectively - Observation by itself is not a biased activity. When I observe I see what happens, hear what was said, or experience a situation - no more and no less.
  • I select data from what I observe - Here is where the filtering begins. I create assumptions about which parts of the event I have observed are important. This assumption about importance is based on how the things that have been observed affect me, or fit into my cultural experience. A person from one culture may not understand the significance of events that occur within another culture. Culture can be large (a country, religious group, political party, or shared language), or small (individual, family, or workgroup).
  • I add meaning to what I have selected - At this point, I imply meaning using the norms of my culture, or experience.
  • I make assumptions based on the meaning I have added - This process begins to fill in gaps in knowledge. Where I don't know something about the event, I naturally assume that the motivations, behaviors, wants, desires, likes and dislikes should match my own. These assumptions take the guesswork out of understanding the situation.
  • I draw conclusions which prompt feelings - Now that I understand the situation, and have filled in the gaps with assumptions, I can draw conclusions about why the person is behaving that way. And, of course, I immediately begin to have feelings about these conclusions.
  • I adopt beliefs about the world - Based on my conclusions, I can now see that there are things within the world that are out of alignment (or in the case of a positive conclusion, in alignment). I am having either negative or positive feelings about the situation. And, at this point, I believe some form of action, whether it is a physical act, spoken words, or other behavior on my part, is necessary.
  • I take action based on my beliefs and feelings - I now fully understand the entire situation and take the necessary action: I give the departing driver a negative hand gesture. Or, in the case of a work situation, perhaps I say something that I believe to be appropriate based on my conclusions about the current situation. This is often an emotional, rather than a rational response.
This move up the Ladder of Inference takes milliseconds. It happens all day long. It happens when we interact with people, and when we read the news. It also affects how others see us as they climb their own Ladders of Inference.

There are a few things you can do to help cut down the number of times you run up the ladder:
  • Make your thinking process visible to others by explaining your assumptions, interpretations, and conclusions. This is easier to do in the office where there are other people around to help you think through things than it is while you are alone, driving down the road. But, even when you are alone, you can take a moment to examine your journey up the ladder before deciding what action you will take.
  • Invite others to test your assumptions and conclusions. When you have the opportunity to work with others, have them help you think things through.
  • Use respectful inquiry to help others make their thought processes visible. Use open and nonjudgmental questions, rather than questions that exhibit a bias.
  • Explore impasses, and don't agree to disagree too soon. This helps you avoid hidden or unspoken assumptions and conclusions that hide the journey up the Ladder of Inference.
Next time you find yourself having an emotional reaction to something, take the time to notice what triggered this feeling. Observe the events that have occurred. Examine the data you selected. Think about the filters you use to interpret information. Identify your assumptions and conclusions. Understand the root of your feelings. And then select the action you will take.

By the way, in case you are curious, the fellow driving the beat up sedan was on the way to the hospital with his wife who was seven months pregnant. Her labor started unexpectedly while riding in the car. The hospital was only 2 blocks away. The life of both the mother and the baby were at risk. What he shouted out of his window was "I'm sorry, please excuse me."

What did you think he said?

Here is a slide, provided by Jim Boylan, PathFinders Consulting Alliance, that can be used when talking through the Ladder of Inference with a group.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Trust is the essential ingredient in any successful relationship. Whether that relationship is between two people, within a family, organization, community, or government, trust is the element that allows the relationship to function effectively.

In their book "The Leadership Challenge" Kouzes and Posner express the importance of trust this way:
Trust is at the heart of fostering collaboration. It's the central issue in human relationships within and outside organizations... Individuals who are unable to trust other people fail to become leaders. (The Leadership Challenge - P. 163)

In "The Speed of Trust", Stephen M. R. Covey notes that in high trust organizations the speed of every aspect of the business goes up and costs go down, whereas in low trust organizations speed suffers while costs can rocket upward. (The Speed of Trust - P. 13)

Trust is the lubricant that lets an organization work smoothly and quickly. In high trust situations ideas are communicated with a minimum of effort, tasks are completed without excessive oversight, processes flow without excessive rules, and people feel valued and empowered. In a low trust environment, a cultural friction develops that causes the slowing of systems, growth of management structures to oversee and monitor work, establishment of new bureaucracies, and creation of rules. In these environments true leadership becomes almost impossible.
Because they can't bear to be dependent on the words and work of others they [leaders] either end up doing all the work themselves or supervise work so closely that they become overcontrolling. Their demonstration of lack of trust in others results in others' lack of trust in them. (The Leadership Challenge - P. 163)

The leader's own assumptions about the organization play an important role in creating a high trust environment. Edgar Schein says that "... a fully connected [communication and information] network can only work if high trust exists among all the participants and that high trust is partly a function of leader assumptions that people can be trusted and have constructive intent." (Organizational Culture and Leadership, p. 370)

If a leader starts from the position that people cannot be trusted, communication and information networks cannot function quickly. The cultural friction slows every aspect of the organization.

A lack of trust is often translated into a feeling of suspicion. A leader working in a suspicious system feels that everything that is done should be questioned. Employees feel that they have to cover their backside with extra work, and that everything will be checked, and double-checked. Within all of this effort, the lack of trust (suspicion) robs the leader and the organization of time and money.

Mahatma Gandhi believed that "When there is suspicion about a person's motives, everything he does becomes tainted." (The Speed of Trust, p. 8) Therefore, in organizations where there is low trust, no matter how much additional work is done, it is the underlying motives of the leader or workers that will be questioned. There will always be the search for the hidden agenda or conspiracy.

In his Leadership Diamond Model, Dr. Peter Koestenbaum expresses the belief that trust is an essential part of the ethics of the leader. (The Philosophic Consultant, P. 46) Koestenbaum would agree with Schein that a leader's assumptions about the organization, and the leader's ability to behave in an ethical manner toward the organization (an attitude of care and empathy for humanity, and how our actions affect others), contributes to the environment of trust within an organization.

But, if the experts agree that trust is so important to a leader's success, 1) why do so many leaders fail to understand that their inability to succeed is tied to their own inability to establish trust within their organizations? And, 2) what can a leader do to create trust when it does not naturally exist?

Before a leader can start to build (or rebuild) trust, a leader must understand that a trust gap exists. This is a bit like starting any 12 step program - the first step is recognizing that you have a problem, and need help. Without recognition, you can never cross the gap because you are unaware that it exists.

As to why so many leaders fail to see the trust gap, it is hard to say. But it is likely that the answer lies within the leader. Kouzes and Posner show that managers and leaders "... with the highest control scores have the lowest personal credibility." (The Leadership Challenge - P. 166) Credibility is an essential element in trust; we tend to trust people we see as credible. Highly controlling behavior on the part of the leader sends a signal that is received as "You don't trust me." When I see myself as trustworthy, and receive the signal that says I am not trusted by the leader, I respond in kind; I will not trust the leader.

Let's say you are the leader in question. Breaking this cycle starts with you. Before you can ask others to trust you, you must first demonstrate your trust in others. This means going first, being willing to risk, and communicating.

Communications - letting people know what you are thinking, when you are thinking it, and why you are thinking it - is the starting point. Constant, person to person, open, and honest communications is a step in recreating a trusting relationship. Self-disclosure, and a willingness to be vulnerable to others whose behavior you cannot control is all part of this process. (The Leadership Challenge - P166-170)

There is more to the process. And, if you are interested in taking the journey required to rebuild trust, I recommend both The Leadership Challenge, and The Speed of Trust. In addition, a good coach could be worth their weight in gold (literally speaking). Creating trust within your organization could make the difference between success and failure, for both you and the organization.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Comfort of the Cage

There is an oft told story (perhaps apocryphal) about how to train an elephant to stay wherever its trainer wants it to be. As the story goes, when the elephant is first born, it is chained to a stake making it impossible for the elephant to move beyond the length of the chain. After a while, the elephant learns that its efforts to break the chain are futile. It gives up the effort and begins to live within the area defined by the chain. Later in life, the elephant's keeper no longer needs a heavy chain and stake to control the giant beast. The keeper simply ties a rope to the elephant's leg, and the elephant, knowing from prior experience that it cannot break the tether, allows the rope to limit its movement. It has become comfortable within an invisible cage.

"Comfortable" may not be the right word. Maybe "resigned" is more appropriate. But, the message is the same. We all are trained to live within limits that are defined for us by others. It begins when we are young, and continues while we are learning our craft, or practicing our profession. It happens in families, and in personal relationships.

These limits, rules and boundaries are part of the culture within which we exist. Edgar Schein, an expert on the subject or organizational culture, noted that "any group with a stable membership and a history of shared learning will have developed some level of culture." (Organizational Culture and Leadership, p. 15) This shared learning can be a good thing, preserving the group's ability to remain healthy and thrive, or a bad thing causing the group to continue practices that create limits and boundaries that serve no useful purpose.

Schein says that it is the "unique function of leadership" to identify dysfunctional cultural norms or values, to manage cultural evolution, and help groups survive in a changing environment.

Regardless of whether the cultural norms are positive or negative, these norms may have become so ingrained in the group's culture that they are now base assumptions; assumptions that have become so strongly held that any other way of thinking or behaving would be inconceivable, just like the elephant in the above story. (Organizational Culture and Leadership, p. 22) In fact, organizations often find that any attempt to examine these base assumptions is destabilizing.

However, if the culture includes assumptions, behaviors, and norms that are negative or do not contribute to the survival of the organization, it may be time for a change.

One way to go about examining these base assumptions is to use a technique known as double-loop learning, or frame breaking. This process, first described by Argyris and Schon, is based on the idea that underlying assumptions, norms, and limits should be questioned through a series of loops (each response is questioned again) that expose the layers upon which we build our cultures, actions, and systems.

This process is difficult and uncomfortable for any group. A leader that digs into the base assumptions will experience considerable push back from the members of the group. Schein says that "The human mind needs cognitive stability. Therefore, any challenge to or questioning of a basic assumption will release anxiety and defensiveness." (Organizational Culture and Leadership, p. 23) However, double-loop learning offers a way for an organization to understand the foundation upon which its culture is built, and to begin the change process when those base assumptions no longer serve the needs of the group.

If our elephant applied double-loop learning to its situation from time to time, it might find that the environment had changed, and new opportunities were available that had previously seemed unthinkable.

If our elephant applied double-loop learning I wonder where the elephant might be today.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ethics and the Prince - Situational Ethics Today

In 1513 Niccolo Machiavelli published a book titled The Prince, a work that would become synonymous with a complete lack of moral and ethical behavior in the pursuit of power. In the 496 years that have passed since its first publication, The Prince has been reviled and rejected by many, while it has been studied and embraced by various leaders and scholars for its raw and unvarnished assessment of how leaders (Princes) come to power, and how they retain their position in the world.

One chapter (chapter XVIII) titled "In What Way Princes Should Keep Their Word", is of particular interest for those studying leadership in both public and private positions. Machiavelli has the uncanny knack of putting into words behaviors, feelings, and beliefs that exist deep within many who find themselves in leadership positions, and exposing the related costs and benefits in nonjudgmental terms. He applies no value systems other than those related to the desire to obtain and retain power. (Peter Koestenbaum would refer to this dark side of human behavior as the shadow side of the Leadership Diamond).

Here is an example from the beginning of chapter XVIII:
How praiseworthy it is that a prince keeps his word, and governs by candor instead of craft, everyone knows. Yet, the experience of our own time shows that those princes who had little regard for their word and had the craftiness to turn men's minds have accomplished great things and, in the end, have overcome those who governed their actions by their pledges. (P. 62, The Prince, Bantam Classic edition, March 1981)

Today's headlines are filled with examples of leaders who, knowingly or unknowingly, still subscribe to Machiavelli's assertion that those who have the "craftiness to turn men's minds" will be the ones who succeed in our society.

Machiavelli goes on to say:
... a wise prince cannot and should not keep his pledge when it is against his interest to do so and when his reasons for making the pledge are no longer operative. If all men were good, this would be a bad precept, but since they are evil and would not keep a pledge to you, then you need not keep yours to them. Nor did a prince ever lack legitimate reasons by which to color his bad faith." (P. 62, The Prince, Bantam Classic edition, March 1981)

Today, as in Machiavelli's time, situational ethics often come into play. When I assume that you are not ethical, or will not live up to your promises to me, I am immediately freed from any responsibility to keep my promises to you. Or, when the situation under which a promise was made changes, I am no longer expected to live up to my promise. I am free to behave as necessary under the new circumstances.

How often have we used this reasoning to excuse our decision to abandon a promise, contract, or pledge? This happens in both private industry and government. It happens in both national politics and local city councils. It happens among families and friends. We have seen this in many debates over the financial crisis, pension reform, and employment relationships. We have seen this in international business, foreign relations, and cultural conflicts.

The challenge for leaders is to be conscious of this natural and deeply rooted ability to rationalize away reasons to maintain ethical standards when situations change. Peter Koestenbaum writes that "... ethics contains two important elements. One is the profound value of empathy and the other is the overarching power of principle." (P. 108, The Philosophic Consultant) Maintaining a leader's connection to empathy and principle in a world of changing realities is challenging at best.

Koestenbaum goes on to say that "Being ethical is always a decision."(P. 114, The Philosophic Consultant) It is a choice, an act of free will. Therefore, it is necessary that leaders remain conscious that they have a choice when it comes to how they will demonstrate their ethics to the world.

Machiavelli explains that we can easily sacrifice our ethics to achieve what we see as a necessary end. Koestenbaum challenges us to keep empathy and principle in our minds as we choose what our behavior will be.

For leaders, the constant struggle is that what is easy is not always ethical, and what is ethical is not always easy.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Leadership and Perception

In order to get the full benefit of this blog entry, you must read and carefully perform the task described in Part One before moving on to Part Two. Following the instructions precisely is essential.  

I also want to note that this actually works best in a facilitated setting.  If you are going to do this with a group, I suggest that you find a facilitator who can help you get the full benefit of this exercise.


If you are game, read on.

Part One

Below you will find a link to a video posted by the Visual Cognition Labs. When you are ready, click on the link and play the video. Here's your assignment:
  • This very short video shows two teams who will be passing basketballs between members of their respective teams. There is a White Tee Shirt team and a Black Tee Shirt team.
  • Your task is to focus on the White Tee Shirt team and count the number of times the basketball is passed between members of the White Tee Shirt team.
  • The number of passes will be difficult to count because at least one of the passes is visually blocked by a member of the White Tee Shirt team, therefore you will have to focus carefully.
  • Play the video only once.
  • Record the number of passes you observe.
  • Here is the link
  • Go.
When you are done, you may scroll down to read Part Two.

Don't Read Ahead... 
Be sure to complete Part One before moving on to Part Two

Don't Read Ahead... 
 Be sure to complete Part One before moving on to Part Two

Part Two

If you have not completed part one. Go back to the first part of this blog entry and follow the instructions.

If you have completed Part One, you are ready to answer the following questions:

  • How many passes did you count? Answers typically range from 12 to 15. Personally, I counted 14.

  • Did you observe anything unusual during the passing of the basketballs?

  • Did you see the gorilla? Yes, there was a gorilla in the video.

  • If you didn't see the gorilla, go back and play the video again. This time you can ignore the number of passes between team members.

Based on a study performed by Daniel J. Simons and Christopher F. Chabris of the Psychology Department at Harvard University, as well as studies conducted by other researchers referenced by Simons and Chabris, somewhere between half and two thirds of participants in this experiment will not see the gorilla on the first pass.

This is a phenomenon referred to "Inattentional Blindness": a failure to perceive objects that are there because our attention is focused elsewhere. Inattentional blindness occurs even when the object of interest is momentarily obscured by something of importance that would have been noticed had the observer been more generally aware.

For example, if you have ever entered a theater and been so focused on finding a seat that you did not notice one of your friends waiving to you from across the room, you experienced inattentional blindness. Your focus on the task of finding a seat obscured your ability to recognize the wave from your friend. Inattentional blindness happens when what we are looking for does not match the objects that we are seeing.

The concept of inattentional blindness does not only apply to interesting visual demonstrations like the clip you just watched. It also applies to systems, ideas, groups, and leaders.

When what we expect to see does not match what we see, we can experience inattentional blindness. When systems are set up to handle certain kinds of processes, problems, or issues, they can be blind to opportunities for improvement. When ideas are proposed that do not match what we are expecting to hear, we ignore them or are not even aware that they were expressed because of inattentional blindness. And, when leaders have a strong focus on what they want to achieve, they may miss opportunities. Their inattentional blindness may make them fail to see the gorilla in their midst.

Leaders can protect themselves from this phenomenon. Here are a few rules to live by:
  • Encourage those around you to offer their observations, ideas, and suggestions even though they may challenge the stated goal, outcomes, or norms. They may be identifying a gorilla that other team members are not seeing.
  • Step away from the action and into the balcony (see the prior blog entry on The View From the Balcony) to make sure you are seeing the whole picture, not just the part that you find most interesting.
  • Be aware that we often see what we expect to see. We can be blind to even big changes that do not match our expected reality.
Perhaps we will cover more on this topic in future blog posts.

Let me know what you thought of this exercise.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Leader's Power

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of leadership books on the market. The various authors tell stories of success, describe the attributes of great leaders, suggest how to discover your personal strengths, help you get in touch with your emotions, and teach the importance of creating a compelling vision. All of these are important messages about being a successful leader.

As you can probably tell from the past 30 (or more) blog posts, I believe that understanding what these authors have to say, learning about what it means to be a leader, and developing your own leadership mind is essential to becoming a successful leader. Everyone can learn a great deal from those who have studied leadership in its many forms, and have found meaning and wisdom in the examples of success.

Few, if any, of these authors suggest that a rote practice of the techniques found in their books will lead to success. Leadership is more than the simple repetition of acts performed by others.

So, what's the point of all of this learning? If copying the example of others is not a formula for success, what can a fledgling leader do to make a difference in an organization? What can a person do to move an organization in a certain direction? You might ask yourself, "How can I be the leader I want (or need) to be"?

Change the Language
First I suggest that "knowledge is power". All of the learning you have done about leadership, emotional intelligence, vision, ethics, courage, reality, and other concepts makes a profound change within you. This understanding of the roots of leadership lets you see the organization from a broader perspective.

A leader cannot successfully mandate that an organization become something that it is not over night. Meaningful, lasting, and sustainable change takes time. As Peter Senge says, change is organic, it grows from within.

This change often begins with one simple act; a change in the language used to describe the organization, the work, the people, the vision and goal, and the world within which the organization exists.

Lou Tice
of the Pacific Institute teaches about the power of the words we use to describe ourselves, our organizations, and our world. People tend to move toward that which they think and talk about. Therefore, the words we choose when we describe our reality, our future, and ourselves are fateful.

I am not suggesting that you lie to yourself. Those of you who are acquainted with Dr. Peter Koestenbaum will understand the value of being well grounded in reality and truth. However, the leader has the power to inject into the conversation words, concepts, visions, and dreams that, over time, change the conversations going on in the hallways and offices of the organization.

When you change the language, you change the conversation.

As the conversation changes, you find that the beliefs, norms, values, visions, and attitudes of the organization begin to change. These define the culture of the organization.

As you change the conversation, you change the culture.

As the culture changes, the leader will find that those changes that could not be mandated at the beginning begin to grow and become part of the new fabric of the organization.

This is one of the few powers of the leader: the leader can change the language. When you change the language, you change the conversation. When you change the conversation, you change the culture.

Because of the knowledge you have gained by studying leadership, you are more likely to choose the right words.

Make Space
The second power a leader has is the ability to make space. One of the ways a leader can show what work is important is to allocate scarce resources to certain projects. When we think about the allocation of resources we usually think of money, equipment, and people.

We often feel the leaders job is done once money, equipment, and people have been assigned to a project. But, if we fail to give those people the time on their calendars, a way to work without being pulled back into other assignments, and a way to focus quality time on the important work, what we have done is create more work that is indistinguishable from the work that is already being done. We have not created space for success.

If you are a leader you can underline the importance of work by giving those who are allowed onto the team space to succeed: money, equipment, people, a place to work, and time.

Because of the knowledge you have gained by studying leadership, you are more likely to understand which are the important tasks that need space.

If you changes the language so that people begin to talk about what's important, and create space for important work, you have taken two huge steps toward becoming one of those leaders that the rest of us will study in the years to come.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Self Knowledge and Awareness

What is it that sets top leaders apart from the average performer? Why are some people better at moving an organization forward than others? In the book Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman puts a microscope on these and other questions about leadership to discover what sets the great leaders apart from the rest of the crowd.

One of the first discoveries Goleman shares is that there are four competencies of Emotional Intelligence (EI) - and not a single technical or purely cognitive competency - exhibited by these top performers. (P. 36-37, Primal Leadership) This discovery puts Goleman in the camp of authors who believe that it is not necessary to be born a leader. Leadership can be learned. (This is good news for all of us.)

These four dimensions of Emotional Intelligence identified by Goleman fall into two categories - Personal Competence, and Social Competence: (P. 39, Primal Leadership)

Personal Competence:
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
Social Competence:
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Management
Each of these competencies is worthy of study. I recommend Primal Leadership as an easy and accessible way to learn more about these and other aspects of leadership.

The first EI competency that Goleman discusses is self-awareness. On the surface, that may seem like a simple thing - "Of course I am aware of myself. So what's the problem?" However, I don't think the topic is quite that simple.

True self-awareness requires reflective self-examination, feedback from others, and knowledge of "who you are, where you are going, and why you are going there." (For more about this read the blog titled: Asking the Right Questions, and Cashman's book Leadership from the Inside Out.) These questions get to the heart of defining what matters most to you, and the values that drive you.

There are a number if instruments you can use to get an understanding of who you are and what drives you. For example, tools like the Strengths Deployment Inventory (SDI) give you an insight into how you relate to others (relationship awareness), your motivations, and how you change when things are not going well. This information prepares you to both be more self-aware and socially aware in your relationships. This is also a very useful to use in groups or teams that gives each member a boost in their self-awareness, as well as a better understanding of social awareness and relationship management styles that help the group work more effectively. (For more on the SDI instrument, email me - - and I'll send you some background.)

Self study is essential. Tools for improving self-awareness and receiving feedback help. But underlying it all, you must have a desire and openness to new information; a desire to know more about yourself and how you relate to others, and the openness to take in new knowledge about yourself, even when that knowledge may not be consistent with you prior image of yourself.

If you have that inner drive, you will gain self-awareness, and take a fateful step toward being an emotionally intelligent leader.