How To Prepare Your Next Generation Of Leaders

Stretch Assignments in Succession Planning

Many business leaders are frustrated in fulfilling their succession plans. They perceive a lack of energy and voracity demonstrated by their designated successors. This perceived lack of motivation probably isn’t so much a demonstration of disinterest, but rather an illustration of limited developmental opportunities. How can we bridge this gap? The best way to develop successors is with stretch assignments. Learning through struggle and confidence building exercises will encourage the development of key skills and capabilities required to demonstrate their leadership readiness. By following the suggestions listed below, leaders can effectively stretch, develop and prepare their team to continue the leader’s’ legacy with confidence.

Step 1: Identifying shortcomings:

There are two kinds of shortcomings you need to assess: 1) Individual skills gaps, and 2) organizational requirements. Development opportunities will illustrate a mix of organizational requirements (the company needs ‘X’ project to be done), and individual requirements (the individual needs to build/develop/practice ‘X’ skills required by this task to personally achieve new levels of performance.) Optimal organizational development opportunities might include shorter-term, high intensity projects that spawn into long-term impacts. Additionally, these tasks should allow for the individual to exercise authoritative/collaborative decision-making, and perform strategic decision making skills while working visibly with other key players.

Step 2: Provide tools, resources and basic instructions:

Discuss the stretch assignment with your team/employee. Be sure to illuminate the opportunity to “see what you’re made of” to both internal leadership and external customers. Describe the impact of the end product – what is your vision for accomplishing this task? Then, provide the tools, resources and basic requirements to the individual/team to get things done.

Step 3: Empower through delegated authority and accountability:

When providing a “stretch assignment”, it’s critically important that leaders enable the individuals to make their own decisions/assessments. As they are held accountable for their actions, the struggle and strife will help long-term learning occur.

Step 4: Step Back:

Although your leadership engagement throughout the process will be available, it should only be available from a mentor perspective – when requested, and even then – in a coaching, not consulting, capacity. When asked for help, leaders can provide strategic considerations, understanding consequences, and seeing second and third degree influences of actions while reaffirming the project vision. Ultimately, the goal throughout this assignment is autonomy – empowering people to step-up, take action, and figure things out by themselves. This may be challenging for highly involved managers, but the autonomy, authority, accountability and empowerment throughout this process will enable employees to truly demonstrate and stretch their skill sets while fulfilling an organizational need in the process.

Step 5: Celebrate the struggle, success and achievement:

Following completion of key project milestones or the final assignment deliverables, positive feedback on successes is critical. During challenging assignments, praise the perseverance and determination to overcome. Celebrate the successes to reinforce those skills that were demonstrated through the endeavor. Share this achievement with others to encourage additional positive reinforcement. This positive reinforcement solidifies the lessons learned through struggle, and further builds confidence that will be applied to follow-on projects.

Although this may sound like all optimism and theory, the actual stretch assignment will likely be a substantial struggle – making or breaking the individual. Failure is most certainly an option – but through careful guidance, encouragement and mentorship together you can create something truly great while building skills and confidence in the process. Why take the risk of failure? Because struggle sparks learning & confidence, further building candidates to fill the role and legacy you left behind. After all, if it was easy, anyone could do it. Is that the legacy you want to leave?

Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC. You may also be interested in the following articles: Increase Your Effectiveness As A Leader With Perception Science; How To Create Success From Failure; How To Get Your People To Change Today; Cure For The CEO Disease

How To Create Success From Failure

Fail Successfully

As a child, you were constantly failing. You formed words in your mouth, which instead came out as sounds. Those failed words were music to your parent’s ears. You fell hundreds of times as you attempted to walk. You crashed your bike as you began to ride. You made cacophony instead of melody as you learned to play the piano. From all of these failed experiences, you were learning. If you quit because of these failures, you would have remained silent, never learned to ride a bike or play the piano.

What were the conditions that allowed you to find success from these failures to learn, grow and develop? Your parents or guardians most likely encouraged you when you were learning to walk, especially when you fell. They kept talking to you when you were making sounds instead of words. They motivated you to get back on your bike after you skinned your knee. They applauded your staccato rendition of your favorite song at your first piano recital.

As we get older, many of us have learned to do what it takes to get rewards for good behavior and avoid punishment from mistakes. Consequently, many gain a sense of satisfaction when they are praised, and shame for reprimands. Much of an individuals self worth may come from the acceptance and reward they receive. As children grow through adolescence they become less and less willing to take risks, which might lead to embarrassing attention. In our middle and high school classrooms, fewer students raise their hands, for fear of being wrong.

I remember being in Mrs. Martin’s 12th grade honors English class 34 years ago. We would read books like the Heart of DarknessWalden and other fun reads. Mrs. Martin would ask questions and rarely got answers. I was a fairly smart kid, and the son of an English teacher. I often knew the answers to her questions. However, I would not raise my hand. Instead, I would answer under my breath, just loud enough for some kids around me to hear. This happened often enough that the kids around me started to laugh when Mrs. Martin gave the same answer I had just muttered. Eventually she asked why the kids were laughing and they said, “Spencer always has the answer.” So now she deliberately called on me. In those moments, however, I never seemed to have the answer.

I struggled to get a good grade from Mrs. Martin. When I complained to my mother, also an English teacher, she told me I just needed to work harder. I had a paper due on Thoreau’s Walden. I told my mom it was not worth it to try, I would just get a bad score. My wonderful mother decided to teach me a lesson that a good grade was possible and wrote my paper. (The only time she had ever done this.) She, and I, received a C+. She was so furious; she told me she was going to talk to the teacher. Instead of making a kerfuffle, I wanted to avoid embarrassment and further humiliation so I dropped the class. I had what Psychologist Carol Dweck calls, a fixed mindset. If I had what she also calls, a growth mindset, I may have been more willing to learn from my mistakes. Instead, I avoided the learning opportunities afforded me in her class and just rested on the fact that I didn’t need another English credit to graduate. I settled for avoiding discomfort and protecting my ego.

I’m sure I am not the only one that has had a fixed mindset at some point. As we mature, many of us participate less and less in successful failure. Many avoid situations, which may lead to failure in their lives and in their businesses. In my business, I see many people who are unwilling to change habits and patterns. They are afraid of getting feedback that does not reinforce a positive self-image. Feedback can be a valuable tool to help us improve. Instead, we label it as unjustified criticism to protect our ego and need to be right.

Some of us have behavioral characteristics that are more disposed to avoid failure. Some people have a bias for perfectionism. This may cause them to delay action because they fear making mistakes. Other people may be very demanding. They focus on task, and minimize relationships. These demanding and critical leaders shut down innovation and, may take few risks themselves to avoid their own medicine. Others dislike confrontation, or difficult situations, so they avoid them. Still others are so focused on being right, they may not be willing to risk being wrong in order to learn. Click here to request our powerful assessment to identify your behavioral characteristics. When we send you our link, the process only takes 5-10 minutes.

In business, we have management processes whose entire existence is to eliminate or mitigate risk. Project Managers manage risks of various types such as technical risks, monetary risks, and scheduling-based risks. The International Organization for Standardization, created standards relating to risk management known as ISO 31000. These standards create systems and processes designed to reduce risks. However, they may also create a bias against taking risks. This risk aversion can permeate organizational cultures and stifle growth.

I do not suggest recklessly taking risks or accepting failure. Instead I suggest developing a culture of innovation and growth. The marketplace is changing so often and so rapidly, it is impossible to succeed with the status quo. According to a recent HBR article, “Increase Your Return on Failure,” one of the biggest reasons companies fail to grow is a fear of failure. The authors, Julian Birkinshaw and Martine Hass, cite a Boston Consulting Group survey, which identifies 31% of respondents identified a risk-averse culture as a key obstacle to innovation.

The solution? Foster a culture where “Fail Fast,” “Fail Often,” and “Fail Forward” is embraced.

  1. Fail Fast:

    Use failure as a call to action; to improve, to learn. Be willing to avoid complacency and take action. Avoid perfectionism and analysis paralysis. Set parameters for experimentation and innovation. Edison and his team learned 10,000 ways a light bulb doesn’t work. Their process of experimentation led to success.

  2. Fail Often:

    Focus on what you can control. Lon Kruger, Head basketball coach at Oklahoma is a great teacher. He wants to win, like most of the people on his staff and his team. He teaches the athletes to pay less attention to the final score and more attention to their individual effort. Did you dive for every loose ball? Did you do what it takes to win the rebound battle? Did you do your best? Coach Kruger stresses that when we continually do our best, the scoreboard will eventually reflect our effort.

    Avoid complacency. The environment is constantly changing. What worked last year, last month, last week, yesterday, may not work today. Continually look for ways to improve and innovate. That requires being willing to accept some risk and failure. Click here to watch a short video of a Japanese entrepreneur who embraces fail often.

  3. Fail Forward:

    Change your approach. Avoid the victim mentality. When things don’t work out the way you planned, change your approach and move past it.

    Learn to appreciate feedback. If you have a fixed mindset, this can be very difficult. I have learned to ask myself, “is there truth to what they are saying, or wisdom in their perspective?” I needed to learn that their perspective was valid to them. When I dismissed feedback as inaccurate, I would do nothing new, or different, and would stay stuck in my behavior.

    Learn from every failure. It is not easy to take time and look in the mirror about what went wrong. Sports teams have made a science of this. They study video images to see what went wrong so they can identify what to do differently. I regularly watch and listen to myself giving presentations. It is painful, to be sure, because I see all my weaknesses exposed. But, this is a great opportunity to improve my craft.

    We are currently experimenting with google adwords to help grow our business. We have set aside a small budget to experiment with. We want to learn what works and what doesn’t. We have created multiple ads to track responses. The ones that perform poorly are replaced. The ones that perform well are given more investment. We are learning from failure and success. Both are valuable. After a month of this process, we have a strategy we are confident will work. We will then commit a larger budget to a winning strategy.

    Learn from your mistakes and mistakes of others. Gather new information and data continuously. Then share what you learn. This will let people know you are serious about learning. By avoiding talking about mistakes, you send a message that failure is not acceptable. Encourage others to share their mistakes and lessons learned.

To quote Pixar president, Ed Catmull, “Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil, they aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new and should be seen as valuable.” Your focused and deliberate efforts to create a culture that encourages successful failure will pay dividends.

The author Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC. For additional topics read: Sick And Tired of Being Sick And TiredHow To Get Your People To Change TodayThe Power of AccountabilityHow To Defeat The ‘Fog of War’ In Business

One Reason a Healthy Culture is Essential

Are you having a hard time attracting the best talent? Here is one reason and one thing that will help.

Disengagement And The “Love What You Do” Myth

5 Dynamics of Increased Engagement

Diseangaged Employees

I am not sure how many times I have heard the saying, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” (Marc Anthony) If you are like me, you have heard this or something like it a bunch. When I heard this, I felt inspired to search for what I love, because after all, I don’t like to work! My life experience, and the experience of some very successful people I know, has taught me this philosophy is costing business, relationships and families dearly.

Have you ever had an employee that you were so excited to hire and it didn’t turn out well? Have you been the employee and starting a job with so much hope and enthusiasm only to find out it was not what you thought or expected? Have you experienced team members who became disengaged, frustrated, or angry and left?

Have you ever been in a relationship that started of with great promise? You found your soul mate, only to realize that initial feeling was not sustainable? When this happens, many leave their current partner and go off in search of the ideal they thought they found the last time. This cycle can be repeated again and again searching for the perfect ideal.

What is going on here? According to Gallup, 70% of employees are disengaged. Disengagement caused by unrealized expectations is the problem. Well-meaning parents and other mentors in our life want to inspire and encourage us. They tell us how great we are. They tell us we deserve the best things and the best people in our life. They tell us to follow our passion. They tell us we will be most successful when follow our passion. You want to believe this. I want to believe this! Who wouldn’t want to believe this?!

It is important to follow our passions and interests. It certainly makes life better. However, take caution about “never working a day in your life.” A quote by the singer Toni Braxton adds balance to the Marc Anthony quote: “To do what you love can sometimes be stressful.” We need to be prepared to handle the adversity and challenges of life that will surely come. What happens when things don’t work out like you planned? How do you react when things don’t go your way? I know that this has happened in my life and in the lives of almost everyone I know. We have had jobs and careers were we were following our passion and doing what we loved. However, even in these circumstances, we all had to do things we were not excited about, that felt like work.

Many of the youth today and our current workforce are not equipped to handle the challenging environments of business. They have not learned how to work. They are not prepared to handle the disappointments of relationships. Many give up when things don’t go the way they had expected. They may quit a job or relationship. Or worse, they stay and are miserable. It is how we behave in these challenging times which defines individuals as leaders, and as dedicated spouses and significant others. Many who are not equipped to handle disappointment show up in a way that is detrimental to the business or to the relationship.

The point here is not that we can’t pursue our ideal and passions; it is that we learn how to manage our disappointments, challenges and setbacks. There are definitely valid reasons to leave personal or work relationships. There are also many relationships that can be saved, improved, and become deeply fulfilling when we fight through the storms.

Five dynamics of increased engagement.

  1. Create a great culture:

    When ranking job satisfaction., 72% of respondents indicated that respectful treatment of employees at all levels was “very important”. This was the top contributor to overall employee satisfaction. This ranked higher than pay and benefits. Hiring and HR professionals must ensure their workplace culture and employee engagement strategies are of equal importance to compensation, benefits and other responsibilities. Here is an additional reason to develop a great culture!

  2. Be honest: 

    64% of employees rated trusting their senior management as the second most important contributor to job satisfaction. (SHRM, Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Study, 2015) Be open about the way it really is at your company. Don’t paint the picture that everything is perfect. Let candidates know there are challenges. The pay received is based on work, which requires effort. Being honest will help develop trust with leadership and narrow the gap between expectation and reality, which are necessary ingredients of employee engagement.

  3. Hire for behavior, train for skill:

    Find the people who are willing to be flexible and fight through adversity. Use effective tools, these will help remove the frustration of hiring by helping you, better match people to jobs. There are effective tools to create accurate job models based on your best performers and input from management. With the correct application of these tools, you will more effectively attract the best candidates. These tools will also help hiring managers ask the right questions to find the best possible person for the job. When you effectively match people to positions, you will strengthen the culture, increase employee engagement, increase productivity and reduce turnover and waste.

  4. Provide the right praise:  

    Many of the younger generation, coming in to the work place, do not know how to respond well to adversity and criticism. Many are part of a generation, which have been praised by well-meaning parents who told them how smart and talented they are. Sporting programs meaning to boost self-esteem may also be contributing to the problem by providing awards for kids who just show up. The result is well stated by the psychologist, Carol Dweck, “many can’t function without getting a sticker for their every move.” (Mindset, Carol Dweck, 2006) Employers are perpetuating the problem through recognition programs to support these employees who need constant reassurance and can’t take criticism. The alternative is to praise for taking initiative, for commitment, for overcoming a setback, for learning something new.

  5. Develop your people:

    Organizations that dedicate a portion of their budget to professional development send a message that they invest in their employees. Additional benefits of professional development include personal development and greater opportunities for career advancement. Although employees continue to place value on professional development opportunities, fewer organizations are investing in these types of benefits. (Society for Human Resource Management, 2014. Workplace Visions: Trends in Workplace Professional Development. Issue 3)
 As more and more of the experienced workforce retire, developing employees becomes more necessary. Employees are more likely to be engaged when they feel their employers are invested in helping them develop their careers.

Implementing these suggestions takes commitment. The payoff will be worth the investment!

How to Defeat the ‘Fog of War’ in Business

5 Steps To Overcome The Challenges And Setbacks We Experience in Business

There is a phenomenon in battle called the “fog of war’. What it means is when individuals who are fighting in a war perceive they are losing. They may act according to the perception and retreat when in fact the unit or army they are part of is winning the war. The fog of war creates a challenge for generals and their armies. If individuals and individual units feel they are losing from their perspective, they may give up which prolongs the victory. The same phenomenon can happen in business.

In our daily fight to be successful in our roles, we will have defeats. Perhaps we have a disagreement with a co-worker or supervisor. Perhaps we lose out on a sale we were expecting to win. Perhaps a client has a poor experience with our service or product, etc. Sometimes these events can cause us to think and feel our isolated experience is a sign of enterprise wide problems. This can cause discouragement and discontent with some members of our team and can spread to others.

I have fought feelings of discouragement many times. I have experienced personal losses in a business sense and was tempted to think, we must be ‘losing the war’ as a company and maybe I should give up or move on. I also know from experience, we get what we focus on. We will find evidence of our predominant thoughts. When I focused on challenges and failings, I would feel discouraged and questioned whether we could achieve our goals. Conversely, as I began to focus my thoughts and energy around the successful outcomes I desired, my results inevitably changed and my perception of where we were as a company changed. That perception increased my confidence and satisfaction with my company.

The ‘fog of war’ in my experience seemed to happen when our business was in what Bruce Tuckman called the storming phase of team development.  Tuckman proposed his model of team development called forming, storming, norming and performing in 1965. Forming is where we set goals. This can happen at when a company is new or when changes occur. It can happen when we lose or add new people. Storming is where we feel comfortable enough with each other to express discontent and challenge each other. It can be uncomfortable and unpleasant. Norming is where we start to give up our own personal crusades and agree with others to make the team function. This phase is not about avoiding conflict, it is about coming together. The final phase, performing, is where the team is achieving goals and things are running smoothly. A company can be in one of the four phases as whole and individual teams may be in different phases. Individuals on teams can be in different phases as well.

It is easy for employees who are in the storming phase to experience the ‘fog of war’ phenomenon. If a team or company stays in the storming phase for a prolonged period, they have a greater chance of not emerging leading to business failure. If you are a leader of a company or team in the storming phase, have hope. Most companies go through similar phases. The following suggestions can help shorten the storming phase and remind team members that even though they may experience setbacks from time to time, they will ultimately succeed.

  1. Challenges Are Temporary:

    Let your team members know that the challenges of this phase are temporary. Educate your team that all companies go through similar phases. Just naming this phase of team development will help give the team hope things will get better keeping the, positively engaged.

  2. Focus On Outcomes:

    Keep your team focused on positive outcomes desired. It is easy to get fixated on failures. Remember, we tend to manifest the results of our predominant thoughts. Keeping the team focused on positive outcomes will help dissipate negative energy.

  3. Be A Role Model:

    Make sure you as the leader and your team leaders model the attitude that the team will emerge victorious. Team members must be able to look to the leadership for how to act in times of challenge and difficulty. A negative team leader will multiply the ‘fog of war’ dynamics if not addressed by discipline or replacement.

  4. Demonstrate Confidence:

    Show your team you have faith in them. Team members can lose hope and exhibit behaviors that hurt the team. Let them know they are a valued member of the team. Help them understand the impact of their performance and behavior on the success of the team.

  5. Celebrate Success:

    Encourage the team by sharing any team successes no matter how small. Celebrating successes will lift morale and give hope the team and organization is moving in the right direction.

Cure For The CEO Disease

4 Steps To Overcome CEO Behaviors That Erode Culture

Do you know a CEO or top executive that is unaware of their impact or overestimates their abilities? Leaders who are out of touch with the truth about how they “show up” is all too common. This phenomenon is what Daniel Goleman calls the “CEO disease”. Goleman reports…”the higher up the ladder a leader climbs, the less accurate his self-assessment is likely to be.” (Primal Leadership, Pg. 92, Daniel Goleman (2002)).  The problem is that as a leader climbs the organization, the less feedback he or she receives. According to James Conway and Allen Huffcutt, who analyzed 177 separate studies that assessed more than 28,000 managers, found these managers were not receiving consistent feedback on their performance. The lack of feedback problem is reported to be more acute for leaders who are women or belong to a minority. (See Peggy Stuart, “What Does the Glass Ceiling Cost You?” Personnel Journal 71, no. 11 (1992): 70-80).

The predominance of the CEO disease has a large negative impact on cultures of businesses all over the world. When leaders drive negative emotions within their organization, they erode the foundation of a culture that enables people to excel. Leaders who are aware of their impact and work to drive positive emotions will conversely strengthen the culture that enables people to excel.

Four steps to cure the CEO disease:

  1. Recognize That You Can Change:

    Many leaders have the mistaken opinion that they need to be accepted for who they are, because after years of habits and behavior they can’t change. The latest neuroscience has destroyed the myth that we can’t change. We maintain neuroplasticity until we die, meaning, we can make changes to how we think and behave. American author and futurist, Alvin Toffler, says “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

  2. Create A Safe Environment:

    Create an environment where it is safe to give and receive feedback. Some people fail to give feedback because they fear punishment or the leader’s wrath if they dissent. Some only give positive feedback because they do not want to be labeled negative or going against the party line. Some are afraid to give feedback because they don’t want to upset others or hurt their feelings. By creating this environment, CEO’s and managers will get a more accurate finger on the pulse of their organization. Understand that all feedback you receive is subjective. Each leader gets to determine what to do with the feedback they receive. Knowing what people really think is always better than ignorance.

  3. Increase Self-Awareness:

    Be willing to take a 100% honest look at yourself. Many executives work with coaches to improve their self-awareness. Consider participating in a 360 review. This can provide a valuable roadmap for behavior change. Work with great training and development organizations who will provide you with a safe environment to strengthen your leadership competencies. These environments should push you out of your comfort zone to learn and grow. When we are out of comfort zone, our most challenging leadership behaviors surface and a skilled facilitator will help accelerate awareness and behavior change.

  4. Persist:

    Recognize the process of becoming an effective leader is a lifelong pursuit. Even the most effective leaders recognize they can make improvements. For the best leaders, making minor adjustments and behavior improvements sets a powerful example for the team and will pay dividends on the emotional and cultural health of the organization which will translate to better financial results.

For more information on how to cure your CEO disease, call Spencer Horn Solutions today 702-807-4698 www.spencerhornsolutions.com