Retaining Senior Employees and Stopping Brain Drain

iStock_000017440582XSmallMy good friend John Rossheim is a fabulous writer, great person and writes about the most current employment subjects.  I thought you’d be interested in the most recent article he wrote for Monster in which I am quoted on the topic of sabbaticals.  Rather than copy/paste the article here, which is likely a copyright violation but really a diminution of the writer’s original thinking, I am embedding the link:



Lean In and Free Men

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, is rallying women to pursue leadership positions in business and government despite their fears. In urging women to “Lean In,” she points repeatedly to the confidence of men. She contends that men pursue new jobs and opportunities even if they don’t feel 100% capable of doing the work. Meanwhile, women resist reaching for a professional challenge until they have zero doubt in their ability to succeed. As an executive coach, I can attest that men aren’t always as confident as they may seem. Nor do they always want to lean in.

Men have been told to lean in since the moment of their first stepiStock_000008352989XSmall, their first day on a baseball field and their first date. It’s pretty tough to maintain that always-on stance day after day, year after year and meeting after meeting. Men act in different ways when the pressure is overwhelming.

An executive who I worked with is beloved by his staff, even though he berates them. He is brilliant, but belligerent. Abrasive leaders like my client interpret normal interactions as threats to their existence. They see others like lions in the jungle about to attack them. Obsessing with their potential demise at every turn blinds them to how their behavior impacts others. Which is ironic considering that emotional intelligence is essential in today’s highly collaborative business environment.

According to a study by London’s Cass Business School and executive search firm Odgers Berndtson,  “82% of managers believe that leaders of the post-Baby Boomer era will need to develop so-called ‘feminine’ skills to motivate their workers.” Those traits include emotional intelligence, flexibility and a talent for instilling workers with a sense of purpose, says Richard Boggis-Rolfe, the chair of Odgers Berndtson.

Men are programed from adolescence to act hard, but they need soft skills to succeed in leadership roles in today’s interdependent business environment. Society’s message to men—“don’t cry”—runs deep. Many men have to put in extra effort to gain the self-awareness that is needed to understand and manage their emotions, develop and maintain relationships and cope with changes and challenges, which includes work/life balance.

In my 33 years of working for some of the world’s best corporations, I always felt that the demands on men to constantly lean in, to be the Type A’s the world expected and to be aggressive have placed relentless pressure men who wanted nothing more than a good family, a decent job, recognition and a chance to grow in a direction not dictated by someone else. Some recent research I conducted confirmed the suspicions that I had.

I recently surveyed men and women to determine their desire to take sabbaticals. Men were as likely as women (65% vs. 68%) to take or request a sabbatical. Spending more time with their families was one of the primary reasons men said they would take a sabbatical if it were offered. The men I spoke with truly regretted how much time they lost with their families by living up to the pervasive image of being “the provider.“

The key point is that society has preordained men to act a certain way. Assuming that all men are Don Draper doesn’t benefit women or businesses. As women lean in, we should also free men from the burden of having to do it all, all the time. We need to give them the opportunity to cultivate their emotional intelligence so they can effectively compete in work environments where the command and control model is quickly becoming outdated. Simply put, we should create the conditions where both men and women can lead businesses and governments as well as balanced lives.

Retirement is About More than Just Money

iStock_000015520861XSmallTen thousand baby-boomers reach 65 years of age every day, a numeral that makes you ‘of retirement age.’  You hear this startling fact every few minutes on prime time television.  AARP is all over this.  But who among you thought this time would arrive so abruptly, a phase of life we associate more with our parents and grandparents?   I never considered I’d ever have to give retirement planning serious thought.

Many of you are facing retirement, whether in the next year or some years out, either a result of your personal decision or a choice by your employer.   You’ve been bombarded with charts, plans, spreadsheets, direct mail and dire warnings about how much money you’ll need to retire. No doubt, money is important.

However, what I’ve learned is that in retirement, money is only one piece of a what could be the happiest time of your life.  Money is perhaps the easiest to check off the retirement ‘to do’ list because it’s simple arithmetic and discipline.

What’s harder is the choices you decide to make about what you want to do and how you want to live the rest of your life.  Remember, you have (statistically) more than one-fourth of your life ahead of you.  It’s indeed precious time to do what you love.  Don’t just retire:  do something new.

You will want to talk to others, write down thoughts, share ideas, try out and research possibilities.  Here is a simple process to help you find what might be next for you:

Imagine Your Next Chapter

  • What would you really like to do?  If you wrote down the top 3 – 5 activities you’d relish, you would be surprised and feel excited about the possibilities.
  • What part of your future did you put off because you took another path earlier in your career?  Nothing wrong with this – I don’t know many people who sought out their initial dream, especially once they had financial and family responsibilities.
  • What values and needs are essential for your satisfaction so you can wake-up each morning looking forward to your day?
  • If you had a clean slate, what role would you design for yourself?  Think about it without boundaries, letting your energy and interests lead the way.
  • Don’t look back with regret.  While your morals and ethics have likely stayed intact, what  you want to do at 65 is different from what you even could have considered when you were just 25.  Think differently and expand your options.

Design a Plan

  • Take a few ideas from the above exercise and lay out the pros and cons of each and write down what the new career would mean to you.
  • Make a honest appraisal of the income you would like to earn and whether or not you’d sacrifice income for an appealing new career.
  • Note in bullet form what steps you’d take to make the ideas come true.  Realize that you can ‘try out’ these ideas without being fully committed.
  • Create a realistic time frame for achieving your new role.  For example, don’t think you’ll be secure in a well-paying, ideal job in a year.  It will take you longer than that and you want to avoid disappointment.

Build a Well Laid-Out Transition Guide

  • Acknowledge that it will take time for you to find what you love.
  • While you’re learning and experimenting, seek other meaningful work.  I have found volunteering, going back to school for a course or two, mentoring and exploring have kept my mind stimulated, my heart beating, and my interests alive.  Find time to relax and step back from your efforts.  Go for a walk, have lunch outside when you can.  Exercise.
  • Talk to others in your fields of interest.  People really love to tell you what they do and why, and are often willing to help you get started. Join associations and make connections there.  You can learn a good deal from just one or two meetings.
  • Put together a multi-year plan of how you will achieve your new goals, being more specific in the early years and less so as you look beyond your two-to-three year horizon.
  • Ensure you speak to your loved ones about what you want to do, as it will affect them and their plans.  Talk to them often about your ideas.  Avoid surprising them!

From personal experience, being deliberate about what is next in life can be fulfilling, liberating, and remarkably relaxing.

Generation Xers: Should You Change Jobs?

That’s the question many of you face today. You and your colleagues are frustrated with endlessly long hours, small or non-existent raises, loweriStock_000010779625XSmall bonuses, frequent reorganizations, staff cuts, hiring freezes and a management mantra that people simply have to learn how to do more with less, an edict that insults an employee’s intelligence.

While you’re wondering what to do, the market is moving in your favor. Ten thousand baby boomers are retiring each day. Employee poachers are on the prowl, according to a new survey by Right Management. 64 percent of workers say another employer has attempted to woo them away in the past year. The May 3rd edition of the New York Times reported that “The United States economy created an estimated 165,000 jobs in April, averting fears of a sharp slowdown and pushing the unemployment rate to its lowest level since the end of 2008.”

These facts likely signal more job opportunities for you. If so, you need to ask yourself the question: Should you rush out the door or stay?

Here are my suggestions for what you should consider as you think about going or staying.

You should ‘stay’ if:

  • You feel engaged and challenged in what you do.
  • The organization benefits from your work.
  • You respect the culture and work environment.
  • Your compensation is fair.
  • Company policies, ethics and products/services align with your beliefs.
  • People treat each other with respect.
  • Your work makes you feel good.
  • Someone has become your mentor.
  • Your work life and your personal life are seamless.

You should ‘go’ if:

  • Job content is unexciting and you can’t envision any change.
  • You feel stuck and no one is there to help move you along or listen.
  • The work environment is draining.
  • Your work is not valued.
  • Your commute borders on insanity.
  • Your manager is abusive.
  • You don’t get up in the morning looking forward to your work day.
  • Demand exists elsewhere for your skills.
  • Change is exciting to you.

If you arrive at work and feel good about being there, stay; if you don’t, begin your search but don’t act hastily. Take a systematic approach and avoid switching just for money. Remember that not liking what you do, not being satisfied and not feeling appreciated are more detrimental to your future – personally and professionally — than not having had a raise in several years.

Move for content and contentment.

Abrasive Leadership: Was the Coach Coachable?

This article was first published by HR Executive Online on April 10, 2013. 

Mike Rice, the former men’s basketball coach for Rutgers University, has been plastered and chastised in the media for exhibiting abusive behavior toward his players that included homophobic slurs. After a fine and three-game suspension four months ago, he was fired when a video of his actions surfaced. No one can argue that his stunning behavior was acceptable. Yet the question remains: would addressing his behavior early on have made the difference? Was the coach coachable? Bullying Coach

Workplace bullying is rampant. According to a Workplace Bullying Institute survey, “more than a third of adult Americans report being bullied at work, and 15 percent witness it and are made miserable.”

Sadly, most of us don’t know how to counter the bully’s bad behavior. Oftentimes, the bully is a star performer, making it even harder for both management and human resource executives to confront the looming problem.  Employers frequently don’t act, even though keeping an abusive leader onboard is often more risky and costly than pursuing solutions.

But something needs to be done when abusive behaviors frighten others and create a toxic work environment. Wounds inflicted on others can linger and produce intense emotional distress.

The first thing human resource executives can do is to understand what makes a bully tick, and know when calling in an executive coach is a viable course of action.

In the case of Rice, he had two distinct problems, one of which is coachable and the other is not. The homophobic slurs are a telltale sign that certain aspects of his thinking are past the point of executive coaching. When I read about this, I immediately thought he needs to see a therapist. Coaching cannot help — coaching is not therapy.

But if the deep-seated prejudices are absent from the behavioral equation, there is a process executive coaches can apply to improve abrasive leader behavior.

We are all born with the Threat –> Anxiety –> Defense mechanism, which is the core of the problem. Bullies — whom executive coaches label “abrasive leaders” — are hyper-alert to any and all challenges to their position, success, self-perception and authority — we could say they see each threat as equivalent to being attacked by a lion in the jungle. Second, because they have misdiagnosed the threat, their anxiety levels are out of sync with the threat itself. “There’s a lion about to attack me — I should be anxious, my heart is racing for a good reason, and I had better do something quickly, or else I’ll be dead.”

From past experience, abrasive leaders learned to survive by deploying these same behaviors and will defend against any threats to the way they are accustomed to achieving success. Surely, the evidence shows their behaviors have worked — winning records, high share prices, one promotion after another, respect — so why should they change? Abrasive leaders are oblivious to the impact of their behavior on others. Usually they are not bad people. They act inappropriately in pursuit of a goal or a reaction to a threat. For them, survival and winning are everything, and they will get there through dominance.

Abrasive leaders can change once they realize what is leading to their inappropriate behaviors.

How I address these inappropriate behaviors is quite straightforward — I speak with the manager’s manager, co-workers, staff, clients and sometimes even the spouse or another family member — and ask a simple question about the subject’s behavior. As a coach, I ask: “Would you please share with me your perception of the strengths and weaknesses of Joe’s management style and the way he interacts with others?” Once I’ve completed this task, I construct themes to depict the essence of the misbehaviors. I read the edited comments to my clients (you want to edit carefully to avoid any possibility of attribution, but not so much as to lose the essential point) and gauge their reactions. For most abrasive leaders, this will be the first time they have heard what others think of them. And while the client might disavow what they hear, they cannot deny that perceptions are reality, and this is how others view them.

Once they see the damage they cause, many abrasive leaders will want to change because it was never their intention to harm anyone in their quest to achieve their goals. At this point, they are willing to engage in role-playing exercises to reshape their behavior.

An investment in coaching can help companies restore civility, avoid costly turnover and possibly even prevent litigation. Perhaps Rice is not the right candidate for coaching, but some abrasive leaders are. If an employee is instrumental to the business, executive coaching can help HR executives retain valuable talent while avoiding costly lawsuits and the loss of valuable personnel who suffer under abrasive leaders.



Leading the Way in Building Talent

iStock_000006792437XSmallManagement has always professed that people are a company’s most valuable asset.  However, demonstrations of that belief are hard to find.  A leader who wants to grow human capital needs to apply approaches identified in a University of North Carolina Executive Development ideas@work article.

Based on their research, here are the straightforward approaches the three authors suggest are essential to identifying, growing and promoting the best talent available.  “Talent builders identify the organizational capabilities and talent that they need to have in their organization to perform at a high level in today’s environment.  In addition, they also look ahead and identify the organizational capabilities and talent that they will need to win in the marketplace in 36 – 48 months.”

Drive and Expect World Class Performance at All Levels:  talent building organizations demand performance that is at a ‘higher standard’ and drive that mindset into their organization.  The status quo is never sufficient, not acceptable.  Beyond top performance, ‘nothing else much matters.’

Become Students of How to Build Better Leaders Faster:  leading organizations stay current on talent management best practices and ‘invite experts to audit their talent building practices and are open’ to new innovations that fit their business and talent development needs.  Teachable moments are not dismissed; rather, they are discussed for purposes of learning and what would be done differently next time.

Ensure that Talent is on the Agenda:  “Great talent builders communicate…that leadership and talent matter.”  They produce leaders better than themselves and inquire of their staff questions like:

  • Whom in your organization is as good or better than you?
  • Who could replace you in 1 – 2 years?
  • Whom do you know outside our organization who could replace you in 1 – 2 years?
  • Whom do you know within the company who could replace you in 1 – 2 years?

These are tough and intimidating questions for managers unless you provide them with an open and trusted forum that is inclusive of them.  You need to be sure that they too see opportunities for growth and identification.

Continually Assess and Develop their Team to Ensure World-Class Talent:  Great talent building organizations keep a list of leaders who are great performers and have ‘the greatest potential for the future.’  They constantly discuss the strengths and development needs of their direct reports, focusing not just on the top 20% but also others who are coachable to reach the top tier, and those who are blocking high performers from any opportunity to grow.  Active review and evaluation are ongoing and systematic.

Continually Recruit and Export Internal Talent:   Talent builders ‘ask peers to identify their top 3 most talent people and ask for an introduction.’  Then they schedule time to meet with each to get to know them and offer their services to mentor and guide.  ‘In addition, they continually export their high potential talent to other units because they have an obligation to develop talent and know that good talent wants to go to leaders interested in their long-term development.”

Continually Recruit External Talent:    By speaking to outsiders and external recruiters, they have a method for ‘calibrating’ their talent against world class alternatives.  In fact, some are ‘willing to cold call these individuals to get to know them and establish relationships’ which could possibly result in future recruiting efforts.  Most importantly, talent builders seek non-natural sources of talent.  They peer around many corners for new and fresh perspectives.

Accelerate the Development of Talent: Leaders in talent building organizations get to personally and professionally know their direct reports and two levels down.  They demand their managers identify assignments and moves for all their high potentials to ensure ‘development plans accelerate the likelihood of these individuals advancing to their next jobs.’  Techniques used in this process include multi-rater feedback, action learning, transparent performance reviews and stretch assignments..

Doing all the above well and consistently takes a significant amount of effort.  But if you want to build the best talent possible, the energy and time required will yield payoffs for your leaders and your organization.


Winning the Super Bowl: Leadership and Management Working Together

iStock_000001066525XSmallWith Super Bowl LXVII fast approaching, it made me wonder about what makes a group of individuals perform as a superb team.

Tom Landry, famed coach of the Dallas Cowboys, said “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you’ve always known you can be.”  And the equally famous Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers said “Coaching in its truest sense is giving the responsibility to the learner to help them come up with their own answers.”

Clearly, both of these eminent men thought coaching mattered to the success of the individual and thus to the entire team.  Out of the separate efforts of each player came a team that worked together to achieve prominence.

Further, in the Financial Times of January 29th an article entitled “Can Coaching Make The Difference” attributes Andy Murray’s success in winning the US Open tennis championship to the coaching he received from former champion Ivan Lendl, ‘who has helped [Murray] to pace his performance and stay calm.’

Coaching provides caring of the highest degree, helping leaders ‘develop self-awareness and recognize blind spots in their [i.e., client’s] approach.’  Clients like Murray develop confidence to ‘…handle better the challenges that come with leading complex organizations in a rapidly changing operating environment.  Coaching helps leaders [italics added] think collectively.’

Which brings me to the age-old question of Leadership vs. Management, at the heart of why good teams, I believe, excel.

John Kotter of The Harvard Business School recently blogged about this subject in “Management is (Still) Not Leadership,” and I think reviewing his points will help us understand why men such as Landry and Lombardi were such superb coaches and leaders over the long-term.

Leadership and management are radically different and not interchangeable terms.  The two perform vitally different functions, though both have critical roles to play.

Leaders are not necessarily at the top of an organization or individuals with charismatic and endearing personal characteristics.  Likewise, managers do not always play a worker or specialist role.  Using these attributes to categorize someone as a leader or manager is a dangerous mistake.

Management is best described as adhering to or executing a ‘set of well-known processes….which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well.’  It is about producing promised products and service consistently across time.  Because it is about execution, management is a difficult task.  “We constantly underestimate how complex this task is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs,” writes Kotter.  Management is crucial he says, but it’s not leadership.

Leadership is entirely different.  “It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities.”  Kotter believes that leadership is about vision, ‘about people buying in, about behavior.’  And because we operate in a world moving at a heady pace, leadership is needed more and from more people, ‘no matter where they are in the hierarchy.’  Assuming that a ‘few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.’  We need superb management; we need superb leaders.  One cannot exist without the other.  ‘We need to make our complex organizations reliable and efficient.”

And so we return to football, both an elegant and brutal sport.

A football team is composed, as is any organization or team, of both managers and leaders – you have offensive and defensive team leaders, you have the head coach, and you have the quarterback.  Each of them must read the fast-moving changes and adaptations of the opposing team, meting out instructions and directions in real-time to their team mates, who we can say ‘manage the play.’

The team that wins this coming Sunday will be the one that has superb leaders making fine adjustments, empowering the men on the field , and managers who execute brilliantly in the face of constantly changing conditions.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

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Why Businesses Say IT Is Not Very Innovative

Those of you who read my blogs know I write often about the human aspects of IT project failures and the lack of open discussion between technologists and their business colleagues.  Well, here comes some more evidence.

Information Week published an article entitled “Heroes Wanted,”  which is about the unfortunate lack of technological innovation at a time of great business need.  In this well-researched article which is based on responses from both IT and non-It people, we learn even more about the disturbing lack of synchronicity between the need for and delivery of technology.  Data collected showed a ‘disparity between how IT views its performance (not bad) and how non-IT pros view it (not good).’

What did they learn specifically?

IT Project Cost and Delivery Not Meeting Expectations:  2/3 (a low number in and of itself) of IT providers thought users were happy with quality, timeliness and cost, but just half of the business managers surveyed agreed.  Furthermore, more than half of the business managers still believed IT is still primarily a support or maintenance organization.  “Again and again, the data shows a disturbing gap between IT’s perception of itself as reasonably innovative and effective and non-IT’s lukewarm view.”

IT and the Business Look at the Same Situation Differently:   for every success story reported in the survey by IT, ‘there were as many cutting comments describing the IT staff — even from IT pros themselves.’  That is, despite seemingly heroic efforts by IT and no customer complaints, IT is still not seen as cutting the muster for business innovation purposes.  Indeed, IT is viewed as being a drag on innovation.  “The user perception is very low and generally this perception is ignored [italics mine] by senior IT management as not being of importance.”  How can the IT function be so cavalier about disregarding survey after survey that business needs are not being met?  This is clearly one reason businesses turn to outside providers and pray the cloud answers all their questions and why there’s constant pressure on IT to reduce its costs.

Where Does the Tension Lie?  While there’s little debate that IT is critical and that everyone acknowledges technology is of growing importance, it’s difficult to find the cause of the different views, though here are some thoughts:

  1. IT has done such a great job cutting costs, the achievement can ‘run counter to the concept of implementing new technology to drive innovation.’
  2. By making IT more cost efficient, it can ‘result in devaluing IT as the source of those efficiencies do not flow back to most organizations.’  So lots of effort by IT not matched to the business benefit.
  3. While businesses talk about revenue and market share, IT is stuck describing how it reduced costs — not at all what excites wise shareholders.
  4. IT projects often don’t demonstrate direct business benefit.  For the business to really appreciate the work IT does, ‘discretionary spending has to be evaluated just like you look at other discretionary resources, like capital.’  (For the number one book on this subject, see George Westerman’s The Real Business of IT:  How CIOs Create and Communicate Value.)
  5. Technologists don’t view themselves as decison-makers!  The survey revealed that though nearly 85% of businesses want IT to be decision-makers and help with decisions, only 2/3 of IT agreed.  I don’t have an answer as to why IT would pass up an opportunity to participate in an activity that would raise their profile among the business.  Perhaps technologists are more comfortable around infrastructure and purely technical choices.  Maybe they don’t want to subject themselves to the risk of being wrong when in the sights of their business partners.

The only response to improving IT performance and its stature in the eyes of the business is to ‘work closely with business executives to develop innovative applications.’  While this is statement is neither startling nor new, it’s what’s needed on a consistent basis to educate businesses about IT’s essential value in business innovation and growth.  IT must participate daily to face doubters and demonstrate how technology-driven opportunities can lead to market success.




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"Seven Traits of Truly Inspiring Leaders"

What is it about the behavior of people who truly inspire their managers, who are the leaders we aspire to become?  In perusing my files today, I came upon an anonymous article that identified seven traits shared among what the writer entitled ‘Truly Inspiring Leaders”.

Based on interviews with thousands of executives, the author noticed a subset of bosses who ‘inspire their employees and colleagues to achieve more than they ever thought possible’.  In the famous book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi he talks about people are most likely to achieve their goals when at the edge of anxiety and achievement.  Stretch, feel confident, take a risk, and succeed — and repeat.  Maybe this is what great leaders do by their behaviors.

Here are the seven traits:

  1. Purpose:  inspiring leaders believe success serves a higher purpose.  Yet, when you ask them why they’re motivated, they will say it’s all  about making other people successful.  Unlike their opposite, who are motivated by what makes them personally satisfied, inspirational leaders care more about others than themselves.
  2. Giving Back:  Long-term plans of inspiring leaders can include pro bono work or even charitable activities.  They want to give back, whether in money, time, thought or heavy lifting.  Uninspiring leaders feel no such obligation.  For them, it’s more important ‘cashing-in and/or buying physical objects’.
  3. Gratitude:  While uninspiring leaders are self-satisfied, secretly believing their success ‘is a natural result of being smarter and better than everyone else’, inspiring leaders don’t hold such grandiose and self-aggrandizing beliefs.   Leaders who inspire are indeed deeply and truly grateful.  Quite naturally they know their success ‘is hugely dependent upon accidents of birth and circumstance’.
  4. Beliefs and Values:  Inspirational leaders ‘treasure their beliefs’.  Uninspiring leaders tend to wear their values on their sleeves, following whatever catches their fancy.  In order to inspire others, true leaders allow their convictions pervade what they do and say — you can’t help but notice what they are feeling and the internal guidelines they’re following.
  5. Empathy:  Clearly, inspiring leaders care about people.  Like the world’s finest philanthropists, they recognize and cherish their obligation to help those less fortunate.  Given the prevalence with which Ayn Rand’s named was used in the latest Presidential election, we unfortunately learned that some leaders ‘couldn’t care less’ about other people.  Ms. Rand’s novels — especially Atlas Shrugged — gave the impression that the poor are merely ‘moochers’ begging for a handout.  Like Marie Antoinette, who reportedly said to the populace ‘let them eat cake’, uninspiring leaders emanate a certain disdain for those who aren’t as fortunate as many of us.
  6. Team Focus:  To inspire, you must share and spread the credit.  Nobody is successful alone.  Inspiring leaders rarely talk or brag about themselves.  Rather, they take the praise received and redirect it to the team members.  For those less than inspiration leaders, they tend to spread blame while taking credit themselves for the good things that happen.
  7. Energy:   How rare is it to leave a meeting thinking ‘I’d really like to work here’.  The person leading that meeting created an uplifting spirit and direction.  Her counterpart would be depressing in comparison, leaving you departing the meeting hoping you’ll never have to work for them or join them on a team.

As we begin the new year, constructing a check list to see how you fare on these attributes would be a worthwhile exercise — you might be surprised by what you find.  And as with many managerial behaviors, where you don’t score a direct hit (on the positive side!), you can also build a development plan to focus on a trait that needs more time or guidance to manifest itself.  Should you find you’re not exercising ‘inspirational’ behaviors, better to know now than learning later that you could have accomplished so much more.




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Learning About Management from Abe Lincoln

Steven Spielberg‘s movie Lincoln and Doris Kearns Goodwin‘s book from 2005 entitled  Team of Rivals are both respectful appreciations of a quiet man who did extraordinary things.  What are some of the lessons we can extract from a closer look at our 16th president?

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, there are five behaviors of President Lincoln that we would be smart to practice when managing ourselves and others.

Short-term pain for long-term gain

What many don’t know — I certainly didn’t — is that the Emancipation Proclamation was issued under Lincoln’s war powers and thus did not establish a ‘legal basis for abolishing slavery across the nation.’   He knew that once the Confederates were readmitted into the Union after the war, ratifying it as an amendment (the 13th) to the constitution would have had no chance of succeeding.  Wisely, Lincoln ‘pushed to get it through Congress before the fighting ended.’  While this meant the Civil War dragged on longer than it would have otherwise by delaying a peace delegation with the Confederates, it ensured the Proclamation would pass.  What a masterful job of understanding your objectives and being able to clearly see how doing one thing allows you to accomplish another.

Trust your lieutenants

Even if they don’t trust you or agree with you, as Ms. Goodwin points out, by letting your staff do its work, you can achieve great things you could not do on your own.  I’ve written before about Royal Little, founder of Textron, one of the world’s first conglomerates, who  famously once said that he achieved his successes by hiring people to do what he couldn’t, which was considerable, as it is for most of us.  Ms. Goodwin’s best-selling book tells a fast moving story of how political rivals, working at the behest of President Lincoln, who set the agenda and ‘clarified the moral underpinnings of the Proclamation,’ was able to extract the best from each Cabinet member to allow him to achieve his goals.  Simply, he put the best people in the right jobs and let them figure it out, providing guidance only when necessary.

Don’t get isolated as a leader

One of President Lincoln’s personal strategies was to ensure he did not get too far from the fray personally.  Along with other great managers, he knew how important it was to see for yourself, to touch the people who do the work, and to test what you’ve heard.  In Lincoln, Mr. Spielberg shows the ‘president not afraid to court votes himself from time to time — even meeting with Democrats he knew he had little chance of convincing.’  How difficult but how necessary it is to talk to everyone, even those who disagree with you.  No other way can you exert influence on those who think differently than you.

It’s okay to use anger, but sparingly

Our image of President Lincoln is of a folksy, soft-spoken, backwoods, ax-wielding man of extreme intelligence gleaned from reading the world’s great books by candlelight.  Watching Lincoln you’ll see glimpses of his inner fire, ‘most notably when he loses his temper and delivers a passionate rant about the nobility of the Union cause.’  Why did he express his anger at that moment?  To keep his divided Cabinet from giving up on the amendment.  I can only imagine the emotional intelligence of this man.

Take your job home with you

President Lincoln was very close to his youngest son, Tad, who had a genuine interest in the Civil War and its legacy and purpose.  Innocently, Tad influences his father through their father/son discussions because his conscience ‘reinforced [his] father’s morality.’   Isn’t it a wonderful thing to learn from others when their intent is really just to question?  Often the most innocent question or comment can lead to extraordinary insight and reflection.

We can all learn about being good managers — and good people — by understanding how our late President worked with others, trusted, persevered, loved his family and country, and never lost sight of what he wanted to do.



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