How CEOs can work with an active board

Posted in Aktuellt, Board work / Styrelsearbete, Executive Coaching on August 10th, 2017 by admin

At companies of almost all sizes, across all sectors, boards are undergoing a profound transformation. Largely as a result of intensifying shareholder intolerance of mediocre or poor corporate performance, the ceremonial boards of the past are being replaced by active boards that are more demanding of managers and more intrusive in their affairs.

This change can be daunting and frustrating for CEOs. However, based on our experience of advising CEOs, operating as CEOs, and sitting on boards, we have found that executives can be effective in the new environment by revamping their interactions with their boards. It consists of four approaches.

Work with board members individually as well as in the group — and selectively seek their help. It’s remarkable how many CEOs focus mainly on formal boardroom relationships. Yet by investing the time in regular one-to-one informal interactions, a CEO will help address the new active board members’ sense of duty to get close to the business. Through a personal dialogue, the CEO can better enlist them in important initiatives and address issues before they become crises. In addition, by creating a personal bond with the individual directors, the CEO lessens the odds that they will undermine or blindside him.

It is especially important to create a bond with the lead director and/or the chair. As boards have become more active, the lead director and board chair hold the keys to setting productive agendas and managing issues with the total board or individual members. One of us served on an active board that included members who frequently threatened to derail agendas and process with counterproductive questions. The CEO quietly recruited the lead director and chair to restore order, which they did. As boards have become more active, the lead director and board chair hold the keys to setting productive agendas and managing issues with the total board or individual members.

CEOs should consider recruiting one board member as an informal advisor. This must be done with great care and an ear for political nuances. For example, as one CEO we know discovered, a prospective board advisor actually had his eye on the CEO role for himself — hardly the right confidant! By using already-scheduled one-on-ones to assess board members for this advisory role, the CEO can better identify an appropriate advisory board member. This board member can be of great value as a sounding board and a guide to working effectively with the rest of the board.

Communicate less formally, more intensively, more often. Many CEOs and their teams still deliver traditional 80-slide PowerPoint summary presentations at board meetings. But given that today’s boards increasingly want a substantive dialogue, we advise replacing the presentation with a thoughtful, verbal review and Q&A around critical updates, challenges, and opportunities. (Further background can be provided in brief pre-reading material.)

This will show that the CEO is using his or her face-to-face time with the board for serious discussion. It will focus board activism on topics where the CEO will benefit from directors’ insight and counsel. And by taking the lead in inviting the board to engage on business-critical matters, the CEO can better manage the process and avoid one of the biggest downsides of the active board: disruptive interference by board members in business operations.

It may seem obvious that CEOs should communicate with board members regularly and substantively between board meetings. But in reality, CEOs often communicate mainly when there is a problem. Many also have difficulty regularly addressing a balanced mix of important topics.

One very effective approach to this issue is regular CEO letters to the board. The management of this letter should be delegated to a top lieutenant such as the head of communications or the COO. A monthly rhythm has proven effective with many boards. To assure balanced, relevant content, the letter should routinely address a fixed set of regular topics (e.g., business-environment trends, business updates, people/talent news, and early warnings of potential upside and downside developments).

Expose Level 3 and 4 managers to the board. While boards in the past were typically focused on CEO succession planning and the talent among the CEO’s direct reports, active boards are also very interested in the levels below. They rightly see these executives as the future leaders and the operational leaders of today who should be driving performance. Active board members will therefore seek to get to know them.

Some CEOs feel this is overly intrusive or worry that the lower-level executives are not ready for board exposure. But, in fact, it’s positive to have board members engaging with deeper levels of talent. They learn more about the business and the next generation of the company’s leaders. Board members can also give the CEO valuable feedback about the people they meet and their view of the company’s overall bench strength. And for the executives, the right kind of exposure to board members is a great development opportunity.

The CEO should take the lead with the board in driving the engagement process, which will allow him or her to have greater influence over it. She can select the highest potential individuals for the interactions and organize the interactions so that they are most productive — for example, by holding them as one-to-ones over a breakfast or dinner. She can also brief the executives in advance on the style of the board member and potential question areas and brief the board members on the executives they will meet.

Handle strategic planning… strategically. Older-style boards typically become involved only at the end of the strategic-planning process — typically in a board meeting devoted to review and approval of the strategy. By contrast, active boards often push to be involved from the start because the strategy is so important to the company’s performance.

The notion of involving the board in strategic planning can make CEOs anxious and defensive. They fear that the board may undermine the planning process due to insufficient knowledge about the business. They also worry that board involvement in strategic planning will be the thin edge of a wedge and lead to board interference in day-to-day management of the company.

The key to navigating this challenge is to keep strategic planning in the hands of management but to invite the board to provide advice and feedback from the beginning. One good way to do this is to involve the board early in deciding on the right, big-picture, strategic direction for the company, without getting into the details. The CEO and her team can develop and present to the board several options to the board, explaining why each has merit. Then the executives can solicit board input on each but not ask for a vote. In this way, the CEO and her team can gain valuable board perspective that will strengthen all the choices that are developed and obtain early board buy-in for both the options and the ultimate strategic plan that’s chosen.

The CEO can then provide periodic updates on the strategic-planning process through letters to the board and board meetings. This allows the board to stay engaged and provide input but keeps the control over the actual process with the executive team, where it belongs.

Active boards are a corporate reality. How to work with them effectively should be one of the most important items on the CEO agenda. As we have outlined, the CEO has an opportunity not only to manage this new relationship but also to make the active board an asset in building long-term, high performance of the company. (Harvard Business Review)
Authors: Ken Banta and Stephen D.Garrow

Five easy ways to overcome procrastination

Posted in Aktuellt, Allmänt, Executive Coaching, Leadership / Ledarskap on July 29th, 2017 by admin

If you know the “why” of your procrastinating, you can easily find the “how” to overcome it.

Procrastination is like a sore throat; it’s a symptom with many possible causes. Unless you know the cause, the treatment for the symptom might things worse. This column contains the five most common causes of procrastination and how to overcome them.

1. The size of a task seems overwhelming.
Explanation: Every time you think about the task it seems like a huge mountain of work that you’ll never be able to complete. You therefore avoid starting.

Solution: Break the task into small steps and then start working on them. This builds momentum and makes the task far less daunting.

Example: You’ve decided to write a book. Rather than sitting down and trying to write the book (which will probably cause you to stare at the blank screen), spend one hour on each of the following sub-tasks:

1. Jot down as many ideas as possible.

2. Sort the ideas into an outline.

3. List out anecdotes you’ll want to include.

4. Write a sample anecdote to determine style.

5. Review existing materials (e.g. presentations).

6. Assign those materials to sections of your outline.

7. Write the first three paragraphs of a sample chapter.

8. Create a schedule to write 2 pages a day.

2. The number of tasks seems overwhelming.
Explanation: Your to-do list has so many tasks in it that you feel as if you’ll never be able to finish them all, so why bother getting started?

Solution: Combine the tasks into a conceptual activity and then set a time limit for how long you’ll pursue that activity.

Example: Your email account is being peppered by so many requests and demands that you feel as if you can’t possibly get them done. Rather than fret about the pieces and parts, set aside a couple of hours to “do email.” Schedule a similar session tomorrow or later that day.

Thinking of the work as an activity rather than a bunch of action items makes them seem less burdensome.

3. A set of tasks seem repetitive and boring.
Explanation: You’re a creative person with an active mind so you naturally put off any activity that doesn’t personally interest you.

Solution: Set a time limit for completing a single task in the set and then compete against yourself to see if you can beat that time limit. Reward yourself each time you beat the clock.

Example: You’re a newly-hired salesperson who must write personalized emails to two dozen customers. The work involves quickly researching their account, addressing any issues they’ve had with the previous salesperson, and then introducing yourself.

Rather than just slogging through the work, estimate the maximum amount of time it should take to write one letter (let’s say 5 minutes). It should thus take you 120 minutes (2 hours) to write all of them.

Start the stopwatch, write the first email. If you have time left over, do something else (like read the news). When the stopwatch buzzes, reset, write the second email, etc.

4. The task seems so important that it’s daunting.
Explanation: You realize that if you screw this task up, it might mean losing your job or missing a huge opportunity. You avoid it because you don’t want to risk failure.

Solution: Contact somebody you trust and ask if they’ll review your work (if the task is written) or act as a sounding board (if the task is verbal). Doing the task for your reviewer is low-risk and thus the task is easier to start. The reviewer’s perspective and approval provides you extra confidence when you actually execute the task.

Example: You need to write an email demanding payment from a customer who’s in arrears. Because you don’t want to damage the relationship and yet need to be paid, it’s a difficult balancing act–so difficult that you avoid writing the email.

To break the mental log-jam, ask a colleague or friend if they’ll review your email before you send it to see if it hits the right tone. Writing the email then becomes easier because you’re writing it for your friend to read rather than for the customer.

Problem: You just don’t feel like working.
Explanation: You’re feeling burned out and generally unmotivated, so you’re finding it very hard to get down to work.

Solution: You have two choices: 1) reschedule the activity for a time when you’ll be more motivated or 2) motivate yourself in the short-term by setting a reward.

Example: You need to write a trip report but you’re tired after a long day of travel. While you know that the report will be more accurate if you write it now, you decide to write it tomorrow morning after breakfast and coffee–a time when you’re typically more motivated.

Alternatively, you motivate yourself short-term promising yourself that you’ll buy and download a book that you’ve been wanting to read… but only if you write the report tonight., 7 July 2017
Author: Geoffrey James

The CEO’s role in leading transformation

Posted in Aktuellt, Board work / Styrelsearbete, Executive Coaching, Executive Team / Ledningsgruppsarbete, Leadership / Ledarskap on June 9th, 2017 by admin

The CEO helps a transformation succeed by communicating its significance, modeling the desired changes, building a strong top team, and getting personally involved.

In today’s business environment, companies cannot settle for incremental improvement; they must periodically undergo performance transformations to get, and stay, on top. But in the volumes of pages on how to go about implementing a transformation, surprisingly little addresses the role of one important person. What exactly should the CEO be doing, and how different is this role from that of the executive team or the initiative’s sponsors?

Based on a series of interviews we have conducted with nearly a dozen executives over the last couple of years—as well as our own experience working with companies—we believe there is no single model for success. Moreover, the exact nature of the CEO’s role will be influenced by the magnitude, urgency, and nature of the transformation; the capabilities and failings of the organization; and the personal style of the leader.

Despite these variations, our experience with scores of major transformation efforts, combined with research we have undertaken over the past decade, suggests that four key functions collectively define a successful role for the CEO in a transformation:

Making the transformation meaningful. People will go to extraordinary lengths for causes they believe in, and a powerful transformation story will create and reinforce their commitment. The ultimate impact of the story depends on the CEO’s willingness to make the transformation personal, to engage others openly, and to spotlight successes as they emerge.
Role-modeling desired mind-sets and behavior. Successful CEOs typically embark on their own personal transformation journey. Their actions encourage employees to support and practice the new types of behavior.
Building a strong and committed top team. To harness the transformative power of the top team, CEOs must make tough decisions about who has the ability and motivation to make the journey.
Relentlessly pursuing impact. There is no substitute for CEOs rolling up their sleeves and getting personally involved when significant financial and symbolic value is at stake.
Everyone has a role to play in a performance transformation. The role of CEOs is unique in that they stand at the top of the pyramid and all the other members of the organization take cues from them. CEOs who give only lip service to a transformation will find everyone else doing the same. Those who fail to model the desired mind-sets and behavior or who opt out of vital initiatives risk seeing the transformation lose focus. Only the boss of all bosses can ensure that the right people spend the right amount of time driving the necessary changes.

Making the transformation meaningful
Transformations require extraordinary energy: employees must fundamentally rethink and reshape the business while continuing to run it day to day. Where does this energy come from? A powerful transformation story helps employees believe in the effort by answering their big questions, which can range from how the transformation will affect the company down to how it will affect them. The story’s ultimate impact will depend on not just having compelling answers to these questions but also the CEO’s willingness and ability to make things personal, to engage others openly, and to spotlight successes as they emerge.

Adopt a personal approach
CEOs who take time to personalize the story of the transformation can unlock significantly more energy for it than those who dutifully present the PowerPoint slides that their working teams created for them. Personalizing the story forces CEOs to consider and share with others the answers to such questions as “Why are we changing?”; “How will we get there?”; and “How does this relate to me?”

Some leaders include experiences and anecdotes from their own lives to underline their determination and belief—and to demonstrate that obstacles can be overcome. Klaus Zumwinkel, the chairman and CEO of Deutsche Post, talked about his passion for mountain climbing, linking the experience of that sport and the effort it requires to the company’s transformation journey. John Hammergren, the CEO of McKesson, stressed that every employee was or would be a patient in the health care system and that this “larger purpose” made a difference. “Had we been in the ball-bearing business, I’m not sure it would have been as easy to personalize it,” he acknowledges.

Openly engage others
When a CEO’s version of the transformation story is clear, success comes from taking it to employees, encouraging debate about it, reinforcing it, and prompting people to infuse it with their own personal meaning. Most CEOs invest great effort in visibly and vocally presenting the transformation story. Julio Linares, the executive chairman of Telefónica de España, says the most important and hardest part of the transformation was “to convince people of the need for the program.”

Once the story is out, the CEO’s role becomes one of constant reinforcement. As P&G CEO Alan G. Lafley says, in “Leading change: An interview with the CEO of P&G,” “Excruciating repetition and clarity are important—employees have so many things going on in the operation of their daily business that they don’t always take the time to stop, think, and internalize.” Paolo Scaroni, who has led three public companies through various chapters of change, likes to find three or four strategic concepts that sum up the right direction for the company and then to “repeat, repeat, and repeat them throughout the organization.”

Reinforcement should come from outside as well. Passera notes, “If everyone keeps reading in the newspapers that the business is still a poor performer, not contributing to society, or is letting the country down, people will not believe you.”

Spotlight success
As the company’s transformation progresses, a powerful way to reinforce the story is to spotlight the successes. Sharing such stories helps crystallize the meaning of the transformation and gives people confidence that it will actually work. Murthy of Infosys describes how high-performing teams were invited to make presentations to larger audiences drawn from across the company, “to show other people that we value such behavior.”

Ravi Kant, the managing director of the integrated Indian auto business Tata Motors, deliberately identified people who would serve as examples to others. In “Leading change: An interview with the managing director of Tata Motors,” he talks about how he highlighted the achievements of one young man whose success on a risky project and subsequent promotion showed colleagues that talented and determined people can rise through the hierarchy.

Emphasizing the positive, behavioral research shows, is especially important. In 1982, University of Wisconsin researchers who were conducting a study of the adult-learning process videotaped two bowling teams during several games. The members of each team then studied their efforts on video to improve their skills. But the two videos had been edited differently. One team received a video showing only its mistakes; the other team’s video, by contrast, showed only the good performances. After studying the videos, both teams improved their game, but the team that studied its successes improved its score twice as much as the one that studied its mistakes. Evidently, focusing on the errors can generate feelings of fatigue, blame, and resistance. Emphasizing what works well and discussing how to get more out of those strengths taps into creativity, passion, and the desire to succeed.

Role-modeling desired mind-sets and behavior
Whether leaders realize it or not, they seem to be in front of the cameras when they speak or act. “Every move you make, everything you say, is visible to all. Therefore the best approach is to lead by example,” advises Joseph M. Tucci, CEO of EMC, the US-based information storage equipment business. Ultimately, employees will weigh the actions of their CEO to determine whether they believe in the story.

Transform yourself
Employees expect the CEO to live up to Mahatma Gandhi’s famous edict, “For things to change, first I must change.” The CEO is the organization’s chief role model.

Typically, a personal transformation journey involves 360-degree feedback on leadership behavior specific to the program’s objectives, diary analysis to reveal how time is spent on transformation priorities, a commitment to a short list of personal transformation objectives, and professional coaching toward these ends. CEOs generally report that the process is most powerful when all members of an executive team pursue their transformation journeys individually but collectively discuss and reinforce their personal objectives in order to create an environment “of challenge and support.

Murthy’s 2002 decision to take on the job title of chief mentor at Infosys, for example, meant that he had to reinvent himself, because he laid aside his formal managerial (CEO) authority at the same time. He explains, “You have to sacrifice yourself first for a big cause before you can ask others to do the same,” adding, “A good leader knows how to retreat into the background gracefully while encouraging his successor to become more and more successful in the job.”

Take symbolic action
The quickest way to send shock waves through an organization is to conceive and execute a series of symbolic acts signaling to employees that they should behave in ways appropriate to a transformation and support these types of behavior in others. For instance, C. John Wilder, CEO of the Texas energy utility TXU, gave a large bonus to a woman who had taken a clear leadership role in a very important business initiative. “This leader’s contributions generated real economic value to the bottom line,” he explains. “Of course, news of that raced through the whole organization, but it helped employees understand that rewards will be based on contributions and that ‘pay for performance’ could actually be put into practice.”

Building a strong and committed top team
The CEO’s team can and should be a valuable asset in leading any transformation. As Deutsche Post’s Zumwinkel suggests, “You need excellent individual players, but you also need players who are dedicated to playing as a team.” Sharing a meaningful story and modeling the right role will certainly increase the odds of getting the team on board, but it is also vital to invest time in building that team.

Assess and act
Successful CEOs take time to assess the abilities of individual members of the team and act swiftly on the result. In some cases, input from third parties (such as executive search firms) is sought to create a more objective fact base. Many CEOs find it useful to map team members on a matrix, with “business performance” on one axis and “role-modeling the desired behavior” on the other. Those in the top-right box (desired behavior, high performance) are the organization’s stars, and those in the bottom-left box (undesired behavior, low performance) should be motivated, developed, or dismissed. The greatest potential for sending signals involves the employees in the box of “undesired behavior, high performance.” When clear action is taken to improve or remove these managers, the team’s members know that role-modeling and teamwork matter. Banca Intesa’s Passera affirms that, “If necessary, you have to get rid of those individuals, even the talented ones, who quarrel and cannot work together.”

How do CEOs know when to intervene with the strugglers? They can reflect on the following questions:
Do team members clearly understand what is expected of each of them in relation to the transformation?
Is the CEO serving as a positive role model?
Does everyone recognize the downside and upside of getting on board and doing what is required?
Have struggling team members received a chance to build the needed skills?
If the answer to all of these questions is yes, decisive action is justified.

Experienced CEOs attest to the positive impact this can have on the rest of the company. EMC’s Tucci says he had to take “public” action to tackle the “whiff of arrogance” that used to characterize certain parts of the company. TXU’s Wilder recalls that “When we did a cultural audit, we found that the number-one complaint was that management was not dealing with employees that everyone knew weren’t carrying their load.“

Invest team time
Even with the right team in place, it takes time for a group of highly intelligent, ambitious, and independent people to align themselves in a clear direction. Typically, the first order of business is for members to agree on what they can achieve as a team (not as individuals), how often the team should meet, what transformation issues should be discussed, and what behavior the team expects (and won’t tolerate). These agreements are often summarized in a “team charter” for leading the transformation, and the CEO can periodically use the charter to ensure that the team is on the right track.

Intesa’s Passera speaks of how he brought his team together regularly to “share almost everything,” to make it “clear to everyone who is doing what,” and to “keep the transformation initiatives, budgets, and financial targets knitted together.” P&G’s Lafley emphasizes the importance of spending the time together wisely: “You need to understand how to enroll the leadership team.” As a rule of thumb, 80 percent of the team’s time should be devoted to dialogue, with the remaining 20 percent invested in being “presented to.”

Effective dialogue requires a well-structured agenda, which typically ensures that ample time is spent in personal reflection (to ensure that each person forms an independent point of view from the outset), discussion in pairs or small groups (refining the thinking and exploring second- and third-level assumptions), and discussion by the full team before final decisions are made. In this process, little tolerance should be shown for minutiae (losing the forest for the trees) and for any lack of engagement. Face-to-face meetings, as opposed to conference calls, greatly enhance the effectiveness of team dialogue.

Relentlessly pursuing impact
Organizational energy—collective motivation, enthusiasm, and intense commitment—is a crucial ingredient of a successful transformation. There is no substitute for a CEO directing his or her personal energy toward ensuring that the company’s efforts have an impact.

Roll up your sleeves
Initiatives with a significant financial or symbolic value require the CEO’s personal involvement for maximum impact. There may be several beneficial effects, among them ensuring that important decisions are made quickly—without sacrificing the value of collective debate—and sowing the seeds of a culture of candor and decisiveness.

Leaders must be willing to leave the executive suite and help resolve difficult operational issues. Peter Gossas, president of Sandvik Materials Technology and a man with lifelong experience in the steel industry, observes, “If there’s a problem, it can be helpful if I come to the work floor, step up on a crate so that everyone can see me, and hold a discussion with a shift unit that may be negative to change.” He adds, “It’s hard for me to walk into a melt shop and not begin discussing ways to solve operational problems.”

Hold leaders accountable
Successful CEOs never lose sight of their management responsibility to chair review forums. Through these, they compare the results of the transformation program with the original plan, identify the root causes of any deviations, celebrate successes, help fix problems, and hold leaders accountable for keeping the transformation on track, both in activities (are people doing what they said they would?) and impact (will the program create the value we anticipated?). A central role for the CEO during these review forums is to ensure that decision making stays grounded in the facts. As Narayana Murthy wryly observes, “We have embraced the adage ‘In God we trust; everyone else brings data to the table.’”

The CEO also plays a critical role in ensuring an appropriate balance between near-term profit initiatives (those that deliver performance today) and organizational-health initiatives (those that build the capacity to deliver tomorrow’s results). This is a lesson applied by John Varley, CEO of Barclays: “For several years, the focus on initiatives to improve financial performance dramatically crowded out attention on franchise health, leaving us with a set of issues in some businesses that needed urgent attention. We are addressing those issues.” During the transformation, some CEOs even choose to hold separate review meetings for short- and long-term objectives in order to ensure that companies maintain a balance between operational improvement (tactical strategies, wage management, productivity, and asset management) and long-term growth (revenue and volume growth through market share, new products, channels and marketing, M&A, talent, and capability management).

For CEOs leading a transformation, no single model guarantees success. But they can improve the odds by targeting leadership functions: making the transformation meaningful, modeling the desired mind-sets and behavior, building a strong and committed team, and relentlessly pursuing impact. Together, these can powerfully generate the energy needed to achieve a successful performance transformation.

Source:, June 2017
Authors: Carolyn Aiken and Scott Keller.
About the authors: Carolyn Aiken is a consultant in McKinsey’s Toronto office, and Scott Keller is a principal in the Chicago office.

Why good board fails (part 3)

Posted in Aktuellt, Board work / Styrelsearbete, Executive Coaching on May 8th, 2017 by admin

Not knowing “The Rules”

Every corporation is unique. Understanding the corporation’s constitution, both the “formal” and “informal” rules and the Board and organisational policies, procedures and protocols takes time. I have yet to serve on two Boards that are similar. Every Board and every corporation is substantially unique.

Attempting to follow practices and procedures you know from previous Board experiences may not fit the culture and environment of the next Board you sit on. In a one-on-one interview with a new Board Director of an Industrial/Construction Corporation, the leader described how he had historically taken the habit of walking around prior to Board meetings; informal chats, a quick coffee with the CFO, a couple of phrases exchanged with the COO, a brief conversation with receptionists. When he attempted this in a new, culturally-different organisation, he was finally taken aside by a fellow Board member who explained the cultural implications and the negative perception that his “constant spying” was having on the Executive. This was resolved by scheduling formal appointments, over coffee, and once the trust had been established, he received complaints from the individuals who he may have missed having coffee with at subsequent Board meetings. He did, however, learn a substantial amount about the organisation and its internal “rules” and workings which aided in making him a better Board Member.

Source: Stanton Chace, April 2017

Emotional intelligence has 12 elements. Which do you need to work on?

Posted in Aktuellt, Allmänt, Executive Coaching, Leadership / Ledarskap on April 11th, 2017 by admin

Esther is a well-liked manager of a small team. Kind and respectful, she is sensitive to the needs of others. She is a problem solver; she tends to see setbacks as opportunities. She’s always engaged and is a source of calm to her colleagues. Her manager feels lucky to have such an easy direct report to work with and often compliments Esther on her high levels of emotional intelligence, or EI. And Esther indeed counts EI as one of her strengths; she’s grateful for at least one thing she doesn’t have to work on as part of her leadership development. It’s strange, though — even with her positive outlook, Esther is starting to feel stuck in her career. She just hasn’t been able to demonstrate the kind of performance her company is looking for. So much for emotional intelligence, she’s starting to think.

The trap that has ensnared Esther and her manager is a common one: They are defining emotional intelligence much too narrowly. Because they’re focusing only on Esther’s sociability, sensitivity, and likability, they’re missing critical elements of emotional intelligence that could make her a stronger, more effective leader. A recent HBR article highlights the skills that a kind, positive manager like Esther might lack: the ability to deliver difficult feedback to employees, the courage to ruffle feathers and drive change, the creativity to think outside the box. But these gaps aren’t a result of Esther’s emotional intelligence; they’re simply evidence that her EI skills are uneven. In the model of EI and leadership excellence that we have developed over 30 years of studying the strengths of outstanding leaders, we’ve found that having a well-balanced array of specific EI capabilities actually prepares a leader for exactly these kinds of tough challenges.

There are many models of emotional intelligence, each with its own set of abilities; they are often lumped together as “EQ” in the popular vernacular. We prefer “EI,” which we define as comprising four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Nested within each domain are twelve EI competencies, learned and learnable capabilities that allow outstanding performance at work or as a leader (see the image below). These include areas in which Esther is clearly strong: empathy, positive outlook, and self-control. But they also include crucial abilities such as achievement, influence, conflict management, teamwork and inspirational leadership. These skills require just as much engagement with emotions as the first set, and should be just as much a part of any aspiring leader’s development priorities.

Fiss A

For example, if Esther had strength in conflict management, she would be skilled in giving people unpleasant feedback. And if she were more inclined to influence, she would want to provide that difficult feedback as a way to lead her direct reports and help them grow. Say, for example, that Esther has a peer who is overbearing and abrasive. Rather than smoothing over every interaction, with a broader balance of EI skills she could bring up the issue to her colleague directly, drawing on emotional self-control to keep her own reactivity at bay while telling him what, specifically, does not work in his style. Bringing simmering issues to the surface goes to the core of conflict management. Esther could also draw on influence strategy to explain to her colleague that she wants to see him succeed, and that if he monitored how his style impacted those around him he would understand how a change would help everyone.

Similarly, if Esther had developed her inspirational leadership competence, she would be more successful at driving change. A leader with this strength can articulate a vision or mission that resonates emotionally with both themselves and those they lead, which is a key ingredient in marshaling the motivation essential for going in a new direction. Indeed, several studies have found a strong association between EI, driving change, and visionary leadership.

In order to excel, leaders need to develop a balance of strengths across the suite of EI competencies. When they do that, excellent business results follow.

How can you tell where your EI needs improvement — especially if you feel that it’s strong in some areas?

Simply reviewing the 12 competencies in your mind can give you a sense of where you might need some development. There are a number of formal models of EI, and many of them come with their own assessment tools. When choosing a tool to use, consider how well it predicts leadership outcomes. Some assess how you see yourself; these correlate highly with personality tests, which also tap into a person’s “self-schema.” Others, like that of Yale University president Peter Salovey and his colleagues, define EI as an ability; their test, the MSCEIT (a commercially available product), correlates more highly with IQ than any other EI test.

We recommend comprehensive 360-degree assessments, which collect both self-ratings and the views of others who know you well. This external feedback is particularly helpful for evaluating all areas of EI, including self-awareness (how would you know that you are not self-aware?). You can get a rough gauge of where your strengths and weaknesses lie by asking those who work with you to give you feedback. The more people you ask, the better a picture you get.

Formal 360-degree assessments, which incorporate systematic, anonymous observations of your behavior by people who work with you, have been found to not correlate well with IQ or personality, but they are the best predictors of a leader’s effectiveness, actual business performance, engagement, and job (and life) satisfaction. Into this category fall our own model and the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory, or ESCI 360, a commercially available assessment we developed with Korn Ferry Hay Group to gauge the 12 EI competencies, which rely on how others rate observable behaviors in evaluating a leader. The larger the gap between a leader’s self-ratings and how others see them, research finds, the fewer EI strengths the leader actually shows, and the poorer the business results.

These assessments are critical to a full evaluation of your EI, but even understanding that these 12 competencies are all a part of your emotional intelligence is an important first step in addressing areas where your EI is at its weakest. Coaching is the most effective method for improving in areas of EI deficit. Having expert support during your ups and downs as you practice operating in a new way is invaluable.

Even people with many apparent leadership strengths can stand to better understand those areas of EI where we have room to grow. Don’t shortchange your development as a leader by assuming that EI is all about being sweet and chipper, or that your EI is perfect if you are — or, even worse, assume that EI can’t help you excel in your career.

Source: Harvard Business Review, February 2017
Authors: Daniel Goleman and Richard E. Boyatzis

The 3 simple rules of managing top talent

Posted in Aktuellt, Executive Coaching, Leadership / Ledarskap on February 28th, 2017 by admin

The general view in business is that top-end talent is highly sensitive to and motivated by compensation and that big monetary rewards are key to their management. There is a grain of truth to this — but only a grain. In my 36-year career, I haven’t met a single person truly at the top end of the talent distribution who is highly motivated by compensation. Not one.

Sure, I’ve met lots of successful people who are highly motivated by compensation: CEOs who pump up the perceived value of their company to sell it, hedge fund managers who destroy companies for short-term gain, investment bankers who get their clients to acquire companies they shouldn’t to earn big fees, consultants who sell their clients work that they don’t need, and me-first athletes who poison their teams.

talentBut none are the kind of top-end talent who make their organization great for a sustained period.

During my 15 years of managing talent as dean of the Rotman School of Management, and previously as cohead of Monitor, I have managed some of the best and brightest in professorial talent and the strategy consulting industry worldwide. Over this combined quarter-century of experience, I developed three rules for managing top-end talent.

Treat Them as Individuals, Not as Members of a Class
I learned this one by making a mistake. A top consultant, one of the firm’s 15 or so global account managers, approached me to ask for paternity leave (a benefit that’s now fairly standard, but 20-odd years ago was rare). I readily replied, “Sure. You’re a GAM. At your level, you can do pretty much whatever you want.” He said “OK” and walked off, looking sullen. I was taken aback: He had asked for something, and I had given it to him. What was his problem?

It finally dawned on me that top-end talent doesn’t want to be treated as a member of a class — even if it is an exalted class. They want to be treated as individuals. This consultant wanted to hear: “We care about you and what you need. If paternity leave is the thing that is particularly important to you, we support you 100%.”

The result would have been the same — unfettered paternity leave — but with a totally different end result. Rather than being treated as a generic member of a particular class, he would have been treated in an individualized fashion.

Since that incident, I have watched this phenomenon over and over. Each member of the top-end talent class spends their life striving to be unique. It is discordant with them at a very deep level if you treat them any other way. And, conversely, it makes them warm inside every time they are treated as a unique, valuable individual.

Provide Opportunity Continuously
The biggest enemy for top-end talent is blocked opportunity, especially on the way up. If they are motivated to become top talent, they want to take on big challenges — and the sooner, the better. If they are blocked and made to wait for opportunity to be available, they will simply go somewhere else.

This is, of course, something to handle very carefully. They may blame you if you allow them to bite off too much and they fail. But managing top-end talent requires leaning aggressively into giving them as many opportunities as you reasonably can. The way to win their loyalty is to be the provider of opportunities that enable them to keep growing and learning.

Sometimes this means battling the HR function, which tends to want to treat people homogenously and limit opportunities to rigid time frames. You have to both insist on the desired outcome and take personal responsibility for it to make these first two happen. I recall getting intense pushback from the head of allocations when I wanted to assign a less-seasoned consultant to a senior role on a major case. I was told he wasn’t ready and that it wasn’t fair to others who were more senior. I offered to look for opportunities on other future cases for those I bypassed on this one and promised to take full responsibility for cleaning up any mess that would derive from giving the senior role to the consultant. Fortunately, it worked out well, and catapulted the young consultant into a position that eliminated all such questions about his readiness going forward.

Give Pats on the Back
I see a lot of managers making big mistakes on this front. Because top-end talent is highly driven and intrinsically motivated, their managers can mistake them for being indifferent to praise. It is just the opposite. Talented people spend all their time doing really hard things. To do what they do, they have to flirt regularly with — and actually experience — failure. For this reason, they need regular pats on the back. Otherwise, they become resentful or sad and drift away from the organization.

In my experience, top-end talent rarely, if ever, asks for praise — at least not directly. So the top-end talent manager has to intuit when they need it. But it has to be done in a fashion consistent with the first two rules: It has to be individualized. The generic year-end praise will be a negative, not a positive. And tying the praise to the opportunity that has been taken on and successfully completed is what will make it most effective.

These three rules, although sounding pretty simple, can be hard to follow. That is because most organizations, and many of the managers in them, tend to default to reliability over validity. That is, they favor a consistent, replicable outcome (like similar treatment, opportunities, and praise for all) over an outcome that optimizes their desired intent. At first blush, it seems that reliability is safer than validity, since the latter requires more judgment calls. But reliability is just an alluring siren call; the skilled top-end talent manager knows to avoid it. To the extent that you rely on top-end talent to produce outstanding organizational performance, you must treat your best people as individuals, find ways to give them opportunities even when bureaucracy gets in your way, and shower them with praise when they succeed.

Källa: Harvard Business Review, February 2017
Author: Roger L. Martin

How to act like a leader

Posted in Aktuellt, Executive Coaching, Leadership / Ledarskap on February 2nd, 2017 by admin

A lack of self awareness is one of the biggest challenges leaders face as they step into increasingly higher management roles.
“As a leader, you need to be on your best behavior all of the time,” says coaching expert Madeleine Blanchard. “What’s unfortunate is that just when a leader needs increased self awareness, the quality of honest feedback they receive plummets.

“As the leader assumes increased power, followers in the organization start to modify the feedback they provide. Feedback is more positive. The boss’s jokes are always funny and their ideas are always good. People begin to suck up to power in a way that distorts reality for the successful executive, who no longer receives the straight scoop.”
“That can lead to blind spots, especially in the areas of communication and trust,” says Randy Conley. As trust practice leader for The Ken Blanchard Companies, Conley has seen how leaders can struggle—and how they often can be unaware of how they are coming across to others.

“The problems can usually be traced back to one of four areas,” explains Conley. “A leader’s style can cause negative perceptions of their Ability, Believability, Connectedness, or Dependability. Negative perceptions in any of these four areas can lead to decreased trust.”
That’s why Conley recommends that leaders take the time to conduct a trust audit, which helps them evaluate where they currently stand, make amends where necessary, and modify their behavior going forward.

“It’s a three-step process where leaders assess their current behavior, apologize if they need to, and act more consistently.
“Assessing behavior involves looking at your conduct in four areas,” explains Conley. “In our Building Trust training program we have images (2)leaders look at how they are perceived by others in terms of being Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable. A problem in any one of these four areas will have a negative impact on relationships and the ability of people to work together successfully.
“Able refers to how people see you as being competent in your role. Do people think you have the skills and experience to get the job done? Sometimes it is a perception issue; sometimes it is a gap in experience. Either way, it needs to be addressed.
“Believable is always a perception issue—do you act in ways that are consistent with someone who is honest, truthful, and forthcoming? This can be a challenge for leaders as they move up in an organization and feel it necessary to share some information on a need-to-know basis. The problem is that people may perceive the leader is hiding information or not being completely transparent.
“Connected is the relationship aspect of trust. Do you demonstrate that you care about people—or do you come across as all business? Working together requires a heart and head connection. In addition to following you for logical reasons, people also want to follow you for emotional reasons. Leaders need to check their style and make sure that they aren’t coming across as cold or aloof.
“Dependable means following through on your good intentions. This trips up a lot of well meaning executives—especially the people pleasers who can’t say ‘no.’ They overcommit themselves and start missing deadlines. They are often surprised to discover how this diminishes people’s trust that they will do what they promise.”

Both Conley and Blanchard caution leaders to be prepared to act on gaps uncovered by the trust audit.
“Make sure you are ready for what you hear,” says Blanchard. “When you invite people to discuss these potentially sensitive areas, you have to be ready to listen. Feedback is a gift. There are only two things an executive should say when they receive feedback—either “thank you” or “tell me more.”

Also, explains Conley, be ready to acknowledge and apologize when necessary.
“You have to own up to areas where you have fallen short. In our program, we train that the most important part of apologizing is being completely sincere—don’t explain, rationalize, or make it the other person’s problem.”
“It’s a simple concept, but one that leaders screw up all the time,” adds Blanchard. “How many times have we heard a senior leader qualify an apology by saying, ‘I’m sorry if my behavior made you feel that way,’ or by explaining, ‘I was only trying to…’
“Less is more when it comes to apologies,” explains Blanchard. “Just say ‘I’m sorry. I hope you will forgive me for the way I have acted in the past.’ If you need to say more, save it for the next step when you explain how you will act differently in the future.”
“Most leaders are trustworthy. It’s just their behavior that gets in the way sometimes,” says Conley.

Trustworthy behavior leads to trusting relationships. With increased awareness, the willingness to hear feedback, and the humility to apologize for times when trust has been broken, leaders can take a huge leap toward building the types of relationships where people work together to move the organization forward.

Source:, February 2017
More leadership reading from Ken Blanchard

The hidden toll of workplace incivility

Posted in Aktuellt, Executive Coaching, Leadership / Ledarskap on January 28th, 2017 by admin

Research shows that hurtful workplace behavior can depress performance, increase employee turnover, and even mar customer relationships.

As the workplace becomes faster-paced, more technologically complex, and culturally diverse, civility matters. Among other things, it helps dampen potential tensions and furthers information sharing and team building.
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Yet workplace incivility is rampant and on the rise. The accumulation of thoughtless actions that leave employees feeling disrespected—intentionally ignored, undermined by colleagues, or publicly belittled by an insensitive manager—can create lasting damage that should worry every organization. In research over the past 18 years, I have polled tens of thousands of workers worldwide about how they’re treated at work. Nearly half of those surveyed in 1998 reported they were treated rudely at least once a month, a figure which rose to 55 percent in 2011 and 62 percent in 2016. There’s no single reason for the trend. Workplace relationships may be fraying as fewer employees work in the office and feel more isolated and less respected. Some studies point to growing narcissism among younger workers.

Globalization may be causing cultural clashes that bubble beneath the surface. And in the digital age, messages are prone to communication gaps and misunderstanding—and unfortunately putdowns are easier when not delivered face to face.

Whatever the underlying causes, the costs of incivility rise as employee stress levels increase. Among the problem areas are the following:
•Workplace performance.
Nearly everybody who experiences workplace incivility somehow settles the score—with their offender and the organization. Of the nearly 800 managers and employees across 17 industries that I polled with Christine Pearson, a professor at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, those who didn’t feel respected performed worse. Forty-seven percent of those who were treated poorly deliberately decreased the time spent at work, and 38 percent said they intentionally decreased the quality of their work. Not surprisingly, 66 percent admitted their performance declined and 78 percent said their commitment to the organization had declined. Part of the performance penalty is related to how employees internalize stress levels. Eighty percent lost work time worrying about the incident, and 63 percent lost work time in their effort to avoid the offender.

•Employee turnover.
Many losses go undetected when employees leave the organization. Typically those who quit in response to an experience of bad behavior don’t tell their employers why. Turnover costs add up quickly: an estimated twice an employee’s annual salary in the case of high-level employees.
In our survey, of those treated poorly 12 percent said they had left their job because of the uncivil treatment.

•Customer experience.
Incivility may take a toll on customer relationships. My research with Valerie Folkes and Debbie MacInnis at the University of Southern California shows that many consumers are less likely to buy anything from a company they perceive as uncivil, whether the rudeness is directed at them or other employees. Witnessing one quick negative interaction leads to generalizations about other employees, the organization, and even the brand. In my survey with Pearson, 25 percent of those experiencing uncivil behavior admitted to taking their frustrations out on customers.

When people feel disrespected, it eats away at them—and their potential. Engagement, teamwork, knowledge sharing, innovation, and contributions wane even among those who choose to work around the slights. In short, incivility kills helpfulness and collaboration. In experiments, I’ve found that when employees are exposed to rudeness, they are three times less likely to help others and their willingness to share drops by more than half. Civility, on the other hand, enhances individual contributions and team performance by increasing the feeling of “psychological safety.” Team environments become trusting, respectful, and safe places to take risks. In one test, psychological safety increased by 35 percent when people were offered a suggestion civilly as compared with uncivilly, for example in an interaction marked by inconsiderate interruption.

To be sure, the magnitude of the costs and disruptions will depend upon the degree of incivility. Abusive behaviors, for example, will cause deeper damage to the organization than milder forms such as slights. Companies will need to adjust their remedies accordingly.

Some practical steps

My research with Alexandra Gerbasi of the University of Surrey and Andrew Parker of the University of Kentucky shows that de-energizing relationships—those that are negative or draining—have a four to seven times stronger negative impact on performance than the positive effects of relationships that are energizing (defined as leaving employees feeling enthused or upbeat). Where possible, weed out toxic people before they join your organization. Interview for civility, using structured interviews with behavioral questions. Check references thoroughly, but also go beyond provided references, chasing down leads and hunches.

Make it clear to employees that they need to hold their managers and colleagues accountable for living up to your norms of civility. When asked why they were uncivil, more than 25 percent of those I surveyed blamed their organization for not providing them with the basic skills they needed. To teach employees these skills, you might offer training on giving and receiving feedback (positive and corrective), working across cultural differences, and dealing with difficult people. Coaching on negotiation, stress management, crucial conversations, and mindfulness can help as well. Develop a set of civility metrics to assure that change is sustained.

Leadership is crucial. In my research, the number-one attribute that garnered commitment and engagement from employees was respect from their leaders. In fact, no other leadership behavior had a bigger effect on employees across the outcomes measured. Being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, communicating an inspiring vision, providing useful feedback, or even providing opportunities for learning, growth, and development.

The research found that those getting respect from their leaders reported much higher levels of health and well-being; derived greater enjoyment, satisfaction, and meaning from their jobs; and had better focus and a greater ability to prioritize. Those feeling respected were also much more likely to engage with work tasks and more likely to stay with their organizations.

While these interventions and changes in leadership mind-sets can help rebalance an already uncivil environment, it’s also important to note that promoting organizational health more broadly may be the best way to keep the early shoots of incivility from taking hold. Organizations that neglect values, role model inappropriate behavior, fail to instill meaning at work, or don’t take collaboration seriously will be fertile soil for problem behavior. When organizations address these issues systematically, more civility will follow.

A final thought: in a period of continuous corporate change, injecting more civility can help companies navigate the uncertainty and volatility. My research suggests that employees who feel that they’re being treated respectfully are also much more motivated to embrace and drive change.

Source:, January 2017
Authors:Christine Porath
About the author: Christine Porath is an associate professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and is the author of Mastering Civility (Grand Central Publishing, 2016).

Håll ditt nyårslöfte!

Posted in Aktuellt, Executive Coaching, Leadership / Ledarskap on January 17th, 2017 by admin

7 steg som hjälper dig att hålla nyårslöftet
SMARTER-metoden är en metod i sju steg som hjälper dig att hålla ditt löfte.

De flesta av oss startar det nya året med att avge nyårslöften. Energin, viljan och motivationen är stark inför det nya året och den nya nyarsloftestarten. För en stund är man övertygad att man kan nå dit. Men när veckorna övergår i månader, blir det allt tydligare att man egentligen inte har kommit någonstans. Livet, stressen och frestelser har ingripit.

Varför misslyckas då fler än nio av tio nyårslöften*?

Orsaken är att mål inte kan uppnås genom att drömma om dem i huvudet. Det skriver författaren R.L. Adams i Entrepreneur. Det som behövs är en ordentlig plan för att nå ett stort mål och lyckas med en förändring. Det gäller att sätta målen på rätt sätt och se till att de följs upp regelbundet.

Här är de 7 stegen
Här är de 7 stegen i “SMARTER”-metoden, enligt Entrepreneur:

1. (S)pecifikt mål
Det första steget är att vara väldigt specifik med din målsättning. Om du vill spara till en lägenhet; vilken summa ska du sikta på? Samma med viktnedgång; hur mycket vill du tappa? Skriv ner ditt mål och bryt ner det i mindre beståndsdelar. När målet är konkret och uttalat ökar chansen för att det blir verklighet.

2. (M)eningsfullt mål
Det är mycket lättare att nå ett mål när det känns meningsfullt, när målet är större än bara du. Kan du involvera dina vänner, eller någon allmännytta i ditt mål? “Skriv ner varför ditt mål är meningsfullt för dig. Gör det noggrant. Det måste ha en djupgående mening; annars kommer du inte att göra de uppoffringar som krävs” skriver Entrepreneur.

3. Välj mål som är utförbara – “(A)chievable
Det är bra att ha höga målsättningar i livet. Men för att de ska vara genomförbart är ett knep att bryta ner drömmen i mindre, genomförbara delar. Du behöver alltså en detaljerad och tidsbunden plan – som måste följas.

4. Målet måste vara (R)elevant
Är ditt mål enigt med dina värderingar? Kommer det att bidra till självuppfyllelse? Om svaret är ja, då har du hittat ett relevant mål. “Om du innerst inne tycker att rika människor är oärliga, då kan det bli svårt för dig att uppfylla ett mål som gäller stora mängder pengar.” Ta en stund och skriv ner dina värderingar, så kommer du lättare att förstå vad som är ett relevant mål för dig.

5. Målet måste vara (T)idsbundet
Vi har bara en begränsad tid att uppfylla mål, använd det som bränsle. Samla på dig disciplinen att hålla dig till tidsramen för ditt mål. Uppfyllda delmål ökar motivationen: Om du vill gå ner 6 kilo under året, måste du se till att du tappa minst 0.5 kilo per månad. Samma princip gäller för alla mål.

6. Du bör (E)valuera dina framsteg
Ju noggrannare du följer upp och utvärderar dina framsteg, desto mer sannolikt är det att du uppnår målet. Det är bra att göra en utvärdering dagligen eller veckovis. Det ger dig en överblick, och möjligheten att justera din insats.

7. (R)evidera din metod för att nå målet
Det är oerhört viktigt att justera din insats efter omständigheterna. Om du hamnar efter din ursprungliga plan, måste du se till att öka takten så att du kommer ikapp.

“Våra mål är som att flyga ett plan”, skriver Entrepreneur. För att nå slutdestinationen, måste man veta vart man ska och vart man befinner sig för tillfället. Sen låter man autopiloten styra och gör små justeringar på vägen när turbulensen och stormen slår till, håll ut så kommer du till slut nå det långsiktiga målet.

Det låter enkelt, men utmaningen är att verkligen genomföra det. Du är på god väg att uppfylla ditt stora mål. LYCKA TILL!

*Visar en studie från University of Scranton, skriver Entrepreneur. Samma studie visar att en tredjedel av nyårslöftena har misslyckats redan efter en månad. Efter ett halvår har 54 procent gett upp.

Källa:, januari 2017

Leadership in context

Posted in Aktuellt, Executive Coaching, Leadership / Ledarskap on January 11th, 2017 by admin

Organizational health matters more than you might expect.

Great leaders complicate leadership development—a notion that may seem paradoxical until you stop and consider just how much has been written about Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Golda Meir, Ernest Shackleton, and countless other celebrated leaders. The sheer volume is overwhelming, and the lessons that emerge from one leader’s experience may be completely inapplicable to another’s.

The complications run deeper for business leaders. In the corporate context, effectiveness depends less on the traits of any one executive (or of that person’s direct reports) and more on a company’s competitive challenges, legacies, and other shifting forces. If only we had a clear set of keys to effective organizational leadership—a “decoder ring” to understand which practices produce the best outcomes. Our latest research, however, does point to one major element of the equation: organizational health. For people seeking to lead companies effectively and for organizations seeking to develop managers who can deploy different kinds of leadership behavior when appropriate, recognizing and responding to a company’s health is far more important than following scripts written by or about great leaders. And that’s true even of great leaders whose circumstances might, on the surface, seem relevant under a given set of conditions.

helathyTo be sure, certain normative qualities, such as demonstrating a concern for people and offering a critical perspective, will always be part of what it takes to be a leader. But the importance of other elements, such as keeping groups on task and bringing out the best in others, vary in importance depending upon an organization’s circumstances. Organizational health changes over time. Effective situational leadership adapts to these changes by identifying and marshaling the kinds of behavior needed to transition a company from its present state to a stronger, healthier one.

How healthy are we?
All this presupposes, of course, that leaders have an accurate sense of how healthy their organizations are. Developing such a view is easier said than done: it’s only natural for leaders to overestimate the health of their organizations and the effectiveness of their leadership, given the way many of them identify with their companies and roles. In our experience, too many executives default to describing their companies as good and striving to be great. But this can’t be true; by definition, more companies can’t be above the median line of organizational health than below it. When we examine survey data through the lens of the different levels of an organization, we find that leading executives typically have more favorable views of its health than do its line workers—who are, after all, much closer to the true center of gravity.

What’s more, surveys, interviews, and a significant amount of honest self-reflection all go into more robust assessments of organizational health. Since a rigorous self-diagnosis isn’t always possible, we’ve developed some rules of thumb. These move a bit beyond guesswork and provide a more informed sense of what it feels like to be in one type of company or another; for a broad approximation, take McKinsey’s nine-question quiz, “How healthy is your organization?” In ailing organizations, for example, the leadership tends to rely on very detailed instructions and monitoring—a symptom of excessively tight control. A healthier organization’s leadership, by contrast, shows greater support for colleagues and subordinates, and sensitivity to their needs. And the leaders at elite organizations challenge employees to aspire higher still by setting stretch goals that inspire them to reach their full potential.

The situational-leadership staircase
To explore the effectiveness of different kinds of leadership behavior at companies in different states of organizational health, we surveyed more than 375,000 people from 165 organizations across multiple industries and geographies. Drawing both from our own work experience and from evolving academic research, we focused on more than 20 distinct kinds of behavior that cover a broad range of leadership characteristics and appear, at least under certain circumstances, to correlate closely with strong corporate performance.1
Analytically, we studied organizational health and leadership effectiveness in turn. First, health: We sorted companies into organizational-health quartiles, then observed which leadership behaviors were most prevalent in each quartile. We were particularly interested in identifying leadership behaviors that were almost always present (as it turned out, there weren’t many), and those that were more (or less) prevalent, depending upon an organization’s current state of health. Next, we repeated the quartile approach but this time, we focused not on health but on leadership effectiveness. Which behaviors did respondents perceive to be most effective? The purpose was to address the possibility that we were giving too much prominence to behaviors exhibited at companies that were otherwise healthy, but which survey recipients thought were ineffective practices nevertheless. Instead, we sought to identify behaviors that matched organizational health with perceived leadership effectiveness, and to isolate those behaviors that were most effective in different situations.

The analysis yielded what we call a leadership staircase—a pyramid of behavior analogous to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In our hierarchy, like similar ones, some kinds of behavior are always essential. As organizational health improves, quartile to quartile, additional behaviors become apparent. More tellingly, some appear to be differentiators: emphasizing them in different situations can lift the organizational health of a fourth-quartile company to the third quartile, a third-quartile company to the second quartile, and so on. This staircase model aligns squarely with our own real-world observations.

Baseline behavior
For companies at every level above the truly dysfunctional, a set of threshold forms of behavior appears to be essential. We call them “baseline behavior.” Others may also be called for, depending upon an organization’s state of health, but the following practices are appropriate no matter what a company’s health may be: effectiveness at facilitating group collaboration, demonstrating concern for people, championing desired change, and offering critical perspectives. The absence of such fundamentals of healthy interpersonal interaction invites disorder; shoring up these behaviors, on the other hand, serves to keep organizations from sliding backward into organizational trouble. But in themselves, they don’t spell the difference between mediocre and top-tier organizational health. Companies need additional practices to climb the staircase.

Companies in the lowest (fourth) health quartile confront stark—even existential—challenges, such as low levels of innovation, declining customer loyalty, wilting employee morale, the loss of major talent, and critical cash constraints. Typically, these companies lack some or even all of the baseline forms of behavior. Implementing the full complement is essential. But under trying conditions, our research suggests, the most effective forms of leadership behavior are making fact-based decisions, solving problems effectively, and focusing positively on recovery. Ironically, these additional behaviors are often the opposite of what distressed organizations actually do. Leaders at too many fourth-quartile companies, in their urgency to act, seek quick top-down fixes (such as replacing senior executives one or more times) but forego granular, fact-based analyses or well-rooted strategies. Those missteps often mark a company in its death spiral.

No doubt it’s a bit dangerous to draw too many lessons from well-known historical examples; memories are selective, and researchers can easily see what they want. Yet we’re struck by the parallels between these findings and the experiences of IBM in the early 1990s and of Continental Airlines later that decade. When Lou Gerstner, hired from the outside, took over as the new chairman and CEO of a then–deeply troubled IBM, he prioritized clear, fact-based problem solving. One measure of this mandate was his insistence that the executive team essentially abandon slide presentations and submit plans in jargon-free prose. He also refused to accept the idea that the company’s decline, partition, or even liquidation was inevitable. The ability to see the facts clearly and to demonstrate resilience helped Gerstner and his team to break a long downward slide, reconsider a product category previously dismissed as obsolete, and turn what many had presumed to be an inevitable asset breakup into a new trajectory for growth. The leadership’s mind-set, moreover, became ingrained in the enterprise; members of Gerstner’s team who rode out the reorganization bought into his practices, and passed many of them on to their own working teams.

So too at Continental: morale had been so broken that workers were reportedly tearing the Continental logo off their uniforms to avoid being recognized as company employees off the job. As part of the company’s turnaround, members of the new leadership team embraced effective attitudes and behaviors, drilled down to assess profitability on a route-by-route and flight-by-flight basis, and took decisive action grounded in reality. In fact, this uncompromising focus on facts led then-COO Greg Brenneman to discover, over Thanksgiving, that the company would run out of cash in less than two months. With spirited resilience, the leadership team eliminated unprofitable routes, implemented specific initiatives for recovery (such as bonuses for on-time departures), and brought a loss maker into the black within 12 months

Moving on up
Our research and experience suggests that a major differentiating leadership characteristic of companies on the upswing is the ability to take practices that are already used at some levels of the organization and use them more systematically, more reliably, and more quickly. This shift calls for behavior that places a special emphasis on keeping groups on task and orienting them toward well-defined results. Such situations also favor leaders who embrace agility and seek different perspectives to help ensure that their companies don’t overlook possibly better ways of doing things. But under these circumstances, qualities (such as the ability to motivate and bring out the best in others and to model company values) found at the top tier of organizational health typically have a less pronounced effect.

A US-based financial-services company we know supplies a practical example. Its leadership aspired to strengthen the organization’s financial performance, innovate in the core business, and use an integrated package of health, performance, and leadership initiatives to capture more value at risk. At the outset, this company’s organizational health was in the third quartile—below the median. Key challenges included a lack of clear objectives or accountability (highlighted by committees with muddled or overlapping missions; poor development and career opportunities for high performers; and weak management of financials, operations, and risk (reflected, among other ways, by the absence of robust metrics). Exacerbating these problems, the leadership’s approach to running the company was pervasively top down.

To meet the challenges, the leaders implemented an integrated set of health and performance initiatives—for example, they developed clear standards and outcomes to clarify day-to-day tasks. The company made its objectives (and the consequences of not achieving them) transparent by articulating a forceful strategic vision marked by specific operating goals and milestones. The leadership also aimed to foster bottom-up, employee-driven solutions and actively encourage new perspectives. Although many things went right for this company beyond its walls, these internal moves undoubtedly strengthened it, and the results were tangible. Within two years, it had achieved its topline objectives in health, performance, and leadership, and its stock price had increased by 250 percent.

Why not start at the top?
If identifiable forms of leadership behavior are associated with companies in the higher quartiles, can an organization in the lower ones apply them immediately and leap to the top? Our research and experience suggest that attempts to do so typically end poorly. Emphasizing kinds of behavior that are not attuned to an organization’s specific situation can waste time and resources and reinforce bad behavior. Worse, it can make an upgrade to a higher health quartile even more difficult. This makes intuitive sense: the leaders of a company in deep trouble should not prioritize, for example, modeling organizational values, a first-quartile behavior.

We observed one cautionary example at a joint venture that ended badly for a number of related health, performance, and leadership reasons. Its board installed a highly charismatic leader with an outsized focus on top quartile–style motivational behavior. He traveled globally with his chairperson, for example, touting the joint venture’s “premium on innovation” and declaring that despite its merger-like characteristics, there was a “job for everyone” who was passionate about its vision. Unfortunately, at the time of these pronouncements, the organization had done little groundwork on critical issues of integration, including the difficult how-tos of harmonizing disparate IT systems and organizational cultures. Both legacy organizations responded by continuing to execute and perform as if nothing had changed. There was evidence they hoped that nothing ever would.

The joint venture responded to missing its first-quarter targets by setting even more ambitious ones. It handed accountability to the executive responsible for sales and marketing, but no root-cause analyses were undertaken. When it discovered a cash crisis, it made no credible efforts to craft a practical response; instead, the top executive continued to trumpet his mission throughout his global visits. But a “job for everyone” fell victim to the joint venture’s alarming cash position, which forced mass layoffs, and with them came the end of the leadership’s credibility. The venture was dissolved after just over a year of misguided operation.

Even the best scripts can ring hollow in the wrong settings. Our research suggests that the most effective leadership behavior reflects the state of a company’s organizational health. Top-management teams that are serious about developing vibrant businesses and effective leaders must be prepared to look inward, assess the organization’s health objectively, and ask themselves frankly whether their leadership behavior is strong enough in the ways that matter most at the time. This question has implications not just for developing but also for assessing a company’s leaders. However much an executive may seem to have a leadership “it” factor, the organization’s health, not the claims of individuals, should come first when companies determine which kinds of behavior will be most effective for them. In short, they should spotlight different sets of actions in different situations. Fortunately for aspiring leaders, they don’t have to do everything at once.

Source:, 2016
Authors: Michael Bazigos, Chris Gagnon and Bill Schaninger
About the authors: Michael Bazigos, head of organizational science at McKinsey, is based in its New York office; Chris Gagnon is a principal in the New Jersey office; and Bill Schaninger is a director in the Philadelphia office.