Thursday, February 28, 2013

Trap #6 – Underestimating How Much You Are Being Watched

Everyone watches what you do. That isn’t an ego trip; it’s a fact. As leader of the organization, your behavior—for good or for ill—is the primary example by which everyone else acts. People will follow the leader’s manners, conduct, even writing or presentation style. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. But it’s a bad thing to underestimate it. If there is something you aren’t happy about in your organization, it’s time to hold up a mirror. In what ways are your people copying your own behaviors? Is it time to shift what you do? Don’t underestimate the power of the change, from the top down.

 Whether it’s the time you arrive at work, the way you sign off your emails, or the accolades you give or neglect to give to team members at the year-end party, your employees are watching you. While many leaders know in a general sense that others are observing and reacting to them, they are often surprised at the degree of detail to which employees zero in. “I understand your pet peeve is semi-colons,” I recently shared with a CEO client of mine, who chuckled with surprise that people had noticed. “People are talking about that?!” he asked. Yep, people are talking about that.

 As noted by Porter and Nohria in Harvard Business Press’s Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, “although the power of the CEO’s position is often overestimated, in one respect it is sometimes underestimated—and that is its symbolic significance (Pondy, 1983; Pfeffer, 1981). CEOs we have studied are often surprised by how much their every behavior is scrutinized and the symbolic messages people derive from these behaviors.”[i] When the leader makes an off-handed comment about hating semi-colons, his team may interpret that as a directive on writing style for company emails. When the leader calls out an employee for bringing lunch from home—while the rest of the team orders in—the employee may quickly calculate that to fit into this culture, she has to give up her healthy mid-day meals and up her lunch budget. Simple statements and actions often take on great weight when it’s the leader who’s making them. Why? Individuals want to please the leader, out of deference and respect, and because their jobs depend on it. So they take each and every word and action by the leader seriously, even when the leader may say something off-handed or even in gest.

If folks quietly tell each other not to send the boss emails with too many semi-colons after they’ve heard him complain about them (as they did at my client’s company), just imagine how they react to more significant behavior on the part of the leader. Trap #6 guides leaders to reflect on the good and bad habits they have bred into their organization’s culture and people.


Question: It’s deadline week – the manuscript goes to the publisher tomorrow. What do you think?

[i] Michael E.Porter & Nitin Nohria. (2010). What Is Leadership? The CEO’s Role in Large, Complex Organizations. In Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: A Harvard Business School Centennial Colloquium,  Edited by Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Trap #5 – Being Blind to Your Downstream Impact

How could positive energy and constant change be a drag on the business? Well, it can be, especially when a leader lacks the Emotional Intelligence to understand how his or her decisions affect (and are perceived by) everyone down the line.
Every decision you make as an executive ripples through your organization in waves, and the amplitude can become more intense the farther “downstream” the impact. This idea is at the root of the power you wield at the top and it is by no means a bad thing—when your eyes are wide open to it. Yet too many executives forget that the choices they make, even seemingly small ones, can have far-reaching effects throughout the organization.

 Notoriously shifting priorities, feeling hot about a project one day and cold the next, making everything a priority at once so that nothing is prioritized—all of these behaviors (and others) get in the way of sustaining the organization’s long-term goals and cloud the company’s vision. No matter what you say to your employees, your behaviors have an even greater downstream impact.

 Trap #5 walks leaders through the necessary steps to evaluate whether the choices they make stem from personal egoism or EQ, with the good of the company in mind, and how to tell the difference between the two. This chapter looks at real-life examples of both positive (EQ-based) and negative (ego-based) downstream impact.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Trap #4 – Not Letting Go of Control

Your responsibility as business owner or CEO is to empower your people to get the job done—and while the results should match the strategic plan you communicate, the path doesn’t need to be exactly the one you would take.

Many organizational leaders feel they spend all their time putting out fires: Their focus shifts daily to the area where they sense there is the most risk: the marketing plan that can’t fail; the account that must be won; the make-or-break supply agreement; or the much-heralded acquisition. It’s a natural inclination for you, the chief executive, to want to manage the details of every project that matters to the bottom line. You know the business inside and out. But is it the best use of your time to do so and is it really your position as Leader-in-Chief?

The principles of Emotional Intelligence say no. It’s not your job to “stay in the weeds” and micromanage every challenge the company faces in each and every department but instead to lead your people in the strategic direction you envision. If you feel that you must micromanage, then you don’t trust. And if you don’t trust, you place artificial limits on your company’s ability to grow.

Trap #4 shows senior executives and business owners how to avoid judging employees’ performance against their own and instead lead with Emotional Intelligence. This chapter explores the ways in which executives can harness EQ to help them let go of the impulse to control everything, the goal being to get out—and stay out—of the weeds.

Question: Does this sound like anyone you know?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Trap #3 – Surrounding Yourself with More of You

When it comes to the challenges of building an executive team, nearly every CEO or business owner involved in that process will say to me: “I’m a really good judge of character.” Too often, as a result, these leaders shortcut a thorough interview, and that perfect person turns out to be a terrible technical or cultural fit, resulting in more turnover or worse, an employee who stays and makes everyone else miserable. Or, trusting in their own instincts, they hire or promote the members of their team based on rapport—eschewing structured hiring processes and best practices to go instead with their “gut feeling.” You might ask yourself, “Well, if I am a great judge of character, why is that bad? After all, I’ve been successful.” Point taken.

 The tradeoff is you may end up surrounding yourself with people you probably “click with” because they share your same strengths, values, and ways of thinking—exactly the people least likely to challenge your decisions. That’s a risky game to play in a competitive marketplace. When you surround yourself with more of “you,” you set up blind spots that can prevent you from seeing oncoming challenges because your team sees the world much like you do rather than being able to challenge, question, or offer a different perspective. As a result, you may miss opportunities to hear valid dissent or alternative ideas. Putting your emotional intelligence to work in the hiring and promoting process can help prevent these blind spots from occurring.

In this chapter, we will look at Ego Trap #3, surrounding yourself with more of you when you hire, promote, and build your executive team or fill other posts in the organization. Whether you’re the CEO of a multi-billion dollar organization or a thriving business owner, this trap is easy to fall into. While there are benefits to liking your team members and shared values can be important, creating a team in which people tend to interact with the world in the same way as you (e.g., all extroverts or all introverts or all right-brained or all left-brained) or in which everyone has similar backgrounds (e.g., all engineers or all bankers) can be dangerous.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Trap #2 – Believing Your Technical Skills Trump Your Leadership Skills

At the top, brilliant intellect and strong technical expertise mean very little if the senior executive cannot collaborate with others to leverage that knowledge to move the organization forward.
Research shows that technical expertise is not a core indicator of success in the highest ranks of an organization. At the top of the hierarchy, technical expertise becomes negligible while leadership skills become all-important—especially those rooted in Emotional Intelligence. Self-awareness, self-control, and empathy: Daniel Goleman’s research has shown us that these skills matter more to success than the qualities we have long believed were the definitive predictors of success—personal qualities like determination or toughness, or IQ.

·       Self-awareness is having the wherewithal to recognize how one’s state of mind and state of being affect everyone else.

·       Self-control is the ability to measure and control one’s reactions in any given situation.

·       Empathy is the ability to pick up emotional cues from others.

 This chapter walks readers through Ego Trap #2, offering examples of leaders who relied on their technical skills and minimized EQ leadership skills to the detriment of their companies and careers—and others who learned to “turn on” their EQ and lead to great success. This chapter shows readers the power of better balancing technical skills with EQ skills to change their “story”—or the tale employees share and retell about them—and improve outcomes for the entire organization.

Question: Have you worked with executives or business owners who rely too heavily on what they know instead of allowing the team to use what they know?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Trap #1 – Ignoring Feedback You Don’t Like

This Trap asks leaders: What aren’t your people telling you? And how can you get them to open up?

It can be hard to hear honest feedback—especially when the feedback is not what we think or want to believe about ourselves. But the consequences of ignoring that feedback can be even more damaging (for your career and the company) than facing down some potentially unpleasant realizations about your work style. This chapter shows readers how practicing the three primary EQ skills—self-awareness, empathy, and self-control—can open the door to free-flowing communication and ensure they receive the timely feedback they need to lead effectively.

There are three reasons why people don’t give senior executives feedback:

(1) People are afraid, because when they have given you feedback they have experienced repercussions;

(2) Your reaction is defensive, and you make it so difficult for people to provide feedback, that they decide it’s not worth it;

(3) They’ve given you feedback many times but you’ve never made changes, so they give up on you.

Where does EQ come into play? Ego and EQ are mutually exclusive, which means that you simply cannot be seen as self-centered or self-involved when you  operate from a place of sensing what others need from you—using Emotional Intelligence instead of always expecting others to sense what you want or need first.


Question: Have you worked with leaders who have fallen into this Trap for any of the 3 reasons listed above?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

CEO Disease

Daniel Goleman calls it the CEO disease. The problem, according to Goleman and his co-authors, is “an acute lack of feedback…Leaders have more trouble than anybody else when it comes to receiving candid feedback, particularly about how their doing as leaders…the paradox, of course, is that the higher a leader’s position in an organization, the more critically the leader needs that very feedback.”[i]
A study by the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations confirms this need for feedback among the higher ranks.  In their work examining more than a thousand employed individuals, the Consortium’s results showed that participants employed at the higher ranks (first, mid, and senior-level managers) had a significant pattern of rating themselves higher on their leadership performance than those around them rated them.[ii] In other words, these managers thought they were doing better as leaders (on EQ skills such as self-awareness, social-awareness, self-management, and social skills) than did the people they served, worked with, and reported to. What’s more, the higher a person’s rank, the greater this gap became. Also of note, the participants of the study came from all areas of the organization, including finance, human resources, research and development, sales, marketing, technical, executive/general management, and more. This gap in self versus others’ perception of one’s leadership skills was present throughout the organizations at the higher ranks. By soliciting feedback from the team, these leaders could close this gap, gaining access to essential information for refining their own performance and improving overall business outcomes.

[i] Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee (2004). Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence. Harvard Business Review Press, p. 92.
[ii] Sala, Fabio. (2001). It’s Lonely at the Top: Executives’ Emotional Intelligence Self [Mis] Perceptions. Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations,, Hay/McBer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What Don’t I Know?

            In all of my work with executives, I have found the Achilles heel of these highly intelligent, very talented leaders to be an inability to fully assess their own leadership effectiveness. Whether it be due to their own biases in evaluating their performance, the overall vacuum of feedback that tends to exist at higher levels of the organization, or a difficulty in noticing or responding to the feedback that others are providing, these leaders are often flying blind when it comes to assessing where they really stand. That’s Ego Trap #1 and the first pitfall explored in this book because it represents such a pervasive and fundamental challenge for executives and business owners.

To help you eliminate this blind spot, I will provide the tools for understanding how to side-step this ego trap in this chapter. These tools will help you generate a roadmap on how to ratchet up your leadership performance, through the simple gathering of feedback. By developing this means of regularly collecting, interpreting, and responding to feedback, you can become more self-aware, tuned into your team, and effective in your role as company leader, motivator, and visionary. Gone will be that murky sense of “What don’t I know?”—replaced with a clear understanding of how your people see you and what kind of a leader you truly are. It’s not about inviting judgment or collecting accolades; it’s about creating a crystal understanding of your strengths and weaknesses as a leader, the ultimate secret weapon in the leadership game.    

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The High Performing Leader, Defined

Of course, if you have reached the executive level, you must already be a high performing leader. So, does it really matter how “self-aware” you are or how tuned in you are to others’ feedback? I have plenty of executive and business owner clients who at the beginning of our engagement would argue that it does not. In cases like these, we take some time to break apart what it means to be a high-performing leader.

Where some of these leaders are doing well is on business measures like revenue, market share, thru-put, earnings-per-share, or defect-free products. It’s in the other areas of their role as company leader that they may not be performing quite as effectively, such as in motivating, managing, clarifying, and inspiring their team and employees. Red flags that these issues are occurring may show up in the form of high turnover, production problems, and unionization by employees. When leadership breaks down in EQ-related areas, the other business functions get compromised too, even if it isn’t always immediately evident. Sometimes the question has to be asked: Is there a secret cancer in your organization that you don’t know about because no one’s giving you the feedback you really need to hear?

No matter how “good” you feel you are performing or how great the company seems to be doing, the question remains: how much better might the company do if you added your own performance development as a leader to your business strategy? A high-performing leader, in the fullest sense, is able to not only create results but is able to lead the individuals creating the results, amounting to an optimally successful organization.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I Am Right With You

This is not about playing the blame game. Truth be told, these pitfalls are easy for anyone to fall into, even the most astute leaders, which Jamie Dimon was. I’ll be the first to confess that as CEO of my own company, I have stepped unwittingly into these ego traps over the years. I have found myself falling into Trap #2, minimizing feedback about myself that is hard to hear (deflecting critical comments about my speaking events with statements like, "That audience was unique", "They specifically requested that topic so there was nothing I could do", "It was just one bad day, no biggie"). And my team, who also wants me to succeed and not be hurt, chimes in, “Yes you are right, that was out of your control,” thereby feeding my self-deception.

I can also make life tough for my support team because my communication style, combined with my personality traits, result in a lot of last-minute planning, which results in them having to quickly shift their own priorities and tasks at the last minute (Trap #5: being blind to the downstream impact of my behavior). Feeling bad about putting this burden on my administrative support team, I sometimes end up doing too much myself (Trap #4: not letting go of control)—which only keeps the pressure on me, resulting in more last-minute planning. Get it? I make a living on recognizing the hallmarks of these traps, and it’s still very hard to maintain the self-awareness and self-discipline to avoid them.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Why Should I Worry About This?

I’d like to take a moment to explore an important, related question of one of my prospective clients, a CEO, who recently asked me, “Why do I need your services? I have a great team that I have high trust in and an open dialogue with” (translated into the present context to, “Why should I read this book?”). I know that many of my readers are just like this CEO; they are conscientious leaders, respected by their teams. They are highly skilled at what they do and, as a result, receive many signs of positive feedback.

Unfortunately, receiving reassuring feedback and being liked by your team is not enough to ensure you are on the right path as a leader. Feeling you trust your team won’t safeguard against them keeping your blind spots from you. It is in fact the most beloved and well-respected CEOs that are at the greatest risk  of succumbing to their blind spots and falling into a trap because their strong team likes them and doesn't want to hurt them or their feelings. They think the leader is overall doing a good job so the little criticisms get minimized or ignored. Eventually the feedback gets suppressed enough that the leader gets lulled into a false sense of security. And that’s when problems can happen.