Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Authentic Leadership: Good for Business and Our Health

It's been said that one of the biggest indicators that a person might be CEO material (experience, education, etc. held equal) is the ability to work a sixteen hour day.

A huge workload, however, is not the only challenge for today's leaders.  As we know, Twenty-first century leaders are dealing with volatile conditions and a level of complexity and competition for resources unheard of at the start of the Twentieth century. 

Followers are also changing in that the US workforce demographics are becoming more diverse than they have ever been in terms of skin color, age, gender and skill sets. The nature of work itself in most corporations requires employees to make a great many discretionary decisions which requires them to be managed in a way that is very different from the Industrial Age Command Control style of leadership (autocratic, top down, hierarchical,  Theory X).  Today's employees, with their in-depth training and high levels of education are knowledge workers.  

The rise of the knowledge worker requires leaders to allow their followers more autonomy, more of a voice in strategy and decision making, and collaborative consideration in terms of performance assessment and rewards. Additionally, leaders must possess multicultural and relational intelligence that is only possible by deepening their awareness of their own leadership identity development (biases, privilege, fears, and assumptions about leadership).  Furthermore, the best leaders have a heart deep clarity about their purpose as a leader and are passionate about getting feedback from their environment to ensure they are on track with what they are trying to achieve. Because they seek feedback, their followers experience them as less threatening and more collaborative which makes the leader's mission catching.  Because they are able to take the feedback in and make changes shows that they are able to learn and flexible enough to change their thinking for their mission.  

All of this is starting to make the 16 hour work day look like the least of the challenge for today's leaders.

When we consider the work of leaders like Attorney Kenneth Feinberg who has responded quickly and competently to the traumatic world events 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings for the greater good, what we are witnessing is authentic leadership. A great historical example is Abraham Lincoln. 

Authentic leaders have a deep foundation in their own personal mission which ignites followers with similar convictions to join them in the stewardship of movements, organizations, countries, and campaigns to help in the aftermath of trauma and war and give service to populations with ongoing support needs like veterans, the poor, and the displaced.

Authentic leaders due to their sincerity about who they are, transparency about their mission, willingness to collaborate in order to serve the greater good above their own egos, inspire their followers and other stakeholders.  Authentic leaders are on the forefront of change.

The journey to reach authenticity is not always straightforward or easy. Research shows that some authentic leaders become so through adversity and hardship they experience, others through the discovery and development of causes and still others through formal learning programs.  The end result is an understanding of their own life story and worldview that fuels their sense of justice as well as their passions and causes. Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, chronicles his life story and how it fueled his mission to make all employees partners and offer benefits to part time workers (a revolutionary thing at the time) in Pour Your Heart Into It

The definition of Authentic leadership includes the relationship between the leaders and their followers (Gardner et al., 2005). In fact it’s the followers who reinforce the leader’s authenticity, which is deeply rooted in the leaders self-authorization of their role as a leader. Indeed it has been found that the leadership role and the self are relativity undifferentiated for the authentic leader (Gardner & Avolio, 1998).  Warren Bennis described authentic leadership as a form of self-expression (1992).

Furthermore, authentic leadership is good for business! Here are some highlights from research on the positive impacts of authentic leaders on their followers and organizations:
  1. Authentic leadership is positively related to profit (Rowold & Laukamp (2009)
  2. Followers, of authentic Leaders, experience a relationship that includes social mirroring and attunement and interpersonal synchrony, have lower salivary cortisol levels (the stress response hormone) than those followers who are not connected to their leaders on this subconscious level (Kouzakova, Van Baaren & Van Kippenberg, 2010)
  3. Relationships with authentic leaders are characterized by a phenomenon called resonance which includes the sharing of mutual positive emotions, a subjective sense of being in synchrony with one another, and activation of parasympathetic nervous system responses (e.g. rest, and digest response) (Boyatzix, et al., 2011).
  4. Relationships with non-authentic leaders produce negative emotions, interpersonal discord, and parasympathetic nervous system activation (fight/flight response) (Boyatzix, et al., 2011)
  5. Authenticity between leaders and followers engenders feelings of compassion, hope, a sense of play and mindfulness (Boyatziz & Mckee, 2005)
  6. When leaders and followers are not connected in this way it’s considered dissonance which includes the engendering of malice, micromanaging, betrayal, and insensitivity which create toxic emotions in the workplace that take a toll on employee well being and performance (Frost, 2004)
  7. In a MRI imaging study, researchers found that memories of authentic leaders stimulated the area of the brain in such a way that signaled creative and the ability to think out of the box (Frost, 2004)
  8. Conversely, memories of inauthentic leaders produced a "cognitive narrowing of the person’s attention" which researchers surmised was due to following  a leader who is focused on corrections and errors which limit the contributions followers can make (Frost, 2004)
  9. Studies involving quantitative EEGs have found that leaders who communicate an inclusive vision with an emphasis on social responsibility, altruism, and the empowerment of various stakeholders versus a more narcissistic, self-interested vision, build psychological capital (including the optimization of hope confidence and resilience) in their followers (Boyatziz & Mckee, 2005)

Seriously, who would you rather work for, hire to lead your company or have as a peer?

We share emotions with our partners, therapists, teachers and friends every day. When my daughter smiles at me, no matter how bad my day was, I smile back and feel happy and uplifted.  When my husband is not happy about something I can feel it before he even has to say anything and vice versa. We share emotions in this same way with our leaders too. Who would you rather share emotions with on a work-a-day basis?  A leader who is driven by passion and a clear mission and who is authentic in their approach and honest about who they are or someone who is not this way?

The last part of the research I will share is a definition that delineates the main factors that make up authentic leadership based on a longitudinal study from 2005 to 2008 that analyzed five separate samples of data from China, Kenya and the US:

"Authentic leadership is a pattern of leader behavior that draws upon and promotes both positive psychological capacities and a positive ethical climate, to foster greater self-awareness, an internalized moral perspective, balanced processing of information and relational transparency on the part of leaders working with followers, fostering positive self development" (Walumbwa, et al, 2008:94).


Authentic leaders are multiculturally intelligent, engender respect, self-actualization and health in their followers by their example and collaborative practices and intuitive understanding about the fact that followers make the leader.

Derek Sivers captures this dynamic very well here: 





Monday, May 19, 2014

Why do we attend to some and not others?

Of course this question is subject to a million covariates or in plain language - there's a lot of possible answers.  People may not listen to others based on blood ties or past experience or sadly because of skin color or gender or age or there is simply too much noise.

However, there is research out there, mine adding to the mix, that we do attend to some people more than others. I am using the term attend to because it's more all encompassing than listen to or look at. When we attend to someone else we are giving them our full attention using the senses available to us to notice them. People we attend to more than others often have strong presence. 

I have been interested in presence for a long time since my days as an internal organizational effectiveness practitioner in aerospace. I noticed in meetings that when certain people began to speak everyone else fell quiet, turned toward the speaker and didn't interrupt. Conversely when others would try to speak they were immediately interrupted or not attended to.  Sometimes these same people in the latter group also had the right answer to a serious problem or an important insight that the group totally missed. As an organizational development practitioner, it's my job to notice these things so more often then not I would pull the conversation back to the passed over person so they could get heard for the better of the group and the company.

But I wondered, at this table of smart engineers and scientists, why do some get heard regardless of hierarchy or authority, more than others - consistently?

It's important to add that these people were consistently attended to - not just once. The reason I point this out is because sometimes charismatic people also get attended to. However, if they are only charismatic but don't have authentic presence it's short lived. We tire of them and whatever antics are behind their charisma.  I knew there had to be something more.

My book about presence.
In 2005 I started to study this by interviewing managers, leaders, and individual contributors to find out who in their spheres of influence they attended to most and why. A model of factors emerged that had far less to do the right tone of voice and a fancy suit than the popular literature at that time conveyed. My data was about knowing who you are in general and in the moment. From this I, along with my collaborator, John Ullmen, wrote a book about the topic for managers and created an instrument to measure the strength of someone's presence. In 2006 we started giving this instrument to John's executive MBA students and my executive clients and peers. Over time norms emerged and by 2013 I had more than enough data to refine the instrument using structural equation modeling and multivariate statistics. The exciting news is that the inventory has good reliability, validity and model fit. What all that means in terms of care-abouts for those who take it is that the inventory is actually measuring what it says it does. This statistical testing validated my hard work. 

The resulting instrument I named the Authentic Presence Inventory (API).  The term executive presence doesn't fit anymore - nor does it encompass all the API measures. Executive Presence as a term and a concept hasn't fit the reality of what presence actually is for a long time.  As it was used in the popular literature it was another term for that charismatic leader who epitomized societal norms and dressed right for the part - think Alec Baldwin's character in 30 Rock. Thankfully, genuine presence, authentic presence, is far more complex and diverse. 

Authentic presence is about understanding your purpose in life, being mindful as you move through your life and letting your ego go enough to not only notice others but get feedback from them too.  It's clear from the research that anyone can develop and gain more presence so that they get attended to. A person with authentic presence doesn't suck up all the available light around them - conversely they illuminate the room to allow for the best thinking. We have all met someone like this. If we are lucky we got to work for or with someone like this.  The good news is that anyone can develop authentic presence too. It's not an inborn trait.  And the people who have it, work at keeping it.

Authentic Presence is on my mind a lot this month as I prepare for my workshop on May 30th.  I would love to hear from you about how you have experienced others with authentic presence or better yet, experienced it in yourself. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Insights from Neil deGrasse Tyson on Genetic Differences Between Men and Women In Science

When I was in my college years I thought chauvinism was a thing of the past. It wasn't of course but I couldn't see it for what it was because I was at an early stage in my own feminist identity development. I felt the discrimination, for example when I would go to my philosophy professor's office after class to get a question answered he would take the boys first and leave me standing in the hallway after looking very annoyed at me and acting normally with them. I was a good student but he would not take me seriously. At the time I took it personally and wondered what it was about me that made him act this way.

Looking back I realize it was gender discrimination.  It frustrates me when I hear people reducing the issues of gender and skin color discrimination as not real or not really happening in western society.  In fact there are many kinds of discrimination leveraged daily and as prevalent as air. But to the privileged classes the discrimination is invisible. So it's great to see someone amongst the elite and privileged giving evidence very plainly to the reality of discrimination and ensuing stereotypes.  I truly hope these are changing and that the predominance of them will diminish as the diverse and outspoken members of Generation Y come into their own.

It's vacation week so not much time, but check out this great clip of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Also, if you are interested in the different stages people go through in their identity development check out Sue and Sue's excellent book.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Productive Bravery – A Leadership Competency Worth Cultivating

When you give feedback as a leader the stakes are always high because there is work to be done and relationships to manage. Giving feedback is hard for anyone in any circumstance. I teach my students and coaching clients how to give great feedback and have studied different models of how to do this well.  Even so, when I have to give one of my faculty or my students critical feedback, I approach doing so with care and not without stress.

One of the reasons giving feedback is so hard is because, in US culture at least, there is a powerful social norm that tells us that it’s impolite to talk about impolite things. When leaders and managers give someone feedback about their performance they might give them the good, the great, and the stuff they need to address.  Additionally, if they care to build their relationships with their followers then their feedback is regular, relevant, specific and mainly focused on what is working well. If the manager or leader takes a typical approach then they address the good, the bad and the ugly, spending the most time on the bad.  When leaders focus only on what is not working they don’t help their followers develop critical competencies.  Competency flows from right and effective action. So letting employees know what they are doing well is more important for learning and sustained high performance then letting them know where they are failing. 

Some managers view the act of “managing” as a second job.  I hear managers complain that they,  "have to get back to their day job" versus spending time doing performance reviews. These are the leaders who only give feedback once a year based on limited observation. This approach leaves much to be desired and occurs far too frequently in part because of the strong norm that it is impolite to discuss impolite things.

Because it’s impolite, implicitly, to point out another person’s failings in our culture we avoid doing so and when we must we often are less direct and effective than we would like. I say implicitly because we know this without being told. Since we were toddlers our parents told us not to comment directly on others’ faults and differences. I remember going to my friend’s house for the first time as a 6 year old and my mother telling me before we arrived not to stare at my friend’s mother’s port wine birthmark that covered half her face. Of course when we got to their house, it was all I could look at and in under a nanosecond I pointed to it and asked, “What’s that?” Not one of my finer moments.  We learn at early ages the importance of being polite.  Turn the clock ahead 30 years and we are managing others and it’s our job to tell them what they are doing well and not so well.  Its our job to delve into the inherently impolite.

If you are a consultant and specializing in change interventions, then you are often in the position of telling whole teams of executives about what they are doing and not doing in the room.  A simple way consultants do this is the use of process consultation (thank you Edgar Schein) interventions such as, “Let’s take a moment to look at where we are in the process of this work. We set this time aside to brainstorm the problem but after only two minutes we are making decisions. Is the group ready to move to decision making?”

An example of a deeper group dynamics intervention (thank you Wilfred Bion and my friend Ara, a talented group dynamics consultant) is when the consultant says, “I am falling asleep here. Is anyone else bored with this topic?” This is how organizational development and change consultants intervene in their client systems to help those involved become conscious of what is really happening in the meeting.  They must bravely name the elephants in the room and point out disconnects between say and do – all in the territory of the impolite.

So how can leaders and consultants give corrective feedback and make interventions and still preserve relationships while also increasing productivity and the other person’s confidence? How can they overcome the very strong societal norms about what it means to be polite?

Cultivating self-awareness is an important first step. Yep – it starts with you. We are a species that engages in psychological projection much of the time. Projection is when we place our own fears, or annoyances, or issues we are dealing with onto others. Often when we judge other’s behaviors we are actually projecting our view of reality, which is incomplete, onto the other person. When we do this it is more revealing about our own state of mind and far less revealing about what is going on with the other person because we are not seeing them clearly.

This plays out in subtle and not so subtle ways. A famous example is the case of Heidi and Howard that my friend Maria, an expert in leadership development, details very well. You can see that based on societal norms around gender, male and female students judged this one leader very differently depending on whether they thought the leader was male or female. In companies this is pervasive. When a man speaks out confidently and challenges another, he is an assertive strong leader we want to work for. When a women acts the very same way she is aggressive and not someone we want to work for.  This is the pure projection we place on others based on societal norms that are ingrained in us from the earliest ages.

For another example of this, consider the manager who likes to approach tasks from start to finish in an orderly step by step fashion. This manager may be overly critical of an employee who thinks of the end product first and then skips around in what may seem chaotic but results in an equally great work product.  If the manager is not self aware of their preference for a step by step approach to work and that there are other equally effective approaches, they may under value a brilliant employee who simply has a different work style. The authors of the book Difficult Conversations give the example of the manager who keeps their own desk neat and tidy and is hyper critical of the work product from an employee who keeps their desk messy.  It can literally be as simple as that and just as insidious. Our unconscious judgments are quick, deep, and often inaccurate. We all judge others poorly at times because we have not stopped to examine the lens we are looking through. There is an old saying that only the fish doesn’t know that its water it’s swimming in. This lack of self awareness can cause leaders  to devalue the work of employees based, not on the work product itself, but the employee’s personal traits – some changeable like a messy desk but many not so changeable like gender.

Understanding what you value and what you don’t is the foundation for your judgments of others. Self-reflection on your own values is critical to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater, which is what happens if we only value employees who are most like us. Reflecting before acting is important to ensure we are acting as consciously as we can. Ask yourself simple questions like, why does that person bother me so much or why do I feel less confident about their work versus another employee? Ask these questions each five times to get to the root. Questioning the accuracy of your judgments is crucial.

The best leaders and consultants do the hard work of self-reflection AND they ask for feedback – often.  Asking your employee or client for feedback on what you could do differently and what you did well garners valuable information about how others experience you as well as leveling the playing field, which engenders collaboration. Getting feedback is the best way to increase your self-awareness, and if you take the feedback well while it’s being given, it builds trust with your employees and clients. 

21st Century leadership is inherently collaborative due to the increased complexity of work.  Collaboration for success requires trust and understanding the similarities and differences in work styles and values. Sharing these things up front in a low stakes setting saves time and garners more success than ignoring these differences and then having to deal with them when crisis hits.  Taking the time to reflect on your own judgments and feelings of others, having those tough conversations about “impolite things” and asking for feedback are acts that demonstrate what I call productive bravery – a leadership competency worth cultivating. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Where's the Love?

Love is not a word we hear much in the corporate world – at least not in a positive context. Sure we hear about love triangles and the dark side of corporate life but we shy away from that word in the context of how we might treat others we work with and for.   What we don’t shy away from includes themes of covert competition as embodied by passive aggression and Machiavellian political maneuvers. The problem with not explicitly engendering a culture that values positive regard and mutual respect for others is that, aside from the morale implications, covert competition encourages behaviors in the workforce that come at a high cost. 

In their book Love em,or Lose em: Getting good people to stay, authors Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans point out that people don’t leave companies, they leave people.  Additionally there are many, many surveys that show that people don’t rate pay as the number one most important reason to stay in a job, they rate relationships with the boss and the coworkers along with the satisfaction they get from the work itself –which in today’s knowledge economy is impacted by the boss and the co-workers.  Additionally, the cost of attrition is high. Kaye and Jordan-Evans measured it at 200% of the employee’s salary.  Knowledge that is very hard to quantify walks out the door every time an employee leaves. The cost of hiring employees is also high – in the tens of thousands for highly skilled employees and in the thousands for less skilled. This all adds up quickly. Also hard to calculate is the disruption and following loss of productivity within the company every time an employee leaves, especially if they leave because they are unhappy.

Organizational systems are interconnected self-aware webs.  Leaders often underestimate the impact on for example a whole department when there is even one bad employee/boss relationship that results in an employee quitting. They then underestimate the communication that has to accompany such events and in that underestimation don’t manage the inevitable rumor mill leading to loss of focus and productivity and more attrition.

Alternatively employees don’t realize that their attempts to undermine the system are highly visible to those around them. An example of this is the person who does the least amount of work on a team (social loafing) or does not do the things they agree to do.  Humans are highly sensitive to these discrepancies – especially when there are gaps between say and do.   The leader who says, everyone must attend this training because it’s really important and then in the same breath says, he and his executive team did a truncated version of the same training - is creating such a gap.  The real message being – this is a check the box activity for those lower in the hierarchy and not to be taken seriously. These types of mixed messages deserve their own post, but you get the idea.

Because these behaviors go on they authorize other behaviors including internal covert competition that is damaging.  Above board competition that is transparent and bound by rules can reap many benefits and renew a company.  But when competition is covert it includes nasty behaviors that kill teamwork and create awful work cultures where high performance is not sustainable.  Examples of unhealthy competition are when one employee takes credit for another’s work or when a leader attributes great work to the wrong employee because of a personal connection or a hidden agenda. 

Well poisoning is another common covert competition tool and happens when one employee says things to other employees or the boss that are negative about another employee – this is a career killer for the one with the well poisoned if they are in a culture that supports covert competition or it can be a career killer for the instigator in a culture that values positive regard.

The best response by a leader to an employee who came into her office once complaining about another employee was from Suzanne De Passe. She ran a production company that put out popular shows like Sister, Sister and was Berry Gordy’s right hand at Motown. In a Harvard case study about her leadership, she recounts how she dealt with covert competition. When the employee came into her office complaining about a peer De Passe’s response was to call that other employee into the office right away so that she could get the whole picture in order to get to the heart of the matter. If every leader did this it would clear the way for healthier corporate cultures.  The passive aggressive employee gets the message that subterfuge and well poisoning for advancement will not be tolerated, and the leader gets the full story and can mediate the conflict at first bud.   Simply put this saves time, money and is a more humane way to lead and models collaboration and teamwork.


So I ask you, where’s the love?  Engendering a culture of positive regard and mutual respect in your work force lowers attrition and keeps employees engaged, focused and on the job.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Are you consciously stewarding your leadership identity development?

21st century leadership competencies include being conscious of where you are in your own identity development. By identity development I mean where you are in your understanding of your own feelings about your skin color, privilege, socio economic status (class), nationality, gender and ethnicity. You know, all the stuff leaders never talk about, at least not in public and rarely behind closed doors. Yes, this is soft-skills squared. However, can you really afford not to understand the roots and values behind your decision-making about people?

When a leader is aware of their identity development they are able to see beyond the filters they were raised with.  Those leaders who have actively acquired multicultural intelligence and experience with diversity will be more likely to understand the effects of difference on their workforce and have broader lenses through which to understand the human beings they lead. A leader who has taken time to consider their identity development (which is an ongoing process) will be able to see their followers’ contributions and strengths for what they are beyond projected stereotypes that we all suffer from.

Here is an example of how we come by our limiting filters. I grew up in a very white, Anglo Saxon Protestant town in the east coast US state of Connecticut. I wasn’t racist but because I had little exposure to people of other cultures and skin colors, I was ignorant about difference. What passed for diversity in my neighborhood were the Italian Catholics versus the Nordic WASPS.

If you had asked me when I was in my early twenties how I had accomplished whatever it was I had, I would have told you hard work. But the truth is that the artist who hired me to run his business did so in part because of my skin color. The entrepreneur who hired me to keep her books hired me over others in part because of my skin color. Note, I am not saying that the people who hired me wouldn’t have hired someone with a different skin color. But I was white in a community of predominantly white people.  Even in a community that was not predominantly, Los Angeles, white my skin color was a privilege that landed me a choice job at a trial jury consulting firm after only one interview. Same with the private bank I worked in in downtown LA. There are projections and assumptions about how trustworthy and smart and capable I am that come with my skin color. This is how privilege works.

Privilege is invisible, but lack of it is felt at the most visceral level. When I was running the artist’s business and still on the east coast I had a roommate whose mother was caucasian and father was African American. One day as we were coming out of our apartment headed to work a neighbor yelled across the street at me, “Hey, have you seen that black girl?” My roommate was right behind me and yelled back to him, “You’re only half right.” She was understandably angry. No one ever came looking for me calling for that white girl. It’s amazing how quickly we reduce each other in these ways.

I chose to go to Los Angeles for graduate school specifically because of LA’s diversity. I knew by going I would confront my own ignorance about difference on a number of levels.  Fast forward fifteen years later and I teach privilege and difference to my leadership students and I am still learning the many nuances that exist regarding how we understand and value or devalue other people. I still confront my filters and judgments I make – but do so consciously. Anyone who tells you they don’t see color or are colorblind is unconscious of their own identity development. Acknowledging your privilege and getting off the platform of hard work when factoring in your achievements is an uncomfortable thing to do but a necessary thing to do if you expect to lead all your followers  - if you want to access all that brain power versus only the chosen few who represent those you are most familiar with. Most leaders today and the great majority of leaders in the next few years will not have this luxury.

The demographic makeup of the workforce is rapidly changing and in the next five years will be much more diverse. If you have led people who mostly look like you, have similar life experiences and values then the challenge is to be able to understand people you lead outside your experience.

Innovation and keeping a competitive advantage depends upon being able to recognize and value input from people with many different points of view and many different ways of expressing those points of view. Gemstones have many facets. For a truly spectacular gem you need to polish and refine all the facets, not just some. The value of your workforce is in their differences and being able to cull out of those varied viewpoints answers to tough adaptive challenges all leaders face in today’s volatile marketplace.

Here are some simple things you can do to understand your own ability to lead a multicultural workforce:
  1. To learn more about privilege go here.
  2. Get feedback from your followers about what frustrates them and what motivates them regarding how you lead.
  3. Look at your closest circle and if they all look like you or are from the same school or socio economic background, reach out and get to know others in your company who don’t.  
  4. In your interactions with others note what makes you feel comfortable and what does not and then ask why. It’s the reflective work we do on our own that allows us to be mindful on our feet.
  5. If you are leading in multiple countries, take a leaf out of Machiavelli’s book and go to those countries and get immersed as much as you can – be curious, ask questions about the culture, norms and values and develop your relationships with your followers there.