I am continually asked to recommend a good leadership book. Frankly, I haven't found one. The leadership literature falls into two camps: what Robert Hogan calls the troubadour tradition and the academic tradition. The popular troubadour writings are full of seasoned opinions and ideas with little to no research backing. The academic writings are full of statistics and arcane jargon, and therefore are largely inaccessible to the average business person. I continually bring the research into my workshops, seminars, and columns, however, this is the first time I have attempted to bridge that gap in a comprehensive written view. Using my experience of 30 years in the corporate world, a vast amount of secondary research, and my own primary research, I have distilled the basics into a reasonable sized white paper that I hope is accessible to all leaders and leaders-in-training. Click here to download the white paper in PDF (1.6MB).
Corporate Culture: Effective Recruiting and Retention Tool or Silent Killer? (Spring 2013, page 22)
Organizational culture can be a powerful recruiting and retention tool, but left to languish, or worse, allowing toxic values to become integrated into a culture can have disastrous consequences. A good corporate culture will promote a feeling of satisfaction within your employees which will result in higher engagement and reduced turnover. It will also make it easier for you to attract and recruit new employees. In turn, this will lead to higher organizational performance and attendant increased revenue and profit.
UK Board Chair Brockman raises the Game with Good Leadership (posted June 23, 2011)
Excitement is in the air. The University of Kentucky has a new leader, Dr. Eli Capilouto. His face is the one we will soon associate with the university as a new era unfolds. Many of us eagerly await glimpses of his leadership style and vision, wondering what imprint he will leave behind. In the meantime I'd like to introduce you to a less visible leader at the University, but someone who can teach us a great deal about leadership. Dr. Britt Brockman is chair of the board of trustees and leads with a soft yet firm voice, steeped in the down-home texture of Kentucky values. This column is available in PDF, Kindle, ePub, HTML, and MP3 formats.
Leading with a Dab of Humility (posted November 10, 2010)
Humility is an integral part of outstanding leadership. One of the questions, as a leader, is how and when to exert power in relation to humility. Unfortunately power and success can lead to excess, as we've seen over and over. Mindfulness is the key to maintaining a healthy ego. A full length version of this article and references is available in PDF, Kindle, ePub, and HTML formats.
Harnessing the Energy of Group Dynamics (posted September 28, 2010)
Stereotyping and prejudice are human behaviors which tend to have negative connotations. However, a deeper study of group dynamics such as these can provide two powerful tools to harness group energy, enhancing team and organizational productivity to achieve superior results. You can increase the energy and enthusiasm within your team by highlighting a competitor and their products or technology. The second tool at our disposal is to transcend outgroup prejudices and create goals which cannot be met by a single group acting alone. This forces collaboration between groups. A full length version of this article and references is available in PDF, Kindle, ePub, and HTML formats.
Strategic and Operational Leadership (posted August 4, 2010)
Strategic leadership focuses on the long-term potential of the business-developing and refining the corporate strategy with market analyses, competitive and technology assessments, and internal strengths and weaknesses. Operational leadership ensures the organization is operating efficiently as well as carrying out the strategic decisions. Most leaders gravitate toward one role or the other. Very few leaders are able to do both well. References & Recommended Reading
Engaging Your Team (posted July 9, 2010)
Employee engagement is a loose term originating from William Kahn in 1990 and popularized by research firm The Gallup Organization and management consultants Towers Perrin. Both organizations claim that more engaged employees will bring larger bottom line profits, lower employee turnover, increased customer satisfaction and engagement, and many more positive business results. I think of engagement as an umbrella idea embracing such comfortable and time-tested concepts as flow, motivation and hygiene theory, the theory of effective vs. successful managers, Deci and Ryan's motivational orientation theory, burnout, as well as our good friend job satisfaction. All of these elements play a role in whether or not an employee is engaged or disengaged at their place of work. These elements require work on the part of the management team and the employee. The beauty of this situation is that it gives a leader in any part of the organization something to talk about with employees individually as well as in groups. You can stress the importance of each party's contribution as well as explore strengths and areas for improvement. Used appropriately, an employee engagement assessment can become a powerful tool for positive change in your organization. A full length version of this article and references is available in PDF, Kindle, ePub, and HTML formats.
Leadership and Emotional Intelligence (posted June 10, 2010)
I think we've all met someone highly intelligent, but unable to communicate with us mere mortal 100 IQ beings. We want to hire smart people but they need to be able to relate to others, especially when working in a leadership role. Enter the concept of emotional intelligence in 1995 with Daniel Goleman's book Emotional Intelligence and we think we've found the Holy Grail of predicting job performance. I wish it were so easy. Emotional intelligence is indeed a useful tool in our toolbox but is not what we had hoped for. Combined with personality and cognitive ability, however, it can be used to create a valuable portfolio of information. References & Recommended Reading
Leadership Lessons from Evolutionary Psychology (posted May 13, 2010)
Most indigenous tribes have a hierarchy of chiefs and elders, however, in some cases no permanent hierarchy or dominant roles exist. This usually occurs when food is abundant. In these times, leadership is rarely necessary. Leadership for peaceful purposes is a fairly recent phenomena, arriving with the Industrial Revolution. Workers come together just as families gathered in tribes. As when food was scarce, in difficult economic times people look to leaders for direction and vision, for a path forward. In good times, as when food is plentiful, people and teams understand their role in the organization and little intervention is necessary. Most people seem to know what to do and bristle when they feel micro-managed. A full length version of this article is available here. References & Recommended Reading
Leading Creative Teams (posted April 1, 2010)
Research has shown that 10 elements are required to facilitate high performance creative teams. These elements are:
Leading Organizations Through Culture Change (posted March 18, 2010)
Every organization has a culture-by default or intention-and that culture can sometimes mean the difference between phenomenal success and a death spiral. Toss a merger or acquisition into the mix and you can get either the best of both or a fatal battle of wills. After an acquisition, the management team of the acquired company must first understand the new culture. What are its values, such as: short-term view vs. long-term, value of innovation and creativity, empowerment, communication flow (hierarchical vs. free flow), risk tolerance and willingness to accept mistakes, individualism vs. teamwork, reward system, and more? Then you must communicate the new cultural values and the reason and history behind the culture. Communication needs to be frequent and consistent, over many media, including in person, on videos, in e-mails, and in printed displays. Stories are the most powerful and frequent method of communicating a culture and the leader must learn the stories used in the culture of the overtaking company, find new ones that support this culture in the overtaken company and relay those on. References & Recommended Reading
Detecting and Leading Change (posted February 4, 2010)
History is replete with catastrophes that could have been prevented if leaders had either been able to envision the change or see it and accept it, rather than deny it. Psychological studies have shown that we often miss changes, especially if the change is out of context. While most of these studies are based on visual changes, I believe that we often miss changes even in the face of extensive analysis. I see several reasons for these failures: inability to see the change, denial that the change may be coming, an aversion to risk, and an unwillingness to move against the flow. As history has shown, any of these maladies can strike powerful, and even fatal blows to a business. Scenario analysis provides a structured method for organizations to explore a wide gamut of possibilities in many realms, such as technology, demographics, culture, economics, and more. Once you have determined that changes are necessary the work begins to implement the change in your organization. Research has shown several elements are necessary to implement change. References & Recommended Reading
Observing Yourself (posted January 7, 2010)
Would you like to improve your effectiveness as a leader? Setting an intention to observe your behavior, and acting on this intention can prove to be a powerful tool to enhance your leadership skills. While you could simply begin to observe your actions throughout the day, a system or structure is likely to improve your chances of success. It is likely that you will find yourself acting without thinking in some cases. As you begin to observe your actions and see them objectively you will begin to understand the reasons for them. The result will be that you will have a better understanding of yourself and your interaction with others. As you begin to utilize some of these techniques you should begin to find that you will have a better rapport with all of the individuals you interact with. You will find yourself more present and available to them. They will likely feel that you are really listening to them. References & Recommended Reading
Conflict Resolution 101 (posted November 27, 2009)
As a leader, I'm sure you frequently find yourself in the unenviable position of having to mediate and resolve a conflict. In all cases where disparate groups have a genuine desire to resolve their differences and work toward a common goal I believe it can be achieved. Both parties must look at the big picture - and discuss the big picture. A true leader will find the common threads and motivate all parties involved to work toward the goal. In my experience, at the heart of most conflict lies the emotion of fear. Also available as a podcast.
Effective Leading Through Accountability (posted October 29, 2009)
We've seen the scandals of excessive pay, excessive spending, and outrageous perks all too often. Why does this continue to happen? Find out how innate human inclinations can allow us to lapse into poor judgment and how you can put accountability into your management practice in order to prevent problems. References & Recommended Reading
Rogue Leaders Can Sabotage Long-Term Business Goals (posted September 17, 2009)
Psychological research showing the need for goals and management support for those goals is overwhelming and decisive. Yet I have seen many an organization where direction and goals are set and individuals are left to fend for themselves. "They're big boys, they know what they have to do," is the common response. Too often I encounter rogue, or destructive leaders. These folks may be good at leading their teams, but fail at aligning with the larger organizational goals. Read about the success factors for high performing groups: group goals, individual goals, group support, and supportive relationships to work with individuals to attain those goals. References & Recommended Reading
Having the Difficult Conversations (posted August 6, 2009)
One of the single biggest lapses in leadership I see is the failure to have difficult conversations with employees. I have also found this to be one of the most significant factors differentiating mediocre leaders from outstanding leaders. As a leader, one of the less enviable tasks is having to deal with employees who are underperforming, socially incorrect, and a host of other maladies. The difficult conversations are moments you should look to as times you can prove yourself as a leader. We often shy away from the difficult conversations because we don't want to hurt someone's feelings, we aren't sure if we'll handle the situation well, we're afraid of the other person's reaction, and on and on. A different approach would be to look at the positives. Forcing yourself to have the conversation may facilitate growth in the other person. No matter what the situation you must mutually identify the problem areas and then move on. The key is how behavior will change in the future.
Leading Entrepreneurs (posted June 25, 2009)
It is important to separate the entrepreneur from his or her firm. There are four basic elements in the entrepreneurial model: the entrepreneur, the firm, the market opportunity, and investments. This model gives us the luxury of analyzing individual parts to better understand what's working and what's not. Knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) are factors we should investigate any time we hire someone and can be critical when evaluating an entrepreneur. Given the small size of startup organizations and the limitless uncertainty surrounding new technologies, markets, manufacturing, and competitors entrepreneurs must become masters at quickly adapting to constant fluctuations. All work can quickly come to a screeching halt through no fault of an entrepreneur if funding groups decide to tighten the reins across the board. If we are going to continue nurturing and growing this nascent entrepreneurial infrastructure you must be willing to take on more risk. Secondly, have patience with entrepreneurs. Don't write them off after the first failure. Investigate the reasons the effort was abandoned. Talk to people at the previous company and past customers. Educate yourself in the cycle of commercialization, revenue, growth, and profitability. Finally, use your leadership skills to mentor entrepreneurs and to connect ideas to investors. A full length version of this article is available here. References & Recommended Reading
Leading Multiple Generations (posted May 14, 2009)
Generational research has shown more similarities between generations than differences. We must keep in mind that the differences we observe in behavior between generations can be attributed to five important factors:
Police Launch Community-based Leadership Exchange (posted April 2, 2009)
What does a police officer in a patrol car have in common with a state-of-the-art business organization utilizing continuous learning principles? Answer: a lot! There is no leadership model for police agencies and so the Lexington Kentucky Division of Police has created their own. Under the direction of Chief Ronnie Bastin and Assistant Chief David Boggs, the Lexington police department is creating an exchange program with community leaders. This multi-year effort will help the police department learn what issues are important to the business community and their vision for Lexington in the next five to ten years. This insight into the future allows the police department to prepare well in advance of these trends. The program will also provide an exchange of organization purpose, leadership practices, and valuable networking contacts. References & Recommended Reading
Virtual Teams (posted March 5, 2009)
Virtual teams are those with members who are physically distant from each other or who work at different times, either in the same location or at a different location. They can provide many benefits such as reduced cost, ability to hire geographically dispersed but high quality individuals, and the ability to work literally around the clock across many time zones. However, for virtual teams to succeed they require highly skilled, top notch leaders with good project management discipline and interpersonal skills. Research shows very clearly that if you want to be successful with virtual teams you need to kick your leadership skills up a notch. At an absolute minimum, ensure you have the following:
Leadership and the Collective Unconscious (posted January 9, 2009)
Every leader generates a field of energy that has a certain character, depth, and breadth. An exceptional leader will gather disperse concepts and focus them into a crystal clear, inspirational vision which they then ripple back out into the matrix, stimulating people to action. The leader’s energy will galvanize physically, emotionally, and culturally dispersed workers to move on a common path toward common goals. As the leader’s vision and style become ingrained in followers it eventually becomes unconscious and almost reflexive as in Jung’s collective unconscious, a field of sorts. Examples of Dr. Lee Todd, President of the University of Kentucky, and Dr. Pearse Lyons, President and founder of Alltech, illustrate this metaphor. A diagnostic assessment known as FIRO-B (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation-Behavior™) is available to assist you in determining what type of field you may be generating. References & Recommended Reading
Leadership: Hard or Soft (posted November 26, 2008)
All leaders want to motivate their teams to perform their best. There is often a difference of opinion as to whether a hard or soft leadership style is more effective. Providing your team with challenging assignments can motivate them, although pushing too hard can cross the line to abuse. Find out when it is effective to prod your team and when it is counterproductive. References & Recommended Reading
Motivating Your Team (posted October 16, 2008)
We often think of motivating teams in a unified fashion. The problem is that not all individuals are motivated in the same way. This article discusses the different ways in which individuals are motivated:
By understanding how the individual members on your team are motivated you can take appropriate action and move your team's performance to the next level. References & Recommended Reading
Conflict Resolution (posted September 19, 2008)
I have yet to encounter an organization free of negative conflict. While conflict is healthy when exploring diverse views and performing innovative exercises, it can be unhealthy when handled improperly. Three very useful tools are available to anyone for resolving conflict in personal as well as organizational settings. The Mirroring Dialog will allow you to discharge a significant amount of energy someone may have regarding a specific situation. Once the energy is released you can begin to work on the problem from a more stable viewpoint. The Drama Triangle provides a framework to diagnose conflicts where an individual is painting someone as a persecutor, themself as a victim, and attempting to steer someone into the rescuer role. Through the use of this model the situation may be broken down into its components for easier resolution. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) is a tool designed to identify an individual's conflict style along two dimensions: assertive-unassertive and cooperative-uncooperative. Through this assessment the individual may see how he or she will likely respond to conflict by collaborating, competing, compromising, avoiding, or accomodating. References & Recommended Reading
Downsizing: Alternatives & Results (posted August 22, 2008)
When it comes to human resources, corporate officers tend to fall into one of two camps - those who views employees as assets that can be used to grow the business and those who view employees as a cost of doing business. When hard times hit consider many of the alternatives to involuntary terminatons. Statistically speaking, compelling evidence does not exist that shows downsizing companies financially outperform their peers who choose not to downsize. Consider an ongoing workforce planning effort to maintain your organization's strength and vitality. References & Recommended Reading
Adapt or Die – The Strategic Plan (posted July 25, 2008)
All businesses must constantly remain aware of strategic events in their marketplace. Technology or culture shifts can send a business into rapid decline. Competitors may develop disruptive technologies, products, manufacturing processes, etc. Is your organization prepared for any new scenarios? Read about the four factors of corporate longevity and tools your organization can use to remain vital and healthy. References & Recommended Reading
Attracting and Nurturing Creative Workers (posted June 27, 2008)
Innovation is the lifeblood of virtually every company. Find out what it is that will attract creative workers to your business, how to determine which candidates are likely to be the most creative, and how to create a culture that will nurture these creative individuals and the teams on which they work. References & Recommended Reading
Adapt or Die - Finding and Nurturing Versatile Leaders (posted May 16, 2008)
Change is all around us - the economy, technology, people, competition, global suppliers, and on and on. As leaders we must adapt our strategy to this fluid sea of turmoil that crashes upon us at an almost daily rate. It is vitally important to foresee the changes, adapt to them, and then steer the individuals in our organization in new directions. As a leader in your organization, you also must adapt to the particular job you have as it evolves based on external factors and as you take on new roles in your organization. References & Recommended Reading
Kentucky World Trade Center Trip to India Blog (posted March 24, 2009)
I was fortunate to travel to India as part of a delegation of the Kentucky World Trade Center to explore business opportunities in India. Each day I wrote a blog for Business Lexington summarizing our meetings and experiences. Since the article is no longer available at Business Lexington I am posting it here for people who would like to read it.