Posts Tagged Leadership Development

3 Good Things L&D Professionals Can Learn from Presidential Candidates

Training Magazine March -April 2016 CoverIn the cover story for this month’s Training magazine, author Gail Dutton takes a look at the ongoing presidential primary races from a unique perspective: what learning and development professionals can learn from each candidate’s approach.

Just like a presidential candidate, Dutton says, L&D professionals have to remain relevant, stay in the race, and advance their agendas.

By taking a closer look at presidential campaign positioning and maneuverings, Dutton believes that executives charged with leading the learning and development of others can “identify tactics that work, determine why others failed, and apply those insights to ensure their message is heard above the chatter.”

Here are a few of her key points:

Be Aspirational—Express a Great Purpose

Whether it is Donald Trump’s “Let’s Make America Great Again” slogan or Bernie Sanders ’ anti-corporate, anti-establishment, anti-money stance, it’s important that L&D leaders achieve that same clarity by refining their message down to its key elements, says Dutton.

Dutton quotes Lawrence Polsky, cofounder of teambuilding and coaching firm Teams of Distinction.  In politics, Polsky says, “Sanders talks in terms of revolution, appealing to his followers to act. Trump outlines his specific steps to make America great.”

Sanders’s and Trump’s statements in their respective debates have catalyzed discussions. That happens in business, too, writes Dutton. “When L&D leaders can articulate an aspirational goal and connect it to specific steps employees can take to reach it, they inspire action.”

Tailor Your Message—Cautiously

Leaders must understand their audience but they also must consider the consequences. Dutton writes, “During primary elections, candidates appeal to their bases. But statements that appeal to core supporters may backfire during the general election. As a case in point, when Hillary Clinton was asked of which enemy she was most proud, she said, ‘The Republicans.’”

Dutton points out that William Senft, coauthor of the book Being Rational, writes, “That pitch appealed to the self-interests of one group but alienated much of the electorate.”

Dutton says the message for L&D leaders is to consider the big picture. Focusing strictly on one element of a program may resonate with leaders from that discipline—but when pitching to the C-suite, concerns such as expenses, returns, capital usage, and opportunity costs must be considered.

Be Authentic and Show Your Human Side

Dutton shares that a Bell Leadership Institute survey of 2,700 employees found that a sense of humor was one of the two most mentioned attributes of good leaders. In the first Republican debate, Carly Fiorina apparently forgot that fact and appeared painfully severe. Soon afterward, she released an old family photo of herself and her young daughters posing in a bubble bath to highlight her whimsical side. Business leaders needn’t go that far, but the ability to laugh does make them more approachable.

Dutton quotes author William Senft again: “Hillary, on the other hand, has issues with authenticity. She’s tried over the years to present herself as easygoing and likeable. In reality, she’s intense and ambitious. People sense that and have a difficult time accepting her [when she tries to be something she isn’t].”

“That’s true for organizations, too,” writes Dutton. “Be who and what you are.”

To see more comparisons (and 9 quick tips for L&D professionals), check out Dutton’s complete article What Can L&D Learn from the Presidential Race? in the March/April issue of Training magazine.

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Most First-Time Managers Are Not Ready to Lead (infographic)

Blanchard First-time-Manager Infographic ImageA new infographic from The Ken Blanchard Companies looks at the challenges individual contributors face when they step into their first leadership assignments.

With over two million people being promoted into their first leadership roles each year—and over 50% struggling or failing—the care and feeding of first-time managers needs to be front and center on every leadership development curriculum.

Unfortunately, research shows that new managers are usually promoted without the skills needed to be a good manager and that 47% of companies do not have a new supervisor training program in place.

As a result, 60% of new managers underperform in their first two years according to a study by CEB resulting in increased performance gaps and employee turnover.

More importantly, research by Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill has found that negative patterns and habits established in a manager’s first year continue to “haunt and hobble them” for the rest of their managerial careers.

It’s critically important that learning and development professionals help new managers get off to a fast start—both for their immediate and long-term future.  What type of support are new managers experiencing in your organization?  If it’s not what it should be, the new Blanchard infographic can help open up a conversation and encourage some steps in a better direction.

You can download the first-time manager infographic here—and be sure to check out a new Blanchard first-time manager white paper that explores the issue more completely—including suggestions for a first-time manager curriculum.

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Leadership Development: 5 Ways to Fill the Soft Skills Gaps

Soft SkillsRecent Harvard research indicates that skills such as cooperation, empathy, and flexibility have become increasingly vital in the workplace. The findings also suggest that college curricula need to change to better prepare students to learn, understand, and apply these and related leadership skills.

In a corroborating study, researchers at Google recently completed an internal assessment that disproved the hypothesis that the best managers are those with technical expertise. Google’s study pointed to the following leadership activities that are characteristics of the best managers:

  • Making time for one-on-one meetings,
  • Helping employees work through problems,
  • Taking an interest in employees’ lives

In the absence of formal college or other education to teach managers the skills necessary to be effective leaders, organizations must sponsor some form of leadership education. This education is particularly important for those who make the critical transition from individual contributor to managing others. For federal government agencies this leadership development can take various forms.

  1. Leadership Academy. An overarching curriculum can be designed for deployment across the agency. While this could be a costly approach, the benefits are far reaching because of the systematic and deliberate way in which coursework is role based and exposes all current and future leaders to skills that are required to successfully lead others.
  1. Online Learning. Provides the convenience of on-demand learning that fits with student schedules. Enables the learner to bookmark content when time is a constraint or when there is a need for a deeper dive into certain topics. Content can also be individualized and assigned based on agency role or level.
  1. Outsourcing. When an agency wants to reduce infrastructure required to design, deliver, and track leadership training, an external partner is a great benefit. Outside partners provide tested and proven curriculum that is available off the shelf. Such a partnership moves the agency from a higher level of fixed costs to more variable budgeting costs based upon utilization.
  1. Shadowing. A practical, hands-on way to prepare others for leadership assignments is to selectively expose high potential future leaders to agency procedures by having them shadow other leaders. For instance, a future leader can see how non-routine decisions are made, how metrics are used to evaluate the delivery of service, how workforce engagement is assessed, or how budgets are evaluated, just to cite a few common examples.
  1. Action Learning. Assign a topic of interest or consequence to a team of seven to ten high potentials. Have a senior leader coach the team and provide a framing statement for the team to use as navigation. After a two- to three-month period of time, the team presents a set of rationalized recommendations to senior agency leadership for evaluation and implementation. This is an excellent way to develop team collaboration and executive problem solving and presentation skills while helping senior leadership gain a fresh perspective on a challenge or opportunity.

The key in all cases is to provide high potential leaders with an opportunity to develop and refine their people leadership skills.  By actively engaging in projects that rely on collaborating successfully with others, agencies can ensure that their leaders practice, identify weak spots, and take action to improve areas that will serve them and the organization throughout their career.

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A Common Language for a Common Mission

Language Word Signs Diverse Groups People CultureA common language is an essential ingredient for communication.  Consider the challenge people in any group face if they are trying to get ideas across without a shared reference point.

Let’s say there is a group assigned to providing support and aid to the victims of a natural disaster. This support will come from various agencies and require the coordination of human resources and material.

Without a common reference point and language, several elements of the relief effort could be inadequate—for example: determining the quantity of material, how the material will be delivered, personnel assignments, and logistics to support the movement of people to a necessary location. The success of this coordination is predicated upon the presence, understanding, and utilization of a common understanding.

The same is true within an agency.  A shared language works just as well to help people from different functions work together effectively. Consider the following factors as you put together a common language dictionary.  How many of these would you say have a shared understanding for your agency?

  1. Investments—A Common Vision. Agencies must set appropriate parameters and boundaries for what is in scope and how to define those elements. Where are we going as an agency?  How do our individual roles contribute to that mission?  Creating a common vision is the first place to begin.
  2. Execution—Fundamental Leadership. When an employee makes the transition from individual contributor to first time supervisor, skills need to be addressed such as how to address common challenges like conflict management, communication, delegation, and motivation. Have you created a well defined set of behaviors so that first time supervisors understand expectations?
  3. Empowerment—Defining Authority. Empowerment is central to the fulfillment of mission and employee engagement. But without a common definition of what empowerment entails, leaders will initiate empowerment in ways that can cause alignment and execution issues.  Have you identified how procedures are to be performed by specific parties and what the limits to authority are?  People perform best when the playing field is clearly marked.  What have you done to identify what is in bounds and what is out of bounds?
  4. Beliefs—Shared Values. The common leadership language should reflect agency values that drive and support necessary outcomes. Further, leadership has the responsibility to periodically reinforce these shared values and remind the organization that converting values from common sense to common practice will deliver sound public service. Have you clearly defined agency values in a way that leaders can use to reinforce values and ensure adherence?
  5. Integration—Working Collaboratively. A final goal of a common leadership language is the elimination of silos that prevent two-way communication, feedback, and the sharing of resources. Have you identified and shared best practices on how to connect and leverage ideas and resources and provide continuous improvement feedback?

Speaking a Common Language

A common language provides an agency with a chance for incremental improvements in engagement and retention while it maintains the ability to deliver against mission. A common leadership language will improve the pace at which new leaders will learn and appropriately apply desired leadership practices. Mentoring and feedback across the agency will be aided because all leaders will have a common understanding and vision, allowing for more objective, timely, and accurate improvement of leadership capacity.

If your agency has not established a common leadership language, consider what steps you can take to reap the benefits of a common framework.

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Generational Transitions in the Federal Government: 4 Ways to Stop the Millennial Brain Drain

Brain Drain With approximately half the federal workforce nearing retirement age, government agencies are faced with the challenge of determining how to transition knowledge and determine the next generation of leaders. This exercise in organization transition presents a particularly acute problem given a recent Washington Post report that the number of employees under the age of 30 working for the federal government is at the lowest level since 2005. This means that the future leadership of our federal government workforce is just 6.6 percent of the total federal workforce, which is down from 9.1 percent in 2010. In raw numbers, this equals a drop of 45,000 individuals over five years. If even a portion of those lost to public service represent high potential leaders, this is an impactful brain drain. So, what is causing this exodus and what can be done about it?

Recognition. Leaders sometimes fall into the trap of managing projects at the expense of people. I was reminded about this recently while talking to a young woman. In short, she told me she never receives management recognition for the good work she performs—teaching computer skills to people who are resistant to technological change. She sees her job as a daily challenge and said a little appreciation would go a long way. While recognition from a leader would seem to be common sense, agency leadership needs to make it common practice in order to attract, retain, and motivate future generations.

Empowerment. The broad use of computers and mobile devices has created a generation whose work habits are far less tethered to a desk than any generation in the past—just take note of how many people are using laptops at your local coffee shop! Agency leaders need to support millennial tendencies to work remotely and independently.

Targeted Investment. With only so much time and money, any investment of dollars needs to be focused on specific outcomes. A terrific example is the DoD DIUX (Defense Innovation Unit Experimental). DIUX is a full-time outreach office in Silicon Valley that will serve to broaden the Pentagon’s access to new technologies. This innovative approach provides a model for other agencies to follow in promoting public service work that is appealing to the millennial generation.

Knowledge Transfer. Don’t wait—the best and brightest are working on an accelerated schedule when it comes to expected growth and leadership opportunities. Encourage senior leaders to pass along to promising younger workers their views and insights. This knowledge transfer should be targeted to those identified for leadership roles.

Meet the challenge of a looming generational transition head-on by developing actionable solutions that identify future leaders, enable knowledge transfer, and increase leadership capacity. A little bit of extra attention now can greatly improve the position of an agency in the future.

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Moving from Employee Engagement to Employee Work Passion: 3 Key Ideas and Resources to Help You Get Started

Next Level LeadershipOnce an individual in an official manager role recognizes there is more to do than simply manage the activity of others, a great opportunity exists to take leadership to a next level—by creating employee work passion.

While often seen as comparable to the generic idea of employee engagement, employee work passion is actually a carefully identified construct. It is about leaders creating a work environment where direct reports perform at a high level, apply discretionary effort as needed, stay with an organization, recommend the organization to others, and act as good corporate citizens. This is an important distinction and one that has garnered The Ken Blanchard Companies recent awards for excellence in research and cutting edge application.*

Blanchard’s core research has identified 12 work environment factors that lead to intentions by employees to perform in a positive manner. The research has also identified the individual process employees go through in determining whether any specific work environment is deserving of their best efforts. This is the missing ingredient in so many of today’s engagement initiatives—and a major reason for the lack of improvement after their implementation.

Leaders looking to improve engagement scores in their organizations can learn from Blanchard’s research findings. Here are three key takeaways.

  1. Evaluate your present work environment. Review Blanchard’s 12 Employee Work Passion Factors. Consider what you could do as a leader to enhance your work environment in each area. If you are a senior leader, think about how your agency promotes and supports larger culture initiatives and how leadership training can develop and support leaders at all levels.
  2. Understand the personal nature of employee engagement. Recognize ways that each employee is unique. Engage in conversations with employees about their experiences in each of the 12 areas. Take the time to learn more about individual work styles, the manner in which direct reports choose to receive feedback, and how they prefer to be supported in the completion of work activities. Adjust as necessary.
  3. See leadership as a partnership. Work together with employees to make necessary changes. The good news is that partnering with them will signal that you value their agenda as much as your own. This alone will help build connectedness, credibility, respect and commitment. People who perceive their manager to be “others-focused” tend to score higher in each of the employee work passion intentions.

Employees appreciate working for a manager who has their best interests at heart. When managers value both results and people, they put the needs, desires, and effectiveness of their teams ahead of any personal agenda. Agency leadership must begin to acknowledge that how people feel about the way they are treated and managed is a key component to long-term success. This treatment is an integral part of the relationships that are established, built, and maintained by leaders at all levels.

For more information on improving employee work passion in your department or agency, be sure to download The Ken Blanchard Companies’ government-focused four page overview which looks specifically at increasing levels of employee work passion in a government agency setting. It’s available for immediate download at the government section of the Blanchard website. For complete access to all Blanchard research, please visit the Blanchard research archives.


*Shuck, B., Ghosh, R., Zigarmi, D., and Nimon, K. 2013. “The Jingle Jangle of Employee Engagement: Further Exploration of the Emerging Construct and Implications for Workplace Learning and Performance.” Human Resource Development Review. Volume 14, issue 1, pages 11–35.

*Zigarmi, D., Nimon, K., Houson, D., Witt, D., and Diehl, J. 2012. “The Work Intention Inventory: Initial Evidence of Construct Validity.” Journal of Business Administration Research. Volume 1, issue 1, pages 13–23.

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High Performance Cultures: The Role of Leadership

Senior Leader In Office With Her ColleaguesA true high performing culture provides an agency with its single greatest source of operational advantage and probability of achieving agency mission. It is no coincidence that the White House’s most recent budget contains language specifically connecting engagement to agency performance.

“…an employee’s investment in the mission of their organization is closely related to the organization’s overall performance. Engaged employees display greater dedication, persistence, and effort in their work, and better serve their customers—whether they are consumers or taxpayers.”

Appropriately, the 2016 budget for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) contains $66 million for leadership development, recognizing that agency leaders can enhance and leverage this expenditure by focusing on key areas such as:

Development of self. Individual contributors need to know how to provide feedback to their leaders, contribute to collaborative efforts, and constructively problem solve, and also must understand how agency values guide desired outcomes.

Development of first time leaders. Transitioning from an individual contributor to a leader of others is a critical shift.  More often than not, individuals making this transition have not had prior training and development in this regard.

Continuous improvement training. As leaders advance to more progressive and expanded levels of responsibility, additional training will improve the capacity to drive the necessary elements of culture into workforce behaviors and outcomes. This will be of vital importance as the quantity of direct reports and overall responsibility expands both horizontally and vertically.

Culture as the Glue to Performance

The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) contains several statements correlating culture and leadership to performance:

  • “I am constantly looking for ways to do my job better”
  • “I am held accountable for achieving results”
  • “Employees are recognized for providing high quality products and services”
  • “My agency is successful at accomplishing its mission”
  • “My supervisor listens to what I have to say”
  • “Managers promote communication among different work units” (For example, communication about projects, goals, needed resources, etc.)

This sampling of FEVS statements illustrates the importance culture plays in defining and driving performance. For example, questions about recognition highlight the importance of using agency values as a way to recognize desired behaviors that support the agency’s mission.

When cultures are well defined and preserved, there is a direct correlation to performance.  For leaders looking for ways to get started, here are six initial steps.

  1. Know what winning looks like. Agencies must define acceptable standards of performance and critical success factors, develop metrics to track progress, and embrace gap closure plans.
  1. Look outside as well as inside. While focusing on internal operations and policies is important, agencies must also adapt to external situations and influences to be a high performing organization.
  1. Think and act like an owner. Agency leadership must ensure that individuals at all levels take full responsibility for their behaviors and actions while embracing personal accountability for development and results.
  1. Commit to individuals. When investments are made to develop individuals and when performance is recognized, the workforce is engaged and committed to achieving maximum performance.
  1. Spread the courage to innovate. Maximum performance requires continuous improvement by developing systems for receiving input on how to enhance outcomes.
  1. Build trust through transparency. Performance is improved when the workforce understands leadership’s intent. When data about policy, direction, and performance is openly shared with healthy debate about decision making, a higher level of vested interest results.

To improve employee engagement and performance, focus on the large and small day-to-day ways your culture can be shaped.  And don’t underestimate the role leaders play in that equation.

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