Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Ethics of Leadership Assessment

Anyone involved with leadership assessment and development has war stories about ineffective use of leadership assessment tools. Dr. Chris Musselwhite offers a few  guidelines for effective and ethical use of leadership assessments.

- Even a good assessment can be misused. We’ll assume you are using assessments that are valid and reliable. But, even good assessments can be misused. Don’t be guilty of over-simplifying a multi-dimensional person into an over-simplified cookie-cutter prototype of a leader. Assessments are designed to provide insights and glimpses into the behavioral preferences of an individual, not to provide a blueprint.

- Preferences are only preferences. Personality preferences help us to understand our tendencies. Some of our tendencies may be quite pronounced and may color the lenses through which we view our surroundings. My experience is that rather than introduce constraints, understanding this creates options. Better understanding how I interpret and respond to my environment offers me options for growth and development. Understanding how others interpret their environment gives me the opportunity for adaptability and flexibility.

- Preferences do not equal behaviors. Preference is about my most natural inclinations for reacting and responding. It also colors how I interpret the behaviors of others. My behavior is only dictated by my preferences when I am blind to those preferences. Knowledge is power.

- The focus of assessment should be developmental. Leadership assessment should be about improving leadership effectiveness so when assessment is used for hiring or promotion, don’t try dressing it up as leadership assessment. Assessments that are validated for developmental purposes may not be validated for hiring and promoting. In addition to ethical concerns, this can also have serious legal implications.

- Don’t be lazy. People are complex so don’t use personality assessment as a substitute for listening and asking good questions. People are not labels so don’t use them.

- Confidentiality is supreme. Leadership assessment should be confidential. If I choose to share an insight that I have learned about my natural preferences or someone else’s perceptions about my effectiveness then it is my choice.
Contact Discovery Learning, Inc. to learn more about incorporating Leadership Assessment into your Leadership Development Program. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

4 More Ways You Can Improve Your Leadership Development Program

Earlier this year, we suggested five steps to help you assess and improve your leadership development program. You can read the original post here. We’re back with four additional recommendations to implement in the planning stages of your program to improve your organization’s leadership development.

1. Get sponsorship from senior leaders. When it is clear that your leadership development program is important to the organization, participants will be more engaged in learning. During an executive training program at a large Canadian retailer, a very senior executive drove over four hours to kick off the program with a fifteen-minute speech to the participants. The senior executive’s visible sponsorship of the program sent a clear message that the program was important. Gaining tangible buy-in from senior leaders is a crucial way to get participants to invested in their own development from the start.

2. Avoid cramming too much content into one program. Although it is tempting to cover as much ground as possible, it is a mistake to overdo it with content. People need time to reflect, process, and talk about the information you are presenting. Rather than try to do everything in one program, identify the most important learning areas you want to cover and plan enough time for people to develop meaningful takeaways.  Try to focus on one or two behavioral competencies and demonstrate how they may be connected.

3. Frame it in terms of exploring real business issues. Get people to bring real business challenges to the program to engage in problem-solving.  Then give people break-away activities to encourage exploring those specific issues. People want to solve problems. When you incorporate experiential learning into your leadership development program, participant engagement will increase. Coupling experiential learning with exploration and discussion of relevant business challenges helps participants to make deeper connections between their development experience and their behavior patterns at work. By doing so participants will feel like they have some tools to take back with them which greatly helps increase engagement with leadership development beyond the class-room.

4. Keep it safe. When people feel threatened and exposed, their ability to transfer short term to long term memory decreases dramatically. Create a non-judgmental learning environment by avoiding framing development challenges in terms of “right” and “wrong” answers or solutions. Instead shift the focus to understanding different styles of leadership and participants will be more willing to engage. For most leadership traits individuals have preferred style that they defer to.  It is important to help leaders understand what other styles and techniques exist. Then empower those leaders to adapt their go-to style to maximize effect for the situation and target audience.

Discovery Learning, Inc. has been designing custom leadership development programs for global organizations for over 20 years. We are happy to serve as a resource to the leadership and organizational development community. Contact us to set-up a consultation to start maximizing the impact of your leadership development budget.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

5 Tips for a Successful 360 Assessment

Implementing a 360 assessment can be a complex and daunting process. Data collection can be difficult and both participant and rater anxiety can be high. The good news is that these types of problems can be avoided and addressed before a facilitator or coach ever receives the 360 feedback report. Successful implementation begins at the planning phase.

1. Understanding the Purpose

The first step of a successful 360 assessment is understanding why a 360 is being used. Is this for development purposes only? Does the organization hope to gain insight into overall development gaps? Is the assessment being used as part of a review process? Understanding the purpose of the assessment, how the data will be used and who will have access helps define the communication plan to participants. Being honest and transparent about intent is key to gaining participant trust, rater trust and getting honest feedback and reliable data.

2. Have an Internal Champion

Once the purpose of the 360 assessment has been established the announcement of the assessment should come from a senior leader or internal champion inside of the organization. Having the first communication from someone internal lets participants know that this is an important process to the organization and that leadership is supporting the process.  In this communication the purpose of the assessment should be clearly stated and the intended use of the data should be clear. This announcement is creating the foundation and setting expectations for the entire 360 assessment process.  

3. Let Participants Own the Process

 After access to the 360 assessment has been distributed it’s important to let participants take control of the process, this increases participant engagement from the start. Allow participants to choose their own raters, distribute access to the assessment and be accountable for receiving feedback. During this phase it is helpful to coach participants on how to both select raters and communicate with their raters. Participants should select raters that will provide honest and constructive feedback not just those who will give glowing reviews.  In order to have a well-rounded 360 participants should ask for feedback from all rater categories including peers, direct reports and bosses.  Prior to distributing the assessment to raters participants should personally inform raters that they have been selected to provide them with feedback, the intention of the feedback and that ratings will be confidential. Again, the intent of this communication is to establish rater trust.

4. Be Aware of Rater Fatigue

When distributing a 360 assessment it is just as important to consider the impact the assessment will have on raters as it is the participant. You are relying on raters to give constructive, thoughtful and honest feedback and this takes time.  A 360 assessment will take at a minimum 20 minutes for a rater to complete per participant. If you have a single boss with 8 direct reports this is 2-3 hours of time devoted to an assessment that is being added to an already busy schedule. There are a few ways to address this.

A. Coach participants on how to select raters. Although an individual may work with up to 30 peers, direct reports, and supervisors they may only have contact with 10-15 of those on a daily or weekly basis. Narrowing the rater pool to those that participants work with most closely will provide higher quality feedback and decrease the amount of time raters are required to complete assessments.

B. Roll out the 360 in waves. If you are distributing a 360 with a large number of individuals in the organization it may be beneficial to roll out the assessment in batches over the course of several months instead of all at once.

C. Be thoughtful about the amount of time you give raters to complete a 360. Make sure you consider the organizations culture in terms of responsiveness and the current workload. A 360 can typically be completed in a 2-4 week time frame.

5. Make Sure the Learning Transfers

The most important part of a 360 assessment is creating the opportunity for participants to select actionable items that they can work and improve on when they return to the office. However, how do you know that improvements are being made? Creating a way to reassess and measure improvement is key. Often times organizations re-administer an entire 360 to measure improvement. What we know is that individuals can only make significant progress on 3-5 goals over the course of 8-12 months. It is more beneficial to target and reassess those specific goals instead of re-administering the entire 360. This streamlined process is also less disruptive to the organization and more cost effective. 

Interested in learning more about best-in-class 360 assessments?  Discovery Learning, Inc. can help!

Friday, October 31, 2014

How to Sell Leadership Development to Your Organization

When it comes to success at the leadership level, the ability to communicate a plan, make informed decisions quickly, and influence effectively are crucial factors that have a direct impact on an organization’s bottom line. One study found that for every five GMs Cox Enterprises sent to a four-day leadership development program with a soft skills focus, the organization could count on adding $3.57 million dollars in revenue. Read the full article, "Turning Leadership Into Dollars," for details.

You know leadership development is valuable. So how do you communicate the value of LD training to a budget-conscious organization in a way that demonstrates the clear impact of LD on the bottom line? We have two suggestions that will help you sell LD to your organization:

1. Identify and engage the stakeholders directly
Find out who is sponsoring the initiative and ask critical questions to identify clear goals for the program. Maybe customer satisfaction ratings are down and the team leader wants to see a 50% increase in satisfaction ratings. Perhaps employee turnover rate is high, not only increasing onboarding costs but slowing down production as new employees get up to speed. The CEO wants to slow the rate of turnover by developing more effective leaders capable of inspiring and engaging employees. Asking questions like, “What specifically would you like to see change?” and “What do you want to see your people doing differently?” will not only make it easier to design a successful program, but will also create measurable goals. Pointing to a specific objective and comparing a snapshot of how it looked before and after your leadership development program will help make the case for LD training’s impact on the bottom line.

 It is important to recognize that there can be multiple factors contributing to your organization’s success on the agreed upon targeted outcomes. It would be folly to attribute all of your organization’s success to the effects of leadership development. There is a logical barrier to attempting to make that connection as well as some potential political pitfalls. Instead try to reach an agreement in advance of what part of that success can be attributed to leadership development.

Let’s build on the above turnover rate scenario as an example. Let’s say the stakeholder wants to see a reduced employee turnover rate of 5% over the next 12 months. It is possible, and likely your organization has already done so, to calculate the savings to an organization if this goal is achieved.  Try to reach agreement in advance as to what percentage of the associated organizational savings will be attributed to Leadership Development training. While there may still exist some ambiguity as to what that percentage should be, it is an excellent starting point for demonstrating in a tangible way the value of the development investment. Laying this groundwork and being able to successfully deliver the agreed upon goals provides a tremendous platform and organizational buy in when soliciting expanded budgets in the next cycle.

2. During the design phase, keep Kirkpatrick’s Four-Level Training Evaluation Model in mind

When you consider the desired outcome of a leadership development program, the objective is typically a change in behavior. Whether it is a large-scale change in company culture or a smaller shift in the way a team works together, trainers generally aim to reach Level 3 on the Kirkpatrick model: getting participants to apply what they learned in the leadership development program on the job. Organizations are often most concerned with the 4th level, Results or ROI. Will your training program impact the bottom line of the business? The fact is that everyone wants to focus on the 4th level when they set out to sell an LD program to their organization, but they don't know how to do the first three levels. Many trainers are familiar with the Kirkpatrick model, but unfortunately it’s pretty unusual to see training programs that succeed at reaching beyond level two. This is where the first point comes into play. If you ask critical questions of the stakeholders and establish measurable goals for your program ("What specifically would you like to see your people doing differently?"), you are better able to design a program that will have measurable results for your team. 

Incorporating post-measure tools (like the Discovery Leadership Profile 360 Plus program or follow-up coaching) will help you track the effectiveness of your desired outcomes and measure whether training really "sunk in" and affected participant behavior or just scratched the surface. Designing a program with a strategic focus on the first three levels of the Kirkpatrick Model will be critical in demonstrating to your organization that your leadership development program will reach that desired 4th level, results or ROI. 

Ultimately, we know that training in soft skills has a profound impact on the bottom line. In the article "Turning Leadership into Dollars," all five Cox Enterprises GMs studied were seasoned executives with years of experience in their roles. They knew their jobs inside and out. Their organization was looking for a way to help them become even better leaders. The four-day leadership program DLI designed with Cox Enterprises involved the critical stakeholders in establishing clear, measurable goals, it aimed at reaching the first three levels on the Kirkpatrick Model, and it made a $3.57 million dollar difference. By conscientiously laying the groundwork for your program by keeping both of these suggestions in mind, you will be better equipped to persuade a budget-conscious organization of the value of leadership development.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Trends in Change Leadership: A Summary of 20 Years of Change in the Workplace

Discovery Learning, Inc. launched Change Style Indicator™ in 1994 and it has been in constant use by leadership and organizational development professionals ever since. Change Style Indicator™ (CSI) is an assessment instrument designed to measure an individual’s preferred style in approaching change and dealing with situations involving change. The assessment is research based and has been thoroughly validated with over 180,000 participants to date.

The following report looks at the compiled normative data through five different filters. For this initial report, Discovery Learning, Inc. chose to review Change Style Indicator™ scores by gender, age, organizational level, industry and over time. Our hope is that change managers as well as organizational and leadership development professionals can use this information to gain new insights into their organizations and accelerate adoption of change initiatives. This information is the first of its kind and we are very excited to share it with our community of training and development professionals. The following is an abbreviated summary of our findings. Click here to read the full report including analysis of trends in the data.


One of the most striking insights to come out of the Change Style Indicator™ normative data review was the trend associated with different age groups. We see a distinct trend where groups both entering and exiting the workforce tend to be more cautious when it comes to embracing organizational change. People in the 20-29 age group are the most cautious when it comes to organizational change. Some 9% more of the 20-29 population score as conservers than the group with the lowest conserver score, which is the 40-49 age range.


The differences in change style tendencies between men and women was one of the most striking findings of the data analysis. Here we see approximately 9% more women identifying as conservers than men. One of the primary strengths of conservers in the Change Style Indicator spectrum is their ability to successfully execute and implement projects and assignments. Senior managers who are building teams should be asking them­selves what might be missing when forming groups without adequate representation from women. The data also seems to indicate that, on average, women may be more successful in leadership roles where execution and implementation constitute critical success factors.


Discovery Learning, Inc. looked at over 60,000 participants who identified their seniority level within their organizations. The results paint an interesting picture of how individuals respond to change across organization levels. We found that twice as many individuals scored as conservers in the super­visory level roles than did those in top/ executive roles. Also a full 15% more top level managers and executives identified with being originators versus supervisory level participants. It is important to bear in mind that this data does not reflect the success rates of conservers or originators performance in these roles. Conservers in executive roles can be as successful as their originator counterparts, but successful conservers will demonstrate a different leadership style than successful pragmatists or originators.


The industries with the lowest number of individuals identify­ing as originators include: Law firms, public health organiza­tions, government agencies, and elementary and secondary education institutions. One of the traits that these types of or­ganizations face is that they operate within a reasonably regu­lated industry. On the other end of the Change Style spectrum we find a host of industries including: health products and equipment, me­dia publishing and nonprofit agencies. None of these however score as strongly originator as the technology and software in­dustry. In all of these industries there is a strong case to be made that constant and fast paced change is integral to suc­cess.


We are able to look at how people’s preferences regarding change have shifted over time. Looking at the data in this way provided interesting insights into how the population, as represented by approximately 180,000 participants, has shifted over time. Due to the way the data is captured, the timeline begins in 2001.

What we see is a distinct trend towards higher degrees of caution associated with change initiatives. Over a 13-year time span we see an increase in the number of individuals identifying as conservers increase by 7%. At the same time we see the same 7% reduction in the number of individuals identifying as origi­nators while those identifying as pragmatist remains relatively constant.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How to Use Assessment Certifications to Renew Your ICF Credential

The International Coaching Federation Certified Coach programs provide a strong credential for coaches focusing on professional development. At Discovery Learning, Inc. we have been asked many times whether our product certification process qualifies for ICF credits. We decided to do a little digging to determine how coaching-related product certifications in general can count towards your ICF certification.

While Discovery Learning is not an ICF-certified training provider, our certifications may be used to fulfill Continuing Coach Education (CCE) hours. CCE hours are a necessary component in credential renewal. A certain number of the required hours can come from a non-ICF certified provider, like Discovery Learning, as long as the curriculum of the training relates to the development of coaching skills. Many coaches use resources like individual assessments in their practice and the ICF makes provisions for this type of training. 

Certification in one of Discovery Learning’s individual assessments falls under the category of Self-Study in Resource Development Continuing Coach Education. For credential renewals, 16 of the 40 required hours can come from Self-Study. 

Certification in a DLI individual assessment typically takes about eight hours, which accounts for half of the total Self-Study Resource Development CCE hours you need to renew your ICF credential. In order to submit our certification process in an individual assessment for credential renewal, you will need to provide the following two items:

1. A certificate of completion from the training provider
2. A detailed overview of the curriculum to be reviewed by ICF

We can provide both of these required items for you upon request when you complete your certification. I spoke with a representative at ICF to better understand the requirements for the certification renewal process. She pointed out that right now these are the only two requirements for getting Resource Development credits. However, in either November or December participants looking to get credit for CCE and Resource Development credits will be required to fill out an application that details the coursework and ask the participant to relate the training to their professional coaching. For more information about our certification process, read here. If you have any questions, feel free to ask us in the comments or give us a call.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Everything You Need to Know About the NEW Change Style Indicator

We are thrilled to announce the new Change Style Indicator, making its debut on 9/2/2014. DLI is committed to constantly reviewing and improving our products and services. Engaging with our customers, research and industry professionals for feedback and insights on how we can best serve your needs is embedded in our company culture. For over 2 decades Change Style Indicator has been helping leaders and businesses achieve their personal and organizational goals. Check out this case study to learn how a major Canadian media company used Change Style Indicator to help facilitate the organization through a company-wide, sweeping organizational change. On September 2nd Change Style Indicator will undergo a massive update and will receive a host of new features and functionality.
Highlights of CSI Update:

· Powerful and innovative normative data demonstrates relationships between age, gender, industry and nationality.
· Participant feedback reports and the Change Style Indicator ™ Style Guide are now an integrated document for both online and hand scored versions.
· Hand scored versions of Change Style Indicator ™ are now a single package containing the assessment, Style Guide and scoring instructions.
· The Change Style Indicator ™ Style Guide has been streamlined for ease of use and administration.  Administrators who in the past have chosen to print theirstyle guides will be delighted to find the report condensed to 10 pages resulting in a 60% reduction in printing costs. 
· Discovery Learning, Inc. has made printing Change Style Indicator's ™ StyleGuides so easy and affordable that we have eliminated the need to ship StyleGuides separately.  This results in a major savings for customers who will no longer need to pay for shipping.
· Contemporary look reflects the class leading product features.
· Change Style Indicator ™ can now be completed in less time thanks to a reduction in the number of questions (22 to 20).
· In addition to reducing the time commitment for taking the survey DLI has improved the psychometric properties of Change Style Indicator ™ through statistical analysis.  We have removed 2 questions from the battery whose relevancy has changed over time due to socioeconomic changes.  DLI is committed to constantly reviewing and improving our products and services.  Engaging with our customers, research and industry professionals for feedback and insights on how we can best serve their needs is embedded in our company culture.  For over 2 decades Change Style Indicator ™ has been helping leaders and businesses achieve their personal and organizational goals.  In August of 2014 Change Style Indicator™ will undergo a massive update and will receive a host of new features and functionality.

If you are a current CSI facilitator, thank you for your continued use. If you are interested in getting certified in the new Change Style Indicator, you can find out more about the process here. Be sure to review the CSI product page where we will post updates as they become available. If you have any questions about the new CSI, don’t hesitate to give us a call, email, tweet, facebook message, or whatever your preferred method of contact may be. We're fans of the carrier pigeon, but we also understand that things change. Stay tuned for announcements about the new Change Style Indicator, coming out on September 2nd!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Part 3: Mysteries of Leadership in the Amazon

Editor’s Note: This three-part series is based on the adventures of a small group of Kellogg National Fellows, who discovered a valuable lesson in leadership during a venture into the Amazon jungle of Brazil. The group included the author, Christopher Musselwhite, and other Group VIII Fellows Bobby Austin, Linda Hallenborg, and Oran Hesterman. The travelers were accompanied by their four sons and two Brazilian guides.

Without saying so, we all thought about the French team, what they must have felt during their wanderings, and how they must have looked upon their emergence from this jungle three weeks earlier, with clothes torn off and their minds nearly crazy.

Soares’ advice, “don’t give up hope and the good spirits will help you,” had new meaning. Linda and I sought and found dry wood in the immediate area. However, our find consisted mostly of small twigs and branches that were good for starting a fire but were not likely to last all night. With less than 15 minutes of light remaining, we then had to face the prospect of a wood-gathering trip back into the bush, where night had now arrived.

I was the first to hear the telephone tree, but the others discounted it as we continued with our tasks of calling and gathering wood. Each of our chores had become a constructive, even if somewhat neurotic, ritual to channel our anxiety. Ten minutes later we all heard three whacks from the telephone tree, far away but discernible. With Oran’s voice cracking under the strain of shouting for 30 minutes, Linda and I began to shout. Our focus now shifted to being found. Still, in the back of our minds we remembered the bad spirits and each of us scrutinized every sound.

After 10 more minutes of yelping and hooting we thought we heard a voice respond, then another, and another. It was so far away; its direction impossible to pinpoint. Pleno immediately headed into the bush, but we refused to follow. With the notion of the bad spirits fresh in our minds and the fear of losing the voice in the dense bush, if it was indeed real, we stayed put. Pleno reluctantly returned to our sanctuary.

As the voice became more distinct, we finally felt secure enough to leave our clearing and plunge into the darkness of the bush. With his machete in hand, Pleno again became useful and we gladly returned the role of leader to him. The large underground holes which are the homes for tarantulas and foot-high rodents were no longer visible in the dark. Almost at a run we followed Pleno, stopping every couple of minutes to untangle ourselves from vines and to call out and correct our course. Our focus was not on the danger around us but rather on reaching Soares.

After a 20-minute jog, we saw Soares’ face framed between banana leaves. He looked more like a savior than a jungle guide. We didn’t know how he found us. It was only later that we learned from Bobby that Soares, in the middle of building a fire, suddenly said: “they are lost.” He took off, running through the jungle with no further explanation.

We followed Soares for another 20-minute jog before we reached our camp. In his run through the jungle to find us, Soares had not marked his trail, as was his custom. Still, he was able to lead us through the darkness straight to our camp.

For two days we recounted the story to each other as if to verify that it was true and to clarify our feelings. Through the process we discovered valuable lessons about leadership, change, and ourselves.

First, we had transferred our well-earned confidence in one individual to another. Maybe because they looked alike, or talked alike, or associated with each other, we assumed Pleno had the same skills as Soares. It is an assumption that is easily made in an unfamiliar environment, a place where your past experiences appear to have no utility. This feeling is known to anyone who has experienced other environments where rapid change has yielded strange new terrain. It can be a dangerous mistake to make.

Second, we experienced how truly situational leadership can be. During our ordeal the leadership shifted three times. First, Pleno was unquestionably the leader. Next, Linda, Oran, and I shared leadership. In the end, Pleno’s skills were needed again and he readily assumed the lead.

Third, we experienced the pain of taking leadership from an individual whom we wanted to lead us, but who was no longer competent to do so. The three of us did not feel adequate to lead in this strange setting, but when our survival became threatened, we assessed our situation and competencies and worked together. This is reflective of a certain degree of risk-taking many of us find necessary to demonstrate as the conditions surrounding our personal and professional commitments and aspirations change. These changes often leave a leadership-void which we may find necessary to fill.

Fourth, we found new confidence in our own intuition and ability to respond under unfamiliar circumstances and stress.

Fifth, we experienced the doubt and anxiety of questioning authority within a context which was unfamiliar to us. We should have done it sooner. At first we each thought that we were overreacting. We kept our fears and doubts to ourselves. No one wanted to appear frightened. We all wanted to be “cool.” Finally, we acknowledged our anxiety and the realities provoking it; and we took action. We are left with the question of why this was so difficult to do.

For each of us, our jungle experience has provided rich and poignant metaphors to instruct and guide us through our own jungles of constant change, politics, personal searching, and occasional fears that the problems we strive to correct are just too big. We are now aware of the good and bad spirits which reside in our jungles. To give up hope is to surrender to the bad spirits. To maintain hope when no solution is imaginable opens the doorway to good spirits and the magic of the human spirit. Maybe, in the end, the true leader is that person who is capable of having hope before she or he can develop a scenario for success.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Part 2: Mysteries of Leadership Revealed in the Amazon

Editor’s Note: This three-part series is based on the adventures of a small group of Kellogg National Fellows, who discovered a valuable lesson in leadership during a venture into the Amazon jungle of Brazil. The group included the author, Christopher Musselwhite, and other Group VIII Fellows Bobby Austin, Linda Hallenborg, and Oran Hesterman. The travelers were accompanied by their four sons and two Brazilian guides.

Read Part 1 here

As we assessed the situation silently and individually, we reflected on our location. We had traveled 220 kilometers by bus from the city of Manaus, which sits in the center of the Amazon Rainforest at the convergence of the Salomoes River and the Rio Negro. After leaving the bus when it crossed the Rio Urubu, we had taken a boat for 30 kilometers up the river.

After five of those 30 kilometers, we had left behind all signs of human settlements. The last inhabitants of this area, the Urubu tribe, had been moved by the government 25 years earlier when they tried to kill the workers building the highway on which our bus had traveled. From our camp you could travel in almost any direction for hundreds of kilometers and encounter nobody.

We continued to follow Pleno for another 15 to 20 minutes, basically operating from a state of denial. This environment was totally alien to us; Pleno belonged there. Even if his actions conflicted with our own intuition, we continued to follow.

Once we passed a telephone tree, which Soares had demonstrated for us the previous day. When whacked with a machete, it makes a loud noise which carries through the jungle better than any other sound, including the human voice. I timidly motioned and suggested to Pleno that he stop and strike the tree. But Pleno disregarded the suggestion and in doing so, reinforced our sense of insecurity about our own instincts.

In his panic, Pleno stopped choosing the clearest passages and was no longer using his machete. At times we had to crawl through the thick bush and vines, but we continued to follow. It was after 5 p.m. and the jungle was nearly dark when we stumbled across a small, sandy clearing. This place was different from the jungle. The clearing was about 20 feet in diameter and its immediate surroundings consisted of shorter scrub trees and wild pineapple. With the cloud cover remaining from the afternoon rainstorm, there was no visible sun, but the sky still held some light. We knew there would be 30 more minutes of light here. This open area seemed like an answer to a prayer.

Pleno’s next directive resulted in mutiny. As he motioned for us to return to the dense jungle to continue our search, we refused. We could no longer deny our instincts, no matter how alien the environment. With only 20 minutes of daylight, we shifted our attention from finding our camp to preparing ourselves for the night ahead.

Other than his possession of a machete and matches, Pleno was useless at this point. He paced our clearing as if some small sign was there to show him where to go. Finally he stopped and shouted in Portuguese that he “had to clear his head.” He pulled a cigarette from his pocket, lit it, and squatted.

We assessed quickly what our resources were and what we needed for the night. Already we could hear puma crying in the distance. A fire would be essential. In my own mind I was calculating that sitting in the sand would be better than standing or squatting in the jungle. In the bush there are too many dangerous unknowns crawling around. Poisonous spiders and 18-inch blood-sucking worms emerge from the earth when it rains. Just the day before, Soares showed us a bright green poisonous spider which he claimed has never been cataloged by scientists.

We decided that Oran had the loudest voice. Rather than giving up complete hope of being found that night, he took the job of calling for Soares, who must have known by now that we were lost. One of Soares’ teachings kept returning to us: “There are good and bad spirits in the jungle. When you are lost, the worst thing to do is give up hope. The absence of hope provides an open door for the bad spirits. They will entice you farther and farther into the jungle. They may disguise themselves as the sounds of a voice, a river, or a telephone tree, and can lead you into oblivion and eventually to insanity.” We were starting to see how this could happen. The jungle is immense beyond description.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Part 1: Mysteries of Leadership Revealed in the Amazon

Editor’s Note: This three-part series is based on the adventures of a small group of Kellogg National Fellows, who discovered a valuable lesson in leadership during a venture into the Amazon jungle of Brazil. The group included the author, Christopher Musselwhite, and other Group VIII Fellows Bobby Austin, Linda Hallenborg, and Oran Hesterman. The travelers were accompanied by their four sons and two Brazilian guides.

As we began our late afternoon jungle walk, we had no hint of the danger to come. Nor could we anticipate the rich lessons about leadership that lay in wait for us. We had just constructed our jungle shelter, an open structure of trees, vines, and palm leaves. Our clothes were soaked from a recent downpour.

When Linda asked Pleno, our main guide’s right-hand man, to take her back down the trail to listen for late afternoon jungle noises, Oran and I joined in. We felt secure as we viewed the six hammocks now hanging from the trees surrounding our shelter with our kids’ four hammocks hanging under the shelter. Bobby, resting in his hammock, decided not to go; and the children, playing their now familiar game of “swing in the hammock,” showed no interest. So the three of us set out for a short walk, with Pleno as our guide.

During the three previous days at our jungle base camp, Soares, our main guide, had told us stories about this jungle and his experiences in it. We knew, for instance, that three weeks earlier a French guide and his party were lost for five nights in the area that we were now exploring. Soares, a most incredible and fascinating person, has the capacity to live in two totally different realities and to do so with great skill. He is a “natural leader.” In Manaus, where our adventure began, Soares is an entrepreneur, building his third successful business, a jungle exploration company. In the jungle, his home from birth, he has knowledge that often exceeds our comprehension, and ways of knowing which we can only speculate about.

There are at least three ways for leaders to gain commitment from followers. One is to get people involved in solving a problem; another is to present the solution and have people plan the implementation; a third is to lead through expertise or competence.

In our situation that afternoon in the Amazon, we perceived our leader, Pleno, as an expert; his recommendations were to be followed automatically, so as not to risk our safety in such unfamiliar terrain. What a unique experience for us—one in which our need to question authority was apparently nonexistent. Thus we embarked on a real-life example of leadership by expertise. Our knowledge of the jungle was so slim and Soares’ so comprehensive that he quickly became the unquestionable leader, authority, and most importantly, our protector. We transferred this confidence in Soares to his young apprentice, Pleno. After all, they looked similar, they spoke the same language, they worked together and they had common experiences to share.

Our walk followed a newly-created trail for about 10 minutes. It was 4 p.m. and the shadows in the jungle were growing. Under the canopy of trees it gets dark by 5:30 and in more open spaces it gets dark by 6:00. After this short walk, Pleno motioned for us to turn around so we could return to our camp before dark. For 15 minutes we followed Pleno as he used his machete to clear our path. After crossing the same log for the second time, each of us began to doubt, and quickly tried to erase the doubts. In retrospect, it was at this point that our learning about leadership began.

Soares had instructed us well in our three days with him. He had told us what the French guide had done wrong: he continued to walk once he was lost. This ran through our minds as we followed Pleno deeper into the jungle. A full 25 minutes passed before Pleno confirmed what we already knew—he could not find his way back to our camp.

Continued in Part Two

Thursday, July 10, 2014

From Wall Street to the Local Non-Profit, Executive Coaching Works for Leaders

Executive Coaching

Today’s professionals are pulled in many directions and have to manage their careers while working long hours and dealing with inflexible schedules. This is on top of managing to find time for family obligations and downtime. How is this even achievable when there is a temptation to be constantly in touch with work remotely through email and smartphones?

These are common concerns working professionals tend to share in executive coaching. More often today, companies are recognizing the strategic value of using coaches individually or in small teams to help develop their high potentials to find smarter ways to work.

It’s been estimated that of the $80 billion being spent on corporate education, approximately $2 billion is being spent on executive coaching according to Business Wire. The Hay Group estimates that upwards of 40% of Fortune 500 organizations actively use executive coaching for talent development.

What does coaching do, exactly?

Research suggests that executive coaches can help increase job performance and productivity as well enhance leadership skills, increase agility and credibility, improve interpersonal skills, and foster personal growth (Kampa & White, 2002). Leaders are increasingly sensitive to the idea that there is value in working through challenges through the facilitation with a non-judgmental and unbiased professional.

Business and executive coaching is appropriate and effective for all levels of leadership—from front line employees to CEOs. The meeting format ranges from an individual meeting with the coach and one client or the coach and a team collectively working through issue processing and development.

What are some typical challenges executives work through in coaching?

• A team leader needs to influence senior leaders to add additional staff to their team despite a hiring freeze.

• A leader needs to motivate his direct reports when there isn’t a budget for promotions or pay raises or there has been poor company performance.

• An executive attempts to build buy-in with the staff from a plant they’ve just started managing overseas virtually.

• An executive is working across a matrix to influence senior leaders to consider a change that isn’t tied to those managers’ performance metrics.

• A Director is confronted with two employees who are consistently bickering and undermining each other in an offsite office.

• A senior manager discovers that their boss is playing favorites to certain employees, misappropriating company funds, and giving services away to certain customers.

• A second-generation business owner has plateaued in their career and needs to continue to grow the business.

• A non-profit executive director is passionate about the cause of the organization, but uncomfortable approaching new perspective donors for contributions.

What does a successful coaching engagement look like?

Successful coaching should lead the client to have greater clarity about their opportunities and challenges, some solid actions steps to implement, stronger self-awareness about their strengths and learning gaps, and a wider band width to solve even the most intractable challenges.

By Sam Turner, Ph.D. Sam serves as an active member of the Organizational Development Network, the Triad Coaching Connection, the Human Resources Management Association of Greensboro, the American Society of Training & Development, the American Psychological Association, and the Society of Intercultural Education, Training & Research.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

3 Steps to Creating a Positive Learning Environment

In today’s 24/7 world, executives and managers simply don’t have a great deal of time to get away from the office, so we are challenged to work smarter, faster and better. We must help clients master an important concept in a few hours or a day, hit the ground running with immediate real world results and set the stage for building connections down the road. We know if we trigger fear in people about being judged or “found out,” we immediately put them on high alert, which can totally disrupt the assessment, development and training process. Simply put, we know people learn best when they feel encouraged and supported. It is crucial to create a positive learning environment to increase the impact of leadership development training. Here are three ways to create an environment to minimize anxiety and maximize learning.

1. Send the correct message
The messages that trigger brain responses that enhance readiness for learning include acknowledgment of past successes and expectation of even better things to come. The correct message about why an executive is being assessed for leadership performance can set the stage for and directly impact assessment and development outcomes.

2. Highlight the link between leadership effectiveness and organizational effectiveness
Organizations engage potential leaders in leadership development because they believe the organizations will be better as a result. Reinforcing a leader’s importance to the organization, and making clear the link between individual and organizational effectiveness, will set the stage for impactful learning.

3. Use productive language
The language used in some assessment tools and by some training experts may make people feel like they are being labeled or judged. In particular, certain clinical language may leave people feeling like they are getting a diagnosis, and may imply that they are either healthy or sick. This, of course, significantly decreases receptivity and the effectiveness of training and development. For these reasons, it’s important to be non-judgmental and present an unbiased interpretation, particularly in the delivery of an assessment. We can do this by understanding our own bias, avoiding judgmental language, and helping our clients really understand what their “results” mean for their upside potential on a head and heart level.

It’s easy to forget how much anxiety leadership development can provoke. Anxiety and fear result in a chemical reaction in the brain that triggers fight or flight. This is perfect when you are in danger but is far from optimal for learning. Instead of prompting a person to feel defensive or fearful of being exposed, we must focus on setting the stage to unlock a person’s full potential. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How BP's Employees Became More Efficient in 5 Hours

Effective work planning —how workers divide their workday among the steady stream of incoming requests for their time— is paramount to individual and ultimately, organizational performance. No one knows this better than Shelley Steffek-Pernot, Global Capability Manager for multinational oil and gas company BP. Her solution: an innovative in-house training program, Effective Planning, featuring Discovery Learning’s proven business simulation, Paper Planes, Inc.

“While most companies use Paper Planes to improve teamwork collaboration and customer service, BP is using the simulation in a very innovative way,” says Chris Musselwhite, President of Discovery Learning. “Recognizing how clearly the simulation demonstrates the value of challenging assumptions about work, BP is using Paper Planes to show workers the benefit of using a disciplined workday planning process across the entire organization.”

According to Steffek-Pernot, getting people comfortable with challenging assumptions about work on a daily basis is a primary learning objective of Effective Planning. Paper Planes is designed so that if no questions are asked about the work and the individual roles as presented, the initial production runs are usually surprisingly ineffective at meeting the customer’s seemingly achievable specifications.

“Most of us assume we have no option but to complete work as it’s given to us, when actually we have multiple options: we can do it, defer it, delegate it, drop it, or re-design it,” says Steffek-Pernot. “Paper Planes provides a very realistic experience that drives home the benefit of constantly challenging expectations about work and redesigning it if doing so will provide more value to the company.”

Steffek-Pernot knows how important this is in a constantly changing business environment. “Work that was a valuable use of time yesterday may be irrelevant today due to a change in business needs.”

This reality becomes clear after one run of Paper Planes, when participants immediately see the need to challenge assumptions and redesign the work process in order to come up with better results. It becomes clear again when customer interventions further complicate the process. Often, the difference in results once a team begins to ask questions and make improvements is so significant that the impact is felt by everyone in the room.

“While the information provided in the classroom lectures is great, the real learning happens during the simulation,” says Steffek-Pernot. “Paper Planes works because participants get to experience firsthand the value in constantly challenging assumptions and optimizing work processes. It’s this internalization of the learning that makes it much more likely that participants will apply it in the workplace right away and actually change their work habits – which is the goal of any training we do.” Steffek-Pernot recognizes that the skills necessary for effective workday planning will continue to be essential capabilities for workers in highly interconnected and dynamic workplaces like BP.

“We know that our people will continue to face competing demands on their time. Based on what we’ve seen to date, we believe that Paper Planes will continue to be an effective tool to help our employees learn the critical skills necessary for effective workday planning for years to come.”

Monday, May 19, 2014

Talk Less, Listen More: Why You Should Be Asking Questions

What if you could develop a leadership skill that was simple, inexpensive and enabled you to get more done by doing less? Would you be interested? The ability to ask good questions is quite possibly one of the most effective and under-utilized leadership competencies. This seemingly simple but surprisingly difficult skill will not only help you become more effective at managing and developing others, it can contribute to improved problem solving, better decision making and increased capacity for organizational learning—all of which add to increased organizational agility.

Like many leadership competencies, asking good questions is harder than it sounds. Why? It’s likely that your problem-solving ability and business expertise have propelled you upward in your career. You have been rewarded for providing answers and scoring wins for your organization. One of the toughest developmental challenges for someone advancing up the organization is to shift from being the “go-to person” to getting things done through others.

In fact, one of the most frequent complaints I encounter comes from managers who are frustrated by employees who constantly come to them for help with problems that they believe the employee should be able to handle on their own. A common refrain goes like this, “I have no time to get my work done. He constantly comes to me with problems that he should be able to solve. That’s why I gave him this job. What am I paying him for anyway?”

Generally, there’s a fairly obvious reason this happens. When you always provide answers you teach people to come to you for help. Other than the consideration of your available time, there’s a bigger reason you should be concerned about this. In an expanded managerial role you must learn to transition from star problem solver into a coach and a developer of others. Problem solving is a management skill, while getting things done through others is a leadership skill.

Knowing you need to ask questions is just the beginning. How you ask questions is crucial. If your questioning makes others feel confronted rather than supported, you won’t get the promised end result. What we’re addressing here is intention. Intention is the difference between coaching and coercing. Behind the coaching process is the simple but essential belief that while each of us has an inner wisdom that can give us the guidance and understanding we need, it is often obscured by inner and outer interference. Good coaching helps individuals work through this interference.

To become an effective coach, you have to make sure your intentions are not coercive. You must:
  • Remember you’re trying to help the person being coached to understand the situation, not fix it for them.
  • Make sure you’re not just trying to make yourself look good. Good coaches never forget that the goal is for the team (the organization) to win, not to be the star player.
  • Make sure you’re not trying to make the person being coached understand your perception of the problem. As the coach, you must keep in mind that your job is to ask the questions; their job is to come up with the answers.
  • Be open to questioning your own assumptions and beliefs.
  • Recognize when a question is not a question but advice or suggestion disguised as a question. Ask clarifying not leading questions.

While it may be difficult, learning the art of asking good questions is definitely worth the effort required. Mastering this highly under-utilized leadership skill will not only help you become more effective at managing and developing others. The biggest payoff may be the new time you find now that your employees can solve problems and make decisions without you holding their hand. 

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